Super Mario 64
Reviewed by Niels 't Hooft
This review is written for those people who also own or have played
Super Mario 64 intensively. Some parts might be very unclear to
those who didn't play it yet.
I live in The Netherlands, and had been waiting for months, if not
years, for the Nintendo 64. I really didn't feel like waiting another
half year until March 1 until it was released here in Europe. Luckily I
was on the 'net, and had some friends in the U.S.A., so when I found out
that one of them was willing to buy me one and send it here, I was
happier than ever. It would only take about a month at that time until
I could be able to play Super Mario 64. All I knew about this game was
that the background story was the same as in every single other Mario
game. Sure, I had seen some screen shots, but never really searched for
those because I wanted it to surprise me a bit.
When a large brown box was delivered on the 6th October of this year,
I probably was one of the first Europeans to have an American Nintendo
64. I really was happier than ever, and immediately opened the box. I
knew this would probably not be without problems, as I had imported
the thing all by myself, not through an importer - it would have lasted
a few more weeks until I got it then, and most important: it was cheap
now! I probably spend about 50 guilders ($30) less than when I had
waited for the European release.
First there was the electricity. I knew I'd have to switch to 110v,
so I had already bought a voltage convertor before. But when I opened
the nicely designed fun box I saw that you didn't only use 110v, but
also a strange shaped wall outlet plug. Surprise surprise, it didn't fit
into my standard European wall outlet. So I had to break the thing
open, put some tape around it, and fit the plug into it. I put the 3
pins in the front of the television, and turned the system on.
BLACK AND WHITE
It's black and white! I had hoped that our TV was multi-system
compatible, but it seemed now that I had made a mistake. I thought
about it and realized that I had to buy a new television. I started
playing the game, but I'll save that part for later. That Saturday I
went to a store which had some knowledge on your NTSC system
because they also sold satellite stuff, which most of the time
uses a NTSC signal. But there they only had one TV which supported
it, and it cost almost a double version of the budget I had for this
thing. So disappointed I went home, and concluded that I would have
to play in black and white until I had saved enough money for this.
But then I thought about the importers who would have the Nintendo
64 in a few weeks, and I decided to call them right away. They would
know of some thing like a signal convertor wouldn't they? And yes,
they'd got it. I have no idea what the guy said, but it cost 100 guilders
($60), so I ordered it right away. With some luck I have it tomorrow.
PRESS START TO PLAY
So there I sat, together with one of my little sisters, staring at the
black and white screen. "It's me, Mario". Yeah, in black and white.
How much fun. I grabbed the controller, and started a game. In smooth
black and white 3d we watched the princess asking Mario to come by
and have a piece of cake. "Easy" my sister said, we can do that! I was
in no hurry, so for almost an hour we've been running through the garden.
We did some crazy jumps, and really: the controller immediately felt like
it'd been in our hands for a long long time. At that time I had no idea how
long it was going to take before I'd actually have color, so I just wanted
to wait as long as possible with playing the courses.
Finally we decided to enter the first course, and welcome some Bob-Omb
Buddies. We spent another hour just being in the first level having no
idea what to do. Without having any star I handed over the controller
to my sister, and she had fun too! Without doing anything, we spend the
whole afternoon running around in the 3d world. We realized that even
without color this world was more fun than any world before. My other
2 sisters came by, and they also gave it a try. A friend of one of my
sisters said "What a weird game!". After that I of course told her that
THIS was the kind of game that would rule the future. She didn't believe
me, but luckily my sisters all thought it was a joy to play this. The sister
that had been with me from the very first start when playing this game
even said, after a while playing -still before getting the first star- that
this was the best game she had played. Not that she had played so many
games, but still.. My dad keeps saying that he won't play until I've got
color, so I couldn't tell you if this game had appeal to all ages.
THE EVENING COMES CLOSER
Just before we had dinner, I could get the very first star. I noticed
that it was mainly the problem of having no idea how to explore a 3-D
world, what kept us so long from getting a star. Then I immediately
found out what would be my biggest concern against this game: it is
too much exploring. When I go playing a Mario game I want to have
action; jumping, beating enemies by jumping on them, but just not
that much exploring. When I want to explore I'll stick to playing
The Legend of Zelda! Sure, this is fun -and I mean A LOT of fun-, but
it just isn't what I want from a Super Mario game. During dinner I
thought about how the Mario games had evolved into this piece of art,
and I realized that it almost was a logical continuation. Ever since
Super Mario Bros. 3 there had been more exploring and puzzling in
the games. Remember the keys in Mario World? And by the way,
The Legend of Zelda was getting more Mario-ish too. Remember the
side view levels in Link's Awakening?
A WEEK OF MARIO 64
After playing Super Mario 64 for over a week that remained being
my opinion. Super Mario 64 is a lot of fun, but it isn't Mario-ish enough.
For example the 1st and 2nd Bowser-worlds (I wouldn't know how
this developed since I now have only 42 stars) really are like what
I would want in a 3-D Mario world. It's basically 2-D, but made up
in 3-D, and what you're mainly doing is following a course. Very
different than what the majority of the courses has as the goal.
I think I know why there are so few of these worlds: they just aren't
real 3-D, and in any case they don't use the 3-D environment as they
could have been used. So Super Mario 64 is a lot of fun, but in my
opinion it could have been much better when it really was a Super Mario
game, in the sense of jumping from platform to platform. Except for
the Bowser-worlds I discovered a few courses which also used this
2-D idea: the inside of the pyramid in the first (?) desert world,
and the inside of the volcano in the Lethal Lava Island (which had to
be renamed from the Japanese version from the already trademarked
'Fireball Island' - it was a game by Milton Bradley). These courses
do use the 3-D environment perfectly, and still maintain the 2-D idea.
of course this could never have been done in a course like the
TO SINK OR TO SWIM
I'll now get closer to each aspect of the game. I haven't heard anyone
complaining about the swimming scenes. I found it really hard to
swim through those courses, and many times they really got too
frustrating for me. For example, I died many times when just opening
such a treasure chest, while I knew I was opening the right box. Also,
just picking up a star under water sometimes really took me minutes,
while navigating on the land had already got as simple as walking
somewhere in the real world.
The control of Mario seemed very good to me, since the beginning,
while I had expected that Mario would walk forward when you
pressed up, instead of towards the top of the screen. The new
moves that Mario received fit perfectly into the new environment.
However, I sometimes experience some trouble when wanting to
do a long jump: instead of RUN, Z, JUMP I then press RUN, JUMP, Z,
which sometimes causes me to 'Pound the Depth', in other words:
'Buttstomp the Emptiness'. I don't know why, but when those irritating
flying fireball throwers started to kill me with their fireballs I
really started to miss Mario's Flower Power. The new way of flying
also confuses me a bit; the winged cap really looks cool, but in my
opinion Mario has really had some better flying tricks, especially
the cape from Super Mario World. Another thing I didn't really miss
was the Power Mushroom. However, it would have been a lot of fun
to include this as a very secretive power up, which would cause Mario
to be like a giant until he got hit once. Overall, a very useful set of
moves, but because of the loss of Flower Power and Giant Mario this
game lost even more of it's Mario-ishness.
THE GRAPHICAL ENVIRONMENT
I don't have to tell that Super Mario 64 has the best 3-D graphics
seen in a game up to now, however there are a lot of things that go
wrong sometimes. A lot of clipping occurs, and mainly 2-D sprites
like the trees really pixellize. When playing this game a bit, I started
to see it as the 'Super Mario Bros.' of the 3-D generation. It is a great
game, it sets a really high standard, but you can obviously see a lot of
errors, like the clipping and the pixellizing. In 'Super Mario Bros.' a lot
of errors occurred too, like getting stuck in walls, and flipping of the
screen when more than 2 enemies appeared. In 'Super Mario Bros. 3' all
of this was gone, but it took until the new generation in the form of
'Super Mario World' until the genre of 'Super Mario Bros.' was worked
out into what it was meant to be like. Super Mario 64 sets a standard
for a new genre, and that's exactly the reason why it isn't perfect yet.
To see what this game was meant to be we would need some screen shots
of 'Super Mario 64 World' on the Nintendo Hyper 128. This probably also
causes my main concern about Super Mario 64: it's a completely new
genre so I probably just ain't used to it. And so are the game designers.
Miyamoto still proves he's a brilliant game designer because he announced
he'd already started with the sequel. He's probably said this because of
people with an opinion like me.
MUSIC IN MARIO WORLD
Last Monday the baby-sitter who looks after my little sisters played on
my Nintendo 64 for a while. She found it extremely fun, but the only
thing I heard her saying about it while playing the game was "The music
is cool!". I thought she probably had never heard a Playstation before,
but this shows off how intuitive it is and fits with the game. I really
enjoyed the tunes; I found it really cool how tunes like the underworld
tune from 'Super Mario Bros.' had returned in several mysterious worlds.
I never heard a good Playstation tune either, so my opinion on the music
in this game is that it really is excellent. The tune when you surf on the
Koopa Troopa Shell is the best, in my humble opinion. It's a remix of the
tune when you got the Power Star in 'Super Mario Bros.' and it's really
cool done. The sound also is very great, and like earlier reviewers
pointed out, it never starts to irritate. I noticed one small mistake.
When you fall off a mountain Mario yells "Aaaaarch". However, when
you fall on the ground then, and walk further, the "Aaaaaaarch" still
goes on. By the way, "Aaaaaaaarch" is the only sound that sometimes
irritates, but that might have something to do with having to do the
course all over again.
In Super Mario 64 there are 15 courses, which in my opinion isn't too
much. Of course there are some in-course mini courses (like the course
in the pyramid) and some mini-courses inside of the castle. My sisters
can't seem to get enough of just playing the slide level in the Princess'
room. I imagine that in the latter parts of the game when your are trying
to retrieve the last stars in courses which you have already played over
and over again can get plain boring. Of course there is limited cartridge
space, but I'd rather have seen that you could only get 5 stars in each
course, and a princess who doesn't read her letter if that would have
given us an extra three courses.
The most complaints I have heard about this game were about the
camera, controlled by old enemy Lakitu. Nintendo had said that it was
used as another aspect of the gameplay to get a good camera angle, and
so does the manual: it pretends that in Super Mario 64 you're not only the
adventurer, but also the cameraman. I didn't feel like that was the case;
a little cheap solution for maybe a problem with the time left to complete
this game. Sometimes when a tree or a platform was in between Mario and
Lakitu, I really felt that they could have done something like letting the
camera change it's position a bit. Sometimes I also found it weird that I
couldn't rotate the camera while it wasn't blocked by a wall. When it did
hit the wall, it started to shake all over, what looked a bit like a
programming flaw too.
Next, I will give the score I give for each part of the game. Everything
is done in %s, so it's from 1 to 100 %s. Note that everything isn't
compared to for example SNES games or Playstation games, since
that would be unfair because the Nintendo 64 has multiple times
the power of those systems. And, when I would give Super Mario 64
a full 100% on each point what would I have to give Super Mario 64 II?
The fun and frustration factor are exactly 100% together, so the more
fun, the less frustration and the more frustration, the less fun. The
overall score is -as usual- not an average. On 'graphics' I have tried
not to let it influence me too much that I have only seen the game in
black and white.
The graphics in Super Mario 64 set a high standard for future games,
which is of course great. However, I feel that it could all have been
much more beautiful. Clipping occurs very much, and when the camera
touches a wall the screen begins to shake all over. There could have been
a lot less pixellizing when they would have made the trees out of 3-D
objects instead of plain 2-D sprites. When games like Wave Race 64
already show off how much better the graphics could have been, I almost
start to think something has gone wrong. Of course, the graphics are
very smooth, but that isn't something we should thank this game for,
but the incredible horsepower of the Nintendo 64.
The music in Super Mario 64 is the only thing in Super Mario 64 about
which I simply have nothing to complain. Old tunes revived, new tunes
which completely fit into that pattern. The 'Koopa Troopa Shell Tune'
made me drool, and forced me to give another 5%. Of course other
games might have better music, but it would be impossible to create
better music that fits so well with the game's theme and genre. The last
5% is for Koji Kondo who will probably show in the sequel that I was
wrong when saying it was impossible to do it better.
Pretty good sound here. There are plenty Mario yells, and those are really
like what you would expect of Mario's voice. The sound engine isn't what it
should be like yet, as I showed in the part about sound in my review. When
each enemy would have had it's own recognizable sound the thing would have been
complete, but there probably was no cartridge space for that.
Fun Factor: 85%
Frustration Factor: 15%
Overall Super Mario 64 appeared to me like it's a lot of fun to play, but
some factors also make it very frustrating at times. The swimming is
a good example of that. It can be very frustrating when you walk around
in a course and have no idea what to do. Luckily the game has been designed
to let itself be solved after some inventive playing and exploring, so overall
I'd rate Super Mario 64 as a fun game. What I found not so clever designed
is that once you get to know a level, getting all 6 (or 7) stars is not so
much a problem anymore, and not as much fun to explore anymore; the game
really gets a bit boring at such moments. Not much, though.
Super Mario 64 hasn't got 'the best gameplay' ever, in my opinion.
Many have shouted that would be the case, but I didn't think so.
It didn't disappoint me, either. The best in my opinion was the system
of getting further into the game every time you gained more stars.
However, with the system of not having to get all the stars in a level
I didn't feel too good. In my opinion when you complete a level you
should never have to return anymore. In my opinion, there should also
have been less stars in each level, because -as I pointed out earlier- each
star after the first in a course is much too easy to get.
I felt that Super Mario 64 takes the player so long to complete, that
when having completed it 'till 120 stars, you should have forgotten
most of the game, and playing it once again wouldn't be too boring, as
with most other games. However, in some adventure games you might
want to play it again because of the nice storyline, which isn't available
in this game at all. I felt that now they have a complete new non-linear
game system and tons of new moves, they could also have spent a little
more time on the storyline.
Super Mario 64 sets a mountain high standard for future games, and is a
lot of fun most of the time. However, it isn't hard to imagine that people
will completely dislike the game, for some reasons. The courses which
come to running around all the time and not knowing what to do, the stars
after the first star which are too easy. To me, this game seems just too
non-linear. I'll keep playing this game until the 120 stars mark, but I
wonder if the 'normal gamers' will be attracted that much to it either.
Further this game simply is not what I wanted in a Mario game.