No you didn’t read that wrong. In the year of our lord 2020 I am reviewing the 1996 classic platformer, Super Mario 64. More specifically I am reviewing the re-release of it in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundle for the Nintendo Switch.
For those of you who don’t know, Super Mario 64 was a launch title for the Nintendo 64 back in 1996, created and directed by Shigeru Miyamoto and was universally praised for its gameplay and innovation. The game features you taking control of Mario, exploring Princess Peach’s castle and collecting stars in various levels to unlock new parts of the castle which lead to new levels. Each level contains a pseudo-open world environment, with multiple paths and areas leading to different stars.
If you’ve played other 3D platformers like Spyro, Banjo-Kazooie or later 3D Mario games such as Galaxy and Odyssey, it’ll be pretty familiar. However, it’s important to note that this game predates every 3D platformer you know. It was revolutionary and defined a new genre that was impossible on previous hardware.
Everyone already knows it was good in 1996, but it’s not 1996, its 2020, and we need to know if it’s still worth getting for someone who’s never played it before.
Picking up the game for the first time on my switch was pretty intuitive, and the game required almost no tutorial apart from a quick explanation on which buttons do what. I never thought that Mario Galaxy or Odyssey were every really too challenging and the first few levels of 64 weren’t really either. But then I unlocked the basement, and things started to change. Enemies got tougher, platforms got smaller and level got harder, this game was not the walk in the park I thought it would be. And stars aren’t just lying around everywhere like they are in Odyssey or just found at the end of a pretty linear path like in Galaxy, they are either hidden away in the last place you’d expect or are pretty difficult to get to. This game really challenged me.
Despite the limitations at the time, every level, with the exception of a few, looks and feels unique and different. Tiny Huge Island is one of the later levels in the game and feature a lot of the same textures found in Bob-Bomb Battlefield and has a similar layout to Tall Tall Mountain. Because of this, it would have been easy for it to feel similar to these levels, but the gimmick of making Mario grow and shrink as well as the rather tricky placement of the stars makes this level really stand out and feel unique.
Unfortunately, this game does have one glaring flaw that is pretty hard to overlook, and that’s the fact that it was made in 1996. Every level is a mess of polygons and poorly rendered textures, with the landscapes of most levels feeling a bit flat and dull. And while the camera was considered revolutionary at the time, and controls in a very similar way to Mario Galaxy, I walked off an edge or into an enemy because the camera was at the worst possible angle. It’s definitely not as polished as some of the newer games and at certain points made me just want to play Odyssey instead.
But while the game isn’t the most graphically impressive and the camera really tried my patience, Super Mario 64 is a challenging and rewarding game with tons of visually interesting levels and engaging gameplay moments that I would say holds up to a lot better in 2020 than I expected. I believe that this game will go down like the original Doom, outdated but with enough charm and fun to be a timeless classic. If you have enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey and you’re willing to plough through a game that is a bit outdated, you really can’t go wrong with Super Mario 64.