It was interesting to read this week, in a summary of an as-of-yet-untranslated Iwata Asks article, that the lead programmer and lead designer on Super Mario Galaxy 2 originally felt a bit down at the beginning of the project—they thought they'd used all their best ideas on the original Super Mario Galaxy, leaving little left for the new title.

It was interesting because, having gotten my 120th star just last night, I must necessarily believe the minds that designed Galaxy 2 comprise the most imaginative, sharp, and—beyond all else—masterful creative force working in the industry today. No other option presents itself. I cannot fathom that these guys' inspiration could ever run dry.

What will immediately grab anyone who played and loved the original Galaxy is the fact that Mario hits the ground running in Galaxy 2. This game is clearly meant for people who are already well-familiar with its predecessor—or, at least, the very adventurous types who relish trial by fire. The very first thing that struck me during my initial Power Star outing, having recently completed a 242-star playthrough of Galaxy while waiting for 2, was simply how busy everything is compared to the original.

Though some levels do relax the pace a touch, on the whole, Galaxy 2 doesn't let up. This game knows that it is primarily about running and jumping about, and focuses itself in with laser-like precision on that one key concept. A smörgåsbord of ideas keep the action coming, drawing from not just virgin inspiration but also skillfully blending in ideas from both its immediate predecessor and its rich heritage. It even picks bits and pieces from the team's own Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

Very few of these ideas are seen more than a handful of times—and when they are, they're almost universally mixed up in a slightly new way, keeping everything fresh and new throughout the 120 stars of the main game, distributed nice and evenly between 48 galaxies. It's sort of darkly amusing to consider that the post-120-star content I sampled a bit of—with which there's nothing really wrong, I absolutely must add—seems positively serene in comparison to the main game's hardcore excite-fest.

What tickles me the most about this parade of platforming concepts is how delightfully challenging both the new ideas and the sometimes-devious ways they are crafted into the level designs are. Just when you've mastered a certain kind of obstacle, one you've never seen before in your life, things get juggled up a little bit—sometimes without even a slight chance for respite. The levels themselves become tightly-scripted series of events, evoking palpable drama as they do things you never imagined you'd see—even from the successor to Galaxy—complete with giant set-pieces that present real peril to you, the tiny little red Italian man and the dinosaur with lingual superpowers.

Though this game does indeed present a real challenge, particularly near the end, that doesn't mean it isn't approachable by players of all skill levels. Though I'd advise totally new players to get their feet wet with the original Galaxy first (no matter how good you are or aren't, you should be doing this!), 2 comes with a number of helping-hand features like a dramatically enhanced Co-Star Mode (perfect for playing with one's kids) as well as in-level hint videos and the Cosmic Guide, who will offer to get you through a tricky part or complete a level in full for a lesser reward should you be suffering a lot of deaths. (Cosmic Guide isn't everywhere, but help may be. After dying a lot on a level with particularly tricky jumps, a Yoshi egg appeared where there was previously a cache of Star Bits—and the flutter-jump turned out to be just what I needed.)

Of course that's all completely ignorable should you not need it, though the appearance of the Cosmic Guide can be a harsh reminder that you're not as hot a player as you might think you are. If you're of the mind to do it, you can take advantage of the fact that 2 records all your level clear times—a metric that fits extremely well with the game's modi operandi—and challenge yourself over and over again. (Regrettably, challenging friends doesn't seem to be an option apart from the reliable old copy-it-down method, be they playing on the same console or on one far away.) Beating a level as Luigi, available early on in the game, will unlock staff ghosts as well, some displaying some delightfully acrobatic platforming. Figuring out the best way to spank these guys is great fun.

On the presentation side, Galaxy 2 once again brings a delightful selection of music both live and synthesized to the table, though this time it seems the mood is generally a bit less grandiose and more playful, which I can fully appreciate. There's also a notable shift away from epically long cut-scenes to partially-playable storybook sequences, which, in conjunction with the much-streamlined world map system, serves to emphasize even more the drama of the levels themselves—a decision I thoroughly appreciate. Visually, things look as good as ever, showing off a little Jungle Beat style from time to time in addition to the Galaxy look. It serves the game well, complementing it without being overblown for its own sake.

And everything should, because Galaxy 2, though it does deserve the care and attention around the edges, is primarily about taking you on a whirlwind tour of platforming joy, introducing you to new ideas, creative worlds, controller-gripping challenges, and most of all, fun. As for the gentlemen I mentioned at the start, the staff members and creators who felt they didn't have enough ideas to make it—I think I might be a little afraid of the day they come running into the office positively loaded with them. A Galaxy better than this one might just be too much to handle.