Super Mario 64 Review

Super Mario 64

When Super Mario 64 was released all the way back in 1996 as the Nintendo 64’s key launch title, it was something of a miracle. For years developers had tried to make the idea of 3D gaming a reality, only for it to blow up in their faces. Then along came Mario, in full 3D, to show the world how it was done. Super Mario 64’s influence is hard to understate. Its design was such a creative and technical leap that it set the stage for just about every game that was to follow. The landscape of gaming was forever changed due to Mario’s debut outing in 3D.

What makes Super Mario 64 truly remarkable is how well it holds up. The N64 and Playstation generation is not one that has aged particularly well – with only a few handfuls of titles being as fun today as they are in memory – but Super Mario 64, the earliest of Nintendo 64 titles, is still one of the most fun and ingeniously designed games ever.

The plot remains unchanged from Mario’s past adventures. Bowser, that most perennial of video game baddies, has seized control of the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnapped Princess Peach. The twist here being that Bowser has trapped the Princess in her own castle with the magic of the Power Stars, which he then hid in various worlds that exist within the castle’s paintings.

Super Mario 64Mario must traverse the castle, enter these paintings, and uncover the Power Stars to progress further through the game. The Stars are the goal of each stage’s missions. Enter a stage the first time and you may have to wrest a Star from a boss encounter. The next time you may simply have to reach the end of an obstacle course. Mario partakes in footraces with Koopa Troopas, returns baby penguins to their mothers, and combs every stage for elusive red coins, to name just a few of the methods of earning a Power Star.

It’s a nearly flawless setup that remained the standard of platformers for years. The levels are a marvel of design, and include Mario’s standard fire, ice and water worlds, as well as more obscure locations like the inside of a giant clock, or an island that is both tiny and huge. These stages are stringed together through Peach’s Castle, which remains the single greatest hub world in gaming. Its outer gardens are a place of heaven-like serenity, while its inner design is so charming you would never guess that it’s currently occupied by the game’s villain.Super Mario 64

The level design of Super Mario 64 is still breathtaking to this day, with every stage, even those with repeated gimmicks, having an identity of their own. It would all be for naught though, if Mario didn’t play so wonderfully.

The Mario of 64 controls fluidly, and his actions are so precise that it’s a wonder how Nintendo managed to pull it off with their first try into this uncharted territory. Push the control stick gently and Mario tiptoes quietly enough to prevent a sleeping Piranha Plant from waking. Put some extra force into it and Mario sprints with wild abandon. Hit the action button once and Mario throws a quick punch. Hit it multiple times and Mario pulls off a combo straight out of a beat-em-up. And of course, there’s jumping. For the first time ever, Mario could somersault, backflip, triple jump, and leap off walls. Simple combinations of button presses and joystick motions perform these jumps, which added a whole new depth to Mario’s repertoire.

Mario has so many moves at his disposal in Super Mario 64, but Nintendo pulled it off with such finesse that the game is every bit as accessible as its 2D predecessors.

Super Mario 64The game makes brilliant usage of its (then) newfound space. Wide open worlds give Mario plenty of room to perform his new acrobatics, and enemies and obstacles are presented in such ways to leave players to test every last one of Mario’s moves. The fights against Bowser (of which there are three, which has remained something of the standard for the King Koopa ever since) are probably the greatest showcase of Super Mario 64’s understanding of 3D space. Run behind Bowser, grab him by the tail, swing him around and throw him into one of the bombs placed around a 360-degree battlefield. So much of Super Mario 64 was testing new waters, yet Nintendo crafted it with such playfulness and creativity that it never feels like a mere showcase of hardware. Super Mario 64 is a virtual playground.

Super Mario 64Mario’s list of power-ups was unfortunately shortened in the jump to 3D. Gone are the Fire Flowers, Tanooki Suits and Super Capes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and World. In their place are three caps. The Winged Cap is Mario 64’s premiere power-up, and grants Mario the ability of flight. The Vanish Cap makes Mario ethereal, allowing him to walk through walls. Finally, the Metal Cap turns Mario into an invincible, metal form, which can run through enemies with ease and sink to the bottom of water.

The three caps are a fun twist on Mario’s power-ups, though they’re maybe a tad underutilized, which stings all the more knowing that none of them have ever made a return appearance in the series. The Vanish Cap in particular seems like a missed opportunity, as it only shows up a small handful of times during the entirety of Mario 64.

Sadly, there is one aspect of Super Mario 64 that doesn’t hold up so well as the rest of it’s exquisite design: The camera. Even back in its day, some cried foul at Mario 64’s inconsistent fixed camera. Players have the ability to alter the camera angles themselves, but it only helps so much. Super Mario 64’s camera never feels broken, but you may find that, playing the game today, the camera will lead to more misplaced jumps and accidental plunges into the abyss than you’d like.

It’s not too big of a complaint, however, when you consider that this was Nintendo’s first attempt at 3D gaming, and that they were so wildly successful in so many areas. The visuals are obviously dated, but the color and personality of the characters and environments make you not really care about how blocky Mario may look. The music, while maybe not as catchy as Mario World, is nonetheless memorable (the theme music for the water stages is still one of the most beautiful pieces in the series).

But it’s the design, the genius structure of it all and the beauty of its execution, that makes Super Mario 64 such an enduring classic. The thrilling level design and the polished gameplay still hold up after all these years.Super Mario 64

Best of all are the little things, the throwaway details that display such creativity that most of today’s games wouldn’t even think to dream them up: The title screen which allows you to stretch and pull Mario’s face, which solely exists because it’s fun. The portrait of Peach that melts into Bowser’s ugly mug just before Mario falls through a trap door. The owl hiding in a tree, waiting to carry Mario into the clouds. The rippling walls that reveal themselves as entrances to secret worlds. And my personal favorite, the way the clock world goes into hyperspeed or a dead stop if the clock hands are in the proper positions when Mario enters its portal. Super Mario 64 is brimming with ideas both big and small.

Super Mario 64Super Mario 64 was a revolution in 1996, and it remains influential even today. But the greatest testament to its quality is how much fun it still is. The gameplay is still so entertaining, and the ideas still delight. The camera may prove troublesome to today’s gamers, and you may wish Metal Mario made a few more appearances, but make no mistake about it, Super Mario 64 is still one of gaming’s wonderlands.

 

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Super Mario Bros. 2 Review

SMB2

Today, Super Mario Bros. 2 is often seen as a “black sheep” in the Mario series, neither as revolutionary as its predecessor nor as excellent as its successor. But truth be told, if Super Mario Bros. 2 is a lesser entry in the Mario canon, then let that speak to the overall quality of the series. Super Mario Bros. 2 is still a great game.

It’s true, the game we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 is just the Japan-only Nintendo title Doki Doki Panic retooled with Mario characters in it. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the game was among the best platformers of its era, not to mention the impact it had on the Mario universe.

Birdos, Bob-ombs, Shy Guys, many elements that are common place in Mario games today got their start here. This even includes the attributes of the main characters.

Players have the option of selecting four characters: Mario is well-rounded, Luigi has the highest jumping and descends slower, Peach can temporarily float in the air, and Toad lifts objects the fastest and throws them farthest.

The gameplay is unique among Mario games in that jumping on enemies doesn’t defeat them. Instead, you can jump on an enemy’s head and lift them up, and then toss them at other enemies. Additionally, vegetables are abundant in the ground, and can similarly be plucked and tossed at foes. It’s a fun gameplay hook that still stands out in the Mario series.

One downside is that the usual Mario power-ups are nowhere to be found (aside from an occasional Starman). Instead, players gain extra health by finding mushrooms in warp zones (temporary bonus rooms accessed through hidden doors). It’s just a shame the added bonuses found in warp zones don’t continue through subsequent levels, as it could have added an interesting RPG element to the Mario formula. But it works for the game at hand.

Super Mario Bros. 2Mario and company will of course venture to various themed worlds, each with a handful of stages and ending with memorable boss fights (boss fights which, I must admit, are more varied than those in the more popular Super Mario Bros. 3). It’s not as expansive as Mario’s later ventures, but it provides the same sense of fun.

The graphics are colorful 8-bit sprites, but not as detailed as those found in Mario 3. The music is a highlight, featuring some iconic pieces from the NES era that are still remembered and remixed today.

Super Mario Bros. 2 has a whole lot going for it, and it has aged more elegantly than the brunt of NES titles. Yes, it’s shaky origins mean it deviates from many loved elements of the Mario series (no Fire Flowers), and some might even say it feels slower when compared to other entries in the series, but Super Mario Bros. 2 is still a blast to play. Whether you’re firing up the old NES or playing it through the Wii U Virtual Console, Super Mario Bros. 2 proves that being a black sheep doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

 

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F-Zero Review

F-Zero

F-Zero has never had it easy. It was an SNES launch title alongside Super Mario World, and we all know which game became synonymous with the console. F-Zero’s innovative “Mode 7” graphics were a revelation at the time, and made racing games feel more immersive. But Mode 7 would soon be used for a little game called Super Mario Kart, and we all know which game is considered the more influential.

So while F-Zero may have been in the shadows of more prolific SNES games, on its own merits it’s a more than capable racer.

Players choose between four vehicles, each with their own statistics, and race through various futuristic tracks. You can choose between different cups and difficulty levels, even the easiest of which provides a good challenge.

F-ZeroThe races are fast-paced, turns are sharp, and not only do you have to worry about falling behind the other races, but about your vehicle being destroyed as well. Your health bar depletes every time you run into a wall or bump into other racers. Should it deplete entirely, your car explodes, and you have to start the entire cup over. Health can be replenished by driving on certain pits near the starting point of each lap.The added game over element makes what is already a challenging racer all the more difficult. It may not be for everyone’s liking, but it rewards those seeking a challenge.

The graphics are mostly pleasant, with the aforementioned Mode 7 allowing for scaling and rotation effects that still hold up. There are admittedly some areas where the graphics don’t hold up so well, but given that F-Zero was pushing racing games into new territory at the time, the shortcomings are forgivable.

A huge, retrospective drawback is the lack of multiplayer or any additional modes. F-Zero holds up in a lot of ways, but the complete absence of multiplayer takes a lot away from the experience. The racing available is tight and precise, but with very little else to offer takes away replay value. And without being able to share the experience with a friend, it’s no wonder that Super Mario Kart stole F-Zero’s thunder.

Still, you can’t take too much away from F-Zero. It was novel back in its day for its graphics and fast-paced racing, and everything it has to offer has held up well, but it lacks the substance of other SNES games. There is certainly fun and challenge to be had with F-Zero. But you may find that, just as was the case back in the day, your racing skills will most likely drift back to Super Mario Kart.

 

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Duck Hunt Review

Duck Hunt

Back in the day, Duck Hunt was one of the most prolific games on the NES. It gave gamers a simple task: Shoot ducks with the NES Zapper (a gun peripheral that came packaged with the game), or risk being mocked and laughed at by your dog. The simplicity of the game made an impact on the NES’ appeal, and Duck Hunt was so iconic with the console that it soon became bundled with Super Mario Bros.

Now that you can play Duck Hunt on Wii U, you can see how age has effected the game in both positive and negative ways.

 

On the plus side, the game is still fun. The NES Zapper is replaced with a Wii Remote this time around, with the motion control probably making the game more intuitive than ever (though some targeting blips still occur).

There are three game modes: Game A has you shooting at one duck at a time, Game B has two ducks flying on screen at once, and Game C shifts the game to shooting clay pigeons (two of which are on screen at once), with the clay flying from the foreground to the background, becoming harder to hit as they shrink in the distance.

All three game modes involve ten targets per round, with the player given three shots to hit every on-screen target. Hit the right number of targets per round and you can move on, miss the required number and it’s game over. Hit all ten targets to get bonus points.

All three game modes serve as fun little mini-games, and the simplicity of it provides retro charm. On the downside, all three modes put together don’t pack a whole lot of depth, which may effect the game’s replay value.Duck Hunt

The thing is, Nintendo has excelled at mini-game collections for years now, and regrettably, compared to even one of the mini-games of Nintendo Land, Duck Hunt feels shallow. It might seem unfair to compare an NES launch game with one from the Wii U, given the incredible leap in technology. But the sad fact is that while Duck Hunt may still be fun, it no longer feels as addictive as it once did. The simplistic gameplay is still charming, but the overall package doesn’t hold up quite so well on its own.

Duck Hunt is definitely worth a look on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, but you may find it becomes more complimentary to the rest of your Wii U and Virtual Console library than a gaming experience in itself. It may not be the go-to game on your Wii U menu, but it is a fun little deviation between meatier games.

 

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