Review by SneakTheSnake
"A game like no other"
Super Mario 64, for all intents and purposes, does entirely everything to deserve this perfect score. Its astounding technical feats and sheer prowess in its mechanics make it a marvel in technology, but that is not entirely where its superiority and, ultimately, timelessness lies. Its ability to capture and enthrall players of any background is what brings it to the brink. Its total accessibility to the most casual of gamer and large, open spaces can inspire gamers of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences to run and jump with Mario in his magnificent adventure.
Allow me to set the stage, if I may. It is late 1996, and game company Nintendo is now at an important breaking point. The next home console to hit consumers from their doors is the much-anticipated Nintendo 64, a powerful unit capable of full polygonal graphics, quicker framerates than previously experienced, superior sound and music, and little to no load-times. Of course, Nintendo had a lot to live up to: the critical and financial success of its previous system, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, would be hard to top.
It can be debated whether Nintendo's decision of a cartridge-based format for such a new wave of technology was good or bad. The cartridges were more expensive to produce, sell, and develop for. Conversely, cartridges could hold a lot more compressed music and sound, could save data onto its own re-writable RAM, and had virtually no load times. It was a powerful development medium, and while Sony's Playstation and Sega's Dreamcast were released during the 64's lifespan with CD-based technology, Nintendo stuck to its tried-and-true values. This, in turn, kept some game developers away, or hesitant, for part of the system's lifespan.
The technology in Super Mario 64 and in the console in general is nearly primitive by today's standards. However, back then, it allowed for a developer to create virtually any image with the correct shape and color of polygons, and manipulate it in ways only imagined before. It set a technical standard. Super Mario 64 launched alongside the Nintendo 64 with unwavering acclaim from gamers and critics, and the sales can prove that.
The infamous struggle between good versus evil continues as Mario continues on his next quest. It seems the lovely Princess Toadstool, or Peach, has made a cake for Mario. Mario goes to the castle, only to discover that she has once again been captured by the despicable and menacing King Bowser. Thus, Mario must then go on an adventure to save his beloved princess.
Mario must bravely traverse through the enormous castle. The stout plumber goes through paintings set up on the castle walls to access various worlds. In these different worlds, stars are collected by completing certain level objectives. Further realms can open upon collection of more stars, and when at least seventy of the one hundred twenty stars have been collected, the doors to Bowser's last arena open, and Princess Peach may be rescued... if our little plumber is lucky.
In order to accurately describe the gameplay any further, I feel it would be advantageous to go through the controls. The analog stick, a new technology at the time the game was released, allows Mario to move in a full three hundred sixty degrees of motion. Putting any given amount of pressure on the stick in any direction causes Mario to change his rate of movement. "A" jumps, "B" punches, and the expertly-placed "Z" trigger allows Mario to crouch, from which he can perform a backflip. The "C" buttons allow the camera to be manipulated. Various combinations of movements can be done to do different stunts. "Z" plus "B", for example, makes Mario do a roundhouse kick, which hurts enemies. A quick flick of the analog stick in the opposite direction while Mario is running gets Mario to do an impressive side jump. There are several other combinations, too, of course. Essentially, Mario controls like a dream.
Additionally, the camera is not completely controlled by the player, but this is one of the better camera systems. The camera, which is technically controlled by the flying guy in the clouds, the Lakitu, is about as independent and convenient as was available. Pressing "C-Up" triggers an almost first-person viewpoint. There is even a mode to manually stop the camera, and let Mario run away! These can lead to some interesting viewpoints, and is also a wonderful way to show off the game's draw distance capabilities.
To continue on, the gameplay is as such: Mario enters a world, and then completes various objectives to earn the coveted stars. These range from defeating a boss character, to finding eight red coins within a stage, to collecting one hundred coins, and so on. Several level objectives are exclusive only to that level. For example, one world is simply a giant clock. Entering the clock during different "times" ( whatever appears on the clock's face before entry ) can change the speed at which the devices in the clock move. If Mario enters the clock at a certain time, the entire clock stops. With nothing rotating, sliding, or moving around, Mario can easily jump and hop his way to a hidden star. There are one hundred twenty stars in all to collect.
Readers who may have grown up solely on a more current generation of gaming may not particularly understand how good Super Mario 64 looks. Yes, the graphics can now be easily produced on a cartridge the size of a Gamecube memory card, but these graphics were truly astounding. Mario could move fully and freely without any lag.
The environments were fully varied and were presented in a fresh originality that could only be brought by the imaginative minds at Nintendo. The rolling hills of Bob-Omb Battlefield, the snowy trails of Snowman's Land, the mechanical mish-mash inside Tick-Tock Clock, or even the astounding dreamscape of Rainbow Ride, are all presented as full-fledged worlds within themselves, with full interaction. Mario could easily reach any area he could see, from the deepest crevice to the highest platform.
The Nintendo 64 became a system that could do quite a bit with sound and music. Some games had fully articulated soundtracks, and others had both these soundtracks and recorded voiceovers, however compressed the voices may have been. Super Mario 64 is an articulate and magnificent mix of music and sound.
Mario's travels are accompanied by a remarkable synthesized soundtrack. The quick races down the secret slides are done with a banjo tune as frenetic and exciting as the gameplay itself. Underwater, Mario can swim with the fish and uncover coins to a slow tune of meandering and soothing rhythms. An open-air level, such as Bomb-Omb Battlefield, contains a bouncy central theme that one can easily be caught singing long after the experience is over. The simulation of musical instruments is about as best as could be for its time, and the music came in clearly, and sounded nearly orchestrated.
I'd hate to simply state that the game's sounds are typical for Nintendo, but for a current lack of a better description, I will have to settle for it. It genuinely sounds like a game that could only be made by Nintendo. Super Mario and company have far evolved beyond bleeps and bloops of his yesteryear games. Some sounds have even been preserved from previous games, which give a nostalgic feel. Mario has also been given a loveable voice. Whenever he obtains a star, he proclaims, "Here we go!" He grunts and yelps whenever he is hurt or surprised, and his feet pitter-pattering feet accompany his every move. The audio experience as a whole is really quite satisfying.
Not every game is perfect, of course. If I were to name particular flaws of this game, is that this iteration of Super Mario 64 does not have a multiplayer mode. It would have been a treat to run around with both Mario and, say, Yoshi, controlled separately. It is only a minor flaw, but it being only a single player experience is a little unfortunate. Additionally, there are some inescapable graphical glitches. Mario may trail a wall or something along those lines, but none of these particularly damper the gameplay. Some star objectives, also, may be a little vague or confusing to the casual player, and may take some time to figure out. Those are my only gripes, really, but they are minor, and do not hinder the gameplay entirely. This is being really quite picky, and to be honest, it is difficult to find fault.
To any gamer, of any experience, of any follower of any franchise, to any degree of gamer, this game I can wholeheartedly recommend. The gameplay is astounding, the graphics are of very good quality, the music is a treat, and the whole presentation is rather impressive. Even now, no platformer has taken as many chances and has succeeded as much as Super Mario 64. Players should certainly take a chance and step into Mario's magnificent world, and they will certainly not be disappointed. Hopefully, they will want to come in again and again.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/20/05, Updated 12/01/05
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