Still virtually flawless after almost 20 years.
Like the rest of us, I bought Super Mario Galaxy 2 when it hit the Wii Virtual Console a few months ago. I’d never played it, but everyone told me it was incredible. Alas, I’ve barely touched it. However, Super Mario 64 just came down the pipe and I haven’t been able to stop playing it. I think it says something about the quality of SM64 that I can’t stop playing it, whereas I’m ignoring a brand-new 3D Mario game.
Super Mario 64 was a launch title for the Nintendo 64 back in 1996. It introduced us to free-roaming 3D spaces for the first time in a video game, and legend has it that the N64 controller was built around the new analog control stick with Super Mario 64 in mind. It’s amazing to play this game and realize just how on-the-mark Nintendo got on their first try. Super Mario 64 is arguably the most influential video game of the last twenty years. 3D action games would not exist without Nintendo showing everyone else the way (they also introduced enemy targeting a few years later in Ocarina of Time). Rare obviously took the most cues from Nintendo—the Banjo games and DK64 directly rip off SM64’s design—but we wouldn’t have Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Metal Gear Solid, or even Grand Theft Auto 3 onward without this landmark title.
The real miracle is how well it holds up. The soundtrack is one of the best Mario soundtracks ever crafted. The graphics are simplistic but clean and uncluttered. Mario’s moveset is diverse and responsive. Each level is wholly unique in aesthetic and atmosphere, and there are no duds. Because you don’t need all 120 stars to beat the game (I think you only need 70), there’s really no pressure to perform—you can take the game at your own pace, completing the goals you feel comfortable with and then moving on. The game rewards exploration and each level is truly a sandbox—you don’t have to get the Stars in a particular order!
It would be unfair to say the game is flawless; you are often fighting camera, even in places where the camera has (theoretically) plenty of room to move. Anytime you have to use the Wing Cap is also troublesome—the flying physics, which are clearly trying to emulate the Cape from Super Mario World—just don’t work here. Thankfully, very few Stars require the Wing Cap. These problems are both alleviated somewhat by the addition of Restore Points.
I cannot overstate the importance and influence of Super Mario 64 in this industry. I believe it’s important to play from a historical perspective, but I can also say that it’s still the purest, most fun 3D Mario game ever made. It is absolutely revolutionary, and everyone should play it.