So I began writing this piece in October of 2020, well over a year ago. We were in the middle of attempting to revive the Couch Bandits blog after a long hiatus, but the pandemic continued to kick our collective asses. Work and other life problems kept getting in the way; and after yet another successful Game-A-Thon charity stream, the blog took a backseat once more. Now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re ready to return to the website in full force and celebrate our passion for video games once more. Yes, this also means we’re currently planning yet another Game-A-Thon charity stream for this coming holiday season, but there’ll be more updates on that coming soon. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of Super Mario 64. Even though this review was prepped for the release of the All Stars collection, it still seemed fitting to post it now that the game has once more been made available to players via the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion. So without further ado, here’s my completed review of my first time completely playing through this iconic game. Also, to our lovely small number of readers, welcome back! We hope to stick around for good this time. Thanks for being patient with us, and we hope you’ll enjoy the site once again.
Having been born in 1992, my first video gaming console was the Nintendo 64. Some of my earliest memories of gaming come from the days spent playing that console, and to this day it remains my personal favorite console of all time. Playing an N64 game immediately takes me back to a simpler time and place in my life, and reminds me what it felt like to be kid again. While I was fortunate enough to experience a fair share of the N64’s classic titles in its heyday, there were several major releases I missed out on. Maybe the most famous game I never got to play during its original release was Super Mario 64. Having grown up with two siblings, we all constantly wanted to be playing on the N64, but our very diplomatic parents wanted all of us to have equal share of the console, and so they put a rule in place that we could only buy games that featured a multiplayer component. While this didn’t stop us from playing classics like Mario Party or Mario Kart 64, it did prevent us from getting to try iconic single player titles such as the Legend of Zelda 64 games and of course Super Mario 64. My exposure to these games would be limited to sleepovers at a friend’s house, or renting the game for a short weekend.
I have distinct memories of playing the first couple of worlds of Mario 64 at my friend’s house, and playing those same levels while renting the game from the local video store. Given that I only played the game for a few hours at a time, I never managed to get much further than the fourth world or so. Even then I can remember being completely entranced by the game, and feeling such a sense of adventure when I played it. It always frustrated me that I’d never get the chance to fully explore the game, and as time passed and gaming moved on from the N64, I made peace with the fact that I’d likely never get to fully experience Super Mario 64 in all of its magical glory. I even briefly had the Wii U port of the game, but sold my Wii U before managing to get very far. While I still retained my curiosity for the game, I was also distracted by newer Mario titles, and failed to make much of an effort to revisit Mario 64 after parting with my Wii U.
Fast forward to the shitshow of a year that is 2020. In the midst of a year steeped in disaster, hatred, and violence, Nintendo graced us with a shimmering beam of hope: Super Mario 3D All-Stars. This collection features three iconic 3D Mario games, remastered and reissued for the Nintendo Switch. Included in the package is a beautiful reissue of Super Mario 64 in all its original magnificence. I jumped at the chance to get to do what I’ve been yearning to do for years—play Super Mario 64. In one week I managed to complete the game, and collected all 120 power stars. This is why I thought it would be interesting to write down my impressions of a gaming experience more than a decade in the making.
As my good friend Jamiesen pointed out, there’s an eerie calm to Mario 64 that no other Mario franchise installment has managed to capture. The halls of Peach’s castle are quiet and lonely, and with the exception of a few random Toads, there’s really no other inhabitants to interact with. I find this to be a weirdly charming aspect of the game, and upon entering the main hall of Peach’s castle and hearing the familiar music, a smile instantly spread across my face. I could still vividly remember these early moments of the game from my brief glimpses of them as a child. The soundtrack is another element that has been cemented in my memory, as I found myself humming along to the menu music, and other famous cues from the game’s early levels.
Before entering the first world, I took some time to explore Peach’s lonely castle and reacquaint myself with the controls. While the 1996 controls certainly feel a bit stiff and dated, I didn’t find them to be too much of a burden overall. I quickly refreshed my memory on how the gameplay generally works, and then dove into maybe the most iconic 3D Mario world of all time: Bob-omb Battlefield. Just the portrait entrance to this world alone is dripping with nostalgia, but the course itself is equally timeless. A towering tribute to all that is Mario, Bob-omb Battlefield is the first-ever taste of what a 3D Mario level looks like—and boy does it leave a lasting impression. The level builds upward, bringing you along a strenuous climb to the top, where you face the game’s first boss, Big Bob-omb. It’s not exactly the most difficult level in the world, but it eases the player in to three-dimensional Mario.
From this point on, I charged through each and every level, collecting every possible power star as I went. Each world felt iconic, and by the time I finished Cool, Cool Mountain, I had caught up with my past self in terms of how far I had reached in the game. Beginning with Big Boo’s Haunt, I had entered uncharted territory. It was also with this course that I realized the game’s difficulty began to ramp up significantly. Once I reached Hazy Maze Cave, I began to realize that this game does not screw around. Like previous entries in the series, Super Mario 64 begins to demand a certain level of performance from its players, and I was more than happy to rise to the challenge. As a kid playing this game, I could never get very far because I was more or less still figuring gaming out. Now as a seasoned gamer, I felt confident I could finish the game completely, and collect all 120 power stars.
This was no easy feat—and as anyone who’s played the game before will know, certain courses and power stars are quite the headache. While many of the late-game courses are stressful, a few key worlds stood above the rest in terms of being frustratingly difficult: Tick Tock Clock, and Rainbow Ride. For some gamers, myself included, these levels are no walk in the park, and require acute focus and determination to conquer. Though I struggled at times, I never found myself disliking the experience whatsoever. Instead, I respected the challenge the game set for me, and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with finally collecting each difficult power star. It also helped that I was propelled by this desire to finally see this game completed.
As I drew closer and closer to fighting King Bowser, I felt a bittersweet emotion settling in. The game truly seemed to go by so quickly. Now I understood why people have continuously returned to this game time and time again. Whether it’s a speedrunner trying to best their previous record, or a die hard Mario fan returning for the nostalgia kick, this game has and will continue to withstand the test of time. It’s without question one of the greatest, most influential 3D games of all time. I couldn’t resist the charm of Super Mario 64 from start to finish. From the moment the menu screen popped up to the final end credits I just had such a purely fun experience playing this game. They say that nostalgia is a hell of a drug, but there’s so much more at play here than just good memories. The core design of this game is so flawlessly executed for its time, and each world presents new and tantalizing challenges. It was such a genuine joy to play, and I’d happily jump at the chance to revisit it in the near future. Super Mario 64 set the precedent for all future Mario 3D titles, and would come to inspire many games both within and without the Mushroom Kingdom. If you haven’t had the chance to play it yet, I urge you to buckle up and go on this magical ride. The touching, gentle music and the crude polygonal graphics all harken back to a simpler time, when the biggest problem we collectively faced was saving the Princess from Bowser. It makes me emotional just thinking about it. Man, I loved this game.
Super Mario 64 is now available on Nintendo Switch via the N64 Switch Online Expansion, and the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.