A sequel to 2007’s landmark Super Mario Galaxy was always both an inevitability and an impossibility. The original Galaxy was a critical and commercial success that sold millions of copies and immediately ranked as one of the most beloved games of the generation, making a successor a mere question of when, not if. Yet Super Mario Galaxy 2 faced an insurmountable task: how do you improve on perfection? How do you follow a tour-de-force of platforming mastery? The answer, it turns out, was simple – just do more of the same, but even bigger this time.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 released in North America ten years ago on May 23rd, 2010. This sequel might not be as groundbreaking as the original game before it, but what it may lack in that department, it more than makes up for with its gameplay ambitions. Mario Galaxy 2 takes the brilliant antigravity formula established by its predecessor and expands it to its fullest potential. Bursting with creativity and filled to the brim with exciting new gameplay ideas, Mario Galaxy 2 represents a perfect sequel and a pinnacle of the platforming genre even a decade later.
“Why not do Mario Galaxy 1.5?“
Considering this legacy, it might be surprising that Mario Galaxy 2 wasn’t even supposed to be its own game. Rather, it began its development as an expansion to the original, as recorded in a wide-ranging 2010 Iwata Asks interview. After the original Galaxy was released, the development team reconvened to reflect on the game and think about what went well and what, if anything, could have been better. Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto had a specific goal in mind with these postmortem meetings: he was determined to build on what the team had already created, akin to how Majora’s Mask followed on Ocarina of Time. Miyamoto was enthusiastic about the idea of creating an upgraded version of Galaxy, a so-called Mario Galaxy 1.5.
But the developers were not immediately won over by this idea. Having just finished the grueling process of AAA game development, they felt that they had already put their all into the first Galaxy and had few ideas left over. “[I]t wasn’t the best time to say, ‘Now use that engine to make another one’ to the developers,’” producer Yoshiaki Koizumi recalled. “They weren’t really in the mood for simply saying ‘All right, we’ll do it!’”
Miyamoto and Koizumi were insistent, however. They called for several brainstorming sessions with the development team, and although initial meetings were relatively unproductive, it wasn’t long before one major idea arose: Yoshi. Mario’s dinosaur companion was originally meant to appear in the first game, but the developers had decided that there wasn’t room for his appearance between all the brand-new mechanics that were already present – taking Mario to outer space was enough of a main gimmick for one release.
An expansion, on the other hand, was the perfect opportunity for Yoshi to make his grand return; the green dino would open the floodgates of the developers’ creativity. The dynamic duo of Mario and Yoshi was just the inspiration the team needed to come up with new ideas. Now, their brainstorming sessions got livelier and livelier as they threw out ideas for new abilities, mechanics, level designs, and galaxies, to the point that they had created so much new content that this humble expansion project grew into a full-blown sequel, a true Super Mario Galaxy 2. After this point, it was smooth sailing to release after a two-and-a-half-year development cycle, resulting in a masterpiece that would be as much of a critical and financial darling as the original.
Welcome, New Galaxies
What makes Super Mario Galaxy 2 feel so remarkable today is how confident it is. Whereas the first Galaxy was an experimental venture into a new galaxy of gameplay, Galaxy 2 is a bold continuation of that winning formula that pushes the envelope even further. The sequel had an established foundation to build on, and that meant that it could take Mario to galactic heights like never before. It knows that it has a burgeoning legacy to carry on, and from beginning to end, it develops the Galaxy template to its fullest potential by stuffing it with new gameplay concepts and mechanics.
Every single level of Mario Galaxy 2 simply explodes with creativity. It’s packed with inventive new mechanics, and among these, the importance of Yoshi’s inclusion cannot be overstated. The Galaxy games already feature a unique brand of antigravity platforming, and Yoshi makes it that much more versatile. Using Yoshi, you can flutter jump over obstacles or latch onto poles and sling through the air. He adds a new dynamic to platforming, and most importantly, he just feels good to control. He plays like a dream, smoothly gliding across the world and easily executing all the agile movements you might need. His special powerups, like the dash, bulb, and blimp abilities, serve to keep the gameplay even more dynamic such that you never know what you’ll be getting into whenever you find a Yoshi egg in a level.
Mario himself is more versatile than ever as well. Powerups like the Cloud Flower, Spin Drill, and Rock Mushroom grant our plumber all-new abilities that are likewise a pleasure to toy with. Along with Yoshi, they change the way you interact with the worlds around you, letting you roll through the obstacles before you, soar across the sky, or dig deep into the ground to uncover its secrets. Such interactivity fosters that same sense of awe, wonder, and experimentation that made the original game so special, and these new powerups and abilities only serve to make this sensation just that much sweeter.
One of the major factors that made the original Galaxy so incredible was how diverse and compelling its many galaxies were. The sequel takes that to the next level, as its 49 galaxies all feel memorable and wildly distinct from each other. Who can forget exploring the serene Cosmic Cove Galaxy, or raiding the imposing Space Storm Galaxy, or sliding down the slopes of Slipsand Galaxy? Each level is full of these unforgettable moments, and Galaxy 2 never lets up when it comes to the action. With the new streamlined world map, instead of the scattered hub of the Observatory in the first game, there’s even less downtime in between each level. It may have been stuck in standard definition on the Wii, but that didn’t stop Galaxy 2 from assembling a full lineup of gorgeous levels to take on, each one of them more engaging than the last.
And of course, no discussion of any Mario Galaxy game is complete without mentioning its glorious orchestral music. Although the age-old debate about which Galaxy soundtrack is superior will likely never be resolved, there is no denying that the sequel’s music is every bit as majestic as the original. From the epic main theme to the meditative World 3 map theme, each song stirs up emotion like few other games can manage. Just try and listen to the Cloudy Court Galaxy music without feeling ready to soar through the sky, I dare you.
An Out-of-this-World Legacy
A decade later, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is everything a sequel should be. It took a seemingly perfect formula from its predecessor and managed to make it even better by adding in a near-endless string of new ideas. Even today, after a decade of incredible platformers, few games approach the impressive level of variety, quality, and creativity on display in Galaxy 2. Ambitious and beautiful, Mario Galaxy 2 is easily among the best titles on the Wii—and now let’s hope that it comes to Switch one day, so that even more players can experience one of the very finest platformers ever created.