Yahoo! To mark the 25th anniversary of Super Mario 64, I summoned the might to finally complete it. I feel like a bloody fool for not doing it sooner.
To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar, to try when my arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star. It was my quest, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far. While I wouldn’t consider Princess Peach’s Castle to be hell, marching in felt like a heavenly cause.
When I think of platformers, Nintendo’s 3D ground-breaker always comes to mind, whether it’s chucking that poor baby penguin into the snowy abyss or sprinting, triple-jumping and inevitably sliding up/down Whomp’s Fortress. But until recently, I’d never actually conquered the game in its entirety.
I’ll be honest: I barely played it on the N64, maybe a little, along with Mario Kart. It wasn’t until my Nintendo DS that I became fully obsessed with Super Mario 64, playing it for hours on end – again, alongside Mario Kart – wandering around the stages, replaying my favourite ones. It was once said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; in that regard, my childhood experience with the game was joyfully unhinged.
Fast-forward 15 years; more specifically, earlier in 2021. My girlfriend’s family had become reacquainted with their Wii during lockdown, playing golf and bowling for scratchcards. I couldn’t get enough, eventually seeking my own console. So, I went on the hunt on Facebook Marketplace and eventually came across one curiously more expensive than the rest.
Long story short, it was loaded with games. Not discs, just emulators with the most ROMs I’d ever seen, with Super Mario 64 among them. The hamper I’d acquired came with a third-party GameCube controller, so I fired it up immediately. Mama mia, hearing that File Select music; that soul-soothing combo of wooden flute and synth. I sat for a good 10 minutes taking it in, immersed in a sense of happiness from an earlier time.
Honestly, similar sentiments go for any track of Koji Kondo’s OST: synth rising gently against the bouncy intro with the Koopa cameraman; the head-bobbing Cool Cool Mountain mix; the weightless relaxation of Dire Dire Docks’ water theme. Is it the best video game soundtrack of all time? The answer probably lies in the ludicrously priced vinyl on eBay.
When I first started playing it again, getting to grips with the wonky controls, wasting countless two-second bursts doing Mario’s long jump, I had a thought – did I ever actually complete this? ‘Surely!’ I thought. ‘Of course I have, I played it to death,’ I seemingly recalled. Then I tried to remember how it ended; not the basic ending, as anyone with the vaguest understanding of Mario and Princess Peach could predict it, but exactly what happens, what music plays, how long it goes on for after presumably beating Bowser for the final time.
In an instant, I felt like I was inside the Mr. Krabs blurred panic meme. I’ve definitely spoken at great length about my enjoyment of Super Mario 64 throughout my life, yet I’d never actually seen it through to its necessary, deserved completion. I’m not going to lie to you, I felt like a chump – but blimey, I pushed forward with haste in collecting those golden stars.
Of course, my mission didn’t keep me from wasting time just swimming around Jolly Roger Bay, soaking up those vibes. I still fell for the same piano-gnashing jump scare in Big Boo’s Haunt, every single time. I also revisited the molar-gnawing frustration of hiding behind that stupid penguin past the wind in Snowman’s Land.
There were only a few areas that didn’t feel overly familiar: the bulk of Tiny Huge Island; most of Tick Tock Clock, probably because of the delicate, difficult precision of every jump; and despite feeling somewhat at home in Shifting Sand Land, I was totally lost inside the pyramid.
Over the course of a few nights, I kept collecting stars. Some stages really got under my skin, like the labyrinthian Hazy Maze Cave, while others still blew my mind, like the next-level puzzling of Wet-Dry World. I was completely hooked, and my playthrough was short, sweet and a little bit sad.
Gaming has mightily progressed. Every new console feels like a dramatic leap; do you remember the smooth time-reversal and wall-running of Prince of Persia on PS2, the first time you swung a ‘golf club’ or threw a ‘bowling ball’ in Wii Sports, or the dazzling water effects in Uncharted on PS3? Most of these experiences have been eclipsed, but Super Mario 64‘s purity, diverse level design and enduring playability is a testament to a higher power.
It transported me to a similar mental place as aimlessly swinging through Spider-Man 2‘s New York, or climbing up the big mountain in Ty the Tasmanian Tiger and flying off. I yearn for when playing games wasn’t as much about chasing a positive K/D and trying to break down the density of ginormous RPGs. Fun is what mattered, nothing else. Though, it shouldn’t be reduced to a mere distraction; Mario’s later platformers have been incredible, but his first 3D outing still reigns over Sunshine, Galaxy and Odyssey.
By the time the final fight with Bowser concluded, and Princess Peach was lowered to the ground from the stained glass window against that twinkly composition, I realised two things: I too wanted some cake; and I’ll be chasing this elation for quite sometime – perhaps I should re-invest in a Switch. I cherished, and already miss, every second.
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