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Virtual Console: Super Mario 64 Box Art
Action Adventure

Virtual Console: Super Mario 64

Reviewing Super Mario 64 is like reviewing Star Wars or any other groundbreaking work of immense popularity. Mario, the father figure of platforming games, set a standard for 3D platforming back when when it was in its infancy. Legacies of Super Mario 64 are still with us in many of today's 3D games, including a camera which players can adjust and a centralized hub world through which all other levels/worlds are accessed.


Emulation brings with it the wonders of newer technology, not least of which is visual delivery. Suffice it to say, Super Mario 64 looks better than ever in Progressive scan. It's sharp in all its polygonal glory: every object is crisply defined in rich color once it's popped into draw distance. Textures remain laughably large and approach abstraction at close range.


Catchy new tunes commingle seamlessly with remixed old favorites. Each world has its own musical theme, which does wonders to enliven the blocky constructs. The cap themes, in particular, are quite good. The buoyant invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros. becomes a back beat for airy flight music, hasty dashing transparency and heavily clanking metallic music, which accompanies each of Mario's special cap powers.


Superficially, the idea of playing through a level multiple times to complete different objectives seems gimmicky, but somehow it manages to work for Mario 64. Perhaps it's the exploration that keeps players coming back, but the seemingly insignificant nook that's passed by in search of one goal becomes the key to something else on another trip. Indeed, this shifting of importance over a static course actually makes each objective feel like a new level.

Viewed in this light the goal structure in Mario 64 is actually an ingenious structure of tiered learning. Players familiarize themselves with one component until it's mastered; and then a curve is added. Once players have played through the entire game, they are left with a real sense of accomplishment, earned not only through physical mastery of the controls, but through the learning that had to take place to surmount each new challenge. Perhaps this is Miyamoto's greatest legacy: to teach people without them even realizing that they're learning because they're having fun.

While over a decade old, Super Mario 64 still feels as fresh as it did back at the launch of N64. This in itself is a testament to its design. The game is a classic and belongs on every Wii owner's Virtual Console.

Yet, this is not to say the game doesn't show its age. Two issues spring up time and again and have been solved in subsequent games. The first is the lack of a button that resets the camera directly behind Mario, such as Zelda's ingenious Z-targeting first seen in Ocarina of Time. The second is Mario's marginal speed turn radius.

The camera issue is a larger issue than just the lack of a positioning control. While Lakitu does try to keep the camera behind Mario most of the time, Mario often moves too quickly for the camera to get there and still be helpful. At other times the camera moves with Mario when the player doesn't want it too. This can be most frustrating when you are trying to line up for a tricky jump. Too often the rough camera controls send Mario plummeting to an untimely death.

The marginal speed turn radius most often rears its ugly head when players are trying to make Mario turn away from the edge. Unfortunately, because of his speed, Mario turns by walking in a circle, invariably encountering the very edge players were trying to avoid. This leads to an embarrassing stuttering animation where Mario grinds the edge for a moment suspended between falling and recovering his balance. The animation reflects a real physical uncertainty as to whether Mario will recover or fall.

These shortcomings are forgivable when the game's age is taken into consideration, and they still can't tarnish the fun. Players learn to avoid edges at marginal speed and take the reigns from Lakitu by using the Mario camera control. Some aspects have benefited from updated controllers; namely, the improved comfort and stability of the post-64 analog sticks, which boasts a wider surface area, rubber grip and protected base. With a Wavebird, players can still press Start to play, while enjoying the post-64 freedom of wireless control.




Super Mario 64 is a gem of a game, monumental in legacy. It may be new to a generation exploring the VC for the first time, but older gamers will have fun revisiting the near-forgotten levels. Spend 1000 pennies in Wii Points, download and enjoy this classic.

final score 10.0/10

Staff Avatar Paul Starke
Staff Profile | Email
"In Japan this was named a 'trouble bug.' (...Is it really a bug?)"

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