Super Mario 64 is the original 3D platformer. When it came out there was nothing like it. It set the standard for future 3D platformers and pretty much every other 3D platforming game after it was inspired by it in some way.

So basically this is a very important game and a big part of gaming history.

The last time I played Super Mario 64 was years ago when it first came out on the Nintendo 64 and I was a kid. I had a lot of great memories of that game but I’d also heard people talk about how the controls and camera don’t hold up well today.

I just completed the game and here are my thoughts.


The Overall Setup of the Game

This is a Mario game so there’s not much of a story here but that’s not really important.

Bowser’s kidnapped the princess and you have to rescue her. That’s pretty much it.

You start off in Princess Peach’s castle and this area acts as the hub world that connects to every other world. You start out outside and have a great little playground to practice the various moves and controls before entering an actual level.

The castle hub is full of different rooms and areas. At first only one door is open, the rest of the doors required you to collect Power Stars to unlock them.

There are also a few major sections of the castle that remain locked until you get a key later by fighting Bowser.

Throughout the different rooms in the castle are different paintings that you can jump into to enter different worlds and collect stars.

Each world has 6 different sort of challenges to win 6 different Power Stars. These challenges range from completing platforming challenges, finding them hidden in the world, fighting a boss, collecting 8 red coins and stuff like that. There’s also a secret 7th star in each world you get when you collect 100 coins.

In addition to the stars you collect from the different worlds there’s also about 15-20 stars hidden in the castle itself.

Most doors in the castle are locked behind a certain number of stars and once you have enough that door opens and you can access more worlds.

In each major section of the castle there’s a large door that requires a large number of stars. Inside that door is a special Bowser level ending with a boss fight against Bowser. Winning that fight gives you a key that opens up the next large area of the castle.

So the overall flow of the game is jumping into worlds, collecting the stars, opening up more areas of the castle hub world to explore more worlds with the ultimate goal of collecting enough stars to open up the final door at the top of the castle and defeat Bowser for good.

It’s a fantastic design and the non-linearity is nice. If you’re stuck on one world and you’re having a hard time getting the next star there you can just go play another world and come back later.


The Worlds

The worlds are very well designed as well. There’s a lot of variety such as a standard sort of green Mario level with a mountain, a fortress level, underwater levels, a volcano, snow levels, a desert, the inside of a giant clock, the clouds and more.

They also interact with the hub world in interesting ways. For example there’s a Big Small world that you can enter by jumping into a giant or small version of the same painting. If you jump into the large painting you’re very tiny in the world and everything else like the enemies and world itself is really big. If you jump into the smaller painting then everything else in the world is tiny and you’re super big.

You enter the clock level by jumping into the face of the clock and depending on what time you jump into the clock at inside that world the mechanisms behave differently.

Another example is an invisible painting that you can’t see on the wall but you can see it reflected in a mirror and that’s your hint that you can jump into the wall.

Overall a ton of creativity went into the different worlds and even the hub itself.


The Controls and Camera

I had heard the controls didn’t hold up well today but I’m happy to say they do. Pretty much every other 3D Mario game created since uses these same controls more or less.

You’ve got a jump with the A button and if you run you can do up to three increasingly higher jumps.

If you jump and turn suddenly you can flip in the other direction.

You can crouch and then jump from that higher than normal.

Landing on the edge of a ledge makes you grab onto the ledge you so can pull yourself up.

You also have a punch with the B button and depending on how you’re jumping or running when you hit B you might do a dive attack or some other kind of attack.

The only complaint I really have about the controls is how Mario turns. If you’re moving one way and try to move the opposite way Mario doesn’t just turn, instead he arcs around in a pretty wide arc which can be a bit of a problem when you’re doing precision platforming. To turn the opposite way you have to stop moving completely and then try to move the opposite way and then that works fine.

Mario can also sometimes get stuck on walls which is a bit annoying too but other than that the controls are super tight and work great.

There are two different camera modes, the main one has a Lakitu following you with a camera which is cute and you can rotate it with the left and right C buttons. It can only rotate 90 degrees at once though, there’s no second analog stick or anything you might be used to.

If you press the down C button the camera zooms out a bit too and this is how I played the game 100% of the time.

And for pretty much my entire playthrough I never really had a problem with the camera once it was zoomed out.

Since the camera is Lakitu following you around with an actual camera if you’re right beside a wall it can’t get behind that or anything but I found as long as you zoomed out at the beginning when you first started playing you never really had a problem.

There’s also a Mario focused camera but I never really used it because it felt kind of weird. It’s not easy to explain but it was always at kind of weird angles.


Sound and Music

The sound effects are pretty good. This is the first time Mario started making all those little noises he’s now famous for so if you find those annoying that’s too bad. But overall the various sound effects are all great.

The music is absolutely fantastic and still sounds great today.

The track Dire Dire Docks is probably the most famous one and has been remixed and covered a ton of times.

One minor complaint I have about the music though is that they seem to have ran out of time or money or something near the end of the game.

The last two areas Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride both use the same music that’s already used in the bonus areas.

You’ll die a lot of times in both these levels so that music gets pretty annoying.

It would have been a lot better if both these worlds had their own unique music. Pretty much every other world does and it’s excellent everywhere else.


In Conclusion

If you haven’t already played this game you absolutely should. Not just because it’s such an important part of gaming history but because it’s still a really great game that’s super fun to play today.

I don’t often 100% complete games but this is one case where I collected all 120 Power Stars and completely finished everything. I haven’t done that with a game for a long time.

The best way to play this game today is probably in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars package released on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re able to find it.

There is a DS remake version of the game but it’s not as good in my opinion and makes a bunch of changes to the base game which is already pretty much perfect.

Featured image from used under Fair Use