Was I correct in my assumptions that the distorted controller coupled with a cartridge based system simply could not put a damper on my feelings for a flying Nightmaren and frolicking Bandicoot? Were the minutes I spent at the show enough time to judge what I'd been waiting for since Nintendo uttered the words CD? And how much crow would I munch if Mario turned out to be all that Yamauchi said?
One game that can change the way we look and feel about games forever, yeah right... It took all of about five minutes for all the crows to flee Agoura Hills. The controller, after an hour or so, feels so good that it's hard to imagine playing without it, and the game, well, it's without a doubt, the best one ever. Throw those preconceived notions out the window, all the hearsay and innuendo aside, Nintendo has pulled a rabbit out of their hat. Super Mario 64 really does make you forget about everything else before it. It raises the standard, setting a new level - of not only graphics, but most importantly, gameplay.
I packed up my stuff and raced home as quick as I could, attached my N64 to the big screen and cranked the surround sound. What followed was a religious experience. A gamer through and through, I was, and am, in heaven with this game.
Now, somehow, I'm supposed to convey these feelings to you, something I've been pondering since taking on our first hands-on coverage. And you know what? I'm not really sure how to... but I will try.
Let's begin with Mario himself. No matter what you thought of him previously, or how much you despised the theatrical version, he is now impossible to resist. He doesn't run, he waddles, feet tapping frantically along, changing cadence with the terrain. With an enormous amount of moves at your disposal and a floating camera for you to direct, you could easily spend an hour running around outside the castle... but you won't.
Once inside the beautiful castle chamber you're faced with an abundance of doors. Some need keys (awarded by defeating Bowser and obtaining 30, and then 70 of the 120 stars) and some don't. You can instantly access courses 1 through 4. Course 1 lies behind the unmarked door to your left.
SM64's courses contain an unparalleled amount of gameplay and, as the game progresses, what you do in each will constantly change. The sheer vastness of some of them is hard to explain, but as I was playing I tried to imagine bug testing SM64 and am simply at a loss. There is just so much here. You could be blowing yourself out of a cannon one minute and the next trailing a giant manta ray deep beneath what looks and feels like real water. The scenarios are endless and each is executed with creative genius. In a game this size it's hard to imagine non-stop amusement but it's yours for the taking.
The goal in each course is to obtain 7 stars, five by whatever means deemed necessary, 1 by collecting all of the red coins, and 1 by collecting 100 yellow coins. It's the way in which Miyamoto and staff concealed these stars that makes SM64 so freakin' fun to play that you'll want to put the rest of your life on hold until the screen reads 120. Beating the game with the required 70 stars is simply not an option. The imagination, and directorial skills possessed by the minds behind SM64 are truly to be appreciated, embraced, and enjoyed by all. Miyamoto cares about nothing more than your pleasure; this is evident throughout the entire SM64 experience. Each course is like a mini game, complete with a new set of rules and, of course, perfectly matched music and sound effects. If you were worried about the N64's audio capabilities, I can assure you, they are remarkable. The system emits video game music (as opposed to that of real instruments) through and through, with sonorous vibrating bass, and deep orchestral overtones. The sound effects - like gurgling water, wind, and other environmental emulations - are without flaw. SM64's length has been in question for as long as I can remember. It would be better to judge SM64 by its size I suppose, or better yet, not judge it by conventional means at all. It may be above judging. SM64 will be different in some fashion for everyone that plays it. It's as non-linear as a game could ever be.
You don't necessarily have to do anything you don't want to. You'll play your game of SM64 as you see fit. Some will race through collecting stars as fast as possible, via hint guides or internet chat, while some will want no contact with the outside world until they've covered every inch of code on their own. The latter's how I'm playing SM64, and when I'm finished I'll start a new game, and do it all again.
These 12 pages of coverage (the most we've ever done on a single title) may seem excessive but they actually show very little of the overall game and only a few stars. I don't want you to come away thinking you've seen it all. Actually, whole levels are missing and the levels shown are only nicked. SM64 is a big game.
In closing I'd like to first, thank Miyamoto and staff for loving us gamers so much, but also convey to you that I am not unplugging my Saturn and PlayStation. I am extremely enthused by SM64, but this is Miyamoto at his very best. While I am now convinced that Nintendo possesses a superior machine the proof will of course be in the quality and amount of titles for it over the years ahead. Developer support has been the burning issue as many have balked at the cartridge format. For what it's worth, I cannot imagine any company not wanting to develop a game after playing this one for themselves. Whatever technical mumbo-jumbo you've heard or read about cartridge vs. CD may as well be stored deep in your cranial archive. Super Mario 64 never loads, you can't scratch it, it won't skip, is longer than long, stays crunchy in milk, and has fantastic audio. They can spew forth technical jargon till the cows come home, but nothing will ever change those facts.