Click "Sleep" for a dark background.
Click "sleep" again if text isn't dark.



Super Mario Galaxy 2

The following are some highlights of Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2). 


Many games in the last generation have innovated with co-op design. Not many have opted for subsidiary co-op roles. Jet Force Gemini, Sin and Punishment, Zelda: Wind Waker, and Super Mario Galaxy all have co-op options where the 2nd player controls an on screen cursor. These cursors don't feature the core mechanics player 1 has. SMG2 tweaks SMG's co-op co-star design. 

The co-star player can no longer make Mario JUMP, which is a good change from SMG. Now, all of Mario's moves are for player 1 preventing player 2 from being a "bad buddy" by intentionally putting Mario into danger with improperly timed jumps. To give player 2 more of a significant role in the cooperative experience, SPIN and GRAB mechanics were added. Now co-star players can grab coins (yellow/purple), Life Mushrooms, and 1-Up Mushrooms and hand them off to Mario (player 1). The SPIN mechanic gives player 2 the ability to attack enemies, smash crystals, and grab checkpoint flags. Couple these new abilities with the old abilities to SHOOT star bits and stop enemies/objects, and player 2 can be a very helpful and active part of the experience. 

The changes in the co-star design make playing as player 2 more of a rail shooter or light gun type gaming experience because there's generally more to interact with. Sit in the passenger seat of a skilled Mario player, and you'll have a considerable challenge keeping up with the action as targets move in and out of view. Because the camera follows Mario's motions only, being aware of how player 1 will move through the level can give player 2 an advantage in planning strategies. 

One final element that I must mention is the sound effects the co-star can play out of either player's Wiimote. If player 1 does a good job, send them an applause sound effect. If you care to tap out sounds to the in game music, feel free. I love wiimote sounds.


2D-3D Space

I've claimed that Super Mario Galaxy is the most 3D game ever. Now Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2) takes the title. Smoothly transitioning between multiple kinds of 2D/3D spaces and perspectives gives SMG2 a flexible-high-quality core that, once again, the industry should learn from. The following is a list of spatial tricks and examples. 

  • The intro transition is genius moving from the 2D side scrolling, 2D side scrolling with z-depth (3D), full 3D with the camera fixed on Mario's back, to full planetoid 3D. The concept is amazing in itself, but tuning the gameplay so that the controls are intuitive every step of the way is more so. 
  • Bowser's Gravity Gauntlet is another great example of seamless transitions. The water section in this level plays 2D stop down style. The camera in the beginning plays with depth only revealing enemy elements when necessary. This is possible because the beginning has 3D planetoid gravity. Inside the castle, the 2D sections are communicated via the fixed camera position. 
  • Though the 3D planetoid camera is pretty flexible, there times when the developers take away your ability to control the camera or use the first person view. With these limitation, secrets can be hidden out in the open. On the other hand, these areas can be revealed selectively as Mario flies over environments or as the camera transitions. The 1up out in the middle of the clouds off the main path on Fluffy Buff Galaxy star #2 is a perfect example. At 33 seconds you can see the cloud and the 1up. But progress a little farther, and it's hidden off screen. You have to spot it before and JUMP into the wild blue yonder. 
  • The meteor smashing (Bowser Bosses) has a sort of Z-lock on camera so players can gauge where they're aiming. This camera design is a natural extension of the planetoid camera. 
  • Tall Trunk Galaxy star #2 features a neat f-zero like race/slide challenge. In tunnels you can slide up the walls and around in circles. You're also free to JUMP to avoid obstacles. 
  • Boo Moon Galaxy star #2 opens with a 2D top down style level section. 


Doing the Mario?

Everyone should "do the Mario" where appropriate (meaning learn from the design examples that great Mario games set). Some modern games have copied Mario's graphical style. Others have copied Galaxy's theme. But this time I want to focus on how Super Mario Galaxy 2 emulates design elements and gameplay styles from other games. The following are some interesting examples I noticed. Some are more fitting than others. 

  • Cosmic MariosDefeat Me or  the classic game Snake.
  • Haunty Halls Galaxy star #1 = Super Mario Sunshine hotel levels
  • Beat Block Galaxy (wii mote metronome) = music rhythm games
  • Spin Dig Galaxy = Mighty Flip Champs! Navigating 3D environments by putting together simpler pages/sides of less complex environments.
  • Chompworks star #1 (Golden Chomp) = Mario March of the Minis
  • Clockwork Ruins = LBP Bunker level
  • Flash Black Galaxy = Illuminating the darkness in Zelda: A Link To The Past with the Ether spell
  • Fleet Glide Galaxy (and other gliding/sliding/ride levels) = a dual control "light gun" experience. 
  • Slipsand Galaxy star #2 = Sin & Punishment. Toward the end, maneuvering around on a small platform (walking left/right, jumping), using the close quarters spin punch, and shooting star bits mimics the core gameplay of S&P.


Super Mario Galaxy 2 is fantastic. My experience with the game was so enjoyable, it took me this long to write something about it. There's more to say about every feature of this game, but the game speaks well for itself. I plan on analyzing the bosses in SMG2 soon. Play it if you haven't already. Listen to the soundtrack for some of the best music of the year. And marvel that there were so many things that Nintendo improved from Galaxy 1. 

The one thing that would really make the Super Mario Galaxy games significantly better is 3D stereoscopic visuals. I had a difficult time beating Stone Cyclone Galaxy because it was hard to interpret distances on a flat screen. Even if you don't see the interactive benefits stereoscopic graphics would add to the game, just imagine JUMPing through space that's "deeper" than ever. 

« From Unintuitive to Eureka pt.1 | Main | Investigation: Shadow Complex »

Reader Comments (3)

Seeing more of this discussion of the 3D elements in SMG 2 makes me want to see you write about the same stuff in Psychonauts. That game had some caveats but some very interesting approaches to level design.

I'm working on the Purple comets in SMG 1. Haven't tried SMG 2 yet.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Rosander

Nice article. However, a few minor things which could be corrected:

Flash Back Galaxy isn't that much like using a spell in A Link to the Past, and instead reminds me a lot more of Blackout Basement in Donkey Kong Country. You know, with the lights going on and off at a set time.

Also, player 2 not being able to make Mario jump isn't always a perfect change to the game, I do recall you being able to jump higher if you used said feature and jumped with the 1st controller at the same time. That itself had a few user for shortcuts and stuff in levels. But you're right, it stops player 2 being able to cause Mario to kill himself at least.

Also, what happened to the boss analysis idea? It could have been interesting to read. Especially considering my own dislike of the non end of world bosses in the game, I always thought too many of them were designed purely for gameplay purposes and without any real character. I've always just thought Peewee Piranha, Glamdozer, etc were kind of horrible character designs, even if they did make their weakness extremely clear. There was nothing wrong with designing bosses and enemies as characters first and obstacles last like in the NES/SNES/N64 days. At least they looked like they had more personality.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCM30

@ CM30

Good comments.

The main reason why I compared the SMG2 level to A Link to the Past is because you can use some kind of player mechanic to help you feel out the space. In the DK level you linked to, you mostly have to just wait or go for it. That DK level is more like Spark Mandrill's level from Mega Man X2.

Good point about the co-op JUMP. In my view, taking away something bad is always good. And taking away something good isn't bad (necessarily). I prefer cleaner more focused games with only good things to their design then some kind of mixed alternative.

I might address the bosses one day. If you wanted to chat about them, you know where to find me. Otherwise, this is all I have for now.


September 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>