My background with 3D Mario has been spotty at best. Not having owned an N64 in its heyday, my first foray into Mario's 3D adventures was the underwhelming Super Mario Sunshine. I liked it alright, but found controlling Mario in a 3D environment to be cumbersome. With so many different types of jumps and a controllable camera to manage, it was difficult for someone coming off 2D gaming to gauge depth. I also found the repetition of environments and tropical aesthetic tiresome. As far as 3D platformers went, I much preferred Sly Cooper's exploits.
I eventually got around to trying Mario 64. By an odd stroke of luck I acquired it for the DS and N64 on the very same day. I gave the N64 version a shot, decided I'd rather play a newer game at home and save Mario 64 DS for being out and about. From the little I gleaned of the N64 version the analogue stick helped, but didn't make the game. Ultimately, I found Mario 64 DS to be a step up from Sunshine in terms of variety and creativity, but still awkward to control and not nearly as much fun as its 2D ancestors.
So it should come as no surprise that I wasn't all that excited for Super Mario Galaxy. The use of motion controls were still novel and I was curious to see them implemented by the big N itself, but otherwise I was expecting a pretty good albeit unrevolutionary 3D platformer. I couldn't have been more wrong.
What changed my mind, you ask? Well, it wasn't any one thing, but a variety. Capturing star bits with the Wiimote pointer while otherwise controlling Mario with the analogue stick was a neat addition, as I felt like I always had something to do even when backtracking. I admired its unique spin on gravity and how it downplayed traditional platforming in lieu of spinning and interacting with the environment. Mostly, I loved how much variety it had on display with multiple objectives in the same galaxy taking you to wildly different places. I could go on and on, but others have sung its praises endlessly in reviews all across Metacritic. The point is that it gave me the sense of wonder and excitement that most people had for Mario 64 that I probably would have shared had I been into games at the time.
That being said, I was skeptical of Super Mario Galaxy 2. It had only been 2.5 years, and the trailer looked like more of the same. And in many ways it is. My initial reaction was underwhelmed. There was nothing wrong about it per se, but they set the bar so high two years prior that I'd already expected excellence. It had to go beyond that.
Eventually it did. There were more novel ideas thrown out faster than Yoshi after eating a flaming hot pepper and I found myself hopelessly addicted to collecting stars in a way I hadn't been since the last Galaxy. But where this one positions itself superior is in its lasting value. Just when I'd achieved 120 stars another 120 hidden ones opened up. One gripe- I wish these had been there the whole time as replaying earlier missions isn't always that exciting. Still, the great thing about the hidden stars is that they encourage you to explore each level to its fullest, often achieving tricks you never thought possible. It's a wonderful reward and certainly more fun that simply unlocking Luigi (who's also in this one and unlocked much earlier on).
SMG2 may not have stirred my imagination quite the same way as its predecessor did a couple years back, but it doesn't matter. It tapped into my OCD in a way that most games attempt to, but fail miserably at. If I'm not consistently making progress, being challenged, and discovering new things, I move on to something else. SMG2 has it's flaws (the swimming and repetition of the Bowser boss battle is a particularly irritating flaw as it's been true of almost every 3D Mario game, yet never been fixed) but it understands pacing perfectly making it my favorite game of 2010 so far.
Oh, and here's what I've written over the past couple months...
Nier Review- I liked the game a lot and meant to write on it more. Perhaps I will...
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Review- I didn't like this one as much, but it had its own charms.
Challenging Conventions# 12 Anticlimax is the New Climax- Games the buck the status quo of ramping up their difficulty for the endgame.
Challenging Conventions# 13 Graphics So Bad They're Good- An analysis of some games where the poor graphics actually enhance the experience.
Challenging Conventions# 14- A look at poor writing in otherwise great games and how at the end of the day fun is fun. But that won't stop me from asking for more.
Challenging Conventions# 15 What's the Hurry?- A look at fast-travel and how it can at times be detrimental to immersion.
Note: I previously believed Challenging Conventions# 14 to not exist as it wasn't showing up in the TGR search engine. Turns out the editor abbreviated it CC and it was nearly lost to the ether. Somehow I didn't remember writing it and thought I'd miscounted. I'm glad it's back and in its full glory.