As I wrote before, Nintendo surprised everyone with New Super Mario Bros. Wii when they released it on the heels of Mario Galaxy, if only because everyone at that point was expecting Nintendo to 1-up themselves and expand on the Galaxy series they established, or at least continue with the 3D style of their next Mario game. But, as I so eloquently pointed out, Nintendo isn't one to cave to pressure, and continues to do things their way, whichever way they feel is best.
I really do think that they were super happy with NSMBW and how it turned out, specifically how it finally encouraged players of all ages and skill levels to sit around on the couch and play a Mario game together, cooperatively, sharing the same gaming experience at once. Despite what they personally thought about the game, however, Nintendo decided to keep true to their philosophy about keeping things fresh and new, and decided not to make another game like NSMBW, instead, going back to their newest bread and butter for the Mario franchise.
That's right, they took Mario back to outer space for another adventure within the cosmos, with a sequel to the best reviewed Mario game ever, simply titles Super Mario Galaxy 2. With the release of this game, Nintendo actually pulled back the curtain on the development cycle of this game, admitting that it was first being designed as an add-on or expansion type of game to the original Galaxy, tentatively to be titled "More Super Mario Galaxy." But apparently, once the development team got rolling on the title, they were inundated and flooded with dozens of new ideas for the game, everything from new levels, to gameplay mechanics, bosses and even power ups. It was then decided to make what they were creating into a full-fledged game and an outright sequel to the original game, which pushed development back another year and a half or so.
Usually, this kind of decision can mean bad news for the title. First of all, when a title is delayed over a year or so, people freak out and usually sour on the title by the time it is released. With Nintendo being so tight-lipped about their development of games, however, nobody knew it was delayed as it was only ever shown off and previewed as Galaxy 2. Personally, I wish more companies would take this approach, as it would eliminate over-hyping a game and just allowing it to organically build momentum, and would actually prevent development teams from rushing their work and stop publishers from pushing out unfinished products for the sake of meeting deadlines. Think about it: how often does Nintendo ship out broken or buggy games that need countless patches after release? Hardly ever, as the only example I can think of is the crazy game breaking bug in Zelda: Skyward Sword, that was promptly fixed when noticed. Other than that, when Nintendo games are released, they are finished products. Crazy notion, right?
Secondly, when studios try to create more from something small, it can get sketchy real quick. If a development team is told to take what is essentially DLC for an existing game and turn it into a full retail game, you better believe that game will be overflowing with filler content, and usually ends up feeling like a rip-off when looking at the what you get in the game compared to the price tag. For Nintendo to do this, they would have had to be absolutely certain they could transform all of their new ideas into a full game, or they wouldn't have ever pulled the trigger. Despite Nintendo liking money and doing what they can to make it, they always strive to deliver what they feel is an acceptable product for what they expect customers to pay for.
So how did they do with Super Mario Galaxy 2? Well, they completely outdid themselves, creating yet another game that proudly sits near the very top of the all-time best highest review scores list on Metacritic. Not only that, but personally, playing Galaxy 2 doesn't ever feel like an expansion or DLC, but feels like a brand new game. Actually, it doesn't even feel like a full sequel to Galaxy, as there are so many new and different things in the game, it could have a completely title and not feel weird or out of place at all. Sure, it is in space like the original, but the game is so good, it deserves to had a stand-alone name, not be in the shadows of the first game.
The biggest difference between this game and the first is the inclusion of Yoshi. Finally, after all these years, Yoshi is back in full form. He doesn't just feel like a power-up as he did in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but rather an additional character, or partner if you will, to Mario on his adventure. He isn't in every level, and doesn't act like a companion character, but when you get him, especially his different versions, it adds a new and exciting wrinkle to the gameplay mechanics that couldn't be possible without the lovable dinosaur friend.
Galaxy 2 also added an increased difficulty to the game, especially when playing additional and bonus levels, or going after those pesky green stars. While the difficulty could be nauseating and frustrating to some, I absolutely love replaying levels of this game over and over again in hopes of finally succeeding. In fact, I went back and attempted the hardest level possibly ever created for a Mario game, which I could never beat before. Well, after a few years of not touching it, I am proud to announce that ... I stilli can't beat the level, despite my best efforts and many lives spent. Oh well, maybe in a couple more years I'll give it a shot once again.
Another thing I want to point out, which I honestly had forgotten about until playing it again, was how amazing the musical score for this game is. The first Galaxy game had fantastic music too, but in this game, there are points where you just want to put the controller down and listen to the music, letting the sound and environment sweep over your senses. What makes it so good, you ask? Well, it's entirely composed by a symphony orchestra, and the entire soundtrack was available in a 2-disc set over in Japan. Yeah, it's that good.
Overall, not once did I ever feel like Galaxy 2 feel short of expectations or failed to live up to the first game in the "series." While a Galaxy 1.5 would have been great, I am so very thankful that Nintendo had the wherewithal and confidence in the development team to allow them to put out a full game, even though it meant a delay in release. And just like the first Galaxy game, this was a statement game for Nintendo, as they clearly set out to prove just how awesome games could look in the console everyone else thought was under-powered and lacking in technical specs.
By the time Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, there were Wii's in pretty much every living room across America. They didn't use Galaxy 2 to help sell systems, but rather just show off what a development team could do if given the proper time and confidence. It was actually pretty rare for Nintendo to not use Mario to help sell a system, but true to tradition, they wouldn't make it a habit of repeating themselves going forward.
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