I don’t really like Super Mario 64. There, I said it. I understand that the game was a big deal for its time, considering it was one of the first 3D platformers ever made. While that is certainly something to be admired, I never really had the best opinion of this game. In fact, I feel Super Mario 64 might be the reason I bore poor Mario a bit of a grudge over the years. So when I gave it another chance recently thanks to Super Mario 3D All-Stars, was I finally ready to forgive Mario? Keep on reading to find out!
It all started several years after Super Mario 64’s release, around 2000 or so, when I bought the game used. Back then, used games actually worked, you see. I may not be the biggest Mario fan out there, but I must have had high hopes, considering I was willing to buy this game with my meager allowance (hence why I couldn’t afford a new copy). But even back then, when 3D platformers were still pretty new, I found the game to be more of a pain than a joy to play. And maybe it didn’t help that, at this point, Mario’s first 3D outing was being compared in my mind to the more polished Banjo-Tooie, which I had recently played several times over and absolutely loved.
Sure, it may not have been fair to compare Super Mario 64 to a platformer that had been released four years later, but I couldn’t exactly help it, either. While Banjo and Kazooie had a wide range of abilities, all Mario could really do was perform various jumps and the like. Mario didn’t even have a double jump like pretty much every other platforming character in existence! It was the very reason I never enjoyed those levels in Super Mario Sunshine where Mario couldn’t use FLUDD because he was essentially reduced to his Mario 64 counterpart. I suppose there were the caps, but they were only available occasionally, and Mario’s limited flying ability couldn’t exactly compare to Kazooie’s airborne prowess! (In Mario’s defense, I guess it should stand to reason that a magic hat with wings still can’t compete with an actual bird.)
Plus, as a duckling, I just found the game to be incredibly difficult. I struggled through the game multiple times, where I accumulated just a few more stars during each subsequent playthrough than I had last time, only to inevitably give up in frustration before I had collected enough to ascend the endless staircase and defeat Bowser for the final time. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally beat the game for the very first time…and 100%, no less! But once the game was as complete as it ever would be, I had very little intention of playing again. Not until the game was re-released on the Switch as part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, at which point it seemed like a good time to face my nemesis once again and see if my feelings had changed at all.
Now that Super Mario 64 and its issues are much fresher in my mind, it’s no wonder the game gave me such a hard time. Mario tends to make wide turns, which led to many falls off of high ledges that could have easily been avoided, and sometimes he just starts sliding, and there’s little you can do to stop him. This happened to me all the time in Tiny-Huge Island, where big Mario would land on just the wrong spot of the island and slide right off into the inexplicable abyss surrounding it. I get why the icy levels would be slippery, but I can’t comprehend why grassy hills would cause such unnecessary sliding. The best explanation I can come up with is that Mario’s shoes are made of wet soap.
And then there’s the camera. I swear, it has a life of its own! Which I suppose makes sense because you’re apparently being filmed by a Lakitu. A Lakitu that has an odd obsession with Mario’s backside, causing the camera to spin around him until it’s firmly centered on Mario’s rump whenever I’m standing still. Except when I desperately need the camera behind me so I can more accurately cross a narrow ledge, in which case Lakitu keeps his distance and just hovers at the worst angle possible. And who thought it was a good idea for the camera to make an annoying sound every time one changed the angle? I really wish there was a way to turn that sound off because my whole playthrough was practically filled with “woo, woo” sounds as I struggled with Lakitu over the camera like two dogs fighting over a bone!
Having just played Super Mario Sunshine immediately beforehand, SM64 also has a decidedly lonely and, dare I say, even eerie feel to it. Isle Delfino was just so full of life, what with all the Pianta and Noki inhabiting it. But the worlds in SM64 feel so barren in comparison. I know it’s not the game’s fault, as this was simply a limitation of being on older hardware, but I couldn’t quite get over that uneasy feeling it gave me. I’m not sure why, but Wet-Dry World is the worst culprit for me. Outside the world’s boundaries, you can see this city in the distance, and it’s just…really creepy, to be honest. All those dark windows make the city look empty and devoid of life, and…maybe it is. Just going about my business and searching for stars, while also being surrounded by some abandoned city whose residents have all but vanished, just doesn’t sit right with me.
I have to admit that, after all these years, SM64 is still no friend of mine. I would certainly never say that such a momentous video game landmark is bad or anything. There were plenty of fun moments, with the last few stars in particular being the most thrilling of all as I neared my second 100% playthrough. But I can’t deny the fact that much of the game was just a bit more troublesome than entertaining.
I’m always going to prefer Sunshine, where FLUDD can make up for Mario’s rather limited moveset. Or the much more recent Super Mario Odyssey, which was just amazing. (Heck, I’d still rather play Super Mario World for the SNES!) Super Mario 64 was more like a stepping stone, paving the way for plenty of other 3D platformers that were, frankly, better. I will never deny the contribution that this game made, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am not, and never will be, a fan.
As for the titular plumber, I’d say that Mario and I have made our peace, and I still plan to pay him plenty of visits in the future. It just won’t be in Super Mario 64.
This post was originally published in Virtual Bastion on May 24, 2022.