Super Mario 64: Looks Better on Wii

I love Super Mario 64. It may be the best game I’ve ever played. It’s basically perfect.

As everyone reading this knows, SM64 debuted as a launch title on the Nintendo 64 back in 1996 and it, alone, justified the purchase of the console. Being such a big fan of the game, the first thing I did when I got my Wii was to download SM64 for its Virtual Console, just to check it out. I was also curious to see how well the Wii would handle N64 emulation in general.

Well, the game runs as smooth as glass and the audio seems perfect, which was great to see. But I noticed something else. The polygons looked a little cleaner. Were my eyes tricking me? I fired up my trusty N64 on the same TV and started switching between it and the Wii, looking at various screens to make sure. I quickly confirmed what I had suspected. Super Mario 64 on the Wii renders at a much higher resolution than on the Nintendo 64.

As is the case with most N64 games, SM64 runs in a non-interlaced 320×240 screen mode on the N64. When modern, progressive-scan TVs encounter such a signal, they double-scan them up to 480p. My 50-inch Pioneer PDP-5060 plasma display is one such television. It doesn’t anti-alias or work any other such magic to smooth out the image, so the 320×240 source is rendered in all its original blocky goodness, but at 480p. The absence of said blocky goodness in the Wii’s rendering of the game indicates that the SM64 engine has been modified to output at the Wii’s native resolution of ~640×480 progressive. That’s right – it’s too clean to be general jaggy-smoothing laid onto the 320×240 feed on the way out the door.

To illustrate my point, I have taken several crude photos of the same scene in the game as rendered on both systems. The N64 is tied to the TV via s-video while the Wii is a composite source (my component cables are on back-order – damn you, Nintendo). As such, the color fidelity of the N64 should appear superior to that of the Wii. Have a look at the side-by-side photo gallery.

The nice take-away is this: Rejoyce, SM64 nuts, Mario’s first (and best) foray into 3D is now here in high res!

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