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Super Mario 64’s Legacy

Super Mario 64. Perhaps one of the most beloved and influential games of all time. It immediately captured the hearts of millions upon its initial release in 1996, and would even go on to be the best-selling game of the Nintendo 64. Not only was it a big deal for Nintendo, being their mascot’s first foray into 3D, but it was also a monumental release for the video game industry in general. At its time, there was simply no game like Super Mario 64.

While not the first game to dip its toes into the third dimension, far from it, Super Mario 64 was one of the first to truly showcase what 3D games could be. An interactive camera, advanced movement options, and of course expansive open-world environments, set Super Mario 64 apart from any games that came before it. It felt like a natural progression for the Mario franchise and not just some forced gimmick. Mario 64 wasn’t a game that was in 3D because 3D was new and popular, but because it couldn’t exist any other way. It offered an experience that was both groundbreaking and fun. In the eyes of many, this cemented Mario 64 as the pinnacle of 3D games.

So, when Super Mario 3D All-Stars was announced early September, and it was revealed that Super Mario 64 would be a part of the collection, people were beyond thrilled to return to this legendary title. Or in the case of myself, experience it for the first time.

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What Mario Games Are To Me

As someone who was born only mere months before the release of Super Mario 64’s successor, Super Mario Sunshine, my relationship with Mario games have always been a little different from most. In fact, the first Mario game that I fully played was New Super Mario Bros on the DS. I enjoyed the game enough to take interest in spinoffs like Mario Kart and Party, but that was the extent of my experience with Mario games back then.

To me, Mario games were mainly just side-scrollers where you broke bricks and jumped on flagpoles. And when it wasn’t, I was throwing shells at Waluigi mid-race or playing a collection of wacky minigames. Mario was never something I came to for compelling stories or fascinating worlds to explore. That was until I played my first 3D Mario game, Mario Odyssey, just a few years prior.

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Although I have fond memories of my first playthrough of Mario Odyssey, I haven’t revisited the game much since then. It’s not that I disliked the game or anything, but rather I just don’t find it all that replayable. I’ll admit that collectible based games aren’t really my thing. And I’ll probably never have any desire to collect all 999 of Odyssey’s Moons. I beat Bowser, explored the post-game kingdoms, and I pretty much had my fill of the game.

Despite all my opinions on Mario Odyssey though, I was still excited by the reveal of 3D All-Stars. I was really looking forward to playing through the original 3D Mario games for the first time, especially after hearing so much about them over the years. My expectations were subconsciously high for all three of them, but none more so than for Super Mario 64.

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Playing Super Mario 64 for the First Time

Being the game that launched Mario’s 3D career, I went into Super Mario 64 with incredibly high hopes. Arguably, my expectations for this game were way higher than they should have been. The game’s older than myself after all and video games have come a long way since the Nintendo 64. No matter how I go about playing it, I’ll never be able to experience Mario 64 in the same way that people got to when it first came out. But, I do think I got as close to the experience as an early 2000s baby could get.

Within just the first couple of hours of playing Super Mario 64, I was genuinely amazed. If I were to contribute this to any single fact, it’d have to be that Mario 64 simply has an exceptional beginning. For starters, the opening cutscene does an amazing job of showing the ambition that went into developing the game. Super Mario 64 was a massive undertaking for Nintendo, and that’s not any more evident than when Princess Peach is reading aloud her letter while Lakitu gives the player a full scope of the castle from their cloud. Nintendo knew what a legendary moment this game’s introduction would be, and gave it the respect and emphasis it deserved.

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The magic doesn’t stop there though, as Mario 64 is just as, if not more spectacular to actually play. Once Mario made his boastful entrance out of a pipe and I got to finally move around, I could almost immediately sense the scale of the game. For a title nearing its 25th anniversary, I was legitimately surprised by how vast the castle grounds were. The areas surrounding Peach’s castle are unbelievably large, especially considering there’s really nothing to do in them. There aren’t any enemies to beat or any real platforming to do, so I found it as a great opportunity to just get a feel of the game. I was having fun just aimlessly exploring around. And the adventure hadn’t even truly started yet.

The Beauty of Bob-omb Battlefield

In my eyes, Super Mario 64 doesn’t truly begin until you jump through your very first painting and step foot on the other side, in Bob-omb Battlefield. If there’s anything that I can say to summarize the brilliance of Mario 64’s first course, it’s that there’s a reason why I knew its name before even entering the level.

Bob-omb Battlefield is iconic in every sense of the word. It’s beautifully vibrant with its colorful scenery and bustling background. From your basic roaming Goombas to the loud and wild Chain-Chomp, there’s almost always something happening on screen. The course is pleasantly lively, overflowing with personality, and somehow not overwhelming for your typical world one. Even after seventy stars later, no moment in the rest of the game came close to rivaling the sheer fun I had running around Bob-omb Battlefield for the first time.

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If there’s any single course that completely captures the essence of Super Mario 64, it’s without a doubt Bob-omb Battlefield. At its core, I believe Mario 64 is a game of creative and fun gameplay. And whether you’re duking it out with the Big Bob-omb on top of the mountain or soaring through the air with the Wing Cap, Bob-omb Battlefield has no shortage of either. Bob-omb Battlefield is brilliantly creative in level design, fun personified, and a perfect representation of Super Mario 64 as a whole.

Super Mario 64 Is Challenging in the Best Way

Now, I’m not someone who considers themselves amazing at platformers to start with, but Super Mario 64 is hard. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with games from this generation, but I found Mario 64 infinitely more challenging than any other mainline entries I’ve played. In addition to finishing every 2D game with the “New” brand, my Mario Odyssey playtime is exactly double the hours I put into 3D All-Stars. And still, none of these games came close to matching the difficulty I had with Super Mario 64.

At first, I viewed Mario 64’s level of difficulty as a mark against the game. Following the first few courses, it began taking me multiple attempts to get the majority of the games’ Stars. It ultimately got to the point where it was rare to obtain a Power Star on the first try. I saw it as a problem that for a collectible based game, collecting Stars were often very frustrating.

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However, after beating Bowser for the third and final time, something compelled me to go back to the courses that initially gave me trouble. There were multiple Stars that I just gave up on getting during the main game, a good deal of them being in the course Shifting Sand Land. It took some time and many lives, but I eventually managed to collect all six of the stage’s main Stars. I still had to restrain myself from pulling out my hair every time I fell in a pit of quicksand, but more than anything I was proud that I completed the level. Getting each and every one of Shifting Sand Land’s Stars was incredibly satisfying for me, and even changed my perspective of the game.

Super Mario 64 can be brutally hard at times, but that’s not necessarily always a bad thing. I mentioned earlier that upon finishing Mario Odyssey I had no motivation to collect the Moons I had missed. Whereas in the case of Mario 64, I was back on the hunt for Stars almost immediately. And that’s because every single Star feels like a genuine accomplishment since each one is a challenge to get. In Odyssey, Moons are everywhere and not all that difficult to obtain. There’s one for just keeping some lonely guy company on a bench for crying out loud. Collecting Stars felt so rewarding to me because they were hard to earn. Super Mario 64 is no walk in the park, and that’s exactly what makes the game so enjoyable.

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The Not So Great Aspects of Super Mario 64

In a year full of remakes and remasters, I can see how a fair amount of people were disappointed in how little 3D All-Stars updated its games. All three of the Mario titles included are for the most part very one-to-one ports. Asides from slightly upscaled graphics and minor tweaks to the controls, these games weren’t modified much at all in their transition to the Switch. Some may argue that they didn’t need to be touched up, as they’ve all stood the test of time. But at least in the case of Super Mario 64, I can’t entirely agree.

I wish just as much as anyone that I could confidently say Super Mario 64 still holds up in 2020. But as with most things, the flow of time has not done this near quarter of a century game any favors. In a world where 3D games are as established as they are, Mario 64 feels outdated in some regards. Perhaps the one area where Super Mario 64 shows its age the most is its controls.

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If there’s one change that could’ve drastically improved my experience with Super Mario 64, it would’ve been the option for a more modern camera. The game’s settings do offer two different camera configurations to switch between, but both feel very restrictive by today’s standards. Even when in Lakitu mode, the game’s supposed controllable camera option, it’s still crucially limiting at times.

There are numerous occasions throughout the game where you have to blindly jump to platforms because the camera doesn’t give you the whole picture. This often resulted in me just guessing where to jump and praying that I get lucky. In those situations, it never felt like the game was hard because of challenging level design. It was hard because of mechanical limitations.

The Controls Haven’t Aged Particularly Well

The camera isn’t the only mechanical issue I have with Super Mario 64 though, as I feel controlling Mario himself can be clunky and inconsistent. This is probably due in large part to playing Odyssey first, but I found Mario’s movement in 64 somewhat cumbersome. Nintendo nailed the basic stuff like running and jumping, and it’s honestly impressive they got it right on their first try. My problem however has to deal with Mario’s more specific movement options.

Since the game has multiple actions mapped to the same buttons, I was constantly performing the wrong moves at the wrong times. This ranged from scenarios as trivial as jumping when trying to read signs, to dying from unintentionally throwing out a punch against Bowser when I meant to grab his tail. Mario 64’s controls can be extremely infuriating and even offset some of the game’s best moments.

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I understand that completely re-working this game’s controls to fit the current generation wouldn’t please everyone. The original Super Mario 64 is a title that’s held dearly in the hearts of millions, and you don’t want to tarnish that. But seeing as Nintendo chose to rerelease Mario 64 as a part of the 3D All-Stars collection, I can’t help but wish they provided a more accessible experience for new players as well.

Final Thoughts

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not trying to say Super Mario 64 is a bad game. If I had to lean entirely one way or the other, I would say Mario 64 is a wonderful game. It gifted me with some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It’s challenging in the best possible way, and beating it may just be one of my proudest video game accomplishments. We’ll always remember Super Mario 64 for its influence and legacy, but it’s not a flawless masterpiece.

When Super Mario 64 succeeds, it soars to unprecedented heights. But when it falls and its Wing Cap begins to vanish, it can hit the ground hard. If you’ve never played Mario 64 before or any other games from its era, it can be a difficult adjustment. You’ll need some time to get used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Super Mario 64 has certainly aged, but it’ll still offer you an experience you’re sure to never forget. Or at least, I know I won’t.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. As a lover of the original version (my first video game), I gotta say I was really disappointed with how bad the controls are on the switch. I don’t remember them being that bad on n64. I found I was sliding around as if the whole game was on ice, punching forward instead of grabbing, and hitting the camera joystick by accident, messing up whatever I was doing. It’s near unplayable for me and it breaks my heart.

  2. Nice review from a different perspective, which I can certainly appreciate. It definitely shows how experiencing the game for the first time from this side of gaming (i.e. being born later and seeing the games that have learnt from the likes of this) highlights how far things have generally come.
    I was 14 and on a trip to the US in ’96 (from Australia where this, and the N64, wasn’t released until 1997) and saw this in Target. Owning only Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 on NES this was utterly mind blowing.
    The irony is perhaps that all of the parts noted that could be different, such as the camera and the controls were what made it stand out as revolutionary. This was probably the best camera system at the time (also note that this was controlled in discrete steps with 4 buttons on the original controller). The level of control was unprecedented due to 3 dimensions, which as mentioned wasn’t terribly prevalent in the day.
    And the difficulty? Again, early games were hard, continues were none or limited or they couldn’t even be saved.
    Lastly, glad you enjoyed it. After starting it again in All Stars it is definitely a flawed masterpiece that I’m happy they didn’t change (though bonus features would have been appreciated).

  3. Mario 64 is a foundational game. Like bread, its necessary to have have or experience when talking about the genesis of 3D sandbox style games. Major respect for playing it and experiencing it. But like bread, its just the beginning of a great sandwich. You want to see what a real 3D platforming game was like in the late 90s? Play the Banjo-Kazooie games. These games take the experience to entirely different levels of fun and enjoyment. While I’m not bashing Mario64, I am speaking from vast experience from playing all these N64 3D games over and over again every 2 to 3 years. Mario64 is the quintessential N64 game and commands the respect for being first. Go make a sandwich and experience both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie so you have a better idea of what Mario64 missed and sacrificed in order to be the release game for the N64. Im sure you’ll want to write an article on those and understand why the gaming community wants a new Banjo-Kazooie game.

  4. I bought the n64 a month or so after it’s launch, never enjoyed Mario 64 at all. I was loving the graphics and gameplay of Super Mario World and Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES and then they release Mario 64, which even back then was not impressive graphically nor did it play like a Mario game. It’s like Final Fantasy VII, FFVI was a graphical masterpiece…then FFVII releases with graphics as bad as Mario 64 (pre-rendered backgrounds and FMVs are not considered graphics, obviously.)

  5. Yes the camera and slippery controls are dogsh1t. Nintendo’s completely lazy “all cash” grab with zero effort put in is horrible.

  6. Just dump your original sm64 (US) onto a pc using ever drive, and mod the game to the latest mod, Arguably better version. It fixes the camera so it’s like sunshine, and fixes all the controls to be like galaxy! And it’s legal of you do it my way, that I just mentioned. Otherwise I would personally never play this game. It’s only because someone FINALLY made an upgrade, unofficially that I even play it at all!

  7. mod the game to the latest mod, Arguably better version. It fixes the camera so it’s like sunshine, and fixes all the controls to be like galaxy! And it’s legal of you do it my way, that I just mentioned. Otherwise I would personally never play this game. It’s only because someone FINALLY made an upgrade, unofficially that I even play it at all!

  8. Get the latest mod, Arguably better version. It fixes the camera so it’s like sunshine, and fixes all the controls to be like galaxy! Otherwise I would personally, never play this game. It’s only because someone FINALLY made an upgrade I play it now at all

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