Review: Super Mario 64 (Wii U eShop / N64)

Platforming perfection

There are two types of gamer – those who have played Super Mario 64 and those who should. Regularly placing towards the high end of 'best game ever' lists, Super Mario 64 has become a standard name-drop in many a classic gaming debate. Since launching in 1996, there have been a number of successors and contenders for the platforming crown, but none will ever be quite as revolutionary as Mario's first ever 3D outing.

The storyline is classic Mario, of course – Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and her entourage of castle inhabitants and is holding them prisoner inside the castle walls; it's down to Mario to save the day by retrieving the Power Stars that Bowser is using to keep them captive. Power Stars are located in and around Princess Peach's Castle; the majority of which are inside various 'courses' accessed by jumping inside paintings hanging in different rooms of the castle. In simple terms, the castle is the main hub and the levels (courses) are the paintings.

Every course contains seven objectives including coin collecting, boss battles and Course-specific challenges - each completed objective rewards the player with a Power Star. The more Power Stars a player has, the more areas can be accessed within the castle. To reach the final battle with Bowser 70 Power Stars are required - however, there are a total of 120 to find for 100% completion, some of which are hidden within the castle grounds…

The castle itself is a wonderful place to get lost in and serves as a great place to learn and experiment with all the moves at Mario's disposal. Rather than the dull enforced tutorials of many a modern game, here the player learns as they go. The first Course (Bob-Omb Battlefield) introduces a number of key gameplay elements that are integral to each active objective. Without really realising, you soon become adept at traversing the intricate platforming 3D world; Mr Miyagi would be proud.

Super Mario 64 is a game that lives and dies by its control scheme, designed around the analogue stick of the original N64 controller. On Wii U there are three control choices: the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote and Classic Controller combo (Pro or standard) or Wii U Pro Controller. All the options work wonderfully and soon tip-toeing, long-jumping and running becomes second nature. Regarding possible controller lag, we didn't experience anything detrimental to the gameplay during this review, even though some reports are claiming that the GamePad is the most responsive. Additionally, veteran players will probably want to re-arrange the button configuration to mirror the positioning of the N64 controller - it feels rather odd with default settings if you're used to the original layout.

Where Super Mario 64 falls down slightly is in the camera implementation. The default camera moves of its own accord and attempts to not only follow the player, but find the optimal viewpoint. Unfortunately it's not perfect. Occasionally choosing to block the player's view completely, it can be frustrating to lose a life not through lack of skill but from simply not being able to see what's going on. Learning how to manipulate the various camera options becomes a gameplay element in itself, and once mastered becomes part of the natural flow of the game. First time players should be prepared for the camera to be the most frustrating initial element, but stick with it.

Aside from the different control options, the Wii U version has a number of selling points over the original N64 game. For a start, the graphics look better than they have ever looked. This shouldn't be taken the wrong way – it's the exact same game, with the exact same (sometimes blurry) textures. Don't expect anything on the same level as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, (for example) but for whatever technical reason the presentation is clearer, crisper and smoother than ever. Remember what we're looking at is now almost 20 years old - it's still a beautiful looking game in that context.

For PAL players, Nintendo have finally unleashed the 60hz version. While the PAL Wii iteration had some optimisation, there was still a drop in speed and framerate compared to the rest of the world. This makes upgrading a worthwhile prospect if only to experience the game as the developers intended.

The Wii U version is also fully playable using only the GamePad. Portable Mario is a joy, although the abundance of the colour red causes a little fuzziness at times on the display. Of course, being a Virtual Console game there are the usual options of being able to create a restore point at any time and the ability to flick through a digitised version of the original game manual.

Conclusion

Sometimes revisiting old games can lead to dismay when memory clouds over reality. Thankfully, Super Mario 64's blend of memorable music, exploration (some of the courses are huge) and precise platforming remains as enticing today as it did on launch. It's also arguably one of Mario's toughest outings, so dust off your platforming skills before jumping in, with the latter half of the game being particularly testing.

If you've already played this to completion back in the day, perhaps it's time you met up with Yoshi once more. For those of you who have never delved into Miyamoto's original 3D world, you owe it to yourself to do so. Super Mario 64 was a 10/10 game in 1996. It's still a 10/10 game in 2015 because, quite frankly, gameplay this good doesn't age.

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