It's-a Mario!

Bowser has kidnapped Peach Toadstool! Yes, again. Even though the plot is old, Super Mario 64 introduces something new to the Mario universe: three dimensions. This means Mario is not confined to a linear path, but instead can fully explore the courses. As you're climbing trees, running circles around enemies, or admiring the view from a tall mountain, it's easy to forget about why you were there in the first place: to find Power Stars. Power Stars can be earned by completing various objectives, for example, one can be earned by beating a huge Koopa Troopa in a race. Seven stars can be found in each of the 15 courses, and there are 15 "secret stars" not attainable from inside the courses. Collecting enough Power Stars will open up new areas, and eventually, the final showdown with Bowser.

In any good 3-D adventure, the player should be allowed to see everything around him at any given time. In Super Mario 64, you can do just that. On your controller, the four yellow C Buttons and the R shoulder Button are dedicated to camera control. The C Buttons swivel the camera around Mario, while the R Button switches from Lakitu's view (higher up) to "Mario-Cam" (closer to Mario). When Mario is running around, the camera will automatically try to position itself behind Mario, which means you don't have to be constantly changing the camera angle. Overall, the camera programmers did a great job; the few camera oddities I've experienced were short, and didn't affect my playing.

For his first romp through a 3-D game, Mario has a bunch of new moves at his disposal, including: Double/Triple Jumps, Punch/Kicks, Wall Jump, Backwards Somersault, Side Somersault, Trip, and Slide Kick. One may initially feel overwhelmed with the wide variety of moves, but Mario will only need about four or five different moves in the beginning, and you'll gradually learn the rest as you play through the game. Jumping (and landing accurately) will take some practice; you'll have to watch Mario's shadow when he's in the air, and judging distance is tough with some camera angles. Fortunately, controlling Mario becomes second-nature with only a little practice.

Remember back when one or two hits would put Mario down for the count? Well, for this huge adventure, Mario has a snazzy eight-piece power meter. Now it's eight hits, and Mario is done for. Another new thing is a limited air supply for swimming. While under water, the pieces of Mario's power meter slowly disappear, one by one, until Mario drowns. Coming up for air will totally refill the power meter, and fortunately, Coins found under water (or on land) will refill a fraction of the power meter.

Once you become immersed in Super Mario 64, you won't really notice the simplicity of the graphics. The lighting effects are few and far-between, and the textures are a tad blurry, but nice; my favorite is an orange-ish stone pattern found inside the volcano of Course 8. My only gripe is the mild cases of "pop-up" (some objects seem to appear out of nowhere as you approach their position), which may cause you to miss some Coins if you're glancing over an area.

Super Mario 64's music seems a bit "generic," but it sure fits the various levels. For example, relaxing music accompanies your swimming adventures, and a fast-paced tune adds to the frantic atmosphere of the "sliding" courses. All the songs are completely original, except for the light sprinkling of two well-known Mario tunes from the past: the title theme is a remix of the SMB main theme, and the SMB underworld bass riff floats through Hazy Maze Cave's track. The sound-effects are cartoony, but not over-done. Mario's voice is clear and comprehendable, with a nice Italian accent to boot. You'll get to hear it a lot, because Mario has a phrase for almost every occasion. Although different actions yield different phrases, the phrases will not change, which can get annoying. For example, during Mario's punch-punch-kick combo, you'll hear his "Yah, wah, hoo!" pseudo-karate yell every time.

Unlike Doom and its many clones, Super Mario 64 avoids using a first-person view at any time during the entire game. Thus, SM64 fails to fall into the tired genre of FPS games, making it a new and refreshing gaming experience. Some gamers consider it a crime to own a Nintendo 64 without Super Mario 64; I consider it a crime to have never played Super Mario 64 at all.

Pros & cons
  + Huge, busy levels.
  - Luigi is non-existent. You cannot ride Yoshi.

Ratings (ranging from 0.0 - 10.0, with a 10.0 being the best)
Satisfaction: 9.5 A jaw-dropping 3-D adventure.
Graphics: 9.0 Simple, bright, and virutally no pixellation.
Sound: 9.0 Nice music. Mario's utterances lack variety.
Challenge: 9.5 Tough levels, easy bosses.
Play control: 9.3 Mario's movements are slick, and easy to pull off.
Replay value: 7.4 After finding 120 Stars, you've done everything. No 2-player mode.
Overall: 9.0 Mario's first 3-D adventure is a must-own.

Review by Deezer, 01/21/99

Super Mario 64 ratings at a glance
IGN64 9.7
Nintendo Power vol. 88 8.9
Nintendojo 4.0
Nintendorks 8
TMK 9.0
The Mushroom Kingdom \ The Games \ Reviews \ Super Mario 64