Recently, I took a little flak from a commenter for suggesting “Super Mario Galaxy 2” could do with a bit more story beyond having Mario rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser for the umpteenth time.
The guy, who identified himself as Matt, made a good point, so I’ll let his words speak for themselves:
“People like you are annoying. Do we want Tom and Jerry to stop chasing each other? (Wile E.) Coyote to stop trying to blow up Road Runner? Why would we want Bowser to stop kidnapping Peach? It’s a time-honored formula that needs to stay.”
After spending a great deal of time playing Mario’s latest adventure, I can see the wisdom behind Matt’s words, but I have to respectfully disagree. Well, sort of.
During its best moments, “Super Mario Galaxy 2” (rated E, $50 on Wii) holds its own against “Bayonetta” as the most fun I’ve had playing a video game this year.
Over the course of a couple dozen hours, Mario and I have journeyed through fire and ice, light and darkness. We’ve stomped turtles and goombas, but we’ve also transformed into a hurtling ball of solid rock, shot ourselves across space and danced on the clouds. On our quest for enough power stars to chase down Bowser and rescue Peach, we’ve dived deep beneath the sea and ridden our dinosaur buddy Yoshi to seemingly unattainable heights.
All of these adventures have taken place, as all Mario games do, on virtual canvases lovingly filled in by Shigeru Miyamoto and his immensely talented stable of developers and level designers. And while I’m not a connoisseur of the genre, “SMG2” is the most entertaining platform-jumping game I’ve played since “Psychonauts,” Sonoma native Tim Schafer’s near-perfect adventure from 2005.
But like “Psychonauts,” which suffered from a buggy final level, “SMG2” has a frustrating flaw. At times it feels like too many functions have been shoehorned into its simplistic control scheme.
One of Mario’s basic moves, the spin attack, requires players to quickly jerk or flick the Wii remote from side to side.
But the game also uses the same imprecise movement for a number of other functions, from shooting fireballs to ice skating and triggering special abilities governed by power-ups.
This gets problematic, say, when Mario is standing on ice and you want to execute a spin attack without landing on skates. It’s almost inevitable that, at some point, you’ll spin to dispatch an enemy, then skate right off the edge of a cliff.
For a game so dependent on precision, this piggybacking of functions, particularly the use of the fireballs, can be occasionally maddening. Given that “SMG2” only uses one of the two buttons on the Wii’s nunchuk controller, it’s also flat-out puzzling.
That said, these issues crop up only often enough to be a minor annoyance. The time Mario spends running around on ice, or as Rock or Cloud Mario, is but a tiny fraction of “SMG2’s” overall gameplay. It’s still a must-buy game for any Wii owner or fan of platform-jumping games.
But for my money, “Psychonauts” remains the pinnacle of the genre because of its snappy writing and cute narrative about a young boy trying to solve a mystery at a summer camp for psychic kids.
Yes, despite the compelling Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner argument, I’m still fantasizing about the game we’d get if Miyamoto and his crew teamed up with some top writing talent and Mario uttered a few words beyond his usual Mickey Mouse-style phrasings.
But maybe this guy Matt’s got a point. Maybe it’d be best if Nintendo left the minimalist, classic Mario formula alone and brought us a new hero and new adventures. In an industry too focused on “franchises,” sequels and endless serialization, Nintendo could use a new hero.