'3D All-Stars' brings back best, worst memories of 'Super Mario 64'

When Nintendo announced its “Super Mario 3D All-Stars” collection more than a month ago, I was extremely excited for the chance to dive back into one of my favorite games of all time — “Super Mario 64.”

I still remember, as a kid in 1996, when I opened my Christmas presents and found a Nintendo 64 and a copy of “Super Mario 64.” At the time, the N64 was nearly impossible to find, and the idea of fully 3D graphics was mind-blowing. I quickly rushed to hook up the new system to my 19 inch Magnavox CRT and loaded what would be the greatest launch title of all time. At 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I was glued to my new console and in complete amazement at playing what, to me, was the first 3D game at home.

There was nothing like it at the time. Coming off the Super Nintendo Entertainment System era, when almost every single game was some form of side-scroller or two-dimensional, being able to run around in a three-dimensional environment was amazing. I logged literally countless hours in “Super Mario 64,” collecting all 120 stars and exploring every single secret possible in the game. It was truly one of my favorite games ever.

So having the opportunity to play it again, in 2020, with slightly improved graphics on a modern console was an exciting prospect. But like many things in life, sometimes it’s best to just let the memories remain uncontaminated. Some things are just a product of their time and moment, and nothing will ever be able to match that.

“Super Mario 64” is definitely a product of its time. It was among the first games to employ three-dimensional game design. While revolutionary in 1996, developers have had nearly 25 years to improve on movement, control and camera design. This is extremely apparent in “Super Mario 64,” when the camera and cumbersome movement can cause more deaths and frustrations than the basic level design.

At the time, Nintendo designed the camera so that it would follow along with Mario and change angles on its own, depending on where Mario was in the level. This “intelligent” camera is supposed to give the player the best angle to see where to go next when navigating the three-dimensional courses. But more often than not, the camera becomes a hassle and players spend more time fighting with it to see where to go, rather than to plan their next jump or attack.

Modern “Mario” games, including “Super Mario Galaxy” that is also included in the collection, fixed this by giving the player complete control over the camera. The advent of the second analog stick is a tremendous help in this regard. The N64 controller only included one analog stick, prohibiting camera control.

I haven’t moved past the first set of courses, which are the easiest in the game. The further along in the game, the more difficult the courses become, requiring much more precise jumps and movements. I’m almost hesitant to continue playing further into the game because of my fears of how difficult it will be to wrestle with the camera. Perhaps these issues are only prevalent in this first batch of courses because of how confined they can be at times, but I doubt it. After a quick search of impressions on the Internet, many have run into the same issues I have, and it’s sad.

“Super Mario 64” remains one of the greatest “Mario” games ever because of its varied level design, environmental varieties and imaginative gameplay. Even “Super Mario Odyssey,” the first 3D “Mario” title on the Nintendo Switch, doesn’t reach the heights of its much older predecessor. But at least controlling Mario in “Super Mario Odyssey” feels like a smooth experience — one that allows the player to enjoy the gameplay, rather than fighting with a camera in order to enjoy the finer parts of the game.

This harkens back to a point that many made when “Super Mario 3D All-Stars” was announced, and that’s why did Nintendo not put more effort into modernizing these games? The level design of “Super Mario 64” is second to none — only inhibited by the limited 3D camera design of its day. This was something that could have been remedied in a low budget remaster. Instead, the collection merely includes emulated games. While much effort was put into designing the emulators, nothing was done to modernize the gameplay. A little additional time and money could have made “Super Mario 64” a breeze to play today, just as it was 25 years ago. Instead, I’m left wondering whether I should just give up on the game, and let my memories remain as they once were.

—Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

Recommended for you