About Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64: Perhaps the most important video game of all time
Milestone, revolution, trailblazer, turning point: there are not enough grandiose terms to put the relevance of the N64 adventure Super Mario 64 into words. On the occasion of the 35th birthday of the most famous plumber in the world and the resurrection of the adventure as part of Super Mario 3D Allstars, we look back on his first 3D appearance and thus on perhaps the most important video game of all time.
Super Mario 64: Just say the title of the adventure and many players fall into sweet raptures. The first 3D excursion by the world’s most famous plumber is still considered an absolute milestone not only in the jumping game genre, but in the video game world itself. Where the chubby Italian previously only moved from left to right, a whole world was suddenly open to us to explore. Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first 3D game, not even the first 3D jump and run.
But in contrast to the competition, it showed at the first attempt how it was done correctly and brought with it numerous other “firsts”: The first blockbuster game that relied on analog stick control; the first to offer a real, freely rotating camera; the first to establish how Collectathons work, a subgenre that should dominate both the N64 and PS1 portfolios in the years to come after the release.
A Plumber’s Early Years
Everything could have turned out differently. What we now know as Super Mario 64 started much earlier on Super Nintendo. Around 1991 and 1992, Nintendo was working on Star Fox, which used the new Super FX chip to display 3D effects.
Miyamoto was enthusiastic about the technology and decided that the next Mario adventure after the acclaimed Super Mario World should use the same technology. Images or even videos from this development do not exist, it is not even clear whether a working prototype was ever implemented for the intended game. In any case, the project turned out to be too complex for the decrepit 16-bit hardware.
By the time the game was finally officially unveiled for the Nintendo 64, then called Ultra 64, at the end of 1995, the structure of the adventure had to be thrown upside down, completely rethought or at least revised several times. So at some point a much more linear level structure was planned, similar to the Crash Bandicoot games. A holdover from this design approach can still be found in the three very straightforward Bowser levels.
He came, saw, won
Back then it was an absolute technical highlight and nowadays an iconic element of Super Mario 64 for millions of people: the interactive start screen. Source: PC Games Instead, freedom of play was ultimately the focus of development. By today’s standards, the team responsible for the project was almost ridiculously small: Most of the time, no more than 20 people were working on the game at the same time. These developers had the comfort that their work had a direct impact on the production of the Nintendo 64.
The controller of the cult console was made with Super Mario 64 in mind. This shows the enormous importance of the prestige project, by far the most important launch title for the new hardware. All the efforts, all the reboots and the many thoughts that revolved around the adventure ultimately more than paid off: When Super Mario 64 was released in Japan in June 1996 (and in March 1997 here in Europe too), it was showered with top ratings, exuberant praise and prizes.
It quickly became clear: Nintendo had not only put one foot into the 3D gaming water, a bomb from the ten-meter tower had made all the other competitors on the edge of the pool really wet!
A new world
Peaches Castle is still considered one of the best, definitely one of the most memorable hub worlds ever and is full of exciting secrets. If you put the game back in the console after all these years, you also know why Super Mario 64 had this extreme influence.
Sure, it has its archaic elements and with some design decisions you want to shake up the developers vigorously. But in essence it has truly aged excellently. And it introduces you as a player to the 3D world, which was new for the time, in an extremely competent manner.
As soon as we open up in front of her castle after Princess Peaches invitation, we are first confronted with an open area free of any danger. The water splashes in the castle moat, birds chirp, trees invite you to climb. Probably every player who started the adventure for the first time in the mid-1990s spent far too much time in this area, hopped around and got to know Mario’s moveset.
This is no coincidence and was exactly what Nintendo wanted. According to the old design wisdom of Mario inventor Shigeru Miyamoto, according to which the basics of a game must be established and understood within the first screen, the players are gently introduced to all the movements and elements that they will later encounter in increasingly complex and tricky situations will have to implement.
What once were jumping, gumba, mushrooms and blocks in Super Mario Bros. were running, triple jump, long jump, punch, climbing, swimming, crawling and Co. in Super Mario 64.
The linear levels that have to be overcome on the way to the three confrontations with Fiesling Bowser are a holdover from the early development period. And even after that you won’t be thrown into the deep end. Little by little, the adventure leads you to increasingly demanding challenges.
After examining the first halls and corridors of Peaches Castle, the actual Hub-World, you inevitably stumble upon a large picture of the bomb enemies of Bob-Ombs. If you touch the painting, it starts to wobble strangely, and sooner or later your intuition tells you what to do: Just jump on it – and you are right in the middle of the first “real” level of Super Mario 64, Bob-Ombs Mountain of bombs.
Show, don’t tell, is the motto of the title, not every tiny little thing is chewed on for the player – a bad habit that Nintendo unfortunately indulges in quite often these days. Sure, toads and boards give hints, but for the most part you find out what to do for yourself. Our job is to collect gold stars, so let’s do this! Even at this early moment in the game, the playful freedom indicated when exercising around in the front yard becomes apparent.
The three cap power-ups, especially the wing cap, help you to explore the worlds much faster and to overcome obstacles much more easily. The mission description tells us to defeat King Bob-Omb up on the plateau of the great mountain.
But what if we just don’t do that? What if instead we start collecting red coins, possibly even finding a way to get to that specimen of the star on the flying island in the sky despite the obvious route still blocked at this point? Zack, the reward is a completely different golden star than the one actually intended!
Or we explore the area, discover that we can free the poor chain dog from its leash and suddenly see ourselves rewarded with another star. Super Mario 64 rarely has a single solution. Much more often, the instructions it gives us are just a rough guide. Many modern role-playing games with decision-making elements can learn a bit from this!
As you Like It
In the green poison grotto, you rarely have to go down into the depths of the poison labyrinth if you know the tricks with which you can get directly to the star. This approach goes even further and one can argue about the extent to which this second aspect was intended by Nintendo itself.
Again and again
Super Mario 64 is full of great ideas. Who does not remember the Gulliver Gumba level that we have to explore as both giant and tiny? What this approach, which is open in every respect, achieves, which apart from the significantly different Super Mario Odyssey no plumber’s jumping game has ever been able to imitate again: Super Mario 64 is a game that goes far, far beyond its actual playing time in addition, ensures almost unlimited long-term motivation.
At its core it’s simple: You collect 70 gold stars to be able to fight the last of the three Bowser fights – 120 if you really want to complete all tasks. Depending on your ability and experience, this takes about 20 to 30 hours for the very first run. If you found yourself in this situation shortly after the launch in 1996, you probably thought you had seen and experienced everything.
But then the rumor arose in the schoolyard that Maxi Huber from the 5C had solved this and that task, which had taken hours to complete, within seconds and in a completely different way. The reaction at the time was probably skeptical before you heard that Susi Mayer from 4A had also approached a star search in a very different way.
So you sat down at the N64 again, suddenly tried completely different tricks and experienced a true gameplay epiphany. After spending dozens of hours on the adventure, a world suddenly opened up behind the virtual world that you had simply not seen before because you simply lacked the knowledge and skills.
Although or precisely because the Internet with its answers to all questions and revelations of all secrets did not play a role at that time, the game with all its possibilities kept pulling you under its spell.
The Legend of Super Mario
A side aspect of this collective deconstruction of what was (and is) possible in Mario 64 was the creation of myths. Here, too, the following applies: Released in times of Internet omnipresence, the game could not have become such a phenomenon, at least in this respect.
Busy dataminers, forums full of people who use their “spoilers” to dampen the urge to explore, make it almost impossible for secrets to remain undiscovered for years. We currently have the best evidence for this, because the major source code leak around SNES and N64 in the last few weeks and months has spread everything that could previously only be speculated about in Ocarina of Time, Star Fox, Super Mario 64 and Co. , visible to all before the world.
In the past, however, you saw even more washed-out writing on a faded blackboard in the backyard of Peaches Castle and wondered what that might mean – “L is real 2401”, can Luigi be unlocked as a character.
Or you wondered what was outside of the huge aquarium next to the Pirate Bay Panic level. Or you wanted to know if there wasn’t a last, secret level hidden somewhere, which pushed the maximum number of stars beyond the 120 official copies. Enjoy the free Super Mario 64 ROM game download now.