Super Mario Galaxy 2
When Nintendo released their first teaser trailer for Super Mario Galaxy 2 at E3 last year, most fans immediately pegged the game as "more levels for Super Mario Galaxy." And despite the iteration, there were no negative connotations intended by that. By my personal estimation, Super Mario Galaxy was the best 3D platformer ever released, so if Nintendo wanted to put out a level pack marketed as a sequel, I would have been totally fine with that.
While that cynical summary isn't entirely untrue, after some hands-on time with Super Mario Galaxy 2 at Nintendo's Q1 Media Summit, it's clear that the game stands apart in some key ways. If you were to phrase it in the same way as an SAT question, Super Mario Galaxy is to Super Mario Bros. as Super Mario Galaxy 2 to Super Mario Brothers: The Lost Levels (i.e. the super-difficult Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). While the vast majority of game mechanics in Galaxy 2 will feel perfectly recognizable to anyone who played the 2007 original, Nintendo has crafted some devious new ways to increase the challenge.
For one thing, the cast of enemies standing in Mario's way has grown. In addition to plenty of returning baddies from the first game, some classic Mario foes are being reborn in 3D for the first time. In one level, I had an intense face-off against two Hammer Bros. that jumped back and forth between two platforms, just as you'd expect. Add in bullet bills being fired from two nearby cannons, and this area had enough hazards to cause multiple deaths before I figured out.
The trick to that encounter, as to many of the areas in the new game, is Yoshi. In keeping with Mario tradition, you hook up with your dinosaur friend by cracking open an egg in carefully-placed nests around each level. Get hit while riding him and Yoshi will run off screaming. Don't worry too much, though; if you're separated from Yoshi long enough, he'll disappear in a puff of smoke and another Yoshi egg will spawn at the nearest nest.
In addition to his signature extra long floating jump, Yoshi adds one delicious element to the Mario Galaxy stew: his appetite. If you point the Wii remote at an enemy or object that Yoshi can eat, a circle will appear around it, prompting you to tap the 'B' button and masticate your foes. Regular enemies can be digested into coins or star bits, but certain special items grant you further power.
If you're able to grab a bullet bill or a hammer thrown by an enemy out of the air, you can spit it back to demolish difficult opponents or shatter certain obstacles in the environment. Sometimes you'll need to use this power to progress, but experimenting with it will be rewarded as well. Spitting a bullet bill at a Bowser Jr. statue in one level revealed a hidden 1-UP mushroom.
Apparently Bowser Jr. didn't appreciate me crushing his statue, because shortly after that area I had to fight him in a boss battle using the same bullet bill-swallowing technique. Throughout the game, the troublesome offspring of Bowser appears to thwart Mario's quest for stars. In this battle, he docked his small spaceship in a gigantic robotic shell (pictured above) that I had to whittle down by spitting bullets at. It was a classic, simple boss battle in the true Nintendo style, but delivering a final bullet bill right to Bowser Jr.'s ship couldn't have been more satisfying.
If I seem a bit breathless in my eagerness to describe everything I played, it's simply because every second was as perfectly polished and undeniably fun as the original Super Mario Galaxy. I haven't even mentioned a boatload of other cool things I got to check out, such as Supermassive Galaxy, a world full of giant-sized enemies and items not unlike the fan favorite Giant Land from Super Mario Bros. 3. And if these more challenging zones aren't hard enough, the new comet coin collectible will be used to unlock bonus levels. As we all know, bonus levels in Mario games are meant to be brutal.
If the few levels I played through are any indication, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is going to be exactly what fans are hoping for. To some degree it's more of the same, yes, but it's also more refined, more of a challenge, and more proof than ever that Nintendo still knows how to make an incredible game.