Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 1996 - Super Mario 64


Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

1996 was a big year for games. Sega released its killer app for the Saturn, NiGHTS Into Dreams; Sony unleashed its platforming hero Crash Bandicoot onto the gaming scene; Capcom virtually invented the horror genre with Resident Evil; the world became addicted to Pokemon Red and Blue; Eidos started the long-running Tomb Raider series starring the famous Lara Croft; and to top it all off, 3D was starting to become commonplace. But even against such a wave of intimidating titles (if you count Crash Bandicoot as intimidating), Nintendo was ready to win the prize with Super Mario 64. A classic among classics, the game gave 3D new meaning. After more or less inventing the 2D platoformer with Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64's lasting design made the realm of 3D platoformers what they are today. Running and leaping through vivid lands as Mario was exhilarating and magical, and definitely proved what the Nintendo 64 was capable of. The madcap obstacle course sensibilities from the past games remained intact, but that handy third dimension did wonders to spice things up. Huge, open levels practically begged to be explored, and the mysterious castle still stands as one of the greatest game HUBs of all time. Looking back on the controls today certainly proves that video games have matured, but considering this was Nintendo's first legitimate foray into 3D, it's amazing to consider how spot on they had it.

So very many ways to die.

Whistleable tunes that cause even the most hardened gamer to choke up with nostalgia added to the ecstasy that was Super Mario 64, and Charles Martinet lent his voice to the perky plumber for the first time, immortalizing Mario's personality into the hearts of players. The sound design fit the tone of the game, which was literally constructed from 100% recyclable fun. Whether you were swimming in the deep, relaxing waters of Dire, Dire Docks or sliding joyously down the ice cave's penguin race in Cool, Cool Mountain, Mario 64 managed to cast a spell of everything a video game should be. It was challenging, innovative, colorful, and just plain entertaining. I can sometimes be heard complaining that video games these days fail to capture the magic of the classics; to understand what I'm talking about, spend some time playing Super Mario 64.

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