I’m not entirely sure if this is a controversial video game opinion to have or not, but I’ve never really been that big of a fan of Super Mario 64. It’s a subject that has come up a few times here on Gaming Respawn, to the point that I’ve written multiple articles where I’ve complained about the game. I must admit that I kind of felt vindicated when a playthrough of Super Mario 64 gave poor Arin Hanson something bordering on a mental breakdown when he tried completing it a few years back. To me, that anguish and growing frustration summed up my personal Super Mario 64 experience pretty well.
Don’t get me wrong; when I was young and I first saw Super Mario 64 in a department store, it blew my tiny little mind. Mario had previously lived solely in the 2D realm, but here he was in, for the time, glorious 3D. I would argue that the 2D Mario games on both the NES and SNES have held up better to the rigours of time than Super Mario 64 does, with the mid-90s 3D graphics dating the game almost instantly, whilst the 2D releases live in a more timeless universe. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Super Mario 64 was a revolutionary game for its time, with most other 3D games in the fifth gen trying to put their own spin on it. Sure, I’m hardly its biggest fan, but Super Mario 64 is still an important release, and I almost randomly found myself playing it again recently.
Those with both a Nintendo Switch and a Nintendo Online Membership can not only play Super Mario 64 on the N64 emulator provided as part of the higher tier service but a host of other N64 releases as well. Stuck for something to do one day and fancying some retro action on my Switch, I found myself selecting Super Mario 64, possibly in the vague hope that maybe this time I might actually like it. I actually didn’t hate Super Mario 64 this time, although I didn’t especially love the game either. Being able to create save states thanks to playing the game on the Switch was a bit of a game-changer as it allowed me to set a jumping on point when I had a difficult section of the game to get past, meaning that I wouldn’t have to keep dying/tumbling to another part of the level and then redoing the section from scratch.
And let me tell you, tumbling off a platform either to your death or to another section of the level will happen A LOT when you play Super Mario 64 due to a combination of an, at times, infuriating camera and the fact Mario never seems to move how you actually want him to. Anything that requires precision in Super Mario 64 is almost always going to cause you misery as moving the analogue stick tends to just direct Mario in a vague suggestion of where you actually want him to go. If you’re ever on a precipice or something, then pray the game is feeling generous and doesn’t boot you down to your death at a moment’s notice. Being able to save in levels like the Haunted House was a godsend as it meant I didn’t have to keep falling down to the carousel and then taking the lift back to the top over and over again.
However, on the rare occasions where things actually go how you want, Super Mario 64 can actually be fun, and I had some of my best success playing the game ever on this recent playthrough, with me being able to collect most of the stars on the early levels. However, without the ability to spam save states, I think I would have probably hated this recent playthrough a lot more. It was nice though that I got to play Super Mario 64 and actually kind of enjoy it for the first time since I was quite young. I remain in awe of people who can play the game and make it look easy though as I don’t think I could ever reach such a level of competency.
It’s nice to know that I’m not alone when it comes to questioning the gameplay of Super Mario 64¸ with fellow GR writer Kyle also sharing similar feelings. I will say though that if you have a Nintendo Online Membership and you’re weighing up whether to give this game a go, then I think you may as well. I was pleasantly surprised by how into the game I got on this most recent playthrough. Super Mario 64 is not a game without its faults, and I’d argue that it hasn’t aged especially well, but it’s still a game that has a lot of character to it, along with the sort of janky charm that early 3D games sometimes carry. I’m kind of glad that I gave Super Mario 64 another chance, but I have very little desire to play it in its “vanilla” form anytime soon. On the Switch though? Sure, why not?