So shortly before it stopped, ByteXplosion was putting together a collab piece for Nintendo’s 125th anniversary where we all contributed around 200 words. This was mine:
Even with all my nostalgia for it, playing Super Mario 64 isn’t as amazing as it once was.
It’s of its time. The controls now feel a little stiff, sure; but that’s not it. We’re simply too used to 3D now.
Before Spyro, Banjo, Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III and Skyrim there was this. You pushed the stick and – provided there was ground under him – Mario would keep going in that direction, jumping over and belly-sliding through anything in his way. This doesn’t sound much, but you have to imagine you’d never played a 3D game before; not even Doom-style shooters or into-the-camera Star Fox.
The game’s progression matched this newfound sense of freedom. You were checked by star totals, the castle was split into thirds by Bowser levels. That’s about it. You could stay on one level getting all the stars in order and move on to the next when you’re good and ready, even ‘skipping’ levels by farming enough stars on previous ones, or do the bare minimum on each level to see everything new as quickly as possible, the freedom was such you didn’t even have to do the stars within a level in order… and I’m out of words. Might have to do a standalone article on this.
As the ending hints, I approached the editor to see if he was interested in a full article and got the go ahead. Tbh I probably would’ve written it for my own (this) blog had he not be interested anyway. But before even the first, collaborative piece could go up, the site was discontinued. Here is the follow up article.
So in ByteXplosion’s collab piece on Nintendo at 125 I got misty-eyed over Mario 64’s ‘freedom’ and then ran out of words. So I’d like to go a little more in depth.
I’m not an expert in game design, but thinking on it now nearly everything in the game seems tailored to reinforce the new feeling of freedom that expansive, third person 3D offered.
Take progression. You had to unlock all Mario’s power-up caps to see everything, you had to fight recurrent series princess-botherer Bowser to progress to the next chunk of the hub-world princess’s castle (swinging him around by the tail IN FULL 3D CIRCLES no less); but aside from this your only limitation was stars. These stars, in their multitudes, acted as celestial currency with which to bribe Princess Toadstool’s implacable lacquered doors.
This all sounds very linear but aside from the few requiring caps, stars can be gathered in almost any order you please.
If you like you could stay on one level until you exhaust it of stellar doodads, or do the opposite and get the minimum amount possible from each level before moving on to see the next new place. And if you don’t feel like that you can explore the hub-castle to find secret stars outside the levels (or in their own mini-ones), or try to collect red coins in the Bowser or cap stages.
On top of this, you don’t even have to harvest the stars in the prescribed order. Each world has seven, the last one for collecting 100 coins. You’re never tasked with this and simply must take it upon yourself during another ‘mission’ in that world. On entering a level you select one of the six regular stars (‘unlocked’ in order) and are dropped into the level unceremoniously with only the name of the star to go on. And that’s it.
All the other stars are (usually) present within the level, so despite the set ‘reveal’ sequence you can actually acquire them in any order. If you want to collect all 8 red coins or go deliver a baby penguin to its mother when you should be fighting a boss or discovering the ice-slide then go for it.
Continued in part 2.