Game Overkill – Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is the sole cause of the 24 hours news channels and reality TV craze that hit North America in the late 90s and that still plagues our televisions with its insidious brand of absolute fucking garbage no one should ever watch yet millions of brainless, mouth-breathing troglodytes still do for some reason.

Mario 64 - Game Overkill

I’m only half kidding. I didn’t remember it from the 3 or 4 times I’ve played through the game in the past, but as the game starts, we get Lakitu swooping on a cloud with a video camera:

Good afternoon. The Lakitu Bros., here, reporting live from just outside the Princess’s castle. Mario has just arrived on the scene, and we’ll be filming the action live as he enters the castle and pursues the missing Power Stars. As seasoned cameramen, we’ll be shooting from the recommended angle, but you can change the camera angle by pressing the Camera up Button Camera right Button Camera down Button Camera left Button Buttons. If we can’t adjust the view any further, we’ll buzz. To take a look at the surroundings, stop and press Camera up Button. Press A Button to resume play. Switch camera modes with the R Button. Signs along the way will review these instructions. For now, reporting live, this has been the Lakitu Bros. (Source: MarioWiki.com)

It doesn’t come up much after this, but you playing the game is apparently broadcast on Mushroom Kingdom’s CNN or just recorded and edited to be aired later as some kind of reality show. In other words, millions of people watched you drop that baby penguin of a cliff and into oblivion. Based on reality, you may be able to follow that up with being elected president.

Mario 64 - Penguin Drop

It’s a little odd, but I only vaguely remember getting my N64 and Mario 64 with it. I can remember getting my NES and Genesis, years earlier, much more clearly. Part of it is likely the fact that it was my two younger brothers who pooled their money to by the N64, while I had participated in the previous purchases. In any case, I know we got an N64 and this game came with it. This means that at least for me, Mario 64 and the N64 didn’t have a serious impact on me. Far from something like that kid in the YouTube video, my reaction was more like “Oh, this is neat.” I was not blown away by the graphics or the fact that I was playing a 3D Mario game. I thought it looked cool and was kind of fun, but that’s about it. My brothers hardly even played the game and never really loved the console until games like GoldenEye 007, Hexen, Quake, and Perfect Dark came out.

Mario 64 - Face

There’s one insignificant thing I still like about the game. It is still a little fun to play with Mario’s face. Anyway, back to the actual game…

Mario 64 - Camera Garbage

GIF courtesy of @Oceanity.

I’d probably gotten all 120 stars in the game at least twice in the past, so doing it again for this review wasn’t too difficult. It was tedious though. The controls aren’t great and they are made all the more difficult thanks to the camera. As far as I can remember and based on the game I’ve played, Mario 64 has the worst camera of all time. It is pure garbage. Not only can you barely control the damn angles or even get a view from directly behind you. but the game also decides to constantly change the angles for you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Worst of all, it does this pretty much every single time you need to carefully walk in a straight line. It is absolute garbage and nearly ruins the entire game for me. A platforming game where the game’s camera makes it impossible to move in a straight line. Great job, Nintendo.

Now, some people on Twitter have suggested that maybe my controller is broken or I just suck at games. The controller is fine, as it works just as well as my other three controllers and all four of them are great for playing Mario Kart 64, Perfect Dark, Wave Race, Blast Corps, etc. AS for whether I suck or not, I had my kid play the game and despite being able to handle playing other 3D platforming games, playing Mario 64 was just horrible for him. Finally, while many people told me the controls are the best of any game ever (I’m not exaggerating) and that the camera “isn’t that bad,” I had just as many people agreeing with me. I have two hypotheses that could explain this. Quite a few people who downplayed the camera and controls admitted to having played the DS remake, which I have no played. Maybe the controls are better in this version. Also, some of the other people dismissing my complaints had played the game much more recently than I had. Some had even been playing it regularly over the years. I did notice that the game got a little easier to handle as I got used to it again. A decade is a long time, so maybe if I’d played it once a year over the last ten years, I wouldn’t have criticized it so harshly. Regardless, I kind of feel like a Mario game’s controls should feel natural as soon as you start playing it.

Mario 64 - Camera Garbage 2

GIF courtesy of @RetroGifmaster.

A functional camera still wouldn’t save this game from it’s boring levels though. Most of the “courses,” as they’re apparently called, are unimaginative. Each have 7 stars hidden in them, with two being getting all eight red coins and getting 100 coins. Besides those, each course might have one or two fun/challenging stars to get. The rest are just lazy. Pound a post with a Chain Chomp attached to it? Get a star. Reach a particular platform and hit a box? Get a star. Touch three books in the right order? Get a star. Open a few chests in the right order? Get a star. Shoot yourself out of a canon directly at a wall? Get a star. Go down a slide? Get a star. Outside of the courses, you can also just talk to Toad and get three more stars. It honestly feels like it was decided that the game would have 120 stars and each course would have 7 and THEN they were stuck with trying to figure out where to cram them. The game should’ve had 64 star instead of the 120. Cut the crap and end up with a better game overall.

Mario 64 - Bowser

Now, for the boss battles, this game is like pretty much every other Mario game. In other words, the boss battles are boring and repetitve. They all involve either grabbing Bowser by the tail, twirling him around, and launching him into a spiky bomb found at the edge of a circular platform, picking up a large enemy and throwing him to the ground, bouncing on a Wriggler, or ground pounding a large Whomp or Boo. The one unique boss, both in the sense that I haven’t seen it in other Mario games and in the sense that you fight it differently, is Eyerock. His uniqueness doesn’t make him much more fun though. However, it’s hard to criticize the game too much for it’s awful boss battles since only one of the 2D Mario games at this point did them even remotely interestingly (Yoshi’s Island) and only once Super Mario Galaxy came out was it done well in a 3D Mario game.

Then, to top it all off, the graphics, which looked great at the time, look pretty bad now. So we’ve got boring levels with bad level design, the worst camera in any game I’ve ever played, boring boss battles, and bad graphics, which must mean that the game sucks, right? Well, it does…

…and it doesn’t. I still think everything I’ve criticized it for is absolutely true. That being said, there are some things to be said in its defense. It is indeed a product of its time and it was the very first 3D Mario game, but beside all that, I like to look at Mario 64 in a different manner.

Remember that person you hung out with in high school? You know, the really cool one? Maybe you didn’t even hang out with them. Maybe you just wish you did, but you can probably think of someone. Not the “coolest” person, the one who was an asshole to everyone. No, the person who was REALLY cool. They did their own thing. They were smart. They were attractive. The were nice. They were good at everything. This person is a doctor or a lawyer or something else you consider being successful today. But here’s the thing about that person: no matter how cool they were back then and how awesome they are now, looking back, they still looked absolutely ridiculous. I mean, they were a teenager after all. There are pictures of this person with really bad acne and multiple terrible hairstyles, just like every other teenager. They were lanky and goofy looking, awkward and strange, and did and said painfully embarassing things, just like everyone else. It sucks, but it’s a necessary part of life.

Ok, so what the hell am I getting at? Well, Mario 64 is the cool high school kid of video game history. He did what he thought was cool and didn’t care what others thought. Playing the game again was like going through a box of old pictures and uncomfortable home videos of teenaged Mario and ONLY Mario. The game doesn’t show me what the other kids/games were doing at the time. So, what happens when we look at other 5th generation 3D platforming games? It isn’t pretty. Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, Conker, Spyro, Gex, and even Tomb Raider: are any of those really better than Mario 64? With the exception of Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot (both of which came out the same year as Mario 64), and Gex (which came out the year before), the other five games even had the benefit of a few more years for the developers to work and learn how to make a better 3D platformer. On the N64 alone, Mario 64 ended up being a launch title that would never be surpassed among 3D platformers. I cannot think of another console that had a launch title remain the best the system had to offer within its genre.

Super Mario 64 - Game Over

The 5th generation of video game consoles, and 3D games from this era in particular, were the awkward teenage years in the life of video games. Often fumbling, bizarre looking (even ugly), incoherent, unintelligent, unintelligible, disproportioned, painful, and many other negative things, all while being a completely necessary part of a normal and healthy development. This makes it difficult for me to easily assign a game like Mario 64 some form of ranking. Initially, it was on my personal list of games Ithink everyone should play, but after having played it again, I find myself challenging to justify its continued inclusion. For a “history of video games” perspective, yes, the game deserves to be on this list. However, from a “games that are still fun to play” standpoint, I just can’t recommend this game. I can advocate that people should give it a try, but to play it until they beat it or to collect all the stars, I just can’t bring myself to push that endorse that experience. Maybe it still sneaks its way onto my list, but it doesn’t crack the top 100. Regardless, this isn’t my list. It’s your list. Thus, Super Mario 64 finds itself in the 17th position.

Before leaving you to comment, I do have a suggestion for how the game could’ve been greatly improved. I will still play and love a game that was 95% more this:

Mario 64 - Green Shell


Update: Super Mario 64 is now in 19th place.

Update: Super Mario 64 is now in 21st place.

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About Atsinganoi

Atsinganoi started gaming in the early 80s on an Atari 2600 and still thinks they're kinda neat. You can find him on Twitter if you want, just don't call him a frog.

8 Comments

  1. I agree, the camera can be annoying.

    But for me the scale of the levels and the changing aims are what make it a great Mario game. I can still forgive the N64 graphics, because it is a cohesive style.

    • Yeah, the graphics are definitely forgivable. Compared to other games from the same era, the game looks just as good or better than its contemporaries.

  2. For some reason I never made the connection about the reality show and this game 🙂 I knew the Lakitu bros were filming but quickly forget about it while playing. I agree that It’s definitely an important game for its time but pretty clunky when you look back. Of course, I didn’t play it myself until much later on. I also always wondered why they put in 120 stars instead of 64, I think it would have been more to theme. Oh well. Great article! 🙂

    • I never made the connection til I played it again for the review. I must’ve seen that little into 10…20 times? I’d never noticed it. So I guess Mario 2 is a dream, Mario 3 is a play, and Mario 64 is a show. Are there any others?

  3. I was blown away the first time I played this game. Of all the things I remember, I remember swimming the most, oddly enough. I think it was because for the first time in a Mario game, I had to take a breath of fresh air or risk drowning in whatever pool of water I was in.

    I never was good at this game, and maybe that’s why I haven’t revisited it in so many years. I don’t like the ‘collecting stars’ aspect of Mario games, and sadly, this has been the focal point in almost every Mario game since 64. In fact, I hate having to collect anything to advance in any game. Maybe that’s why I was never really a big fan of this.

  4. I think this is one of those “you had to be there” kind of games. I own it, but have barely put any time into it. I also find the controls to be less than stellar, which is one of the reasons I put off buying Super Mario Sunshine for so many years – I was half afraid it wouldn’t control well either. Still, the game has a certain charm, so I’m sure I’ll tackle it in the future. I just didn’t get caught up in the hype because I was a PlayStation guy at that time, and was plenty happy playing Spyro games that I felt controlled well.

  5. Pingback: Game Overkill – Master List – Skirmish Frogs

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