Saturday, March 9, 2013

Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)


"It's-a-me, Mario!" says Mario. This game seems to be, in some ways, a love letter to the fans who didn't abandon Nintendo for the Sega Saturn or the Sony Playstation the previous year. ...there would be plenty of time for that later, but for now, as of 1996... Nintendo was back on top. And all because of this one game. This is one of the most significant video games in history.

The very first screen of the game, which lets you mess around with a disembodied Mario head, is iconic. The homie Nick Vogt talked about this (and the game in general) on this very site in The Super Mario Retrospective.

Before long... Mario gets high. Dude! You're supposed to be a role model for the kids!

"Nobody gets higher than SUPER MARIO!"

The title screen has really good music. By now you've likely noticed that the screenshots are uneven. That's because I played this game on the Wii, which means that I took screenshots with an actual camera as opposed to a capture program. As a result, screenshots will be uneven. Hopefully, this bothers you as much as it bothers me, which is not at all.

"Camera shots, boyeeeee! ZAPOW!"

Peach is baking Mario a cake. And in this case, she's actually talking about a cake, unlike Rihanna's song "Cake". My girlfriend played that song for me once about a year ago. I feel like she was trying to tell me something.

 I'd like to interrupt this post to bring you the VHS promo video for the Nintendo 64. Much like the Donkey Kong Country video two years prior, this video is rad-to-the-max 90's-ness and does a great job pushing the N64. Nintendo Attitude! Take a look and prepare to have your mind blown.

In other news, I too am an Action/Adventure Expert. If I were a game, I'd support one to two players simultaneously.

And now, for the rest of this post, I present to you screenshots in WIDESCREEN-O-VISION. The wave of tomorrow!

A shocking face turn (that's Wrestling Lingo) for Lakitu, as he is a good guy for the first time ever. He's... the camerman. You see, as this game jumps into the realm of three dimensions, it requires a mobile cameraman. It could just have a random disembodied camera like most games, but THIS ISN'T MOST GAMES.

The castle. Iconic. That sound you hear is the joy of millions of children and teenagers who grew up with Mario getting to experience this game for the first time.

While the fearsome Goomba got a raw deal in Yoshi's Island, this game has them in abundance. Goomba is BACK! I'd love a game where you play as a Goomba and rise up from nothing to become king. They could call it Super Goomba Land, or if Nintendo is in one of their dark phases, Super Mario: Twilight Goomba.

The first boss I face is actually the second boss. He is... the 99%.

"We guard you WHILE YOU SLEEP."

This game features Toad. Or as a friend of mine used to call him, "Toadlum". I'm not sure why. When talking about Super Mario Bros 2, he referred to the villain as "Warton". I think he just liked adding letters to words. I was very confused when I played the third game and thought that Morton Koopa Jr was the bad guy I had heard about from the previous game. ...being a kid was awesome.

"Now that the N64 is here, the streets shall run with the blood of Sony and Sega!"

Thanks for the insight, Toad. Moving on quickly...

This game is extremely non-linear. And it's great. I already took out the second boss before the first boss, as well as getting the sixth star in the first level before any other stars. You can tackle this game any way you want; it doesn't force any particular mode of progression onto you. I'll say more about this later in the post, but it's why this game works so well.

Here's the "first boss" the Big Bob-Omb. I responded to his introduction by...

...throwing him off the mountain. That was dark, bro.

This is a really cool room. Not only does it have the entrance to Jolly Roger Bay, it also has a hidden side-level where you collect red coins.

Jolly Roger Bay is a rad level. However, the underwater controls in this game aren't good at all, and it's one of the few major faults that the game has. Yes, this game is a ten. Yes, it's astronomically good and yes, it's wildly significant. But it has a few problems. Even outside of the water, the biggest problem is the camera, which can be hard to control. I swear, Lakitu is trying to kill me half the time. Homie isn't fooling anybody with this "good guy" business.


Here's the side level. It's a fun little coin-collecting swim. One of the things that makes this game great is that it never takes itself too seriously; there are plenty of easier stars to get that give you a bit of a break.

Speaking of side-levels, the Wing Cap course is pretty rad. Collecting eight red coins here is difficult (so difficult that I failed at it this time around), but it's fun. This game is pretty much hit-or-miss when it comes to the caps. The Wing Cap is great, of course. The Metal Cap is cool in its own way (rad music, invincibility). And then there's the Vanish Cap. ...which kinda sucks. It makes you invincible, which is already spoken for, and lacks the fun component of being able to knock out every foe in your path. It's only useful for crossing through a few fences in the game.

This is what it looks like when you collect everything in a given level. It's a good feeling.

In addition to having issues with the camera, the controls are a bit difficult in this game. It's particularly an issue in the ice levels, where riding a gondola over a chasm becomes a recipe for frustration. A lot of this may be because I was playing the game on the Wii. The Virtual Console doesn't allow button re-configuration, which I think is a huge failing. The NES-style default control scheme simply doesn't work for some games.

It isn't often (ever, really) that you see two stars on the same screen, but that's what happened here when I got a stage star and a 100 coin star to appear at the same time. Best thing is, 100 coin stars don't bump you out of a stage, so you can grab them and keep going. Getting two stars in rapid succession is a good feeling.

After getting twice as many stars as I needed, I continued on. The next stage is Bowser In The Dark World, complete with incredible music. This was the first level of Mario 64 that I ever played. It's basically an obstacle course suspended in the middle of nothingness. It's magical. And if you don't get it, then you missed out on quite an experience back in 1996. This game really was the first of its kind, and sadly I don't think it's possible for us to get as big of a technological jump all at once again. Unless we invent a holodeck.

At the end is Bowser, who is such an idiot that he tells you how to defeat him. He's also HUGE in this game, to say the least.

"FUNGAHHHH!" says Bowser. This game came out shortly after Super Mario RPG, where he was a good guy. What happened to you, Bowser? I thought we were friends. I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS!

Of course, this battle features the iconic (and sadly not an Olympic event) Throwing Of The Bowser, complete with a lot of spinning.

Big Boo's Haunt is a great level... or could be, if more of it took place in the chilling outdoor section. I used to have a lot of trouble figuring this place out, but now it seems fairly basic. The music here is dark and spooky, and at one point you get accosted by a violent attack piano.

Players of this game no doubt remember this rabbit. Catch him, and you get a star... but it isn't easy.

Some of the stars in this game are freebies, like this one. Since every star feels like an achievement, getting one for essentially doing nothing is a nice present. As I was playing this, what seemed like mere minutes passed before I realized nearly two hours had gone by, I was up to 20 stars already, and had forgot to have breakfast. ...or do anything productive yet with my day. Whoops. Man, this game is great. This is my first time playing it since 1999.

It also features The Loch Ness Monster, fresh off of his stint in Earthbound.

This strange pool leads to the Metal Cap mini-stage. I nearly wrote that as "Metal Gear Cap", which shows where my mind is. Soon. Soon.

Not only does Mario transform into the T-1000 for this, you get the rad-to-the-max invincibility theme.

The Vanish Cap course is also encountered at about this point in the game. I already voiced my thoughts on the Vanish Cap earlier. It's the lamest of the caps in this game.

Lethal Lava Land is one of my favorite levels. It shares an awesome BGM with Shifting Sand Land, another of my favorite levels.

I like this level because it's basically a simple square playground, and there's a Wing Cap right there at the entrance. If you ever get tired of playing around here, there's a sub-level inside of the volcano at the center.

The volcano doesn't have much to it, unfortunately. Still, it's good to see the traditional fire and ice levels make it into this game. Super Mario Sunshine would, for some reason, forget about those (well, aside from the final Corona Mountain level being fire themed) in lieu of a ton of beach levels.

These guys are called Bullies, and they're a lot of fun to do battle with. Victory means knocking them off of the platform. No relation to Bully Ray, even though he's from Hell's Kitchen New York.


Here's Shifting Sand Land, one of the most memorable levels in this game. There's a pyramid, and with the wing cap you can fly circles around it if you want. Good times.

There's a sub-level here too - the pyramid interior - and it's much more expansive than the volcano interior.

Bowser stage 2 is another fire stage. I'd say this is actually the easiest of the three Bowser stages, due to the lack of omnipresent abyss. I like the Bowser stages in this game perhaps more than any other stages, and not just because of the killer music. They're incredibly well-designed ascending obstacle courses. No nonsense here, just gameplay.

Bowser 2.0 is essentially the same fight as before, though he has a few new tricks. The background here is ominous.

The tower levels mark Mario's arrival in the second half of the game. These stages... aren't as good as the stages in the first half of the game. It isn't even that they're "too difficult"... they simply lack the imagination or magic that the earlier stages have in abundance. For that reason, I found myself returning to the earlier stages to get more stars as I largely ignored the later stages. But for the purposes of this post, I'll be taking a look at them. In other news, I really like the mechanic of having level entrances be paintings. This identifies them right off the bat and is far more interesting than your typical stage select. Doing away with this is something that, in my opinion, the later Mario games did wrong.

Wet-Dry World is legendary for this. When you reach the top of the level and look around, you see that the level is in a massive ancient city. This is quite the freak-out moment.

The second and final snow level is one of the tower levels that I actually like. It features the fearsome Ice Bully (who actually IS related to Bully Ray).

Probably the most memorable thing about this level is the ice bridge where you have to follow a penguin's lead to keep from being thrown off by the giant snowman. Creative stuff here, and a pretty sweet level regardless.

Tall Tall Mountain, on the other hand, is one of my least favorite levels. It strikes me as fairly generic and there's a huge abyss under most of the level. I'd also give it third place in difficulty as far as standard levels go (behind Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride).

Tiny-Huge Island is similarly boring, but at least this has the pedigree of being inspired by the similar world in Super Mario Bros 3.

In the top levels of the castle, you find Tick Tock Clock. This stage is pretty awful, and the awfulness of it is determined by the time on the clock when you jump in. There's a certain time that'll pause all movement in the level, which is the only real way to get through it without too many headaches.

The less said about Tick Tock Clock, the better. My least favorite stage in this game. Like I already mentioned, the first half of the game is much better than the second half... which works, because you can beat the game having only played the first half. It has more than enough stars to reach the final boss.

But wait! There is one stage "above" Tick Tock Clock in the pecking order. That's Rainbow Ride. This stage is similarly awful, but at least it has cool rainbows and stuff. I really wish that these two "last" stages had better music. They both have the "minigame music", which is among the worst tracks in the game. Giving Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride buoyant music like "Sun King" by State of Mind would have made them infinitely more tolerable. Or if you hate Drum and Bass, substitute pretty much any other music that'd go well with a stage like this. The music here is awful, which is a common issue with the later stages. It's weird considering how dramatic and well-done some of the music in this game is; why they'd use minigame stage music for the last several levels is bizarre.

Still... this level has Mario riding a magic carpet in the sky. You can't really front on that, even though I just did.

Then there's "Wing Mario Over The Rainbow", another red coin mini-level. It's actually a lot of fun, and helps to un-tarnish the "Rainbow Level = Awesome" concept.

Shifting Sand Land has distant pyramids in the background. I like the way this game has such attention to backgrounds. Sometimes a compelling background or sky can make a world of difference in the visuals of a game. Look at the jungle level in Donkey Kong Country with a sunset in the background and how it seems head and shoulders above the visuals in the rest of the jungle levels.

There are a few bosses in this game that are easily missed. The pyramid boss is this stone hand monster (for lack of a better term). It's an easy fight. There's also a Wiggler boss in Tall Tall Mountain that I've only seen one time in my life since I despise that level.

See that speck down there? Yeah, that's Mario plummeting to his doom. This level... sucks. One mistake and you start all over, which is kind of incongruous with most of this fun-tastic game.

The coin star in Dire, Dire Docks is one of the trickier ones to get. At this point I was just farming up the last few stars I needed to get to the 70 mark, which is needed to reach the final level.

The 70th and final star that I got was the red coin star in The Fire Sea. The star before that was the red coin star for the earlier Bowser level, The Dark World. Both are frustrating to get, but it's amazing how much music can help. The music in those levels is so good that I wasn't even bothered by the frustration.

This is it... the last level. Much like Bowser In The Dark World, it's an obstacle course suspended in the middle of nothingness.

The sky here is absolutely vibrant to look at. This is a worthy final stage for this solid-gold game.

As with most of the game, this level has a few shortcuts. Do a backflip here and you skip a good portion of the level.


This is the top. There's a one-up behind one of those pillars, and this spot also functions as a checkpoint if you lose to the final boss. So basically, you can keep grabbing that one-up every time you lose to said boss and continue trying indefinitely without having to repeat the stage.

BOWSER #3~! Now he's multicolored!

Does Mario have a chance against this new multicolored Bowser? Yes, but he takes three precise throws to defeat (the others took one) and is exponentially tougher than every other boss in the game.

In the final phase of the battle, he breaks the platform down into a much smaller star-shaped platform.

After winning, Mario soars off with the wing cap. Bam, game over. Some day I'll come back and get the other 50 stars. Already did that once before.

Princess Peach (not Toadstool, eh?) is saved, and greets Mario outside of the castle with... wait a minute... there are two Toads with her? My God. He has discovered cloning.


Sorry, I'm really distracted by those two eerie Toads. The only sound they emit is that of their teeth slowly gnashing the remnants of their last victim.

You thinking what I'm thinking? Cake cake cake cake cake cake! And it's not even his birthday!, she just gave him a peck on the nose. Mario is overjoyed at this meager gesture. Enjoy being in the friend zone for life, Mario!

I tried to get more screenshots of our heroes during the ending, but Lakitu flew over and got in the way.

 "Get the hell out of my shot! You're a fucking amateur!"

Thus ends one of the best games of all time, and almost certainly the N64's best game (though Ocarina of Time also holds a claim to that title).

While people often say that Mario 64 is better than Mario Sunshine or the two Mario Galaxies, they rarely seem to give a concrete reason why. They're right, though. There's one major and clearly-definable thing that makes Mario 64 superior: the freedom. It's so open that you can pretty much get stars in any order for the most part.

For instance, I went into Big Boo's Haunt and the first star I got was the 100 Coin Star, immediately followed by the Red Coin Star (since the 100 coin one doesn't bounce you out of the level...rockin!). Matter of fact, in most of the levels I didn't even get the "first" star first. Can't do that in the later Mario games. They lock you in on whatever shine/star you're pursuing. In the Galaxies, levels often look completely different depending on what star you're on. And while that is cool in its own way, it's also very linear. No going for one star and getting distracted by another one like "hey, I think I can get that one!" ...which you can do in this game, and it's great. When you get stars "early" or "before you're supposed to", it really makes you feel like a pro. And that's why it still hasn't been topped. ...though it could be, if the stars align right and Nintendo realizes that they've taken a step back from it in the more recent Marioes.

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  1. For some dumb reason I never played this game, so this is the most of it I've seen. It was a great review. Thanks! I agree that freedom is a great thing for a game to have. It's one of the underrated cool things about the Mega Man series.

    1. I enjoy your Miyamoto character and will miss him as other companies take over from Nintendo in the coming years.

  2. "You see, as this game jumps into the realm of three dimensions, it requires a mobile cameraman. It could just have a random disembodied camera like most games, but THIS ISN'T MOST GAMES."

    I would ask then who was behind the camera here... but they covered their bases and said "Lakitu BROS!"

  3. And we still wait for the true sequel to this day :(