While the rest of the gaming landscape changes, Mario remains a constant, our tenacious mustachioed rescuer of princesses. But when one takes a step back and tries to look at Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) with fresh eyes, does it really hold up to such objective scrutiny? Sure, it's another entry in one of gaming's most iconic and important series, but is it actually that good?
Here's the shorthand: If you enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy, you will more than likely also enjoy Super Mario Galaxy 2 because it's practically the same game. A few trappings here and there have changed, but by and large, you're covering the same kind of ground that you did the last time you soared through the stars. Bowser has, once again, spirited the princess away and Mario, being the enabler that he is, has decided to chase after them. A wayward Luma (those cute little star guys) persuades his pals to help Mario on his quest, and before you can wonder why Peach doesn't just start carrying pepper spray or something, you're on a spaceship and sailing through the cosmos.
The ship requires stars to fuel its engines, so you must hop from planet to planet collecting them in order to move deeper through space and closer to your quarry. You'll have to visit each planet several times to collect all of the stars it has to offer, and finish it off in a number of ways, such as finding hidden pathways to stars or just getting to the end of the level. Each planet also has a Comet Medal on it somewhere, and if you nab enough of those, you'll attract Prankster Comets that will offer you yet another star if you can complete a particularly tricky challenge. In other words, it's the same basic thing you've been doing since Super Mario 64.
Given how many times we've done this dance with Mario, we should, by rights, be well sick of it by now, but it's hard to be cranky when the level design is this good. Each planet in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a joy to discover, because while the core elements of Mario platforming - precision jumps, item collection, and powerups - remain consistent, virtually nothing else does. One moment, you're fighting a gigantic dragon as he chews his way through a moon, the next, you're floating through the branches of an enormous tree. You've seen bits and pieces of Galaxy 2 in other Mario titles, but the incredible creativity that goes into its planets will nonetheless fill you with the kind of awe and glee you felt when you first started playing games.