Review: Super Mario 64 (N64)

By Drew Wilson

One of the many Super Mario games in the long running Nintendo owned franchises is Super Mario 64. It was supposed to help introduce gamers to a new world of gaming – in a true 3rd dimension. We check out how this game stacks up today.

After a number of Super Mario games appeared on the Super Nintendo, it seemed to be tradition that Nintendo would release a new console with a Super Mario game to show of its power. Super Mario 64 was the title to help do so. The game was released in 1996 and it introduced gamers to a whole new level of gaming at the time – gaming in a true 3D environment.

Gamers would be new to the new controls as well. Instead of just having a four direction pad to move characters, gamers were introduced to a thumb analogue control stick. Characters could creep around slowly or run quickly depending on how much you pushed on the small stick. This is vastly different from picking a direction and holding down a button to run.

Being a gamer myself in this era, I knew what it was like trying to get used to this new way of controlling movement. I knew all too well what it was like to feel like an idiot when I fell off the tilting bridge in the Bomb Omb Battlefield multiple times because I couldn’t run a straight line right away. I was used to two dimensional play by that point in time. It wasn’t an issue with game design, but rather, an issue with transitioning from an almost exclusive 2D environment to an almost exclusive 3D environment. Nevertheless, this game offered plenty of opportunity to practice movement and getting used to it was simply a matter of practice. This game was, ultimately, instrumental in helping many gamers, including myself, to get used to a 3D environment. When harder games appeared, gamers would be able to transition to that game with greater ease. So, if you’ve played games for years and go back to this, this game will probably seem somewhat easy now.

The game itself has the typical Super Mario story-line. Something has happened to Princess Toadstool and it’s up to Super Mario to save the day. Of course, the problem isn’t immediately obvious when you enter a new game as all you get is Toadstools invitation. The problem is immediately obvious after you enter the castle, though. I thought that was a really nice variance to the same old storyline because numerous other Super Mario games start off with how Bowser has kidnapped the princess and you have to go through various levels and worlds to save her.

This game introduces the star system. Rather than just having to find keys or coins every so often, this game allows you to collect up to 120 stars as well as three keys and power caps. The stars help you unlock doors to access new worlds and keys are used to access two additional sections of the castle (basement and upper floors). Getting all 120 stars is optional, but you’ll need at least 70 to complete the game (legitimately and not exploiting the various glitches found in the game of course – Re: 0 Star speedruns).

One noticeable thing that has been removed is items that allow Mario to grow or spit fire. Instead, a round health meter indicates how much health Mario has left. This can be replenished by running through spinning hearts, collecting coins, gaining a star/key/leaving a cap switch level or swimming along the surface of water on most levels (due to the air meter being the same as the health meter). This aspect was a real departure from previous games, but the way the game was designed, it was hard to miss this aspect of Super Mario that dominated so many previous and more classic titles such as Super Mario Bro’s 1 and 3 and Super Mario World to name three examples. I found that to be an impressive feat on the part of game designers.

An altered element worth noting was that the player only needs to gain 50 coins to earn a free life as opposed to 100 coins. If a player earned 100 coins in a level, an additional star will become available to the player. The lives earned by the player through coins are only awarded upon collecting one of the 6 stars available in a given world or collecting a key. Still, obtaining a green mushroom means you get a free life on the spot.

A feature found in this game is the numerous moves Super Mario can do. This includes the triple jump, the numerous attacks, the long jump, and ground pound. Of course, that list is a small fraction of the various things Mario ends up doing in the game including flying in an up draft, swimming, and pulling a Donkey Kong by shooting himself out of a cannon to get to otherwise unreachable locations. Suffice to say, this game is capable of keeping the player occupied with the various activities involved including making use of the three power caps (invisible, wing and metal).

The worlds were quite immersive with the various environments. There’s the grassy plains of Bomb Omb Battlefield, the expansive waters of Jolly Roger Bay, the winter conditions of Cool, Cool Mountain. The dark world of Hazy Maze Cave, the large and small world of Tiny Huge Island and the vertigo inducing Rainbow Ride world. Lots of variation to be had throughout the game to keep things interesting.

Once you have enough star power for the various sections of the castle, you can go on to one of the three worlds that ultimately lead to a fight with Bowser. Admitedly, the tactic of defeating bowser remains the same – grab Bowser by the fail and swing him into a bomb that is floating at the edge of the arena. It doesn’t get too repetitive since you only fight him three times.

I have to say, I had a blast playing this game – even years later. Even if it’s a little easy to beat now, years later, it’s still fun to run through this game. One fun element is to gain 100 lives by the time you get to the final fight with 120 stars. Gradually finding new shortcuts throughout the game is also fun like jumping from the area in the Roll Into the Cage star to Give a Hand star, skipping the need to have things moving in the level for that particular star altogether in Tick Tock Clock. So, this game has a lot of depth depending on how hard you look for it.

One complaint I did have was that the free-roaming camera wasn’t exactly free enough. Depending on where you were, sometimes the camera was great, but other times, you wanted to see something and all you heard was the error tone to indicate the camera wasn’t going anywhere else. The restrictions just seemed so random and you had to play with the camera options to see what you wanted to see. This is probably my only complaint for this whole game though.

The graphics were quite impressive. While some might scoff at the use of 2D sprites in the game (like the tree’s and the coins), the level of detail was pretty good for a first N64 game. By today’s standards, of course, the graphics look a little dated, but at the time, the graphics were really good.

The audio was also quite well done. The music really added a certain depth of personality to the game. Perhaps the only complaint here is that some of the music ends up being re-used later on in the game, though this wasn’t a huge complaint for me by any stretch. The sound effects were quite well done too between hearing Mario’s voice as he made each move and the sounds of the enemies. Really well done.

Overall, it’s a great experience to play this game. A highly enjoyable adventure/platform game. I’d easily recommend this great game.


Furthest point in game: Beat the game several times with all stars collected.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 88%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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