This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Super Mario Galaxy 2.
To say Nintendo overuse their intellectual property is like saying a parasitic wasp overuses the caterpillar it lays its eggs in, and which its babies will eat away from the inside in a startling allegory for human relationships. Throughout history, Nintendo producing Mario platformers has been as inevitable as genital disease producing strange and worrying fluids, but at least they made an effort to mix up the formula each time. Mario 3 introduced the world map, Mario World introduced a slightly suspect relationship with a shoe-wearing dinosaur, Mario Sunshine introduced copiously weeing on people; so what does Mario Galaxy 2 do that no other Mario game has done before? Well, just one thing: stagnate! (Oh, wait a second, I forgot about New Super Mario Bros. Wii. In that case: fuck all!)
This is normally the point where I recap the plot, but this time, why don't you all sing along! There are three entities: Mario, Princess Peach, and Bowser (the ego, the superego, and the id). One of these entities kidnaps another and the third has to go in pursuit of them. See if you can figure out which is which. This game made me realize that the plot of many Mario games can be enlivened somewhat by assuming that "cake" is the Mushroom Kingdom word for "sex". The Princess invites Mario over for some... cake, but Bowser kidnaps her so she can make some... cake for him instead. (Only now he's five hundred feet tall and emperor of the universe, so she'd better make sure her... cake is spread quite wide.) Needless to say, this is the same plot is Mario Galaxy 1 with zero acknowledgment of continuity. No little mushroom person at any point says: "Didn't this exact same thing happen not however long ago? Say, did anyone remember to press charges on Bowser last time he pulled this; put in him prison or something? What exactly was stopping him turning around and pulling the same shit the moment Mario and the Princess were distracted with each other's cakes? See, people, this is why we need to introduce a constitutional monarchy, wark wark!"
Okay, so Bowser kidnapping the Princess is sort of traditional, like hanging, drawing, and quartering. And when Mario Galaxy 1 did it, I figured, "Well, fair enough. They're introducing the concept to all the new audience of casual gamer shitheads that the Wii's suckered in - each of which I'm prepared to personally seal away in some kind of medieval oubliette, but whatever, we play the cards we're dealt." But Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't have that excuse. It seems reasonable to me that the chief audience for Galaxy 2 is people who played Galaxy 1, but the game seems to assume that you didn't, or at least it sincerely hopes you didn't. Mario himself seems confused on the Wii menus: "Shooper Mario Galackseeee!", he shrieks, omitting the incremental digit. Exactly how stupid does Nintendo think people are? To find an answer to that question, I feel I should point out that as well as a manual, the gamebox also contains a separate piece of paper reiterating the controls with large, colourful visual aids, and a DVD in which the controls are cooed a third time by a woman with the same patient, motherly voice she'd use to potty-train a brain-damaged two-year-old, and a big, glossy photograph of the Wii console itself, as if to say, "put it in this!"
Moving on from Nintendo's "no drooling Mongoloid left behind" policy, Mario Galaxy 1's hub world has been replaced by a spaceship in the shape of Mario's head - the spacegoing equivalent of personalized number plates. (And you just know from looking at him, Mario's the kind of arsehole who overtakes on the hard shoulder.) Anyway, Starship Narcissus is where Mario keeps the characters he meets on his travels as some sick collection of living trophies, and there are some extra lives and pick-ups that respawn each time you return - so if, like me, you're completely psychotic, then after every level you have to run around collecting them all again so everything can be neat und tidy. From the crown of Mario's giant, spacefaring ego, you can then access the map screen. What is it with Wii games and map screens lately? It's like every Wii developer struggling to squeeze respectable gaming experiences into the Wii processor limitations woke up one morning saying, "Hey, we can just do that thing the NES did that's one step up from picking from a drop-down menu, and not have to do as much work!" God help us if anyone shows them a text adventure.
I shouldn't even have to talk about the core gameplay. I'd consider it a insult to you and me. My review of Mario Galaxy 1 hasn't gone anywhere. Why not pause this video, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go and enjoy that. I'll just wait here slapping myself in the face until you return.
[The screen goes black and we hear four slaps, followed by a sigh, followed by four more slaps.]
Finished? Right! Well, Mario Galaxy 2 is more of that. More jumping around on things and more wanker's cramp from all the Wiimote shaking. They did add Yoshi now, though, so the major bold new addition to the formula is an idea from 1990. And there are new power-ups based on becoming a cloud and a rock - both ideas I assume were acquired by looking out of a window during a dull brainstorming meeting. This is something we used to call an "expansion pack" and which Nintendo apparently calls "ka-ching". Several bosses and encounters are copied wholesale in the noble cause of knocking off work early, but the individual level designs are different (although get stunlocked down one bottomless pit, been stunlocked down them all). And when I say "different," I mean "different to Mario Galaxy 1", for there is one level that is a boldfacedly copied open-quotes "tribute" to a level from Mario 64, which indicates two things: A) Mario 64 definitely hasn't aged well, and B) that dull brainstorming meeting must have run out of snacks at some point.
I guess the fan base will get the franchise it deserves, but is this really all you want? Yes, there are games I like, games I love. Do I want to play a new installment of the same thing every few years? No! The fastest way to spoil your pleasures is to make them routine. Variety is the spice of life and status quo is the starch. The star that shines brightest is all the more glorious for its brevity - or, to bring this metaphor down to a broader cultural level, The Simpsons has been running for twenty-one seasons and hasn't been good since the fifth. I would rather see things evolve - before any defenders of motion-controllers get in touch, evolve in ways that aren't stupid! You know what, Mario fans, you want to stay tucked up in your little comfort zone playing the same game, ordering the same pizza every night 'til you're on first-name terms with all the delivery boys? That doesn't bother me. I'll even admit that Galaxy 2 is fun, but you have to do something for me in return: I want you to go out this weekend and do something you've never done before. Go skydiving. Get drunk at a football match and glass someone. Meet a nice member of the opposite sex and invite them out for some... cake.
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw: He'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds
Fair Use Notice: Maybe Mario can breathe in space because he's some kind of homunculus
FullyRamblomatic.com: Ground control to Mario: Your circuit's dead - oh no