When I was young and still relied on juice boxes and power rangers to get through the day, I remember having a rather spontaneous imagination. In between school recesses and scheduled naps (which we all hated back then, yet lament not having them now), I’d often visualize the sandbox a desert, the old fire truck a beast akin to something out of Shadow of the Colossus, the plastic jungle gym our last bastion of safety. Day after day, children marvel us by escaping their rooms and traveling to vibrant worlds without ever taking a step outside. Imagination, born in our infancy and nurtured through adolescence, is both a tool and a gift that has born amazing fruit to our culture. As gaming has evolved, so to has its allowingness to portray these ideas we create and watch them grow into full-blown worlds. Super Mario Galaxy 2 does not break the mold of its predecessor, or most of the earlier Mario games for that matter, but it splinters the imagination barrier like none before it.
It’s no secret that Mario is synonymous with platforming, but to say Galaxy 2 is a another platformer is selling its full product very, very short. Each level takes our red plumber to a completely new galaxy, each filled with planets of varying sizes and shapes and colors. The amount of unique stature and presentation in each level of the game is visually astounding and never seems to lose allure. Star after star after star, I was driven toward the next galaxy not to finish it as fast as I could, but to jump into the new world waiting for me. Would it be planet-hopping? a multi-tiered landscape? A mind-bending gravity-based jumping episode? The designers continued to dazzle me right up to the end, and left me astounded to see how much the storied platforming genre had been innovated and expertly calibrated over the years.
As most Mario-veterans tend to anticipate nowadays, the story is—literally—no different than it’s previous incarnation: Bowser captures the princess, claims he will rule the galaxy, and the famous red-garbed plumber is the only one who can stop him. By the end of the first Galaxy I felt that perhaps a change in homeland security would have, at some point, been brought up in the monthly toadstool town meetings, but it’s disheartening to see that even in the Mario universe, the more things change the more they stay the same. Bowser somehow managed to survive the supernova ending from the previous Galaxy game and regained much of his intergalactic prowess. Thankfully, Mario enlists the aid of a festively plump star bit and begins his journey across space to recover his beloved princess Peach. If only every plumber’s life was like this.
As the pattern proves itself yet again, a new Mario game means a new adventure, and that means new power-ups. Some of the previous mushrooms make return appearances, most notably the Bee-suit mushroom and the ghost mushroom (and the infamous Spring-mushroom returns to my self-esteem’s disappointment), coupled with a few newcomers. The cloud mushroom adds a much greater vertical level to many of the smaller platforming worlds by allowing Mario the ability to create clouds upon which he can stand. The rock mushroom allows Mario the ability to turn into a fast-moving boulder capable of destroying most things in its way. These new creations, however fun they may be, are shadowed by the return of Mario’s trusted green friend Yoshi (there’s a Luigi joke here I could make, but he gets enough ridicule as it is, the poor guy) and his seemingly bottomless appetite. Aside from his trademark feet-flutter ability that keeps him(?) and Mario in the air for a few moments, Yoshi comes with his own set of special fruits that grant him momentary abilities. The fire fruits send him careening ahead at break-neck speeds that allow him to run directly up walls, puffy blue ones will fill him up like a balloon gently rising into the sky, and golden fruits turn him into a moving beacon capable of seeing platforms that would otherwise remain invisible. When one takes this into account with Mario’s various costumes, then places that variety in the context of a platforming game, the kinds of level combinations and creations seem absolutely endless. It’s no wonder why Miyamoto admitted to this game being more akin to a Galaxy 1.5 simply because they had so many ideas left untapped at the end of the first game. I would think it’s even safe to assume there was still a plethora of ideas at the end of Galaxy 2 that have yet to see the light of day.
Finally, the music deserves a vigorous nod of my head, as its symphonic fullness and robust melodies are the key to bringing each level to life and giving them each their own personality. While the visuals are stunning on their own, the score of the game is so enthralling and well produced that many fans of classical music could appreciate it without the game at all. From the first jubilant notes of the first levels right to the final climactic chorus of the finale, the level of care put towards the score is as much, if not more than the levels themselves, and may very well be the greatest score of any Mario game to date.
When we are young, our greatest weapon against boredom and the hum-drum of every day life was our imagination. Years of growth and adolescence gradually turn that weapon into a tool by which we create, innovate and dream of the world of ‘what if…?’, yet for many of us that tool dulls and tarnishes over time. We become creatures of habit, ones that define our reality in what we accept as “that’s how life is”. If Mario stands for anything, I believe it to be an enduring symbol of unbridled imagination. By the end of the credits, I sat there convinced that imagination doesn’t die with adulthood; it sleeps until we choose to use it again, or not at all. I know that there is a very real chance I will never achieve my life goals or write the words I want everyone to be reading, but as Super Mario Galaxy 2 reminded me: If I can imagine, it can happen.
See you in the next level,