When you release a game that's the best on the Wii, a game that's had countless near-perfect scores from the world's reviewers, how could you improve on that? This was the challenge faced by Shigeru Miyamoto and his team and it's one they've managed to overcome with Super Mario Galaxy 2.
If you were wondering how the game was going to follow on from the original's bizarre ending, the simple answer is that it doesn't. Galaxy 2 takes place in a Star Trek-style alternate universe, one in which Mario and the Lumas have never crossed paths before. The original game's intro was beautifully presented and this one is arguably better, as you play through side-scrolling levels drawn into a storybook. As you progress, the pages turn while the story appears at the bottom of the screen. It's lovely stuff. Naturally, the plot involves Bowser kidnapping Peach.
What's All The Hub-ub
Early on you're greeted with Starship Mario, an old planet that has been taken over by an industrious Luma called Lubba and converted into a spaceship. The ship needs Power Stars for fuel but Bowser nicked those along with Peach, so Mario agrees to help Lubba retrieve the Power Stars from the various galaxies in return for the use of his spaceship. Lubba then gives the planet a quick makeover so it looks like Mario (leading to the classic line "nice spaceship, huh? More like a FACEship!").
Starship Mario is not a true hub like Peach's Castle, Delfino Plaza and the Comet Observatory from previous 3D Mario games because you can't directly access levels from it. Instead, you simply use it to wander around, mess about and generally take a break. There's not really much to do except for talk to the various people you've already encountered on your travels. Moving to the ship's wheel calls up a map screen similar to that in New Super Mario Bros, where you choose which level to move to next. It's a much clearer way of showing which galaxies still need to be completed and doesn't get confusing like the Comet Observatory did towards the end of the original.
Galaxy 2 really shines when you leave the Starship. The game feels a lot brighter than the original, since there are far fewer levels with a simple, black, star-filled sky. There are loads more stages that take place in sunny locations, snowy settings, forests and in the sky, and it adds a lot of variety.
Every single one of the game's 40-plus galaxies offer a completely new gameplay mechanic, and most of them offer even more than that as each galaxy's individual star missions are unique levels. Take the brilliant Tall Trunk Galaxy, for example. The first star is a Yoshi level where you use the Bulb Berry to get Mario and his mate to the top of a giant tree. The second, however, is a huge slide down one of the tree's branches, inspired by the Princess' Secret Slide level from Super Mario 64 (complete with the same music). It may fall under one galaxy, but the two levels couldn't be more different.
Speaking of the music, some of the better themes from the first Super Mario Galaxy are back (with new arrangements for the most part), alongside a huge collection of brand new music. These include new orchestral versions of old Mario songs and some fantastic all-new themes. The music in the Fluffy Bluff Galaxy in World 1 will work your way into your brain in the same way Gusty Garden Galaxy's music did in the first game.
Mixing It Up
The three big gameplay additions are, of course, Yoshi, Rock Mario and Cloud Mario. Yoshi is once again limited to a certain number of set levels but he appears an awful lot more than he did in the New Super Mario Bros Wii, getting a slice of the action at least a few times in each World. He's armed with his own set of timed power-ups, each of which help to make his levels feel unique. Controlling him is an absolute joy.