The following are some highlights of Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2).
Many games in the last generation have innovated with co-op design. Not many have opted for subsidiary co-op roles. Jet Force Gemini, Sin and Punishment, Zelda: Wind Waker, and Super Mario Galaxy all have co-op options where the 2nd player controls an on screen cursor. These cursors don't feature the core mechanics player 1 has. SMG2 tweaks SMG's co-op co-star design.
The co-star player can no longer make Mario JUMP, which is a good change from SMG. Now, all of Mario's moves are for player 1 preventing player 2 from being a "bad buddy" by intentionally putting Mario into danger with improperly timed jumps. To give player 2 more of a significant role in the cooperative experience, SPIN and GRAB mechanics were added. Now co-star players can grab coins (yellow/purple), Life Mushrooms, and 1-Up Mushrooms and hand them off to Mario (player 1). The SPIN mechanic gives player 2 the ability to attack enemies, smash crystals, and grab checkpoint flags. Couple these new abilities with the old abilities to SHOOT star bits and stop enemies/objects, and player 2 can be a very helpful and active part of the experience.
The changes in the co-star design make playing as player 2 more of a rail shooter or light gun type gaming experience because there's generally more to interact with. Sit in the passenger seat of a skilled Mario player, and you'll have a considerable challenge keeping up with the action as targets move in and out of view. Because the camera follows Mario's motions only, being aware of how player 1 will move through the level can give player 2 an advantage in planning strategies.
One final element that I must mention is the sound effects the co-star can play out of either player's Wiimote. If player 1 does a good job, send them an applause sound effect. If you care to tap out sounds to the in game music, feel free. I love wiimote sounds.
I've claimed that Super Mario Galaxy is the most 3D game ever. Now Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2) takes the title. Smoothly transitioning between multiple kinds of 2D/3D spaces and perspectives gives SMG2 a flexible-high-quality core that, once again, the industry should learn from. The following is a list of spatial tricks and examples.
- The intro transition is genius moving from the 2D side scrolling, 2D side scrolling with z-depth (3D), full 3D with the camera fixed on Mario's back, to full planetoid 3D. The concept is amazing in itself, but tuning the gameplay so that the controls are intuitive every step of the way is more so.
- Bowser's Gravity Gauntlet is another great example of seamless transitions. The water section in this level plays 2D stop down style. The camera in the beginning plays with depth only revealing enemy elements when necessary. This is possible because the beginning has 3D planetoid gravity. Inside the castle, the 2D sections are communicated via the fixed camera position.
- Though the 3D planetoid camera is pretty flexible, there times when the developers take away your ability to control the camera or use the first person view. With these limitation, secrets can be hidden out in the open. On the other hand, these areas can be revealed selectively as Mario flies over environments or as the camera transitions. The 1up out in the middle of the clouds off the main path on Fluffy Buff Galaxy star #2 is a perfect example. At 33 seconds you can see the cloud and the 1up. But progress a little farther, and it's hidden off screen. You have to spot it before and JUMP into the wild blue yonder.
- The meteor smashing (Bowser Bosses) has a sort of Z-lock on camera so players can gauge where they're aiming. This camera design is a natural extension of the planetoid camera.
- Tall Trunk Galaxy star #2 features a neat f-zero like race/slide challenge. In tunnels you can slide up the walls and around in circles. You're also free to JUMP to avoid obstacles.
- Boo Moon Galaxy star #2 opens with a 2D top down style level section.
Doing the Mario?
Everyone should "do the Mario" where appropriate (meaning learn from the design examples that great Mario games set). Some modern games have copied Mario's graphical style. Others have copied Galaxy's theme. But this time I want to focus on how Super Mario Galaxy 2 emulates design elements and gameplay styles from other games. The following are some interesting examples I noticed. Some are more fitting than others.
- Cosmic Marios = Defeat Me or the classic game Snake.
- Haunty Halls Galaxy star #1 = Super Mario Sunshine hotel levels
- Beat Block Galaxy (wii mote metronome) = music rhythm games
- Spin Dig Galaxy = Mighty Flip Champs! Navigating 3D environments by putting together simpler pages/sides of less complex environments.
- Chompworks star #1 (Golden Chomp) = Mario March of the Minis
- Clockwork Ruins = LBP Bunker level
- Flash Black Galaxy = Illuminating the darkness in Zelda: A Link To The Past with the Ether spell
- Fleet Glide Galaxy (and other gliding/sliding/ride levels) = a dual control "light gun" experience.
- Slipsand Galaxy star #2 = Sin & Punishment. Toward the end, maneuvering around on a small platform (walking left/right, jumping), using the close quarters spin punch, and shooting star bits mimics the core gameplay of S&P.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is fantastic. My experience with the game was so enjoyable, it took me this long to write something about it. There's more to say about every feature of this game, but the game speaks well for itself. I plan on analyzing the bosses in SMG2 soon. Play it if you haven't already. Listen to the soundtrack for some of the best music of the year. And marvel that there were so many things that Nintendo improved from Galaxy 1.
The one thing that would really make the Super Mario Galaxy games significantly better is 3D stereoscopic visuals. I had a difficult time beating Stone Cyclone Galaxy because it was hard to interpret distances on a flat screen. Even if you don't see the interactive benefits stereoscopic graphics would add to the game, just imagine JUMPing through space that's "deeper" than ever.