Defining Moments – Super Mario 64

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‘Baa-baa-baa-ba-ba-baaaaa.’

I haven’t lost my mind. When I pick up the irregular Nintendo 64 controller, that 2 second noise of sweet, sweet harmony scurries its way from my subconscious and after jumping into the first painting almost 18 years ago, it’s one of the first memories I have of Super Mario 64. That sound was instant gratification: I was going to explore new worlds, with new hazards and game mechanics and I couldn’t wait to bump heads with a Thwomp, or the lava-infested world of, erm, Lethal Lava World.

194342-mario64_world1_01The first mission however would instantly capture any gamer’s heart. After getting accustomed to the controls in the castle gardens, the 360-degree analog control twinned with the dynamic camera system was a staple for the future, intuitive to whoever held the 3 armed controller. In many regards, Super Mario 64 was ahead of its time; launch titles are rarely as revolutionary as this.

Staring at the painting of Bob-omb Battlefield, a first-time gamer may look at it as a spelling mistake – but a veteran knows an old enemy is waiting. As Mario jumps into the lush green world, a couple of small, pink, round objects stand flicking their toes – their warm nature enticing you into a conversation next to a small stubby cannon. This truly is a battlefield.

These pink blobs tell you of a Big Bob-Omb at the top of the mountain,  and warn of the water bombs raining from the sky; reaching this Bob-Omb is the first of many adventures in this land, but the game expects you to hit the ground running as you go toe-to-toe with the first boss. It’s clear where you need to go – a dirt path guides you to a wooden bridge and has you sneaking past a barking sound; less than 10 minutes into the game, you’ve already been introduced to 5 very different characters: Pink Bob-ombs, the memorable Goombas – instantly spotted and remembered by their muffin-top shape, big eyes and lack of limbs – a Koopa-Troopa and now a chain chomp, an enraged ball and chain, complete with large teeth and giant eyes. With a bounce, it makes a bee-line for the moustachioed crusader.

After eventually working past it and making your way across the see-saw bridge, the aforementioned water bombs begin falling, crashing and bouncing around you. The clear exit is a gate across a nearby stone bridge. It’s easy to forget that throughout this first mission and majority of the game, it’s almost impossible to get lost due to how fantastic the game’s design is – with the use of some subtle visual clues, you’re guided the right way – be this a textured path different to the rest of the world, or the camera curling its way around to show you were to head next as you run over bridges and pass enemies.

Crossing the bridge, the player is greeted with their next challenge: to guide their now dwarfed character up the hexagonal mountain. As you start to work your way up, a colossal black bowling ball rolls its way towards you. waAHpoLDodging it is child’s play, further up the path begins to narrow – offering less and less room for escape. Falling off results in either cartoon-like damage as Mario shrinks like an accordion – much like from a Tom & Jerry cartoon – or hitting a steep slope and being forced to ride the disappointment back to the beginning, knowing you should have timed that double jump a little better.

Upon finally reaching the top, the hulking black mass stands close to the edge, as though he’s looking over the battlefield. With a crown mounted on his ‘head’, you instantly know that you’re face-to-face with a Big Bob-Omb. As you edge anxiously closer, he spins 180-degrees to confront you. I can’t recall the first time I went against this mammoth, nor how I worked out how to beat him; perhaps it was down to trial-and-error, or watching my father play it and learning from his experience. The latter is probably correct: running around, picking up and throwing the boss off the edge resulted in no damage. It was only when throwing him against the ground that the slow-walking, slow-turning giant sustained damage; thinking about this now, it’s hard to understand why a greater fall wouldn’t hurt this enemy, but you wouldn’t question it for more than a second.

After three successful hits, the boss admits defeat – but not without first warning that you’ll need to be faster if you ever hope to defeat Bowser. Remembering this fact is key to your success later on: the same tactic used to defeat Big Bob-Omb is later used on Bowser at the end of the game, thus making this first mission one of the greatest tutorial levels ever, expertly drip feeding you new mechanics without the player ever realising that they are to then re- use these skills later in this great masterpiece.

More recent Mario games have played it safe, trying to recapture the feeling you got from their first 3D adventure, or the first time you met Yoshi in Super Mario World. It sometimes feels as though Nintendo don’t really know that made their games so special in the first place. They were daring, each one unique offering their very own game mechanics; and yes people talk about how great they were, but personally I don’t want to see these given a high-definition remake. I want to see Nintendo being bold, taking their characters in new directions – and never has the company been more bold than they were with Super Mario 64.

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison

Contributor
Alex likes to divide his time between wearing hats and buying games. He also occasionally puts pen to paper and scribbles some words down.
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