In September 2020, Nintendo released the Super Mario 3D All Stars Collection, a controversial celebration of Mario’s 3D outings in one complete package. Regardless of the shady business practices and the lack of additional features included in the ensemble, it’s a modern and accessible way to pick up and play 64, Sunshine and Galaxy and is still an amazing product. For some, like myself, this was our first real experience playing the 1996 classic and that in itself offers a unique perspective on the 25-year-old classic.
I grew up on the Sega and Sony side of the fence, stepping into the Nintendo side to play Pokemon and the occasional Mario Kart but I did experience Super Mario Sunshine. As my first and only experience of Mario for a large chunk of my life, I was unaware of how contentious the game was for not living up to expectations set by 64 or being notoriously unpolished and unorthodox for a game featuring the moustachioed plumber. So, it was not until I started delving into the internet that I learnt that my beloved childhood game was the black sheep of a franchise with an otherwise pristine track record. I, of course, was aware of Mario 64 and had played a little bit of the DS remake but I’d never truly played the original and that was about to change with the switch port.
Writing as a 3D platforming enthusiast, playing Super Mario 64 blind in the modern day is nearly impossible, unless you’ve never used the internet or live in the rainforest* then you’ll know where and how to get a large number of the stars in the game. However, I am not an avid watcher of Mario 64 speed runs, nor have I watched anyone play the game all the way through before, so outside of the first few levels most of this game was alien territory for me. I wanted to complete the game and get all 120 stars with no guide or advice from friends like someone would’ve on Christmas day 1996. There are a handful of games that have a high level of prestige throughout any gaming communities that are absolute must-plays: Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario 64 are among these classic games and so getting through and completing this game was like completing part of a gaming bucket list for me.
I started the game straight after beating Super Mario Sunshine and immediately felt the drop in precision and manoeuvrability. In some ways this game had a lot more control and freedom than its sequel, but in others it just felt imprecise and dated. The camera system was my biggest obstacle, even upon getting the final star I still felt myself fighting with it to do what I wanted during certain set pieces and objectives, but that wasn’t my only problem. From the slippery landings to enemy hitboxes not feeling quite right, Mario 64 felt challenging for all the wrong reasons. Some sessions ended with me closing down the game in frustration, either from the level clue being frustratingly vague or a precise platforming challenge taking one too many of my lives, getting through this game was definitely a battle. But it was not a battle I was prepared to give up on.
As you may already know, Mario 64 is an incredibly open and breakable game, meaning you can progress and collect the game’s power stars in seemingly any order and —depending on the star— in many different ways. I decided to use the aforementioned frustrating elements to my advantage. Although I wasn’t using the internet I managed to find and use a lot of well-known skips and shortcuts on my own, two of which are on Tall Tall Mountain. The first one was the ‘slide’ star. I noticed it sat in the mountainside though I wasn’t sure how to get it so I did a series of jumps to try and slide down the cliffside, but to no avail. I came back later on, jumped and kicked back and collected it effortlessly and was surprised it was even possible. Further up the mountain there was a star behind a waterfall that you’re supposed to spawn a block to jump on to get to, but I decided to long jump and aim for the cave as I wasn’t aware of the block’s existence.
Super Mario 64 was a pioneering 3D Platformer that set a standard that revolutionised the way we make and play games and it deserves all the respect and praise it gets. The visuals leave a lot to be desired and Mario’s model has not aged well at all, often looking more like a cluster of blobs and polygons than a person. This goes for the textures too, a lot are muddied and blown up to sizes the original designers never intended leaving a lot of blurry areas that really show the age of the game. This is where I believe the PlayStation platformers have a big advantage: Spyro and Crash are two games that still look relatively good by today’s standards, and where they may be rough around the edges they stand out by having an art direction and charm that avoids uncanniness. 64’s soundtrack, however, is a different story. Yes, a lot of songs are reused in later levels but they are never boring, are always getting lodged into the back of your brain and are instantly recognisable as “Mario” music. Koji Kondo always seems to deliver on his works.
My Final Thoughts
Super Mario 64 is a legendary title in the gaming sphere, and one that it feels mandatory to 100% complete at least once in your lifetime and I certainly share that sentiment now that I have made the journey. While there are a lot of areas in that Nintendo revolutionised and started development in the right direction, due to the archaic nature of the Nintendo 64 controller and the limited storage space of the cartridges, a lot of corners had to be cut. This results in an unbearable camera, very blurry textures and limitations with controller precision that brings the game down for me quite a bit. I enjoyed my time with 64, for better and for worse, but I think I’ll stick to Odyssey and Sunshine for my sandbox Mario needs in future.
*“Can confirm Riley is a rainforest dweller”— Mysterious Space Editor X