Review by discoinferno84

"Is it written in the stars?"

Mario is hungry. Starving, actually. The portly plumber hasn't had anything to eat all day…and it's all Princess Peach's fault. She invited him over for cake a few hours ago, and he started walking to the castle promptly afterward. It's not like he was royally summoned or anything; he just wanted some damned good cake. A man can't live on mushrooms alone. Besides, Peach is a great cook, much better than any of those hack Toads will admit to. There's just one problem, though: the place is deserted. Not a single blonde-haired princess or her fungus-ridden employees in sight. No cake, either. Well, mamma freakin' mia. How many times can one woman be kidnapped? Looks like she'll have to be saved -again - before someone gets a meal around here.

With his denim overall-clad belly rumbling, Mario strolls into the castle's entry hall and feels the silence getting to him. The hall is covered in checkered tiles as per most of the royal buildings in the Mushroom Kingdom, but Peach just had to include that sky mosaic over all the walls and ceiling. He spends some time gazing at the painted sky above him – three dimensional design and fluid controls of Super Mario 64 let him look around at up, down, and to his side angles for the first time – before resuming his search for the pantry. He wanders into a vast room dominated by a massive portrait of a Bomb-omb. Peach must have more money than she knows what to do with if she's filling her place up with junk like this…

But before Mario can turn away from disgust at such decadence, he realizes that there's something wrong with the painting. It's rippling. Is it alive? Is that why Peach is gone? Mario wastes little time considering such things and relies on a tried and true method: he leaps forward – work boots first – and tries to stomp the painting to death. But instead of hearing a satisfying crunch or squish, Mario finds himself whisked away into the middle of a battlefield. The words Big Bomb-omb< On The Summit flash before his dazed eyes, clueing him in to the current task at hand. Considering that the level is comprised of a mountain, it's pretty obvious where he's supposed to go. There are other choices, however; alternative titles hint to multiple (and frequently hidden) goals in the game's massive stages.

But oh, if only it were so simple. Gone are the days of 2D sidescrolling; instead, Mario is given free reign over an expansive terrain. He leaps and bounds forward, with each jump being higher than the last. He can sprint forth and slide along his considerable gut, kicking up grass and dust in his wake. He can climb trees and do handstands on their peaks, launching himself skyward like a denim rocket. Even running around in circles is a new experience. As much fun as this is – and it is fun, no matter how many 3D games you've played – Mario's quest is fraught with peril. Many old foes have been reworked into new dimensions; traditionally inept Goombas have been fleshed out into living piles of polygonal muscles, Piranha Plants are more vicious than ever, and even the most innocent-looking Bomb-omb can turn Mario a charred corpse.

However, one of the toughest things Mario will ever face isn't even an enemy; it's the camera angles. Since much of the quest makes use of all the surroundings, the perspective will have to be constantly be repositioned…or will do so on its own. That'll lead to having the view blocked by a line wall, jarring back and forth indecisively, or simply losing track of the obstacles at hand. The rest of it, however, is thankfully spot on; Mario's Control Stick-given abilities allow him to kick-jump off walls, sidle up against surfaces, cling to ledges, punch his foes into submission, and even fly with smoothness and precision. He'll need every last bit of such skills, too. Between the extensive platforming challenges, obscenely unforgiving jumps, gargantuan Chain Chomps, plumber-eating eels, and other hordes of unrelenting enemies, he will have his hands full.

But standing in the middle of that bomb-blasted battlefield, Mario has yet to learn what an undertaking he is about to endure. He does not know what icy wastelands he must cross, what fiery Hells he must explore, or what glittering underground mines he has not found yet. He does not understand the hardships of losing to a giant penguin in the ingeniously designed sled race on the Cold, Cold Mountain, the horrors awaiting in the Ghost Mansion, or the clockwork monstrosity toiling endlessly on the third floor. He knows not of all the intricate little secrets that make up Peach's Castle, all of which he'll need to find in order to set things right. Nor does he know that the 120 Stars – the rewards he gets for completing objectives – are necessary for unlocking all of the doors to the castle, creating a wonderfully crafted non-linear approach to the progression of the adventure.

But Mario does know this: he is hungry.

Thus he begins his most important quest: that of saving the princess in a three-dimensional world to get a slice of creamy heaven. It's unlike anything he's ever been in before. The free-roaming castle setting and non-linear approach offers so much more freedom than his older crusades. The vast, enemy-riddled and puzzle-crammed levels are both memorable and fascinating. The ability to move in all directions – something that many gamers have taken for granted – makes for an experience unlike anything before this title. Yes, it's rough around the edges, kind of glitchy, and far from perfect. Who cares? The cake is worth it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/10/07

Game Release: Super Mario 64 (US, 09/26/96)

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