Super Mario 64 (N64) Review

Super Mario 64

So here we are, after 28 days we arrived just one single day away from the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and what other way could we end on other than Mario? So the hard part was choosing which Mario game to go with, the original Super Mario Bros. due to it’s all-time classic status? Mario Galaxy for arguably being my favourite? Mario Odyssey for the being the one I played most recently? In the end, I went for none of the above, and jumped into Mario 64, as much like the first game, it was a truly revolutionary experience, and just as worthy of a choice as the others, especially in giving me something to write about in the “Thoughts Then” category… Let’s take a look then, and end this lengthy countdown…

Background:

Super Mario 64 6

Mario will never look at paintings the same way again…

Super Mario 64, unbelievably given how much it got right, was a launch title for the N64, and therefore came out in Japan on June 23rd 1996, with a US release September 29th that year, and a European release on March 1st 1997. It has been re-released on virtual consoles and the like, as well as a DS remake called Super Mario 64 DS, which adds several new characters and challenges, but lacks a lot of the original game’s control fluidity due to the DS’s lack of an analogue stick…

Boasting not only good 3D graphics (for the time!) but using the N64’s unique analogue stick, it had full 3D movement in a 3D environment, which when combined with a play style more like open world than anything else at the time, just shows how amazing an experience it was at the time, and why it’s considered not only one of the best, but one of the most influential and revolutionary games of all time.

Gameplay:

Super Mario 64 5

Platforms, coins, Piranha Plants… it’s still Mario alright!

Although still having a lot of the trademark Mario tropes of jumping on enemies heads and collecting power-ups, thanks to the leap to 3D Mario has a lot more moves in his arsenal. He can double and triple jump, he can duck, crawl, walk slowly or run fast, he can punch or kick enemies if they’re stunned, and he can do long jumps and backflips. This is all thanks to Nintendo getting the most out of their own analogue stick and 3D engine right out of the box.

The power ups Mario can collect have been reduced to just three: the Wing Cap, allowing Mario to fly for a certain amount of time, the Metal Cap, which turns him metal and therefore allowing him to be heavy enough to walk through gusting wind and deep water, and finally the Vanish Cap, which allows him to be invisible and able to walk through certain walls and wire fences. It may lack the mushrooms and fire flowers we all know and love, but these three items in conjunction with the great level design makes for a great combo.

On the level design being great, Mario 64 isn’t a straight forward linear platformer like its predecessors, instead you enter a level and in that level are various challenges and goals that will net you a Power Star, and in order to progress to later levels you must have a certain amount of stars. So you may play a level, defeat the boss and exit, but then you can go back in and freely explore the 3D world and find new challenges, like races, puzzles or collecting red coins, all of which net you more Power Stars. It’s the formula that Mario games would reuse going forward, with the exception of New Super Mario Bros. and Mario 3D World series, which returned to the linear level system.

The freely moving camera was a great innovation as well, it follows behind Mario but always “clicks” back into place to sort of show the player where to go. It’s far from flawless mind you, if the game has one fault it’s an occasionally clippy camera…

This was also the first Mario game to have our lead hero have an actual life bar, rather than one hit death (or two hits if you have a power up) as well as friendly NPCs to talk to (first not including Mario RPG, obviously…) The bosses are quite easy, as are a lot of the levels, but there are some stars that are extremely tricky. It’s playable for the very young, satisfying to complete for the old, and generally a great gaming experience for all.

Graphics and Sound:

Super Mario 64 2

Friendly Bob-ombs?! What a crazy world we live in… or that Mario lives in, I guess.

Now, yes, much like the other N64 games I’ve reviewed in this countdown, it has to be said that due to the limitations of the hardware, the game does lack any proper texture detail and there is plenty of clipping, but Mario 64 has been made with such care that you don’t notice half as much as you do in other games. I think it’s because each level is its own world, with clear borders and all designed to look bright and colourful, that helps it lack that muddy, blurry look that most games on the console have, at least in a lot of levels…

The sound is great, background music is catchy and memorable, soundeffects are cartoony and fun, and Mario’s voice was fun, given it was the first (I believe?) time we heard it. (Wait, looked it up online: it was the first core Mario game, but Charles Martinet had voiced the character in smaller, spin-off titles beforehand…)

Story:

Super Mario 64 3

Hmmm… Don’t fancy a dip in these waters…

Bowser had kidnapped Princess Peach and trapped her and her people within her own castle using the power of the 120 Power Stars that were held there. Mario must use the painting portals to other worlds located in the castle to warp to other places and collect all the scattered Power Stars in order to free Peach and defeat Bowser… and in case you’re wondering, yes he does indeed do just that…

Thoughts Then:

Super Mario 64 4

Every gamer of a certain age remembers this moment…

Wow this blew my mind. It’s a cliché story now to hear from people roughly my age, but I remember taking control of Mario in the gardens outside of Peach’s castle and just moving the analogue stick around in circles, and seeing Mario match my movements was just the most amazing thing. Then you start to explore, you climb a tree, you do double and triple jumps, backflips, hit a wall and see Mario comically shake his head afterwards… it was just, frankly amazing. The game was fun enough, and I have plenty of fun memories of completing the various levels, but those first few moments have always stuck with me, and hearing other people talk about the same experience always makes me smile.

5 Star Game Old

Thoughts Now:

Super Mario 64 1

This is it, the final screenshot… Remind me never to do a marathon THIS long again… Now I’m off to finally play Smash Ultimate!

Now? Mario 64 is still a great 3D platformer. Yeah, it looks rough (though not as rough as it could look…) but at its heart, at its core, it’s still the same great engine that I loved playing Mario Odyssey with last year. The jumping is still fluid, the levels are still well designed, the music is still top-notch… Stuff like the camera and some of the graphics let it down a tad in 2018, but it doesn’t matter how old Mario 64 gets, it’s that rare early 3D game that somehow hasn’t aged all that badly…

5 Star Game New

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