The Nintendo 64 was an interesting console. It was Nintendo’s first real attempt at 3D gaming, not counting the Virtual Boy. The graphics were 64 bit, the tech was advanced, and it was 1996, when video games were continuing to get better and better. Nintendo’s first N64 game was Super Mario 64, the Italian plumber’s first 3D adventure. Super Mario 64 is generally considered a pioneer of 3D platforming, but does it still hold up today?
The gameplay of Super Mario 64 is simple. Complete missions in levels, which are reached through various means; going through a painting, falling in a hole, or even jumping into a tiny cage. These missions have various objectives, but all have the same reward, a power star.
These power stars open up doors in Princess Peach’s Castle, the game’s hub world. After a certain amount of stars are collected, Bowser’s door will open, where the player will traverse an obstacle course and defeat bowser for a key to the next area in the castle. This formula is very solid, and has little to no issues. The level designs in Super Mario 64 are all solid, but also have major issues, if that makes sense. While they won’t hinder your gameplay experience, there are a lot of ways to sequence break and collect stars way before you’re supposed to. This is looked at positively by speedrunners, but is still a flaw with the game. There are several glitches that can cause the game to freak out as well, but this is a given with early N64 hardware. The gameplay of Super Mario 64 has held up well, but isn’t without its problems.
The graphics of the game aren’t very good. They can very polygonal and jagged at times, and the textures aren’t polished. Mario’s model from the game looks atrocious today, but for the time was cutting edge. The only passable character model is Princess Peach’s, while characters like Mips the Rabbit and Bowser are a pain to the eyes. The graphics don’t hold up, but that’s expected for a Nintendo 64 game.
The controls are something interesting. Mario controls quite well on land, with the exception of when running on a small platform. Where the controls falter are under water and in the sky. Mario’s swimming controls are clunky and Mario becomes an open target to anything underwater, since he cannot attack easily. Along with this, his heatlh meter is also his air meter, meaning after receiving damage, you lose air too. Water levels are the worst part of the game in my opinion, and flying isn’t much better. What Super Mario 64 calls “Flying” is Mario shooting up into the air and then gliding while slowly getting lower and lower. It’s nearly impossible to get higher while flying, and it’s easy to mess up flying missions by tilting the analog stick slightly in the wrong direction. Luckily, flying and swimming is only a small part of Super Mario 64, and the majority of the game is grounded. I cannot stress how fluid the ground controls are. It feels great to do backflips and wall kicks around the levels. The controls are mostly good, but have some prototypical issues in the air and water.
The music of Super Mario 64 is some of Mario’s most iconic music. Even with the limitations of cartridge music, Super Mario 64 excels in making great tracks. From the main theme of the game to the slide theme, Super Mario 64’s music makes my ears melt. There is a reason that almost every song from this game’s soundtrack has been remixed in later games in the Mario series.
Super Mario 64 is over 20 years old, and is still a joy to play. While there are a few issues with the controls and the game isn’t anything special to look at, there are still plenty of reasons to revisit the game. I beat Super Mario 64 at least once a year, and enjoy each playthrough of it. Super Mario 64 has some issues, but has overall aged well, and I recommend you play it if you haven’t.