Mini-Review of a Mini-Game: Florence

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 45 Minutes
  • Multiplayer: No

I will keep this review nice and short to match the game I’m writing about: Florence. It’s an enchanting mobile game that tells a story very effectively in around 45 minutes. Told through cut scenes and various puzzles, you walk though a period in the life of Florence Yeoh and her relationship with someone she meets: Krish. Whilst there’s isn’t really any challenge to the game it does a few ingenious things I’ve not come across before in games and it thus worth experiencing for anyone who loves narrative games.screenshot_20180502-133428.png

What I liked about it
In literal terms, most of your time in Florence is spent pressing and swiping on your phone screen – nothing new or difficult there. What pulls you into Florence’s world is how well the developer, Mountains, has matched up these presses and swipes with the activities, events and feelings that Florence is going through. These range from the obvious – swipe back and forth to brush your teeth – to new and creative mechanics like completing simple jigsaw puzzles in order to say the right things on a first date. I don’t think there are any missed steps here – the harmony between your inputs and your character’s experience is always intuitive and always just right. My favourite part of Florence was something I’ve not seen before in games; there’s a point when, in order to move on, you have to not play the game! And that (lack of) input fits perfectly with what Florence is going through. Time and time again I found myself smiling at the way the game manages to describe Florence’s emotions with subtlety and flair.screenshot_20180502-181531.png

What I didn’t like about it
There’s not much to specifically not like about Florence. The ending is slightly rushed. As a result I wasn’t quite ready for it and was left with some frustration about the way the story goes. It’s insistence on taking you back to a menu screen in between each chapter seemed odd too and pulled me out of the story too much. Otherwise the only things I would mention as drawbacks are really to do with how it is set up. It is altogether too short – whilst I’m glad it didn’t outstay it’s welcome I arrived at the end just as I was really enjoying playing. Lastly, there will be those put off by the lack of challenging game play. I’m not entirely of that opinion at all, but I do think there is more room in these sort of ‘interactive novel’ games for a higher degree of difficulty. It’s not necessary for what Florence is trying to be, but it holds the game back from real greatness.screenshot_20180503-090810.png

For all it’s simplicity, there are parts of Florence the like of which I’ve not found in a game ever before and that alone makes it worth playing. You’ll also find a charming and intuitive game that puts a smile on your face. If only it lasted a bit longer!Review3


REVIEW: Super Mario Odyssey

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: not really, although there are some features

Super Mario Odyssey is a celebration of all things Mario! It’s a joyful and wondrous ride that manages to encapsulate everything that we love about the old plumber whilst at the same time giving him an almost limitless amount of new things to do. The basic platforming gameplay is probably the most rock solid ever created and the levels range from good to great with no misses. In fact, for me it includes the best level in gaming ever! It’s not perfect and it’s over far too soon but if you have any love of gaming at all you have to play Odyssey – it’s exciting, enchanting and euphoric.2018040408335100-8AEDFF741E2D23FBED39474178692DAF

Gameplay – refined and maybe defined
Nintendo‘s first proper Mario adventure on the Switch is an absolute triumph of gameplay design. I remember saying when I (finally) played Super Mario Galaxy last year that Nintendo had focused almost entirely on the fun, varied gameplay mechanics. Well, in Odyssey, they have taken that even further: I think this might be the best platforming ever created from a technical standpoint. Everything Mario does just feels so right, so precise. Which means in turn that you can play the game confidently and thus enjoy the truly ridiculous number of abilities available to you. Sure, we have the Mario standards like jumping and ground pounding but everything is taken up a notch by the introduction of Cappy. More on him from a story perspective later but for gameplay this means throwing your hat about the place. Not only does this open up additional abilities for Mario like collecting coins you can’t reach with a quick hat throw but also Super Mario Odyssey‘s main new gameplay feature: being able to use Cappy to become anyone and anything. Want to stop worrying about holding you breath under water? Throw your hat at a Cheep Cheep and then you can swim about to your hearts content. Or throw it at a Bullet Bill to be able to travel quickly over big gaps. The possibilities are more or less endless, including a few chances to be a T-Rex! Nintendo have done an amazing job, through a combination of intuitive controls and helpful but unobtrusive on-screen tips, of making sure that this neverending arsenal and abilities never gets overwhelming. 99% of the time it was immediately clear to me what I had to do. I expect that Nintendo will, at some point in the future, prove that platforming can be improved but right now I cannot imagine how!2018040618021500-8AEDFF741E2D23FBED39474178692DAF

Story, characters and levels
Wedded to this, everything that Odyssey puts around the gameplay is as fresh and interesting as it has been in any Mario game since Super Mario Sunshine. But whilst the FLUDD and everything else they tried to do there arguably fell a bit flat, the levels you play through here are fantastic. A review isn’t enough space to even go into everything I love about just the best one: Metro Kingdom, aka New Donk City, so I’ll try and summarise across Super Mario Odyssey as a whole. Whilst it’s still the traditional Bowser-kidnaps-Peach story from every Mario game ever, there are a few aspects here that actually made me pay attention. The wedding, the introduction of Cappy as a companion character fighting the same fight alongside you and some other twists I won’t give away all add up to make this as fresh as a Mario story has been in years. Bowser has his usual minions trying to get in your way – this time they are the ‘Broodals‘ – but they are fairly nondescript. But there are plenty of characters you meet on your journey through each level that brighten the game. All of the levels are great too: after the constant stream of small new levels in the Galaxy games, it’s a nice change on pace to have a few, much larger levels with huge amounts to do and discover. It can’t be considered an open-world game but there has been plenty of influence from such games in the level design and it works wonderfully.2018040413405000-8AEDFF741E2D23FBED39474178692DAF

But not perfect
So if Super Mario Odyssey has class-leading gameplay and best-ever Mario story line and levels, what can possibly be wrong with it?! For me, there are 2 aspects that hold it back. Firstly, it’s just too easy. This has actually been great for The Boy – more on his experiences with the game later. However, I breezed through it with barely a stutter. It wasn’t until the final couple of world’s facing the most difficult challenges and bosses that I felt I really had to try at all. Perhaps it if it was harder it would lose some of it’s joyful carefree abandon but I am not convinced they have the balance right. Secondly, it’s over too soon. Sure, there is plenty of post-game content – I’ll discuss this more in the next paragraph – but playing through the main game at a reasonable pace I completed it in only 10 hours. Whilst I didn’t spend ages doing ‘unnecessary’ things, neither did I rush at all – I totally enjoyed those hours. I just wish there were more of them before the credits roll.2018041913583400-8AEDFF741E2D23FBED39474178692DAF

After the credits roll, you open up a huge amount of new content. Suddenly there are more power moons everywhere and the Mushroom Kingdom opens up to play in. For me, this all felt a bit after-the-fact. There’s just not enough reason to keep playing. I tried to go on for about another hour but I felt I needed more direction to maintain enough interest. I was going to criticise the game for this but then The Boy reached the end… and went on… and on… and on! He loves this game so much and he has had an amazing time with this additional content. Searching for moons is an end in itself for him and Super Mario Odyssey is an amazing playground for him to look for them. This is officially now his favourite game ever and a huge part of that is the freedom to just do whatever he wants in the quest for all the moons. You also get a huge ton of customisation for Mario with different clothes, hats and other bits. Odyssey really does reward it’s fans with a lot of content to get stuck into.

Whether or not the post-credits content captures your imagination you’ll find more than enough fantastic gameplay here to justify the asking price. Playing Super Mario Odyssey is just a stream of joy, wonder and delight! It’s the ultimate Mario experience and one of the best games of it’s type ever made. Enjoy!Review5

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REVIEW: Trials Fusion

  • Released: 2014
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox 360, PS4
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 8 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

The best moments of Trials Fusion are when you perfectly nail the landing of a small jump and accelerate hard into a huge subsequent leap into the sky. Soaring above the track you are racing on, your rider seems to briefly pause in mid-air before screaming out as they fall back down to earth – AAAGGGHHH! Trials Fusion is an exhilarating and immediate game that turns out to be surprisingly deep and varied. Despite a few flaws, it will keep you coming back for quite a while.10-02-2018_22-39-21

Full to the brim
The Boy and I have been playing this game for months and months, since it was one of the Xbox Live Games With Gold in August 2017. But it had only ever been that – a game that we played for fun. Earlier this year, however, I decided to tackle the single player game and see what the other various modes had to offer. It has an impressive array of options, features and modes that rival much more expensive packages. I had not played a Trials game before this, so I can’t comment on how the series has evolved up to this point, or whether all of these features were available at launch. It seems clear, however, that Fusion does one thing very very well, whilst the rest of it has been bolted on, to varying degrees of success.26-02-2018_23-10-32

What it does so well is a unique type of racing that I have not come across exactly in other games. In terms of steering, your bike is on rails – you cannot turn left or right. This seems odd to begin with but in fact allows you to focus on the real key – perfect balance. The left stick, instead of steering left and right, allows you to push your rider’s weight forward or back. Without doing so, they will tip over and crash pretty quickly but the more you play the more you realise how well nuanced this mechanic is. Your ultimate speed is linked to accelerating your bike, of course, but it’s having your weight in the right place as much as possible that will be the difference between a bronze medal and a gold medal in single player, between competing online or simply being left in your competitor’s dust. Once you have picked up this basic idea, Trials Fusion has a multitude of places for you to use your skills. The single player game is lengthy and varied. You can play multiplayer, locally as we do, or online. In addition there is a track-builder where you can design your own tracks and upload them for others to try out. There are a dizzying amount of options in this creative tool – it feels much like it’s own game in many ways. Countless hours could be lost trying to perfect your designs.23-02-2018_07-25-14

Trials Fusion does have a few flaws. There is a whole point-scoring tricks dynamic to parts of the game. You move the right stick in certain directions to have your rider perform tricks during jumps. It’s fun, but is implemented a bit vaguely, making it hard to pin down exactly which tricks you are trying to nail. It feels like the beginnings of an idea that might be perfected in a sequel. Also, Fusion does get very difficult towards the end of the single player. Of course, challenge isn’t a flaw in and of itself, but what both that and the tricks do is make the game more intricate. Thus it looses something of the out-of-control exhilaration that makes the game so immediately enjoyable early on. The harder levels and targets force you to maintain tighter control of your bike but don’t replace the wild abandon with anything else – it almost turns into a puzzle game late on. Not bad gameplay, but not what Trials is all about.10-02-2018_22-39-23

Trials Fusion is not perfect but for the price it is great value for money – with the multitude of different things to get your teeth into you get plenty of opportunity to enjoy the pick-up-and-play nature of the basic game. Recommended for anyone who enjoys arcade racing and/or extreme sports games. You’ll be shouting out ‘WOAH!’ along with your character, as you plummet back down from a huge jump, in no time!


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REVIEW: Overcooked

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 4 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 12 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Overcooked is a wonderfully fun game that that on the surface has you chopping onions and frying burgers, but in reality has you managing a complex set of simple tasks to a tight deadline. It’s breathless and stressful, but cute and fun! In single player it’s good but in multiplayer, with the absolute need to communicate constantly and work together, it is fantastic. It loses it’s way later on as a package and it’s attempts at a story are woeful, but you’ll want to have Overcooked around for a quick and crazy go with friends every once in a while.2018032910375700-F897DAA49269BC023482B5C9AAA6BE73

Anything but basic
On first glance everything in Overcooked seems so simple, perhaps even too simple. There are only 2 or 3 buttons and an analog stick in use and none of the actions require any finesse – it’s just press and go. One button is used to pick up/put down items and another to perform actions on those items. From washing a plate clean to slicing up a tomato; just hit the button, wait a bit and it will be done. However, it doesn’t take too many levels for the requirements for the number of completed meals to start to get a little tight and this is when it all makes sense. This game isn’t about cooking at all! The levels are kitchens but they could just as easily have been a garages or office buildings. Overcooked is really about managing your time in the most efficient way possible and by keeping each individual task very easy the developers, Ghost Town Games, have allowed their players to focus on the more complex bigger picture of how to complete the most meals. There is even good incentive for you to keep searching for the perfect critical path – you’re gonna want to get your rating up to 3 stars on each level if you intend to complete the game. This whole concept lends Overcooked a very smooth learning curve and good reasons to continue to climb it.2018032318214500-F897DAA49269BC023482B5C9AAA6BE73

When your greatest strength…
This is all achieved by Ghost Town Games by giving each different level or kitchen a different limiting factor. Sometimes it’s how many things can be chopped up at any one time, other times you’re limited by how many things can be cooked at one time. This creates a bottleneck in each level that needs to be managed and is the real genius of the game. Without this it would take no time to work out the quickest way to have your chefs complete each task and then it would just be a case of execution. The bottleneck inevitably leads to the one thing you want to avoid – chefs just standing around doing nothing. All of a sudden your nice convenient sequence of events isn’t so clear. What can you do with your spare chef? Have them chop extra ingredients? Well, now you have too many things hanging around not cooked. Have them wash up? But that takes too long and how your tomato soup has started to burn! Agghh!

…is also your greatest weakness
As the difficult increases so does the stress level and so does the feeling of reward when you manage to completely minimise the time your chefs wasted on the way to many happy customers. Unfortunately, Overcooked loses it’s way towards the end as the limiting factor bit by bit becomes the level itself. Now the bottleneck is how long it takes your chef to move from one workstation to another or how the kitchen somehow changes or shifts to ruin your work patterns. The first few of these changing levels are great – you end up having to have more than one plan and switch between them on the fly. By the end though there are too many changes and too many variables in each kitchen and it becomes so difficult, if not impossible, to perfect your strategy that any sense of reward from your achievements is gone. This is a real shame but to be clear; the absolute majority of the levels are great – and completing the game is only really the start of the fun…2018032211465100-F897DAA49269BC023482B5C9AAA6BE73

Better with friends
All of this can be done in single player. You have a third button that switches between your two chefs to enable you to control both. This is how I have completed the game as neither The Boy or the other folks I’ve played it with have played long enough to reach that point. However, the real fun is in those multiplayer games. Now you can no longer control what each chef is doing and so it is completely vital to communicate in detail with everyone playing. At best it would be horribly inefficient for each player to just make their own meals but in many levels that’s not even possible. This leads to all kind of hilarity! “No, not another tomato“, “you chop that mushroom whilst I go and get an onion for you“, “which pan is about to burn?“, “but I need to wash the dishes!“, “what can I do?“. It is just brilliant and once again an outcome of how the game is deceptively simple. No one playing is concentrating on some complex task by themselves – everything is connected to something being done by someone else and the subsequent shouting (mostly good-natured, we’re on the same team here!) and, upon completing a level, the high-fives make Overcooked one of the best local co-op games I’ve ever played.2018032909204400-F897DAA49269BC023482B5C9AAA6BE73

It doesn’t get a high score as it has too many significant issues as an overall package. When Overcooked succeeds though, it does so massively. It’s available for a bargain price across most platforms so even if you never reach the end of the game, pick up a copy for next time you’re playing with friends.Review3

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Playlink Games – Mini-Reviews of That’s You! and Knowledge is Power

I recently picked up a copy of Gran Turismo Sport so that I could play it in VR. That didn’t go very well, let’s say, but it did come with a free copy of That’s You!, one of the Playlink games on PS4. If you don’t know of Playlink then it’s basically a way for Playstation 4 owners to play mini-games with their friends without the need for controllers – all players use their phones to interact with the games over WiFi and much hilarity can ensue! I also picked up Knowledge is Power, a quiz game for Playlink and have played them a couple of times with friends.That's You!™_20180504222011

That’s You!
This is a really hilarious game that asks you questions about each other. It’s like a high-tech version of Mr & Mrs for groups of friends! For example, it might ask ‘which one of you would be most likely to get sunburnt at the beach?’ Everyone selects which of the group they reckon is the most likely via their phones. However, of course, the game doesn’t know the right answer! As such the scoring works where only people who get the same answer get the points so even if you select the ‘correct’ person, if everyone else chooses another then they will be scoring points and not you. This (in combination with the fact that we all like to be a little wicked to our friends, don’t we?!) means that everyone quickly moves to selecting the funniest answers rather than anything else.That's You!™_20180504220413

The other tasks in the game also lend themselves towards fun first – you might be asked to all take a selfie making a silly face and then rate whose was the best. Each game ends with a round where each player is asked to draw on their screen to add more ‘art’ to a picture of another player. Only the person who took the selfie doesn’t know what everyone else is designing them to be so the results are always fantastic. If you have a group of friends who know each other well enough then you’ll get a huge amount of good laughs from That’s You!Review3

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Knowledge is Power
This is a more standard quiz game as we’ve known them in the past but at least here there is no need for huge amounts of peripherals like you had with Buzz from back in the PS3 days. It does of course mainly test your knowledge but also let’s you interact with each other by way of different types of power play which enable you to do things like override another’s choice of topic or obscure the multiple choice answers on the other player’s phones.Knowledge is Power™_20180504224449

Having other ways to beat other players besides just answering the questions better and faster than them is an additional part of Knowledge is Power that does up the fun factor and help keep things closer. However, it all seems pointless by the end as the entirely of each round is only for the purpose of placing yourself a certain height up the final pyramid. With a question or two of that final round everything can have changed which somewhat devalues all that came before. In the final count Knowledge is Power is a perfectly serviceable quiz game but not something that is going to be first choice for a gaming session, or even a Playlink session, with friends.Review2

A quick word on the Playlink concept. It does use the technology well. These games, or parts of them can only be played in this way with the additional screens and cameras that are then available via the devices in each player’s hands. For example, drawing on each others selfies is not something that has been gamified well before now and my experience with them so far is that this has every chance to be more than a short lived gimmick. I am certainly looking forward to playing the other Playlink games and to see where the series goes in the future.

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REVIEW: Super Lucky’s Tale

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 9 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

So much about Super Lucky’s Tale makes it look and feel like a Mario clone, with a fox-skin on. However, despite hiding his influences in plain sight, Lucky manages to carve out his own path with a combination of enjoyable gameplay, lightheartedness and the right balance of variety and focus. It’s not going to change anything about gaming or even about the platforming genre, but the plucky little fox will work his way into your heart and leave you with a big smile on your face as your double-jump and spin your way through his worlds.08-04-2018_20-17-43

Super Mario’s Tale
It’s worth addressing the similarities with the Mario games up front and get them out of the way. If this game was a bit worse than it is, it would be easy to dismiss as a Mario clone for the Xbox ecosystem. The basic build of the game is very familiar. From a base world, that serves as both a menu system and a level of sorts, you head into different levels to jump over platforms, solve puzzles and ultimately find and claim the prize – in this case they’re clovers. In addition, the animation you get upon collecting those clovers is hugely reminiscent of Mario (see the image at the end of this paragraph). In fact it also gathers up some issues from Mario games like occasionally missing jumps you felt you were going to land. The first level or two these comparisons are so clear and so regular that it threatens to ruin Lucky’s adventure but bit-by-bit you start to notice the things that are different and enjoy how Lucky stands on his own two feet (or four, a lot of the time!).08-04-2018_20-17-41.png

Pulling you in
The main thing that Super Lucky’s Tale has going for it is charm. For a start, everything is so bright and colourful. Almost the entire game takes place under a beautiful bright sun and the characters and environments are all big, round and goofy. Even one late world called ‘Spookington‘, which is filled with ghosts and other such things, remains brightly lit and happy. We talking Casper here, not The Ghost of Christmas Future! Secondly I just loved how every level starts with Lucky facing the camera and he says ‘come on!’ and waves you on as he turns and gives control to you. I feel like it should be really annoying but in fact I found it delightful and looked forward to it at the beginning of each level! The story, simplistic though it is, also taps into this innocent delight. Lucky’s sister has been off adventuring but has got into trouble and, of course, only you can save her. Doing so means defeating a cat called Jinx and his team of often useless bad guys dubbed ‘The Kitty Litter‘! It’s hard not to be amused by the sillyness of it all and it reels you as you play through the game.08-04-2018_20-17-40

Backing it up
Of course, all of this charm would only get Lucky so far without a solid game under his feet and that is exactly what the developers Playful have crafted. Nothing here is going to become a new genre-defining standard – and in fact a couple of design choices, like the camera or how you tend to fall down a lot, are a bit odd – but everything just works nicely. The main thing you need in a platformer is confidence in what your character is going to do for any given button press and that solidity is here. This is also good as Super Lucky’s Tale is definitely a title designed to appeal to kids. This is great for the Xbox line of consoles, which has lacked any such thing since the failed attempt at making Blinx ‘a thing’ in the early years of the original Xbox. As such, this game has really appealed to The Boy. He’s taken to it like no game of it’s type without Mario in the title before. Don’t let this put you off as an adult though. I have had a lot of fun watching The Boy play it but a lot more fun playing it myself – a sure sign that it is just a good game, regardless of the age it’s aimed at. One other aspect that Super Lucky’s Tale does well that also makes it great for kids is finding the balance between variety and focus. This is not a sprawling open-world adventure and it does a great job of showing you exactly you need to go next and how much you need to achieve to progress. On the other hand it manages not to be a one-trick pony. Most levels are fairly standard 3D platforming challenges but you also get a decent amount of gauntlet-run style levels, 2D platforming and different types of puzzles. It’s all enough to keep both kids and adults engaged whilst also ushering them on towards the goal of defeating Jinx in a – really excellent and hard, I might add – final boss battle.08-04-2018_20-17-38

Given that you can play this game as part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription it’s a total no-brainer to recommend to Xbox One owners. It’s fun, charming and just difficult enough to remain interesting. It may be kid-focused, but there’s a good game here for the kid in all of us.

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REVIEW: Super Mario Galaxy 2

  • Released: 2010
  • Played on: Wii
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 5 Hours
  • Time to complete: 15 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local co-op only

I need a machine that can take my reviews of Super Mario Galaxy and Rise of the Tomb Raider and somehow fuse them together. If I had that, I wouldn’t need to write this review at all. In exactly the same way I experienced with the Tomb Raider sequel, this game is unable to get out of the shadow of it’s predecessor – it’s both too similar in a lot of ways and not similar enough in others. But on the other hand, that predecessor was so good that living in it’s shadow isn’t totally a bad thing.

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 feels like a collection of the levels that didn’t quite make the cut for the original planet-hoping platformer. Everything we came to know in the first one is still here – you run around with the stick on the nunchuck and jump and spin with the Wiimote. The levels have a huge amount of variety in both their platforming and the enemies you face. Once again it is the levels where gravity changes as you go along that I enjoyed the most. None of this is really new though. There was one sort of Temple Run-style level that I don’t remember from Super Mario Galaxy, although perhaps I just missed them or forgot about them. That level was great – which just goes to show how good the game is when it doesn’t feel stale.

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Likewise the story is basically the same but slightly worse. Once again we find that Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach blah blah blah. When will Mario get a new story?! But where Super Mario Galaxy framed that cliche with Rosalina and the need to get stars to power up your spacecraft, there is no significant attempt to have any kind of goal outside of the gameplay. I know we don’t expect a great story from Mario but this is stretching that to the max.

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Yoshi & Luigi
The two places where there are undeniable differences are the introduction of Yoshi and the more frequent appearances of Luigi. Yoshi is supposed to be the big new addition for this sequel – he adorns the cover after all. The truth is however, that although he does add some new abilities, in a game with such amazing variety in it’s mechanics, the fact that you can do certain things because you have Yoshi gets somewhat lost. You can also do certain things when you’re Bee Mario, for example, that you can’t do otherwise. Yoshi is just another one of these additions, rather than a game changer. On the other hand, I’ve always loved Luigi so I enjoyed it when he turned up to take over for a level. In Super Mario Galaxy you only got the chance to play as Luigi once you’d completed the game so this is somewhere that SMG2 steps out on it’s own. But it’s the exception that proves I rule I guess.

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If these levels had been part of Super Mario Galaxy they wouldn’t have harmed that game at all. However, they just don’t quite stand up to the same level as a game on their own. Never has a bare-bones collection of cast-off levels been anywhere near this good – but that is pretty much what Super Mario Galaxy 2 remains.