Why I Love Super Mario 64
"It's a me, Mario!"
Super Mario 64 is the most important 3D game ever made. More so than even Grand Theft Auto 3. Anyone who says they weren't influenced by Nintendo's daring, innovative and audacious entry into the third dimension are lying. I bought Mario 64 in 1997, with a Nintendo 64, about six months after it was released. I was saving up for the machine for what seemed like forever. I first played Mario 64 in HMV on Grafton St with my Dad, Noel. We were both stunned by how fresh and exciting it was, with Noel saying to me "I can't believe games have gotten so good!" He was right. I will never forget the feeling of finally getting my hands on the game. When we got home from Electronic Boutique, we found that my brother had cleaned up the room and gotten a place of pride ready for the Nintendo 64.
We had never played a game like Mario 64 before. It was a completely new experience. The transition from 2D to 3D was the most exciting in the history of the medium. Now, the move from one console generation to another is predictable. There will be some graphical updates, and more storage and a few games that push the hardware to its limits. Mostly though it is the same kind of thing, just slightly better. I still compare getting a new console to that feeling of first unwrapping the Nintendo 64. Nothing can compete with it, that feeling that you were entering a whole new world of adventure. Mario 64 wouldn't have worked had the controls been so on point. The precision of the control stick allowed for the player to have complete, effortless control over Mario. Watching him jump and grab onto trees, doing handstands and shimmying across narrow ledges was a marvel to behold. I still believe that the N64 was leagues ahead of the Sony Playstation, even though that machine was also pretty amazing for its time. It was the first to do a control stick, custom built for 3D games, it was also the first to do vibration in the controller with the Rumble Pak designed for Lylat Wars, also known as Star Fox 64.
The hub world in Mario 64 was an innovation that countless other games would imitate. You would make your way around Peach's castle and find a variety of worlds to explore. The worlds were accessed through magical paintings on the walls. That first world where you fight a giant Bobomb is seared into my brains and my emotional memory. Knowing that this was just one world on a long, long journey filled me with excitement and anticipation, wondering what new delights would be uncovered in the hours, days and weeks to come. There are so many great levels in Mario 64, but a few that stand out are the Haunted House where you battle a King Boo, Tick Tock Clock for its sheer platforming perfection, and Dire Dire Docks for its gorgeous music and incredible atmosphere. Shout out to the legendary Koji Kondo for a wonderful score!
I am not very good at games generally, but when I love something I get good. I was good at Mario 64. I got every single star and secret to be found, something that I have generally not done with games, even those that I love. The closest experience has been my ability to play Bioshock Infinite on the hardest setting with ease. It's all about the love you have for the game. Something which I see myself doing with the extraordinary Super Mario Odyssey. It is a sign of Nintendo's exceptional quality control that they could so confidently enter the 3D arena and dominate it from the start. There were no missteps or learning curves. It was perfect from the beginning. Even the camera was amazingly functional and intuitive for their first game This is a huge achievement, and one that stands to them today, when they are making some of their greatest games. Both Zelda: Breath of the Wild AND Super Mario Odyssey were released in 2017. Think about that for a moment. Two of the greatest games in ages arrive in the same year. Nintendo still have it.
Mario 64 is a game that doesn't come every generation. Those close to it, Grand Theft Auto 3, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted 2 and Bioshock Infinite, still don't re-write the rules as confidently as Mario 64. These games are exceptional for how they told a narrative, something that Mario 64 admittedly doesn't have any interest in. It is a standard, save the girl, save the world plot, with little interest in getting into the psyches of the characters. I have seen some criticism about Super Mario Odyssey for its old fashioned kidnapped Peach storyline, and while I understand why this is happening in the current climate, I feel it entirely misses the point. It could be anything that Mario is after, but it just so happens that the thing he loves most in the world is Peach. She is not his prize, but someone who inspires Mario to do good. It's become such a tradition that it wouldn't feel right if you re-wrote the rules.
We may never see a game like Mario 64 again. Maybe when Virtual Reality finally gets its legs, we can see a truly new video game experience. I hope so. I can only imagine what Nintendo could do with VR if they were properly motivated. Mario 64 hasn't aged. It remains as compelling and entertaining a game as ever. Behind all of the innovation was a tight and expertly constructed platformer, something that was taken to the next level with Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 and most recently Mario Odyssey. Odyssey in many ways feels like a direct sequel to 64, as you are taken back to the open ended worlds where there are secrets and challenges in every nook and cranny. Nintendo are possibly the greatest developer working today. After a few decades, it's incredible that this is true. Their quality has never dipped below excellent. Today, in a world of far too many grey shooters, we need them most of all. Wahoo!