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Published June 24, 2010

Though video game forums are constant hotbeds for trivial debates, there are a few old school “rivalries” that still continue to crop up from time to time. Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3. Super Mario Bros. 3 vs. Super Mario World. Goldeneye 007 vs. Perfect Dark.* All great games in their time, and fans seem split down the middle when forced to pick a side. Maybe this may sound premature, but I think we can safely add Super Mario Galaxy vs. Super Mario Galaxy 2 to the list. I have not been shy in professing my love for both games, but with 120 stars worth of hindsight in last month’s Galaxy 2, I think I’m ready to make up my mind. It’s time to figure out which critical darling is more deserving of our affection. (Keep in mind that the following categories are not weighted equally.)

*I would pick the latter in every battle mentioned.

Level Design

This is a matter of preference, but my vote would go to Galaxy 2. The original spent much of the time in earlier galaxies introducing players to the gravity-defying running and jumping, but the sequel assumes players are ready for deadlier obstacle courses and more outlandish challenges. In many instances, the levels are designed to keep Mario moving as fast as possible, so that the player is never waiting too long on any particular planetoid. (This is especially true whenever Yoshi’s Dash Pepper shows up). Bonus points go to the sequel’s bird races for being much less infuriating than the manta water slides.


Galaxy 2 is very streamlined compared to its predecessor. I don’t know if that’s a response to the success of New Super Mario Bros. Wii or because people didn’t like the spaceship hub from Galaxy (probably both), but the constant hopping in and out of levels feels completely new to the 3D Mario games. And in this particular instance, I prefer the more traditional approach.

We’ve seen this shifting dynamic in the series before. In Super Mario Bros. 3, levels were over in a blink, with dozens of new enemies showing up throughout. Miyamoto never allowed anything to overstay its welcome; that less-is-more philosophy is a big reason why fans still vividly remember Kuribo’s Shoe or the tornado/Angry Sun combo. The fourth game to reach our shores, World, added a new steed and bigger foes, but there was now a greater emphasis on exploration. Hidden keys, warp gates, the star world – World  may have had fewer tricks but it was arguably the grander experience anyway. Two decades later, the two Galaxies diverge along the same lines, though interestingly enough, it’s the first Galaxy that feels richer to me.


Galaxy 2 wins this category hands down. While the throwback suits in the first game were cool, the Bee Suit and Boo Suit in particular felt shoehorned into their levels. It was all about nostalgia, plain and simple. In Galaxy 2, the Rock Suit, the Cloud Suit and the drill work splendidly and are much more versatile. Whether you’re creating cloudy platforms in between long jumps or drilling through an entire planet, these items are genuinely useful and allow Mario to travel much faster.

The biggest bullet point on the back of Galaxy 2‘s case is Yoshi, and he’s also implemented elegantly. No longer a juice-puking nuisance, Yoshi’s flutter jump and accurate tongue make some of the game’s trickier spots much more manageable. Hell, even he has his own set of useful power-ups.

Sadly, no sign of Galaxy‘s Ice Flower. R.I.P.


With the exception of Yoshi’s Island, which doesn’t even belong in the series according to some, the Super Mario series was never really known for great boss battles. Be honest; you don’t really have fond memories of Boom-Boom or Reznor, right? However, Galaxy changed that in a big way. Suddenly, Bowser Jr. was commanding a huge mech and nearly every galaxy ended with an epic brawl. These fights could be surprisingly challenging, too. (The Bouldergeist comet was five times the personal ass-kicker that “Luigi’s Purple Coins” was for everyone else.)

I was very glad to see Galaxy 2 follow suit, and it even brings back all of the bosses from the first game in one of the special stages. Another clear win, but next time, how about we change up the Bowser fights a bit, OK?


We’re all sick of the usual shtick. Maybe Miyamoto and crew see Bowser kidnapping Peach as timeless, but it’s more tedious for anyone who has kept up with the series. Believe it or not, however, the original Galaxy played with these conventions a bit. The game opened with an ominous invasion of airships and concluded with the universe essentially resetting itself. Rosalina added just the slightest bit of ambiguity – yeah, we’re still talking about a Mario game – and it’s a shame that the developers felt the need to pull back with the sequel.

The End-Game

Upon finding 120 stars, players could go through the entire adventure a second time as…SPOILERS…Luigi. Though Mario’s brother could jump higher and had less traction, the game itself remained the same. A cool bonus, but not really new content. Galaxy 2 introduces Luigi much earlier, and instead offers…again, SPOILERS…hidden green stars. Though I’m not sure I’m going to go back to collect them all, I like knowing that there are a few more stars to save up for a rainy day.


For some of you, this may have little/no value, and honestly, if the games only served up nostalgia, then you probably wouldn’t even be reading this post in the first place. But because the Galaxy games are so good, the references to older games only enhance the experiences.  The first game had a lot of call-backs and enemies that hadn’t been seen in years. While Super Mario Sunshine still holds a special place in my heart, I was really excited to see enemies like the Magikoopa and Rocky Wrenches realized in 3D. Galaxy 2 lays it on even thicker. Not only do you have an entire level ripped from a past game, but there are even more cameos and nods. Rainbow Road? A giant galaxy? This fanboy approves.

Controls, Presentation
A tie. Both games look great, feel great and sound great. I wish every Nintendo franchise would get the full orchestral treatment.

Both Marios put up a good fight, but the second game shines just a little brighter. I’m still partial to the first Galaxy‘s pacing and soaring heights, but the sequel avoids some of the first’s stumbles. (No mirrored beehive level, thank goodness!) Still, both are instant classics and the two very best games you can buy for the Wii. I don’t know how Nintendo will ever top this entire universe of levels.

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