Super Mario 64 Wii U eShop Review: An Old Friend

by David Sanchez April 6, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

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There’s no debating that Super Mario 64 is one of the most groundbreaking titles in the gaming medium. Not only did the game mark a massive shift for the Mario franchise and for Nintendo, but it also helped inspire future 3D platformers, action-adventure titles, and many open world games. It’s a no-brainer, then, that Nintendo decided to release the heralded classic on the Wii U Virtual Console.

In case you haven’t done the math, it’s been nearly 20 years since Super Mario 64 first hit the scene. In that time, gaming has evolved quite drastically. Still, even after almost two decades, this Nintendo classic still holds its own despite a few issues that may not have aged all that well.

Nintendo has always used a “keep it simple, stupid” approach with the Mario games. The story is never an elaborate commentary on society or anything like that. It’s basically: save the princess, but first do a bunch of fun things. The same holds true in Super Mario 64, which literally starts out with Peach sending Mario an invitation for cake at the castle. The dude shows up, but it’s Bowser’s laugh, echoing off the castle walls, that greets the famous Nintendo mascot. From here, the game ditches the plot and invites you into its whimsical platforming world.

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Even after 19 years, it’s hard not to become completely enamored with the world of Super Mario 64. The moment you open that first door in Peach’s castle you know something special awaits. You spot a painting on the wall, and behind that painting is your first test. Even if you played the game before, that sense of mystique and wonder never fades. There are surprises at every corner, and the sheer charm of every stage actually manages to win you over every time.

Part of the appeal of Super Mario 64 in 1996 was the introduction of the analog stick. Though a common controller component these days, this little gimmick would allow players full control of Mario within 3D environments. It was quite the step forward, not just for the series, but for gaming. Though we don’t think about it now, that range of motion for player characters was indeed special at the time of this game’s release.

Thankfully, Mario still controls quite well. You have a few options at your disposal including the Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Classic Controller, but I found that the Wii U GamePad works fine. Admittedly, the in-game movement has aged some, but even though controlling Mario doesn’t feel as tight as it did all those years ago (on account of more recent games perfecting character control), it’s still highly responsive and enjoyably functional.

The main gripe I had was with the camera. I found myself dealing with issues throughout the majority of my time playing. Sometimes the camera would get stuck at awkward angles, while other times it went haywire and caused me to send Mario flying off a cliff. Add in the fact that now camera controls are mapped to the right stick, and it’s all just a bit more of a nuisance. I sometimes found myself zooming in at the wrong moment while trying to swing the camera to the left, which caused all manner of problems.

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Still, if you decide to revisit Super Mario 64 on the Wii U, don’t let the problematic camera ruin the experience. Those issues don’t take away from just how much fun it is to collect Power Stars. Each world contains sevens Stars, six of which are collected by performing different tasks, and one which is earned after you collect 100 coins. Stars are obtained by defeating bosses, winning races, collecting red coins, and accessing hard-to-reach areas. It’s all a great deal of fun, and exploring every inch of the varied worlds is a wild ride.

Super Mario 64 is filled with memorable moments. Practically every time you enter a painting you’re bound to discover something awesome. Entering the volcano, seeing Boo for the first time, racing Koopa the Quick, soaring through the sky with the Wing Cap, encountering a comically polygonal Bowser … These are just a few of the moments that stand out to me, but there are countless others that truly make this game as beloved as it is. There’s just no denying that this game is not only fun but awe-inspiring, as well.

Despite being 19 years old, Super Mario 64 looks pretty good. While it’s easy to see the artistry in 8-bit and 16-bit games, it’s a lot tougher for titles from the Nintendo 64 era to hold up graphically. Still, there’s an inherent charm to the vastly polygonal worlds of Super Mario 64. Part of that charm is found when you use your imagination. Because games rely on so much realism nowadays, it’s often easy to forget how much of a role our imaginations played back in 1996. In addition, the game looks great on the GamePad.

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Mario’s script is mostly limited to a few shouts and celebratory phrases, and enemies all have very minimalistic sound effects, too. It’s the soundtrack of Super Mario 64 that really shines as far as the audio is concerned. From the world’s themes to the songs that play when you put on a power-up cap or ride a Koopa shell, each of these tracks elicits different feelings. I’ve gotten through the entire game and I still find myself with a handful of songs stuck in my head.

With 15 distinct worlds, there’s plenty to do in Super Mario 64. There are a total of 120 Stars to collect within the painting worlds and the castle itself. If you’re replaying the game, you can likely get to the final Bowser encounter in five or six hours, while collecting all the Stars could take 10 hours or more. Newcomers, however, can expect to spend a lot more time than that just taking in the sights, revisiting their favorite stages, and doing everything there is to do.

The last time I played some version of Super Mario 64 was in 2005, shortly after the DS remake launched. Even after 10 years, I found myself completely enthralled and captivated by Mario’s first 3D escapade. Speaking of Super Mario 64 DS, I wish the extra Stars featured in that game were included here, but I suppose that would entail some sort of “ultimate edition” that’ll likely never happen. With that said, and with the exception of the finicky camera, Super Mario 64 is undeniably one of the greatest thrill rides of all time and a true Nintendo classic.

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