Without question, Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2, are up there as two of the greatest games of all time. Accordingly they were also two of the most highly anticipated and highly rated by critics, fans and the media. Something I haven’t seen discussed very openly is the simple question of ‘which one is better?’ Every review that I’ve read, every person I’ve spoken to thinks that Galaxy 2 is the superior game. It seems unanimously agreed that the latter improved all of the aspects of the original that it was marked down on reviews for. Maybe, I’m alone – but when I compare the elements that make up the two, it is the original in my mind that is superior.
Of course, both games had their ups and downs. In some aspects the sequel was much better. For instance, both of the games are really quite short to just complete the story; however, the original required 60 stars and the second required 70. Furthermore, while both games have 242 power stars available, the first only got that number by counting getting the star as Mario and Luigi as separate stars. The second literally had much more content, and while the main story length was too short in both, the follow up had much more content beyond what the first did overall.
There are two other aspects where I favor the sequel over the original. First is the difficulty. Both were far too easy in my opinion, but Galaxy 2 had some levels like Tall Trunk and Melty Monster Galaxy that provided the level of difficulty I was after. In that sense, the sequel catered to a wider audience giving both new and experienced gamers levels they would enjoy. The instructional DVD that came with it prepared people better for the more difficult parts, and the Cosmic Witch was there to help. The last point where the sequel stood out to me was the power ups and level designs. By having all of the power ups from the original and new enjoyable ones such as Cloud Mario, Galaxy 2 is unquestionably better there. Not only that, but I feel that allowed for much better level design incorporating more of these powers ups, and Yoshis. I must also give Galaxy 2 a nod for its throwbacks to Super Mario 64, including the Throwback Galaxy and the usage of the ‘slider’ music.
That is where my favoritism towards Galaxy 2 ends. Elements that I rate as equal in the two obviously includes graphics, but more notably, replay value. With both games the puzzles and levels can be done over and over and not become boring. Sweet Sweet Galaxy for example – a prime example for me of how the Galaxy games are still incredibly enjoyable even when you’re completely failing at doing it. Now, we come to the main point. Perhaps the point of contention: why the original is better than the sequel.
First off, I’ll make mention of the storyline and characters. Mario isn’t known for ‘deep’ storylines, but that’s something the original had. A mysterious character called Rosalina, a storybook unlocked chapter by chapter as you progressed throughout the game, and quite a thought provoking and powerful finale – I mean, the destruction of the universe. The story of the sequel was more typical Mario style – less prominent throughout apart from occasional letters from the then anonymous Roslina. The original set up the storyline of the second with the quote “the cycle never repeats itself in quite the same way. So you’ll see.” Intrigue. Mystic. These are things that made the original’s story much better, at least in my opinion. Maybe it’s just because I liked Rosalina and she had a larger part in the first one.
My next point of praise for the original goes to the world map, or the Comet Observatory hub compared to Starship Mario. Reviews and players of the original often stated that the map was too confusing. I disagree. The original was an open world. Perhaps it’s because I’m a big Zelda fan, I like open worlds. The linearity of the sequel didn’t appeal to me. I agree, overall progress was easier to track in Galaxy 2, but with the linear progression a dead end was a dead end. I had to go back and find some comet medals. With the original, all I ever had to do was try another star. I was free to roam. Both map systems are great, but the original satisfied me more. Life isn’t laid out in a straight line and I don’t like my games to be either.
The music is perhaps the single element that sums up why the cliché ‘original and the best’ is true for the Galaxy duo. Not the music directly, but what it stands for. Both of the games have superbly orchestrated soundtracks, but the original is better because the sequel is chiefly remixes and alterations. The original set the foundation. There are new tracks, but it remains similar in its overall style. That there is the exact reason why I believe the original is better. Because of impact – because of nostalgia. Because of the feeling of awe playing the original gave me. When the second came I knew, like the music, it would just be a remix. It would be more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, but if it’s on impact alone that the games are to be judged, Super Mario Galaxy stands supreme.
There are portions of the sequel that I did have to simply shake my head at. Chiefly how much it had taken from New Super Mario Bros. Wii. That was a fun game, but to me it wasn’t great. It was tedious at times. Thus, while I was playing Galaxy Two, being reminded of New Super Mario Bros. instead of the original at times was disconcerting – from the linear map to the credits. And while it can be seen as a point of nitpicking, I find it hard to take a game seriously when you can control characters during the credits. Call me old-fashioned, but it just seems disrespectful to the names on the screen. Sorry, Galaxy 2, but that was quite a disappointment to me.
In the end I’m not going to deny that both games are fantastic. Overall, they’re pretty much equal at near perfect scores if I was to rate them that way. They offer hours, days, even weeks of entertainment and replay value. What I’d love is Galaxy One’s map and story, with all of the power ups, levels and Yoshis of the sequel – that would be the perfect game. Either way it’s a matter of personal opinion, just like with Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Most say the original is better because it set the foundation, others say Majora’s Mask is better because it improved the foundation and changed the landscape. It goes both ways for the Galaxy games. They were great and will remain that way – what I wait to see is where Nintendo can take the 3D Mario franchise from here. If it takes just a fraction of what it learned from the Galaxies, we’d better be ready for some more superb installments.