When Super Mario 64 was being prepared for release, there was a lot of focus on it, not only because it was a launch title for the Nintendo 64, but also because it was the first game in the Mario series to be released in full 3-D. It managed to deliver the same level of excellence that had been found in previous entries in the series, and set the standard for a new generation of games. Eight years later, this game is still worth a look by anyone out for a solid action-platformer. The game begins when Mario arrives at Princess Peach's Castle for a visit. However, he quickly discovers that things aren't as they should be. Most of the doors are locked, and the paintings on the walls lead to strange worlds filled with monsters. You'll progress through the game by traveling around the castle, which is a sort of hub that connects all of the game's separate stages. In each world, your goal is to collect the stars that Bowser's troops have stolen. The more you collect, the farther you'll be able to proceed into the castle. Most of the levels are designed in a sort of wide-open fashion that allows you to go off and explore things at your own pace. Often times, you can complete the different level objectives in whatever order that you wish. There are a few stages that are straightforward obstacle courses, but these are few and far in between the other ones. Most of the time it’s up to you to use whatever clues you’re provided with to find out what you have to do next and then do it. Since this game is in 3-D, you have the ability to go almost anywhere that you can see. Mario’s movements are controlled by the joystick. Depending on how far you tilt it, you can cause him to move at any speed from a tiptoe to a full sprint. Mario's jumping skills have been expanded far beyond the simple leap that he could do in previous games. He can now perform double and triple jumps simply by jumping again the second he touches down after his first jump. He also can do standing back flips and running side-flips. Finally, Mario's jumping arsenal is completed by a long jump that he can perform while running. Mario's attacks are a bit limited compared to the number of jumps that he can perform. He has a simple punch-kick combo that he can use while he's on the ground. While jumping, Mario can do a ground-pound move that not only defeats enemies, but can also destroy objects and possibly reveal new areas. Mario also has the ability to lift and throw certain enemies and objects that he encounters across the landscape. Perhaps the game's biggest problem is the camera. More often than not, you will find yourself making frequent adjustments to the camera's position so that you can get a clear view of Mario and his surroundings. Sometimes it becomes difficult to move Mario simply because you cannot get a good line of sight, and end up being left with a limited view of the action. A lot of the time this happens simply because the game will not let you move the camera to a certain desired position. It might not make complete physical sense to look at something from inside an object or from behind a wall, but it would have made things a lot easier. The camera doesn't totally wreck the game, but the problems that it creates will probably get on your nerves as you progress through the game. The game's graphics haven't exactly aged very well. Mario himself looks very blocky and messy compared to the sort of character models that you see today. A lot of the other different objects have this very same problem. You'll probably get used to this after you've played the game for a while, but it's still safe to say that most of the game's characters don't look very good by today's standards. The environments look a bit better than the characters, but they still suffer from a lot of the same problems. Also, the backgrounds tend to look blurry and lack any real detail. It’s not very damaging to the game as a whole, but it will probably still strike you how far games have progressed since this one was released. Sound is a high point in the game's presentation. The music is very well-composed, and there are even one or two classic Mario tunes thrown in for nostalgia's sake. The sound effects are also quite appropriate and effective. More than anything however, you'll notice that there are a great deal of voice samples in this game, all of them for Mario. He says things when he jumps, when he falls a long distance, and when he picks up important items. Sometimes it might feel a bit like overkill, but it really doesn't approach a level where you absolutely won't be able to stand hearing his voice. Overall, it's still worth playing Mario 64 today. It's presentation may not have aged so well, but the core gameplay is still rock-solid. Its very worth looking for this game if you never played it on the N64, or especially if you're thinking of picking up Nintendo's 64-bit machine.
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