Review by darthjulian
The dawn of a new era
If there is one certainty in video game business, then it´s the fact that no matter what Super Mario Jump and Run you are mentioning, you always end up talking about a definite classic. Indeed, ever since "Super Mario Bros.", nearly every single Jump and Run adventure of Nintendo´s plumber mascot has turned out to be a timeless classic (with his appearances in the racing and RPG genre being awesome entries into each Nintendo console´s library as well). In most cases, though, Mario´s Jump and Runs not only turn out to be highly enjoyable titles, but influential and revolutionary ones as well. Just look at how "Super Mario Bros." single-handedly saved the video game market in the 80s by introducing a gameplay style video gamers had never seen before - at least not to the extent of perfection Shigeru Miyamoto had reached with this title. And the same goes for "Super Mario 64", too. This is the title that opened the door for the age of 3D games, helping us to forget embarrassing and awful early attempts at 3D gaming on the disastrous Atari Jaguar or in the early PlayStation library. And even after more than ten years, it is easy to look back at "Super Mario 64" not just with nostalgia and for its technical merits, but also because, amazingly enough, the game still is as much fun to play as on the day of its release.
Okay, "Super Mario 64" also has a storyline, but once again, it´s more of an excuse for Mario to go on his adventure rather than an interesting tale to be told - but then again, that´s the case in nearly every single mascot based Jump and Run that has been created over the last two decades. Needless to say, Mario´s beloved girlfriend, Princess Peach, has been abducted by the nasty Bowser once again, and it´s up to Mario to save the day and fair Princess Peach. However, the way he does it this time around is slightly different from Mario´s 2D adventures at least in terms of the layout. Instead of visiting level after level on a vast world map, the overworld in "Super Mario 64" can be found in Princess Peach´s castle entirely, as you have to enter each world through a portrait hanging in the vast hallways of the castle (not unlike in "Castlevania - Portrait of Ruin"), which ensures a large variety of different locations. Among these locations, there are typical levels such as a water based world, a lava world or a cave world, but also some fresh and new ones such as a world over the skies or the insides of a clock tower. The level design is quite typical for a Mario game as well, which means that once again, each and every single world is perfectly balanced as far as difficulty, creativity and variety are concerned. There are tons of secret rooms to uncover, and you´re allowed to explore as you please, since there´s no time limit or any other means of restricting your enjoyment of the various worlds. But of course, there are still certain goals you have to achieve in order to progress through the game, and in "Super Mario 64", your main goal consists of collecting stars. There are 120 of them in total, and you need a certain amount of them in order to enter new worlds. In order to find a star, though, you have to fulfill certain tasks that can reach from racing against a penguin or a koopa to fighting a mini-boss, which makes the progress of collecting stars a far more enjoyable affair than, for example, simply running around aimlessly and finding the stars by random without any having to be solved. Anyway, ambitious and huge worlds would be in vain if there weren´t proper controls to accompany them, and fortunately, that´s just the case in "Super Mario 64". Even though the game marks the first venture into the 3D realm for Nintendo, the designers around Shigeru Miyamoto still managed to deliver control schemes that are near perfection to say the least. Despite the various moves Mario can now execute, like the by-now-famous double and triple jumps or the dive-jump, you will always feel like you are in control of everything, thanks to the fact the "Super Mario 64" was practically being created entirely for the purpose of making use of the then-new N64 joypad and its analog stick. Quite an awesome way to introduce new control schemes if you ask me, considering in what grandiose fashion this has been established. Overall, the gameplay is as close to perfection as any other 3D Jump and Run could possibly hope for, with only a future Mario title having the possibility to match the gameplay splendor we´re being treated with here (and nope, "Super Mario Sunshine" unfortunately wasn´t the game to accomplish this...).
Actually, it shouldn´t be necessary to say that much about the graphics in this game. It is common knowledge that "Super Mario 64" revolutionized the entire video game industry with its visuals and represented the dawn of a new era early Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation titles were unable to initiate. Of course, the graphics look outdated in 2007, but back in the days, they were by far the best you could find on any system. Seldom have 3D visuals been this fluid and constant before the advent of "Super Mario 64", and if you compare them to sad, atrocious PSX attempts like "Bubsy 3D", then it becomes perfectly clear why the Nintendo 64 was far ahead of its 32-Bit competitors in terms of "real" 3D, at least at that time. It´s also worth pointing out how refined the character models as well as the environments look for such an early attempt at full 3D adventuring, and not even the admittedly blocky nature of the characters (especially Mario) can diminish their greatness. Naturally, "Super Mario 64" also astounds with some neat special effects, for example the water and fire animations and designs that were extremely impressive for a video game in 1996. Making use of the graphical capabilities of the new hardware, Nintendo also inserted some of the typical visual jokes that make the Mario universe so lovable. Take, for instance, the animation of Mario running around in pain after his..."behind" is being set on fire by having fallen into a lava pit, and you will know what great care Nintendo took in crafting the visual splendor of "Super Mario 64", and there is no doubt that the game will always be an outstanding graphical milestone in the video game industry for having initiated a new era that really ended the 16-Bit era for good.
In terms of sound effects, "Super Mario 64" represents a premiere for Nintendo´s small, chubby plumber. For the first time ever in his Jump and Run adventures, Mario was able to utter some voice samples, which gives the character even more personality and charm, despite the fact that obviously, his voice samples are pretty cheesy and cartoony, it only helps to add more substance to the happy and easy-going upbeat atmosphere of the game. Equally cute are Mario´s yells when he´s executing a move or when he´s getting hit by an enemy, making you even feel for the main character in a certain way. Then, of course, we have the music. Strangely enough, there are only few classic and well known Mario themes to be found. Instead, Nintendo focused on a majority of new themes that fit the Mario universe perfectly, featuring a good variety of calm themes as well as some upbeat tunes that are quite typical for a Mario game, and in the end, Mario fans should be pleased with the soundtrack offered here, since it accompanies the gameplay and graphics wonderfully.
Looking at all these positive aspects, it´s perfectly clear that "Super Mario 64" has aged gracefully to say the least and has not lost its charm and intrigue at all. That´s a feat only the best of the best can achieve, and even though that already is a testament to the sheer brilliance of "Super Mario 64", its biggest merit might easily be the fact that it´s just as enjoyable as the 2D outings of Super Mario. There were several video game franchises that did not make the jump from 2D to 3D and ended up as miserable failures (Sonic the Hedgehog, anyone?), but Mario did make the jump with ease. If, for some reason, you have never played this gem before, then by all means, do not hesitate and buy this game as soon as possible as a used Nintendo 64 cartridge or as a Virtual Console download. "Super Mario 64" is essential gaming at its best and another stellar piece of work by Shigeru Miyamoto.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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