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SummaryDelayed this for way too long.
The GoodThe controls are very fluent, something I find quite odd for one of the first 3D games of this size and with so much freedom. Even more amazing than the fact that it works so well is that it goes so far that the controls also allow various acrobatic tricks such as backflips, long jumps and even flying and swimming. All of this happens with almost no glitches or graphical errors, so I really do have to admit that the first 3D game for the system also perfected the practice of 3D game-design.
Now that we can move around, it is of course also important to have something to move around in. Super Mario 64. Features a total of 15 stages (I believe the Bowser stages and switch-levels do not count here) and each and every single one of them is filled with brilliance. The developers tried to not to go for levels that made sense or even had a tiny bit of realism in them and instead created maps that are memorable and full of interesting places to see. My favorite level is by far the lava level that also features a slider puzzle with a picture of Bowser on it (and moves out of itself for that matter) as one of the many obstacles that can lead to a fiery death.
Mario games used to be about reaching the end of a level within a given time limit because that was what 2D platformers were good at, however the switch to 3D changed all that. It was very hard to make a "race to the finish" entertaining to play in a 3D environment, so instead Nintendo changed things up. Whenever you enter a level you will be shown a number of stars and by selecting one the level will be altered slightly to allow you to get that specific star. It is not so much about doing something fast as it is about figuring out how to actually do it (most objectives require you to explore the world and discover the secrets it harbors).
It's also nice that you get a hint for each objective (which is hidden in the name of the star you chose). Going into a level blind would have been very hard and while exploration will get you so far, it would be near impossible to get a 100% completion if it wasn't for the hints you are provided with. One mission was called "Stand tall on the four pillars", so I knew that whatever I had to do, it would involve four pillars. I really liked that hint because it gave me a direction without telling me precisely what to do.
At first it looked like Mario was going up against the standard enemies again; goombas, koopas, thwomps and Bowser just to name a few. However, the game does add some new enemies for you to fight, my favorite of which are the bullies. These enemies run up to you and shove you out of the way in an attempt to drop you into hazards. They are harmless when caught alone, but when grouped together they can be a real pain. Aside from that there are also monkeys, moles and blowing clouds that will try to hurt Mario one way or another.
Boss-battles, while very rare, are very spectacular and memorable. I am not talking about fights with Big Bullies or other enemies like that, I am talking exclusively about Bowser here. You face him several times throughout the game and he has one hell of an imposing entrance accompanied by one of the best theme songs in the game. Everything about these fights look awesome and they get pretty tough very fast.
It is pretty nostalgic that Mario 64 still has some of the franchise's classic elements in it. I already mentioned that the switches make an appearance again, as well as some of the enemies and good old Bowser, but there is certainly more. One of the levels might use certain mechanics that will be very familiar to fans of Super Mario Bros. 3 for example and there are some very awesome secrets to find that I just don't want to spoil for anybody.
While the graphics are up for debate now that we are in 2012 and photo-realism is very popular, but the soundtrack is just awesome and everybody knows it. The tunes are so memorable and their cheerful nature also fits very well with the overall (lighthearted) tone of the game. Looking at the series' very long lineage, I do have to say that this is my favorite soundtrack of all the games I have played or watched so far.
The BadWhile the controls are your best friends throughout this game, the camera can be considered to be a second villain. The problem is that you can't center the camera behind Mario like you could in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, creating the problem that most of the time you are going to have to do precision-platforming while watching the action from an angle. One of the most memorable moments was when I was in the second Bowser-stage and went up using an elevator, but the camera just stayed down there. I reacted to this by running around a bit and jumping, but this resulted in me dropping into the lava.
I have never been a big fan of collecting items, especially when you have to find a certain number of them. There are two stars in each course that you only get when you have collected 8 red coins and a 100 gold coins. I simply don't like to collect coins, I always end up not been able to find one or two and if you die or leave the stage you have to do it all over again. Also nice are the stages where you can enter certain areas, but not leave them again afterwards (or at least not easily), like the volcano in the aforementioned lava stage.
One of the most common problems with this game is putting it down for a while and then coming back to discover your cap was stolen or lost and you have no idea where it is now. Several enemies can steal your cap and numerous hazards can cause it to fly off Mario's head, but there is no way to know where you left it when you last played it. Why is this such a big deal? Well because Mario takes more damage when he has no cap and he is already not very durable.
The Bottom LineSuper Mario 64 was the first game I ever played and I will always cherish it for that very reason. I like the game a lot and the few flaws I can nitpick are not enough to change my (or anybody's) mind about this title. It is one of the greatest game ever (according to IGN "the best" even) and it will be remembered for generations to come, thanks in part for a number of remakes or releases on different systems.
Mario 64 will appeal to all kinds of people, but I personally found it is best played with the whole family. Nobody was able to resist the charm of Mario and his "yahoo!!!" and everybody wanted to play or suggest something to try (often resulting in a star). For solo play it is pretty good for children and teenagers. A parent might find it funny for a while, but without company they might start to feel lost at one point or another.