Super Mario 64 Virtual Console Review

Super Mario 64 is the blueprint that built hundreds of platformers over the last decade, and it's great to see that it all holds up so well.


One of the interesting aspects of the Wii is its Virtual Console service, which lets you pay to download emulated versions of old games from the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit eras. At launch, only one Nintendo 64 game was available, and it's exactly the game you expect to see. Super Mario 64, which released alongside the N64 back in 1996, was the game that defined the 3D platformer as we know it today. Sure, you'll have to babysit the camera controls, and those textures look ugly by today's standards, but all in all, this game holds up well on the Wii and is a solid version of an all-time great.

The game may have been built for the N64 controller, but a GameCube controller works just fine too.
The game may have been built for the N64 controller, but a GameCube controller works just fine too.

The story's very simple and, really, as old as time itself. The princess, you know, Peach? She's been kidnapped by the tubby dragon called Bowser. Mario shows up at Peach's castle thinking that there's a party going on, but the only party happening here is the boot party that Mario's going to have on Bowser's face as soon as he catches up with him and rescues the princess. But before you can fight Bowser, you've got to earn a whole mess of power stars. You earn most of these stars in the game's levels, which provide you with large environments and plenty of different-yet-standard themes. So you've got the snow level, the lava level, the water level, the other water level, and so on. While a modern platformer might get chastised for sticking so closely to the script, it's only because it's Mario's script in the first place. You won't need to collect every single star to beat the game, which is nice because it gives you alternative places to go when or if you get stuck on a particular task. Even after all this time, the game's good enough that you might want to keep at it until you collect all 120 stars.

On the Wii, you'll need to plug in a controller to play Super Mario 64 because it doesn't work at all with the Wii Remote. Although the game claims to work only with the Classic Controller, a GameCube controller works just fine. The N64's C buttons are mapped to the right analog stick on the GameCube controller, and this works well for controlling the camera. The rest of the buttons are mapped accordingly, which means that you have to use the tiny Z button on the GameCube controller more often than you'd probably like. But overall, the controls work just fine and are as responsive as in the original version.

Mario's greatest 3D adventure stands up to the test of time quite well.
Mario's greatest 3D adventure stands up to the test of time quite well.

One issue with the visuals is that the Wii Virtual Console will stretch this game (and others) out to a 16:9 aspect ratio if you play it on a widescreen TV, irrespective of the Wii display settings you've selected, even though the game was designed for standard 4:3 aspect ratio screens. Regardless, this version of Super Mario 64 probably looks a bit better than the original, especially when you're running in 480p over a component cable. The game gets sharp in a way that it couldn't on the N64, though some edges get a bit too sharp, making seams in the world and some other edges look a little weird. Also, the higher resolution certainly doesn't do the textures any favors, but considering this game is a decade old now, it still looks quite nice. The emulation appears to be accurate, though we did notice the game pause for a split second on a few occasions, which stuck out a bit. The sound and music were among the high points of the original game, and all that catchy music and all the lively sound effects come across really well on the Wii.

It probably says something about how little platformers have progressed over the past decade if Super Mario 64 holds up this well. A few aspects of the game, such as the camera controls and the coin collection tasks, feel a little dated, but most new platformers still can't match this one's style and creativity. And at a going price of 1,000 Wii points ($10), Super Mario 64 is a heck of a deal.

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