A look back: Super Mario 64
Well I’m feeling nostalgic. I was reading some old reviews on the old N64.com site. Now IGN.com. I don’t want to commit to calling this a series yet, but I’d like to take some of my old games and revisit them. Share my experiences from a time when I spent WAAAY too much time playing games and a new perspective.
Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 were the first two games we got back on Christmas 1996. I was 14 then, and really not expecting the new Nintendo under our tree. I was still a fan of the old NES games, and still had our original second Nintendo hooked up, but I always just figured I’d be content to play the new Nintendo 64 over at a friend’s house whenever they got one.
All that changed pretty quickly. I remember getting excited looking at the box (not this excited) with a tinge of disbelief that my parents had splurged on such an expensive toy. $199 at the time of it’s release. My thoughts had quickly changed to: “I can’t wait until all my friends come over to see this.” As we hooked it up to our also new 27″ Magnavox TV there was a brief moment where I thought, “Which should I try first? Mario? Or Pilotwings?” But when you have a brand new Nintendo, and a brand new Mario game. You ALWAYS choose Mario!
I still remember quite vividly sitting on the floor amidst the empty boxes and trash bags full of wrapping paper, staring in awe of not only the Nintendo 64 starting up for the very first time, but also the big new TV. For 10 minutes we took turns running around the castle lawn climbing trees, doing handstands, diving in the water and swimming. Running through and interacting with a true 3D world was quite the experience at the time.
Little details were impressive like the birds that would fly from the trees, butterflies that would fly away when you approached, and schools of fish in the water. But as I played I was curious where all the enemies were. Every other Mario game plopped you right into the action, hopping on goombas and the like. I finally headed into the castle after exploring every square inch there was to explore outside. Still no bad guys, even inside the castle. But Bowser’s ominous laugh clues that there would plenty of confrontation to come. But to heck with that! There’s walls and balconies to jump off!
It actually took a bit of getting used to, adapting to a more open ended approach to the Mario levels. No longer was it weave your way though obstacles and enemies just to make it to the end of a stage. And you didn’t have to beat one level before you move on to the next. You often can do the levels in whatever order you prefer. But despite the differences it was still very familiar as a Mario game, very intuitive and VERY fun!
As a younger kid with the original NES, I had always enjoyed the Mario Bros. games and even beaten a couple of them, but not until after Mom had already beaten them once. Well I was a bit older now and my motor skills were a bit more refined (along with my patience). Maybe lame, but I still remember being a little proud being the first one in the house to make it to the end and beat the final match with Bowser. Quite an intimidating battle the way the new system was able to present the game in a more immersive package. Here you are, little Mario having to take down something 4 times your size that breaths fire, shakes the ground loose when he stomps! I still remember getting frustrated trying to wing Bowser only to miss one of the bombs and have him come right back. But somehow watching the final cinematic ending and the credits with highlights of all the levels, there was a sense of accomplishment there.
There’s all sorts of little moments that you just wish you could go back and experience for the first time all over again. Racing the penguin. Chasing the eel and the hidden underwater cave. Metal Mario. Big small world. The list goes on and on. A couple that stick out are some of the stars on the Tall Tall Mountian, where there were several blind jumps, that you either got the star, or fell clear to the bottom of the level, or just plain died! I still remember memorized exactly where to put the star in the cannon sights to hit it every time: Right at the bottom of the circle, where the edge just starts to blur. How do I remember that? Tick-Toc Clock was also one of those frustratingly fun levels, that really highlighted how refined the controls really are.
Even today, despite the dated graphics, Super Mario 64 is still a fantastically fun game. Getting all 120 stars is still a challenge and I’m sure it’d take a good memory jog to even remember where all of them are. It’s just a fun honest game that you don’t need to set aside an hour to play. 12 years later it’s worth keeping the N64 around, even if only for this one game.