Mario has always been Nintendo’s flagship character, and every new Nintendo system (both home consoles and handheld systems) has featured a new Mario game. Super Mario 64 was where Nintendo took a risk, moving from the familiar 2-D side-scrolling platformers to a 3-D platformer.
It was a risk that paid off. That is something that could not be said for other games that made the jump to 3-D only to produce a game vastly inferior to the 2-D versions on older consoles. (Hi there, Castlevania 64.) The blocky polygon graphics look primitive by today’s standards, but it was spectacular for its time. Mario ran around in a 3-D world and could explore all kinds of areas.
Most importantly, Super Mario 64 felt like a Mario game. The controls and overall gameplay were very similar to what we were used to: Stomping Goombas, kicking turtle shells, swimming and jumping from platform to platform all made the transition to 3-D perfectly. It was new, but very familiar. Again, that could not be said for other games that went form 2-D on 16-bit systems to 3-D on the N64.
What was more revolutionary was that Mario 64 is truly an open-world game, and it pre-dated the “sandbox” games on the next generation by several years. You had a castle to explore and paintings that led to multiple huge worlds. Within each world, there were many different things to do. You could actually defeat Bowser and finish the game without playing a huge portion of the game’s content.
This would be the last proper Mario game I played on a home console, as my next system was a PlayStation 2 that I sold in 2009. Nonetheless, it still holds a lot of great memories.