Despite the almost unanimous assertion that it’s the greatest game to have ever been handed down to man directly from the hand of God himself, I never really got into Super Mario 64. Sure, I preordered it with my Nintendo 64 all those years ago and spent a great bit of the system’s launch-week trying to save Princess Peach, but other than not having anything else to play at the time, I never felt compelled to work through it. It’s not that I was especially lazy or unable to appreciate the high-quality of the game; it just never clicked with me. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for more of Mario’s zany world, but it’s entirely possible that I was simply craving something a little grittier at that point in my gaming “career”. (After all, by the N64’s launch, the Sega CD, 3DO and Playstation had clearly illustrated that console gaming didn’t have to be comprised of cutesy cartoon characters going on silly adventures in rainbow-colored worlds.) Whatever the case, I spent a couple of weeks half-heartedly playing the game, ultimately resigning it to storage with the greatest of indifference, never to really play it again. (I won’t count the DS version of the game, which, thanks to the shite controls, I disliked almost immediately.)
But oh, how things have changed…
Fast forward ten years to the launch of the Wii and a download from the system’s Virtual Console, and I find myself once again traipsing around in Princess Peach’s castle, repeating stages and collecting stars. Not only have I been surprised at how much I remember of the game’s many secrets and whatnot, but I have also been taken aback by how much I have been thoroughly enjoying it this time around. Whereas the primary-colored world of Super Mario 64 was perhaps, subconsciously, a downer in the 1996 gaming scene, today it’s like a shining beacon of originality and imagination that very few modern games can compare to. As I make my way through the game, I am reminded of that good ol’ Nintendo magic, and how when they’re really “on” they have no equal. (Even though it clearly goes without saying, every would-be game designer would be well-advised to study the work of Shigeru Miyamoto.) Sure, the game’s wonky camera can be quite maddening at times, but while playing through any part of the game, you’d be hard pressed to not take notice of the many elements of genius that this game embodies. From the incredibly imaginative world to the absolutely rock-solid game design, this title just does everything right. Even after 10 years of age, it’s hard to play SM64 and not be consistently impressed with what it has to offer — despite this point in time being the age of the explicit “gangsta” game.
In regards to my recent late arrival to the SM64 love party, I can’t help but think that one of the things that has made me appreciate it on a greater level than I did during the game’s release is sharing it with my young daughter. Just like the renewal of interest one experiences in things like Christmas when parenthood is entered, the same thing has applied to this game. Giving my daughter the chance to run Mario around the inside and outside of Peach’s castle was the main thing that influenced my purchase of the game from the Virtual Console (she always wants to play “Nintendo”), and her immediate love for the game (and frequent need for help in it) was the thing that caused me to sit down and really work on playing it again. She has really fallen in love with SM64, and to see her reactions to the game’s many characters, places and events has only made me re-appreciate, what, not only is a truly wonderful game, but a wonderful franchise. After so many years, so many games and so many systems, I think it’s easy to forget everything that we originally loved about these old series’ from days gone by. For an old, jaded gamer like myself, getting to re-experience such old-tyme franchises through the fresh eyes of a child is quite a magical thing. (And of course, to be the parent of such a promising uber-geek is a great thing as well. *wink*)
With our nightly “Nintendo” get-togethers on the Wii (damn, it’s cool to refer to gaming as “playing Nintendo” again), my daughter and I will surely save Princess Peach, ending what has been, for me, a 10-year rescue mission gone unfulfilled.
And for the record, I never denied the greatness of SM64 or disagreed with those who claimed it to be one of the greatest games of all-time…I just never let myself fall into the experience enough to where I could unequivocally agree.
I’m glad I came around.