Super Mario Galaxy 2

In Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario returns to space, but this time, he brings along his bipedal, tiny-armed dinosaur. The inclusion of Yoshi, who sat out the 2007 original, is the sequel’s supposed raison d’etre. Make no mistake, Yoshi is helpful on occasion. During one memorable battle, he eats incoming bullets, then spits them back at a rampaging robot. Yet for the most part, Yoshi seems to slightly sully the purity of the game. He never feels like an organic part of its world.

Unsurprisingly, the novelty of the outer-space milieu is diminished the second time around. Seeing Mario soar like a superhero between planets just isn’t as thrilling as it once was. Yet once you arrive on said planets, the age-old Mario charm kicks in. Each galaxy, and each planet in it, feels crafted and considered. You’ll balance on a platform with the entirety of the universe beneath your feet, and spot a moon you can’t reach yet. In the distance, you’ll see a greater menace, like a Chain Chomp, which you’ll eventually need to deal with. It’s confounding how this simple world can evoke feelings of curiosity, wonder, and dread all at once.

One complaint: Those candy-like Star Bits from the original? They’re back. They’re also ubiquitous, and therefore borderline-useless. You’ll occasionally pop open a question-mark box, only to find—oh joy—a handful of those Star Bits inside. This is the Mario-world equivalent of receiving socks for Christmas.

The Mario series has always been refreshingly free of nuance and subtext. There’s no darkness, no gloom, no real drama. Political agendas and real-world issues are never addressed here. (The closest Nintendo has come to weighing in on anything: the go-green messaging of Super Mario Sunshine.) It’s pointless to attempt to deconstruct a Mario game. The Gulf floods with oil and Mario stays the same. The Twin Towers are destroyed and Mario stays the same. People live and die, and Mario endures for some inexplicable reason. The save-the-princess narrative? That isn’t the story of Super Mario Galaxy 2. The real story—a story that transcends cultures, time, and language—is between each and every one of those sweat-inducing leaps.