Shigeru Miyamoto’s birthday passed yesterday. So I thought going to one of his games would be a perfect fit for the return of Retro Weekends. But which game? Back then he had his hand in many games from Zelda, to F-ZERO, to Donkey Kong, to Star Fox, to Pikmin. But one of his more recognized franchises has to be Mario. And of the mainline platformer games, I’ve played all of them up to Super Mario Galaxy 2, even the original Lost Levels on NES (via Virtual Console). I’m actually leaning on wanting to talk about The Lost Levels. But you know what, let’s tackle a game on a console that I haven’t touched on yet on Retro Weekends. After the break, we’re flying high with Super Mario 64.
A New Dimension of Mario
Before the release of Super Mario 64, Mario was mostly represented in 2D form, whether is was as a sprite or in packaging art. Within a decade Mario was the most recognized videogame character. One look at that hat, the mustache, or the blue overalls, and you knew it was Mario. However, the videogame industry was undergoing a change around the mid 90s with public interest moving to 3D games. The public wanted to escape the confines of 2D games and move beyond up, down, left and right. They wanted to move in and out, closer to and away from the camera. They wanted to explore a vast 3D world. The public got a taste of this with Star Fox and, to an extent, Super Mario RPG on the SNES. So the team at Nintendo began work on a new Mario game for the Ultra 64, later named the Nintendo 64. Upon release, the gaming public exploded with enthusiasm for the game. Finally, a Mario game with full 3D control.
The goal of Super Mario 64 was still the same. Peach was kidnapped and held captive in her own castle. The objective of each stage was still to get from Point A to Point B, but this time that Point B was a Power Star, and you had more than one way of getting it. If anything, you could ignore one star and aim for another (if you knew how to get it that was). There were 120 stars to get, but you only need 70 to get to the final battle with Bowser. Mario would also come with more moves in his arsenal beyond jumping and kicking Koopa shells. He can now triple jump, backflip, slide, butt stomp (which Yoshi did first), wall jump, breakdance kick, and punch the living crap outta his enemies. Mario can also pick up different caps to change his form, which included the Metal Cap for invincibility and walking underwater unimpaired , the Vanish Cap to become invisible and pass through certain barriers, and the fan-favorite Wing Cap to fly through the skies.
Critics and fans loved Super Mario 64 and considered as one of the most innovative games in videogame history. Super Mario 64 popularized the return and use of joysticks, which were now smaller and used with only a thumb as opposed to a whole hand. In the genre space, Mario 64 birth the 3D Platformer genre, which would spawn many imitators, some of which became their own successful franchises. The camera system in place also gave players the ability to manipulate the camera, something that has become second nature in many 3D games to this date. It also solidified 3D models as here to stay.