Some games need no introduction. Super Mario 64 was a truly groundbreaking leap into glorious 3D for everyone’s favourite mustachioed plumber. What really brought it home was Mario’s adorable little face in the main menu, which you could interact with by prodding him to get a feel for just how well-realised he was in three dimensions.
This wow factor for the time drew players in, and it was maintained pretty much all the way through Super Mario 64. The game was a launch title for the Nintendo 64 console, and pretty much cemented its early success serving as its killer app.
It wasn’t just how good the Mushroom Kingdom looked that won players over, but there were several changes to the gameplay which built on the increased scale and feeling of freedom that came with the leap into 3D. As usual, Mario was on a quest to save Princess Peach from the ever meddling Bowser, who had locked her away in her own castle. The cheek.
This time around however, the castle acted as a hub which you needed to explore to find portals to several worlds. Usually disguised as a painting, which rippled when you approached, these worlds were wonderfully diverse. You would find yourself diving to explore sunken ships, climbing fortress islands whilst avoiding deadly crosswinds and tip-toeing across platforms surrounded by deadly lava. The castle also held many secrets for the player to discover, with bonus worlds that could be completely missed if not found.
The aim of the game was to collect stars to unlock the path to Princess Peach, which was regularly blocked by showdowns with Bowser. There were eight to discover in each world and you could collect them in pretty much any order you liked. As well as this, you didn’t have to find every single one to progress either. This gave Super Mario 64 an unparalleled sense of freedom and choice that had previously been impossible to realise in Mario’s 2D adventures.
As well as the player having more control over how they play than ever before, the environments in each world seemed huge, with no linear path from A to B. Exploration was encouraged as you weren’t forced down a particular path and left to make choices for yourself. Stars were earned in many different ways, from simply exploring to charming encounters such as racing penguins.
Mario also had some new tricks up his sleeve, including a wide range of jumps, a ground pound and power-ups such as the “wing cap” which opened up all sorts of platforming opportunities in the 3D world. These moves helped in battling the expansive roster of enemies in Super Mario 64 which populated a diverse series of worlds.
Boss characters popped up too from time to time, which whilst never overly difficult to dispatch, introduced some brilliantly wacky characters into the game (King Bomb-omb was a personal favourite). Bowser was of course the big bad as usual, and you would face off against him several times throughout the game. The levels leading up to these encounters gradually increased in difficulty, acting as assault courses to test your platforming skills.
Super Mario 64 was backed by a brilliant soundtrack, composed by the legendary Koji Kondo. It also featured Charles Martinet, Mario’s most famous voice actor. Many of the tunes which accompany the varied worlds in Super Mario 64 are still great to listen to today, a testament to the team’s groundbreaking work 25 years ago.
I have very few criticisms of Super Mario 64, even through the lens of the present day. However, the major niggle was the in-game camera, which always required constant fiddling to get the view you needed to help you avoid a nasty death. It sounds odd to say the camera was problematic as you had lots of control over where to position it, but frustratingly it never settled where you wanted it to. Still, the issue was manageable and didn’t detract from the otherwise fantastic adventure on offer.
Remakes are commonplace today but this wasn’t always the case. Super Mario 64 was one of the earliest games I remember to receive this treatment. Who could resist revisiting such a classic when new technology became available? Well, this was the case when the Nintendo DS was released, and Super Mario 64 was enhanced for launch.
The re-release boasted improved graphics, new playable characters and a multiplayer mode to boot. Although these weren’t the biggest changes, they were enough for many millions to revisit the game once again. More recently the game was brought to the Wii’s Virtual Console, and Nintendo Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.
Super Mario 64 remains effortlessly brilliant to this day, as I rediscovered when playing the latest iteration. Thanks to a leap forward graphically, a real feeling of freedom in how you play and everything present which makes the franchise so brilliant, it’s fair to say that Super Mario 64 is quite possibly one of the most influential games of all time.
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