While my last hands-on had me controlling the portly platforming plumber exclusively, this one started me out with a Luma in the game's revamped, expanded co-op mode. When I did play as Mario, I got a chance to try out the latest addition to his growing wardrobe of specialized suits, transforming into the extra-floaty (and fluffy) Cloud Mario. Then came the unexpected: A galaxy based on Super Mario Sunshine (sorry, folks -- no FLUDD).
The first stop on the tour was the Yoshi Star Galaxy. With Nintendo Treehouse's Bill Trinen in control of a Yoshi-riding Mario, I was able to help him out as player two, a Luma that automatically tags along and can do more than just grab Star Bits (as anyone wielding a second Wiimote in the first game could). Using my clearly labeled "Player 2" pointer, I was able to interact with objects and enemies in a variety of ways. For one, I could point at coins and press A to collect them and bring them back to Mario. More importantly, I could do the same with enemies -- except, when I grabbed them, shaking the Wiimote sent them packing. Player two can also squish spiky plants (as long as A is held down) and grab air bubbles for Mario when he's underwater.
Bill took on the 2P role for the rest of the demo, which moved on to the Starshine Beach Galaxy. It's a total homage to Super Mario Sunshine -- at least aesthetically. There were Piantas (Sunshine's big-nosed, grass skirt wearing denizens) to interact with, and even a giant statue of one towering over the stage. The objective here was to collect five smaller, silver stars and bring them back to one of the Piantas in order to get the main star. The level also provided a chance to run across water atop a Yoshi after making him eat a Dash Pepper.
Next it was time to don the Cloud Suit in the aptly-named Fluffy Bluff and Cloudy Court galaxies. After grabbing the power-up, I could jump and shake the Wiimote (as if performing a spin jump) but, instead of spinning, a cloud platform -- complete with smiley face -- would appear. It held its shape for a good 15 seconds.
Several small clouds trailed behind Mario when he was wearing the suit, indicating its limited-use status. it was okay -- the levels were stocked with the necessary number of power-ups to get through. Before using the suit's power for the first time, Bill suggested I walk up to and look at a nearby sign that looked like a TV screen. It was one of the game's "Hint TVs." Activating these signs shows a quick overview of how new mechanics work, in case you're having trouble with them.
I saw the next level of this in the Cloudy Court Galaxy, where, if I were to fail too many times, the Cosmic Spirit -- an ethereal princess -- would appear and offer to activate the Cosmic Guide, Super Mario Galaxy 2's equivalent of Super Mario Bros. Wii's Super Guide. At that point, the game effectively plays for you, using a replay of one of the developers playing through the level. If you choose to use this feature (even for a moment) you'll only get a bronze star for the level, instead of the gold star.
I got a chance to put the Cloud Mario suit to a slightly different use in this galaxy. By jumping into strong gusts of wind and creating a cloud beneath Mario, I made my own moving platforms, being mindful to jump and create a new one before the current cloud dissipated.
There are still a couple more neat surprises in store from Super Mario Galaxy 2, but, based on what I've already played, there's no question that this is a far cry from a "Super Mario Galaxy 1.5." It's a full-blown sequel packed with new challenges and gameplay mechanics that have managed to put a smile on my face every time.