A series with as many epoch-defining entries as Mario is bound to mark a few special spots in your gaming history. My first videogame was Super Mario World. Super Mario 64 inspired me so much that I wrote my very first review about it, aged 8. But after that, as with any favourite series, it settled into a comfortable rhythm; you know what to expect, and you're delighted every time you get it, but it doesn't change your world any more. I didn't think that a Mario game could have that kind of impact on me again. But this year, it did.
In the year of Mario's 25th anniversary, Super Mario Galaxy 2 asks: where can we go? And it answers: anywhere we like. We can fly through the universe, landing briefly on bright planetoids populated by fantastical creatures. We can dive into abstract realms of primary-coloured, wood-textured objects, slowly rotating in nothingness. We can swim through shimmering orbs of water, suspended in space. We can climb the clouds. We can go to the future. And we can go to the past.
The Throwback Galaxy was the moment that cemented Mario's place in my personal history. After five worlds of indescribable, wild loopiness, levels that scramble your definition not only of a Mario game but of platform games themselves, Mario Galaxy 2 plops you down without warning on a perfect recreation of Super Mario 64's Whomp Fortress. Upon landing, upon hearing those first few notes of jazzily rearranged music, there was a moment of confusion where my heart soared and I didn't quite know why. Then I recognised my surroundings, bubbled up with glee, and suddenly realised that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was my favourite videogame of all time.
Where New Super Mario Bros. looks to the past for a template, Galaxy 2 only reaches back for occasional inspiration, each time returning with something wonderful. In one galaxy, you're running around a 2D Mario sprite constructed from squares of lava and fast-disappearing platforms. At one point you're rolling Mario around on top of a ball to a remix of the Rainbow Ride theme. There are allusions to every Mario game in here - even Sunshine, in the form of calming expanses of sunkissed tropical seaside and good-natured, hula-skirted Piantas - ranging from bold, knowing homages to the faintest echoes, the briefest snatches of recognisable music. It warmly opens up its arms and embraces its own history. It's proud of where we've been.
And all that in partnership with such boundless, vivacious novelty. Mario Galaxy 2 throws ideas around with almost obscene abandon. Gimmicks that could support an entire game are dropped in for a single galaxy and taken away again without a second thought, played like killer one-liners. The only thing tethering these worlds together is a certain sweet madness and an abstract but intuitive gravity. Gravity flips around, platforms disappear, you're stuck to the ceiling and catapulted between geometric blocks, floating orbs and winding tubes of shifting sand at a second's notice, and yet somehow you always know which way around you're supposed to be.