Mario and his meatballs, they just keep tasting better and better

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Look, it’s the 21st century now, so it’s not completely wetty for a man to do the cooking anymore. At least, that’s what my many, many self-help books tell me. Well, I don’t like it, but I’ll have to go along with it. Anything to keep the old tummy from rumbling. And you know, naturally I’d be perfectly happy to subsist off white bread and chicken all day and every day, with a few pints mixed in.

Unfortunately, you come to regret that one healthwise. I don’t mean that these foodstuffs will make my heart seize up or explode; that outcome is inevitable anyway. I’m far more worried about being subjected to that you-really-should-know-better-at-your-age tone from my doctor, which is worse than any other form of social shaming. This unhealthy diet ain’t making me look any better in my tartan-coloured stockings and old-boy suspenders either, which really ought to be addressed.

So the time hath come for me to be a whiz in the kitchen. And you never know, give it a few weekends and I could be as good as yon Gordon Ramsay, and vast riches will surely follow. But maybe that’s a bit of a wild ambition. You don’t need me to tell you that pretty much all chefs are clinically insane, and it’s easy to see why. They work dreadfully unsociable hours, trying to keep grotesque members of the general public happy (that’s you and I). And in this working environment you’re on your feet all day, constantly a hair away from cuts, burns and bruises, and the whole service comes at you at relentless pace.

If you’re unlucky enough to be the head chef, you’ll be tasked with getting the restaurant in tip-top shape at the start of every day, making sure you’ve got in all the supplies that you need and then making sure your understandably alcoholic, smokaholic sous-chefs are present and correct. It’s little wonder that Marco Pierre White, the only celebrity chef I like (excepting the tasteful man’s choice Nigella Lawson), used to throw people out of his restaurants at the drop of a hat while thrillingly telling them that they ruined their own evening. How many times have you wanted to do THAT to a customer?

On one occasion, in a salubrious Dublin restaurant I won’t name (not Marco’s Steakhouse & Grill on Dawson Street, I assure you), your usual ponce customer complained that his steak wasn’t done enough. It was presented back to the short-tempered chef, whereupon he dropped the offending steak on the floor, stamped on it three times with his Doc Martens, then turned it over and gave it another 3 stamps for good measure. When presented back to the customer with the chef’s compliments, he thought it was lovely. Again, you don’t need me to tell you never to act the maggot with anyone who comes anywhere serving you grub.

In our house we don’t stomp on steaks or gob in goulash or wazz in the Wellington, and tempers don’t flare. It’s a small kitchen, built to serve two. This means that, although I don’t know how to make lamb sauce, I’ll always know where to find it. My own cooking repertoire isn’t too expansive yet. Obviously you can expect an irreverent cookbook from me in the near future, where I talk about everything but the recipe, and both our toast dishes shall contain bones.

But as it is, I’ll knock you up a frozen pizza or a chicken goujon deluxe in a jiffy. These require a complex understanding of the oven. But it can get even more difficult when we do a Greek night – the chopping, the pan-flipping, the plate-smashing. And it used to be the case that I looked down on the idea of leftovers for food. As far as I was concerned, you cooked the nosh, you ate it, and tomorrow was another day. By this, I mean my mother cooked it, and I only showed up for the main event.

Now that I have to undergo the strenuous process of feeding myself, I’m fully turned on to the power of leftovers. In short, it saves time, divvies up the portions better, and, God, have you ever experienced how lovely stew is the next day? Do you know what stew is? How about coddle…?

I’ll admit to having my old leftovers snobbery in full effect when Super Mario Galaxy 2 was announced for the Nintendo Wii. It’s an uncommon thing for Mario games in the modern era to have direct sequels, and at a glance there’s nothing about this game that looks wildly different to the first SMG. In a surprisingly open move, Sugar-and-Spice Operator Shigeru Miyamoto explained that Galaxy 2 would incorporate levels and ideas that simply couldn’t be crammed into the first game. This turned me against the game from the start just a tad. It would still be good of course, but would it be a little stale? A little soggy, even?

I was a fool to worry, of course. Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes all of the greatness and zestiness that went into the first Galaxy game and marinated it beautifully. As the second title in what I had always hoped would become the Galaxy trilogy, it was probably destined to become the lesser known game of the two, especially given its curious omission from the 3D All Stars package. What was the tagline for another sequel in the series, Super Mario Bros 2? ‘More Mario Madness’, I believe? And SMG2 is chock-full of that.

It’s 120 more Stars to collect, plus a wonderful post-game adventure to gather even more of them. There’s a great new world map, they made the camera a lot easier to chew on, and it’s got Yoshi. And you’ll know that Yoshi’s surprisingly picky about where he shows up to eat, so his presence is a huge thing. The ideas and innovation in these supposed leftover ideas are stunning, and there’s just so much here to sink your teeth into. 100%ing this will take you quite a long time, many a lazy Sunday, and it’ll end up getting pretty tricky by the end.

It all adds up to a game that surpasses even one of the greatest of all time in Galaxy 1. As leftovers, this isn’t recycled, rehashed, reheated. This is a game that’s even better the next day, and the next week, months and years after that. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the best that 3D Mario has gotten. It’s so good in fact that we were all desperate for thirds. We never got those thirds in the end, leaving us like Oliver Twist sticking his bowl out, begging for more. But two scrumptious helpings of Mario Galaxy is plenty filling, right?

29 October 2021

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