One of the most promising features of the new Nintendo Wii is the addition of its Virtual Console service, where classic titles can be downloaded through the Wii Shop Channel for a select number of Wii Points. With Wii Points being precious, the average gamer will most likely keep purchases in moderation. But what game is worth buying? Out of all the classics, what is worthy of inclusion into a gamer’s collection? Is Super Mario 64 one of those games worth downloading? Long-time gamers remember Super Mario 64 as a Nintendo 64 launch title. It was also Nintendo’s first time venturing into the world of 3D and there was no better candidate to take that plunge than the company’s number one mascot. But does the game stand the test of time?
The story is the standard “princess gets kidnapped by evil lizard” plot that the Mario series has been known for since its inception. This time, Bowser has infiltrated Peach’s royal homestead and swept her away into a distant world within the castle. Mario must use newfound powers, provided by different-colored caps, to get through 15 levels and collect anywhere from 70 to 120 stars and defeat Bowser. Just like old times, right? Well, there are plenty of differences between this and Mario’s old 2D romps.
The first thing gamers will notice is that the environment is far bigger than any Mario game made up to that point. Even the outside of the castle is a vastly large space, with the castle itself making up another huge area ripe for exploration. The levels themselves are tremendous in size with several different ways to explore them, including cannons that shoot Mario skyward. Level types run the gamut from open fields, lava-filled infernos, desert hotspots, winter wonderlands, and even the inside of a giant clock. Each level contains six stars that can be obtained by completing different objectives and one bonus star gained by collecting 100 coins. Collecting stars allows the player to advance to later levels ultimately culminating with the big clash against Bowser, who has never looked bigger.
The gameplay is easy to pick up. Mario can jump, punch, dive, and use various combinations to achieve his goals. All are easy to execute, whether using the new Wii Classic Controller or the old Gamecube controller, partly because the Control Stick makes executing moves a breeze. Part of the reason the Super Mario 64 remake on the DS didn’t work was because the DS didn’t have a Control Stick to make moves simple. In addition, it can argued that some of this game’s moves are even easier to use now players no longer have to awkwardly reach for the Z-button, which was on the back of the old Nintendo 64 controller. Using Mario’s powers like the Flying Cap have never been simpler, as a Triple Jump and the Control Stick sends players to the skies. The only issues with the controls are some detection issues with the B Button, as there are moments in which Mario will stand right next to an object and still not be able to pick it up. Part of that can be attributed to the camera.
And what can be said about the camera that hasn’t already been said in the last ten years? The beginning of the 3D era was not a good time for cameras and this game is a prime example of that. A major annoyance during the game’s initial release, Super Mario 64’s camera is even more frustrating today than ever before. Part of this is because developers have learned better ways to implement cameras since 1996, but the C-stick controlled camera is unstable throughout the game and leads to a large number of cheap deaths. While extra lives are easy to come by, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Mario often finds himself plunging into an abyss because of a wacky camera angle. The only positive is that developers have since learned from the frustrations of this and other games of the mid-90’s and implemented user-friendly camera control as a priority in the game-making and QA process.
The graphics were an innovation back in 1996, but don’t hold up too well today. Some of the character models, Mario and Bowser’s in particular, appear blocky and the polygon shapes in many objects are clearly noticeable. But where some character models fail, others appear rendered perfectly. Piranha Plants have never looked prettier and the same can be said for a few others. Unfortunately, characters like Thwomps can come across as eyesores. While it was widely forgiveable ten years ago, graphics have come such a long way that players cringe when they see some of these graphics.
The musical score is enjoyable. Many of the songs are memorable, although the theme from Peach’s castle can become grating after long exposure. Each track fits in perfectly with the level environment, helping add to the overall experience. Notable in particular is the whimsical bonus-level theme music, implementing a catchy combination of harmonicas and whistling. Not many games can boast a musical track like that. And the sounds eminating from much of the Mario rogues gallery make their first run here, including the scratches and grunts of foes like Thwomps and Bob-ombs. Not to mention Mario himself, who speaks in his Italian accent for the first time.
Historically, Super Mario 64 is a must-have, adding a lot to the Mario mythos. Fans can see the first appearances of characters like Whomps, Zaps, Mr. Blizzards, Klepto the vulture, and Ukiki the monkey. This game also marks the introduction of many characters’ current incarnations. Goomba, Koopa Troopa, and other character models that make their debut here remain engrained in Mario titles to this day. Re-discovering this game is truly a treat, as it’s easy to get engaged in the fun gameplay and overall experience just like old times.
There is currently no better way to spend 1,000 Wii Points than on Super Mario 64. Old fans will love taking it to Bowser once again while fans playing this game for the first time won’t be sorry they did. While the Wii gradually builds its Virtual Console library, take a gander at this classic. It once again cements the Mario series as an innovator and makes it no wonder why many fans are on edge for next year’s Super Mario Galaxy. Mario always brings his best to a new console and his first Nintendo 64 adventure is no exception.