Review by GavLuvsGA
Ah, yes - the game that has prompted seemingly millions of people to start various rumours of a secret code to unlock Luigi over the past nine years. Along with Pilotwings 64, this game was used to launch the Nintendo 64. I didn't actually come across the game until three years after its release (but that was just after I got my Nintendo 64), when I rented it from Blockbuster. I didn't get enough time to play, and I regretted it. This was one of the first 3D games I had ever played, so I eventually searched the lengths of a certain British shopping centre to get my hands on a really cheap copy of the game.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Almost perfect. When I first played it, I was surprised at how different it was to any other game I had ever played, being somewhat less than linear. Right at the start, you run inside the castle and are informed that Bowser has kidnapped Peach. The castle looks somewhat bare - so bedroom, no kitchen, no bathroom even - but this is just a game, so I won't nitpick.
As soon as you enter, you are prompted to enter the first level, Bob Omb Battlefield, by means of jumping through a huge picture. Throughout the game, you will uncover various other portals - usually through a magical painting, but often there are other ways (jumping into a clock to enter Tick Tock Clock, for example).
The goal on every single world is to collect stars - you will be given a clue as to how to get them, and sometimes you don't have to get the one you're being told, and you can skip ahead. There are various ways you can get them - you may have to collect red coins, you may have to fight a boss, or you may have to reach the top of a mountain. Sometimes the goal may be something ridiculously obscure (one level has a star called "Blast Away the Wall", where you have to use a cannon to get at the stars by - blasting at a wall.
The levels themselves are often very complex, sometimes with more than meets the eye. All generally consist of a large playing area, with obstacles or tunnels, but there are often a lot of hidden features. For example, a couple of levels have hidden slides which are used to collect certain stars (you get the stars by sliding to the bottom, which isn't quite as easy as it sounds), and some levels have certain features. Wet-Dry World, for example, has water that changes level depending on how you enter, Tick Tock Clock is set inside a clock that moves at different speeds depending on exactly how you entered, and Tiny-Huge island is actually two versions of the same island, one tiny and another huge. Many of the levels also feature hidden warp spots where you can quickly get from one point to another.
To begin with, there doesn't seem to be much choice - you are forced to go into a battle with the king of the Bob Ombs, but it's not hard, and it's an interesting battle. Bosses in this game are generally fun, including three battles against Bowser, which somehow manage to avoid appearing repetetive. These are accessed after making your way through lengthy "Bowser stages", where you will usually get killed instantly just by falling off. The Bowser stages are more linear than the normal stages in that you must get through them to face Bowser - somewhat similar to the castles and fortresses found in Super Mario World.
As you collect stars, you will be able to progress through the castle, by opening up new doors and finding keys (the place seems absolutely tiny before you've gained your first key). Eventually you will make it through to where Bowser has hidden Princess Peach.
To add to the enjoyment, the game has a number of secret levels and missions - a secret aquarium level, for example, andthree secret caps you must first activate through various hidden areas. The Wing Cap allows Mario to fly through the air, the Metal Cap turns you to metal, while the Vanish cap allows you to go through solid objects. These are fun to use, but sadly they get completely forgotten about towards the end. After Stage 11, they don't make a single appearance.
Generally, gameplay is fun - Mario has some neat moves that are fairly easy to get the hang of, and there are very few annoyances. Okay, a few things ruin the gameplay for me a little. First of all, Mario cannot run up steep slopes - this is okay, but often it can cause to nuisance as Mario slides down them, and his momentum sometimes causes him to keep sliding over flat sections. Sometimes you'll accidentally step onto the lowest point of a sloping section of the level without even meaning to, and Mario will fall and start to slide. If this happens to be on a narrow ledge (a particularly common problem in parts of Shifting Sand Land and the tiny part of Tiny-Huge island), Mario will actually slide right over the platform and off the edge of the stage to his death, which is an irritating (and cheap) way to lose lives in my opinion. Other gameplay elements are more enjoyable - you are given the chance to save every time you receive a star (so you don't have to do the entire game in one sitting), and swimming is more enjoyable than on some games I could mention, and can actually be used to restore health (other options are collecting coins and running through hearts).
There is no "grab a mushroom to get bigger and you can take a hit without dying" system here, nor is there any caped/fire/bunny Mario - here, you are given eight portions of health, and you must avoid running out - this is usually a simple task, and regaining energy is rarely a problem. Some of the traps require caution - flame traps that cause Mario to run around madly, often leading to his running off a ledge. Also, various characters can steal Mario's hat - including a condor that sometimes sneakily grabs it when you think you've escaped via a warp spot. Without his hat, Mario is more vulnerable, so you'll have to go back and find it.
Enemies in the game are certainly interesting. Most of the classic enemies hardly make an appearance, with just two Koopas (three if you count Koopa the Quick, who you get to race against), and only a small handful of Piranha Plants. There are some interesting new ones, though - a big fish who can eat you on one level, a monster who disguises itself as a coin, and Chuckya - a bizarre character who can throw you off ledges.
Many people have actually been able to find ways of beating the game with hardly any stars at all, but in order to get full enjoyment out of this game you should try and collect every single star. Overall, the gameplay is very fun, and not spoiled by the occasional flaw that crops up.
Story - 6/10
Almost seems like a running joke in the Mario series. Princess Peach writes a letter to Mario saying she's baked him a cake and she wants him to come to the castle. We'll ignore the fact that most princesses would probably have a servant to bake their cakes for them - maybe Peach just ENJOYS baking cakes. When Mario arrives, along with Lakitu TV (the game's excuse for the fact that you can see inside Peach's castle, which is an interesting idea), he discovers that - shock, horror, Bowser has kidnapped Peach, and the only way to get her back is through star worlds. It is a bit of a retread of older games, and the ending does seem unintentionally funny.
Graphics - 10/10
Okay, they're nothing compared with today's graphics, but certainly good for 1996 when 3D games were only just coming into fashion. Mario's animation is nice, particularly his pose when he manages to collect a star, and a lot of effort is made to make sure the levels have their own individual character. Peach's castle looks a little drab and uninteresting, but that is possibly supposed to be some sort of reflection of Bowser's magic rather than Peach having a boring castle. The Metal Mario sprite is also very cool looking.
Sound - 10/10
Again, this is practically flawless. A number of very nice tunes feature, including a remix of the original Super Mario Bros. "underground" music that features in certain levels. There is a very nice, calming, tune that features on the water levels that make me wish there were more of them so I could listen to this even more. Another great accomplishment is the "Rainbow Ride" theme that features in various areas, including the slides and some secret levels. After a while, it does seem a little overused, but it's such a neat tune that that probably won't bother too many people.
Likewise, the character voices are all very nice - Bowser's cruel laughter, and Mario's voice - including his cries of "Woohoo!", "Wahey!", and "Mama Mia!" whenever he performs certain moves.
Play Time/Replay Value - 9/10
There isn't really a lot to do in replaying this game, but the game will certainly take a while to complete, especially if you're going for all 120 (yes, 120) stars. There are some surprises that you can access as a reward - as well as a famous glitch, there is a certain familiar character who you can find, but I won't spoil it for you - except to say that it's not Luigi.
Buy. This game is a must for all Mario fans. If you're not a fan of Mario, this game may change your mind.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/26/05
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