We all have a favorite video game that we’ve played through time and time again (for me, it’s Link’s Awakening) but for Kaze Emanuar, simply playing through the N64's Super Mario 64 isn’t enough. Through modding, they’re trying to push the game to its absolute limits, and so far the results are unbelievable for a console that’s almost 30 years old.
It’s no secret that games released earlier in a console’s life cycle don’t look as good as titles released later on, when developers will have become more familiar with the hardware and found new ways to push its capabilities. Super Mario Land, released for the Game Boy in 1989, often looks sparse and empty, whereas The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which arrived four years later, looks like it pushes the Game Boy hardware to its limits.
Super Mario 64 was a jaw-dropping experience when it debuted, as gamers had never experienced a Mario game in 3D before, but the game’s graphics now look dated when compared to N64 titles that came out years later. Taking advantage of almost 30 years of tinkering with Super Mario 64's original code and deep diving into the N64's hardware, Kaze Emanuar is working on a custom mod for the game, Return to Yoshi’s Island, which they estimate is about 70% complete.
Emanuar recently demonstrated a level from the game mod on YouTube, and spent some time explaining how not only its advanced lighting tricks work, but also how they radically improved the quality of the textures so they look sharper while helping to hide obvious tiling. The game runs on a completely rewritten version of the Super Mario 64 engine, which over the years has been found to have bugs limiting the game’s performance. By fixing them, it allows modders like Emanuar to improve the game’s graphics and animations, while still maintaining playable frame rates.
What’s most impressive here, however, is that while a lot of the footage in this video was captured from an emulator which can run the game mod at higher resolutions, Return to Yoshi’s Island will still be able to run just fine on the original N64 hardware, without the game’s frame rate slowing to a crawl or the console melting into a pile of goopy plastic on your entertainment center.