Over two and a half years on from the original Super Mario Galaxy, we get a second offering. Nintendo said they simply had too many ideas that didn't make it into the first game, which they felt a bit guilty about, so we got a second game as a result, and it ends up being officially one of the highest rated games of all time from game journalists. The original was an absolute masterpiece too, but Nintendo somehow managed to improve on that with the second game; it was more challenging yet more accessible (there's even a beginner DVD included with the game) and it had more variety too.
Where the music is concerned, on a basic level we've got more of the same as the original game. More of the memorable orchestral music, synth music, quirky boss themes, and remixed music from Mario's past. We also get some jazz thrown in for good measure, recorded by live instruments as per the orchestral music. With the first game, we got a normal version and a platinum edition of the soundtrack. This soundtrack is more akin to the platinum edition of the first game, featuring two discs of all of the music from the game. There's slightly less music than in the platinum edition of the first game, though it's not too big of a difference. The only difference being that the order of the tracks; rather than having the live tracks on one disc and the electronic ones on the other, the soundtrack is roughly in the order at which you encounter the pieces in the game. There's less of the story and the cut scenes in this game, which I thought would harm the game and the soundtrack, but I was wrong. Koji Kondo, Mahita Yokota and Ryo Nagamatsu have done a great job in taking what was established from the original game and advancing it.
The main problem with presenting the music of this game as a soundtrack CD is that a lot of the Super Mario Galaxy 2 music is interactive. As a result of this, we don't get some of the effect that we would get within the context of the game with some of the tracks. For example we don't get any speeding up or slowing down in "Ball Roll" or "Slide", and we don't get the percussion line that plays when you're riding Yoshi in any of the tunes either. Personally I prefer a lot of those pieces with the added Yoshi percussion but I'd imagine other people would prefer them without. This being said, none of these things detract too much from any of these tracks. In other tracks, such as the Overture and "Koopa, the Great Mighty King", the interactive parts of the track are layered on as the piece progresses, with I think works well. With other tunes such as "Starship Mario" and "Sky Beach", Nintendo were nice enough to put multiple versions of the track on the CD, with each version representing a different layer of interactivity, so people can pick and choose their favourite.
The soundtrack opens with, appropriately enough, the "Overture", which introduces us to the main orchestral theme of the game in a very light-hearted way. It's a different tune to the ones found in the original game, but stylistically it's essentially more of the same, with a bit of "Wind Garden" (Gusty Garden Galaxy) from the original thrown in for good measure. The variety of the orchestrations of this piece is great; throughout the soundtrack we hear the tune played light-heartedly by flutes in the "Overture", then given a fanfare-like brass interpretation in "Sky Island" and a fully-fleshed orchestration in "Theme of Super Mario Galaxy 2". There are other variations and arrangements of this tune scattered throughout the soundtrack, such as a nice guitar-supported arrangement in "Jungle Glider" and a "Christmassy White Snow", though my favourite is "Pipe Room", which is quirky but works surprisingly well out of context.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't rely on its main theme too much, which gives other music a chance to shine as well. The other main orchestral piece in this game, "Cloud Garden", gets some of it's own nods and arrangements too. "Sky Island" is Super Mario Galaxy 's "Egg Planet" (Good Egg Galaxy) and "Cloud Garden" is this game's "Wind Garden"; different tunes but similar style and function. For me, the original game's orchestral pieces were fantastic, especially as we wouldn't normally expect that from a Mario game. However since we knew what to expect from this game, I feel that the orchestral pieces in this game, such as "Sky Island" and "Cloud Garden" don't have as much impact as their equivalents from the original. They're still certainly great, but it's not the same experiencing it for the second time. Probably the highlight of the orchestral tracks is the track simply titled Super Mario Galaxy 2, which in game is the music that plays during the credits, and is a culmination of all the big tunes heard throughout the game.
With "Starship Mario", Nintendo were nice enough to give us all three versions heard in the game, with the instrumentation and texture getting thicker as the game progresses. All three versions are good listens. With the first one, woodwinds play the tune with a light string accompaniment, while the second variation features richer strings writing in the accompaniment, while the violins and trumpet carry the tune. There's also a snare drum line, which drives the piece. Then in "Starship Mario 3", there's more brass, more strings, more harmony underneath the tune, and some nice woodwind flourishes. If I had to pick one I'd say Starship Mario 3 is my favourite.
There are some really epic sounding orchestral tracks on display. For example, "Lightning Sea of Clouds" uses heavy strings, low piano and thick brass chords to give a very intense feel. "Flowing Star Sand" is also a very interesting track; I really like the ethnic instrumentation and brass writing, plus it gets extra points for featuring trombones in the tune (as a trombone player, I approve) and the nice contrasts of the strings. Of the boss themes, "Magma Monster" is probably my favourite from this game. It's got driving percussion, low fat heavy brass, screeching trumpets and awesome string writing, with hints of Super Mario Galaxy's main motif. "Gaburyuu" is another awesome boss theme and, if Igor Stravinsky were a video game composer, this is the kind of piece he would write; it reminds me a lot of the Infernal Dance from The Firebird. "Clock Time Attack" is similar, and really cranks up the tension; this track also develops really well into memorable A, B and C section. "Koopa Jr's Fortress" meanwhile is half menacing, half-quirky, which fits Baby Bowser's character really well. It's like if Peter and the Wolf met Uranus from The Planet's Suite.
Though some tracks aspire to an epic sound, not all fully realise this due to flaws in the orchestration and implementation. "The New Galactic Empire" is a nice piece, though I'm not too sure it knows what it wants to be. It sounds a bit too happy in places to be the theme of the final level of the game, but it does get pretty epic towards the middle. "Koopa, the Great Mighty King" is very similar to the original game's "Bowser Battle" theme. Though largely effective, I think it would be better if the overall texture was thicker, especially in the choir. I have a similar criticism for "Fateful Decisive Battle"; the orchestration is fantastic, but there should be a lot more singers in the choir to achieve the required richness. Finally, among the orchestral selections, "Tico and the Hat" and "Green Star" are really beautiful renditions of Super Mario Galaxy's signature orchestral tunes.
As well as live orchestral pieces we get some live-recorded jazz too in this game, which is a bigger feature of the soundtrack than in the last game. The first jazz track is "Yoster", which has a cool Latin feel, and some great saxophone playing. I would have liked a bit more percussion but it's still a good listen and serves as a fantastic introduction to Yoshi in game. Among the arrangements featured on the soundtrack, "Honey Bee Village" manages to improve on the original "Bee Mario" theme. I really like the wah-wah trumpets and the woodwind writing in this arrangement. We also get a bit of country-Western music in the form of "Square Timber", where we get a combination of live guitar, drums and solo violin with some electronic sounds too, a combination that I think works well.
Other pieces on the soundtrack use the jazz instruments but also add some electronic synth sounds too. "Dig-Dig Mine", for instance, skilfully combines electronic drums and bass with saxophones and jazz brass for a very catchy tune. By contrast, "Dig-Dig Leg", the boss theme for this level, uses synth brass, which contrasts with what went before it and works surprisingly well. I also like the crunchy guitar work in this track. "Buttoin Queen" is another of these tracks; it's very energetic and I like the drum beat driving this track. There may be a few weird sounding synthesiser sounds, but overall it's enjoyable. "Megahammer" and "Wanwan Factory" sounds very quirky and strange when taken out of context, though the latter still gives a good picture of a robot factory. "Challenge Glider" is kind of a combination of all the musical styles that this game has to offer, which culminates in a very enjoyable track. The electronic drums and pulsating bass give the piece a good groove, while the brass and strings sound epic playing in both the jazz and classical styles at different points in the track. There are also some nice hints of ethnic instrumentation in there too.
In this game, instead of a hub as in the original and Super Mario 64, we get a cross between the hub and the world maps seen in 2D Mario games. So in this game, there is world map music. "World 1 & 2" is a nice synth tune, with electric piano and acoustic piano lines, which complement the soundscape well. "World 4" meanwhile provides a spacey backdrop, which on it's own sounds very strange in a good way. "World 5" and "World 6" crank up the tension for the final parts of the game, and "World S" provides a light-hearted arrangement of "Wind Garden" from the original game, which sounds like it could have been written for a string quartet. All of these tracks are good listens but by far my favourite is the piano piece that accompanies "World 3", which is absolutely beautiful. It sounds like Nobuo Uematsu could have written it or, dare I say it, Joe Hisaishi. I found myself revisiting the world map and going to "World 3" just to listen to the music — it's that good.
This game also likes to play to people's nostalgia a lot. There are remixed versions of favourites from the original game, such as "Wind Garden", and from further back in Mario's past. "Dash Yoshi" is a remix of "The Athlete's Rag", which if I'm honest doesn't do it for me, given it feels very stylistically confused. There are also nice nods to Super Mario 64 with tracks like "Slide", which sounds very similar to the original, and also "Koopa's Lava Empire", a theme that also appeared in the original game. Personally I prefer the synthetic remix found in the original Super Mario Galaxy; the sequel's arrangement takes a more elaborate approach with live orchestra and choir, but the orchestration feels off, and the choir doesn't sound epic enough. I think it would have worked better if they just used the orchestra and choir with no synthesizer sounds.
As with other Mario games, there are plenty of remixes of classics from Super Mario Bros. The classic "Underground Theme" makes appearances in "Flickering Blocks" and the very strange "Red-Blue", while the legendary overworld theme itself makes a delightful appearance in the Supermassive Galaxy theme. Of course, there is a appropriately spooky arrangement of the "Ghost House" theme in the form of "Ghost Conveyer", where orchestral elements are used to imitate the ghost sounds from the original. However, the best of the lot by miles is "Nostalgic Fortress". Anyone who has played Super Mario 64 will instantly recognise this piece and the memories will come flooding back. Nostalgic value aside, it is an absolutely brilliant big band arrangement of this classic tune, taken from the Big Band Live album.
Like in the first game, there are some pieces on this soundtrack that are too short to have any real meaning on a soundtrack release. Some tracks such as "The Lost Child and Unknown Star could have been developed further to make a more complete track, or they should have just been left off the soundtrack. Some of these tracks are still good listens, though, such as "A Significant Other" and "Tension". Finally, I'd like to mention "Star Creek". This is a nice piano, harp, and synthpad piece used in a fairly special context. The piece feels like it could work for an orchestra, but the low-key instrumentation used works really well and actually provides a nice contrast to the orchestral sound heard elsewhere.
Overall, I really enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2's soundtrack both in game and on its own. I think, as with the original game's soundtrack release, that as a whole there are some tracks on there which feel a bit pointless because they're so short and don't really mean anything when taken out of context. However, as with Super Mario Galaxy, there are some real gems on this soundtrack too that I could listen to over and over again and not get bored. Compared to the original game, I would say it's a better overall package. I think there's more variety in this soundtrack than in the original, which really helps. Some of the ideas introduced in the first game that have made a return don't have as much impact the second time round and, like the original, some of the tracks could have been implemented and performed better. However, taking everything into account, it's a worthy successor to a fantastic original and well worth a purchase. If you enjoyed the first game and it soundtrack, and you're itching for more, you can't go too wrong with Super Mario Galaxy 2's soundtrack.