I never owned Mario 64 as a kid. I could only play snippets whenever I visited my uncle, so it took quite a while to get a full playthrough completed. I remember running through the fields of Bob-Omb Battlefield and shooting myself through the canon, and having a great time. It was such an immersive experience to me at the time and I dreamt about it constantly.
To this day, whenever I hear the soundtrack, I am filled with a giddy nostalgia, so I was super excited to be able to play it again with the Mario 3D All-Stars pack that released a few years ago. I took my time getting to 64 because I love the other two games so much, but now that I have finally played through one of my childhood classics again, I have to say maybe I should have kept it in the past.
Mario’s First Jump Into 3D
It was a big deal when Mario was 3D for the first time and the blueprint that this game created affected 3D game development for years to come, including its own series.
Peach’s Castle as a hub world is excellent as it makes the player work through the obstacles in their way while trying to figure out how to get to Bowser. There are secrets to find and other little goodies that make you want to search the darkest and loneliest corners of the castle.
Seeing a new painting on the wall inviting me to a new adventure was exciting as a kid and was still exciting as an adult. However, that doesn’t mean all of the worlds are created equal because for every Bob-Omb Battlefield; you have a Tiny-Huge Island. The level of quality is not evenly split among these worlds like in other titles in the series.
Now, you do have the option to pick and choose what stars you would prefer to get as long as you are just trying to get to Bowser. This level of freedom isn’t as present until Odyssey over 20 years later.
There were loads of times when I was sick and tired of falling to my doom in Rainbow Ride or getting absolutely bullied by an invisible wall in Tall-Tall Mountain. When this happened, I took a deep breath and went somewhere else where I still had some stars to work toward.
It’s a great way to keep me invested when I haven’t mastered all the worlds yet or am just getting a little too frustrated with the controls. The worlds may not all be created equal in terms of fun, but each most certainly has its own personality.
Whether I was swimming into the depths of Dire Dire Docks or fighting the desert winds in Shifting Sand Land, I felt like I was definitely in another location in this fantastical world. I would have liked there to be more NPCs or objectives exclusive to these worlds like we see in other games like Banjo Kazooie, but what we have still left an impression.
Personally, I really liked working my way through Big Boo’s haunt. Not only was it fun to find in the first place, but it made me think outside the box for most of the stars in that world. Almost all of the objectives felt like they were exclusive to that world and not rehashes of other objectives from other worlds.
Speaking of levels, we do face Bowser on several occasions, and it’s essentially the same boss fight time and again. You run around the big beast, grab his tail, and throw him into a bomb. You do this three times in the game (more if you keep missing the bombs like I did). It’s just one example of the repetitive nature of this game.
You may be able to spice things up and choose the direction you want to go, but you aren’t going to be able to avoid collecting red coins. Many of the worlds have the same basic formulas for stars ranging from boss fights, reaching the end of a level, reaching a secret, and 100 coin stars.
I guess I might be spoiled by Odyssey, but it felt very samey by the fifth world. Many of these tasks also seem great until you factor in another variable that is infamous with Mario 64, its controls.
The Sands of Time Are Cruel
Yes, the controls are both some of the best and some of the worst in the series. For people who played this game religiously as kids or have taken up speedrunning it, this is often cited as the pinnacle in Mario’s movement.
For me, however, Mario’s clunky actions and terrible camera are enough for me to want to punt a Goomba and never play the game again. On top of that, there are oddities in the levels that will leave you red in the face, like when you go to make a jump, and an invisible barrier kills you. Or the time when I slid down a slope, but the slope was in my face, so I couldn’t tell that I was about to slide right into lava.
Of course, moments like that don’t happen all the time, but when I am constantly fighting the camera to get a decent look around the map so I can make an accurate jump, in a platformer no less, then there is a bit of a problem.
I’m not a huge stickler for graphics, but having recently played Banjo and Ocarina of Time, it’s kind of gross to go back and play Mario 64. Those are two titles that were in the same generation that hold up considerably better in the visual department.
I feel like if I were to trip in the world of Mario 64, I would be impaled by the geometry of the world. Everything is so pointy I’d rather have seen a few more squares for platforms as opposed to the weird beak-like cliffs they made instead.
In a strange way, though, the controls and camera made completing this game feel more like a challenge than most Mario games usually do. It’s not a challenge I would return to like I would Sunshine, but there’s something to be said for finally conquering the camera and making your way to a peak or taking down Bowser for the last time. Like, “Ha, I’m playing at a disadvantage and still kicked your butt.”
And I know I was harsh on the graphics, too, but it’s like returning home after decades away. What was once full of childhood memories that felt cemented in time is chipped and broken to pieces. The cornerstone closed, and the public park is being bulldozed for a Walmart. It isn’t the same as it once was, and it’s hard to see what you loved so dearly about it before.
This was one of my favorite games at one point, but I have grown and the game, well, time hit it in other ways. I think what’s best is that I continue to cherish the few great memories I have left of this game because I’m only getting older, and Mario 64 only had so much magic to give me in the first place.