Super Mario 64 launched as the major launch game to accompany the release of Nintendo’s then-new flagship console, the Nintendo 64. For a game released in 1996, it was quite impressive technically, but I replayed it to know if it still holds up after twenty years. I would say that it holds up fantastically, and is nearly as much of a marvel now as it was two decades ago.
The story will not knock players off their seats, but it serves its purpose well enough. Princess Peach has been kidnapped once again by Bowser, and all 120 stars that could give Bowser more power have been concealed in paintings, that store worlds to explore beyond them. It is Mario’s job to collect enough stars to face Bowser himself. It may be simple, but it knows what it is trying to accomplish, and it pulls it off.
The graphics showed the power of the Nintendo 64 at the time, and although it could be seen as laughable to look at now, it conveys how the game is all about fun. The bold and striking colours are essentially timeless. The sprite-based objects themselves still look okay today, even if trees look like they have been cut out from paper and always face the camera the same exact way, and the models look alright too. This is not too radical of a departure from the Super FX days. However, it still does not take away from the quality of the game.
The music also gives off the vibe of non-severity, and in the process, tracks are almost engineered to just get stuck in your head. The zany slide music, the urgency of the boss battle track, and the mellow atmosphere that envelops the audio when inside the water levels are all super memorable today, which is why Nintendo seems to hold this game as a benchmark for what their musicians can achieve. Koji Kondo just comes into his own in the move to the Nintendo 64.
I had high expectations for how the game plays, and although it meets them in some aspects, it falls below them in others. The first thing I noticed was that, other than the later levels, they are all quite open, but still feel tightly focused. The emptiness of open worlds nowadays cannot manifest here, as each section of a stage has something to do here, due to the numerous stars being dotted around.
Another strength is how the method of getting stars deviates from just platforming to reach the star – Mario could be racing the clock, or a penguin, or fighting a group of enemies. The flexibility of the stage goals means that the game is constantly being adapted to make new challenges to overcome, reducing any chance of monotony. Future games would take that even further.
What truly makes the game so great is how Mario is implemented in the 3D space. He has a wealth of moves to pull off, and in the earlier levels, he controls fantastically and without any problems, which helped to quickly travel across the stage. The moves truly do help to make moving around a breeze, as chaining moves together and maintaining momentum is just simply quite fun. Paradoxically, that’s where my main issue arises.
It initially appeared at the fifth stage, Big Boo’s Haunt; to get to the top floor, a sideflip into a wall kick is required, but it was exceedingly difficult to pull off. It was only then when I realised that Mario controls rather loosely in comparison to his later outings – it is by no means a dealbreaker, and it can be maneuvered around, but it is difficult to adjust to at first, and I felt that it caused me some deaths that would not have happened in later games.
Even with that, though, Super Mario 64 plays incredibly today. Nintendo created an incredible three dimensional platformer that, when compared to games on other consoles at the time, absolutely outshined them. Nintendo made further strides in graphics when they released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Wave Race 64, but this first outing was simple, to the point, and incredibly fluid. It is highly recommended to revisit it now, in the wake of the next 3D Mario to come on the Nintendo Switch.