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My first Mario game was Super Mario World and it took me a few years to actually beat it. My parents got me a Super Nintendo which came with the game in 1992, which means I was about one or two years old, and I don’t think I actually beat it, or at least beat Bowser, until I was about five or six. When I first beat it I was so excited, I was jumping up and down, and I went and found my mom to tell her of what felt like my greatest accomplishment at the time. The Super Nintendo was my gateway into gaming and Super Mario World was one of the first games I ever owned. I would play it a lot as a kid, even after I did beat it, and I still play it quite often, even to this today. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. I would never get the chance to try the sequel, Super Mario 64, until I bought a Nintendo DS in 2007 or 2008 and played the DS version. However, I’ve always heard this version was inferior to the original and in 2010, I finally got my chance to play it after I finally acquired the Nintendo 64. Developed and published by Nintendo, Super Mario 64 was released in September, 1996. This was the first 3D entry in the series and is often considered one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time as well as one of the greatest games of all time. For this review, not only did I play the original game, but Jeremy and I teamed up and played the Super Mario 64 Multiplayer v1.4.2 rom hack using the Project64 emulator, and I also played through the game again with the HD Texture Pack v1.5 using the Dolphin emulator, specifically the Ishiiruka build, along with Gecko codes to get it running in widescreen.
The story here is basically the same as previous games. Bowser kidnaps princess Peach and Mario sets out to rescue her. Mario receives a letter from Peach inviting him over to the castle for cake but when he arrives, he discovers Bowser has taken over the castle and imprisoned Peach within it using the power of the castle’s stars. The castle is like a hub world and consists of a three floors, a basement, and even a courtyard. Mario must navigate the castle and enter the paintings scattered to around which are actually gateways to various worlds. Mario must collect stars by finding them or completing objectives in each world and the stars are used to open doors and access new areas of the castle. Even the castle, itself, has stars hidden around. There’s very little voice acting and when you interact with NPC’s throughout the environments, all dialogue is in text form. Like every other game in this series, the premise is simple, not important, and takes a backseat to the gameplay.
The obvious and most unique thing about Mario 64 was the fact it was in 3D. This was huge back in 1996 and the game’s camera was revolutionary. When the game starts, you see Lakitu flying around the castle holding a camera and some actually theorize that you’re technically playing as Lakitu. Although, you control Mario so that really makes no sense. If anything, you’re controlling both characters. Either way you can toggle between the Mario cam and Lakitu cam and rotate the camera for better angles, depending on the situation. However, while this may have been revolutionary in 1996, it has aged terribly and it often works against you. The camera will often position itself in spots where it’s hard to judge depth perception, or maybe there’s an object or wall obstructing your view and even if after trying to adjust it yourself, it doesn’t always stay where you want it. The camera, alone, can make some of the jumping and platforming harder than it needs to be, especially in the later worlds, but if you have patience and take your time, you should be able to navigate the environments successfully. If it’s your first time playing, working with the camera does take some getting used to and you should keep in mind that there were no other games like this back when it released, so I can let most of this go. This type of camera control would influence most future 3D games and is just one of the many ways Mario 64 impacted the gaming word. Now if you thought the camera was troublesome in the vanilla game, you should play the multiplayer rom hack. In multiplayer, player one is Mario and player two is Luigi, and both players can control the camera. Each player can press a button to have the camera focus on their character and this can be done at any time so coordination is key. If you don’t communicate with each other, you’ll just end up having a frustrating time. When both players split up, the camera will zoom out so both characters can remain in view and because both players have control of the camera, it can be tough trying to accomplish two goals at the same time, especially if both players prefer different viewing angles, so most of the time it’s best if both players work together to accomplish the same goal. Ideally, split-screen would be best but considering this rom hack is incredible as is, I really shouldn’t complain nor do I know if that’s even possible. However, one of the biggest issues with the multiplayer is how the cannons are handled. Normally, Mario enters a cannon and the camera switches to a first-person view, allowing you to aim before firing. You don’t get that first-person view in multiplayer and must aim the cannon from a third-person view and just hope you’re aiming correctly. It’s a frustrating case of trial and error and I would highly recommend using save states whenever you need to use a cannon. I don’t know what’s possible when it comes to modding roms and the game really isn’t meant to be played in multiplayer so I can let it go because in the end, the multiplayer is still great fun.
With this being Mario’s first foray into 3D, he can do a lot more than just running and jumping. He can run, jump, wall jump, long jump, somersault, back flip, swim, dive, ground pound, crouch, push blocks, punch, and even kick. You’re given tons of freedom when it comes to movement and navigation which actually allows you to accomplish goals in a variety of ways. Instead of using a cannon to blast your way to a star, you may be able to wall jump to it. If you’ve seen many speedruns of the game, you’ll know there’s tons of exploits and glitches, and these can be used to your advantage. I’m not that great at the game that I can be jumping and diving all over the environment glitching my way up stairs and through walls, but it is possible to do these things and pushing the game to it’s limits is all part of the fun. You may see this as the game just being broken, and, yeah, I guess it is, but its broken in a good way. Mario can still jump on enemy’s heads, even punch and kick them. Killing enemies often rewards you with coins and some of the tougher enemies reward you with blue coins. A standard gold coin grant you one coin, a red coin grants you two coins, and a blue coin grants you five coins. Gold coins are scattered all throughout the environments, even within question mark boxes and breakable boxes. Every standard world has seven stars to collect. Six of the stars are found within the worlds by completing some kind of objective and the seventh star is always rewarded to you by collecting one hundred coins. Coins can also be seen as you’re score for each world but they also provide you with health. When Mario gets injured, he loses hit points, and coins restore hit points. When Mario dies, he loses a life. Lose all of your lives and it’s game over. You start with four lives and can earn more by collecting a specific amount of coins or by acquiring green mushrooms. Although, reloading your game will always reset your lives back to four. The health meter is also your air meter when swimming under water but you can acquire air from coins in addition to air bubbles. Coins are also a way the game encourages you to explore. Sometimes coins may lead to a hidden area, or you may see coins on a platform in the distance, indicating an area you haven’t visited yet, and some worlds may require you to explore every nook and cranny to acquire all one hundred coins. In multiplayer, both players can accumulate coins and share the collection, even if a player dies. However, Mario must be near standard gold coins for them to load and be visible so if Luigi strays too far, there won’t be any gold coins to collect until Mario enters the vicinity. Red coins will always be loaded and visible and I believe this is because they are objective coins. By that I mean, every world has eight red coins to collect as a requirement for a star.
Mario 64 includes fifteen worlds, three what I’ll call boss worlds, and fifteen secret castle stars. The secret castle stars are usually small areas found throughout the castle and if it’s your first time playing, some of these areas can be a challenge to find. It’s very easy to miss these areas since they’re not always apparent and gaining access to some of these areas may require you to actually to accomplish a goal beforehand. It’s all about exploration, discovery, and utilizing your abilities to uncover everything. Throughout the worlds are different colored boxes which must first be activated by pressing switches before they can be broken. The switches are located in the secret areas found throughout the castle. However, these boxes are special because they grant Mario special abilities for a brief time. Red boxes reward Mario with the Wing Cap which allows him to fly. Although, I should say hover or glide because he’ll always be slowly descending unless he re-acquires or finds another Wing Cap. I’m not really a huge fan of the Wing Cap because of how you’re always descending. I just wish you could actually fly but that would also remove some of the challenge. Green boxes reward Mario with the Metal Cap which makes him invincible and allows him to walk along the ground when underwater. And the Blue boxes reward Mario with the Vanish Cap which turns Mario invisible, enabling him to walk through specific walls. You’ll need these caps to acquire certain stars within the worlds, that is if you don’t know of any exploits to acquire the stars without the caps. Most stars can be acquired without these caps and when entering a world, you can see a list of stars and the description for each star are actually hints to where they are or how to acquire them. The game will select which star you should go for but you can actually collect most stars in any order you wish. However, some stars the game selects for you do alter the world a bit. Maybe there’s a new platform or even a new enemy. So while most stars can be acquired in any order, every now and then you’ll be required to acquire certain stars first before you can acquire others. For example, in Dire Dire Docks, you need to acquire a star, and then beat Bowser before re-entering the world to acquire the rest of the stars and you’ll actually see a difference in the world, itself. Some stars are hidden in plain sight and may require a tricky jump or the press of a switch to reveal platforms leading to them, or maybe it’s just as simple as defeating a mini-boss like a giant Thwomp, Wiggler, or Big Boo. I say mini-boss because the major boss is Bowser and you need to defeat him three times. While the mini-bosses are really easy to defeat, Bowser proves to be a bit more challenging. Granted, his battles are also easy but require you to swing him around before tossing him onto an explosive and aiming the throw is probably the hardest part. Now I don’t like mini-games in my platformers and there are a few racing mini-games in Mario 64 which I’m not a fan of. You must win the races to be rewarded with a star. Why developers feel the need to put racing in platformers is beyond me but luckily, they are extremely easy here.
Every world varies in theme and has their own challenges to overcome. Some worlds can actually be altered simply by entering them in specific ways. For example, depending on how high you enter the Wet Dry World painting determines the water level of that world. Entering Tick Tock Clock when the hand is on specific numbers determines how fast things within the world rotate and move. Tiny Huge Island has two paintings that you can enter and determines the size of the world. By today’s standards, most of the worlds don’t feel realistic in any sense of the word. Granted, this is the case with most Mario games, and it’s not a bad thing, but it just seems more noticeable here. There’s a lot of random platforms and structures seemingly scattered all over the place. However, these are carefully placed and everything is placed in specific spots for specific reasons. The worlds do contain enemies but they don’t fill the environments and they rarely prove to be troublesome. The enemies act more like obstacles than anything else and many of the classics do make an appearance. Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Lakitu, and even Bob-Ombs are all here, among others, along with some new enemy types like Scuttlebugs, Chuckyas, and different types of Bullies. If you jump on a Koopa Troopa, he’ll launch out of his shell and you can actually ride the shell around the environments at high speeds, even along the surface of hazardous liquids like lava and extremely cold water. There’s several worlds I don’t like, mainly due to their themes. While I love the Boo enemies, I’ve never cared for the haunted house themes so Big Boo’s haunt is probably my least favorite world in the game. Hazy Maze Cave is also one of my least favorites just due to it’s dark and dreary atmosphere. Wet Dry World is another one I don’t like just because it’s visually bland and uninteresting. But even these worlds have their moments of fun and offer something unique not seen in other worlds. Many worlds have environmental hazards you’ll need to avoid like lava in Lethal Lava Land, toxic gas and falling boulders in Hazy Maze Cave, extremely cold water in Snowman’s Land, quicksand in Shifting Sand Land, and even what I think are falling water bombs in Bob-Omb’s Battlefield. Many worlds require you to speak to a pink Bob-Omb to gain access to a cannon within that world. Mario can enter the cannon and you can aim it in any direction and fire Mario out either to a specific location or to his death. Mario can actually lose his cap in some worlds whether it be stolen or simply blown off his head. If Mario loses his cap, he takes more damage from attacks but the cap can reacquired and sometimes it needs to be taken back from enemies.
The multiplayer rom hack can make the game both easier and harder. If you don’t communicate with the other player the camera, alone, can make everything harder. Whenever a player acquires one of the special caps, they’re better off just taking the camera and doing what they need to do rather than having both players try and do different things. On the plus side, obtaining stars can be easier. For example, you can position one player in the spot where the star will spawn and wait until the other player completes an objective. If one player dies, the other will keep going and can still complete objectives. However, if Mario dies, he will return whenever Luigi transitions to a new area whether it be a door, warp pipe, or after any other loading points. In fact, the other character will automatically spawn nearby if you enter a loading point like in the tunnel in the Dire Dire Docks world or navigating through the tunnel to the town in Wet Dry World. If Luigi dies, he doesn’t always come back. Now whenever you acquire a star, minus the one you earn from one hundred coins, you get kicked out of the world and have to re-enter to collect another. In multiplayer, one player can collect the star and during the celebratory animation, the other player can jump on or attack that player to cancel the animation and keep going to collect more stars. I’m assuming this is just a glitch with the rom hack but a significant one at that and can be seen as a time saver. This does mean both players can collide into each other during gameplay which can become annoying if one player jumps on the player mid-jump, possibly killing one player, or ruining a jump altogether. That can happen often if you don’t communicate. One of the biggest issues with the multiplayer is how things load in the environments. Mario needs to be near things like standard coins and even platforms so that they load. However, Luigi can still navigate freely but can’t collect coins or jump on platforms if they’re not loaded which can even lead to his death so the duo really needs to stay together. Also, Luigi can’t really interact with things. He can collect stars, coins, and attack enemies but when it comes to talking to NPC’s, Mario has to do it. In Hazy Maze Cave, Dorrie seems to be outright broken. Normally, you can jump on Dorrie and guide it to where you want to go and then ground pound on it to lower it’s head. In multiplayer, it doesn’t seem to pick up its head after a ground pound until Mario gets far enough away. When playing the multiplayer you can see that the game is really trying to break free of the single player limitations but it’s a single player game at heart, and if you don’t stick together, you’ll encounter more bugs and issues than anything else.
Mario 64 released in 1996 and you can tell the game looks dated. Character models are blocky, textures and backgrounds are blurry, and everything has somewhat of a simple look to it. On the plus side, everything is vibrant and colorful. The multiplayer rom hack includes a Luigi model that resembles his appearance in other Mario games, although, he still sounds like Mario. The HD texture pack replaces all of the environment textures with brand new high quality textures that are sharp, crisp, and have this artistic look them. In my opinion, they fit the theme of the game but I’ve heard some say it makes the game lose its charm. Enemy’s are re-textured as is the HUD, you can see the environment reflecting off of Metal Mario, and even Mario’s face received an overhaul. However, it doesn’t appear that his cap, outfit, or the hair on the back of his head received any new textures. The new textures really breathe new life into some of the worlds like Wet Dry World for example. I found myself often staring at the backgrounds and just admiring the excellent texture work. The widescreen Gecko codes did not affect the game in any negative way, and I also toyed around with different HUD codes including one that eliminates the HUD altogether allowing you to bring up different elements by pressing different buttons. The texture pack in combination with the Gecko and Action Replay codes, basically make it feel like you’re playing an HD version. When it comes to the audio, there’s a handful of music heard throughout the worlds and there’s even some remixes of classic Mario songs thrown in. The soundtrack is catchy and memorable and some of the songs heard here are just iconic and have been heard again, albeit remixed, in future games. The sound effects are good and what you would expect. They fit the cartoon-y feel the game is going for. On the technical side there’s definitely some issues, however, nothing game breaking. There’s a lot clipping, Mario would often get stuck on the edge of platforms and kind of jackhammer until he’s on a surface, there’s a lot of pop-in, you can see Mario’s model enter low-res mode when he’s far from the camera, and many of the game’s glitches can be exploited like long jumping backwards up the staircase to the final set of worlds, or simply wall jumping through ceilings, and just things like that. Over the years, speedrunners and other dedicated players and discovered various new exploits, tricks, and ways to manipulate the mechanics to acquire stars in brand new ways. The frame rate would often dip when playing the vanilla game but not as often when running it on an emulator. In multiplayer, neither Mario or Luigi reflect any of the visual effects when acquiring the special caps. The multiplayer game also crashed a few times. During my time with the HD texture pack, the game completely froze once and twice it refused to load Hazy Maze Cave upon entering the world, forcing me to restart the game. I also noticed some minor glitches with text boxes. Overall, the vanilla game is the most stable.
I’ve played Mario 64 numerous times over the years and this was our third time playing the multiplayer rom hack. I love Mario 64 and it’s my favorite 3D platformer of all time. There’s just something about it that keeps me coming back. I think it’s a combination of the world design, freedom, and music. You’re given the ultimate freedom, there’s very little hand holding, and it’s just fun exploring the worlds and discovering new things. The multiplayer is best enjoyed if you want to have fun and mess around but if it’s your first time playing the game, I would avoid the multiplayer hack at all costs. It makes the game seem more broken than it already is and introduces a ton of new issues not seen in the vanilla game. However, it’s still good fun and if you always wanted multiplayer in Mario 64, this is the closest you’re going to get. There’s not much to say about the HD texture pack since it’s just a visual overhaul and doesn’t really affect the gameplay. However, playing in widescreen is awesome and this may be the closest we get to playing an HD remaster of this classic game, at least until we get an official one. There’s no denying Mario 64 has issues that just become more noticeable over time but in 1996, this game was a breakthrough for the gaming industry. The freedom, control, and camera are just some of the ways the game made an impact. Mario 64 provided this no limits feeling, no clear direction on where you need to go, and basically let you roam free within the environments encouraging you to think for yourself, explore, and discover all the things the game had to offer. It was the first jump into 3D, something that really can’t be replicated twice, and, luckily, it wasn’t just a gimmick. It shaped the future of gaming.
Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest games ever made. Period. Whether you like or dislike Mario or platformers, there’s no denying the game was revolutionary. There’s no denying it did a lot of things first. And there’s no denying that many future games borrowed from Mario 64. Granted, it has problems. It hasn’t aged gracefully in many areas, including the visuals and camera, but these things can be tolerated. It’s fun to play, you’re given plenty of freedom, and even to this day, players are still discovering new tricks and exploits. In many ways, Mario 64 is a true sandbox of exploration and platforming. I would highly recommend Mario 64 to fans of the series and even platformers. If you’ve played it before, play it again because it’s just that good.