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Super Mario 64

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Reviewed by Scott McCall Super Mario 64 is the first true Mario adventure game since Super Mario World -- almost a six-year absence in between games. If you recall, it said Mario was going to take a vacation at the end of Super Mario World. Since then, our fat, little Italian plumber has appeared in many spin-off games, including Mario Paint, Super Mario Kart and Yoshi's Island. But he hasn't starred in his own adventure since the SNES's first game, Super Mario World. Welcome back, Mario! We missed you! The world's most revered game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, has been known to work his magic before. But you have never seen anything like Mario 64. While other developers have said true 3-D worlds are impossible to do and would be too confusing, Mr. Miyamoto has proved them wrong with a little help from the power of the Nintendo 64. The new gold standard in games has been set. Super Mario 64 is the benchmark from which all other games will be compared to from now on. You've seen clips of Mario 64. You've heard the hype about how good the game is. But are you ready to experience Super Mario 64 for yourself? You might be able to play it at a store. But nothing compares to the Mario 64 experience at your own home. From the moment the title screen almost instantaneously pops up ("It's a me, Mario!"), you know you're in for one of the best experiences of your life. A state of euphoria may overcome you. But that's what it's all about. Super Mario 64 is a 3-D action/adventure game of epic proportions. For the first time ever, you can move Mario around anywhere you want and do whatever you want -- all in real-time, three-dimensional graphics. Swim in the lake. Jump into that tree. Walk on the wall like you used to do when you were a kid. Slide down a hill. Do a backflip to the platform above you. Slide down the ice slope. You are no longer confined to left and right or up and down motion. Go ahead and experiment. You never know what you may find. In true Mario fashion, Bowser has again kidnapped the Princess. The only way you can meet up with Bowser is by exploring the Princess's empty castle. There are picture frames in rooms of the castle that you jump into to take you to the world to explore. Hidden inside each world are at least six power stars for you to get. It will take a minimum of 70 power stars to meet up with Bowser for the grand finale. Mario games have never typically been known for gameplay options, and Super Mario 64 is no exception to the rule. About all you can do is load, copy and delete saved games and look at some level statistics. There are no options for controller configurations, difficulty levels or anything like that. This is classic Miyamoto, though. There should be no need to change any of those. After being mesmerized by the beauty of the opening level, you will find that Mario has an incredible repertoire of moves. Besides running and jumping, he can now punch, kick, dive, roll, stomp, backflip and leap super high in the air. Running is now accomplished with the analog Control Stick. If you just press lightly in a direction, you will tip-toe. Press a little bit harder and Mario will jog. Press all the way in one direction and Mario will start to run. It can be more fun to make Mario just run around the level than play half the games out there. Since the game is 3-D, the camera angle might confuse which way you're supposed to press the first few minutes you play. For the most part, it's Up to move forward, Down to go backwards, Left to go left and Right to go right. Button placement feels natural right from the beginning. The A button makes Mario jump. The B button makes Mario punch. The Z trigger makes Mario stomp. And the C group is used to control the camera angle. When you use combinations of these buttons, the beauty of the control starts to shine through. Press the B button three times and Mario will kick. Press the A button twice and Mario will do a super jump. Jump and press the Z trigger and Mario will can stomp a block or post in the ground. Run, jump and press the B button to make Mario dive. Jump into a wall and press the A button to make Mario bounce off the wall. Mario also has several other moves, including swimming, picking up items, climbing poles and more. One of the original complaints with Mario 64 at Shoshinkai was that you had to constantly change the camera angle yourself. That's been fixed in the finished game. Press the R button and you can switch between Lakitu's camera (where the computer controls the camera angle, but you can still change it slightly if you need to) and Mario's camera (you have to control the camera every step of the way). If you zoom all the way in on Mario, then you can look anywhere you want around the world to see what's to your left and right or even above and below you. If you ever find that the camera angle is not to your liking for a certain part of the game, you can always rotate the camera left, right, in, or out to give you a better view of the obstacle you must clear. Somewhat disappointingly, you can't always rotate the camera to get a perfect view. But it couldn't be easier to change the camera angle with the C group, though you may find yourself accidentally hitting the C group buttons instead of B/A buttons or vice versa. Fortunately, you will be accustomed to the controls with a little bit of practice. So how long does it take to get used to the controls in Super Mario 64? Some players will be able to feel comfortable with them in five minutes. It might take other players 30 minutes or even 60 minutes to get used to the 3-D environment and the analog control. Once you get the hang of it, though, you won't want to go back to 2-D games. In typical Miyamoto glory, the game starts out fairly easy and gets harder down the road. It's a good idea to spend your first five minutes outside the castle running around, jumping, swimming, and just generally getting used to the analog control and all the moves Mario can do. The first world doesn't have anywhere where you can fall out of the sky. So even if you fall out of the mountain, then you'll only lose energy. This gives you a chance to get used to the 3-D environment since there has been nothing else like it before. In the second world, you can fall off two of the four sides and die. As you can see, Miyamoto is easing you into the game before it gets progressively more difficult. Super Mario 64 is not necessarily your typical Mario game. There is no power-up mushroom, no fire flower and no invincibility star. The game isn't just going left to right and navigating platforms anymore. It's a totally new fresh and exciting experience. Although you may miss some of the more familiar Mario elements, you'll realize it was for the best in the end. Since you can't go from Mario to Super Mario anymore, there had to be a different addition to the gameplay to make sure there weren't any "one hit wonders." Mario now has a power meter that serves as his life. Depending on the nature of the hit, it can take a mere sixth or up to a half off of your power meter. The power meter also serves as your air underwater. There are many ways to replenish your power meter. Picking up coins, going to the surface of the water (you can just jump into water from land if you need to also) and touching a heart. Other items you can find in the game range from new additions in the series to some familiar items from previous games. There are three colors of coins: yellow, red and blue. If you get 50 yellow coins or more a level before you get the star, then you'll get a one-up. If you get 100 yellow coins in a world, then you'll get an extra, seventh star. There are eight red coins hidden in each world. Each red coin adds two coins to your total. Getting all eight red coins will reward you with a star on each world. There are also blue coins that tougher enemies drop. You can also get blue coins when you hit a p-switch. Each blue coin adds five coins to your total. There are also hearts in certain levels. They will fully replenish your life. There are one-up mushrooms hidden everywhere in the game (tip: one of the trees closest to the waterfall outside the castle holds a one-up). There is also a turtle shell that you can ride around. You are invincible with it until you lose it (you can lose it by running into a wall). There is also the aforementioned p-switch, which makes blue coins appear until the music stops playing. You can find colored switch blocks, like those in Mario World, in this game, too. Except this time, the switch blocks contain power-ups for Mario. The red switch block gives Mario the winged cap and the ability to fly. The green switch block lets Mario put on a steel suit, which gives him added weight. With that, he'll be able to walk around on the floors of rivers and lakes until it runs out. There is also a blue switch block, which makes Mario semi-invisible. All the switch blocks are hidden somewhere in the game. While you don't need to find them to complete the game, you do need to find the switch blocks if you want to get certain stars. Finally, there is a little pink bomb you can talk to. After you complete a task in a world, he'll open up all his cannons for you. With his cannons, you can shoot yourself around the world to get to stars and such. What's the gameplay consist of? Running, climbing, jumping, sliding, swimming, shooting yourself out of a cannon and more. As stated earlier, the object of the game is to find the hidden power stars in each level. There are approximately 120 power stars in the game, even though only 70 are required to complete the game. Yoshi is definitely a hidden character in the game. But alas, Luigi is not in the game. Just about all 15 of the courses have six stars in them. To get each star in the world, you must perform a particular task. The game gives a hint of what you're supposed to do in each level before you play. You might have to race a Koopa Troopa to the top of the mountain, get all eight red coins, take a baby penguin back to its mother, get a star off of an eel's tail, navigate a pyramid, etc. The variety of levels and tasks you have to complete is mind-blowing. You never become bored. The addictive qualities of the game make you press on further and further. You've never had more fun trying to figure out what to do in your life. You can also get a seventh star in each of those courses if you get 100 coins. There are also ten special courses to get stars from. Even Toad will help you out and give you a free star every now and then. The concept is simple, but the game is more addictive than anything you can imagine. Mario games are considered platformers. Why? Because you usually had to navigate a series of platforms going from left to right. Mario 64 places more emphasis on exploring and having fun, but there are still plenty of platforms here to find your way through. Crossing little ledges in the air can be difficult at first, but in time you'll become a seasoned veteran. Just like previous games, Miyamoto has worked his magic on the platforms. There are see-saw platforms, rolling logs, platforms where you have to step on an arrow to make it move, breakaway platforms, rotating platforms, and many others. The sheer variety of gameplay levels in Mario 64 is incredible. One has to wonder how they fit all this on a 64 megabit cart? There are grasslands, a castle in the air, underwater levels, snow worlds, a ghost house (which seems to be influenced by Resident Evil with its fixed cameras), underground levels, fire and lava levels, desert levels, and more! All of these levels have six stars for you to find. The worlds generally remain the same with each task you have to complete, but a cannon might open up or a power-up might enable you to explore more of the world. With the diversity of the levels, it is more fun than ever to explore the worlds of Super Mario 64. There is a much greater emphasis on exploring than before, too. And only the analog Control Stick makes it both possible and fun. The world wouldn't be any fun to explore if you couldn't fully interact with it, though. Fortunately, Miyamoto has made just about all objects in the 3-D world fully interactive. You can tip-toe on edges, hang off walls, jump on all signs, walls, etc. Pick up anything that's not too heavy and more. Your newly acquired moves will come in handy, too. You're no longer limited to jumping on enemy's heads. You can now stomp on them. You can punch them. You can kick them. You can dive into them. You can throw items at them. You can push, throw, punch or kick them over the edge. Just about anything you want to do. People who have not played Mario 64 very long have complained that there are not very many enemies in the game. While it's true there aren't as many enemies as other Mario games, there are still plenty of tricks and traps for you to get through. The beginning levels don't have many enemies to make sure you can get used to the control. However, later levels are populated with plenty of enemies. The game honestly does have more exploring than ever, but that also makes the game more fun than ever before. The game's enemies range from new creations to polygon-modeled enemies from other games. You can find Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Piranha Plants, Thwomps, along with a few other familiar enemies. Of course, Bowser is in the game, and it's incredible when you face him. He's probably the coolest looking boss I've ever seen. There are also new enemies, along with a few new friends, for you to interact with. The graphical environment of Super Mario 64 is arguably the smoothest and best-looking 3-D environment around (only Pilotwings 64 can possibly take that distinction instead). The game consistently moves at 30 frames per second (the water level is a little lower). There is an incredible variety of textures throughout the game. Each world is modeled in a different style with new enemies and new graphics. You'll also notice how all the graphics are smooth with no jagged edges and how there's no pixelation in any of the graphics. Background pop-up is non-existent in the game. But character pop-up happens once in a while. Clipping, which is when you can see through polygons, is a little more frequent than I hoped for, but sometimes it is needed to see where you're going. The graphics are all very colorful and sharp overall, though. You can hardly tell the graphics are made of polygons with the exception of a few cases. Sound in Mario 64 is much better than expected. Mario has a exceptional number of screams, yells and speech. His speech includes "Mama Mia" and "Here we go!" Depending on what move you do, he will scream or yell in a different way. Even after days and many of hours of playing, he never gets old. The music in Mario is a combination of remixed Mario tunes and some original tunes. From a great bonus "whistling" tune to a steel drum remixed version of the theme to a new Mario-style happy, bouncy tune, the tunes are brilliantly composed and can include subtle changes in the song (thanks to MIDI). In the water stage, if you're out of water, the music is kind of low-key. But once you hop into the water, it becomes much more robust. And once you swim into a cave and go on land, it adds drums to the mix. You can't get any better than Mario 64, but every game has room for improvement. The detail of the graphics and variety of levels is great. There is a need for a few more music tunes. Also, it would be cool if Mario had more speech. What needs to be fixed in the sequel? The emphasis on exploring is great, but since we're now used to the 3-D world, we need more enemies to defeat and more traps to navigate. The item I miss the most from other Mario games is the fire flower. It would be great if they bring this back. I was also disappointed the koopa troopas are very sporadically placed throughout the game. When I say very, I mean very. I've only seen maybe two in the whole game. It would be nice to have the variety of Koopa Troopas from before, too. I also miss the pipes. Where did all the pipes go? You only see one in the beginning of the game. The biggest thing that needs fixed is in the graphics engine. The engine is by no means bad at all (as I said, it could be the best ever), but it would be great to get rid of the character pop-up and the clipping. After spending a few hours with Mario 64, you will believe the hype, too. Super Mario 64 is the new gold standard, the new benchmark from which all other games will be compared to. Everything else just pales in comparison. Games just don't get anymore fun than this. You'll want to call in this plumber after you flush all of your other games down the toilet.

Graphics: 4.6 out of 5 Sound: 3.9 out of 5 Control: 4.5 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.9 out of 5 Lastability: 4.9 out of 5 Overall: 4.9 out of 5

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