The key word that describes Nintendo's latest is "refinement". Super Mario Galaxy 1 is a phenomenal game and yet there were a few flaws to it. Oddly enough to me at least these flaws didn't become noticeable until I got into the sequel. There are quite a few changes of both the major and minor variety that make this game feel like more than just "The Lost Levels" version of Super Mario Galaxy.
The storyline is pretty much an exact clone of most Mario games. Princess Peach invites Mario over for cake and as we all know that's an invitation to disaster as sure enough Bowser shows up with the powers of the stars and he's wrecking shop and making off with the Princess. The original Super Mario Galaxy had pretty much the same story but at least there was that whole deal with Rosalina. It's probably for the best though as she was a bit of a distraction.
The game structure is pretty much the same as the other 3D titles. Mario needs stars to reach Bowser. These stars are rewarded by completing tasks in each galaxy. There are about six galaxies per world and I'm assuming eight worlds. First off I really like that there are less stars per galaxy and more galaxies overall. This offers more variety in the level design and I can always come back to polish off one or two stars if I'm not particularly fond of certain stages.
Mario controls just the same as in Galaxy 1 which is great as I was able to smoothly transition to this game even though I hadn't played the first one in over a year. The new power-ups are a bit of a mixed bag. I don't particularly care for rock Mario as it can be pretty clumsy though admittedly the boss-fight its used on is pretty good. Cloud Mario on the other hand is really neat as it allows for a bit of freedom for traversing large gaps.
Yoshi is the major addition to Mario's arsenal and he's a bit tricky to get used to. He controls somewhere between Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island. He can do the floaty double jump from Island and Mario can jump off him at any time for that extra boost. The tongue is also used by pointing the remote at the screen, which can be tricky for me since my hands shake during tense moments. As in other games Yoshi can eat certain kinds of fruit for additional powers like super-speed and the ability to float into the air like a blimp.
Like the first game there are a few instances throughout the game that rely on different control schemes. There is the rolling ball portions that require the remote to be held up-right and a gliding bird that is controlled by holding the remote straight ahead. I'll go ahead and say that I hate the bird stages. They're entirely too limited and I get the feeling that later stages involving it will just be frustrating due to the layout of the stage. The 2D stages suffer in a similar way due to their layout and for me at least they tend to run a bit too long. Maybe I just haven't ran into a truly challenging one just yet.
With that as the exception so far the level design in this game has been excellent. It's hard for me to pick out highlights because everything has been absolute quality. It does get kind of redundant repeating certain stages for prankster comet stars but the strong level design more than makes up for it so it gives good reason for me to beat a stage under a certain time or grab all of the purple coins. It's definitely a harder game as the only really tough parts for me in the last game were a couple of the purple coin and daredevil challenges. The SMG2 levels offer just a bit more intensity and even if I'm not dying I feel like I'm working harder and playing better to get where I need to be.
Luigi is back and even playable on certain stages. This opens up an interesting system since beating a stage with Luigi apparently creates a ghost. I guess by racing this ghost the player can improve their times for the stage. This is one thing I've noticed about the game is that there seems to be a better focus for players attempting mastery of the game. All stages list completion times so there's good reason to perfect those long-jumps as well as any other ability that'll save a few seconds.
At the this point I'm maybe one-third of the way through the game. Next week I'll post another update and hopefully put together some more in-depth impressions. I may have to bite the bullet and hook my Wii up to the tiny TV in my bedroom in order to better articulate what's great about this game. It's really a fantastic game but there's so much more I could be saying about it if I wasn't trying to work through memory.