Super Mario 64 Review – Definitive 50 N64 Game #2

In seasons 1 and 2 of the show, we covered the SNES and GameCube – systems that allowed developers to improve on the concepts laid down in preceding generations.

The N64 though was of a revolutionary generation. With 3D graphics, the way that games were made before no longer applied.

In order to make a Mario sequel – Nintendo would have to completely reinvent its most famous series – and they managed it, with Super Mario 64.

Let’s start at the beginning – the story. And I’m not talking about Peach’s invitation to her castle, or that fact that Bowser has taken it over. No, I’m talking about the extended introduction of a camera-wielding Lakitu who sweeps around the castle before finally settling in behind Mario.

The presence of a third-person camera view that can be controlled independently was so new, Nintendo felt compelled to explain it in-story. There’s also the nice bonus of using the scene to show off Peach’s castle in all of its glorious 3D splendour!

Mario 64’s controls work like nothing that came before it, which makes sense, because it was designed in tandem with the N64 controller, and launched alongside the system. Mario’s movement is controlled with the joystick, while Lakitu, with his camera, are controlled with the C-buttons. Mario can still jump on enemies like he always could, but Mario has also been granted a number of punches and kicks to help him take down his enemies.

Peach’s castle itself is also a huge deal. Where previous Mario games played out as a semi-linear series of levels, Mario 64 uses a hub world. The castle functions as a level of sorts that Mario can explore, but there are also many paintings hung on the walls which Mario can jump into – these are the actual levels of the game.

And again, we’re faced with something completely new. Mario’s levels were also pretty linear before – you had to get to the end, and aside from finding the odd secret exit, that was about it. That all changed with Mario 64.

See, you need to find Power Stars to open up doors in the castle and progress. And the levels are where the majority of these are found. Each level contains 7 stars which you can find by completing a huge variety of tasks. You return to the same levels over and over again, exploring them, mining them for stars. Sometimes the levels are altered slightly to allow you to earn a particular star, but you can often get them out of order too.

Here’s a sample. In the game’s first level, Bob-omb Battlefield, your first mission is to climb to the top of a mountain and take down the Big Bob-omb there. New players, getting used to the controls, would find just getting up there to be a challenge.

But in the second mission – you come back and a Koopa is hanging out at the base of the mountain wanting a race to the top! Now you’ve got to take what you learned in the last mission and push yourself to do better.

Levels throughout the game progress like this – the missions build on each other, adding new little twists, and pushing you to explore everything. Each level also has one star that’s earned by collecting 100 coins, a feat that demands real exploration and level knowledge.

Ultimately, there are 15 true levels, which contain 7 stars each. Add the 15 stars which can be found elsewhere in the castle, and you’ve got a total of 120 stars available, although only 70 are needed to beat the game.

Finding all the stars nets you a bonus ending, but NOT the long rumoured abilities to play with Yoshi or as Luigi. You can, however, play the game as Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario in the DS remake.

The gameplay is switched up even more by a number of caps which can be found, which fill in for Mario’s traditional power-ups. At various points, you can get the Vanish cap, which allows you to pass through some walls, the Metal Cap, which allows you to walk under water, and the Wing cap, which allows you to fly. In a couple places, you can also lose your normal cap, and you’ll take extra damage from enemies until it can be recovered.

Super Mario 64 may have been a sequel to the many Mario titles that came before it, but when you think about it, it’s almost nothing like any of them. As the N64’s flagship launch title, it led the way in ushering in the era of 3D gameplay.

Everything about it – from the revolutionary controls to the way level progression is structured – is completely different. And at the time it was made, it was completely new too. Mario 64 didn’t just popularize 3D platformers, it set the standard.

Let me know what you think of Mario 64 and the Definitive 50 in the comments section below. Don’t forget to share this video, like this video, and subscribe. Check back next week for entry #1 on the Definitive 50 N64 games!