In case you weren't feeling old today, the Nintendo 64 turned 20 this year. While I still remember when is was fresh and cutting edge, by technology standards it's a relic from a bygone era. Anyone who ever owned one were treated to some truly classic games, but if there's one game that gave the N64 its identity, it was the launch title Super Mario 64, which I consider one of the most influential video games of all time.
Think about it. These days, fully 3D games are plentiful, the norm for AAA blockbusters and franchises such as GTA, Assassin's Creed and so on. Gamers enjoy exploring vast open worlds, searching every nook and cranny for secrets. Although there is no denying the influence of games like Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot, they were still tied to the D-pad, which if we're being honest isn't optimal for a fully 3D video game. While the N64 isn't the very first system that implemented an analogue stick for movement, it set the standard for future consoles. Leading the way, of course, was Super Mario 64. For the very first time, Nintendo's mascot could move around unrestricted in three dimensions, a huge draw for gamers back in the day. Just as the original Super Mario Bros. influenced countless other side-scrolling platform games, Super Mario 64 introduced the world to the idea of open-world 3D platform games, with other franchises following in its path. These include Banjo-Kazooie and Jak & Daxter (two of my favourite franchises) as well as Spyro, Croc, Psychonauts and many others. The genre fell by the wayside for a while (at least outside of Mario games), but is making a comeback with Yooka-Laylee, which I sincerely hope encourages more 3D platformers to be made. On a broader scale, Super Mario 64 ushered in the era of fully 3D games. Without Nintendo testing the potential of 3D level design, gaming would be without other influential classics such as Ocarina of Time and GTA 3 as well as countless other 3D open-world games.
The question is, despite the massive impact it had on the medium, does Super Mario 64 hold up on its own after all these years?
Nostalgia aside, for the most part it does hold up, at least in terms of game-play. Controlling Mario feels fluid and the interactions he can have with the game world feel tangible, which is perhaps the most important aspect of this game. Mario's move-set allow him to run, punch, slide, climb and of course swing Bowser around by his tail (even after twenty years, it's still satisfying to pull off). The levels are expertly designed, making the most of being a 3D game. Admittedly there is a certain linearity to them (making your way to the Power Star), especially in comparison to the aforementioned Banjo-Kazoiie and Jak & Daxter which focus more on exploration. However, in true Mario tradition there are plenty of secrets and bonuses to discover. It's the graphics that have aged the most in this game. While colourful and appealing, they still look rather basic, highlighting the “tech demo” nature of the game, though there is a nostalgic charm to them. Though the soundtrack is limited, there are plenty of memorable tunes that set the atmosphere to each level.
So that's Super Mario 64, a supremely influential game and a damn good game that, for the most part, has stood the test of time. If you're feeling nostalgic, you can buy it here.