We're keeping the Mario theme going strong this week with a third feature on the mustached mascot. Today we dive into a touchy subject about porting one of Mario's greatest adventures. As always, thanks for reading.
Word on the street is that Nintendo is cooking up a Switch package they've dubbed internally as Super Mario All-Stars 2. This collection will include Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and the 3D one that started it all, Super Mario 64. Without the groundwork laid by Super Mario 64, who knows what the rest of the 3D Mario series would be like. Hell, Super Mario 64 was hugely influential to 3D game design in the industry as a whole! The game is an absolute icon, and remains a shining achievement of development.
If Nintendo does indeed bring Super Mario 64 to the Switch, there are no doubt long-time fans who'll happily dive into the game for a stroll down memory lane. Along with those players, there will be newcomers who've never had the chance to check out Mario's 3D debut. An interesting conundrum comes when you think of those two audiences as a singular group. With Super Mario 64, how do you make sure you don't strip the nostalgia old players have while still appealing to the sensibilities and expectations of modern gamers?
Nintendo has actually taken both approaches in the past. Super Mario 64 was brought over to the DS all the way back in 2004, and they decided to include some tweaks and new content. A few of the changes were pretty superfluous, with a bunch of mini-games thrown in, and a local multiplayer experience that let you take control of Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi. There were also some changes to how the in-game camera worked, allowing you to manipulate your view with virtual buttons, and control your character with the stylus or the DS wrist strap. All in all, a number of changes that were sometimes necessary, and other times throwaway.
Then you have the release of Super Mario 64 on the Virtual Console, which hit both the Wii and Wii U. That was pretty much a straightforward port of the original game, providing you with the purest Super Mario 64 experience you could get without firing up an actual N64. Yes, the game did run and look better on those platforms, but outside of that, you were getting the same game people got in 1996.
Again, if rumors are true, we'll have yet another way to play Super Mario 64 very soon. Seeing the game release as part of a package on Switch would be welcome indeed, but it begs the questions of what should be fixed, what should be left alone, and if new content should be added. There's no rule book for this kind of thing, and Nintendo will have to approach the situation very carefully. Diving back into players' formative gaming moments is a dangerous thing, and tampering with those memories can rile people up in an instant.
When it came to the first Super Mario All-Stars, every game in the package got a complete visual overhaul. The were given the Super Nintendo treatment, so everything had a lot more color, looked smoother, was more detailed overall, and certainly ran better. With that said, there was no option to play those classics with the visuals they originally had. You either had to deal with the revamped graphics, or stick to the NES and original cartridges.
Seeing as how Nintendo reworked the visuals and smoothed out gameplay in Super Mario All-Stars, it stands to reason they'd do the same with Super Mario All-Stars 2. I think everyone is on-board with the idea of making sure the game runs as smooth as silk. While it might be shocking for some to see the game play without framerate stutters or slowdown, I don't think anyone would say the change was for the worse. Having the game play smoothly from start to finish would make for a better experience overall.
Now when it comes to visuals, what in the world do you do? Do you just run with the original style of the game and show it off in high def? Super Mario 64 looked better on the Wii than N64 by a mile, and it looked better still on the Wii U than Wii. Making the jump to Switch could certainly dial things up a bit again, but we have to keep in mind the law of diminishing returns. If you're just going with a straightforward visual port, by and large, things will look pretty comparable between the Wii U and Switch versions.
Does Nintendo head in the direction of the original Super Mario All-Stars and give the game a complete visual overhaul? What visual style do you go in with that? Do you make something that looks closer to the style of Mario in Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy? Do you completely rework textures for an wholly unique appearance? Do you give players a bunch of different filters to apply that will certainly be noticeable, but aren't as ambitious as a reskin? It's a tough question, and whatever Nintendo decides to go with will certainly draw the ire of some fans.
The considerations continue when you move into the game's camera. The camera system was absolutely revolutionary for the time, but by today's standards it seems barbaric. The camera will seem too limited for newcomers who will compare the game to titles of the last 15 years. A revamped camera system could work wonders for some portions of the game, but it could end up causing major headaches in others. Super Mario 64 was built around its landmark camera system, and opening things up to a more free-moving camera could end up breaking the experience in ways that are hard to consider.
Should music get a bump up in quality as well? Could we have higher-quality versions of the original tunes, or is it time to completely rework the soundtrack? Should we have the same compositions with new instruments, or remixes of those classic tracks? Just as the game itself is revered for its gameplay, the soundtrack is held in equal regard. It may have used a rather limited set of samples, but the tunes we got are absolutely timeless. Would going all-out on a soundtrack revamp feel too out-of-place for the rest of the game?
There are even people out there who'll be upset if Nintendo goes in to squash some bugs from the classic title. If particular tricks don't work as they used to, and glitches can't be exploited as they've been all these years, a smaller subset of players might not get the same enjoyment out of the game. I think most would agree that the game's bug/glitch collection should be addressed to make for a better experience, but you never know what you'll miss until it's gone!
I can tell you one thing for sure. I wouldn't want to be in Nintendo's position when addressing a potential port. Walking that fine line between paying tribute to the original while bringing it up-to-speed for today's players is a dangerous, dangerous journey to take. That said, I'm not just going to drone on about Nintendo's woes and leave it at that. It's only fair that I offer up my own opinions on what I think should happen. I'll break each section down with quick bulletpoints.
Graphics: Leave the visuals as-is, but obviously take the high-res route. Throw in filters that change the style/mood of the game, but don't give me something that looks like Sunshine or beyond. The retro visuals are part of the game's charm.
Audio: While I would be curious to hear remixes, I think a higher quality audio experience with the original tracks is what I'd most enjoy. Those songs are forever ingrained in my memory, and hearing them in higher quality interests me more than remixes that could change the vibe.
Controls: While I know it could cause some major troubles, I think it's worth the effort to go in and tweak the camera. It doesn't have to be up to snuff with today's games, but it can certainly be a more modern approach overall. I think there's a good middle ground to find.
Bugs: To tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind one bit if the game retained all of its original issues. Some of those made the game more enjoyable!
Tech specs: I'm all for having the game running at 60fps in 1080p. That said, I don't think a true widescreen mode would work, and could actually end up ruining some of the game. Just throw in a healthy selection of borders and I'm good to go.
Again, those are just my suggestions for what I would like. Those picks may be completely off-base for other players, and that's totally fine. This is exactly why I wouldn't want to be Nintendo! If they really are bringing the game to Switch, these are all things they have to consider and then make a final call on. That's a big deal for any classic title, but when it's a historic, monumental game-changer like Super Mario 64, the stakes are that much higher.
To be honest, I think the best solution in the end is to make almost every new feature an option, instead of a default. Let players mix and match what they want. Old songs and new visuals, or new songs, old visuals. Classic 4:3 or widescreen with borders. Whatever additions and changes are made should be up to the player, which leaves the most wiggle room to make a majority of people happy. Now making sure the mix-and-match approach doesn't break the game in new ways would most likely be a programming nightmare, but I believe the end result would make for a better public reception overall.
Lots of things to consider, lots of fires to put out. Nintendo has their work cut out for them if they're taking on this port. The thing is, if any game in Nintendo's history is worth the trouble, it's Super Mario 64. It was, and still is an unbelievable achievement for gaming as whole, and the impact it made ripples through the industry to this day. I'd say that makes it more than worth the extra effort. Mario certainly deserves the royal treatment for his 35th anniversary, and I have a feeling Nintendo agrees.