Bomberman 64 Review

Bomberman 64

In the early years of the N64/Playstation era, many of gaming’s classic franchises were getting 3D overhauls. In 1997, Hudson Soft’s Bomberman made the jump to the new dimension on the Nintendo 64 with the aptly-named Bomberman 64.

With the then-new 3D visuals, Bomberman could move more freely than ever, with bigger environments to explore, and players could move the camera in eight different directions (even when paused!).

The core gameplay remained reminiscent of the 2D entries, as Bomberman still planted bombs to destroy objects and enemies, though there have been some tweaks to the formula: Bomberman can now kick and throw bombs without the need of power-ups, like in most games in the series. He can also “pump” the bombs he holds to make them larger and more powerful.

What really set Bomberman 64 apart from its predecessors, however, was the adventure mode. Bomberman 64’s single-player adventure mode was more story-focused than previous games, with Bomberman out to save his planet from a space-travelling villain named Altair and his band of Bomberman-like cohorts.

The adventure mode is split into five worlds, with the first four being selectable from the get-go. Each world has four stages, with levels one and three being the standard stages, while two and four are always a boss fight. Not every level progresses exactly the same, which adds some variety to the stages (in the first level in the first world for example, Bomberman needs to step on four hidden switches to activate the exit, while on the third he is chasing down a giant emerald, which is repeatedly carried away by an enemy).

Even more notably, each level contains five secret gold cards, which are either hidden away or acquired by performing certain tasks (think Xbox achievements, but long before Xbox achievements). Collecting all 100 gold cards unlocks a secret sixth world, as well as revealing more elements in the game’s story.

Bomberman 64Admittedly, the adventure mode, while ambitious, has a good deal of missteps: The stages are either too easy or just simply aren’t compelling. You have less control over the camera during the big boss fights at the end of each world, which often makes them feel clunky. And you may find yourself getting flustered when either trying to pick up or kick a bomb, as you often are trying to do one, but end up doing the other. Still, it provides some solid fun when it wants to.

Seeing as this is a Bomberman game, however, you’ll mainly be concerned with the multiplayer mode. For the most part, it doesn’t disappoint.

Battle mode can be played with up to four players (you can even fight computer AI if you simply get tired of adventure mode), and sees the Bombermen facing off against one another in single-screen arenas like in the other games of the series. The mechanics work the same as the single player mode, but without a camera to maneuver some of the perspectives of the environments can get a little confusing.

Even if a player gets blown up, they can still partake in a match as a ghost who can hop on the back of a remaining opponent and temporarily mess with their controls. Whoever gets three victories first wins the battle mode.

As is the norm with Bomberman, the multiplayer is simple but addictive. It doesn’t stack up to the better Bomberman games, but if you have a full party of friends and an N64 you could do a whole lot worse.

Bomberman 64 is a difficult game to rate. It can provide a lot of fun with its multiplayer mode even without taking nostalgia into account. Completionists may have a good time collecting all the gold cards and unlocking customizable costume parts and stages for the battle mode. But the game has suffered from age in a number of areas regarding the adventure mode, and even the battle mode can be a little hindered by the confusing perspectives.

Simply put, if you have enough friends over, you can never go wrong with Bomberman, not even with 64’s drawbacks. But Bomberman 64 without a full party simply isn’t, well, a party.

 

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Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire Review

Shadows of the Empire

One of the earliest Nintendo 64 titles, Shadows of the Empire was the first 3D Star Wars game released on a Nintendo system. At the time of its 1996 release, it blew gamers away, and those who experienced the N64 in its early years would have unanimously agreed that Shadows of the Empire was the definitive Star Wars gaming experience. Today, however, Shadows of the Empire has aged considerably, and what once seemed definitive would now barely pass for a mediocre Star Wars title.

This N64 game was a part of the Shadows of the Empire multimedia sub-series within the greater Star Wars franchise that was actually pretty popular in the 1990s. Shadows of the Empire follows the events in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

The game centers around Dash Rendar, a mercenary who is caught up in the ordeals between the Empire and the Rebellion, specifically those involving Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. This, of course, makes Shadows of the Empire one of those weird licensed games that takes place during a lot of the events of its source material, but viewed from the sidelines from the perspective of a new character, which always ends up feeling like a B-story.

Shadows of the EmpireIt tries its hardest to make you care about Dash though, with the opening cinematic showing what good buddies he is with Han Solo, and immediately placing him in the Battle of Hoth, a fan favorite sequence from the fan favorite Star Wars film.

This opening stage, which sees the Battle of Hoth faithfully recreated on the N64, is arguably the best of the game’s ten stages. It’s the one that gives players the closest feeling to being in the world of Star Wars as you shoot probe droids and trip AT-ATs with tow cables.

There are other stages that take place in aerial and space battles inside of Dash Rendar’s ship, but they don’t match up to the thrills of the opening level.

Most stages take place on foot, however. Dash Rendar is equipped with a blaster, and can find some additional weapons along the way, such as heat seeking missiles and even a flamethrower. Dash even gains other helpful items like a jetpack.

The on-foot stages can provide some fun action, but it all feels a bit backwards when playing today. The camera is fixed behind Dash Rendar normally, but can be switched with the press of a button into first-person mode, a bird’s eye view, or you can fix the camera in front of Dash. The standard camera and first-person are less than ideal, but the latter two options make the game downright unplayable.

Shadows of the EmpireDash’s control feels awkward even when not taking the camera into consideration. His movement feels slow, his jumps are both sporadic and floaty, and the player has little control of Dash’s aiming, as Dash’s blaster automatically focuses on the closest enemy in the direction he’s currently facing.

There are other problems plaguing Shadows of the Empire that have done nothing to help the aging process: Indoor sections often have pitch black lighting, making it incredibly difficult to see anything, and you often just run around hoping you’re following the path. There are too many narrow corridors, which become frustrating given the clunky controls and camera. Boss fights feel cheap, as they do enough damage to kill you in a few quick hits, and their hit points don’t reset when you die, so it basically encourages you to lose repeatedly and damage bosses incrementally until defeated. The visuals haven’t aged well at all. And when the game requires you to do some platforming, well, it’s painful.

You have to give credit where credit is due, however. The game was certainly ambitious for its day, and the variety in the levels is pretty fun. The opening level, again, was and is a great N64 moment, and hearing the John Williams soundtracks to the Star Wars films, while a bit of an easy way to ensure a quality soundtrack, never fails.

When all is said and done, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire gave a lot of people many great memories in the pantheons of both Star Wars and Nintendo nostalgia, but it would be a lie to say that it lives up to the memories. You could probably find worse Star Wars games, but Shadows of the Empire no longer wows like it once did.

 

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Yoshi’s Story Review

Yoshi's Story

The Nintendo 64 marked a major turning point for Nintendo. The release of Super Mario 64 with the console’s launch set the stage for the rest of the N64’s lifecycle. Nintendo reinvented Mario for the world of 3D gaming, and so it was time for their other franchises to make the jump. Some would receive major overhauls similar to Super Mario 64, while others had less drastic changes. Many of Nintendo’s franchises would benefit from the leap to the N64, but others would stumble. Unfortunately, Yoshi wasn’t one of the lucky ones.

 

The SNES’ Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of the finest platformers ever made. It reinvented the Mario formula and had a sense of depth and inventiveness that few titles in the genre could match. On the surface, Yoshi’s Story seems to borrow much of its predecessor’s assets: It remained a sidescroller even with its 3D graphics. Yoshi can still gobble up enemies and throw eggs. He still has his flutter jump and butt stomp. And the Yoshi’s still come in an array of colors.

The connections with Yoshi’s Island all feel superficial, however. Because while Yoshi’s Story may share some of the basic tools of its predecessor, it retains none of the depth. Gone is Baby Mario in need of protection, as well as the exquisite level design, tight controls and vehicle transformations. Even Yoshi’s Island’s antagonist, Kamek, is MIA.

Instead the game sees a band of baby Yoshi’s out to save their island, after Baby Bowser has cast an evil spell to make the island’s residents unhappy, stealing the “Super Happy Tree” in the process just to pour salt on the wound. So the baby Yoshis seek to combat Bowser’s unhappiness with super happiness.

In order to obtain this super happiness, the Yoshi’s must consume fruit. Each Yoshi has a favorite fruit (Yellow Yoshi likes bananas, while the Blue Yoshis like grapes), and a single “lucky fruit” is chosen via roulette wheel at the beginning of every playthrough. Eating a favorite or lucky fruit refills a Yoshi’s health completely, whereas other fruit will only give back health in increments.

Yoshi's StoryYoshi’s Story actually included a pretty unique method of progressing through the levels. There’s no end goal to reach, and the only way to move on is by eating enough fruit. Unfortunately, the way you progress through the worlds is less interesting.

The game contains six worlds, each with four stages. But you are only able to play one level in each world in every playthrough. You can select which stage in the first world you want to tackle, but you’ll only have that option in the subsequent worlds if you can find all the hidden hearts on the previous level (each heart unlocks an additional level in the next world).

The levels themselves just aren’t very interesting. The game’s storybook-like aesthetics are fun (though less timeless than those of Yoshi’s Island), so the stages are pleasing to look at, but they’re all pretty basic. You can zip through them in a matter of minutes with little effort.

Bosses are only found in the third and sixth world, with the latter always being Baby Bowser. That’s two boss encounters in the story mode, and they are every bit as bland as the stages themselves.

Yoshi’s Story was clearly intended for younger audiences. That’s all good and fine, but Nintendo has made plenty of games for younger audiences that also have depth. Yoshi’s Story feels completely shallow when compared to the majority of Nintendo’s titles.

Yoshi's StoryNow, Yoshi’s Story does have its share of charm, to the point that I feel somewhat guilty in having to admit that the game is one of Nintendo’s weaker efforts. The aforementioned visual style is cute, and the pop-up book setups for the world map and cinematics are endearing. I like the idea of each Yoshi serving as an extra life (you can reclaim a lost Yoshi by finding the hidden white Shy Guys), and those aiming for high scores might actually get some fun out of the game’s Trial Mode. The music can also be pleasant, though some of it will probably be too sugary for some audiences.

The problem is that Yoshi’s Story just lacks substance in so much of what it does. The stage design feels uninspired, there’s little variety in the gameplay, you can breeze through the story mode in less than an hour, the secrets aren’t all that secret, Yoshi’s sense of control feels less fluid than in the SNES original. There’s just not much to it. Yoshi’s Story doesn’t feel like a sequel to Yoshi’s Island, it feels like Yoshi’s Island has been stripped of its qualities.

Yes, Yoshi’s Story is a kids’ game, and perhaps kids can find some enjoyment out of it. But it also seems like Yoshi’s Story feels the need to dumb itself down for kids, and that’s the exact opposite of the philosophy behind Nintendo’s best games.

 

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Paper Mario Memories

Paper Mario

I recently began a playthrough of the original Paper Mario on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, and I’m loving every minute of my revisiting of it.

Paper Mario was, of course, the last great Nintendo 64 title, being released months before the GameCube’s launch. In many ways, Paper Mario remains the most timeless of N64 games. I know many would consider that statement an act of video game blasphemy, considering the N64 housed both Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. But with all due respect to those classics (which are two other members of the small club of N64 games that have aged well), they both still look like they were from the early days of 3D gaming, whereas Paper Mario’s unique art style and blending of 2D and 3D gameplay perspectives have ensured it a timeless quality unique unto itself.

It’s not just the visuals that stand out in Paper Mario though. The game’s true genius that continues to endure is how it takes the RPG genre and makes it far more accessible to those unfamiliar to RPGs, while not sacrificing any of the depth of the genre.

"The game was originally going to be an RPG with a Zelda-style health system. That's actually a really cool idea!"
“The game was originally going to be an RPG with a Zelda-style health system. That’s actually a really cool idea!”

As I played through the game’s first chapter, I was taken back to the days of the N64, when seemingly every Nintendo Power issue promised a N64 sequel to Super Mario RPG in its previews sections. I remember at first it was simply titled “Super Mario RPG 2” and featured characters who looked like they were SNES sprites in N64 environments, which I thought was cool, since I hadn’t really seen anything like that (only Parappa the Rapper came close). Some time later it was renamed “Mario RPG 64” and “Super Mario Adventure.” This game had a long production history, as I remember seeing some early screenshots here and there for years before the game finally saw release at the end of the N64’s lifecycle.

I remember I couldn’t wait for new information about this game, but for years I rarely ever seemed to get new info (I was young, and the internet was still pretty young itself, Nintendo Power was all I had).

I have a lot of history with the original Super Mario RPG, it was the first RPG I ever played (and despite my love of Paper Mario, Secret of Mana, and others, it remains my favorite). Although it became obvious at some point that this new Mario RPG wouldn’t have any direct connection to the original, I honestly didn’t mind. It was a different time for Nintendo. Most new entries in their series seemed to be starting fresh, as opposed to direct sequels. So this was the closest I was going to get to a Super Mario RPG 2. So any new information I could scrounge up was like finding buried treasure. It was awesome!

The officially-titled Paper Mario would finally get some new life around the time most Nintendo fans were gearing up for the GameCube. Perhaps not the best timing, but I didn’t care. I was excited for the GameCube, sure. But Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee and a little oddity called Pikmin were lucky they were released near the end of 2001. Because for me, the first half of that gaming year was all about Paper Mario.

"I truly do miss Nintendo Power..."
“I truly do miss Nintendo Power…”

I remember how excited I was when I received issue 141 of Nintendo Power, and it had Paper Mario on the cover! I poured over that issue (more accurately, the article on Paper Mario) countless times. I was eleven-years old at the time, and my brilliant little adolescent mind was completely absorbed with this Paper Mario. I would even end up ordering the soundtrack from Nintendo Power (it still sits proudly among my favorite CDs)!

To finally have my hands on so much information on this elusive game was a thing of beauty. I simply couldn’t get enough of it!

I remember when the game was finally released, it completely lived up to my expectations. I know you’re probably wondering how much expectations an eleven-year old could have, but I had a ton of them! Paper Mario was a blast and, at the time, I may have called it my favorite game ever (I can’t quite go that far now, since there are some classics that shine a little brighter and even a few modern titles that take some of that cake). It was wonderful.

Its sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door would hit the GameCube three years later. I remember being really hyped for a sequel to Paper Mario, but somehow my hype just wasn’t quite the same (perhaps I was getting older and less enthused about things, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that each Mario RPG before it was unique unto themselves, so a direct sequel at that point wasn’t as surprising). Most seem to think The Thousand-Year Door is the better game, and I can understand such claims. The story is heftier, the writing has more personality, and there were even some fun tweaks to the battle system. But for one reason or another, the original Paper Mario always stuck with me more. I like that it was – more so than any other Mario RPG – a Mario RPG.

Paper Mario
“Swift justice!”

By that I mean it is the most literal translation of Mario into the RPG genre. Super Mario RPG is more akin to Mario meets Final Fantasy, the Mario & Luigi games are something of a self-parody, and the Paper Mario sequels would, understandably, take the series in new directions. But the original Paper Mario is Mario thrown into a role-playing game, pure and simple.

Bowser is the bad guy, the adventure spans across the Mushroom Kingdom and familiar environments (fire, ice, tropical island, etc.), Mario’s allies could be summed up as a Goomba, a Koopa Troopa, a Bob-omb, and so on. I adore its simplicity and directness.

A hefty fourteen years have passed since Paper Mario’s original release, and although I’ve replayed it on the N64 and Wii in the past, playing it again on the Wii U still takes me back to those early days. I may not quite see it as the “best game ever” anymore, but it’s still a landmark title in my gaming life, and it remains a personal favorite.

Once I finish my current playthrough I’ll write a full-on review for the game. But for now, I’m just relishing the memories, and enjoying how well Paper Mario holds up.

Donkey Kong 64 Review

Donkey Kong 64 is finally back, and about time to. If you’ve played it before, or if you’re new. Pick up you’re Gamepad, if you wanna play. As we take you through this retro game! Huh!

Donkey Kong 64

 

When it comes to revisiting games from your childhood, the experience will likely lead to one of two very different outcomes: The satisfaction of said game living up to your memories and proving its timelessness, or the disappointment of realizing age has gotten the better of it, and the title falls short of what you remember.

1999’s Donkey Kong 64 falls somewhere in between. It’s a game that isn’t short on ambition or ideas, but one whose execution can leave a lot to be desired.

Donkey Kong 64 takes the groundwork laid down by Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and supersizes it. It’s a massive adventure that still feels just as big on the Wii U as it did on the N64. That in itself is an impressive feat.

Donkey Kong 64The story sees tragically-forgotten villain King K. Rool return to Donkey Kong Island with a super weapon powerful enough to blow the entire island sky high. But the weapon malfunctions at the pivotal moment, and it will take K. Rool’s men some time to repair it. To distract Donkey Kong, K. Rool steals DK’s horde of Golden Bananas (think Mario 64’s stars) and has them hidden across the game’s stages. Donkey Kong must rescue and recruit his friends Diddy Kong, Lanky Kong, Tiny Kong and Chunky Kong, and together they traverse seven worlds for their stolen bananas and to put an end to K. Rool’s plot.

While the story may be simple, the game is anything but. Super Mario 64 kept its focus on stars being the goal of every stage, and Banjo introduced an emphasis on collectibles to the 3D platformer. But DK64 didn’t know when to say when. Not only do the Kongs have 201 Golden Bananas to look out for, but each of the game’s stages includes 500 bananas (100 for each kong), which work like Mario’s coins. Banana Medals are awarded to each Kong every time they nab 75 bananas on a stage, while each character also has their own unique tokens to be found and traded to the NPCs. There are Banana Fairies that must be photographed to unlock bonus content, as well as a blueprint for each character to find and trade to a Weasel named Snide.

The sheer number of collectibles can get overwhelming, and it isn’t too surprising that this style of “collectathon” platformer fell out of favor soon after DK64. But the abundance of collectibles are only part of the problem. The excessive backtracking is another pitfall.

Donkey Kong 64As mentioned, every Kong has their own share of collectibles, and you’ll find that very frequently you’ll need to switch from one character to another and back again just to reach a single item. You’ll also have to return to previous levels repeatedly as you gain more moves throughout the game. It’s a unique setup, but when stretched between five different characters, it feels stretched a bit too far.

The Kongs, while all sharing the basic frame of control laid down by Mario 64, are all distinct from one another: DK is well-rounded and (strangely) is the only Kong who can pull levers. Diddy can jump far and gets a jetpack and a headbutting move. Lanky has a longer reach in his attacks, can inflate just like a balloon, and climb steep hills. Tiny can glide through the air and shrink to traverse hidden areas. Chunky is the strongest, being able to lift boulders and grow in size.

The characters all bring some personality to the table, but the three characters introduced here aren’t nearly as endearing as DK and Diddy, with Tiny and Chunky in particular feeling derivative of established characters from the Donkey Kong Country series (why Rare decided Tiny should replace the much cooler Dixie Kong is still a mystery). It shouldn’t be too surprising that the DK64 characters have seldom been seen again.

DK64 did add some fun gameplay elements. Taking note from Banjo-Kazooie, the characters learn a number of their special moves progressively throughout the adventure from Cranky Kong. Guns (which naturally shoot fruit) can be purchased from Funky Kong, while Candy Kong gives players musical instruments that have a range of uses. Gaining new abilities of so many sorts means that Donkey Kong 64 is constantly adding some variety to the experience.

Not all the gameplay is fun however. While the characters all control well enough, they lack the fluidity and precision of Mario or Banjo. The camera can also be a mess, with fixed camera angles being far from ideal, and the player has little control to make them much better.

Donkey Kong 64The boss fights are fun and exciting. Though it’s a shame they’re restricted to one per level, especially considering some boss encounters are recycled later on, and the penultimate boss fight set a new standard in lazy design (in short, it’s literally cardboard).

Mini-games are spread throughout the adventure liberally, and while they usually have simple enough setups (beat a rival in a race, shooting one target while avoiding others, etc.), they have a tendency to stack on a needless amount of complicated elements, which feels like a cheap means of adding difficulty to the mix. A good chunk of these mini-games also have intentionally clunky controls, which leaves them feeling unfair. There are a handful of enjoyable mini-games to be found, but too many of them feel more frustrating than fun.

Donkey Kong 64The overall aesthetics fall short of its predecessors. While the visuals of Donkey Kong 64 are some of the better to be found on the N64, it marked a huge departure for the Donkey Kong series. While the SNES Donkey Kong Country games exuded a sense of atmosphere and mood in visuals and music, Donkey Kong 64 all but abandons those qualities in favor of something far more cartoonish. It’s more akin to the nature of Banjo-Kazooie than Donkey Kong Country, but it lacks Banjo’s humor and originality.

Classic Donkey Kong elements like Animal Buddies show up, but are terribly underutilized, with Rambi the Rhino only serving to break down a single wall in the first level. Enguarde the Swordfish has a slightly larger role, but nothing truly memorable. Thankfully, the mine cart stages make a comeback, and are among the more fun bonus stages. But these elements never reach their potential, which only further deviates Donkey Kong 64 from its predecessors.

Donkey Kong 64At this point it all sounds pretty negative, but Donkey Kong 64 has enough redeeming qualities about it to make it worth a look for those who missed out on its Nintendo 64 release, or those wishing to revisit it: The aforementioned look and sound of the game, while lacking in the sophistication that Donkey Kong Country boasted, are nonetheless enjoyable. The sheer variety of the gameplay would humble a number of today’s games. A few local multiplayer modes still provide some good fun. And the game represents a sub-genre that has all but disappeared, giving it a unique appeal.

Donkey Kong 64 does have a lot going for it, even when compared to more contemporary titles it’s a hefty adventure. Donkey Kong 64 provides fun in some key areas, but it has aged poorly in others. Its scope and imagination may still impress, but the experience can often get overwhelmed in too much of its own muchness.

You could say that Donkey Kong 64 has style, but it has no grace.

 

 

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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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