Today I’m doing something a little bit different. A week or so ago, the latest Mario game, Super Mario 3D World, was released on the Wii U to wonderful reviews. Sadly, being bereft of any financial currency, I have been unable to experience what is now being regarded as one of the best Mario games in recent memory, and a must own for Wii U owners. But nevertheless, in celebration, I will settle for the next best thing: the very first 3D Mario game, Super Mario 64! Join me, will you, as we take a nostalgic trip back to one of the most timeless games of all…er…time.
1996. Nintendo has just released it’s newest home video game console, the Nintendo 64. Known throughout it’s development as the “Ultra 64”, the N64 promised cool new takes on classic franchises like Mario and Zelda as they were brought into the 3rd Dimension. Coming from the Super Nintendo (BIAS ALERT: Pretty much the greatest system ever) players would once again feel the awe and trepidation as they entered into brand new worlds. Zelda was…well, that’s quite a story for another time, but Super Mario 64 was released alongside Nintendo’s new console, and gamers got to experience it from day one.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing advertisements and artwork for Super Mario 64 for some time after it was released. At my age, my awareness of Mario was growing, so the thought of a NEW Mario game got me all kinds of excited in my kiddy pants. At the time I played games mostly through other kids who had them, or in this case, we rented a console and a game or two. This would eventually become tradition, where we would rent the system and either Diddy Kong Racing or Snowboard Kids, but this time, my family was treated to Super Mario 64. Good old Blockbuster (may they rest in peace (or hell)) was quite cool with stuff like that. I sat in front of our TV with the crap contrast and my mom and dad hooked up the N64. Super Mario 64 powered on. And the words that I will never forget rang through the speakers.
"It’s a-me, Mario!"
Cue the catchy tunes. And cue my excitement of the fact that Mario’s gigantic face was smiling and looking out towards the screen. Of course you’re right, that does sound pretty disturbing in retrospect. Anyways, the pleasant menu music begins, I start a new game, and am treated to the vista of Peach’s castle surrounding the field. A squeal of glee was likely heard as Mario made his gigantic leap out of the warp pipe and into the huge 3D world around him. Absolutely brilliant, that. I think I remember doing nothing except exploring around the castle for a good amount of time, and, you know, trying not to drown poor Mario in the moat. Entering the castle you are treated (or horrified, depending on your age) to a lovely cackle and hearty roar from none other then Bowser. But after he says his bit, ta-da, you have a castle to explore! I wonder what other kids felt, having so much freedom in a time when it was so new and unseen. From there on out, you meet Toad(s), discover the secrets of the castle, and jump into paintings leading to wonderful new worlds, each with their own set of unique challenges to best and secrets to uncover. Remember King Bob-omb on the first level? Remember Dire Dire Docks, with that almost hypnotizing tune and atmosphere? Or what about the haunted house, with that pants-ruining piano that attacks you? The castle is epic, with a multitude of worlds to see, but also challenging at parts, asking from the player a plethora of skills and technique to achieve the most sought after item in the game: the Gold Stars. These act as tickets of sorts as they allow you passage to more doors, and by extension, more worlds. But of course, you must also defeat Bowser on three separate occasions, and I’m sure many recall the first encounter. The level preceding the fight is memorable enough, with that outrageously good melody, but the fight with Bowser was entirely embedded in my memory. But it was also quite absurd when I was a kid. See, at the time, I literally could not figure out what to actually DO. This is where I can hear you telling me “But Donlevy, I figured it out within SECONDS. I mean, it’s SOOO EASY. You’re such a NOOB at Mario! Why, I could do it with my eyes CLOSED.” …and other such nonsense.
Right, well hush, you. If others had similar problems like I did, and you managed to figure it out, I imagine the gratification was near-orgasmic. Like, I mean, that moment of discovery when you’re like “OH MY GOD YOU MOVE THE CONTROL STICK IN A CIRCLE AND BOWSER GOES WHEEEEEE AND THEN BOWSER GOES BYE BYE AND IF YOU DO IT RIGHT HE GOES BOOM AND BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL I AM GOD I AM MASTER KNEEL BEFORE MARIO” ….Ahem. Moving on: yes, that was quite a good memory.
But what else could be said of Mario 64? It’s a part of my childhood that I will never forget. Like all the greatest games, they are equal part enjoyment and memory. The music, the levels, it’s all engrained in my head, but I would not have it any other way. It’s one of the most wonderful gifts of gaming that we can all experience and share our own memories of the games we play. I’m happy to share with you today my story. And many of you, I imagine, have your own experiences with Super Mario 64 as well. What a joy it would be to hear of these! So as we enter a new generation of Mario, I hope we never forget one of the most important games of it’s own generation, and I hope my nostalgic trip inspired a good memory or two. Long live retro gaming!