Welcome to the next post in my year-long series “Play or Pass” that takes on the proverbial “must before death” theme with video games. Every other week I will be covering one or two games from “32 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die,” a list compiled by BuzzFeed based on a reader poll. I will not be critiquing the list itself, but rather I’ll be discussing each game or games in whatever manner feels fitting and will attempt to answer a couple simple questions: Have I played [insert game name here]? If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why? If no, do I want to play the game before I die? I’ll be going through the games in the order in which they appear on the BuzzFeed list. Good? Good. Let’s get on with the games!
Week twenty-three: (29) Super Mario 64
Everyone. Should. Play. This. Game.
Have I played Super Mario 64?
If yes, then do I consider it a “must?”
If no, then do I want to play the game before I die?
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Oh, did you think there was going to be more? Well, joke’s on you buddy, because there isn’t. There’s no point in continuing on any further because…how is this not a must-play game? It simply is. It’s Super Mario 64 for chrissakes! It’s the game-changing title that annihilated the gaming field of the time and solidified Nintendo’s reign among consoles in the 1990s. It’s the game that normalized 3D graphics. It’s the game that gave players a new ways of and freedom to explore. It’s the game that showed us a whole new dimension of the Mario-verse, and one to which future games would be perennially compared. It’s a magical, brilliant, varied, and complex game that works on all levels, from mechanics to controls to gameplay.
It’s that game. It’s THE game. It’s fucking Super Mario 64.
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Alright, so I’m biased. A LOT biased. So how about I take a step back for a moment and look at Super Mario 64 from another point of view. Because as rosy as I might paint the game today, it had, and still has…issues. Or…maybe I have issues. Either way, Super Mario 64 isn’t flawless. And in this case I can’t help but bring my own biases in because, well…they affect every game I play, the great ones and the awful ones.
But before getting into those, I think I can safely say that if one general gripe about the game remains true to this day, is it the game’s camera. Problems with camera mechanics can plague games even to this day. And though Super Mario 64’s camera was a step in a decent direction (using the c-pad on the N64 controller to move it in, out, left, and right), it only helped so much. And sometimes, it was no help at all as you attempted to maneuver Mario in his brand new 3D world. I remember getting stuck multiple times (particularly on Tiny-Huge Island) in spots where I just couldn’t position the camera correctly. In most cases, I ended up with Mario leaping to his death because I couldn’t judge distances properly. In those moments, Super Mario 64 was anything but enjoyable.
Now, moving onto those more personal issues, the most extreme ones that I harbor against games are flying and racing. I dislike both immensely. Mind you, racing in games and racing games are two completely separate beasts. Racing games make me feel powerful even when I’m a terrible driver. Racing in games makes me feel like shit…always. As for flying, I’m simply awful at navigating flight in games, from sorta actual flying, like in the Banjo-Kazooie games, to gliding, like in the Batman: Arkham games, and, yes, in Super Mario 64.
So first off, racing in games. Is it just me or do racing minigames seem like they are always set up for the player to fail? And not just fail once, but fail over and over and over again until one feels like throwing one’s controller out the window and onto a few unsuspecting yet annoying squirrels? Super Mario 64 contains three races (that I know of), with the most notably difficult one being the Big Penguin Race of Cool, Cool Mountain. I hate that one the most, but I also hate them all. Any racing minigame that can’t be avoided automatically triggers my anger button. and not even the spritely, bouncy, and happy world of Super Mario 64 could quell it. Not then, not today. Oh, I have beaten that goddamn Big Penguin and his stupid penguin face several times, but each time has always been a rage-fraught affair, and that’s despite the fact that I could practically draw the track in my sleep.
As for flying…okay, look, I get it. I get why the Wing Cap is in the game. And I get that the gliding mechanic in the game is actually better than it is in many modern games, but…I still hate it. And I especially hate it when hitting targets or gathering items has to be involved. And there are several times in Super Mario 64 where one must collect a Wing Cap and go soaring into the skies to fly through hoops or gather things and such. I guess I should mention that me and flying don’t get along in 3D games. I have issues with “flight” in 2D games, sure, but they aren’t as heightened as the maddening feelings that overcome my psyche when dealing with flight in 3D environments.
And while we’re on the topic of crappy shit in Super Mario 64, how about that quicksand in Shifting Sand Land? Like, that shit didn’t even give you a millisecond to escape should you accidentally take a wrong step…or, ahem, glide. And, omfg, what about timing the search for coins in the underwater chests/shells in the Dire, Dire Docks level?! I mean, between balance you had to achieve between waiting for them to open and your air supply was nearly fucking unobtainable! And lest we forget that shitty elevated platform thing you had to use in the Hazy Maze Cave to get all eight coins! Goddamn if that wasn’t just the worst. And…oh, oh, OH! Anything in Snowman’s Land. I hate snow and ice in Mario games. Just fucking HATE IT.
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Why the hell would anyone want to play Super Mario 64? It’s the worst!
Except…it isn’t. It really isn’t. Yes, the game makes you work for Every. Single. One. of it’s beautiful 120 stars, but the reward for success feels so good. The fact that I hate Big Penguin with every fiber of my being only makes beating him feel even better. And no, that might not be the most mentally proper way with which to deal with such a thing in a game, but it worked (and still works) for me. The game truly challenged everyone, from long-time Mario fans to new players, and it did so with some big hurdles to overcome, the first and foremost being creating a fun 3D environment that players wanted to be in. A Mario game is nothing without its levels, and Super Mario 64 offered some of the most creatively designed ones around. Sure, I might hate flying and racing and quicksand and swimming and all sorts of other things in games, but those things aren’t the point of the experience. The point is, can a game include all those things and still make players come to meet the challenge multiple times over many years? With Super Mario 64, that answer is undoubtedly yes.
So my answers stand; it’s a “must.”
Still…since I started up the hate train, why not continue on…in the name of fun, of course. What are some of your biggest dislikes/complaints about Super Mario 64?