Mario 64 and the plusses (and perils) of polygons

Our video retrospective on Mario's leap into 3D continues.

As we hurtle toward the release of Super Mario Odyssey like a mile-wide asteroid plummeting toward Earth, threatening to impact our free time with an extinction-level event, Retronauts would like to take one last look back at where Mario got his start with this whole "waddling about in polygons" thing. 

A few weeks ago we found ourselves bemused by Super Mario Sunshine and how poorly the game's technical aspects have aged. I went into the Sunshine episode expecting to love it the way I had back when I first imported the game, but upon returning to Mario's GameCube adventure I found it cumbersome, inconsistent, and thoroughly frustrating. Not so much as to be unenjoyable, because, hey — it's-a Mario. It's intrinsically fun on some level. But revisiting Sunshine definitely has me looking forward to Odyssey, if only to see how Nintendo incorporates 15 years of collective advancements in 3D interface design and game structure back into a genre they pretty much created in 1996.

Speaking of 1996… I've also found myself vexed by Super Mario 64 upon revisiting it for this video project. It's not as complex a game as Sunshine, but its problems instead stem from the chunkiness of the game's camera setup. In this continuation of last week's video retrospective, I look at the areas where Super Mario 64 succeeds — it does a magnificent job of realizing Mario standards like Ghost Houses in 3D! — and where it falls short. 

Spoilers: It's the camera. Basically, everything that's aged poorly about Super Mario 64 can be blamed on Lakitu. That's what happens when you recruit a villain as the game's cameraman, folks.

Still, it's hard (and shortsighted) to be too critical of Super Mario 64. While it hasn't aged as well as Mario's 2D adventures, it basically set an industry along its future path by doing so much right in the series' first attempt at dealing with Z-axes and analogue controls. It remains a magnificent achievement to this day, a true historic milestone, and I'd love to see Nintendo revisit it someday (along with Sunshine) to add modern refinements to the adventure without changing much in the way of actual content. There's plenty to love here… I just wish I didn't have to experience that romance through an uncooperative lens.

The final part of this retrospective, which will draw direct connections between 64 and Odyssey, will be along once I've had some time with the latter. Look for it in November!