Creator: The West Virginian
Number of Players: 1-4 offline, 2-16 online
You already know the story if you've played Super Mario 64. Peach invites the world's most heroic plumber to the castle for cake, but when Mario arrives, he finds the castle empty and an all-too-familiar voice telling him to leave. Upon further investigation, he finds that the princess and her subjects have been imprisoned within the castle walls via magical painting worlds created by Bowser, and the only way to get them out is to take back the 120 Power Stars stolen by the Koopa Troop and beat Bowser for the zillionth time. But now, things go a little differently.
Your primary goal is still to collect the 120 (or more?) Power Stars which and hidden in the castle and painting worlds. But some of them are in different locations, and others may be harder to achieve, and you won't have to leave the course every time you collect a star. Also, you'll run across some of Peach's subjects inside the courses. (They ARE supposed to be imprisoned within the worlds, aren't they?) When you find them, you have to take them back to the course entrance, where they'll be transported safely back to the castle. After that, you can check short bios on them, a la Luigi's Mansion. (doesn't affect gameplay that much, but it's a nice extra.) They'll also appear in and around the castle, a la Suikoden. Some of them even become playable characters in the Multiplayer Mode! (More on that later.)
Self-explanatory. Here's where you collect all the stars and coins and whatnot, and do battle with Bowser's minions. But there are a few nice extras:
More boss battles, harder boss battles, better boss battles. For example, the room with the mirrors becomes more than just an attempt to show off the system's graphical capabilities. When you first enter, you meet up with Peach, who tells you that she's narrowly escaped from Bowser. But as you approach her, Lakitu looks at her reflection in the mirror, and sees that she's actually a Magikoopa in disguise! Once the jig is up, the Magikoopa sheds his disguise and attacks.
These are side quests you can play through when you meet certain characters. For example, when you meet up with MIPS the rabbit after catching him the second time, he tells Mario the tale of how he got the stars from Bowser, and the quest begins. In this particular quest, you control MIPS as he discovers (and is discovered by) Bowser's troops, and tries desperately to elude them until Bowser himself captures the pest. Bowser considers how easily MIPS eluded his troops, and gives MIPS two stars, believing that Mario will never be able to catch him.
The "high scores" achieved by collecting coins in the original game were a dismal failure, so here's a better idea: Time trials to see how fast you can collect a certain star, collect a certain number of coins, or defeat a boss.
Here it is, the semi-obligatory multiplayer mode that should have been in the original game. There are several games to choose from:
Race: Be the first across the finish line in a no-holds-barred foot race! This game is a little different than other racing minigames in that you don't race on preset courses. Instead, you pick one of the levels in the game (including the secret courses and hub world) and chart your own course through it by selecting where to place a starting point, a finish line, and any number of checkpoints. Up to 16 people can play.
Coin Grab: Be the first to collect a preset number of coins. You can only collect coins of your color, but you can him your opponents to make them drop coins. Up to eight people can play.
Battle: Up to eight characters (with bots) can take each other on in a battle royale. And no, this is not Super Smash Bros. Mario Edition. It plays closer to Power Stone, with fully-3D levels loaded with weapons and power-ups.
Bomb Tag: One player has a Bob-Omb, and has to pass it to someone else by hitting them. The other players, of course, try to keep away from that player. If you have the Bob-Omb when it explodes, you're out. Last one standing wins. Up to 16 people can play.
Cannonball: Remember the Human Cannonball game in Pilotwings 64? Here's a simplified multiplayer version. Players take turns firing their characters out of a cannon at a gigantic bullseye, both of which can be placed anywhere in any course you choose. Up to four people can play.
All characters are measured in five categories: Speed, Jumping, Agility, Offense, and Defense. They also have special moves, which can only be performed when the Special meter is full. It charges by itself, but you can charge it faster by collection coins, beating enemies, and hitting your opponents.
To Unlock: Mario is available from the beginning.
As usual, Mario is balanced in all categories. He can jump farther than most characters, though.
Special Move: Mario Tornado
Mario spins around, creating a small cyclone that dazes anyone nearby.
To Unlock: When you reach Dire, Dire Docks and entering Bowser's sub, you'll find that Luigi is being held captive by the all-Koopa sub crew. Beat them and complete Luigi's Flashback Quest to unlock him.
Luigi runs faster and jumps higher than his brother, but is weaker and has less control.
Special Move: Green Missile
Luigi lunges forward, damaging anyone in his path. It'll move him a long distance in a short amount of time, but he's stopped for a second afterwards.
To Unlock: After you get your first star from the Big Bob-Omb, go to the room with the entrance to Whomp's Fortress and talk to Toad, then complete his Flashback Quest.
Our favorite mushroom is a pathetic jumper, but he can turn on a dime and is surprisingly strong.
Special Move: Throw
Showcasing his Herculean strength for the first time since SMB2, Toad picks up one of his opponents and tosses the sucker for a loop. The speed and damage of the attack vary depending on who Toad is throwing.
To Unlock: Finish the game.
Peach's offensive and defensive capabilities are poor, but her jumping abilities and running speed are above average.
Special Move: Floating
Peach can hover in midair for as long as she likes. While it's faster than running, lets her pass harmlessly over hazardous terrain, and puts her out of reach of most attacks, she can only float in a straight line.
To Unlock: Finish the game with 120 stars and go up on the castle roof. Talk to Yoshi and complete his Flashback Quest.
Yoshi can run, jump, and turn like a pro, but is very weak.
Special Move: Swallow
Yoshi swallows an enemy, turning him/her into an egg. You can leave your opponent immobilized and defenseless, or pick up the egg and throw it at another opponent. Throwing the egg is risky, as Yoshi is vulnerable while carrying it.
To Unlock: Collect Star #3 in Jolly Roger Bay. When you do, Wario will appear and challenge you. Beat him and he'll become playable.
Wario's extremely strong and a good runner but lacks control and defensive strength.
Special Move: Wario Dash
Wario charges forward a short distance, ramming anyone in his path for big damage.
KOOPA THE QUICK
To Unlock: Outrace Koopa the Quick in both races.
True to his name, Koopa is extremely fast. He's also a decent jumper and takes hits well, but he lacks offensive strength.
Special Move: Shell Slide
Koopa hides in his shell and slides along the ground (or water, or even lava!), bowling over anyone in his path. His shell is fast, but tough to control.
To Unlock: Collect all seven stars in Bob-Omb Battlefield.
The Bob-Omb is speedy and a tight turner but can barely jump or attack at all.
Special Move: Explosion
Surprise, surprise. Bob-Omb lets out a massive explosion to damage everyone in the general area. He's stunned for a moment, but not as long as anyone who gets hit by the blast.
To Unlock: Defeat the Whomp King in Whomp's Fortress.
Whomp is extremely big and tough, but a poor long jumper and the worst high jumper in the game.
Special Move: Crush
Whomp falls on his face, crushing anyone who can't get out of the way in time. And the shockwave it creates will probably stun anyone who does.
To Unlock: Defeat Lakitu in Tiny-Huge Island and Rainbow Ride.
Lakitu has powerful, long-ranged attacks, but he's physically weak. His floats at a fast clip because he's not dealing with friction, but it also tough to maneuver because he's not dealing with friction.
Special Move: Spiny Guard
Lakitu deploys a Spiny that follows him around, attacking anyone who gets too close. Spinys do big damage, but they can only attack once, and they can't jump or swim, so watch where you lead them.
To Unlock: Beat up all the ghosts in the castle courtyard.
Boo is a great jumper, moves like greased lightning, and corners like a dream, but is horribly weak on both offense and defense.
Special Move: Invisibility
Boo can still be damaged while invisible, but it makes it easier for him to attack enemies.
To Unlock: Catch MIPS both times and complete his Flashback Quest.
MIPS is quick, nimble, and a superb jump, like most rabbits. But also like most rabbits, he's a poor fighter.
Special Move: Super Jump
MIPS jumps amazingly far, putting him ahead of the pack...as long as there's nothing in the way.
To Unlock: Collect Star #2 in Tall, Tall Mountain.
Ukkiki is speedy, a decent jumper and turns well, but can't take a punch at all.
Special Move: Wall Climb
The next time Ukkiki reaches any wall, he can climb it almost instantly. This gives him access to shortcuts so other character can use.
To Unlock: Collect the first two stars in Cool, Cool Mountain.
The Penguin is a poor jumper, but it takes hits well and is surprisingly agile. It's at its fastest while swimming.
Special Move: Slide
A moderately powerful sliding attack, it's stronger if you use it going down a slope.
To Unlock: Beat Magikoopa, as detailed above.
The Magikoopa's attacking and defense are both strong, but he can't jump very well and moves slowly.
Special Move: Time Stopper
A magic spell that freezes nearby opponents dead in their tracks.
To Unlock: Finish the game with 120 stars.
Bowser is a tank, plain and simple. He's the strongest character around, but extremely slow and easy to hit.
Special Move: Fire Breath
Bowser breathes a stream of fire that causes opponents to run around in a panic when the get burned, and also leaves a fire on the ground to block opponents.