Super Mario 64 is a 3D platformer for the Nintendo 64. Princess Peach invites Mario over to her castle to have some cake. Upon his arrival, Mario is informed that Bowser has kidnapped the princess and stolen the power stars, trapping everyone within the castle walls and entrusting the power stars to his minions. It’s up to Mario to jump into various paintings to enter the many worlds within the castle, recover the stars to unlock the doors, defeat Bowser, and save Princess Peach. Thus the game begins.
You control the mustachioed protagonist known as Mario. You start the game off with all kinds of moves that the game will slowly introduce to you via signs, but those who know how to play already can cut out the middle man and just jump right in. Mario can jump, double jump, triple jump, long jump, backflip, side jump, ground pound, punch, kick, swim, lunge, slide, and even crawl all right out of the gate! To clarify, the double jumping and triple jumping in this game do not work as mid-air jumps. Instead, if you’re running and jump then you can hit the jump button as you touch the ground to do a second, higher jump and likewise with a third. You can even jump off of and between walls. As mentioned, you enter various paintings throughout the hub world of Peach’s Castle. Each world has seven attainable stars. One star in each is reserved for when you collect 100 coins in the stage and another is always for collecting the eight red coins in said stage. The others are obtained usually through exploration, maneuvering tricky obstacles, or defeating bosses. Whenever you enter a level you will see the highlighted mission with a hint in the name to help you figure out what to do for the next star. Many of the stars can be obtained out of order, but some can only be collected when selected because the level needs to insert or remove something specific in order to make it possible. Each time you collect a star, aside from the 100 coin star, you will be booted out of the level and forced to re-enter to go for another for this very reason. Once you have enough stars, you’ll be able to open up more doors within the castle to open up more levels. Some stars can even be obtained in secret levels inside the castle as well. There are 120 in all, but you’ll only need 70 to beat the game. You will have three main encounters with Bowser, each preceded by a challenging level. There are multiple floors and many worlds to explore. You’ll also be able to find the three switches to unlock the corresponding powerup blocks. Each of these powerups are in the form of caps. The vanish cap turns you invisible and allows you to go through certain walls and enemies. The metal cap makes you invincible and allows you to sink underwater. The wing cap allows you to fly from cannon shots or triple jumps and then swoop around in the sky. Each cap’s power is limited by time, however, so be quick. This time around Mario has a health bar that is replenished by collecting coins or walking through stationary hearts. It also doubles as his air underwater. That’s a lot to take in for such a simple game, but it is all there. So what’s so great about all of that?
Well, the idea that you get tossed into a level like a kid on a playground and just make your own of it is a wonderful experience and really captures the spirit of these early 3D games. I like having all of your moves right away and how you can use them to your advantage if you know how to control Mario. There’s usually an obvious, intended route to get to places, but using your moves to skip areas and save yourself time feels awesome. Even to this day I’m still finding new ways to get to places faster. The music is catchy and the visuals are bright, sharp, and cartoony. It’s a great atmosphere for fun. The difficulty curves up pretty nicely without ever asking too much of you in order to at least beat the game. Plus, some of these levels are pretty interesting and inventive. There’s nothing too deep or time-consuming about this game. It’s just a whole lot of action exploring and conquering levels. It’s a blast.
However, it’s certainly not perfect. The visuals don’t bother me, but they may be too blocky for some people. The controls are a bit stiff compared to later entries like Super Mario Sunshine, but I’d also like to think of that comparison the same way I look at Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3. The later games have tighter, more refined controls, whereas the controls of the predecessors are more based around momentum. If you know how to play and adjust, you’ll see that the controls are actually pretty good… for the most part. I’ll admit that controlling the wing cap can be very awkward. Sometimes the momentum of Mario in general can be hard to judge as well. And turning around seems to be inconsistent. Sometimes you just immediately face the opposite direction, but other times you’ll do a little walking turning around instead. This can lead to walking off of edges or just incorrect timing. You can adjust, but for this type of thing you shouldn’t have to. It’d also be nice to be able to just get all the stars in one go Banjo-Kazooie style, but I suppose I can let that one slide as the levels are designed a bit differently. Multiplayer would’ve been nice, though.
The biggest undeniable issue with the game is the camera. It’s one of the first 3D games and a launch title on the N64, but while that explains the poor camera, it doesn’t excuse it. The system is notorious for rough camera work, but in this game you might think wrestling with the camera was an intended mechanic! It often times will refuse to turn a certain direction because there’s a wall in the way, even though it should naturally zoom itself closer while spinning that way instead of just stopping and making you bring it in closer first yourself. Hitting the buttons to turn the camera moves it a set amount so it’s incredibly difficult to get the desired angle. The mode to have the camera follow right behind Mario goes so close that you can barely see anything ahead of you aside from Mario himself, with the stationary look around function being about the same thing rather than just making that one a first-person view. And the camera often moves on its own anyway. It will try to center behind Mario whenever possible and sometimes it swings around automatically on parts. I’m sure it’s trying to be intuitive, but it ends up making things worse by changing the angle and therefore the direction of your progress in the middle of your actions. It’s infuriating. Skip to the next section to avoid the spoilers here. The Bowser fights are all the same. Three matches of basically just the same thing every time. Run behind him, grab his tail, swing him around, and throw him into the bombs. The only real hard part is adjusting to how weird swinging and releasing him feels. Oh, and the grand spoiler of it all is your reward for collecting all 120 stars. After doing so you’ll open up the cannon in front of the castle. Go inside and shoot yourself on the roof to find Yoshi. Talk to him and he’ll give you the secret reward of 100 lives and a special new third jump that looks sparkly as you make a flipping descent that will cause you no harm now no matter how high you were. Both of these things are useless because you had to get all the stars to attain them! What’s left? Getting a better coin score in the levels? Getting the stars again for no progress? Just messing around? If you want to play again you’ll probably just start a new game anyway. I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.
So I think we can all agree that Super Mario 64 isn’t a perfect masterpiece, but it’s a great game that still holds up today. It’s one of the most classic games from my childhood. It’s definitely a must-have for the Nintendo 64. If you have the system, there’s not much reason to not own this game. And it’s definitely worth even as much as 40 bucks if you ask me. If nothing else, it’s an important piece of gaming history as one of the pioneers of 3D platforming. It has always felt like a standard to me since it’s the first 3D platformer I played and one of the first games I played in general. It’s available on the eShop for cheaps and there’s even a remake on the Nintendo DS with some interesting changes. Maybe I should try that one sometime. Hmm. Oh well. I hope you enjoyed the review of one of my most nostalgic games. Let’s a-go!