Best Videogame of all Time
It's 10 years since Super Mario 64 was introduced to the world as a Nintendo 64 launch title, but it still stands out now as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, games of all time.
From the moment it starts and you run across the grass outside the Princess's castle, it's immediately clear that the development of the game and the development of the N64 controller went hand in hand. The introduction of analogue control to a mainstream console, of course now standard practice, offers up a sublime slice of tight control pie. Every jump, turn, and platform grab is always under your total control.
Which of course means when there are mistakes. Again. And Again. And again. You'll always know it's your own fault.
The aforementioned castle is one of the reasons why Mario 64 is so good, acting as a central hub for the 15 different worlds in the game. Each world is then split into 6 stars, some of which you have to tackle in a specific order, some of which you can do based on your own choice. As you complete each task and gain more stars, you can use them to unlock more castle doors and get access to more of the game. You can technically complete it with just 70 stars, but there's also a star in each world for collecting 100 coins, plus another 15 stars hidden around the castle, and no true gamer is going to be truely happy until they've got all 120. The setup means that even if you're stuck trying to pass a particular challenge, or bored spending so much time in the same place, it's easy to goto another part of the castle and have a go at something else instead. The open ended effect gives you a good variety and stops it all from feeling too linear and forced.
At first the choice of setting for each of the worlds in the game seem to have been taken from the big book of platform game cliches, there's the lush green one, the slippy slidy icy world, the desert one, and the slippy slidy ice one again. But Nintendo manages to stop them from ever getting boring, packing every corner of each level with interesting enemies, fun boss characters, giant snowmen and flying challenges which will drive you crazy as you miss that damn coin for the tenth time.
As if the designers themselves were getting more comfortable with the technology available to them, the later levels grab inventiveness by the horns and make it their own. There's entire levels set under water with sunken pirate ships. There's Tiny Big world, where everything is either tiny... or big... depending on which door you use to access it, with stars only collectable based on your size. Or Tick Tock Clock, where the speed of time, including stopping it altogether, can be changed depending on when you enter the level, with it's subtle lighting and punishing layout. And then of course there's the Bowser levels, like giant games of Mouse Trap floating in space, with Terminator inspired background music and lots of opportunities to fall if you put a foot wrong. Get to the end however, and the pleasure of swinging Bowser around by the tail is a classic gaming moment.
The passage of time has been generally good to the game, although the camera is perhaps more irratating than you might remember. The rather basic architecture of everything is clear to see, as are the low resolution textures and lighting, but nontheless Mario 64's graphics still hold a certain charm. The bright colourful world presented here is something that's uniquely Mario, even more so perhaps than the Gamecube follow up Mario Sunshine. Combined with music that will get stuck in your head hours after playing, ten years has done nothing to dampen the spirit of the game, even when you consider the whole game probably has less polygons in an entire scene than the typical head of a character in an Xbox 360 title.
What deserves proper credit though, is remembering that before Super Mario 64, free-roaming 3D platformers weren't really done. Nintendo managed to release a new console with a launch title that not only eclipsed every potential competitor, but did it in a genre that barely existed. The concepts introduced in Mario 64 have been the staples of every 3D platformer since, and the analogue control is now ubiquitous across all consoles, just like the rumble technology introduced by Nintendo a couple of years later. Developers who saw Super Mario 64 at E3 that year went back to their development studios and scrapped whole titles, such was the effect it had. Before this the last proper Mario title had been Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, and if you compare the two this truely was the next-generation, the last great leap in console technology. Ten years on, Mario 64 is still a lesson in good game design, still as much fun as it ever was, and still the benchmark for launch titles, 3D platformers and from my point of view, games in general.