Review by RageBot
"Gee, Mario sure likes cakes."
This game is very special, because it's one of the launch titles of the revolutionary Nintendo 64 console.Being so, it's one of the earliest 3D games ever, as well as the earliest game designed to be controlled with an analog stick, a new feature brought by Nintendo, the masters of gaming inventions.
The plot is simple. Princess Toadstool, revealing her first name of Peach for the first time, invites Mario to the castle, to bake him some cake. However, when Mario arrives, all he finds is an empty caste. Bowser has done it again. Unlike later games, such as New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, you don't even get to see the kidnapping in action, but it's okay, because in Mario games, the story is always but an envelope that covers the gameplay.
The gameplay itself is radically different from previous Mario titles. Did you think you'll have 3D platforming stages? Well, you were wrong. Instead, Mario must traverse the empty Toadstool Castle in search of a new thing in the Mario universe, called Power Stars. There are 120 of them, with the vast majority hiding in 15 different paintings in the castle. Each painting conceals an open stage filled with things to do. In each world, you must fulfill six achievements. Each achievement gets you a star.
The missions start pretty simple and self-explanatory, such as reaching the top of a stage and fighting a boss, or collecting a series of eight red coins (A thing you will do a lot of times in this game), or beating a friendly character in a race. Later on, you get more obscure goals. Be especially aware of anything that has the word "secret" in it, because that means you must try everything in that stage - pushing crates, standing in front of holes, getting specific coins, you name it.
In addition, you get a star for getting 100 coins in each of the 15 worlds. Get them all, and you'll have up to 90 stars. The rest can be found in the castle. There are seven stages hidden in the castle, and in each you must collect eight red coins. In addition, you must fight Bowser three times. There are eight red coins to collect in each of his stages, which are less open and more similar to games of old. Three of the Toads who still hang in the castle each holds a star for Mario to get, and there is a bunny you can catch twice for a star each time.
Coming to the third dimension, and being controlled by a controller with more buttons, Mario now has a few more moves up his sleeves. When running, he can jump up to three times in a row, further gaining speed and height. Also, if he runs, you can point the stick in the opposite direction and immediately press A to make Mario make a cartwheel jump backwards. The Z button makes Mario crouch. From that position, you can make Mario crawl with the stick, or do a backflip with A. When running, press B to make Mario slide. The B button also makes Mario grab objects and punch enemies. The last trick is the long jump: Make Mario run, than press Z and A in a quick succession. The rest of the buttons operate the camera.
The way you die is also different. You don't go from fire Mario, to big Mario, to small Mario, and then die. Instead, you get a health bar with eight segments. You lose segments when you're hit by enemies, with some enemies reducing up to three segments at once. You gain them by collecting coins. In addition, the life bar doubles as an oxygen bar. That means you can just get all of your health back by entering a body of water and resurfacing, and that can be exploited. When you die, you lose one life and restart next to the painting, there are no checkpoints. Get a Game Over, and you'll have to walk all the way from the courtyard back to the painting.
Instead of power ups, you get three temporary upgrades. Wing Cap makes Mario fly after he jumps thrice or he's shot from a cannon. Unfortunately, the flight controls are quite shoddy. Metal Cap makes Mario invincible, collision into enemies kills them instantly, and he's able to walk the surface of lakes. Vanish Cap makes Mario invisible, and able to pass through specific walls. However, all of said upgrades must first be activated through a hidden course in the castle. After activated, you can get Wing via red switches, Metal via green and Vanish via blue. Some stars cannot be gotten without those upgrades.
Unfortunately, being an early game also means the controls are a little primitive. After Mario stops, he might have to turn a little circle to get back on track. On a small platform, that could take his life. In addition, it seems Mario is more inclined to hang from ledges or poles, so if you're near an edge, Mario might decide he'd rather hang than proceed. The camera is also problematic, you can only turn it 90 degrees at a time via C-left and C-right, move to an over-the-shoulder view with C-up, or return to default with C-down. L and R make the camera fix on Mario's appropriate side, either left or right.
All in all, this game is a phenomenal adventure of a few hours in length. If you own a DS, you can buy a port of this game, with all the problems ironed out, and the option to play as either Mario, Luigi or Wario.
Final grade: 9.4/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/17/12
Game Release: Super Mario 64 (US, 09/26/96)
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