Super Mario 64 After 20 Years


The original Quake turns 20 today and everybody’s celebrating that. I do want to write something about that but I’m still trying to figure out those plans. However, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the original Japanese release of Super Mario 64 — another of the originators of modern 3D video games that emerged in the mid 90’s. Of course that would also mean it’s the 20th anniversary of the Nintendo 64 itself, but I think I’m just gonna wait until the US release anniversary which I believe is in September.

Many people of course look back on Mario 64 as one of the foundations of 3D game design. It obviously isn’t the earliest 3D video game by a long shot, but it was a lot of people’s first experience with a game about 3D movement. It released on a mainstream console and introduced movement controls that were immediately understandable to a wide range of people.

The very way Mario 64 begins — by setting players in a castle courtyard where they can run around on the grass, climb trees, and swim in the castle moat, was a great way to get people acclimated with Mario’s abilities in this new Z-axis of movement. I probably spent most of my time at N64 kiosks back in 96 just running around in that courtyard, which back then was a novelty in itself.

If you look back at it, there actually aren’t a lot of games today which closely resemble Mario 64. The structure of the 3D platformer it wrote the book on was only really prominent in that N64 era, and had pretty much disappeared by the early PS3 era. Super Mario Sunshine was the last Mario game that felt like 64 in terms of structure and pace. More importantly though, 64 was a game entirely about movement and getting to places because that in itself was a major thing for console games at the time. In everything else today that movement is just a way to get somewhere to do something else, like shoot things.

I said it before, but Ubisoft’s Grow Home is the first game in a long time that reminded me of Mario 64 with its emphasis on pure movement and exploration for its objectives and challenges. Free-range climbing however is that game’s main addition to the feel.

The main thing about Mario 64 that I feel has carried on to today’s 3rd person games has been its camera system. I like to look at the way it used the N64’s C buttons as a predecessor to right analog stick camera control, even if other games may have been messing with similar things around the same time or a bit later.

If you go back to it today or have never played it, Mario 64 might look like a simplistic or even goofy game. Personally I think its sense of exploration and level design hold up, but I can’t really measure that impartially, having played it so much back in 96


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