Reinvention is basically Mario’s M.O. at this point, from those early days pioneering 2D platforming, to the jump into 3D and the wild, gravity defying exploits of Super Mario Galaxy, the plumber has been continually pushing the boundaries of what his games can achieve and be. Each time, Nintendo has been unsatisfied with letting Mario rest on his laurels, opting to constantly redefine, not refine. As a result, each of his games have a very different flavour. While sure, there are similarities between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, they also feel distinctly different. With the plumbers 3D titles especially, the big N has been reluctant to do the same thing twice. Apart from one time. In 2007, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii, and it was a big success – it sold well, was met with rapturous critical praise and became the new standard-bearer for the platforming genre. Then, in 2010, they did it all again.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 feels like a product of its time. In the age before DLC became as widespread as it is now, concepts that couldn’t make it into games were often discarded or left on the cutting room floor. During the development of Super Mario Galaxy however, things were a little bit different. The development team were in a creative boom – level designers had way too many ideas on their hands to all make it into the release. After Super Mario Galaxy made its way out into the world, Nintendo was able to sit back and take stock. Their decision, to scoop up all of that extra content and allow the developers to continue innovating, to continue exploring their ideas, resulted in the release of a brand new game, the first ever direct sequel to a 3D Mario game, and one of the best games ever.
I remember eagerly anticipating Super Mario Galaxy 2 with my friends. While many people at school were ‘too cool’ for Nintendo, there was a special exception for Mario games. I used to be an avid reader of the UK’s Official Nintendo Magazine, and I can clearly recall pouring over the screenshots and previews with my friends during lunchbreaks in the classroom. When the review finally came out and it was met with the magazine’s highest ever score of 98%, we felt vindicated. All of this excitement felt worthwhile – now it was just a waiting game until the actual release of the game. I picked up my copy on release day and immediately chucked it into the Nintendo Wii. Immediately, Galaxy 2 felt familiar, but still a little different from the first Galaxy game. The world selection was more streamlined in the vein of a traditional 2D Mario game, and the hub world was much smaller than its predecessor’s. Galaxy 2‘s colour palette also feels very different. My lasting image of Super Mario Galaxy is dark, spacey skies, a feeling of the unforgiving openness of the universe stretching out before me, while Super Mario Galaxy 2 feels much brighter, cheerier – light blue skies and grass underneath your toes.
I think Galaxy 2 might have my favourite selection of levels in any Mario game to date – it felt like they had taken the invention, the creativity from the first one and just turned the dial up to eleven. No worlds overstayed their welcome, all of them brief little forays in the search of one or two stars before you moved on to another planet, with its vastly different playstyles and activities. To this day, Galaxy 2 stands out to me as the game where Nintendo where at their wildest – just unabashed creativity and freedom for very talented people to explore making levels and challenges as they wanted. One of the biggest travesties of Nintendo’s 2020 was that they made every 3D Mario game available for play on Nintendo Switch apart from this one. Hopefully it’ll get its time back in the spotlight eventually, but for now, the future’s not looking bright seeing as Nintendo didn’t even show the game during their Mario retrospective video on YouTube.