The Case Against Super Mario 64

Larrikin

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,396
After a brief dip into the dunkey thread on the game I figured I'd take a more structure approach to this argument.

I'll preface this by saying that I completely understand why this game is so beloved. It pioneered 3D Platformers, and 3D games in general. Many people consider the game to control Perfectly, with Perfect levels and Perfect design etc. The game was a spectacular leap forward for our industry and I love what it has done for games as a medium and for the industry as a whole. I respect this game, but I don't like it. I think it is terrible. I hate it.

And obviously, obviously this is an opinion piece. I am not trying to convince people that this is an awful game but I'm just putting forward the reasons why this game, that is so universally revered, is not enjoyable to me (and maybe some others). So without further adieu:

1. The Context (Hub World and Stars)
Starting here makes sense to me. I don't like the castle, I think it is the root cause of a lot of my grievances about this game but just from a design standpoint I don't think it's very well implemented. Having this weird maze-like structure that is, in-universe, supposed to be some sort of place that people live and operate in always struck me weirdly. It felt like "Hey, Peach is a princess, she has a castle. Lets go with that." which led to "how do we get all these worlds in here?" which led to... paintings I guess. How do we get them to play the levels in order? "Uhhh... mario has stars right? Lets go with that. You need x stars for certain doors" etc. Its just excuse after excuse eithout any real reason apart from "thats the easiest way to get these things into the game". It's a small gripe but imo an important one because a game being contextual within itself is something that always draws me in and makes me care about the world even if it's an incredibly game-y world, the smallest touch goes a long way to making me feel better about how it's presented.

In SMB1 it's a mad dash through all the levels to reach the princess. You are left, Peach is right. Go get her. Mario is travelling from place to place hunting what he thinks is Bowser/The princess but it turns out to be someone/somewhere else. There's a sense of urgency that, at a very base level gives you context and drives you through level to level. It's barely there but it's something, and something is enough. In SMB3 it's the same but with an actual overworld which goes leaps and bounds into establishing the place that you're in. Again with Super Mario World.

In the games since SM64 you have Isle Delfino (Sunshine) which is a great hub world. You still have the slight obfuscation with how you get to the places but they are all depicted as actual places in the world that you're in, and the Shine Sprites are posited to be the power source of the islands and the source of their sunshine. Galaxy has the observatory which is powered by stars, and each level is a planet in a solar system. Odyssey has you travelling around the world collecting fuel for your ship. These are small touches but they ground the game in a way that I find Super Mario 64 to be severely lacking.

2. The Objectives
I cannot stand getting booted from the stage after every single objective. I think it is the most flow-breaking thing in any game I've played and it feels like its there purely to pad the length of the experience. Start the level with a vague hint, search the thing trying to find what its referring to, do the thing (which, in my experience, more often than not ended up being a poor/simple platforming exercise or a fetch quest under various disguises) and start all over again from the very beginning. Repeat ad nauseum. It didnt feel like the playground it was presented as, but rather a series of menial chores with a frustrating amount of repitition.

Now I understand that some of the objectives required minor redesigns to the stage but imo there are far better ways to implement those changes without needing to boot you every time.

3. The Controls
Mario just doesn't feel right to me. Maybe its the N64 analog stick, maybe its just not my style but in this game he has always felt floaty, sluggish and weird. I feel very similarly about the Donkey Kong Country Returns/Tropical Freeze games where they sacrificed snappy and responsive controls for more "realistic" momentum and it just does not translate to engaging moment to moment gameplay for me. Every action feels like too much of a commitment and takes too long to execute (which, combined with the aforementioned repetitiveness of tasks, is a brick wall in the face of good flow)

I think its probably a lot of minor things combining in just the wrong way. The scale of mario compared to his surroundings, the weight, the slightly too long it takes for any action to complete... it just all combines into something unsatisfying for me.

Combined with a camera that does not behave at all how I would like it to and it's every necessary component for a bad time

4. The Level Design
Hoo boy... now I'll start by saying that I dont hate everything. I actually think there are some real gems with lots of cool and interesting aspects (TinyHuge chief amongst them) but overall I find them to be really haphazard without a lot of thought put into them. They're rarely more than parts of a linear obstacle course abstracted out into a 3d space, then placed wherever with little to no relation to each other beyond the general "theme" of the world. They feel more game-y than SMB1. The best comparison I can make is a roguelike with premade rooms but random placement. Its yet another aspect of the game I feel had little to no thought put into making it feel ingrained into itself.

Conclusion:
I know almost everyone here will disagree. I get that. I absolutely respect that. I'm a weird guy, I have some janky opinions but I feel them with conviction. I believe in my heart of hearts that these decisions were bad ones. I feel they combined to make a negative experience, but thats from my own perspective. To get a little preachy, the game wasn't made for me, but it also isnt sacrosanct, and it feels like people want there to be some games (like SM64 BotW, etc) that are above criticism.

IMO anyway.
 
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Razlo

Member
Oct 31, 2017
214
I looked at your points, don't agree, so I'm just shrugging. Truly amazing game that influenced 3D games from that point onward, and still fun to play now to me.
 

Ricky64

Banned
Nov 6, 2017
352
Yep, there you go, I knew when I saw the video notification there would be someone ready to shit on the best game ever. Never fail me Era.
 

Xiaomi

Member
Oct 25, 2017
6,310
In 1996, that shit was earth-shattering. But I'm with you on many things except the controls. I still think they're the best 3D Mario has ever been in terms of responsiveness and moveset, even if SMG2 comes preeeeeetty close because of the cloud hat. That said, I've always been more of a fan of obstacle course Marios rather than the collectathon ones. I just want tight platforming rather than minigames or scavenger hunts.
 

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,413
I mean, you're entitled to your opinion and I can kind of see what you mean with a few points, but like it was one of the first 3D platformers ever. I'm inclined to give it a little bit of slack because of that, and I personally still think it's fun to play which is remarkable, many games from that era have aged a lot more poorly. I especially disagree about the controls, I've never had a problem with them at all, in fact it's remarkable that they are as good as they are for what was a first attempt.

I'm also not sure where you got the idea that people think Mario 64 is sacrosanct, it hasn't been my experience. It's gotten to the point of me seeing some ice cold takes by people saying that Sonic Adventure has aged better, which is a bad joke.
 

ggdeku

Member
Oct 26, 2017
550
I really disagree with your points. For being one of the first big 3D platformers it fucking nails so much, especially movement. Mario's movement, friction, and set of abilities are the peak of the series.

its been a long time and mario has never played better. It's what makes SM64 an infinitely replayable and speedrun-able game.
 

robjoh

Member
Oct 31, 2017
531
I have not played mario 64 on a n64 my experience comes from playing the game on Nintendo ds. So my experience is really damaged by really bad controls...

However some parts of your critique I tend to agree on.

Point 2
This is a problem for all 3D mario games I have played. Sunshine is really frustrating due to having to restart all the time.

Galaxy is the same. Galaxy 2 is a clear step up.

3, controls
Well the nds port is awful but I found the controls are ok for sunshine however the camera is horrible in that game.

4, level design
I would say that the nature of the open world nature of both sunshine and mario 64 makes the level design lackluster compared to the more level based design in galaxy.
 

Celine

Member
Oct 26, 2017
3,155
The only complain I agree with you is that it's bothersome how the game boot you out the stage once a star is collected.
Controls and level design are top notch in the context of the year of release, of course to really appreciate them you should play other full 3D games from 1996 (or around that console generation).
The hub world serve the purpose to give the player the chance to practice with the controls without any hazard that could kill Mario.
You need to realize that when Super Mario 64 came out the conception of a fully 3D world explorable in third-person was quite a novelty and players had to adapt from totally different game style rooted in 2D graphics.
Two decades later new generations of players born with the 3D paradigm in place but back then the jump from 2D to 3D (in term of gameplay, not just graphics) was huge.
Other genres that were more constrained like 3D fighting games and racing games or JRPG that often maintained a 2D perspective (fixed camera) had it easier.

I owned a N64. I played every big title on it, except Mario 64. Is that weird? I feel like it is.
Consider that Super Mario 64 is the best selling game of the 32-64 bit generation so it's a bit weird :-)
 

Kyuuji

Member
Nov 8, 2017
9,868
For me it’s the fact I can go back to a game that was treading water in 3D for the first time ever in games and still have fun with it is absolutely incredible and a testament to how great a game it really is. That’s as someone that really can’t say the same for most old 3D games. The vision they had was phenomenal and it’s zero surprise it became as influential as it did. I think the write up is well written but I can’t agree on most points.
 
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bigbaldwolf86

Member
Oct 27, 2017
192
Nice post but I cant agree with anything here. The whole game was structured perfectly with varied and amazing worlds and controls that are as good as you can be with them. Watch some speed runners and see how they move Mario around. It's crazy.
 

feonando

Member
Mar 26, 2019
938
Some aspects you admit to not like, also recognize were fixed or made better in posterior games.

And you also recognize that is a game that redefined many aspects in gaming, which other developers recognize too.

Back then there was nothing like it. So you may not like the controls, hub, progression, but is not like the market was flooding with similar games that did what Mario 64 did and better.
 

Moff

Member
Oct 26, 2017
2,375
Mario 64 is my most hyped game of my life and it still was so much better than I expected.
 

eraFROMAN

Member
Mar 12, 2019
593
I appreciate the write up, but once I got to the point about the controls I knew it was basically over. I think the game controls insanely well, even now, and is a big reason why the game is still fun to go back to. The castle gives you a lot of excuses to move Mario around without risk, and it's great fun to play with.
 

Ryouji Gunblade

Avenger
Oct 26, 2017
4,107
California
The camera is the most annoying thing in 64, but you barely mentioned it.

I think it would be cool if we could stay in the level if we wanted to, but I know I'd jump out and jump in again cause it's awesome hearing the level intro over and over.
 

honest_ry

Banned
Oct 30, 2017
4,288
I didnt like it then and i dont like i now.

3D platformers were never for me (Except Jumping Flash)
 

Peru

Member
Oct 26, 2017
2,627
. Many people consider the game to control Perfectly, with Perfect levels and Perfect design etc
Ok so you are building a strawman to launch your arguments. Almost no one in the wide world of gaming consider this game to be perfect in all these aspects. They were revolutionary and mind-blowing at the time, but of course have been iterated on endlessly since then, and improved in many ways. Most people will return to a later 3D Mario, where most of the mechanics of 64 have been polished. But 64 remains a towering achievement considering how many things it got right while being the very first of its kind. It blew open the doors of 3D action adventuring.
 

Vito

formerly Undead Fantasy
Member
Oct 25, 2017
6,051
1. The Context (Hub World and Stars)
Starting here makes sense to me. I don't like the castle, I think it is the root cause of a lot of my grievances about this game but just from a design standpoint I don't think it's very well implemented. Having this weird maze-like structure that is, in-universe, supposed to be some sort of place that people live and operate in always struck me weirdly. It felt like "Hey, Peach is a princess, she has a castle. Lets go with that." which led to "how do we get all these worlds in here?" which led to... paintings I guess. How do we get them to play the levels in order? "Uhhh... mario has stars right? Lets go with that. You need x stars for certain doors" etc. Its just excuse after excuse eithout any real reason apart from "thats the easiest way to get these things into the game". It's a small gripe but imo an important one because a game being contextual within itself is something that always draws me in and makes me care about the world even if it's an incredibly game-y world, the smallest touch goes a long way to making me feel better about how it's presented.
Literal YIKES reading this.
 

Mekanos

Member
Oct 17, 2018
16,820
I actually love the setting of SM64. Peach's Castle has an atmosphere that's surreal and intriguing, if not slightly unnerving at times. The idea of finding portals to worlds in paintings, cages, clocks, etc. is delightful and I would like to see more games explore a similar concept.
 

MechaBreaker

Member
Jun 26, 2018
2,826
Has anyone compared pal and ntsc Mario 64? I’m really curious if the pal version somehow feels significantly worse.
 

Mr. President

Member
Oct 27, 2017
828
a lot of my grievances about this game but just from a design standpoint I don't think it's very well implemented. Having this weird maze-like structure that is, in-universe, supposed to be some sort of place that people live and operate in always struck me weirdly. It felt like "Hey, Peach is a princess, she has a castle. Lets go with that."
An extremely bizzare complaint, especially considering it is your main one.
The Castle provides an perfect hub for a player to ease themselves into familiarity with the rules of the game, especially important considering this was basically the world's introduction to 3D platforming. "Weird, maze-like"? It's a three story building, it has a dungeon, a main hall, towers. There's nothing maze-like about it.

How do we get them to play the levels in order? "Uhhh... mario has stars right? Lets go with that. You need x stars for certain doors" etc. Its just excuse after excuse eithout any real reason apart from "thats the easiest way to get these things into the game".
But you do not have to play the levels in order. Aside from very lax star requirements for the first few levels the only thing that blocks your progress is obtaining the boss key from Bowser. You essentially only need to grab few stars in the first level and you are essentially free to pick and choose from their. You don't even need to collect the "correct" mission star you collected, Mario 64's freedom in this regard is universally praised and it is baffling that it has been lost on you.

in this game he has always felt floaty, sluggish and weird.
I can't speak to how you "felt" but these criticisms are objectively wrong
How exactly do you define floaty or sluggish?
Mario moves in 360 degrees with no startup lag. His jumps are precise. The one problem it has is lack of a fully controllable free camera.
 

L4DANathan

Avenger
Oct 26, 2017
705
Fairfax, VA, USA
I agree with your end verdict, but have varying agreement with your points. Having played it for the first time a few months ago, I thought the game was okay at best, infuriating at worst.
The controls were pretty bad and the level design was variable, but they could have been manageable had not every world in the latter half of the game had the majority of its obstacles be insta-death pits. That was by far the worst part of the game, having to wait out the death menu every time you missed a near pixel-perfect jump.
The premise doesn't really matter to me since Mario games have generally been as game-y as it gets, just a vehicle for jumping around and grabbing stuff, and the hub was alright.
Getting booted back to the menu was annoying, but I feel like the world changing per star largely made up for it. Fuck the worlds where the 100 coin star requires booting a specific star though.
 
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Larrikin

Larrikin

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,396
To all the people making the "It was the first 3d Platformer!" argument... I get that. It certainly did its job of introducing fledgling game-players to the concept of a 3D environment but even as a kid I never had that wow moment. It felt like we still weren't there yet, and I felt it did a poor job of creating a fun and engaging experience in that 3d environment.

Ok so you are building a strawman to launch your arguments. Almost no one in the wide world of gaming consider this game to be perfect in all these aspects.
I didn't intend to say that all people think all of those things, but I mean... in the dunkey thread and in almost every single SM64 thread I've ever seen the word Perfect is thrown around a lot. I was more saying that many people think that this game does any one of those things perfectly, and there are many people that subscribe to that. Perfect controls is a major argument of people who love the game, and while I disagree I don't think they're wrong for feeling that. I also wouldn't consider it strawman in the fact that I'm not arguing against these people... Just putting forth a different, disagreeing stance. I'm not trying to win a conversation here, I feel that the desire to be correct in front of a captive audience is part of what makes the internet such a dangerous place to posit opinions and attempt actual discussion.

An actual strawman:
I hated Super Mario World because they never explained how the hell a bridge made of butter could even stand.
A grossly exaggerated form of my original position. I'm not asking for realism in all things, I'm asking for the barest hint of establishing a non-arbitrary setting and goal

Peru, regarding what you saw as a strawman however, to make my point for me, (while not using the word perfect I feel 'Best Game Ever' is a great example of the type of sentiment I was talking about):

Yep, there you go, I knew when I saw the video notification there would be someone ready to shit on the best game ever. Never fail me Era.
Well I was accused of trolling and derailing in that thread so my options were "move the conversation somewhere else" or continue to upset people and come off as rude. Seemed a pretty clear cut decision.
 

keidash

Member
Jan 31, 2018
158
I bought a N64 when Ocarina came out and the console was bundled with mario 64... I didn't play Zelda until I ended Mario 64... I couldn't stop playing, so I fully disagree. I usually have some respect for opposite opinions but man... not this time, it seems to me that it's based on prejudices most of the time.
 

doodlewhizz

Member
Jan 9, 2019
1,522
I can't speak to how you "felt" but these criticisms are objectively wrong
How exactly do you define floaty or sluggish?
Mario moves in 360 degrees with no startup lag. His jumps are precise. The one problem it has is lack of a fully controllable free camera.
Okay, I think SM64 is a great game that still controls well but this is a nonsensical statement
 

Banzai

The Fallen
Oct 28, 2017
1,464
My major complaint about 3D Mario is that too many levels focus on exploration instead of pure platforming. It's very boring to me.

I have honestly never finished M64 because of it. Not entirely sure if I even finished any Galaxy games, but I do remember getting sort of far into those at least.
 
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Larrikin

Larrikin

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,396
Has anyone compared pal and ntsc Mario 64? I’m really curious if the pal version somehow feels significantly worse.
I am actually curious about this as well. Never thought about it but I'm Australian so PAL was my life. When I was researching Diddy Kong Racing I remember reading that the game ran like 8% slower or something like that? So this could definitely be a factor.