torstai 12. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Super Mario 64 (1996)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1996
Available on: N64, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

In 1996, Nintendo launched Nintendo 64 in Japan and North America. With every new Nintendo system, comes a new, usually revolutionary Mario title which instantly solidifies the system’s place in the market and history. Well, the 64 flopped in the long run, since Nintendo couldn’t stand up to Sony and Sega, that both utilized more advanced technology and had a variety of games that appealed to a wider audience. The blame for 64’s fast downfall was definitely not on Super Mario 64, which still stands proud as the defunct system’s finest moment – also, arguably the most exciting, innovative Mario title ever and perhaps the best platformer in history.

It’s-a-me, in 3-a-D!

Charles Martinet : Mario
Leslie Swan : Princess Toadstool, "Peach"
Isaac Marshall : Bowser

Mario is summoned to the royal castle by the Princess herself for cake – hey kids, know what “sexual innuendo” means? Anyway, Mario finds the castle empty. Only ghostly images of the Princess’ servants remain to inform him that they have been trapped inside the castle walls along with the Princess, by none other than Bowser who has gained control of the 120 Power Stars. He has hidden the stars all over the castle, most of them in paintings which are portals to different dimensions. Mario must seize control over the stars and defeat Bowser one more time to save Mushroom Kingdom from oblivion.

Nintendo’s graphical style really hasn’t worked for me since the arrival of the 64. Frankly, I hate it – all the large, blocky polygons and everything that blows out of proportion. Super Mario 64 has its better and worse moments when it comes to the graphics. Some enemies are strangely ACM cutouts – for example, Pokey – and they literally look like they’ve been cut out of paper and planted into the game. The camera reveals some very unrefined textures. Yet, the game has a great frame rate, nice effects and very innovative style, especially when it comes to most of the updated visual elements of the classic franchise. The soundtrack comprises of some heavily updated and re-arranged Mario classics, and many new ones.

The graphical style might not be to my liking,
but Bowser's size alone makes these
confrontations EPIC.
This was the first Mario game to feature voice acting... but don’t get it wrong, it hasn’t got much to do with acting. Peach – formally known as Princess Toadstool – has the most different lines here, and she’s voiced by Nintendo Power’s senior editor Leslie Swan. She just talks, though. It’s not acting. Mario, on the other hand, is a hoot to listen to for most of the time. He doesn’t really have lines in the traditional sense, rather catchphrases which will have you hooked. “Mamma mia!”, “Here we goooooo!”, “Macaroni... spaghetti...” and so on. I don’t know if selling Mario as a retard is intentional or not... anyway, listening to Mario wail when he gets his ass burnt by lava or a fireball, or any such thing, on the other hand, is absolute murder to the ears. Kind of like Baby Mario’s crying in Yoshi’s Island. The sound effect of him hitting his head is a lesser sound which might also get on your nerves after a while, not the sound itself but the occurrences and consequences. A lot of the levels are vertical, so hitting your head usually means you’ve missed a jump and will most likely fall back, or into a pit. That’s why it’s so annoying. Bowser has no lines at all. He just growls or laughs manically. That’s probably why Isaac Marshall didn’t even get his name in the end credits, at least I didn’t see it.

I remember when N64 and this game came out, so vividly. The control scheme blew the skeptics right out of the water and stuffed a few Power Stars up their asses for good measure. Nintendo 64’s controller itself went through some heavy shit. Everybody I knew doubted that the bundle of complexes could actually work. A friend of mine who was about to get Nintendo 64 at the time (and eventually did), and even me at that time, we were huge Nintendo fans. He still is to some extent, for me it really didn’t take too long after the arrival of the first few N64 games to jump ship to Sony for pretty much the rest of my gaming life. Of course, nowadays I’m open for everything ‘cause I’m older, but the console wars were everyday life for me and my friends back then. You couldn’t have two consoles made by rival companies, it was wrong – you had to choose your side. Anyway, back then I knew Nintendo couldn’t do wrong. The controls, as complex as they were, worked like a dream and still do! Let’s go over them first, to see what kind of new tricks 64 bits have taught our bug-eyed plumber.

You use the analog stick to move. The D-Pad doesn’t do anything related to general in-game movement, and in this full 3D environment, it would be hell to use it anyway. The N64’s camera buttons control Lakitu, who works as Mario’s back-up for some odd reason and documents his progress. You can change the camera angle any time you wish, even to Mario’s own view. The camera is your best friend and worst enemy. Full 3D was still taking baby steps back in the day and the camera easily plays tricks on you because of that, but on the other hand, you wouldn’t survive without learning to use it manually. Even if you think using Mario’s view all the time would be a great idea, it isn’t, because the camera pans too close to him – you can’t see your surroundings too well. You should only use it when you cross narrow walkways, or in other situations in which you have to see directly in front of you all the time.

There are many ways Mario can dispose of enemies; it’s kind of like a manifest of every Mario game that came before 64. Like in Super Mario Bros. 2, if you find a box you can throw, which is very rare though, you can hurl it at an enemy to get rid of it, and get the insides of the box at the same time. You can jump on most enemies, and punch them as well. Yeah, a match to the death, baby! There are some invincible foes, and some which seem invincible until you learn some tricks. Some enemies follow you with their eyes, all you have to do is run in circles around them until they go cross-eyed and faint. Really. Some you have to grab, usually from the back and hurl them to the ground like a wrestler. Finally, some enemies only fall to a Ground Pound. That’s right, the Ground Pound introduced in Yoshi’s Island is back, apparently Baby Mario learned the trick and has now perfected it. It can be used in specific situations which help you make progress in the game, but also as an attack against enemies you know you can win, but can’t get anything else to work.

Don't fall into the burning magma. You don't
want to hear Mario scream.
On top of all these, Mario has plenty of new tricks related to jumping. First of all, executing three consecutive jumps results in a triple jump (duh?) in which each jump gets you higher. It’s a bit glitchy, but a vital technique for many situations. The long jump is awesome, but also for new N64 players, the toughest jump to learn. You have to crouch with the new Z button while running and immediately press A when Mario ducks. Fortunately, the in-game tutorial does NOT quit before you master the technique, it’s essential in a few stages. Then, we have a wall jump, basically a wall kick. Anyone who’s played any game with a wall kick feature knows how this works – just jump against a wall and kick it at the correct time to get higher. This is also an extremely essential ability, maybe a bit too essential for my personal liking. One of the minor techniques in this category is a side jump, which is basically a moderately high leap used by advanced players mostly for dodging and pole jumping. You can climb any thin pole, such as a small tree or flagpole (shades of Super Mario Bros.) and jump stylistically from the top to reach high places... or just to fuck around. Mario can also crawl and slide down slopes in his normal state, but I think each player should check out for himself what he can do and how all the abilities actually work. It’s time for us to move forward, first to the special items at Mario’s disposal.

The one single classic Mario item remaining is the 1-Up Mushroom, hidden in various kind of places across the stages, usually in exclamation blocks – yeah, they changed that too – among the other items. No Super Mushrooms, no Fire Flowers, this time you have a health meter that looks like a Trivial Pursuit disc. Mario doesn’t shrink at any point, he’s Super all the way. The very rare Koopa shell, which is as rare as Koopa Troopas in the game, works as the substitute for Starman. It’s a kind of a skateboard and its effect lasts as long as you are able to avoid hitting a wall. The three major items in the game are the three Caps, which are unlocked in the same fashion as the coloured switches in Super Mario World, in bonus rooms hidden somewhere within the castle. These Caps give Mario temporary advantages. The Wing Cap enables him to fly for a short while. The controls for flying work the same way as in Super Mario World and require some practice. Every time you land, intentionally or by accident, you can relaunch by executing a triple jump. The Minish Cap allows Mario to pass through thin walls and chainlink fencing. The Metal Cap makes Mario immune to enemy attacks, and also enables him to walk underwater and in hallways filled with toxic gas. All of the Caps serve true purpose. As long as we’re talking about the Caps, let’s just say that probably the most annoying new feature in the whole game is that Mario’s normal cap is detachable – it can be stolen by enemies, and to get it back, you have no choice but to steal it back from that very same enemy in the very same stage. Damage doubles without the cap, so don’t lose sight of it.

On to the primary objective of the game, which is to go on random tasks in different worlds within the castle walls to regain Power Stars. You need 70 of them to beat the game, but true players will certainly go for all 120 of them. There are 15 main stages in the game. You can do them in any order you wish, as long as you have enough stars and keys – which you gain from the couple of first battles against Bowser – to unlock the next set of stages, or meet some other criteria to get to the stage you’re planning to enter. Most of the stages are concealed within paintings all over the castle, but some are hidden in empty walls, and even floors. They’re very easy to find. All of the stages have seven Power Stars. Five of them are gained by executing stage-specific tasks. One is based on finding all of the eight red coins in the stage, and one more “secret” star is gained by gathering the classic amount of 100 coins – which will, of course, also give you an extra life – in one stage. As you probably did the math already, 15 x 7 is only 105, so we have 15 more Power Stars to go. These 15 Power Stars are the actual secrets, gained from the castle’s hidden rooms, as well as from doing some very simple, minor tasks which I will not reveal.

That clock is a stage. Really.
This is a Mario game, so of course I have to do some bitching about the otherwise awesome level design before I call this quits. There’s not one, but TWO ice stages in this game, and I really want to be bothered by that fact... but I ain’t, not by a lot, surprisingly so. There are three stages in which most of the action takes place underwater, and these three are instead the main problem. The camera fucks the player up the ass quite violently during the underwater sequences, and you have to do so much rapid swimming to keep Mario’s oxygen level in balance, that after a few hours of playing, you’ll need to see a doctor about your right hand. I don’t think I could contain myself if one explained to the doctor: “well, I had to keep swimming so that Mario wouldn’t run out of air”, and the doctor would answer “that’s funny, Mario had no trouble breathing underwater before Mario 64”. It’s true, though.

The worst thing about the whole game is that everything you've accomplished in a stage is meaningless once you find one of the Power Stars. You'll have to start the stage all over again from scratch every time you collect one Star. This turns out to be a big problem once you start collecting coins. It's very hard and time-consuming to find 100 coins in some stages; imagine finding 99, then accidentally stumbling on a Star, and having to start collecting coins all over again. This can happen, and will happen, if you're not careful. You can continue playing the stage whenever you get the "100 Coins Star", though, since you're practically forced to take it upon finding your 100th coin.

All of these quirks, as annoying as they are, are quite minor when it comes to the big picture. Playing Super Mario 64 is a grand, comfortable and highly addictive experience. The game’s style, design, gameplay and means to progress have been copied a LOT – most notably by Insomniac Games when they created the Spyro the Dragon franchise – but there are only a few games which come near the thrill of searching for those damn Stars. The game is fairly easy to beat with a minimal effort, by carefully choosing the tasks to go for in order to gain the 70 Power Stars and rid the castle of Bowser’s tyranny. However, I consider myself a true player and as hard as the game gets at its worst, getting less than all 120 Power Stars is not an agenda. After 14 years with the game, I still haven’t been able to collect the whole set, but I’m still going for the big prize. Did I already mention it’s TOUGH?

Arguably, Super Mario 64 is the best Mario game, and not only that, but it’s at the very least among the top three platformers in history. Unfortunately, alongside the critically acclaimed installments in The Legend of Zelda series, Mario 64 was also one of the only games on the N64 that really made a difference. That, of course, is only an opinion. The greatness of the game isn’t, it’s a fact.

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 9.6
Challenge : 9.4
Overall : 9.6


GameRankings: 95.90% (N64), 80.00% (Virtual Console)

Nintendo Power ranks Super Mario 64 #5 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The best-selling Nintendo 64 game.

The game was remade for the Nintendo DS in 2004 as Super Mario 64 DS. This version includes more Power Stars, minigames, playable characters and main stages.

Shigeru Miyamoto began designing the game in 1994 for the SNES, utilizing the Super FX graphical chip. The game was supposed to be called Super Mario FX. When the project was scrapped and saved for the new Nintendo system – which was then known as Project 64 and Ultra 64 – parts of Miyamoto’s design were used to create Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, as well as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

Shigeru Miyamoto’s original draft of the game included no less than 32 main stages. The amount was naturally cut down to 15 due to constraints in capacity. The 15 stages are Miyamoto’s hand-picked favourites.

Due to the delay of the critically acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, which was finally released in 1998, some puzzles were taken from early drafts of the game and implemented in Super Mario 64.

The infamous blurry plaque in the castle courtyard states “L is real 2401”. This has been rumoured to be some sort of code which can be used to play as Luigi. The designers have confirmed countless times that Luigi cannot be seen in any shape or form in the game, but also that it’s indeed a reference to Mario’s absent brother.

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