by Matthew Thompson
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
In 1996, gamers were blown away by Mario’s first foray into three dimensions. It was certainly quite the sight to see him moving in 3D space after years of seeing him run and jump along 2D planes. The game’s use of the analog stick (or perhaps the Nintendo 64’s in general) was a revolutionary one that would change the industry forever. And yet for me – and this may seem blasphemous – Super Mario 64 just isn’t what I imagined from Mario in 3D. The Mario I grew up on was about linear platforming assault courses. Mario 64 is a good game in its own right, but it was more open than I expected, a bit more slanted towards exploration and adventure than I’d hoped, and not the point A to point B tests of my platforming prowess that I coveted. Fortunately that is exactly the direction Nintendo went with the Galaxy series and I finally got the 3D Mario game I’d always dreamed of.
But it isn’t just that the Galaxy games are more of a pure platforming experience than their predecessors, it is that the platforming is so damn good. Mario has always had a fantastic moveset – long jumps, flip jumps, triple jumps and so on. But the controls are tighter here too. A bit less momentum-based than the 64 game. Not only do I prefer it this way, it once again feels more like the 2D titles I grew up on. The level design is really where it takes things to the next level. It is anchored around the central gravity/spherical world hook which is enough to make it all brilliant. But even on top of that, there are just so many clever concepts here. I could recount some of the ideas here like the Flip-Swap panels or climbing honeycombs as bee Mario, but words don’t do them justice. They simply have to be seen – or better yet played – to be believed.
So why Super Mario Galaxy 2 over the original? Well for starters it cuts some of the extraneous stuff out that just seemed in the way in Galaxy 1. That means some of the silly story stuff is gone. So is the unnecessary hubworld in favor of a more streamlined level selection that lets you get into the meat of the game more quickly. And returning to my first point, not only does SMG2 remind me more of the 2D games that I was raised on, it specifically reminds me of the Italian plumber’s best game: Super Mario Bros. 3. It is the way the developers are constantly throwing new fresh ideas at the player in what seems like every level. They don’t feel like gimmicks either, but fully fleshed out concepts. It is the best set of power-ups in a Mario game since that legendary NES title as well. That means classic items like the Fire Flower, Galaxy holdovers like the Bee Flower and new additions like the Cloud Flower and Spin Drill. It really does feel like Super Mario Bros. 3 in spirit.
I focused a lot on why Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the 3D Mario I have always wanted and I think that is why it resonated so strongly with me, but there is so much more to it than that. Like the marvelous soundtrack. And the inclusion of Yoshi. And the inventive boss battles. In the end, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is on this list because 3D platforming doesn’t get much better than what is on offer in this superb Wii title from Nintendo.
A few more things:
- Usually in this first bullet, I talk about other entries in the franchise last gen. I covered why I prefer Galaxy 2 to the original above (both are great though) and have actually made exceptions to include a couple of other Mario games on this list already. So yeah… a good generation for Mario.
- The internet’s obsession with Rosalina is a bit groan-inducing. Sorry internet. Super Mario Galaxy’s worst legacy probably.
- If Nintendo went back towards the 64 style for the next 3D game I wouldn’t mind. I know that style of game has a ton of fans and after 2 Galaxy games, 3D Land, and 3D World I have gotten plenty of the type of prefer. I don’t dislike that type of game (the first Jak and Daxter is in that mold and is one of my all-time favorites), it was just a matter of expectations for the Mario series. So if Nintendo throws those people a bone, that is cool. I’m not too selfish. I might enjoy it more than 64 with my expectations in the right place too.