Review by Arkrex
"There’s a good reason why he’s so super"
Isn't it amazing the difference one game can make? If it wasn't for Super Mario 64, 3D platforming would not be perched upon such lofty heights right now. Mario's debut N64 appearance was met with worldwide acclaim back in 1996 for livening up the video gaming scene with the first true full-3D platforming title. It also cemented Mario and co. as forces to be reckoned with, even in light of the newfound shift in perspective.
Think of those classic 2D Mario titles. The combination of tricky platforming sections, cute, but deadly enemies, and interesting power-ups, backed up by some beautiful scenic worlds and an equally riveting score make Mario's traditional side-scrolling games masterpieces that no gamer should leave untouched. Now think how all that classic action would translate to a fully 3D realm. At the time, this seemed to be the stuff dreams were made of. Luckily for us, a great man named Shigeru Miyamoto saw fit to reconstruct these dreams as a surreal video gaming experience to be enjoyed by all.
It all starts with an invitation to Princess Peach's castle; she's taken time out of her royal duties to bake a cake for our portly plumber. When Mario enters her domain it comes as no surprise to him that his arch-enemy Bowser, the dastardly King Koopa, has taken over the place and trapped the Princess along with most of her subjects within water-coloured portraits. These paintings, as a weak-kneed Toad explains to you early on, contain entire worlds within them full of dangerous environmental hazards and vicious enemies. They are also full of magical power stars waiting to be discovered by an observant hero who can unlock the stolen power of the castle so that Bowser's cowardly hide can be butt-whooped. He fails to mention that they are full of fun, too.
It would seem that only by searching these worlds can Mario save the Princess and finally get his cake. And so, without a moment's hesitation he jumps not once, not twice, but thrice right into the portal-like paintings. The first one brings him to the Bob-omb Battlefield where there's a war going on between the pinkies and blackies. Deposing the black-hearted Bob-omb king who commands his army atop a tall peak will yield you your first power star. Hooray! You can then return to challenge Koopa the Quick to a race to the top, release Chain Chomp from his imprisoned hold, or collect all eight red coins to earn some more. If you find some challenges a bit too hard right now or would prefer a change of scenery, you can use your amassed star power to unlock other rooms within the castle which may hold new portraits among other secrets.
The goal is to reach Bowser himself so that you can swing him into a couple of spiked bombs to teach him a lesson, but you'll need a large amount of star power before you can do so. Due to the free-form nature of the game, you can choose whichever worlds and tasks therein to accomplish your goals. Perhaps I should first mention the controls; they are near-perfect. Whether you are swimming the depths of Dire, Dire Docks, surfing on a Koopa shell along the coast of Tiny-Huge Island, or simply long-jumping like an Olympic medallist across the treacherous quicksand-infested desert, moving Mario via analogue controls is a cinch. The camera controls may not be the best (laughable by today's standards) with some jerkiness and the inability to manually position where you want it to be at times, but it's fairly easy to get around it and although the limitations makes things challenging, it never becomes too frustrating.
As opposed to Mario's 2D platformers which were more or less left-to-right affairs with a single exit, Super Mario 64 is about obtaining those power stars by completing several challenges throughout each of the fifteen main courses (and a few hidden ones too). I've already mentioned some of the tasks found in the introductory Bob-omb Battlefield level, but there are many more to come as Mario strives to obtain all 120 stars out there. You don't have to grab them all, though; 70 is enough to reach the final boss stage. This means you really can go about things at your own pace and direction. There are hints given to you indicating the approximate whereabouts of the next power star on the list, but if you find that you've stumbled across a hidden area by mistake, you can still search it out to find out what lies on the other side, be it a power star or a special stage. This makes for some great exploration as sometimes the hints can be rather peculiar and lead you on an unpredictable trip.
Tis the beauty of Super Mario 64: you never know what to expect, yet when you do find that giant electric eel wriggling along the sea bed or when jumping into the active volcano leads you into another world within a world, the feeling is incomprehensibly overwhelming. When that vulture steals your hat rendering you partially defenceless you're sure to be agitated, but then you find out that you can run up those tall pillars surrounding a huge pyramid and jump into the obnoxious bird to reclaim your cap; superb moments like these are rarely captured in real life, much less in a video game, and they will never be forgotten.
It wouldn't be a Mario game if there weren't any power-ups and in this respect, Mario doesn't disappoint, although he doesn't deliver as much as one would have hoped. By donning the metal cap he morphs into an alloy state impervious to all enemies and their attacks while gaining the ability to walk under water. The vanish cap turns him into a fuzz of pixels allowing him to pass through virtually all foes as well as several caged walls. Best of all is the wing cap which sprouts wings that help Mario soar through the skies with unparalleled ease; if you thought Mario flying in 2D was awesome, wait until you see this! (Of course, most of us have since been spoiled by the likes of the Ace Combat when it comes to jaw-dropping flying sequences.) There are only three caps which is a downgrade from previous 2D offerings and their uses are not nearly employed as much; the focus of this 3D adventure is on Mario's standard abilities as they have been recently transferred to a wholly 3D world.
Overall, the transition was a success, as the sales figures and still-evident popularity will tell you. Controlling Mario is a breeze with the full analogue controls and you'll be stomping Goomba and kicking yourself up walls in no time. Seeing classic Mario enemies such as the ghostly Boos and steel-faced Goombas come to life as animated polygonal models is a warm feeling, as is knowing that their attack patterns and weaknesses are still as exploitable as ever. Best of all, you choose the order in which you would like to tackle the various worlds and the challenges they have to offer; if you're stuck or bored, come back a while later and chances are that you'll find a way to accomplish the task and/or see that being away from the world's beauty for a short period has already made you realise just how much you missed it.
Very few games can elicit such memorable moments and Super Mario 64 is jam-packed with plenty of them. It was the first recognised 3D platformer and it is still one of the genre's best, not to mention one of the finest gaming experiences you could ever have. It has been more than ten years down the track and I'm still fond of Super Mario 64. And unless I'm afflicted with amnesia, I doubt that fondness is ever going to change.
VERDICT 10.0/10 How many times have I replayed this now? This is one of my Top 10 games, ever!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/07/07
Game Release: Super Mario 64 (EU, 03/01/97)
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