In the Summer of 1996 I was 15 years old. One afternoon I wandered into the local Blockbuster (RIP) to browse the used video games they had for sale. That's where I first crossed paths with Super Mario 64 (and the Nintendo 64 for that matter), which was prominently displayed on the large demo machine near the entrance. At this point I had already developed a bias against 3D video games, not because of some perceived, inherent inferiority to two dimensions, but because in their pioneering state they were so aesthetically unappealing. I saw them as a new phase in gaming that simply wasn't ready for consumption. So when I approached the demo and lifted the Nintendo 64 controller I did so somewhat begrudgingly. It took about 5 minutes before I was hooked. Once it arrived at my home I devoted a weekend to acquiring all 120 stars, my eyeballs glued to the screen.
24 years later I revisited SM64 on the Nintendo Switch. Quite quickly the mechanics and acrobatic maneuvers came back to me. And while the blurry textures and blocky world looked even blurrier and blockier than memory, the dated piece that made me cringe and grumble the most was the camera. Back when 3D games started, solving for the camera was always a hot topic, and was so for years. In so many of these early 3D games the camera would collide with walls, zoom in and out unexpectedly, and unhinge left and right as the player traversed through the world. It was a time when providing two camera styles plus the ability to zoom in and out was considered groundbreaking. It made me wonder: If it wasn't for my nostalgic ties to SM64 would I have tossed this relic aside?
While the camera is clearly the worst aspect of SM64, it's the combination of the camera and the looseness of Mario's movements that cause the most pain. This is a platformer, albeit a more open world version of one, and with platforms comes pits. What this translates to is countless perilous moments where I am on the brink of reaching my goal just to end up slipping off a narrow, jagged polygon. I suspect I died just as much 24 years ago as I did with this recent play-through, but the difference is that way back then I interpreted these moments solely as challenging, whereas today I see them as both challenging and frustrating.
Camera and slippery Mario aside, this game is still extremely playable. It's such a delight to control the ninja flipping Mario and to collect stars within the expertly crafted levels. The designers smartly placed a variety of challenges in each course, and while they hint to what star to search for next, they left it up to the player to discover them in the order that they please. And each environment has its own special flare and theme, so moving between courses always feels fresh.
Next up I have Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. I'm told that the former has similarly frustrating camera and control problems, and since I have never played either of these games this will be an interesting test to see if I have the patience to play SMS all the way through. Here we go.
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creating art, gaming, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.