Release Date: Out Now
It must be about six years since we all got our first look at Mario 64. The game that probably changed gaming forever, and certainly set new standards was something special indeed. Nintendo games have come and gone since, but can Shigeru Miyamoto's follow-up come close to the brilliant combination of design, playability, innovation, lastability and fun that that game showed?
Well, for a start it looks great (as long as you don't peer too close). Everything is bright, colourful and smooth, but some textures are horribly bland when viewed close up. The gameplay follows on from Mario 64 so closely that veterans will immediately feel at home with the controls and special jumps. Like with Luigi's Mansion, Mario has been given a backpack (it's called the FLUDD (tm) water pump. It's by the same inventor Prof. E. Gadd, incidentally) with which he has to clean up graffiti and mess all over his chosen holiday spot, Isle Delfino.
Daft plot aside (why do they bother?), SMS is all about gameplay - fun, puzzles and exploration. Rather than just running around and jumping on bad guys to kill them, you now have the use of this clever water pump backpack, which not only cleans up messes by squirting water where you point it, but can also be used to extend jumps by angling the nozzle downwards. Special nozzles also allow for super high speeds and a vertical rocket jump. A mention must go to the water. Being set on an island it's obviously everywhere, and no matter where you see it, it always looks amazingly believable and liquid. Few water-based games have replicated water as well.
The exploration and puzzles are as appealing and diverse as ever, and the genius of design within always apparent. I also like the progressive 'shines & coins' system of challenges and rewards (the cloudy weather clears as you advance through the game), but due to a surprisingly steep difficulty curve, some really tricky bosses and a game camera that simply won't behave, SMS will drive some less tolerant players mad. Also many gamers won't 'get' the abstract (even weird) nature of the Mario games, and of course, there's not enough big guns in it for my personal taste. Apart from those quibbles I think we're talking true genius here. A worthy follow-up to one of the best games ever, and a substantial gaming challenge.