So I got the game for my birthday. I have now earned 90 stars of 242. I have finished at least one ending (the main story). So I am prepared to wax eloquent (or suffer in the attempt).
The Mario games have always been really good games. Mario Galaxy 2 is certainly no exception. Likely the best one ever. It isn’t as ground breaking as Super mario 64 and is really only a small step beyond Super Mario Galaxy. But it seems to have joined the fun of 64 with the niftiness of the first Mario Galaxy.
So – to summarize the game – you play Mario in a 3D platformer. Like all Mario’s since Donkey Kong you need to rescue Princess Peach from a monster – Bowser being the recurrent foe of the series. There are 49 different galaxies spread out over 7 worlds (each world contains 7 galaxies – I didn’t invent the fantastical astronomy). Each galaxy is an environment that Mario must navigate to accomplish goals. The trickiness in navigating the environment is what makes it fun.
Mario is controlled by a fairly complex scheme of pointing the Wiimote, shaking it to spin, navigating using the analog stick, jumping with the A button, and crouching, pounding and sliding with the Z button. And that is only the default configuration. Many levels give Mario a temporary augmentation for that level. He can fly like a bee, swim, dig, turn into a boulder, float on clouds and ride Yoshi. And Yoshi has his own upgrades into a blimp and into a super-fast Yoshi.
Most commonly the hazards in each level can be navigated around, but often Mario must fight too. He jumps, pounds, and spins. In some of his other forms he just runs into things. And when riding Yoshi, Yoshi can swallow all be the spikiest enemies.
Each galaxy has two or three stars hidden in it. Each star is a separate mission a different goal. Each galaxy is a different environment – some are clouds or trees or asteroids, fire, ice and sand. Basically unless you get stuck on a particular star each time you turn on the game it is a slightly different experience retrieving the star. Sometimes you must simply navigate the environment, sometimes it is a race and sometimes you need to defeat the enemies. Often you need to collect something – purple coins, silver stars, star pieces, coins or star bits.
The whole collection aspect is a subgame (or series of subgames). The fun of the goals will suck you in, the challenge will hold you attention and the collection is what addicts you. The collection of items was one of the big leaps made in Mario 64, but SMG2 ratchets it up. So the key collection is stars. There are 242 of them all together. To beat Bowser you only need a measly 70 of those stars. They are passed out in the galaxies and worlds with the difficulty increasing slightly the deeper into the game you go. To unlock new worlds and galaxies you must collect the stars. Each seventh galaxy has a boss fight vs. Bowser or his son and beating them and earning the star opens up the next set of worlds. Beating Bowser on the sixth world (requiring 70 stars) opens up the seventh and saves Princess Peach.
Once that happens, there is no more story (tenuous though it always was) and you just explore getting the stars in the remaining galaxies in whatever order you wish (except in world 7 which is tightly locked down). Once you have 120 the game changes again to collecting green stars instead. The final two stars, for the gifted obsessives, are in a special hard galaxy – I’m sure I’ll never see it.
Beyond the stars and the galaxy goal collections there are yet more collection games – star bits and coins are on every level. Collecting them gives extra lives and can sometimes be traded in to open new galaxies or get special benefits. Finally each galaxy has a single comet medal. Collecting all the comet medals (I currently have 44 or 49) opens up new galaxy goals.
The other noticeable aspect of Mario Galaxy 2 is the level design. Within each galaxy are planets. Some are flat discs and you can fall off the edge and some are spheres and you can run all the way around. Gravity is dependent on the surface you are standing upon. Often navigating the galaxy means bouncing from one sphere to another.
What makes it fun? The imagination, whimsy and challenge of the galaxies. You have the choice to focus on getting the tricky star or moving onto one that is easier (depending on your preferences). The responsiveness and abilities of the character to navigate the environment. The variability in changing the parameters of the goals, the physics and the environment in each galaxy.