Super Mario 64
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 06/23/1996
    • US 09/26/1996
    • UK 03/01/1997
Score: 95%

This review was published on 07/22/2013.

Super Mario 64 is a 3-D platform game originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1996. It was the launch game for the system, and boy, was it something. The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo's first foray into a fully 3-D capable console. It was named as such because it was a 64-bit system, though bits started to not matter around this time. Nintendo was a little late to the game when it came to a 3-D console, as the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation had both been around for about a year at this time. That didn't matter, though, because Super Mario 64 changed everything. It was considered to be a revolutionary game, forever changing the game industry as we know it. This was one of the first fully polygonal games with a completely dynamic camera system and true analog movement. Analog sticks were used in gaming's infancy, but they briefly went into remission when the digital pad came about. However, Nintendo brought back analog sticks for 3-D gaming, which worked wonders and quickly became the standard. There were many 3-D games before Super Mario 64, but most of them were still designed like 2-D games. Super Mario 64 was one of the first games to fully take advantage of what the third dimension had to offer. It singlehandedly created a new genre and influenced the whole industry, much like what the original Super Mario Bros. did for 2-D games. On top of all that, Super Mario 64 is also one of the best games ever made. For a first attempt at a fully 3-D Mario game, Nintendo sure nailed it. The game was a system seller, as it basically carried the system in its first few years. It makes sense, because the game was good enough to buy a whole console over. As of this writing, there has yet to be a more impressive launch game than Super Mario 64.

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One day, Princess Toadstool Peach (this is one of the first Mario games in North America to refer to her by the Peach moniker) invites Mario to the castle for cake. Mario arrives via warp pipe, which is typical for a portly Italian plumber in the Mushroom Kingdom. Upon entering Peach's Castle, Mario realizes that something has gone horribly wrong. Bowser, the giant turtle antagonist of the Mario series, has taken over Peach's Castle. Oh no, I wasn't expecting that! I will say that this premise is slightly original this time around, as Bowser usually doesn't take over somebody else's castle; he tends to kidnap the Princess and then chill at his own place. And yeah, he's technically kidnapped the Princess again, except he also has her castle. What a dastardly lizard. As always, it's up to Mario to put a stop to the King of Koopas. However, there is a catch. Bowser has stolen all of the Power Stars and using their unimaginable power to control the castle and imprison its servants. In order to actually get to Bowser, Mario will have to recover a good amount of those stars. In any case, this is just another excuse for Mario to go on an adventure of a life time. This is one of Mario's most grandiose adventures outside of an RPG, so it's kind of a big deal. I applaud Mario 64's plot for changing things up a bit with the setting, even though it's still another quest to save the Princess.

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Mario didn't have a whole lot of moves in his 2-D adventures, but all that changes in Super Mario 64. This time, the plumber has a ton of new tricks up his proverbial sleeves. First off, there is no run button. Mario's walking and running speeds are controlled via the analog stick, which is a standard feature in most games of today, but was revolutionary at the time. Lightly pressing on the analog stick will have Mario slowly tip-toe around, and this is useful for sneaking past sleeping foes. Of course, Mario's main move is his trusty jump ability. Super Mario 64 greatly expands Mario's jumping, so it's not just a simple jump anymore. There are a large variety of jumps that can be used for a wide range of situations. Mario's standard jump in this game is really ineffectual, as it doesn't travel very far or very high, so it's necessary for players to make use of Mario's more advanced jumps to get around. So what are his more advanced jumps? Well, he's got a rather acrobatic back flip move, which is performed by pressing the jump button while ducking. This move is a quick and easy way to get extra height, but it's a bit slow to perform and isn't suitable for longer jumps. Pressing the jump button whenever Mario makes a skidding turn allows him to perform a side flip, a move that was inspired by Donkey Kong for the Game Boy. The side flip is similar to the back flip in that it gives Mario extra height, but it's a lot faster to perform, as it can be done immediately with no preparation. It can be a bit tricky to perform, though. The move of choice for most veteran players is the long jump, which does as its name implies. That one is done by quickly ducking and pressing the jump button while running. This advanced maneuver is difficult to pull off for beginners, but it's an invaluable move for getting across large gaps. The least practical but coolest move is the triple jump, which is basically three consecutive jumps, with each jump giving Mario a little extra height. No other move propels Mario higher than the triple jump, so it can be quite handy. Lastly, Mario can do the infamous wall jump by jumping towards a wall and pressing the jump button at the right time. This is the hardest move to pull off in the game, but it's necessary in a few spots, and it's very useful for advanced players. Mario's large repertoire of moves adds an incredible amount of depth to the game.

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As I mentioned before, this is one of the first games to feature a completely dynamic 3-D camera system. Most 3-D games prior to Super Mario 64 stuck with fixed camera angles, which was a lot easier to pull off. Having a dynamic camera system does open a can of worms, though, because now you need camera controls. The concept of camera controls was unique and strange at the time, but it was obviously a necessity, and pretty much all games today have them. Mario 64's camera controls will seem a bit primitive by our current standards, though they have aged reasonably well. For the purposes of controlling cameras in 3-D games, the N64 controller was designed with four yellow buttons near the top right of its face. These buttons are exclusively dedicated to controlling the camera in Mario 64 in particular, although some games use them for other purposes. In Mario 64, pressing the left and right C buttons will pan the camera left or right. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't support analog control like in newer games, but you can still get a good amount of viewpoints with what's available here. Pressing the down C button zooms out the camera for a more bird's eye view, and pressing the up C button lets you look around the environment from Mario's perspective, kind of like a first person view, except without the first person part. Even though you do have plenty control over the camera, the game is usually pretty good at giving you the best angles automatically, so you rarely have to do it yourself. Still, there are situations where you may want to change the camera yourself, and that's what the C buttons are there for. As far as camera issues, the game doesn't have many, but it does have a few. There are a small amount of locations where fixed camera angles are used, preventing you from changing the angles at all. Also, due to the camera not being analog controlled, you'll sometimes find that you can't quite get the camera angle you want. For the most part, though, Super Mario 64 has a great camera system.

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The basic structure to Super Mario 64 is different from that of the side-scrolling Mario games. Instead of jumping through a bunch of linear levels, Mario has vast worlds to explore. Super Mario 64's advanced 3-D capabilities allowed for much more open environments, and the game takes full advantage of that by focusing on in a 3-D space. The whole game is set in Peach's Castle, which acts as the hub that connects you to all the other worlds in the game. You can access the other worlds in the game via magical paintings; jumping through them will take you to a unique world. The worlds have varied environments like grassy fields, mountainous regions, deserts, volcanoes, a haunted mansion, snowy lands, and much more, so don't think all the environments look the same as the inside of Peach's Castle. A nice touch is how there are sometimes worlds within worlds, in other words, worldception. For example, the desert world has a pyramid inside of it, and entering the pyramid transports you to a new location entirely, practically revealing another world to explore. The same deal happens in the lava world, where jumping inside of the volcano takes you to another fiery location to spelunk. You've also got a few cool water levels to swim through. My favorite is this water stage that eventually takes you to an undersea town; it's so much fun to explore. Speaking of water levels, Mario 64 has really great swim controls. They take a little getting used to, as they offer a large degree of precision, but they're superb. This is something even modern 3-D games have trouble with. Anyway, I would like to make special mention of the infamous slide sections. Throughout the game, there are these small courses kind of styled like race tracks that are suspended in mid air, and Mario can slide across them on his butt. Sometimes you'll be racing an opponent or going for a fast time, but the objective is usually to get to the end without falling to your death, something that is easier said than done. These levels are very fun and they are a nice deviation from the norm. In short, Super Mario 64 has a lot of awesome levels.

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Stars are the main barometer of progress for your quest in Super Mario 64. Everything you do revolves around collecting stars and having enough stars collected to unlock more areas to collect more stars. The stars are primarily collected inside of the worlds within the paintings, but many of the paintings are locked away behind doors. Each door will usually have a star counter associated with it, and it'll unlock once you're acquired the specified amount of stars. There are a couple of doors in the game that need to be opened via different methods, but this is the regular way of doing it. So what exactly is involved in collecting these stars? Well, each world has a certain number of stars to collect, and they tend to involve various objectives. Most of the time, stars will just be lying around, up for grabs, but sometimes they require special conditions. One of the first stars in the game is won by beating Koopa the Quick in a race, for example. There are also instances where you may need to defeat an enemy or boss to earn a star, or collect eight red coins, or collecting a hundred gold coins, etc. What's truly brilliant about the stars in Mario 64 is that, for the most part, they can be collected in any order. There are exceptions to that rule, but they are few and far between. Additionally, you typically have access to a large number of worlds at any one time, which you can visit in any order you please. This makes Mario 64 one of the least linear Mario games ever released, giving the player complete freedom in how they want to play the game. In some ways, Mario 64 is a true sandbox game. Because Mario 64 revolves around collecting shiny objects, the derogatory term collect-a-thon was devised to describe its game play. With the exception of collecting coins, though, I don't feel that term really applies here. The stars act more like goal points than collectible items, kind of like the flags at the end of Super Mario levels, except there are many of them hidden throughout a given stage. There are 120 stars in the game, but you only need a little over half of that to beat the game. The rest are totally optional. It's possible to beat the game without even seeing certain levels due to this, but why would you want to do that? Coupled with being the most nonlinear Mario game ever, Super Mario 64 is also one of the lengthiest Mario games ever, with countless hours of play time available if you're up to it. People bought a console to play this game, and it was worth it.

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Power-ups make a comeback in Super Mario 64, albeit in a vastly different form from the previous Mario games. The classic Mushrooms and Fire Flowers have been replaced with mystical caps that bestow unique abilities upon Mario. Before you can actually get the caps, you must find secret switches hidden throughout the game that will activate their respective power-up blocks. This is clearly a reference to the Switch Palaces from Super Mario World, which pretty much did the same thing. Once a switch is activated, it will remain activated forever. The power-up blocks that contain the caps aren't available in every area of the game, but they do make regular appearances. Power-ups in this game all function based on a timer, so you have to re-acquire them once time runs out. It's not too big of a problem, because power-up boxes will reappear once your power-up runs out. As for the power-up caps themselves, you've got Wing Cap, Metal Cap, and the Vanish Cap. The Metal Cap makes Mario impervious to damage and allows him to walk along the sea floor, whereas the Vanish Cap makes Mario invisible, enabling him to pass through certain walls. The best of these caps is easily the Wing Cap, though. This cap gives Mario the incredible ability of flight. You have to keep in mind that this was one of the first fully 3-D games, so being able to fly anywhere in full 3-D was absolutely mind blowing. The controls for flight are a bit tricky, but that was deliberate on the developers' part, as they didn't want the ability of flight to break the game too easily. Mario 64 is a platform game, after all, and being able to fly anywhere you want sort of ruins the challenge. This is why it's extremely difficult to get the hang of the Wing Cap. Once you get the hang of it, though, it ends up being one of the most exciting parts of the game. Nothing beats flying high up in the clouds in Super Mario 64.

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Boss battles primarily consist of fights against the big bad himself, Bowser. There are a few rare situations where you will fight a different boss, but Bowser acts as the main boss encounters for the majority of the game. You fight Bowser multiple times throughout the game, and defeating him nets you a big key that unlocks a major room inside of Peach's Castle, so that you can gain access to new worlds. I have to say, the fights with Bowser in this game are probably the best out of any Mario game ever made. Bowser is humongous in this game, making Mario look like an ant in comparison. So how can such a small, defenseless plumber topple a beast of that magnitude? It's simple, really; grab his tail and swing him around in circles. You read that right. Mario, a rather short man, is able to swing a massive Godzilla-like lizard around by the tail. Now I've seen it all. This is very fun and satisfying to pull off, especially since you get to rotate the control stick like a madman. Simply spinning Bowser around won't accomplish anything, though. To actually injure Bowser, you must throw him into one of the large explosives surrounding the arena. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because it's not easy to aim when you're spinning in circles at such a high speed. The first few battles with Bowser only make you do this once to win the fight, but the final fight makes you do it multiple times. Similar to the original Super Mario, each subsequent Bowser fight is harder than the last, sometimes introducing new gimmicks to make the fight harder. For instance, the second fight with Bowser takes place on a large platform suspended over lava, and Bowser will sometimes tip the platform to make you slide right off. The only flaw to the Bowser fights is that they're basically the same fight recycled over and over, but they're so much fun, it doesn't really matter.

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Super Mario 64 is perhaps the single most important game in video game history. There have been many influential games over the years, like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and the original Super Mario, but this one takes the cake. This game helped the world make the jump to 3-D gaming, a jump that will probably never be replicated ever again. It created a genre that influenced companies to make many identical copies of, usually unsuccessfully so. In addition to its immeasurable influence, Super Mario 64 is also a wonderful game. The game was way ahead of its time, featuring camera controls and game design that went unmatched for many years. As a result of that, it has aged surprisingly well, though it does have a few blemishes. For one, the graphics are pretty awful, which was due to 3-D gaming's early inability to render rounded surfaces, making everything a triangular shape of some kind. It sort of works with Mario's cartoony style, but it can be grating on the eyes. The other issue is that the camera isn't quite up to our current standards, even if it took the rest of the game industry countless years to meet Mario 64's camera control quality. Other than those issues, though, the game is absolutely fantastic. Game design wise, Mario 64 is still unparalleled.

Word Count: 3,087

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