Hey! Whatsa matta you? You no lika Mario?
To be honest, who isn't a little sick of Mario by this point? The Nintendo icon has graced the titles of dozens of video games for uncountable different video game systems (Don't forget it was Mario who originally fought Donkey Kong). He's also been found on bedsheets, action figures, breakfast cereal, a major motion picture (Bob Hoskins, you sold out!), Saturday morning cartoons, lampshades, pajamas, shoes, mugs, and T-shirts. In Nintendo's never-ending quest to put Mario's face on every blank surface left on the planet, we present Super Mario 64!
This latest incarnation of Mario is the pilot game for the new Nintendo 64 system. And sick of Mario or not, this game has truly impressive graphics, and some revolutionary gameplay. If you buy the N64 this Christmas season, you'll have the choice of the $200 system (sans Mario) or the $250 system with the little Italian hidden inside.
The graphics in Super Mario 64 are an excellent introduction to the power of the new Nintendo system. The 3D worlds that Mario must explore are visually stunning. While we've seen some more creative and impressive world design, no game yet has had this kind of crystal clear 3D graphics, remarkable texture mapping, absence of pixillation, and a frame refresh rate that makes your PC look like the toy.
These graphics are more a testament to the machine than the actual game, but the game is pretty good too. A true 3D platformer, it is one of only a few such games out there. The recent Crash Bandicoot has a few 3D parts, and the remarkable Jumping Flash series is fully rendered in 3D.
Like his predicessors, the new Mario includes some good puzzles, a few secrets, and plenty of platforms to jump atop. Once again you must save the Mushroom Princess (now named 'Peach') from the evil clutches of Bowser, the original Super Mario Brothers bad guy. To do this, you must explore several 3D worlds collecting power stars and defeating bosses. Some of the themed levels include a haunted house, Egyptian style pyramids, a fiery inferno, a bomb-ridden battlefield, all accessed from a Disney-esque central castle.
The gameplay doen't take too long to get used to. You move through the 3D environment using the analog joystick on the N64 controller. All the old enemies are there to stop you: little mushroom 'goombahs', flying kirby-like ghosts, bob-oms, etc... You have several new attacks and moves to deal with them, including standard hits and kicks, long jumps, back flips, and the 'triple jump'. Most of the little critters are pretty easy to beat, if you can see what you are doing. The biggest flaw in the gameplay is the camera angles from which you view the action.
Nintendo obviously spent some time developing a 'smart-cam' to follow the action from useful angles, but it doesn't work as well as it should. Often your view of Mario is blocked by large objects. If you have the time you can usually rotate the camera manually, but that doesn't help when the thing blocking your view is the boss that you're fighting. There is a camera mode that follows directly behind Mario (the Mario butt-cam) but it's generally not a very good perspective. Jumping Flash solved this problem by relying on a 1st person perspective (and sky-high jumps), but that still wouldn't be a very useful angle for Mario. Unfortunately, the camera really just needs to be even smarter.
Super Mario 64 is the first showpiece for the N64, and the graphics will impress you (they impressed the hell out of me). The game itself is appealing, is less linear, and has more emphasis on puzzle solving than its predicessors. It has enough worlds to satisfy you for many hours while you figure them out. If you're really sick of Mario, you probably shouldn't get this game, since its full of even more goofy Italian stereotyping than before. But if you still have room in your belly for another Italian meatball, Super Mario 64 is a worthy game.