My Top 100: #7 – Super Mario 64

1996 - Nintendo (Nintendo 64, DS, Virtual Console)

1996 – Nintendo (Nintendo 64, DS, Virtual Console)


Imagine looking at a rubix cube head-on.

You know there’s a possibility of there being more sides to it.  You’re pretty satisfied with looking at the green square, but the green one is nevertheless the only one you’ve ever seen.  You have an incredible amount of fun looking at this one square, but you can’t help but wonder what the rest of the sides actually look like…  if only you could pick up the square, turn it around in your hands, and look at what is actually a three-dimensional cube.

To me, that’s kinda what Super Mario 64 was.

Ever since I first played Super Mario Bros., I would try to imagine what was beyond the land that I could see on the screen.  I’d play with friends, and we pretended to be Mario characters, imagining our back yards as being just like the Mushroom Kingdom.  My imagination was vivid enough, but I used to think “if only I could jump into the television, and walk around Mario’s world just once, that would be amazing”.

The Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoon satisfied that curiosity, but only to a certain extent.

The Super NES era came with more detailed graphics and parallax scrolling, which gave Super Mario World‘s Dinosaur Land quite a bit of depth.  You could see what was in the background, and it definitely helped make the world feel more alive.

Before the Nintendo 64 came around, I had no idea what a 3D Mario game might play like.  I had seen screenshots of worlds in other 3D games, and I had played Doom quite extensively at that point, but 3D didn’t seem like that great an idea for the platformer genre.  The idea of controlling a character in a 3D space with a control pad didn’t particularly sound all that easy to do.  Mario 64 sure looked nice, but the introduction of the N64’s controller did nothing to alleviate my apprehension.

Then I played it.  Ohhhhhhhh man, what a feeling that was.

The analog stick felt so natural under my thumb.  It had just the right amount of resistance to it, and Mario was under complete control at all times.  I was triple-jumping with ease in no time, using the Z-trigger to crawl and long-jump, while the A and B buttons did exactly what they always did.  The camera controls took a bit of getting used to, but even that felt natural after a while.

It had everything I loved about Mario – the jumping, the enemies, the music, the variety in the levels, the power-ups, the coins…  it was all there, and it felt like almost nothing had changed.  Mario moved exactly like he did when he was only moving left or right, except now, he was doing it all over the place.

The amount of content was quite staggering, as well.  Even when I defeated Bowser that first time, I thought “wow, that was an incredible game, surely there can’t be more left to play and explore”…  and then the game just kept going, and it was all so friggin’ fantastic.

It truly blew my mind, and I feel like I’m 13 all over again whenever I play it.



Although I was pretty excited about getting my hands on the Ultra 64 for the first time (the Nintendo 64 name didn’t quite sound as fun to me, so I called it that for a little while), I really wasn’t expecting to get one until quite a while after launch.  I was a little bit older, and a little more conscious of what such a thing would cost my parents.  I had been spoiled by being the “baby” my entire life, and was finally at a point where I actually felt guilty for things I recieved as gifts.

Yay, growth!

Anyway, my first experience with the console was probably similar to anyone else’s – on a demo unit at a local retailer.  There were two stores that had one; Zellers had a Nintendo-made kiosk with a lit-up sign and N64’s “cubed N” logo on it, while Toys R Us had a much simpler set up…  a TV with an N64 hooked up to it, sitting on a shelf behind a glass display case.  There was a little hole for the controller wire to go through, and a piece of velcro taped to where the memory card slot was.  When you were done playing with it, you’d just plop the controller onto the “male” piece of velcro taped to the side of the glass case.

Taped to the glass was a quickly put-together sign, written with a fat black marker, asking kids to “please take turns and limit play to five minutes”.  If they thought that would convince most kids to do just that, they were sorely mistaken.  I often had to wait my turn to play, and when I eventually got a chance, I sure as hell played longer than five minutes too!  Two wrongs don’t make a right, but I didn’t care!  Why would I have to lose out, because some other kid got to play longer?  Nuh-uh, not me, not this time.

Whenever I’d get off school at 3PM, I’d try to convince Mom that she needed to go to the mall for something, anything that would allow me to quickly run to Toys R Us and back.  One day, she not only needed to go to the mall, but she said she’d be a while.  “Awesome!!!  See you in an hour, Mom!”

I made my way over to Toys R Us, and patiently waited for the kid playing Super Mario 64 to finish his turn.  As usual, he went longer than five minutes, but I didn’t care, I had an hour to kill!  When he was done, I grabbed the controller and kept on playing…  and playing…  and playing…

I noticed another kid come up behind me, seeing his reflection in the glass of the display case.  I actually knew the guy, but I wasn’t sure if he knew who I was.  Tommy was the much older (and much bigger) brother of a girl I went to school with.  He waited patiently like I did before, but eventually, he politely asked “can I play?”

At this point, I had a choice to make.  Do I politely give him the controller, and watch him or someone else play for the rest of the hour?  Or, do I pretend like I don’t understand English, and just keep on playing?

I went with option number two.

I kept playing for what seemed like quite some time, all while he politely asked two more times if he could play.  The whole time I was playing, I was thinking “oh man, I’m being pretty damn impolite here, but this is my chance to play N64!”  After what seemed like several minutes of me ignoring the kid, I eventually gave him the controller and left the store.

Or, maybe I went down the next aisle and played Nights on the Saturn demo…  either way,  I think back to that day, and I feel pretty bad about flat-out ignoring that guy.  Sorry, man!


Beta screens from development of Super Mario 64... I was quite amazed with these, but the final product ended up being even better!

Beta screens from development of Super Mario 64…
I was quite amazed with these, but the final product ended up being even better!

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