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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2015 Video Game Awards

Here you can find all of my 2015 Video Game Awards (celebrating the best of 2014) in one convenient place.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U

 

Best Music

Best Sound

Best Local Multiplayer

Best Online Multiplayer

Best Gameplay Innovation

Best Content

Best Gameplay

Best Visuals

 

And of course, Game of the Year.

Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)

2014 was quite an interesting year for video games. Most of the hyped, high-profile titles that were “destined for greatness” ended up disappointing most. Destiny, Titanfall and Watchdogs, which were all supposed to be the year’s biggest games, quickly fizzled out upon release. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was full of duds.

Quite the opposite, actually. 2014 saw a few truly great games. Namely, fantastic sequels to greats like Dark Souls and Bayonetta shined, and 2014 turned out to be the year the Wii U truly proved its mettle, with the Big N releasing one quality title after another.

So maybe the memorable games of 2014 didn’t come in the forms everyone expected, but when they did show up, they came in full force. Here are the five games that had the biggest impact on me.

Continue reading “Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Visuals

A game’s graphics are often the first aspect to get noticed. Before we play games, we often have screenshots and videos to get us hyped. Naturally, it’s the visuals that almost always catch our eye immediately. Oftentimes it’s the games with the most photorealistic graphics that get all the praise. But I tend to prefer games with unique visual styles over something that merely looks “realistic.” The Ni no Kunis, Wind Wakers and Okamis. The Neverhoods and the Kirby’s Epic Yarns. Here’s a game that deserves credit for its visual beauty.

 

Winner: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-

Guilty Gear Xrd

There are probably two things you’ll instantly notice about Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-: One of those things is the incomprehensible title (seriously, what is an Xrd?), the other is the beautiful cel-shading.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- boasts some of the most stunning cel shading I’ve ever seen. The characters look like fully three-dimensional anime characters as opposed to polygonal recreations. No ridiculously thick outlines or other such tricks to make the characters look more like anime drawings brought to the world of gaming. They actually look like hand-drawn characters that have become three-dimensional. It’s gorgeous.

Funny thing is, this was kind of a last minute game I just found out about towards the very end of 2014. But as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with these visuals. I hope other developers can find ways to replicate what Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- has done with its animations. They’re just too good.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Gameplay

From the fluidity of controls to the structure of a game’s world and/or stages, the design of a game is at the core of the entire experience. This core can be summed up in one word: Gameplay.  No matter how many technical and artistic achievements games make, it’s the gameplay that’s the heart and soul of game design.

 

Winner: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the most fun sidescroller in years. Retro Studios did a great job bringing the fun of DKC back with Donkey Kong Country Returns, but with Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios seems to have mastered the formula.

Every last one of Tropical Freeze’s stages is a delight (even at their most infuriatingly difficult). There’s just so much creativity going on. From mine cart rides through sawmills to a level themed around frozen treats, Tropical Freeze uses each idea to the fullest, and they constantly add something new to the formula. It’s so creative that even Mario would have to tip his hat in respect.

The additions of Dixie and Cranky add to the mix as well. Like Diddy, they add their own little twists to the gameplay. There’s so much variety in the gameplay and level design that there is simply never a dull moment in Tropical Freeze (except maybe those load times). Part of me is begging for Retro Studios to give DK another go, but another part of me wonders if Retro Studios can top what they’ve done here with Tropical Freeze.

Runner-up: Bayonetta 2

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Content

These days, video games seem to try to cram in as much content as possible to ensure gamers keep coming back for more. Sometimes it all ends up being little more than filler, with some games feeling bloated with additional content. But every now and again, a game seems to throw everything it can at you, and it succeeds in giving players reason to keep coming back again and again.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. Wii U

If there is another game that better represents an “Everything and the kitchen sink” mentality than Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I have yet to play it. Ever since Melee, the Super Smash Bros. games have been filled with bonus content, but none of its predecessors even comes close to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

There are more modes than ever before, with each mode being made more dynamic than ever. There are enough collectibles to make Donkey Kong 64 blush, and a seemingly never ending list of things to do. Play a few rounds of online matches – either For Fun or For Glory – or replay Classic and All-Star Modes a few extra times. Or how about taking on the game’s many Challenges? Or the Stage Builder? Heck, you can even just goof off and take a few screenshots, and then scribble all over them and post them to Miiverse.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most fully realized Smash Bros. yet (sorry Super Smash Bros. for 3DS), as it represents the series’ love of all things fun better than any of its predecessors. I’m still frequently revisiting it months later!

 Runner-up: Mario Kart 8

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Gameplay Innovation

Not every game dares to do something different. But sometimes, a game comes along that changes things up. Sometimes these are radical, game-changing innovations. Other times they may be smaller, but no less influential, with imitators soon to come by the dozens. Either way, games that dare stretch their imaginations deserve a bit of credit.

 

Winner: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Nemesis System)

Shaow of Mordor

While Shadow of Mordor may not exactly be the most original game in many respect (it’s basically Assasin’s Creed meets Arkham Asylum with a Tolkien makeover), it does have one key attribute that it can boast as its own: The Nemesis System.

The Nemesis System has your enemies – those filthy, filthy Mordor Orcs – gaining in experience and prestige as you play through the game. Should you fall to them in battle, the Orc who felled you will get a promotion. Even the player’s actions have a part to play in how intimidating these Orcs become. Naturally, the more these foes grow in legend, the greater the reward for defeating them.

It’s a simple but deep mechanic that gives Shadow of Mordor a lot more life and replayability than it would otherwise have. And it’s a mechanic that I can see other developers emulating for plenty of other games down the road.

Runner-up: Dark Souls 2 (finite enemy respawns)