Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #1: Mario 64

In N64, Virtual Console on September 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Title: Super Mario 64

Format: N64

Released: 1st March, 1997

Mario_64_box_art

At the impressionable age of 12, Super Mario 64 blew my mind like a brain prostitute. Brought up on a diet of 2D Amiga platformers and the occasional PC adventure game round my mate Jay’s house, I had never seen anything that looked so exciting, and offered up such a tantalising world to explore. I had just moved to senior school, and the N64 was the console of choice among my peers. The PlayStation was more bad-ass and grown-up, but the multiplayer possibilities on offer from Nintendo made the N64 a firm favourite for sleepovers, which, being the social hubs of the time, pretty much sealed the deal. And then there was Goldeneye: a game so popular that my friend Aaron’s brother charged people at school £1 for completing a level on 00 Agent, not to mention extra to unlock the more difficult cheats (though I do remember he pityingly charged 1p for Dam, because it was “so easy”. I’ve since played it. It isn’t.)

I cannot remember being more excited about a console game before Super Mario 64. Until I was 13, I never had a console of my own, and the SNES and Mega Drive seemed like gateways to an impossibly enticing world I was only ever to sporadically visit, like an awesome 16-bit holiday. Indeed, most of my early friendships evolved from me attaching myself to whoever had a console I could come round and play. I was a bit of a shit like that.

Then the N64 came out, and I was reaching an age where it looked like I might finally get my own. I remember walking through Toys ‘R’ Us in Enfield and seeing an N64 gaming pod with Super Mario 64 and this kid actually playing on it, running around what I would come to know as Bob-Omb Battlefield. I was torn away by my friend Matt’s parents, but I never forgot that first glimpse.

Bob-omb_battlefield
I knew a set of identical twins at church who had a killer collection of games – for the PlayStation at that time, but they’d owned most consoles going. They must have been around 15, and to me they were kings amongst men. I used to hang around them and make a pest of myself, sitting at the back in church, talking about games all through the service. One of the few highlights of a decade of prosaic church-going was occasionally sneaking back to their place down the road and getting a joyous twenty minutes or so on Tomb Raider before my parents inevitably came round, annoyed, to pick me up.

Then The Twins got an N64. And dear god, by some incredible cheek – and I still can’t believe I did this, not to mention got them to agree to it – I asked if I could borrow it. And somehow they said yes. Now, it may be difficult for you to understand what it was for me to finally get my hands not only on a console – for the first time ever – but an N64. Realms of possibility reeled out in front of me. I don’t remember what games they lent me, if any, but for one: Super Mario 64.

Mario-64-cartridge
I got a lift back with my parents, clutching this beautiful black space-age box in my hands, and rushed over to our huge brown and black dappled cathode ray TV that you genuinely had to hit on the head to clear up the picture, and, because I was far too excited and tech-illiterate at this stage, hurriedly got my parents to set it up, no doubt squealing excitedly like a stuck pig who really wanted to play Mario 64. At the time our dining and living room were one, so it wasn’t private by any means, but once I turned that console on and that 3D version of Mario’s head came grinning out of the screen at me, I could have been anywhere. I spent a few minutes admiring the sheer virtuosity of the graphics, before giving Mario’s face a tweak with that white glove, all the while getting used to the wonders of the grey 3-pronged controller I actually held in my hands.

Then I started playing. That music started, the letter from Peach – a noted departure from the Princess Toadstool of yore – appeared on screen (I was sufficiently well-versed by this stage from pestering various friends to play on their NESes and SNESeses to know the Mario Myth) inviting me to come and see her at her Castle. She’d baked me a cake. And Mario jumps out of that pipe, in glorious 3D, and all of a sudden you can go anywhere. It’s eerily quiet in the grounds of the castle, but it was filled with the “whoops” and “yahoos” of Mario stretching his legs, and me discovering what I could really do in this new world. I sat there grinning from ear to ear, unable to believe my luck! Look at me, playing a console in my own home! Then I got into the castle, the inevitable plot kicked into gear, and I long-jumped through a painting.

Painting_2
Wait. Worlds within worlds?! It’s really only now that I appreciate how cool that device is, but back then I remember tearing around Bob-Omb Battlefield, more joyous music playing, discovering the first of many playgrounds that Nintendo had laid out for me and countless others. Surfing on shells. Wrestling bombs. Climbing mountains.
Tiny_huge_land

The game goes on to escalate and unfold in glorious style, encouraging experimentation, doling out secrets and new powers – including the unforgettable moment when you find out Mario can fly – but it was the exploration that really excited me. Diving through secret paintings, riding a cable car in a desolate snowy wasteland, sneaking through a haunted mansion, replete with f**king scary piano, surfing on lava, rugby tackling rabbits, riding magic carpets, rolling on logs, monster-hunting, goomba-punching. Stars.

Big_boos_haunt
I played it with my mate Jay, discussed it with all my friends at school, got tips on finding elusive red coins, sagely advised on how to surf to the top of Bob-Omb Mountain, debated which star was the hardest to get, but ultimately, this was a solo experience. My guess was that this was the summer of 1997, as The Twins were always quick to get their hands on new hardware, but whenever it was, those seven-odd days of console ownership at the tender age of 12 ½, where new things were coming my way each and every day both in the real and the virtual world, can’t help but be tied inextricably to that first great 3D adventure.
Star_get

“It’s-a me, Mario!”

Indeed, ol’ buddy. Let’s go exploring.

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  1. Halcyon days my man!

  2. Great piece. I remember being similarly excited by the N64 … it’s easy to forget just what an awesome bit of kit it was. I actually remember thinking Goldeneye was real; the graphics were that good.b

  3. […] surreal bounty hunters and trolls). I became so emotionally attached to Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 that I couldn’t really understand why all video games couldn’t be EXACTLY […]

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