How Can I Play It?: Super Mario 64 & Super Mario Sunshine
Get in the New Donk mood by revisiting Mario's previous sandbox adventures.
Our "How Can I Play It?" series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms.
In about one week, most people on the planet* will be knee-deep in Super Mario Odyssey (unless they're focused on getting Assassin's Creed: Origins and Wolfenstein II off their plates in order to better savor Odyssey). In the meantime, though, it might be productive to revisit Mario's previous 3D sandbox games to appreciate how much Odyssey owes to its predecessors. There's a lot of good to be found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine — check out the podcast episodes behind those links if you need proof! And then give the games a try…
* Note: possibly a small exaggeration
Super Mario 64
A landmark adventure, a defining work, a monumental achievement. Super Mario 64 is all those things. (It also has a camera system that will make you scream obscenities at your TV.) And you have many options available if you'd like to play it!
Super Mario 64: If you still own a Nintendo 64, you can enjoy Super Mario 64 in its original form. The cartridge is still fairly affordable, and thanks to the nigh-indestructible carts Nintendo build for N64 (and their games' seemingly immortal on-board batteries), you're pretty likely to find that any cart you pick up runs as reliably as the day it was first brought home from the toy store.
Super Mario 64: Shindou Pack Taiou Version: If you can find it, Super Mario 64's Japan-only reissue from 1997 adds some small refinements and features over the U.S. release, including Rumble Pak support.
Super Mario 64 DS: A much easier way to play the game than dredging up 20-year-old console hardware would be to snag Super Mario 64 DS. While the DS port appeared at the launch of the original DS hardware (it's already been 13 years!), like all DS software it runs perfectly on 3DS or 2DS. Actually, it plays better on 3DS, since the circle pad controller feels a lot more natural than the DS's d-pad, even if it doesn't give you true analog control. An XL model system is your way to go, incidentally. 3DS's full-screen scaling for DS software looks terrible, so you'll want to boot into true-pixel mode (by holding Start or Select as you launch the game). An XL screen gives you true-pixel DS graphics that are almost a perfect match for the original dimensions of the DS screen.
This version of the game is a sort of remix, offering multiple playable characters and a more structured quest progression. It also contains a host of mini games, if that's your thing. And if you hate yourself, you can attempt to use the touch screen as an analog controller.
N64 Virtual Console: Nintendo reissued Super Mario 64 on Wii Virtual Console, which offers a slightly better play experience than the original cart. It allowed you to upscale the visuals to 480p (from the original 240p), and it slightly improved the graphical frame rate. You can of course play this version in Wii U's backward compatibility mode, although that's a bit redundant…
N64 Virtual Console: You can also buy Super Mario 64 on Wii U's Virtual Console. It offers save states, which can be kind of nice in some of the more frustrating sequences. It also offers off-screen play on the game pad, which is pretty swell.
DS Virtual Console: Yeah, you can buy both versions of Super Mario 64 on Wii U. Covering all those bases, you know? Super Mario 64 DS doesn't look great when you play it on a television, but it's nice to have the option.
Super Mario Sunshine
Unlike Super Mario 64, you have only one option for playing Super Mario Sunshine: Buy the original disc. Nintendo has reissued and remastered quite a few GameCube classics as Wii or Wii U titles (everything from Pikmin to Metroid Prime to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker), but Super Mario Sunshine continues to languish in its original obsolete format.
Super Mario Sunshine: The good news is that despite being the only release of Super Mario Sunshine, the GameCube disc isn't too pricey. The bad news is that GameCube software only runs officially on GameCube and Wii, neither of which support high-definition output… which means you're going to be dealing with display lag on top of the already considerable difficulty of the game. That said, there are ways to coax a Wii U into playing GameCube discs, if you're willing to venture into gaming's grey areas…