Sunday, February 14, 2021

Super Mario 64


A Revolution Rife with Atrocities

In recent console generations, videogame developers have prided themselves in remastering older titles graphically and porting classic games to contemporary consoles, provided they actually held onto the programming code, unlike some game corporations (*cough* Sega *cough*). That aside, Nintendo would release a collection of three Mario games on their Switch hybrid console, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, similar to what they had done generations prior with classic Mario titles on the Super NES, with the first three-dimensional game in the franchise, Super Mario 64, among the games in the anthology. Has it stood the test of time?

The inaugural 3-D Mario opens with Princess Toadstool, now identified as Peach, inviting Mario to her castle for cake, although Bowser holds her hostage, and it’s up to Mario to save her. It’s more or less the same plotline as in prior Mario games, and while there are a variety of worlds the plumber visits, they don’t receive any backstory, and there’s little, if any, contribution to the overall Mario mythos. The translation is mostly a decent effort, although there are several kinks such as the initial voiced dialogue in which the princess addresses herself as “Princess Toadstool…Peach!” when “Princess Peach Toadstool” would have sufficed, not to mention the general unmemorable nature of the writing.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and lamentably, Super Mario 64 doesn’t fare any better in that regard. While some of Mario’s moves are fun to mess around with, the absolutely terrible camera and controls really hurt the experience, and while the plumber has a life meter, it becomes pointless in the face of easy instant death from long falls, which will happen quite frequently due to the camera seeming to have a mind of its own. Simple tasks such as chasing a one-up mushroom and walking across narrow paths become herculean, and the battles against Bowser where Mario has to grab him by the tail, whirl him about, and launch him towards mines, are needlessly tedious. In the end, the gameplay is often absolute torture.

Super Mario 64 would have also benefited from better checkpoints, and I experienced many cases where I revealed a star, their collection necessary to fight Bowser and advance what little narrative there is, only to die and have to repeat the tasks needed to reveal the star in the first place. Save opportunities also only occur upon collection of one of said stars, and despite contemporary technology, the Switch port doesn’t include a suspend save. Given the three-dimensional gameplay, furthermore, minimaps for each area would have been welcome, and there are plenty of difficult jumps and largely unrefined level design. All in all, the game scarcely interfaces well with players.

Pretty much the only remotely passable part of the game is its aural presentation, with several standout musical tracks such as the regal interior castle theme, the pretty nautical area music, and so on. However, there are plentiful lackluster tracks such as the Arabian-esque hot area tune, and the voice acting can be grating, especially when forced to hear Mario’s screams for the umpteenth time, and Bowser’s taunt whenever the plumber loses a life can be insulting. Ultimately, the sound is pretty much one of few areas where the game doesn’t fail, but certainly doesn’t excel.

The visuals, however, haven’t aged well, with blocky three-dimensional character models and scenery that contains plenty of blurry, pixilated texturing, along with plenty of environmental popup, and things such as the various Toads throughout the palace appearing ghostly the further Mario is from them. The characters, though, look as they should, and the colors are believable, but otherwise, the graphical presentation very much falls short.

Finally, the first three-dimensional Mario game is longer than its 2D precursors, with players possibly able to get through it in as little as twelve hours, and while there is theoretical lasting appeal in the collection of every star, the experience isn’t nearly enjoyable enough to warrant supplemental playtime.

Overall, time definitely hasn’t been kind to Super Mario 64, and while most can agree that it was a revolutionary title in its era, that doesn’t really mean it’s a good title, given its absolutely-abominable gameplay and control, the high degree of repetition, the generic narrative, the lackluster visuals, and the sheer torture of playing it longer to achieve one-hundred-percent completion. It really lends the impression that Nintendo rushed to release it without bothering to test it for quality or even playability, given its relative unrefinement in most of its aspects, and it’s incredibly difficult to recommend to mainstream gaming audiences.

The Good:
+Music is okay.

The Bad:
-Not short enough.
-Loads of repetition.
-Horrible camera and controls.
-Generic Mario plot.
-Graphics haven’t aged well.
-Tortuous to invest additional time in.

The Bottom Line:
The first 3D Mario, and it definitely shows.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 0.5/10
Controls: 0.5/10
Story: 0.0/10
Localization: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 5.0 /10
Graphics: 2.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 0.5/10
Difficulty: Incredibly Artificial
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 1.5/10

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