For everyone who played the incandescent original, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is stepping up to a seemingly untouchable benchmark. Widely regarded as the finest Mario game since the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 (and to some it was the flat-out finest Mario game ever made) a sequel, even though it was developed by the same inimitable team at Nintendo’s Kyoto HQ, could have sullied the memory of an original that still lays a very real claim to being the finest thing that the company has ever put its name to. It’s the first direct sequel to a Mario property since the NES days, and the law of diminishing returns was very much expected to rear its heinous bonce.

But all apprehensive worriers can relax, because not only does Super Mario Galaxy 2 live up to the original, it more than surpasses it. American comedian Chris Rock once described Ricky Gervais as being almost offensively nonchalant about how he dispensed material that other stand-up comics would have killed to have written, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 is completely bewildering in an almost identical way. Individual moments of unalloyed genius appear with such disarming frequency that you’ll spend half of your time wanting to give each one an impromptu round of applause, and yet those moments are never unduly milked or overused. It gives each great idea its own brief moment in the sun, and then just briskly moves onto the next one.

Easily the most impressive thing about Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that the overbearing quality of it never dips, even for a moment. Not only are even the minor, secondary stars an absolute joy to pursue, the paltry niggles that may have hampered anyone’s enjoyment of the first game – problems that we didn’t realise even existed, to be fair – have been ironed out entirely, making for the most accessible 3D Mario game yet made. The original’s miniature hub-world has been discarded and replaced by the instantly familiar mini-map structure borrowed from every 2D Mario game. The game’s opening tier has also been cleverly shaped to give ample assistance to any casual newcomers, many of whom may be investigating after having their interest piqued by the excellent New Super Mario Brothers last Christmas.

In addition to a few scattered TV screens that offer up handy tips during the game’s opening hour or two, each level now has multiple mid-mission checkpoints, a seemingly infinite number of star bits, and an uncommonly generous selection of coins and 1ups. A tutorial DVD has also been included to coach the initiated in the intricacies of its analogue control system, but people who’ve been enjoying Mario games since the seminal Mario 64 definitely shouldn’t panic, because Super Mario Galaxy 2 has more than its fair share of challenging set pieces. Some of the later missions are genuinely fiendish, but never in ways that’ll frustrate you. One surprisingly early level – that features flip-switches that are triggered by mid-air spin jumps – is so tough that even the hardcore will probably need to use at least five lives in order to beat it, but the experience (multiple deaths and all) will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

The slight but enjoyable multiplayer component returns (with the second player appearing as an on-screen cursor to soak up missed star bits) but now allows player two to hoover up coins as well. The bosses are as inventive and impeccably designed as ever, Mario’s new abilities and toys (including a drill bit and a cloud-making suit) make for some of the campaign’s sharpest and most resourceful moments, and Yoshi’s return isn’t some piece of empty kaleidoscopic fan-service – it re-shapes entire portions of the game, keeping everything fresh when it wasn’t in any danger of going stale in the first place.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a non-stop rush of pure excellence; in design and in execution. Nobody makes games like these better than Nintendo, and though we’d all have been perfectly happy with more of the same, the company have truly gone way above and beyond the call of duty, crafting something that has inarguably set the genre standard. How long that standard remains in place is anyone’s guess, but there are no prizes for guessing who will probably be the ones to supersede it. For now though, this is nothing less than the best game on the Nintendo Wii, and an essential purchase for anyone who owns that machine.

Watch the Super Mario Galaxy 2 trailer here…

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