Few characters have redefined what a video game can be even once – let alone twice. In 1985, Super Mario Bros. set a new standard for what home video games could be and practically established platformers as the ?default? video game genre through the 80s and early 90s. And then 11 years later, Super Mario 64 showed the world Nintendo?s vision for character-based 3D platforming – a formula that few developers dared to deviate from for many years to come. Super Mario 64 was hugely influential, with its ideas pushing forward 3D game design across the industry, but in many ways it remains a unique experience. Let?s take an in-depth look at the many different versions and ways to play them, all the way up through Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch.
[ INTRO ] Through the first half of the 90s, polygonal 3D graphics from developers like Sega were wowing arcade fans, but experiments with fully 3D gaming on PCs and consoles were relatively limited in how far they could go until discrete PC graphics cards like the 3DFX Voodoo line took root and consoles like the 3DO, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation launched with 3D capable hardware on board. By the time the Nintendo 64 released in 1996, some of the most ambitious developers in the business had taken it upon themselves to show how they believed a polygonal character could run and jump in a fully 3D world with a third-person camera perspective – games like Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, and of course… Super Mario 64. I cannot think of another video game that has come since – not even Mario?s own 3D sequels – that gives me so much joy in my freedom to be an acrobat in a world of limited constraints.
Maybe it?s funny to think of portly ol? Mario as an acrobat, but that?s really what he is – from long jumps, wall jumps, backflips, side flips, and even relatively useless moves like a leg sweep and sliding kick – there is just so much that Mario can do to navigate his environment both in ways imagined by the designers, and those invented by the players, to reach a goal in your own way. It?s a refreshing game world where you aren?t held back because the developers wanted you to progress in a specific sequence – none of Mario?s core acrobatic abilities are gated by game progression or skill trees – you have access to all of his moves from the beginning of the game, aside from limited-time power-up hats.
The only experience you need to earn is your own experience in mastering Mario?s moves. Aiding all of this is the controversial Nintendo 64 controller. While it certainly lacks much in common with the design conventions of a modern controller, this was the first time that analog control for 3D gaming was firmly established as a standard that every game developer could count on every player having access to, and thus a game like Super Mario 64 could be designed knowing that the player would be completely capable of more than 8-way digital movement. It?s often said that the N64 controller was designed to meet the needs of Super Mario 64 without regard to any other type of game – which I think is unfair, but it is true that it is the perfect implement for controlling Shigeru Miyamoto?s 3D masterpiece. An official N64 controller that has been treated well gives Mario extremely fine gradations in speed and a variety of animations to match. How many modern games can you think of that give you this much freedom in simply how you walk and run when tilting the stick? Now, not everyone loves the feel of the N64 controller and I respect that.
There are many readily available third party options – we were sent the wired Hyperkin Captain and wireless Hyperkin Admiral a while back and I decided to finally check if they were suitable for Super Mario 64. Unfortunately, the Captain has a lot of problems, with Mario?s position becoming very jittery at various angles. The stick on the wireless Admiral surprised me at first – better than expected, and it may work well for many games… but even though it looks like an octagon gate, in practice it feels like a round gate – perhaps to compensate, it does this thing I?ve seen on other newer third-party sticks where it locks the values to the cardinal directions a bit too tightly. Simply put, it can be hard to find an alternative controller that replicates Mario?s movement in a way that I feel is accurate enough. So for this episode I decided to re-evaluate the Retro Fighters Brawler64 and the Raphnet GameCube controller adapter for N64, and I found that both are quite capable of moving Mario with an acceptable amount of precision – with minimal dead zones and Mario not moving at full speed until near the edge of the pivot area.
[a]However, when examining Super Mario 64 on other platforms, we?ll find that this is not always the case – I believe that poor reimplementation of stick functionality in later releases has had a majorly negative impact on the game?s current perception. But first, let?s go over the ways you can play Super Mario 64 when using a real Nintendo 64 console. Super Mario 64 runs at a resolution of 240p – 320 by 240 – and targets 30 frames per second. While it certainly has many moments of slowdown, it?s worth noting that 20 frames per second became very common on the system, so in retrospect this was a pretty ambitious target. Something you might like to know is that the Super Mario 64 cartridge has an EEPROM chip for storing save data, and thus there is no save battery that you need to worry about replacing in order to enjoy using the real cartridge.
The North American game features a few very minor tweaks – like the Jolly Roger Bay painting – along with a few bug fixes, altered sound effects, and voice additions over the original Japanese cartridge.[b] [Voice Comparisons][c] While various languages are offered in Super Mario 64?s European releases, the game was sadly not optimized for the PAL video standard, with the overall game running slower than the NTSC versions sold in Japan and North America. As you can tell by the timer in The Princess?s Secret Slide, the PAL version?s 25 frames per second is achieved by slowing down the entire game. It?s disappointing that Nintendo set this precedent [d]for Europe right at the start of the N64?s life since many first-party SNES titles did have their gameplay speed-adjusted for the PAL standard.
As usual, the 240p image is also squashed vertically to fit within the higher resolution PAL televisions. But on the bright side, the 50Hz cries of Das Pinguinbaby are perhaps a bit more tolerable compared to NTSC. [Penguin cries comparison][e] Following the release of the Rumble Pak in 1997, known as the ?Shindou Pakku? in Japan, a Japan-exclusive ?Shindou? version incorporates most of the fixes and additions to the international versions. However, the patching of certain exploits, alterations in Mario?s behavior when grabbing trees or poles? and weirdly enough, slightly extended screen transitions? has made this version rather disliked among speedrunners.
But for the rest of us, it?s a fun oddity. [f]The Shindou version even a weird addition of being able to fill the title screen background with Mario?s face by holding the Z button. Rumble Pak integration is pretty decent and not overly intrusive for the most part – for example, it doesn?t trigger with every single jump, but the landing from a triple jump will have a slight jolt, as will long jumping, passing through motorized doors, or being hit by an enemy. It?s particularly effective at conveying Bowser?s size with his stomps, and the swooshes as you spin him – which coincides with one more small change – yet another different voice clip for tossing the Koopa king. ?Buh-bye!?[g] The iQue edition, sold in mainland China starting in 2003, is unique for featuring a translated game logo, but since it?s for a plug-n-play version of the N64, there is no official cartridge of this version available to collect.
However, since we don?t have an iQue player, we?re approximating the look of iQue video output by playing it on a regular N64 over composite video using a 64 Drive. N64 flash cartridges like EverDrives and the 64 Drive actually have some of the highest game compatibility rates among flash cartridges – making this not only a very reliable option for experiencing any official N64 release of Super Mario 64 on original hardware – including running NTSC versions on PAL consoles at the correct speed if you have the display for it – but also a cool way to try out the many fan hacks out there – including quality of life tweaks, minor bug fixes, and entirely new adventures based on the Super Mario 64 game engine. But since there are so many, we?ll leave it up to you to check out all the hacks and decide if any particular one might be your favorite new way to play the game. As for the best way to connect the N64 console while playing your Super Mario 64 version of choice, well, as you may already know, the N64 offers composite and S-video, but not RGB.
People like me who only had RF connections on their TVs back in the 90s had to either run the AV cables through a VCR, or use an external RF modulator that was sold separately. As for PAL regions like Europe, reports on S-video compatibility are strangely inconsistent, so we?re unclear if some PAL systems may support it. But even when composite video is your only choice, the gulf in quality between composite and S-video is not as wide on N64 as it is on most other consoles.[h] The N64 actually features some of the least-bad composite video out there, with relatively few rainbow artifacts or visible noise patterns marring the image.
The colorful translucent ?Funtastic? N64 consoles are often said to feature improved picture clarity, but our assessment is simply that they are ?different.? – maybe a negligible amount sharper, but the colors are also more susceptible to being blown out – with some texture detail possibly being less visible as a result.[i] N64 composite and S-video on a consumer CRT television can at times look nearly indistinguishable from each other.
So a consumer CRT – even with the most basic connections – can make for a pretty solid setup, since the N64?s overall soft visuals are less of an issue in that sort of environment. [j]If your end goal is more of an era-appropriate experience, then congratulations, you?re done! If you need to hook up your N64 to a modern display, you probably already know that plugging composite directly into an HDTV or 4K TV is not a pretty sight, and is laggy to boot. And we?re sorry to say, but if you bought some of those HDMI cables from companies like Pound or Hyperkin that are supposed to be for getting your SNES, N64, or GameCube connected to your HDTV, you might?ve discovered that the result is not necessarily much – if any – better than a direct composite connection – laggy and smudgey, with unnecessary deinterlacing of the game?s 240p image[k].
This is because the hardware inside these types of devices, as well as general purpose generic HDMI scalers, are really nothing special – they?re designed for video content with little to no optimization for game content. So they don?t get our stamp of approval, but these options might work for you if you have a high tolerance for input lag and no interest in picture quality (which, you know, hey, that?s fine by the way). For those who would like to invest just a little more into their N64 experience, but are not ready to go down the modding rabbit hole, your first port of call should be the RetroTINK-2X series of analog to digital line doublers by Mike Chi. We?ve reviewed a few versions of these on our channel before and the N64 is arguably the absolute best use case for them.
The RetroTINK devices are the most cost-effective lag-free scalers that we?re aware of which handle 240p resolution games like Super Mario 64 correctly. Unlike the Open Source Scan Converter, which requires RGB or component video, a key feature of many of the RetroTINK products are their versatility in accepting lower-end signals like composite and S-video. One of the newer RetroTINK products – the RetroTINK-2X MINI, which was provided for us to evaluate for this episode – includes an S-video cable for Nintendo consoles. It isn?t like the best S-video cable ever or anything, but compared to most other commonly available S-video cables for Nintendo systems, it doesn?t have checkerboard patterns or other prominent noise issues, so this is perhaps the most direct route to getting a quality experience with an N64 console on a modern display.[l] The RetroTINK-2X MINI, Classic, and Pro all feature a smoothing filter as well, which some people may prefer for low-resolution 3D graphics.
The Pro version also features a scanline setting, which unfortunately does darken the image a lot, but many people consider do scanlines to practically be a requirement for N64 graphics.[m] While there are other analog to digital HDMI options – including pricey ones available for N64 specifically – our experience with the RetroTINK products in recent years have made them our go-to recommendation for people who want to reduce input lag, improve their picture, and capture gameplay over HDMI, but aren?t ready jump into the world of CRTs, mods, or more advanced cables. But if you are looking to get crazier with N64 video output, well, as we?ve covered before, there is an incredible HDMI mod called Ultra HDMI, and a few different RGB mods. The Ultra HDMI pulls digital video straight from the N64 before it?s converted to analog, and even offers a feature called deblur, which removes a secondary pass of blur that the console normally applies before the final output.
If you want to go one step further, clever hackers have developed Game Shark codes and patches for flash cartridges which allow you to[n] disable the first pass of hardware anti-aliasing. Some people are all about this super aliased look – personally, I prefer to keep the anti-aliasing, but use the Ultra HDMI deblur, as shown in the middle here.[o] RGB mods range from very simple to just as advanced as the Ultra HDMI. Basic inexpensive RGB boards can only be installed in the very earliest N64 consoles – for North American systems, the serial number should begin with NS1, for instance. However, mod boards developed by people like Tim Worthington and Borti can be installed in any N64, and offer advantages that you might be interested in, such as a deblur feature similar to the Ultra HDMI. [p]The N64 Advanced kit is an interesting mod that can not only activate deblur through its on-screen display, but even do its own line doubling to 480p, or line tripling to 720p, as well as scanline options and advanced sync and color settings like RGsB and YPbPr.
Keep in mind this doesn?t mean that the game?s internal render resolution changes – it still looks like pixelly 240p – but I?m sure all the power users out there can already imagine some interesting use cases like converting the output to work on a VGA monitor. Regular MLiG viewers won?t need us to tell them how to use RGB – if you?re into RGB, we?re guessing you already know about SCART cables, PVMs, the Open Source Scan Converter, all that good stuff. If any of that sounds new to you but you are still interested in going super over the top with your N64 console experience, check out our RGB Master Class series. But for everyone else, I think we?ve pretty well covered our range of options for experiencing Super Mario 64 on an N64 console, modified or unmodified. But let?s say using an original N64 isn?t so easy for you, or you?d like to play at a higher resolution, or on the go.
Well, let?s see what we?ve got. When the Nintendo DS launched in late 2004, its early months were largely filled with quaint and quirky touchscreen experiments. It was meant to be something different, rather than a portable substitute for the home console experience like the PSP. But Nintendo still wanted to be sure that people weren?t underestimating the DS?s 3D prowess, and their answer was Super Mario 64 DS. Needless to say, the Nintendo DS?s ARM CPU configuration is far removed from the hardware of the N64, but it was also more modern in design, and Nintendo had 8 more years of experience in developing 3D graphics, so the result is a rather different-looking game from the N64 original. Character and enemy models were updated to match Mario?s 2004 visual standards[q], which had changed a lot since 1996, and are relatively similar today. Bowser is perhaps the most striking update, since he always looked a bit off-brand in the N64 original. While the image resolution drops from 320 by 240 to 256 by 192, the game world is much more highly textured – profoundly limited texture caching is one of the N64?s greatest shortcomings after all.
However, the lack of texture filtering gives it a look more akin to a PlayStation game -[r] minus the wobbly textures. While it?s very much not the same as the original, some may prefer this look. If playing on a 3DS, hold Start while booting the game if you?d prefer to play with one to one pixel sizing – it?s smaller, but sharper. The footage we?re using in this segment was captured using this mode on a New Nintendo 3DS system with a capture mod installed.[s] The DS version of Super Mario 64 is all about new features – including competitive multiplayer modes and loads of touchscreen mini-games to unlock? but that?s just barely scratching the surface.
Every aspect of Super Mario 64 DS is so changed that veterans of the N64 original will find themselves constantly caught off guard. For instance, not only does the DS version add Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario as playable characters, the mustachioed ones are all captured by Bowser immediately, leaving a lazily snoozing Yoshi as the one character you can begin the game with. It?s up to Yoshi to save Mario, and eventually Luigi and Wario too. In addition to different standard abilities per character – like Yoshi gobbling up enemies and throwing eggs – a few unexpected power-ups appear as well, like Mario?s floating balloon form from Super Mario World. Along with several new mini-levels and altered star objectives comes a total of 150 stars to collect, 30 more than the traditional 120. As such, I?m sure a lot of people view Super Mario 64 DS as the content-complete ?definitive edition,? but because the game is so radically different, it cannot be considered a straight upgrade, just a matter of preference.
The biggest challenge with converting Super Mario 64 to the DS is in the controls department, and well? to put it as nicely as possible, I guess they did the best they could. Super Mario 64 was originally built to sell people on 3D gaming, and it would not have been nearly the leap forward that it was without the N64?s control stick. As such, translating Mario?s freedom of movement to an 8-way Dpad profoundly limits the player?s ability to navigate with precision. Similar to Mario?s 2D games, the player walks slowly while holding a direction, but runs full tilt while holding Y. Blending Super Mario 64?s mechanics with such limited digital input can make it difficult even to just bop a goomba squarely on the head. Playing on a 3DS with the circle pad perhaps feels a little more natural, but of course it?s still only 8-way digital movement. However, the developers did leave players with a much more robust control method – included in the box with original DS systems was a wrist strap that includes a smooth little plastic pad that you can tighten around your thumb and use as a sort of stylus.
By touching the lower screen, a control radius appears and you can slide within it to move with far more degrees of freedom. Remember that this was before iPhones existed, but I?m willing to bet a lot of people who have come to master 3D control on mobile devices would feel right at home here. For the rest of us, it?s pretty awkward, but not necessarily unusable.
Left-handed players also have the option of using the standard stylus to move and the buttons to perform actions, which I imagine might work pretty well. For us right-handed sorts, there is an option to map actions to the Dpad while holding the stylus, if that suits your fancy. Unfortunately, the control compromises don?t end there, with the N64?s B button actions being mapped to A. So holding Y to run, pressing B to jump, and then A to execute a mid-air kick is awkward to say the least. The thumb stylus was soon forgotten and didn?t ship with later DS revisions. As developers became comfortable with the hardware, they tended to not make games like Super Mario 64 and instead favored designing games from the ground up with the DS?s Dpad and standard stylus in mind. So while Super Mario 64 DS is an interesting game and I?m sure a ton of people grew up with this version, it was also a constructive exercise in learning what works – and what doesn?t – on the DS hardware.
When the Wii launched in 2006, it offered a way to play games from five generations of Nintendo consoles on one machine from day one. And it?s no surprise that the Nintendo 64 was represented by Super Mario 64 on launch day. Unlike other Virtual Console platforms, it is not possible to play N64 games on the Wii in their original 240p resolution. Instead, they output in 480i if using the standard composite cables that came with the system, but remember that interlaced video will add quite a lot of lag on modern displays. Luckily, 480p is available when using component cables, and that?s what we?re going to be using from here on.[t] Like many Virtual Console games, Super Mario 64 is for whatever reason much darker than regular Wii titles, and darker than it is on an N64, but it?s hard to deny the immediate appeal of the higher resolution.[u] However, with the overall geometry looking much crisper, it does clash with some aspects of the original design.
For instance, some polygon seams in the environment may be more visible, and the low resolution of the blurry textures is even more apparent. [v]HUD elements are also damaged a bit by the upscale, resulting in some blobby edges. Certain flat objects – like the billboard trees and railings may also seem out of place in a high res world, and the transparencies on other surfaces don?t always work the way they should, like on this fence.[w] In addition, the vanish cap and teleport animation use a noise effect that you?ll see in various N64 games, which is commonly not replicated in emulation.[x] The original 240p presentation may create a more cohesive look, but we?re willing to bet most people would prefer the advantages of a higher resolution in spite of the trade-offs.
In addition, the Wii version also suffers from noticeably less slowdown than the N64 in like-for-like situations.[y] As for the controls in this version, well, I have to confess: Try is the Mario 64 fan here. When the N64 launched, it was clear that CD-ROM was the future of RPGs and that was a major focus for me at the time. I only played Mario 64 at a friend?s house like one time back in the day, so it wasn?t until the Wii Virtual Console that I finally sat down to play through it? and honestly, I didn?t love it.
I thought Mario?s movement felt way too touchy and I walked away with a pretty negative impression of the game. But now, I?m starting to understand that the controls on the Wii may have affected my experience more than I realized. I played with the Wii Classic Controller, but looking at it now, I mean? look at how huge the dead zone is. And then how Mario moves at full speed around halfway through the tilt. It feels like he just jumps the gun with the slightest touch, and crossing narrow planks is very difficult. A GameCube controller is a slightly better choice, but even then, the overall range of fine movement that you have is greatly reduced compared to playing on an N64. If you recall the Raphnet GameCube adapter on N64 in the earlier controller comparison, it actually fares better than a GameCube Controller on the Wii.[z] But on the bright side, the emulation seems to have introduced virtually no perceptible added input lag, at least not when using a wired GameCube controller.[aa] Now, if you want to play Wii in HDMI, there are of course those cheap Wii2HDMI adapters, which simply convert the analog signal to digital.
They can be surprisingly OK, but since there are so many no-name brands selling these generic adapters, you might also end up with one that?s pretty crummy. And obviously, there?s the Wii U?s backwards compatibility mode for Wii games – we kind of regret transferring all of our Virtual Console and WiiWare games to Wii U, because now we know you?ve got so much more flexibility with the Wii output.
The Wii U?s upscale of Wii content isn?t considered the best – it has some unpleasant sharpening artifacts – but hey, it is functional. But of course the Wii Virtual Console no longer exists, so if you want to buy a version to play on the Wii U, you?ll need to grab it from the Wii U eShop. The Wii U version of Super Mario 64 is… well, disappointingly similar to the Wii version.
The render appears to be 480p just like on the Wii, and the picture is similarly dark, although it does look a bit cleaner than the Wii version in the Wii U?s Wii mode.[ab] One area where it does improve however is in its emulation of the Vanish Cap effect. The Wii U also has the added benefit of being able to fully remap the buttons, so you can put jump on B, attack on Y, and crouch on ZL, which feels pretty natural. But sadly, it might not even be worth the trouble because the most awful thing about Super Mario 64 on the Wii U is that this version has the worst input lag. To us it was immediately noticeable, regardless of whether we?re viewing the GamePad screen or a TV with a 17 millisecond response time. Funny enough, even the Wii Virtual Console version on the same Wii U console on the exact same TV with a Wii Classic controller feels less sticky![ac] But that?s not the only version of Super Mario 64 for Wii U.
Thanks to the DS being available as a Virtual Console platform, Super Mario 64 DS can also be downloaded from the Wii U eShop. Since DS games often use sprite-based pixel art, it seems Nintendo opted for rendering these games at their original resolution on Wii U, so don?t be expecting the sharper polygons you can get with the N64 Virtual Console.[ad] Like other DS titles available for the Wii U, the resistive touch screen on the GamePad functions the same as the DS?s lower screen. Even if you control your character only using the buttons, the touch screen is still required for making menu selections? like saving after a level. The emulator menu is brought up by pressing ZR, where you can create a single save state and choose from a variety of screen modes. To get proper integer scaling, you?ll need to choose the viewing mode that has the bottom screen displayed as a small screen in the corner.
However, if you?d prefer to use the fullscreen mode, which fills your TV with the top screen and the GamePad with the bottom screen, it looks pretty good. While pixel scaling is not uniform in this mode, it?s a 3D game, so there?s not really any visible shimmer artifacts. You can also toggle a smoothing filter – some people may prefer this, but don?t assume it?s going to make the game look any less pixelated.[ae] When playing only on the GamePad screen, it actually looks pretty nice, and the larger picture size is appreciated when compared against a DS or 3DS. Controls work just like they do on the DS, but if you prefer a larger controller compared to a handheld, this might be more comfortable for you. Unfortunately, unlike other Virtual Console services on the Wii U, DS games do not allow you to remap the buttons, so you?re stuck with using the R button for crouch functions like long jumping and ground pounding, which is not nearly as comfortable to rest on as one of the Z triggers.
While it would?ve been nice to see the more robust touch-based movement mapped to the left stick, it functions just like DS games with the 3DS circle pad, using the same 8-way directional movement as the Dpad. That said, the input lag is much better than the N64 version on Wii U, so even considering the DS game?s compromised controls, you could make a pretty good argument that this version is the better choice on Wii U. The most recent official version of Super Mario 64 is in Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch.
After years of fans begging for an N64 service on the Switch, or even an N64 Classic Edition mini console, this was finally a chance for Nintendo to show what they might do with an N64 game on current hardware. Before its sudden announcement and release in September 2020, Super Mario 3D All-Stars was one of Nintendo?s worst-kept secrets, which maybe didn?t pay the compilation any favors, since people had plenty of time to dream up what a full-on remake might look like. And I will admit, when you compare the 3D All-Stars titles to the beautiful visual overhauls of the 8-bit games on Super Nintendo, the more basic conversion in the newer compilation perhaps does the ?All-Stars? title a bit of a disservice. So when I saw the reveal trailer, I was equally underwhelmed… and relieved! Because even if these conversions lack much wow factor, I knew they would at least be the same games I know and love.
And indeed, based on credible reports that circulated the internet ahead of the compilation?s official release on Nintendo Switch, the games do seem to largely be operating under emulation with some enhancements. While it?s easy to sling around terms like ?lazy? or ?cash-grab,? I gotta give the dev team credit – this is by far Nintendo?s best showing in the realm of N64 emulation to date. The Shindou version is used as the basis here, which means speedrunners won?t be able to exploit backwards long jumps and you might be a bit thrown off by Mario?s angle when he grabs a tree or a pole, but reduced slowdown aside, Super Mario 64 operates exactly like you?d expect here – visual quirks like like geometry pop-in behave the same as they always have, whether on an N64, Wii, or Wii U.
Likewise, Mario?s low level-of-detail model pops on and off at the same distance it always has, but some people are only just now noticing the trick now that it?s in HD. The old 240p resolution masked it pretty well, didn?t it? Geometry seams are once again visible in certain places, but are improved over what we first saw emulated on the Wii. Tall Tall Mountain is the most egregious offender, but there are improvements there too. It is a little baffling that Super Mario 64 is only 720p in 3D All-Stars while Sunshine and Galaxy are 1080p, but I?m sure there?s some technical reason and honestly there?s probably not a lot to be gained by showing this game in any higher clarity. At least it does look suitably crisp with 720p matching the Switch LCD screen?s native resolution. Comparing the video output against what had previously been available for Wii and Wii U, it certainly is nice to see the game presented as vibrant as it always should?ve been.
Also improved are the contours of flat decal objects, which often didn?t look very clean in previous emulation. It would have been nice to see if Super Mario 64 could?ve been tweaked for 60 frames per second and widescreen – something that community efforts have proven is not impossible – but given the overall barebones nature of the 3D All-Stars project, it seems likely that the team was very small and didn?t have the time or budget for features that would risk extra bugs to squash. I just can?t get mad about that. Since there is no anti-aliasing on any of the games in the 3D All-Stars collection, I thought this might be a good game for reexamining the anti-aliasing injection of the Marseille mCable Gaming Edition – which as far as I understand produces very similar results to the newer, more compact mClassic, which I don?t have.
Be sure you set your Switch output to match the game resolution – 720p in this case – for the Marseille devices to perform their anti-aliasing magic as best they can. It especially makes a difference when it comes to the rather jaggedy text. But when it comes to 3D graphics in motion, I just feel like it doesn?t really defeat the aliasing, it just? warbles it. Personally, I?m not a fan, but some people swear by it. I see the appeal, but it tampers with the output a bit too much for my tastes, so I just wanted to show it here in case it is your thing and you feel it makes a positive difference for you. One notable area the development team did make visual improvements though, is in texture quality – well, some textures anyway.
Most notably, Mario?s eyes, mustache, and M decal are swapped in for sharper assets. Other characters – like the Whomps – got a much-needed face-lift as well. The stained glass of Princess Peach and all of the course paintings also look much cleaner than they ever have before. While the 240p resolution of the original hid the low res textures pretty decently in places, this kind of upgrade definitely helps since it became so much clearer on Wii and Wii U how poorly these larger images hold up at higher resolutions.
Less impressive are the HUD and other text elements. It?s widely believed that some sort of AI upscaling method was used to recreate many of these assets – and indeed the end result often comes across as rather artless. The text in Sunshine and Galaxy made the leap to HD quite gracefully in comparison. But one aspect above all others makes this the best version of Super Mario 64 that Nintendo has released since the N64 – they finally got the control right. Well, with an asterix or two. The first asterix is that while Joy-cons work about as well as they could, they obviously just don?t have the tilt range that larger controllers have, which will probably make careful movements a bit more challenging for many players. This isn?t a big deal for Sunshine or Galaxy, but I do feel it hurts 64 a bit. Instead, I recommend playing with a Switch Pro Controller if possible. I was immediately satisfied with the minimal dead zone and gradual ramp-up with Mario reaching top speed quite close to the pivot perimeter.
Slow walking is no longer the frustrating task that it was on Virtual Console. The input lag situation is also very positive – our not-especially-scientific method suggests it?s possibly around 32 milliseconds faster than the Wii U version, which means it compares very favorably to the super fast output of the Ultra HDMI mod. Finally, a new official version of Super Mario 64 that I feel can give you a play experience that is close enough to original hardware! I could lament that it?s taken 24 years to get to this point, but hey, at least we?re there. My hat is off to whatever nerd at Nintendo finally gave this game?s controls the very specific care that they need and deserve.
The only thing that causes me a little trouble with the Pro Controller is that certain parts of the game – especially the Bowser levels – are designed a bit more linearly and the camera angles correspond well to 8-way movement. Without the N64 or GameCube controller?s octagon gates, it?s much harder to lock your movement exactly straight left or straight right, so bridges and coins that a veteran player knows are exactly in the middle of a platform? well, you might find that you?ve drifted from the center a bit.
Unfortunately, the GameCube adapter for Switch does not work with 3D All-Stars, but I thought I?d try the 8bitdo Gbros wireless GameCube adapter instead – the console treats this as a Pro Controller – but unfortunately, the result was shockingly bad, with Mario running full speed at maybe not even a half tilt. I?d say stick with a real Pro Controller. One major change to the controls that you might love, you might hate, or you might not even notice is that camera controls have been inverted. Or wait? do I mean uninverted? I don?t even know at this point, but back in the good old days – and you know, Super Mario 64 practically invented the good old days – game cameras were operated like a tripod – push left to pan right, down to tilt up, and vice-versa. As a cameraman myself, I always defended this logic until yon about when the HD consoles came about, suddenly no one liked this anymore and I forced myself to get used to non-inverted camera controls. Now Super Mario 64?s camera operates like a modern game – press right to pan right, press up to tilt up – and since Nintendo doesn?t like options? you can?t change this.
Keep in mind too that while you are using the right stick, it is simply emulating a C-button press, so you have to tap the stick continuously to continue changing Lakitu?s position.. At first my Mario 64 muscle memory objected, but overall I prefer the modernized inversion. It throws me off a bit when viewing in the first-person mode, but really this doesn?t impact the game much – Sunshine on the other hand is the game where this inversion swap change could just as easily make the game for you – as it could ruin it for you. Luckily swimming and flying controls remain as Miyamoto intended – up is down, down is up. As of the time of this video, it?s unknown how Super Mario 64 can be purchased for Nintendo Switch after March 2021 – it?s very frustrating that they say 3D All-Stars is only part of a limited-time Super Mario 35th anniversary celebration – even digitally.
But hopefully it is a sign of more good N64 emulation from Nintendo to come – maybe it?s a bit unambitious for something that Nintendo dared suggest was akin to Super Mario All-Stars on SNES, but nonetheless it is easily Nintendo?s best attempt yet at taking Super Mario 64 beyond its original hardware. So there you have it: those are Nintendo?s versions of Super Mario 64. But of course, we realize that a huge chunk of people would rather not play the game Nintendo?s way.
And it?s not like we can pretend that stuff doesn?t exist, although since it?s not our area of expertise and for? various other reasons… we?re going to leave you to research the specifics if you?re interested. But in the case of Super Mario 64 in particular, it does have a fascinating history of emulation dating all the way back to the days when the N64 was still on the market, when the Ultra HLE emulator came about with limited game support – which specifically requires a vintage 3DFX PC card to play. Today, there are several more modern emulators for N64 and DS that work on current PCs, and things like higher rendering resolutions and even faked analog support for Super Mario 64 DS are all possible. But beyond that, one of the most insane reverse engineering projects I have ever heard of has resulted in new Super Mario 64 source code being developed that can be ported and compiled to run on anything from a PlayStation 2 to a Windows 10 PC.
And when properly implemented, the result plays, as far as we know, functionally identically to the original – with optional enhancements. Many people will consider options like this to be the best new way to play Super Mario 64. But even if emulation or fan ports might be your preferred way to play, we hope that our discussion of the official releases has given you some insight into the many considerations that go into choosing your own way to play a game that does not necessarily translate easily to platforms that it was not designed for. But most importantly, it?s a game that still offers a special experience – a game that was not limited by its development during a time when 3D gaming was so new, but instead made to be all the freer due to a lack of preconceived notions of what a third-person 3D action game could be.
No matter how you choose to play, my hope is that you can sense at least some degree of that awe and wonder and joy that I and others felt when Super Mario 64 propelled us into the future of gaming all the way back in 1996..