Two weeks ago, a technically impressive mod called Super Mario 64: Last Impact was released. Developed by a guy called Kaze Emanuar and featuring a ton of custom content, the game quickly became a massive phenomenon on the internet and was covered by all manner of sites. Like GoNintendo. Or My Nintendo News or Nintendo Life. Heck, the latter even made a video of it!
Indeed, it got so much hype, some people said it’s the best Mario 64 hack of all time.
But how good is it really? How does Kaze’s work compare with an official game?
Does it make the same mistakes as 90% of ROM hacks and fan games? By featuring a difficulty curve that’s simply broken to hell? An killing players through tricky jumps right off the bat?
Well, no. As the review shows, Super Mario 64: Last Impact may actually be one of the better designed, more ‘fair’ ROM hacks I’ve ever played. It’s not as easy as the original, sure, but it’s also not broken as most of the other mods for the title out there either.
But let’s look a bit closer, in the official Gaming Reinvented review of Super Mario 64: Last Impact!
Starting with one of the aspects the game does far better than its source material; the graphics. Put simply Super Mario 64: Last Impact’s graphics are ten times better than those in the original Super Mario 64, and honestly about on par with some of Rare’s games from the era. Indeed, if it was released in the N64 days, this game would have gotten a ton of acclaim for its visuals.
So why does it look so good? Well, three reasons really:
- It uses art from later games. Like say, ledges and tileset graphics from the likes of Mario Kart and the Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker. Even compressed to N64 standards, these look a ton better than the equivalents from the original time period.
- The themes are interesting and varied enough to stand out. Oh sure, you’ve got a few grasslands, a desert and a beach world, but that’s only the boring stuff here. In addition to that, you then have a space station, a world made of food, a casino and even Rainbow Road from Mario Kart as explorable worlds.
They’re just more visually interesting and unique locations than say, yet another ice world or yet another volcano world.
- Character models seem a lot more rounded and detailed than those in most actual Nintendo 64 games. Yeah, the ones from the original Mario 64 didn’t change much, with Mario and Bowser being about the same as they always were. But the new enemies like the giant Piranha Plants, the space aliens and the Blarggs feel much better modelled than most characters from the olden days.
Either way, it’s impressive, especially for a fan made game.
But the graphics aren’t the only great thing here. Oh no, the soundtrack is pretty good too…
Because damn, the mix of ported songs and original compositions both sound excellent and fit the levels absolutely perfectly.
On the ported front, you have some really impressive renditions of songs from the likes of the Zelda and Final Fantasy series. What’s stranger, these actually fit some of Last Impact’s worlds at least as well as they did their source game. Forested Temple may have been composed for Final Fantasy VII, but it fits Last Impact just as well:
Deep Castle from Mario & Luigi Bowser’s Inside story works well in Big Beast’s Belly:
And Mario Party’s ‘danger’ theme works just as well in Last Impact’s mini games as it does in the actual game’s ones:
But as good as the ports sound, it’s the original music where Last Impact really shines. Because you see, this game doesn’t just use music from other titles. Oh no, it comes up with many of its own songs, and those are absolutely incredible.
Like say, the two final boss themes from the game, which are brand new for this ROM hack:
Or the Dusky Doomed Dales theme, which really does sound appropriate for a middle ages village in the middle of a witch hunt:
Or even the somewhat techno sounding Colossal Circuits theme, which fits the high tech feel of the level perfectly:
It’s a great soundtrack in general, and one that would have gotten even more praise had Last Impact actually been a ‘real’ Nintendo 64 game.
However, as good as the aesthetics are, none of this would matter if the actual game design wasn’t up to par. Fortunately, Last Impact does well in this aspect too. Well, for the most part…
Because despite being just another one of many ROM hacks using the Mario 64 engine, Last Impact absolutely nails most of the game design aspect.
Why? Because most of the levels actually feel like real places. As in, not random assortments of objects from the original game. Contrast this with Star Road for example. Good game, but a lot of the levels feel like the creator took a bunch of elements from ‘real’ Mario 64 levels and stuck them in the void to make a level. Like in Sky Land Resort. Or Gloomy Garden.
But that’s not the case here. Instead, each level has a clear theme, and absolutely nails it with well thought out design, logically placed objects based on the concept and a plethora of custom enemies, power ups, objects and NPCs to make it feel more lively and real. Stonesnake Shatters has Bob-omb archaeologists studying an ancient civilisation by exploringt he temple ruins. Dusky Doomed Dale has everything expected in a village, from friendly NPCs (like villagers and the local blacksmith) to a church and a prison. Harried Honey Hive is a giant beehive with friendly bees (including Honey Queen from Mario Galaxy) battling against an invasion by evil spider monsters. As a result, it feels like the levels are actual places. Lived in environments to explore, not 3D Land style obstacle courses in the sky.
Oh, and you know how I said each level has some custom stuff in it?
Well, that was a bit of an understatement.
Because this game is crammed to the roof with custom elements. Every level has new enemies, with at least one or two appearing in every area. New power ups are given out like candy, with everything from the Frog Suit to FLUDD and the Bee Mushroom being usable in certain levels. And when you add in things like custom bosses, clever level intro transitions (the one for Big Beast’s Belly is hilarious), a new ending and even a 3D file select screen, it’s clear that this is a hack that’s pushing Super Mario 64 to its limits. Heck, I’d say it might put some of Nintendo’s own 3D Mario titles to shame on a sheer variety level, since there are about ten times more power ups to use here than ever seen in Super Mario 64 or Galaxy.
And making this even better are some entirely reasonably designed levels too. Why reasonably? Because unlike a lot of fan works, they’re not all trying to be super hard platforming challenges. Instead, you have to do a variety in tasks of every level. These range from mini games to collecting coins and beating bosses, along with traditional platforming. Basically, it’s designed like a real Mario game, where the tasks are not all brutally difficult challenges of the same kind, but a varied set of objectives that gives you a breather after every few Stars or Shine Sprites.
They’re also mostly rather well laid out too. Yeah, some levels are a tad confusing, but quite a few have a nice simple centre starting point with various objects branching off of it style, like in Mario 64’s own stages.
So for the most part, Last Impact is pretty good here. However, there are still a few issues that crop up now and then.
Most notably, the camera. Why? Because to put it simply, the camera in this game is (in a few places) best described as ‘god awful’.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in enclosed spaces. Cause you see, Mario 64’s camera… was very clearly designed for open air environments where it could easily spin round 360 degrees at a whim. And this worked fine in the likes of Bob-omb Battlefield.
Unfortunately, it works a whole lot less well in Last Impact. Well okay, it technically worked pretty poorly even in 64’s more linear or enclosed areas (just ask anyone who played the pyramid sections in Shifting Sand Land or Tick Tock Clock in general), but it’s more noticeable here because Last Impact has a lot of enclosed spaces in its levels.
And this makes certain parts (like scaling the lighthouse in Sunset Islet or climbing the red tower in Abandoned Outpost) into a royal pain. The camera has nowhere to go for a steady view of Mario, so it ends up getting caught on quite a few walls and forcing the player to jump towards or diagonally round the camera view when necessary.
It’s also why a lot of people found the prison escape sequence extremely frustrating, since actually seeing the guards can be annoying with all the boxes and walls in the way of the camera.
However, that said, don’t take it too seriously. Yes, the camera sucks in a few levels and places, but for the most part, it does work at least moderately well. It just makes the few sections it DOES fail in an utter nightmare.
Another issue the game has (albeit also rarely) is that object collision is not perfect. Yeah, it’s good enough for the most part, but there are definitely places (like in the giant tree or coral reef) where Mario can get stuck inside a wall or partially clip through it when moving.
And this is likely because Mario 64’s physics engine was… not perfect to say the least. It was good, but it very clearly wasn’t designed to handle exact collision detection with diagonally tilted objects and generally non flat surfaces. For example, the most that game had were some slopes and sloped rocks, not anything as complex in structure as a coral reef.
So in Last Impact, it means that collision detection can be very wonky in certain places. This killed me in Sunset Islet, where Mario ended up stuck inside the coral reef and drowning as a result.
Again, it’s pretty rare (and in some cases, like Sunset Isle, can be very helpful), but it’s still there none the less.
Finally, we have a slight balancing issue with enemy damage. Why? Because unlike the original, Last Impact cuts Mario’s health bar down to 6 rather than 8.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t also cut down the enemy damage to match. So while basic enemies will only do one damage, later ones will do between 2 and 3 damage. And with your current limited health bar, that’s extremely dangerous. Heck, in some cases (like version 1’s mice and flying bombs), this is absolutely murderous. Because they’re fast, hard to avoid enemies with odd hitboxes.
It also means that lava is super dangerous this time around, as is fire shot out by enemies and environmental hazards. After all, it can kill you in two hits, is fairly common and often gives you limited ways to escape with your life intact if you’re unlucky enough to fall into it. Playing Bowser’s Lava Castle? Sucks to be you, since absolutely everything in the level wants you dead immediately. Don’t fall in the lava here, cause you aren’t getting out if you do.
It’s a fun but flawed game.
Which brings us to replay value. How much of it is there in Super Mario 64: Last Impact?
Well, quite a lot really. For one thing, this game has 130 stars in it. So in that sense, you’ll likely take as long to beat this game as you did the original title.
And it’s not too easy either. I mean yes, it’s easier than a lot of Mario 64 hacks out there at the moment. It doesn’t shove you straight into the deep end without any practice like a few certain other mods I mentioned earlier.
But compared to Mario 64 or any other N64 era platformer, this will test your platforming skills significantly more. You’ll have to perform narrow jumps across moving platforms and objects. You’ll have to fight bosses that require a decent amount of platforming skill to simply reach them. And heck, when the likes of Colossal Circuits or Rainbow Road come around, the gloves come off and it’s ‘get good at platforming or die horribly’.
So, it’s a game that should take you anywhere from about 20 hours to a week, based on how good your platforming skills are.
But how about extras, you may ask?
Well, those are pretty rare here, like the original game. You can try and get all 130 stars for a very small bonus ‘prize’. Mario can get cat ears by answering a certain NPC in the village overworld area. And in theory, you can replay the levels for coin high scores or redo the mini games for more points.
Yet for the most part, it’s your typical ‘finish levels and done’ platformer. Which when you think about it, is all a platformer really needs to be nowadays. You don’t need every game to have a multiplayer mode or achievements or expert challenges or a boss rush. No, they’re just nice to have. Optional extras that could work in the games that use them.
In conclusion, Super Mario 64: Last Impact is a great Mario 64 ROM hack, and a good 3D Mario platformer in its own right. With interesting power ups, worlds and characters and some great aesthetics, it’s the Super Mario 64 sequel fans have been anticipating for years.
A game that every Mario fan should try out at some point in the near future, and one of the best Mario ROM hacks ever made.