ÿIt was the worst-kept secret Nintendo had: Super Mario Galaxy 2 was playable at its Media Summit in San Francisco today. This limited demo was the first time we saw anything on the game since its trailer debut at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. But today, we didn’t just watch. We experienced.
The version at the Summit is far from finished as it lacked any sort of front end interface. Instead, to play a level you simply cycled through a quickly programmed menu system to pick one of about a dozen different Star challenges that will be in the final game.
In this context, it really felt like Super Mario Galaxy 2 is just more of the same: more challenges in the same established Super Mario Galaxy engine. Apart from the new gameplay mechanics, if you were walking past the systems at the Media Summit you’d probably think that Nintendo was showing off the original 2007 release.
But you know what? That’s not really a bad thing. Super Mario Galaxy is still the best damn game on the Nintendo Wii, so to get more of the best damn Wii game is still a wonderful thing indeed.
Many of the levels feature a lot of the mechanics that were revealed in the E3 trailer. You can now encounter Yoshi in a variety of platforming challenges. He can do all the same Yoshi things he’s been doing in other Mario platformers: eat enemies, flutterjump to reach higher platforms, and take one for the team if an enemy gets too close for comfort. He can also consume “blimp berries” that’ll inflate him like a balloon, letting him float up to higher areas as he exhales the extra air. You can have him hold his breath with the A button to let him float in place. Dash Peppers can be consumed to give him a boost in speed, which then lets him, in some levels, run up walls. As long as he doesn’t bump into objects while on fire he’ll stay on that surface.
One of the things I wished the original Super Mario Galaxy had was more forced perspective side-scrolling levels. And in this demo of the sequel, Nintendo does not disappoint. Not only did I play some really clever gravity focused challenges (the gravity shifts from down to up depending on the backdrop, the floor becoming the ceiling and vice versa), there were also some awesome “rolling log” levels with 2D platforms cut within the cylinder. In these levels, you can pretty much fall forever?or at least until you land on a safe platform.
There are also side-challenges to earn additional stars: I found a hard-to-reach pipe that whisked me off to a mini-game where I had to pick up a fire flower and smash all the crates on a specific platform within 30 seconds. This was not easy. It took me at least six tries to figure out the layout and the proper plan of attack to smash them all?and even then I barely had a single second to spare.
One of the hardest levels I played was one where you had to flip a network of platforms by flicking the Wii remote in order to collect 100 purple coins within 4 minutes. You have to land on a platform and jump towards a gap, flick the Wii remote to rotate the shared platform into the gap you’re jumping to. The deeper into the level you got the harder the challenge. Rolling bombs would suddenly start following the platform network and you had to flip the platforms — while you were still on them — to detonate the bombs in order to move forward psp games.
Many of the televisions demoing Super Mario Galaxy 2 had headphones attached so we could hear the audio for the sequel. While I didn’t hear much in the way of orchestral pieces (though the trailer definitely spotlighted a remix of the Super Mario Galaxy theme) the game does have some great audio. There’s lots of throwback pieces, including the early level themes ripped right out of Super Mario World.
The game utilizes the Super Mario Galaxy engine so there wasn’t much in the way of new visual effects, but the strength of the engine still shows that the Wii is capable of a lot of cool graphic techniques and styles. So while the visual impact has already been played out in the original game, that’s not to say I’m disappointed in the look of Super Mario Galaxy 2?it’s easily one of the most beautiful Wii games to date. It’s just not much of a stretch from the already beautiful Super Mario Galaxy.
I absolutely can’t wait to sit down and play the full version of Super Mario Galaxy 2 when it ships later this year. More of the best game on Wii might not have the same first impression as a fresh Wii project (read Metroid Other M), but I’m still totally excited for this sequel.
Second Take from Matt Casamassina
I had the pleasure of playing through a nine-level demo of Super Mario Galaxy 2 at Nintendo’s Media Summit event in San Francisco this morning and afternoon — both of them, really, as I spent so much time on and off the game kiosk exploring stages and mechanics familiar and new alike. So what to write about the sequel that even now is my favorite Wii game and indeed one of the best titles in a decade? Well, to put it simply, Nintendo’s Tokyo studio has once again created a wholly polished, engaging, beautiful platformer that pushes the hardware, utilizes the controller well and still looks better than just about anything on the console. But so far, the sequel is evolutionary, not revolutionary. As Craig Harris wrote in his own impressions, that’s not necessarily a criticism.
The demo itself lacked any cinematic flair with regard to cut-scenes and interface. The front-end was altogether missing — a simple level selection screen — and as Nintendo explained, some of the presentational bells and whistles are still to come. For example, I noted that much of the music sounded MIDI-esque in my live-blog coverage of the Summit and company reps later informed me that there will be an orchestrated soundtrack, but it’s not ready yet. Still, the game showed more sparkle and attention to detail than the bulk of retail releases.
The levels, from first to end: Sky Station Galaxy, Spin-Dig Galaxy, Hightail Falls Galaxy, Tall Trunk Galaxy, Upside Dizzy Galaxy, Bowser Jr’s Fiery Flotilla, Supermassive Galaxy, Bowser Jr.’s Fearsome Fleet, and Flip-Swap Galaxy. Yes, I can take notes with the best of them, thank you very much.
The majority of the stages shown took place to earthy backdrops rather than some of the spacey locales in the first game. I was excited to see how Nintendo upped the ante with regard to gravity-based puzzles in the sequel, but sadly these types of stages were not demoed at the Summit. Oh well — something to look forward to then. What I did see were some really fresh areas built around existing Galaxy gameplay fundamentals and a few new items and characters.
Obviously, the drill. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it — everybody’s seen it. Now that I’ve played around with it, though, I feel it’s definitely a worthy addition to the platforming environment. After Mario acquires the item, he can use it just about anywhere to drill from one side of a globe to another. In some cases, some clever puzzles encircle the concept. For instance, a huge pillar with a star might rest on the underbelly of a planet. There’s no way for Mario to reach the stretching obstacle unless he travels to the opposite end of the world and then drills through and directly into the pillar, coming out right-side up on the other end. This technique is also used frequently against bosses, many of whom sport weak spots on their underside — convenient, sure, but fun nevertheless.
Then, Yoshi. Eggs litter some levels and if you crack them open, your old friend appears. Mario can ride Yoshi as he’s always done. Hold down A button when you jump and Yoshi will flutter through the air temporarily before falling back down. Much better, though, is the character’s able tongue, which can snap out and grab onto all kinds of objects — star bits, various enemies, hanging latches, and so forth. In one stage, Bullet Bills fly toward Mario and Yoshi, the latter of whom can swallow them whole with his tongue and then spit them back out again. This is all done quite brilliantly with the Wii remote. Point at the Bills, lock on, and then suck in with the tap of a button — press it again to fire back. It’s great and really fun. I’m looking forward to more challenges based around Yoshi’s other abilities, too — the demo offered glimpses at the speed-enhancing dash pepper and the blimp berries, allowing him to float.
The game’s selection of worlds remains ever dazzling. In Supermassive Galaxy, everything is huge, be it Goombas or the actual platforms that Mario runs across. And I really do mean enormous. A typical baddie is about 20 times bigger than the plumber, for example. And in Flip-Swap Galaxy, a timed purple-coined challenge, the difficulty met my expectations. Nintendo’s mascot had to run across a series of flippable platforms — shake the Wii remote and they either turned over and disappeared or reappeared — without falling through or off the ledges, all the while avoiding giant Bullet Bills and other obstacles. It was incredibly hard but equally fun. Nintendo’s own Bill Trinen — supposedly a seasoned gamer — tried all afternoon to make it through the stage but failed miserably time and time again before he fled the premises crying like a wee girl. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, anyway.
You can probably already see from screens and the trailer that Galaxy 2′s visuals do not offer a great leap over the original. That said, its predecessor still looks fabulous and the sequel delivers the same caliber of art and technology with brand new themes at every turn, not to mention a particle system that somehow looks even better. (I was particularly amazed by a sandstorm that blew through an area.) And of course the fluidity held strong without a single hiccup that I could perceive — that’s 60 frames, not 30, by the way.
I suppose some gamers will be disappointed that some grand new game-changing mechanic has not upended the Galaxy license with this sequel. It seems a valid complaint based on what I’ve seen so far. But as such a fan of everything the original accomplished, I’m thrilled to see more of the same, not disappointed. And the very fact that we’re getting this game so soon has me really excited.