Review by MSuskie

"This is the game that started it all."

Honestly, what is there to be said about Super Mario 64 that hasn't already been said? Not much, so I'll just go with repetition of things that beg to be repeated. Mario, as both a character and a franchise, has come a long, long way as the originator of the platformer genre and the mascot for Nintendo. He first appeared in the arcade game Donkey Kong as the hero and eventually went on to NES's 1985 Super Mario Bros., arguably the greatest 2D game of all time and the title that spawned a million sequels and imitators. The Italian plumber then went on to star in a whole set of NES and SNES platformers and spin-offs, up until 1996, when the SNES died out and a new era of gaming was born: The 3D era. And with this new age came Nintendo's new console, the Nintendo 64. And what better way to introduce the system to the public than to bring it to life with a fresh new Mario game?

With Mario 64, the little red guy did something he hadn't done since the dog days of NES – he spawned a genre and turned up in a game that would be imitated countless times – and give the 3D game world a new meaning. That's precisely what Mario 64 did – it changed the videogame world as we know it, in more ways than you may realize. But perhaps its greatest achievement was its ability to translate the Mario universe into perfect 3D and add some new concepts into the mix, while at the same time keeping an essence of Mario in its realm. The game may have played unlike anything we'd ever seen at the time, but it was still Mario, and it deserved its name to the fullest.

Mario 64 is not structured like your standard 2D side-scrolling platformer. You see, in most 2D platformers, the object is simply to get from the beginning of the level to the end, by overcoming any obstacles that rest in between. In Mario 64, however, levels are structured in a most nonlinear way. The levels, or “courses” as they're called, have no beginning and no end. They have no straight path, no clear finish line, and no necessities. You do things as you like, and you do this by collecting stars. Stars are hidden throughout every level, and can be found by completing some sort of mission-like task, whether it be to defeat a certain enemy or reach a certain place. As you collect stars, more missions will become available, some even altering the face of the level completely.

The genius of Mario 64 is in how it's laid out. You're Mario (duh) on a quest to search Peach's Castle for Princess Peach herself, who's been kidnapped by Bowser. The castle acts as the central hub of the game, as you can access any of the game's fifteen courses from someplace inside. The fifteen courses are spread out evenly, but what's more, you don't have to completely clear one course to move on to the next. You simply need to collect enough stars to make it past the next door. Various doors throughout the castle have numbers on them, and can't be passed until you've managed to find that many stars. There are seven stars per level, but you don't need to find ALL of the stars in every level – in fact, as a final result, you don't even need to find all of the stars in the game. You simply need to explore the levels enough, and gain enough stars to gain clearance through the game's many areas.

But what REALLY put Mario 64 on the map was its controls. The N64 era introduced the realm of 3D console gaming, and with it came the N64 controller'' analog stick. Mario 64, being a launch title to the system, was the first game to truly utilize analog to its greatest potential. Players control Mario by moving the analog stick. They can use the analog stick to move in any direction. Plus, the more pressure they put on the stick, the faster Mario would walk, or run. This mechanic alone opened up tremendous possibilities for the gaming world as a whole, and has made as much influence on how we play games today as anything else. It's truly a unique and brilliant step in the right direction.

Mario jumps with the A button, and attacks and performs actions with the B button. He also crouches with the Z button. The combinations that come with this were phenomenal for their time. If players jumped while crouching, they would perform an extra-high backflip. If a player ran fast then quickly crouched and jump, they'd do a long jump. And if players hit the B button while they were running, Mario would do a dive. To make things even better, players control the camera in (almost) full with the C buttons. C-down and C-up control the zoom, and the C-left and C-right buttons are used to spin the camera accordingly. This system works great in theory but provides one of Mario 64's only flaws, and that is camera angles. Often times, the somewhat restrictive camera-rotation feature while lock into position at a strange angle or won'' go where you want it to go. This is rarely a problem, but given Mario 64's emphasis on precision, it mars an otherwise fantastic game.

Mario 64's levels are perhaps its main attraction, and that is because, like I said, they are so nonlinear and contain so many things going on at once – one simply wants to explore. In the first course, Bob-Omb Battlefield, there's an enormous mountain at one end, on which Bob-Ombs are firing water bombs at passersby, giant black balls roll down hazardously, and atop of which the king of the Bo-Ombs lies, waiting for someone to challenge him. There are also moving platforms and open fields full of enemies, as well as cannons that can be used to shoot yourself to various places. Each level also has a theme. You'll encounter a level covered almost completely by water. You'll travel across snowy, icy mountains, sandy deserts and ancient ruins, roaring volcanoes with lava flows, underground mazes filled with poison gas, and even a few levels that I can't ruin for those who haven't played this masterpiece yet. Needless to say, it's quite a journey.

Pros

+ The game that started it all.
+ Fully realized play control and gameplay.
+ Stunning, nonlinear design.
+ An enormous adventure.
+ Excellent graphics and sound.

Cons

- The camera can be VERY troublesome.
- Movement somewhat lacks traction.

Overall: 9/10

Super Mario 64 is a game that everyone must play, whether they love the little Italian plumber or not. The game is not so special by today's standards, but everyone must see how the gaming world took one of its greatest steps forward, which can be found right here. And all of the revolutions that this game brought forth really feel good for the player, even by today's standards. Its one biggest problem – camera control – is certainly annoying but doesn't stop this brilliant masterpiece from being hands-down one of the greatest games of all time. In the past two generations, Mario has only starred in two 3D platformers – this one and Super Mario Sunshine, another GREAT platformer, on GameCube. And it's sad, because given that Mario is in so many spin-offs (racing, throwing parties and playing a wide variety of sports), he's not spending nearly enough time doing what he does best: This kind of thing.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/17/05


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