Saturday, November 24, 2007

Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

Super Mario 64 is one of the holy grails of video-gaming. Or is it? Mario finds himself in trouble again, as a friendly visit to Princess Peach's castle turns to a rather hefty 3D adventure. Bowser is at it again, and he has kidnapped Peach and stolen the stars which give the castle it's magical power. It's up to you to get them back and save the day by entering various separate worlds via gateways in the castle.

So far so good. As the videogaming world was entering it's 64-bit phase, this game was hailed as a masterpiece. Never before had there been a 3D platformer with such a fluid camera system, such elaborate and varied worlds, and such a dazzling array of moves. This game was the Nintendo 64's flagship title, and it was enough to kick Sega Saturn's sorry butt, and trouble the Sony Playstation somewhat (though not too much).

But is it really that great? No doubt this is a pivotal title, and the game that, more or less, defined the 3D platforming genre, but the truth is that it was quickly surpassed by other games. Games like Banjo Kazooie took everything that was good about Super Mario 64 and enhanced it, and also erased everything that was bad about it.

So what was bad about it? Well, first of all the camera system might have been good for it's time, but now feels jerky and troublesome. No doubt you'll find yourself going for that perfect angle in vain, as the camera gets stuck time and time again. The controls aren't that smooth either. Also the levels are pretty small, and a lot of them don't feel natural at all. Some feel like laboratory experiments, very artificial, they don't make much sense. The more organic levels, like Whomp's Fortress, Cool-Cool Mountain or Tall-Tall Mountain are by far the best. They're the ones that really draw you into their worlds.

This doesn't mean of course that it's a bad game. It's a very nice 3D arcade-adventure which will keep you occupied for quite a while. And later on in the game we encounter some novel ideas, like the level which you can enter either as a giant or a dwarf, or the one with the variable water levels, and also the nightmarish clock one. But if you really want to see what a 3D platformer can offer, better play something like Banjo Tooie.


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