GAMES Magazine Electronic Game of the Year: Super Mario Galaxy 2

So you clicked on this post today and thought, “Are you on crack, McDonald? A sequel to a Mario game as the best game for the entire year? You really need to lay off the pipe and get yourself professional help.”

Actually, that was what one of my writers said, but I managed to bring them around with commonsense arguments and minimal use of force.

The answer is actually pretty logical. The original Super Mario Galaxy was a victim of poor timing here at Games Magazine. First, it shipped at an awkward point in the year (November) which means we didn’t get it in time for the 2007 awards. Second, a little masterpiece called BioShock (one of the best games of all time), shipped a couple of weeks later, and shut out all contenders for the 2008 Game of the Year Award.

So when 2010 rolled around with a sequel to a game-of-the-year caliber game which improved upon the original in every way, it seemed like a natural choice for the top spot. This isn’t just a consolation prize because we couldn’t give the original the award three years ago. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has earned its place at the top of the heap by the sheer mastery of its design.

Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II, Mass Effect II, and Battlefield: Bad Company II were all considered, while late shippers like Fallout: New Vegas, Halo: Reach, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would have certainly been contenders had they arrived in time. In a depressing sign of the times, only one of the contenders was an original game, while the rest were all sequels.

All of the best elements of the original have been carried forward in this sequel. This is the same engine, visual style, control scheme, and design elements that made Super Mario Gallery such a breakthrough pleasure. The first game took Mario’s familiar platforming gameplay—the jumping, bouncing, spinning, and soaring traversal of puzzle-like levels—through a dazzling array of inventive landscapes in, on, and around planets and other celestial bodies

The sequel smooths over the rough spots, eliminates what didn’t work, and expands upon what did. Galaxy 2 begins in a the 2D world familiar to players of Super Mario Bros. for Wii, then gradually introduces more complex controls and environments until the player finds himself traversing lavish 3D worlds with shifting gravity, or soaring through space from one planet to another.

To accomplish this, Mario has some new abilities in Galaxy 2, such as a Cloud Suit that allows him to create fluffy, temporary platforms, or a Rock Suit that allows you to use him like a bowling ball. Yoshi is also drafted into the space program, where he can use his tongue to grab objects or his glowing power to illuminate hidden platforms. Players can even have a friend help out, with a more fully developed co-op mode that allows another player to hop in and help grab stars.

This is just a pure delight, with nary a single element out of place. Thanks to the more gradual learning curve, an in-game helper, and co-op play, this is a good pick for the whole family, even younger gamers. There is joy in here, and families with a Wii shouldn’t pass this one up.

App O’ The Mornin’: iTrials Review

Grade: B
Price: $1

No one, in either Flash or app form, has managed to quite capture the bike trials format as well as the original Trials series from RedLynx. Thes 2.5D games blending elements of racing, stunt riding, physics, and side-scrolling action to create a fresh kind of action/racing/puzzle hybrid.

iTrials is the first game to really nails this formula for the mobile devices. It’s not as complete or polished as the products from RedLynx, but it’s a darn good imitation and the best we’ve seen so far.

Trials-style games are 3D games played on a 2D plane. That is, they use 3D-style graphics, but the player can only move forward, backwards, up, or down. The player needs to navigate a course as fast as possible with as few errors as possible.

iTrials does it just right. Motorbike handling feels great, albeit just a little bit bouncy. Controls are go, stop, and a slider for lean forward/backward. I wound have rather seen the tilt slider on the side than on the bottom, but you get used to it after awhile.

Courses are terrific, with 27 levels spread across 3 difficulty sets. They with straightforward ramps and jumps, and soon add seesaws, walls, spinny-things, reverse loops, stairs, sliding blocks, and other crazy obstacles. Animations are smooth and professional, with some great ragdoll effects for the rider. Visually, the game delivers the goods, although some edges could use a bit of smoothing.

This is the best Trials experience in the App Store, and at $1 it’s a steal.