It was time to do this properly. I mean, this is meant to be the second best game ever released and all I had done was a minor go during my husband’s playthrough for his blog. I also had a small go on the Nintendo DS port – but compared to the original movement controls it was a bit of a step backwards. Okay, that might be a bit unfair, but relying on the touchscreen for subtle movements? Doesn’t work.
So, playing through the original version as it was meant to be played there is one thing that I have to say: it stands up 20 years later. I mean sure the camera controls are clunky and the graphics are similarly clunky, but that’s about it.
In terms of level design and difficulty Super Mario 64 remains an incredibly addictive challenge. Even in the early levels the difficulty is there in spades. There’s a star in the second world that you can only find if you blast yourself into a particular corner of the wall. It’s not exactly easy to figure out which part you need to aim for, and thanks to the controls of the cannon you can be a pixel off the sweet spot and then figure you’d got the wrong end of the stick.
In many ways this was the genius of the level construction. Being one of the first platformers in 3D there were clearly a lot of obstacles to overcome, which will have included the amount of space on the cartridge itself. By making multiple levels in exactly the same world they were able to get more bang for their buck and give the player interesting hub worlds they need to visit again and again. True, there are times where you do wonder how often you can jump on the same spider-thing as soon as you materialise, but the greater familiarity does arm you with better strategies down the line. It’s a working strategy that has continued to work for the Mario 3D platformers.
Where does this difficulty get equalled out? The boss battles. Super Mario 64 is pretty infamous for this lack of balance. However, I really did not mind this considering the difficulty of some of the levels. I mean, I have a genuine problem with Boo levels (as in the Boo mechanics have always freaked me out). Also, it is always comforting to not have to replay all the platforming elements before a boss battle umpteen times.
I know that I am not alone in preferring Super Mario Galaxy to Super Mario 64. Maybe that’s more to do with the fact that Super Mario Galaxy has more of an emotional core thanks to the story of Rosalina and Super Mario 64 is more traditional in the ‘get power ups, defeat bad guys’ sense. Similarly, Super Mario 64 is missing the sense of humour you later find in Super Mario Sunshine.
Still, 20 years on. What a game!