As you’ll no doubt have heard, Super Mario 3D All-Stars — the 3D Mario collection that bundles Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy in a single Switch cartridge (or download) — will no longer be available to buy after 31st March 2021. Once retail channels are exhausted of existing stock, you’ll only be able to get your hands on this limited-time package via secondhand stores, online sellers and auction sites.
It’s always a shame when games are delisted, and it’s all the more surprising when it’s one of the most important and influential (not to mention popular) video games ever. Nintendo’s marketing tactics aside, there are many gamers that would argue Mario 64 — or any game — is best played on original hardware anyway. The Switch port might be more convenient and look sharper, but playing the game on a pad that doesn’t have three prongs and a spindly analogue stick? That’s just not right.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo 64 doesn’t play nicely with modern TVs, so it can be a headache to enjoy its library of classic games. That’s where EON Gaming comes in — the company’s line of plug-and-play HDMI adaptors (such as the GCHD Mk II for GameCube) offer a painless way of playing your old consoles on modern TVs. We previously reviewed EON’s Super64 HDMI adaptor, and while it’s not the only option on the market — and it’s not exactly cheap — but we were impressed with Super 64; its ease of use, performance with all the games we tested, and the effort that’s gone into its aesthetic and design.
It took a little while, but a bespoke PAL version of Super 64 was produced last year, too. Yes, purists will argue that heinous early PAL conversions with black borders and slowdown mean NTSC will always be the 64-bit king, but the reality is that many gamers in PAL territories are happy enough to play the games they’ve got as they remember them, even if they’re a bit slow.
And you know what? The slow, borked PAL version of Wave Race 64 was still amazing to play back in 1997 if you didn’t know any better. For many people, ignorance is still bliss — it’s certainly a lot cheaper than importing.
We’re pleased to report that the PAL Super 64 is every bit as successful as its NTSC brethren in offering a simple and effective solution for getting the best image from a stock N64 over HDMI. We caught up with Justin Scerbo, co-founder of EON Gaming, to find out what this little box of tricks is actually doing.
Note: You’ll find a bunch of comparison images throughout the article, plus a gallery at the end. All images below are unaltered 16:9 screen captures: remember, your television will display this ‘stretched’ image at the correct 4:3 aspect ratio. Shots using a composite cable were captured using a generic Scart-to-HDMI upscaler (720p).
Nintendo Life: First up, can you give us a basic insight into what exactly EON Super 64 is doing with the S-video signal coming out of our N64? Why does it look so much better than running a bog-standard composite signal into your TV (assuming you’ve got a TV that still has that legacy connection, of course!)?
Justin Scerbo, Co-founder of EON Gaming: Absolutely! The Super 64 is taking the S-Video signal from the N64 and then line-doubling the image up from 240p to 480p. This literally doubles the inherent resolution of the console and does so totally laglessly to ensure that your games feel perfect when playing on a modern TV. Typically if you plug your console into an HDTV using composite cables, the TV has to convert the analog image into digital and then redraw every pixel back onto the screen to display the image. This process takes time and results in pretty obvious and annoying input lag, meaning your button presses will not match up with what you see on screen. Additionally, that converted image will end up looking smudgy, as there are important details and color lost in the analog to digital conversion that the TV is doing.
When did you begin developing the Super 64?
We began developing the Super 64 shortly after production began for the GCHD MK-II, and after completing the NTSC Super 64 we immediately began R&D on the PAL Super 64.
The differences between NTSC and PAL N64’s are pretty deep, but mainly the way they handle S-video is what we needed to focus on.
Looking at the NTSC and PAL versions of the Super 64, can you explain a little about the differences? Why were two variants necessary and how do the onscreen results compare?
The differences between NTSC and PAL N64’s are pretty deep, but mainly the way they handle S-video is what we needed to focus on. Put simply, there are different specifications for a PAL system’s use of S-video that requires a different way of handling power, brightness, and color. This is why if you use an NTSC Super 64 on a PAL system it will either not carry a video signal at all, or it will look very off.
Did you run into any particular tech challenges while developing the PAL variant? We imagine testing it with unoptimized PAL games was a little tortuous if you’re used to full-speed NTSC!
Well you hit the nail on the head! One of the biggest challenges when testing PAL consoles was first sourcing games and consoles in the US (these are very hard to come by) and then when comparing games back to back, to ensure that brightness and color settings matched up, the 50hz gameplay of PAL was a bit of a struggle.
The vast majority of N64 hardware is supported, although a couple of revisions (including the Pikachu versions) aren’t compatible. Can you explain a bit about that?
Sure. Some of the console variants for PAL systems actually had S-Video support completely removed. We’re not sure why Nintendo did this back in the day, but because the components that we use for the Super 64 require S-Video, unfortunately some of those specific console revisions will not be compatible.
Compared to the composite signal through a generic HDMI upscaler, the colours through the Super 64 were significantly brighter and more vibrant on our TV. Why is that?
S-Video inherently provides a better quality signal than composite. So by taking the best video output from the N64 we can deliver the most color rich image possible without modification.
While lots of people these days want the sharpest pixels possible, the visuals of games from this era were designed for a different type of display. Can you explain what’s going on technically when you press that little ‘slick mode’ button?
Absolutely. So the N64 was designed originally to be displayed on CRT TVs. Because of this Nintendo decided to put an anti aliasing filter across nearly every game on the console that gives it a more soft, and smooth image. The “Slick Mode” button on the Super 64 is adding an additional layer of anti-aliasing onto the image so those who like a smoother picture can enjoy a look that is closer to what Nintendo originally intended.
As a plug-and-play solution, the Super 64 is user-friendly and simple to use. Was there ever any idea of adding to its functionality with scanline options, etc?
We’re glad you like the simplicity of the Super 64’s design! When developing this device we wanted to make it as seamless and simple for users as possible, which influenced the design and features. At the time of development, we did not initially consider the addition of scanlines, but we’ve heard some users asking for such a feature. We’ll definitely keep this in mind for future products.
The N64’s AV Out port is the same as the one found on the SNES and the GameCube. Obviously, you’ve got the GCHD Mk-II for the latter, but what would happen if someone plugged their Super 64 into a SNES (after some case modification) or a GameCube?
Good question! You are correct—the Super 64 is using the same port as you would find on an SNES and a GameCube, so technically, you could use the device on those systems and it would utilize their S-Video Signal. Keep in mind though that we designed and tuned the Super 64 to work specifically for the N64’s video output. Our goal with each of our products is to get the best video quality possible out of each of our adapters, so while technically this would be possible, our GCHD is much more optimized for the GameCube’s specific visual output, and there is definitely more potential for the SNES with leveraging S-Video.
When it comes to retro games, there’s often a balance that needs to be struck between authenticity and convenience. With Super Mario 64, for example, available to play on Switch via 3D All-Stars, how do you think that experience compares to the game on original hardware?
We’re big fans of remakes and remasters, and as retro fans in general, we’re all for creating new opportunities for people to experience the great games of old. Original hardware does tend to offer a level of authenticity that you can’t really find elsewhere, especially when games morph and change over time. Super Mario 64, for example—the All-Stars version on Switch is actually the Shindou version of Super Mario 64. In that version, certain features and glitches like the infamous Backwards Long Jump were removed. There’s no replacing the originals for experiencing those kinds of features.
Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where the look and feel of a CRT will really be replicated on a modern display or will we always have to keep at least one bulky TV around if we want the real retro experience?
The key is that there really is no right or wrong way to play. As long as people are still playing retro games, that’s what’s most important.
I’m not sure if it will ever be completely phased out, and honestly I don’t think it’s necessarily a good goal to chase. Our goal as a company is to provide the best, simplest experience possible for players looking to enjoy their original hardware in their modern gaming setups. The key is that there really is no right or wrong way to play. As long as people are still playing retro games, that’s what’s most important.
Does EON have plans for other past Nintendo consoles in the future?
We’re planning to work on a bunch of different consoles in the future and Nintendo’s are some of our favorites, but we’d definitely like to hear what people would be interested in seeing.
What are your personal top N64 games, and why?
Great question! There are so many to choose from, but some of my top picks are definitely Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini, Majora’s Mask, Banjo-Kazooie, and the Mario Party games. But my top pick would certainly be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I have such fond memories of that game, and truly helped solidify not only my love for Zelda, but video games in general. It’s probably the one game I have replayed the most, and it always feels just as good to come back to.
Our thanks to Justin. Here’s a little gallery of generic composite vs. Super 64 comparison pics to enjoy:
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So, what’s the best way to play Super Mario 64 according to you, then? Let us know in the comments below, and tell us your experience if you’ve picked up a NTSC or PAL Super 64.