With the recent release of Super Mario: 3D All-Stars, let’s re-visit one of the pioneers of the platformer genre, Super Mario 64 and see how well it holds up…
Released all the way back in 1996; this red hat-wearing behemoth exploded in sales on the Nintendo 64 and subsequently became a major household name. Cementing itself as the foundation for the modern-day platformer. Games such as Banjo Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot may have expanded upon the formula, but they wouldn’t be here today without this landmark title.
So what made Super Mario 64 such a critical and commercial success? Well, it was one of the biggest mechanical shifts in gaming technology at the time. Allowing players to experience sprawling 3D playgrounds in short, dopamine-fuelled doses. Each time you completed a task in-level, you’d be forced to re-enter the stage via painting again to try out another objective. Collecting stars and hearing Mario’s iconic “Here we goooo!” as the camera pans out from the vibrant, variety-filled landscapes. This gameplay design was perfect for sucking you in and not letting go. A core component of why it’s still remembered so fondly today.
This gameplay design was perfect for sucking you in and not letting go. A core component of why it’s still remembered so fondly today.
The controls certainly add to its charm. Mario can pull off a range of acrobatics to climb and navigate the levels, all being context-specific. For example, performing 3 moving jumps in rhythmic succession grants him a final, soaring leap into the air. Whilst pressing Z+A when sprinting makes Mario long-jump to help land on faraway platforms.
These movement abilities let the player experiment and hone their skills with fun free-running mechanics. Which can actually become super technical depending on how quick and responsive your fingers are on the trigger. Mario 64 speed-runners today make level traversal look like a walk in the park!
The controls hold up really well from a game released in 1996!
So, How Has Super Mario 64 Aged Overall?…
One area that doesn’t so much however, is the camera. A finicky beast to be sure, lining up jumps on certain stages can be difficult. The camera sometimes swings back to its original position upon manual adjust, making for some awkward leaps of faith. Especially when it gets caught on surrounding geometry – this still stresses me out Nintendo!
Lining up jumps on certain stages can be difficult, as the camera sometimes swings back to its original position upon manual adjust, making for some awkward leaps of faith.
The levels of Super Mario 64 all have a distinct theme or gimmick to them. Allowing the visuals and gameplay to remain enticing all round. At one point, you’ll be exploding out of a cannon in a relaxing garden environment, then find yourself walking through a creepy mansion housing a murderous piano with shark-like jaws in another!
Don’t lie, we all got spooked when we approached the grand piano on our first run. Admit it.
…And Was It Always This Good?
It’s super entertaining revisiting these classic stages. Navigating them brings back an immense feeling of nostalgia that you just can’t ignore. Racing the Big Penguin down the icy slopes of Cool, Cool Mountain, or trying to keep your composure at high altitudes on Rainbow Ride is oh-so memorable!
Racing the Big Penguin down the icy slopes of Cool, Cool Mountain, or trying to keep your composure at high altitudes on Rainbow Ride is oh-so memorable!
I find it difficult to criticise Super Mario 64’s levels specifically because they’ve all been hand-crafted with a high degree of excellence. Though the camera, as previously stated is a cause for concern. The flying hat controls are a bit stiff, and the accuracy of throwing Bowser from his tail is a little finicky, but there’s just so much to love here.
You can’t really go wrong revisiting this classic.
Super Mario 64’s Musical Mastery
And speaking of classic, Koji Kondo’s OST is chock-full of stand-out tunes. The music is so infectious in fact, that I’d say it’s one of the most well-crafted soundtracks to ever grace a video game! The instruments have an ultra-unique timbre, and the melodies themselves are just so catchy and timeless! You’ll find yourself humming along to them, well after the credits roll.
My personal favourites would have to be the ‘Dire, Dire Docks’ and ‘Bob-Omb Battlefield’ themes – literally my childhood!
Don’t come into Super Mario 64 looking for a riveting story (the princess has been captured yadayadayada – you know the drill). Although do expect a lovingly-crafted sequence of levels and tight controls that remain timeless today. There may be some camera blemishes here and there, and a few aspects haven’t aged that well, but it still packs a mighty platforming punch!
Do yourself a favour and discover how the 3D platformer originated – you won’t be disappointed!… And how about that music, huh?
Review by Anthony Culinas
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