Replaying: Super Mario 64

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is great (it was released on my birthday, ya know). I mean, it has it’s problems (a series of this caliber deserves grander presentation than a simple startup screen and brief descriptions of the games included), and the absence of Galaxy 2 really is inexcusable (had it been included, this would be the best video game compilation ever). But it’s still a compilation of two amazing classics and also Super Mario Sunshine, so I’m not about to complain too much.

Though Galaxy is easily the best game of the bunch, I decided to do things chronologically and started with Super Mario 64 first. Super Mario 64 is, from a historical and influential standpoint, one of the greatest videogames of all time (with Tetris and the original Super Mario Bros. perhaps being the only games to top it in those categories). Super Mario 64 is also one of the defining games of my life. Though I think there were better games before and better games since (Super Mario World is a far better game, for example), there are few games that are as ingrained in my mind as Super Mario 64. I played and replayed it so often as a kid, that even when it’s been years in between playthroughs, I can still recall where, when and how to collect (almost) every star and red coin. I know the stages inside and out, and can track down most everything in the game without giving it a second thought. Super Mario 64 is burned into my psyche.

Playing this classic again on the Switch reminds me what an integral part of gaming Super Mario 64 was (and still is). Yes, it’s definitely rough around the edges – with its camera being cumbersome and Mario sometimes feeling a little slippery to control – but creatively, it was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing, it still amazes.

I’m not sure if it’s ironic or poetic that gaming’s biggest icon of the 2D era was also the one that, in its first go around, got 3D gaming so right (okay, it’s poetic). Yes, some of its technical aspects have aged, and Super Mario 64 isn’t pretty to look at (though the HD sheen of the Switch version makes it look better than ever), but when you consider how 3D video games at the time were so unwieldy and broken that the concept was considered a fad doomed to die a sudden death, Mario’s transition into 3D was as flawless as anyone could have hoped for, perhaps more so.

Playing Super Mario 64 again today, it’s still a lot of fun, which is more than you can say for…pretty much every other early 3D game. Yes, its blemishes are more apparent to modern eyes (that damn camera), but it still feels like a delightful virtual playground whereas its contemporaries feel like taxing eyesores.

I do have to admit, it is a bit of a bummer that Nintendo opted to only optimize the game’s presentation and give it an HD makeover, as opposed to remaking it entirely. I mean, I get that new games are the priority, but surely Super Mario 64 is one of the games in Nintendo’s history that warrants a from the ground-up remake. I mean, Crash Bandicoot had it done, and as much as I love Crash Bandicoot, he’s certainly no Mario.

Whatever. As always, it’s the game that ultimately counts, not the look. And as stated, Super Mario 64 is still a great game, and its inventiveness for the medium as a whole can’t be understated. Super Mario 64 wasn’t simply “Super Mario World but in 3D” (an unpopular complaint I have against Ocarina of Time is that, structurally, it’s essentially A Link to the Past with a 3D makeover, with all the added hiccups that come with the N64). It reworked how platformers are structured. Sure, you still had linear goals, but you could go about them in different ways, and sometimes achieve a goal other than the intended one. And one thing Super Mario 64 did that I still don’t think many 3D games have done (even the 3D Mario titles, until Odyssey came around) is how it gave Mario moves and abilities that were made solely for the sake of taking advantage of 3D space, and how the game incorporates certain goals (stars) simply by utilizing these moves.

There are stars that simply require the player to master Mario’s wall jump in order to reach them, areas that can only be reached with Mario’s trickier to perform movements, and hell, Mario’s little breakdancing move seems to only exist because it could now that Mario was in a 3D environment. The player can almost sense that Miyamoto and company must have had an absolute blast making the game, and just had fun discovering what they could make Mario do with his added dimension.

“It’s strangely seldom mentioned how, in Super Mario 64, you’re actually controlling two characters. Mario himself, and the Lakitu holding the camera.”

This infectious sense of joy doesn’t just apply to the technical aspects of the game, however, but the creative ones as well. As much flak as I’ve been giving the game’s camera, how fun of an idea was it to make the in-universe reason for the camera being that Mario’s adventure is being recorded by a local news station (which, naturally, uses a Lakitu flying on a cloud as the cameraman, explaining away the controls for the camerawork)? Or what about the clock-themed world behaving differently based on where the clock hands are when you enter the stage? And to this day, a gaming moment from my early years that I can still recall clear as day was chasing after a rabbit in the lower levels of Peach’s Castle, and running into a wall that began rippling upon Mario’s contact with it, revealing yet another of the game’s levels just waiting to be explored. Up until that point in the game, the stages were all accessed via jumping into painting. So for just a basic wall to deceptively be the portal to one of the stages might still be the most beautifully mischievous detail in video games.

Suffice to say, I’m having a lot of fun revisiting Super Mario 64. Of course, there’s a lot of frustration as well, trying to wrangle around the camera, controlling the flying power-up, and Mario’s sometimes sporadic actions. Frustrations I don’t get when playing either of the Galaxy games or Odyssey (which, with all due respect to Super Mario 64, are all superior games), or even 3D World for that matter (which might also be a better game from a technical standpoint). But hey, Super Mario 64 was the first of its kind, for it to still be as fun and creative as it is today is probably more than anyone could have asked for.

The Mario series has had more “perfect games” under its belt than any one series (I might even argue it’s had more than most other prominent series put together). Super Mario 64 is not one of the perfect Mario games. But it still, to this day, is a one of a kind gaming experience. A video game wonderland that, while it may feel aged in a number of respects, still comes across as a timeless classic.

So Much Mario Goodness!

Nintendo had a brand-spankin’ new Direct today, focused on the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. There were so many announcements, that I can’t even remember them all. So I’ll just leave said Nintendo Direct here.

 

The big news here is the confirmation of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, and a battle royal version of the original Super Mario Bros. There’s also that augmented reality Mario Kart thing. That looks interesting.

I think it’s safe to say this Mario-focused Direct left me feeling like this…

Anyway, I am beyond excited for Super Mario 3D All-Stars! I mean, two of the greatest video games of all time – and also Super Mario Sunshine – all in HD and whatnot? Sounds great! Though I am greatly saddened (and baffled) by the omission of Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is arguably the best video game ever made. They didn’t even show Galaxy 2 in the Mario retrospective video at the end of the Direct! What’s up with that, Nintendo?!

Oh, and perhaps best of all (for me, anyway), Super Mario 3D All-Stars releases on my birthday, September 18th! Oh, Nintendo, you do care!

Super Mario 3D World being re-released on Switch was also expected, but nice to have confirmed. What wasn’t expected is it comes included with some kind of new game called “Bowser’s Fury” (getting the Mario & Luigi 3DS remake treatment with that “+” in the title). Unfortunately, from what very little they showed, it looks like you still play as Mario and friends in Bowser’s Fury, which is fine, and only unfortunate for me personally who is baffled that Bowser has yet to get his own game after 35 years. Notably, the Switch version of 3D World will have online multiplayer, and Nintendo promises to reveal additional new elements between now and its February 2021 release (I’m guessing some kind of new stages).

Also, I like the idea of that battle royal-ed version of Super Mario Bros. Reminds me of Tetris 99, but with Super Mario Bros. So that’s both of the two most influential video games in history getting the battle royal treatment. Nice.

Suffice to say, I’m really excited for all this Mario news. Now hopefully we’ll get a re-release of the first two Paper Marios (AKA the good ones) and some kind of Super Mario RPG remake and/or sequel. And Geno in Super Smash Bros. Let me dream.

But c’mon, where is Galaxy 2? #JusticeForSuperMarioGalaxy2

Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

Ranking the 3D Mario Games

Super Mario 64

When Mario made the jump to 3D gaming in 1996 with Super Mario 64, in marked a turning point for both the Super Mario series and gaming as a whole. Super Mario 64 opened new doors and paved new ground for the world of video games. With such a heavy influence on gaming, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Mario series itself was particularly effected by its influence.

Mario would abandon his 2D sidescrolling roots for a good ten years before New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS made it a thing again. While New Super Mario Bros. launched its own sub-series that has kept 2D Mario games largely successful, most Mario fans these days consider the 3D entries to be the “core” titles in the franchise, and with good reason. New Super Mario Bros. is fun and all, but it relies too heavily on Mario’s past and relishing in nostalgia. It’s the 3D games that feel like the series’ evolution and future.

Five console games and one handheld title comprise the 3D Mario canon. While we all eagerly await what might be the next great 3D Mario adventure – whether it be a Wii U title or a key release on Nintendo’s upcoming “NX” console – let’s look back at the 3D Mario games that have been released so far.

As part of my celebration of Super Mario Bros’ 30th anniversary, here is my ranking of the 3D Mario games, from least to greatest.

Continue reading “Ranking the 3D Mario Games”

Top 10 Bowser Battles

Bowser

There is no foe in all of gaming as persistent as Bowser. Since his debut in 1985, the King Koopa has dedicated his life to defeating Mario, kidnapping Princess Peach, and causing all around mayhem in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Though Mario has bested him countless times over the past 30 years, Bowser just keeps bouncing back. But with so many memorable encounters against the King Koopa, which ones stand out as the best? The following is my list of the top 10 battles against Bowser from the Mario series. Keep in mind that I’m just sticking with the Bowser fights from the primary platformers in the series. So even though that final battle in Paper Mario was pretty awesome, it won’t be here.

Also note that this isn’t a list of “hardest” Bowser battles. Too often these days do gamers simply think a difficult boss automatically equates to good and an easy boss is automatically bad. This list is based on how creative the boss fights were, the tension they create, and how definitive they are for their respective games. Difficulty is a secondary thing here.

So without further ado, the top 10 Bowser battles! Continue reading “Top 10 Bowser Battles”

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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Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles

 

SMB

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, consoles don’t have to wait very long to receive a console-defining game. Sometimes such a game is available on day one, if not included right out of the box with the console! Although this trend of iconic launch games has dwindled in more recent years, there’s no denying the impact a launch game can have on its system. Here are what I consider to be the top five launch games of all time. But first, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions. Continue reading “Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles”