By: Jac Bakley, Video Game Critic
Happy Friday, guys. 20 years ago today, Mario made his very first transition from 2D to 3D in Super Mario 64. One of the two launch titles for the Nintendo 64 (three in Japan), along with Pilotwings 64, it was considered to be one of the most important and revolutionary games in gaming history. But how does it hold up today?
The story is like many other Mario games: Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser and it’s up to Mario to save her. However, unlike the side-scrolling classics, the majority of the game takes place in the castle with several different dimensions scattered inside it.
The game is a free-roaming platformer. Since there weren’t any games like this prior to Super Mario 64, I can’t make any comparison, but if you’ve played any other platformer today, it’s a lot like them. Being a Mario game, his controls might seem pretty self-explanatory. A will make him jump, and if you press A three times in a row, you can make him perform a higher triple jump. Mario does not have the ability to throw fireballs here, but he can punch and kick with B, which will easily take down most enemies. While running, you can press B and Mario will do a dive into the air. Z will make Mario duck, and if you move while crouching, he’ll crawl. If you press Z while running and then A, Mario will do a long jump. This is handy for getting across chasms.
Mario can also jump off of walls using a wall-kick, much like Samus’ wall jump in Super Metroid. If you hit A right when Mario hits a wall, he will bounce right off of it. You can keep bouncing off walls consecutively to get to higher places. This will be handy for certain missions. Mario can ground-pound if you press Z while in mid-air. If you do this at a low-enough distance when falling from great heights, Mario will safely land without taking damage. Lastly, you can also swim in this game. When Mario jumps into water, you can press A repeatedly to swim rapidly, and use the control stick to swim in any direction.
The graphics are fine for being the first N64 game, and the music is also pretty good. The music that plays inside the castle is probably the highlight, but every song is charming and fit for its respective environment. There isn’t much voice acting, except for at the end of the game.
The castle is basically the overworld, like Hyrule Field in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The castle consists of five floors and contains eighteen different dimensional worlds you can explore— three are boss fights— in the form of paintings and other decorations. Each world contains six different missions, with an extra seventh mission tasking you to collect 100 coins.
Let’s talk about a few of these levels. In Bob-Omb Battlefield, the first world in the game, your first mission will be to defeat a giant Bob-Omb (called Big Bob-Omb) that is standing atop the summit. In Whomp’s Fortress, the second world, one mission is to simply climb to the top of the fortress. In Jolly Roger Bay, one mission is to swim to a cave to open four different chests to find buried treasure. Every world will also contain a mission where you are tasked to search for eight red coins, as well as other missions of different varieties. At the end of each mission, you will receive a star. These stars will help you unlock doors to different worlds, as well as Big Star Doors, where you will fight Bowser.
The first Big Star Door requires eight stars, and you will need to travel through a challenging obstacle course. After doing so, you will fight Bowser himself. He’s not really that hard; all you have to do is manage to get behind him, press B to grab his tail, and use the control stick to swing him around in circles. Jeez, Mario is one strong bastard. Anyway, to defeat Bowser, you need to throw him into one of the surrounding mines. After he hits one, that’s basically the end of the battle (until the last battle with him). After he is defeated, he’ll leave a key for you that you can use to access different floors of the castle.
After you collect a certain amount of stars, you’ll be able to access a secret level via a warp point in the castle lobby. This level takes you to a tower where you activate a red switch. This red switch will turn on the red “?” blocks throughout certain worlds. Inside the “?” blocks are white feathers that when grabbed will grant Mario the Wing Cap. This will allow Mario to fly for a limited time. Flying controls are the standard for flying games: down moves up, and up moves down. The only difference is that Mario will need momentum in order to fly upwards; you can get Mario to fly slightly higher up by flying downwards for a short time and then moving the control stick down to rocket upwards. You can take off by doing a triple jump or by launching Mario out of cannons in worlds that have them. Flying will be required to complete certain missions, such as Free Flying for Eight Red Coins in Shifting Sand Land.
There will also be two other switches hidden in secret levels within worlds. There’s a blue switch that will activate boxes that will give Mario a cap that turns him invisible. When this happens, Mario can phase through cages for a limited time. There’s also a green switch that will give him a cap that turns him into metal. When this happens, Mario can go through poison gas and walk underwater for a limited time. Like the Wing Cap, these caps will be required to beat certain missions.
That’s about all I have to say for Super Mario 64. It may have been revolutionary at the time, but nowadays, with games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D World, it’s merely just a good platformer; no more, no less. It hasn’t aged poorly at all, but it’s nothing special anymore. Thanks so much for reading my reviews, good luck with finals, and have a good summer break. I’ll be back in September.