Super Mario 64 Review

By Sgt. Fly

September 6, 2008

When the world of Nintendo gaming made the leap to 3D, many platforming series were unable to survive through the leap. In the retro days, platformers were the single most popular genre of games. Here in 2008, they make up only a small percent of the videogame market, being overshadowed by people who look for graphic-packed first-person shooters and other genres. The series that was able to not only survive the leap but become better than ever - none other than Mario. Mario has given us 2 fantastic modern platformers: Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. But what started his 3D platforming series was Super Mario 64. This game went on to be extremely popular and critics and fans instantly fell in love with it. It sold over 10 million copies and was the best-selling game for the N64, so most of you here who have an N64 probably have this game as well.

The N64 came and had a glorious lifespan, then eventually died out. In came the GameCube, which had a somewhat lacking lifespan, and it died out as well. Here we are today with the modern Wii. Equipped with the Wii Shop Channel, Super Mario 64 can now be downloaded from it for 1,000 Wii Points. Not only should people who already played the original get it for the potentially tear-jerking nostalgia (Or maybe I'm just a wimp), but newer generations of gamers can experience this highly important installment to the Mario series. And now, this is my personal Review of the legendary Super Mario 64.

Storyline: 7/10

The game begins with a letter from Princess Peach. Reading it aloud, she has baked a cake for Mario and has invited him over to her castle to dine on the sweet delicacy. Mario hops out of a pipe onto the castle grounds, and heads towards the castle itself. But when he gets in, he hears the voice of Bowser and soon learns that all the Power Stars have been stolen from the castle and that Peach is nowhere to be found. Bowser took Peach and scattered the Power Stars across the lands. Where did he put them? Well, there are many paintings in Peach's Castle, and Bowser has turned them into worlds to hide the Power Stars in. Now, Mario has to venture into these worlds to get enough Power Stars to challenge Bowser and rescue Peach.

Mmhm. Same old Bowser kidnaps Peach story. The idea of collecting Power Stars was new to the series at the time, however, and having worlds inside the paintings makes it so you can access many different environments from just a simple castle. It's not much of an effect on the story though, most Bowser kidnaps Peach stories have SOME kind of gimmick added to them.

Gameplay: 10/10

When it comes to 3D Mario platforming as solid as this, it just can't be beat. Mario 64 introduced the 3D platformer elements that many of the rest would follow behind. The main hub of the game is Peach's Castle, which is a big, multi-floored area with a few Toads inside. To collect Power Stars, you have to find a magical painting in the castle and jump into it to access its world. From there, you'll be given a Star selection interface. There are 6 Star missions to choose from, each being unlocked one after another. You pick the Star mission you want and you'll arrive in the level you chose. No more side-scrolling this time, the N64 is a 3D system so Mario gets 3D environments. With the analog stick and a bunch of new moves, you have to guide Mario through the environment to find the Power Star. Mario has his classic jump, but he has more moves than ever before. These include punching, kicking, long jumping, backflipping, wall jumping, ground pounding, and more. The selection of new moves is highly pleasing, especially since Mario can punch and kick as opposed to only having a jump for offense. I'm also fond of the wall jump, which can allow Mario to jump higher and at specific angles.

The Power Stars themselves can be anywhere. They could just be protected by some sort of force, which requires a puzzle to unlock. They could only appear if the 8 Red Coins in a level are colleced. Or they could be guarded by a boss for Mario to clash with. These are the more common examples of how Power Stars are hidden. Each stage also has an extra Power Star which is unveiled once Mario collects 100 Coins.

There are 15 stages in this big game, and they have something that Sunshine lacked - variety. If you were just exploring rearranged grasslands all the time, that would get boring after a while. Mario 64, instead, has a wide selection of environments. These can include plain grasslands, floating towers in the sky, snow-covered mountains, large bodies of water, and hot lava-filled wastelands. You'll almost never feel that any stage is too similar to another. While most levels have 6 Stars, there are Bowser stages that don't have any (non-secret) Stars, but rather a castle key. Once you beat a Bowser stage, you'll get a key that unlocks a door in the castle, which can give you access to a lot of new stages. Not all the Power Stars are hidden in stages, though. Around 30 of the Stars weren't discovered by Bowser and are hiding somewhere in Peach's Castle. These Stars can be found by going through a mini-level, finding a secret area, or deeds as simple as talking to certain Toads.

Mario has a new set of major items in the game, but he has the returning ones as well. There are coins which, as I said, are collected in hundreds to get a Power Star. There are 1-Up Mushrooms, which give Mario an extra life, and Koopa Shells, which Mario can ride on to go across water and bash into enemies. But what's really more notable is Mario's new hat power-ups. There are 3 different boxes that contain these hats, but they're transparent at first. You'll have to find a hidden area that has a big switch that corresponds to the color of the transparent block. Once pressed, those blocks become solid and their caps can be used. There are 3 different types of caps in the game. The Wing Cap allows Mario to fly around the stage for a long time before eventually wearing off. The Vanish Cap enables him to take no damage from enemies and to walk through thin surfaces. The Metal Cap makes him invincible and able to destroy enemies just by touching them, as well as able to walk underwater. These power-ups are great and I had a good time using them, but the Wing Cap, despite lasting long, is pretty hard to control. And sometimes the Vanish Cap and Metal Cap don't last long enough for you to do what you have to do.

On a minor note, since this is one of Nintendo's first 3D games, it should be noted that the game has a lot of glitches. Most of the time they won't interfere with the game, though. But some of the glitches are quite extreme. Some can allow you to beat the game with less than half of the required Power Stars, which has become commonly used by speed-runners. But these glitches aren't bad, in fact, I personally found them to sometimes make the game more fun.

Graphics: 9/10

Because it's one of the first N64 games, there will be polygons. Mario looks pretty good in the game; he's short, slightly pudgy, and has a slick 'stache, although he doesn't appear to be able to get his hands out of a fist position... The switch for all these classic characters from 2D to 3D does make a few of them look odd, though. The Goombas look a bit too round and Koopas' shells look sort of flat, but aside from a few oddities in character models, the game looks great. The textures in Peach's Castle are quite a sight, and not just there, but in all the rest of the levels. It's impressive to see graphics like these in a launch title for a system that made the leap from dimensions. Some billboarding is in the game, but it's more with the trees than with anything else. The special effects, on the other hand, are just okay. The fire looks pretty shabby, as it does in most N64 games, and the smoke that emanates from Mario's flaming backside after he's damaged by fire looks pretty tacky, with little to no shading. Fortunately the water and lava look pretty nice. Animation and frame rate are pleasing, with things such as the jiggling of magical paintings playing very smoothly.

Music and Sound Effects: 8.7/10

After playing this game, trust me, any time you hear the Peach's Castle theme you'll recognize it in an instant. While it is not the best theme in the world it is very memorable, and that's the same deal with most of the music in the game. The theme of Bob-omb Battlefield sounds a bit silly, but is fitting and catchy. That theme may very well be considered Mario 64's main theme. The other theme that should be noted is the racing theme, which is played in a few hidden levels or during a race with an ironically fast turtle, namely Koopa the Quick. Not only is it probably my favorite theme in the game, but it is remixed in a few levels. In the snow levels, for instance, the remix is a tad vague, but match the notes together and you'll find how it's a remix. The Bowser levels have outstanding music and is one of my favorite in the game, dubbed in the soundtrack as "Koopa's Road", and I was delighted to see that this tune was back in Super Mario Galaxy. The last particular track I wanna note is the credits theme, which makes me think back to when I was so young and beat this game for the first time... I cried again when I heard it almost a decade after said event. I'm still wondering if that's normal.

This is also the first time that Mario's modern voice was heard by most. Technically his voice debut was in Mario's Game Gallery, but since nobody plays those PC Mario games, Mario 64 may very well be considered the debut. Mario's had some better voice acting in some of his more recent games, but these are still good; Of course, he doesn't talk in complete sentences with the exception of "It's-a me, Mario!" and probably some other ones I can't remember at the moment. Most of the time he just has brief phrases like the "Yah!" upon jumping or the "Let's-a go!" when starting a level. Some enemies also got their vocals in this game for the first time, like Thwomps, Bob-ombs, or more obscure baddies like Big Bob-omb. Peach also got her voice acting in this game, but it sounds... just odd. I don't know why, but it just does. We've all felt that about something.

Controls: 9.5/10

Virtual Console game here, that means multiple controller choices. Youíve got either the GameCube controller or Classic Controller for this one. The GameCube controller, of course, works the best. Control Stick to move, A to jump, B to punch, R to crouch. Mix and match those commands in various ways and you'll easily be able to master pretty much every move in the game. Itís just as good as in the original. The Classic Controller... really, retro controllers aren't meant to manipulate characters through 3D worlds. The Analog Stick's in a weird place, and the Control Pad makes it hard to go precisely in the direction you wish to go. 'Twas the same issue with Super Mario 64 DS, and helps to prove the importance of an analog stick. Not to mention the A and B buttons seem like their commands should be switched. There's just a minor flaw that applies to both of them: wall jumping can sometimes be frustrating. Since Mario doesn't slide down walls like he does in modern Mario games, he just bumps himself into the wall and says "Oomph!" which doesn't give you as much time to execute it. I'm not sure whether that's a minor control issue or a minor gameplay issue, but it seems too trivial to be included in a category as important as gameplay.

Length and Difficulty: 9/10

This game started the objective of collecting a set amount of Power Stars/Shine Sprites/Miscellaneous shiny objects to be able to take on the final boss. In Mario 64, that amount is 70. Since this was my first videogame ever and I got it when I was 4, it took me quite a few months to get those Power Stars. I'm not sure how long it would take some other people to get them on the first playthrough, but maybe with a few days of straight gameplay, maybe around 4 to 6 days.

The difficulty of the game... well, you can say it's divided up into 3 sections. When you first enter the castle, you only have access to the first floor of it, where the more simple levels are held. Once you collect enough Power Stars to beat Bowser for the first time, you get the key to go into the basement of the castle, where the levels get a little more intense and puzzling. Beat Bowser there and you've got access to the third floor, which has levels that require great skill and athletics, with a few easier ones thrown in.

So yes, in terms of difficulty, Mario 64 is similar to many other videogames - it starts out easy and the difficult gradually begins to rise. Once you've got your 70 Stars and put Bowser to shame, there's still 50 more Power Stars to collect if you wanna see the alternate ending...well , actually, it could hardly be considered an alternate ending, it's pretty much just a few changes in dialogue. More of this quest for 100% completion will be covered in the Replay Value section just below.

Replay Value: 9.3/10

Well, now that you've shifted your gaze a few centimeters down, let's discuss the 120 Stars, why don't we? Despite the fact that you got 70 and there are now only 50 of them left, getting all the rest may be harder than that quest for the first 70. Chances are that when playing the game, you collected all the easier Stars first and tried to keep away from the hard ones. Now you have to go back to those levels and complete all 6 Star missions and collect the 100-coin Star. These are generally easier to collect in basic, roomy levels like Bob-omb Battlefield and Whomp's Fortress. In stages with mostly water or little ground to stand on it can be quite a challenge to find these coins, and sometimes it's just annoying trying to collect coins in these kinds of places. The Castle Secret Stars need to be collected as well. I liked the Secret Star system, since there's not as much pressure on you to find them and it's just a good sense of accomplishment when you find one. So what happens when you DO collect these 120 Stars?

I said before that there's a (slightly) alternate ending, but of course there's more than that. If you go to the castle grounds, you'll find that SOMETHING is opened that will take you SOMEWHERE. When you go there, you'll meet SOMEONE who maxes out SOMETHING and improves another. I was kind of underwhelmed by this reward, especially since it isn't saved and if you want to get it again, you need to see that someone again once you start up the game. After that... whatever you want. Try to get as many coins as you can in the levels, try out the infamous "Room of Death" glitch, and of course, just goof off. There are a lot of possibilities for how you can entertain yourself in this game... Maybe if you find the time, go on the Internet and spread rumors about blurry plaques attached to Star-shaped statues.

Fun Factor!: 9.7/10

When a game excels in nearly all categories, your reluctance to put down your controller naturally skyrockets. It's just a way of life. Mario 64 has, let's see... incredible gameplay, high replay value, quality graphics, so on and so forth. I really loved playing this game throughout my childhood, it always gave me something very fun to do. Yes, a few levels are frustrating, mostly the later ones in the game, but the greater amount of outstanding level designs outdoes some of those irritating levels. What I liked the most about the levels were their sheer variety, as I said before, something that Super Mario Sunshine lacked.

Fast-paced action is yet another thing I really liked about this game. Few levels are dull and lacking enemies; nearly anywhere you go you'll find baddies to fight off, bosses for you to beat the Power Star out of, dangerous environmental hazards, and unique gimmicks in each of the stages. It can make the game a little more brutal, but it still maintains the right amount of difficulty. I admire said features in a game, as a good balance of mechanics can make for an instant classic if pulled off well. Super Mario 64 did so, and it makes for a very fun game that not many can compare to.

Overall: 98/100

I dare you to find at least 3 games that can be ranked higher than Super Mario 64. That's a task that's very difficult to do, because Mario 64 is one of the best and most revolutionary games of all time. It appears high in my mentally-stored best games ever list, tieing with Mario Galaxy and beaten only by Paper Mario. It's largely the reason that I'm a fan of videogames today, because my first videogame experience was also a superb one. I don't even care that it has a nothing-special story, the other categories overshadow that. No Mario fan should go on without having played this game, so without a doubt in my mind, I highly recommend it to anyone. No one should miss out on this important part of videogame history. If you do... well, your Virtual Console collection will forever be missing something vital, something historic, and something downright glorious.

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