Review by Speedy Boris

"Still the Best 3D Mario Game"

When I think of top-tier titles for Nintendo 64, one title instantly comes to mind: Super Mario 64. I can recall renting the N64 system and Mario 64 from my local supermarket on two occasions, enjoying the experience thoroughly, playing the game every chance I could to take FULL advantage of the 2-day rental. And that magic hasn't diminished since then, even with the waves of wannabe 3D platformers out there.

1) Graphics. For 1996, these were excellent. The framerate is, for the most part, consistent (though it would've been nice if the game was 60 fps instead of 30, but it's not a huge deal). Seeing distance is quite far; you don't have much of that annoying, ever-present fog that plagued some N64 games. Animations are full and cartoony, and they bring Mario and the enemies to life. Watch the little details like Mario pulling himself up a tree, or hunching over and moaning in pain when he's near death! The only downside to the graphics is the large amount of pixelation on certain objects, particularly spheres (trees are the worst culprit here). That, and the polygon count isn't very large, also a factor of age. But for a cartoony game like this, large poly counts aren't really necessary anyway, so it's a moot point.

2) Music/SFX: Again, excellent. Mario 64 has some of the most memorable in-game melodies of any game I've ever played; more of Koji Kondo's genius shines through with each game he touches. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to the official CD soundtrack and haven't gotten tired of it. From the up-tempo Bo-Bomb Battlefield to the ominous Bowser land to the soothing sounds of the water levels to the polka-style tunes of the snow levels to the frantic tempo of the sliding levels, each tune brings variety, even if some of the music is reused from stage to stage.

Mario 64 was one of the first Mario games to use voice samples. Don't worry, they're not overused and irritating like Super Mario Advance; though Mario grunts and oomphs a lot, such as when jumping or being hit, the bytes are quick and are inserted to accentuate the physical movements that Mario is doing. They're not long voiceovers like "Just what I needed!" or "Thank you!" that tell us what we already know and add nothing. By contrast, his little sound bytes in Mario 64 add a lot of personality to his character, and it's really fun to play as him.

Sounds are also a step up from the SNES games; not only do we get footsteps that are specific to how fast Mario walks/runs (and change based on the ground that Mario is on), but we get much more realistic water sounds and yes, plenty of cartoony sound FX like all Mario games, too.

3) Controls. The N64 controller is one of the most controversial controllers in existence, and it almost seems pointless for the D-Pad to even be included on the controller. And yes, you won't be using that pad in Mario 64. Luckily, the rest of the controls work just fine. The joystick is sensitive to how hard you press it in a certain direction, allowing you to have full control over how fast Mario runs (heck, you can make him tiptoe!). The Z Button, in combo with jump, gives you a butt slam. You can also punch/kick. Other means of attack include throwing objects at enemies and jumping on certain enemies' heads.

Because there are so many combos you can perform with the controller, there are quite a few special tricks you can perform, and they quickly become second nature. You can perform a tackle/slide, you can do a backflip, you can perform a mid-air turnaround (which happens if you run, turn around, and quickly hold back and jump), you can grab onto ledges, kick walls to gain a little jumping height, you can hang from ropes, and you can even ride turtle shells! This game definitely has lots of possibilities for you to explore.

For camera controls, you can change the distance of the camera from Mario, as well as entering a close view to survey the area. These kinds of camera controls are almost standard issue in every new game nowadays, but back in 1996, it was quite the treat. True, the camera occasionally causes problems where it won't display the best gameplay position (i.e. a ledge will be in the way), but for the most part the camera stays relatively solid and provides the best angle. Plus, like I said earlier, you can change it 9 times out of 10.

4) Gameplay. Super Mario 64 gives you nearly 20 worlds to explore, and though all are the basic platforming archetypes (i.e. land levels, water levels, pyramid levels, snow levels, dungeon levels, etc.), the excellent level design and nice graphics keep the themes fresh.

The main goal of every world is to collect all six stars, plus a seventh bonus star (for 100 coins, which can often be a tough feat, as there are only so many coins in each world). Gathering so many stars unlocks new worlds. And part of the fun in opening new levels is the fact that all levels are accessed through Princess Toadstool's Castle. And boy is it fun to explore. Whenever you unlock a new section of the castle, it's a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of wonder as to where you can venture next. That sense of exploration has been the case with all Mario games, from sliding down pipes to entering the dreamscape to Star World- and Mario 64 keeps up that tradition with style.

Of course, it's a minor flaw that some themed levels are repeated a couple times throughout- you'll get two snow levels, two swimming levels, two flying levels, etc. Luckily they all offer a unique set of challenges that keeps it innovative and fresh. The six stars in each world all are collected through a unique task, whether it be returning a baby penguin to its mother or beating a time trial record or capturing an escaped monkey or defeating the world's boss or finding a hidden area or simply making it to the desired goal point. Very rarely will you get bored, and the fast-paced nature of the game makes it all the more addicting when you fail. You'll think to yourself, "I ALMOST had it that time- one more try!" Such is good gameplay.

And what become of your time and effort of 120 total stars? Sadly, not as much as there COULD be, though you DO get access to the roof, a flight cap outside, and a cameo from Yoshi. In some ways, that's a disappointing finale. On the other hand, the road you take there is fun in and of itself, so this can be forgiven. Plus, this game is just plain fun to replay, by visiting the worlds you've already completed and just messing around. As you'll find out, there are certain easter eggs when you completely finish, which also helps the longevity (such as the racer penguin gaining weight).

5) Overall. Super Mario 64 helped sell a bunch of N64s when it debuted in 1996, and with good reason: It has helped maintain the classic Mario brand of gameplay while propelling it into 3D. It definitely deserves applause for that, as not all video game franchises have managed such a feat (Bubsy 3D for one). On top of that, it is one of the best titles for the system. You can find this game for a cheap price now that the Nintendo 64 went bust; do yourself a favor and nab it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/23/05

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