The first Mass Effect was a time-devouring trip into a galaxy so fully realized and thoroughly detailed, it seemed like part of a decades-long franchise of books, television and film. In reality, it was only one game, but one so well put together that you could easily overlook the frequent bugs, emotionless faces and occasionally repetitive planet-scouring missions.
All that praise and still Mass Effect 2 completely trumps its predecessor. The focus is tighter, the gunplay is faster and the characters themselves are intensely interesting – no small feat when you’re dealing with a story that puts all biological life on the cutting board. Rather than dwell on this looming apocalypse, the game spends most of its time connecting you to each member of Commander Shepard’s team, creating a very personal motive for each partner to leap into harm’s way and potentially sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
The universe saw upgrades too. Compare any supposed “nightclub” in the first game to Afterlife, a smoky, seedy watering hole every bit as arresting as Blade Runner. Side quests, instead of continuously repeating the same cave over and over, now took place in unique, one-off locations. The established lore even continued to grow as you learn more about Reapers, Collectors, Batarians, the Krogan genophage and a dozen other hot topics carried over from the original.
In short, Mass Effect 2 is an immensely improved sequel to a game that was already in the 9 and 10/10 range. Mass Effect 3 can't release soon enough.
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Not everyone was excited for Super Mario Galaxy 2. Some feared a copy-and-paste sequel, one that lazily repeated the tricks of the first game without adding any of its own. Others played the underwhelming, overrated New Super Mario Bros Wii and wondered if Nintendo's originality had dried up.
If anything, though, Galaxy 2 proves that the Mario team was only getting started back in 2007. Here is just a partial list of all the new and wonderful ideas you'll experience: Light Yoshi, Cloud Mario, Rock Mario, bowling with Rock Mario, swimming between floating cubes of water, exploring a half-ice and half-fire planet, rolling giant snowballs, gliding with a massive bird, butt-stomping puzzle pieces into place, reading a supersized pop-up book and discovering that what seems like a brand new world is actually a loving remake of a classic Super Mario 64 level. There’s so much amazing extra stuff going on, in fact, that the old powers barely show up… but when they do, they're implemented in unique and surprising ways as well.
But you know what's best about Super Mario Galaxy 2? The game isn't a Wii stereotype. The graphics are gorgeous, the focus is on pure hardcore platforming and the tutorials refuse to treat you like a helpless child, throwing Mario right into the fray right at the beginning. This is Nintendo at its absolutebest.