Remembering Super Mario 64



I didn’t buy a Nintendo Gamecube when it launched in 2001. Actually, I didn’t buy a Gamecube at all, although I played through most of its best games on my brother’s system. It was also the first Nintendo console to not launch with a Mario title.

This, I assure you, is not a coincidence.

Yes, this is going to be another story about a Mario game inspiring a system upgrade that I didn’t anticipate. If anything, this is an even more impressive tale, although it lacks the childhood trauma of its predecessor. This time, I knew the implications of what I was dealing with. I knew in 1996 that my SNES was going to be replaced at some point by a new Nintendo system coming out, to be called the Nintendo Ultra 64 (it later dropped the “Ultra”). I wasn’t interested.

And why should I be? The SNES was on a roll. There’s a good case to be made for the SNES having the most comprehensive gaming lineup of any console (only the PS2 is in the same ballpark). This was 1996, after all, and the year before had seen two of the system’s most graphically-advanced and exciting games released: Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2. Not only that, Super Mario RPG had just come out and at this point was going to top my Christmas list at year’s end. I was happy, I was content.

The problem? Mario got in the way. Again.

With Super Mario World, it was the screenshots that inspired a change of heart on my part. But I had seen all the Nintendo Power screenshots for Super Mario 64 – they did nothing. Super Mario 64 had to be seen to be believed. So it wasn’t until I was visiting my cousin Devin’s place and got to see the game in action that my opinion changed. And boy, did it ever.

A kid who great up with the PS2 or the Gamecube wouldn’t probably bat an eye at Super Mario 64 today; if anything, they might find it boring and redundant (stupid kids). But everything that we take for granted in gaming today – 3-D worlds, freedom of movement, analog control – started with one game. Super Mario 64 was revolutionary, arguably the most revolutionary game I had seen and played since I first placed my hands on an NES controller eight years earlier.

The 3-D graphics weren’t as big a deal as you might think, as first-person shooters had started to appear in 3-D for a while now and the Playstation had many games with 3-D graphics. But this was a true 3-D game, the point of which was complete freedom of movement. This was a game with no walls (okay…there were walls, but they were hardly intrusive). It wasn’t a matter of deciding whether to go left or right anymore. Did I want to go around? Through? Up? It was akin to discovering that the world is round after all.

The simple joy of moving around was enough to win me over – the fact that it featured varied worlds, hidden secrets and some of the best level design of the modern era just added to the increasingly-pressing need to own this game. Super Mario 64 was so overwhelming an experience that I only put my birthday money towards an N64 and the game (since it did not come with the system), but to sell my SNES to make up the difference, a decision I’ve always regretted (not the N64 part of the deal, but the fact that I so quickly parted with such a great collection of games).

Super Mario 64 was so good that it made me overlook the glaring flaws that the N64 had as a console: its use of cartridges was already alienating third parties and leading them to right to Sony’s arms, and, more importantly, it was launching with only TWO games (and would only have 7-8 by year’s end). Of course, when one of them was literally inventing how every 3-D platformer would be played for the rest of time, who cares?

It says a lot that Super Mario Galaxy is being hyped as the “true” sequel to Super Mario 64 – it’s because ten years later, Mario and Mario 64 remains the gold standard of platform gaming. It says a lot that for all that’s changed, some things stay the same.

Your move, Galaxy.

Watch: Nintendo Power Nintendo 64 promotional video part one (the 1990s…never forget…)

Oh, and I’m pretty sure reposting this is necessary with every Nintendo 64 related blog post:


3 responses to “Remembering Super Mario 64

  1. Quick bit of revisionist history: you were only able to afford to also buy Super Mario 64 thanks to me. I remember the kitchen table math quite vividly – I also remember renting Wave Race from that place at Lacewood and then sitting playing it with…Franz, I want to say, before the hardwood floor was installed.

  2. Oh my, I do believe that you’re quite right! And with regards to Wave Race…I remember relocating the TV up to my room for that weekend and playing Wave Race pretty much non-stop. What a great game.

  3. I didn’t play Mario 64 until early 2003, a few months after buying Super Mario Sunshine. The graphical downgrade was a bit jarring, but was cushioned by Mario’s cartoony aesthetic – Halo to Goldeneye is a lot harder to swallow.

    What really bugged me was the N64 controller – by 2003 the only controllers for sale were used ones, and N64 controllers do NOT age well.

    Still, I eventually completed the 120 stars in Mario 64 (on the Wii VC) and never got past 80 shines in Mario Sunshine, so I guess I liked 64 better overall.

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