When the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 were released in 1996, things changed for me. I reckon this was the case for most people who experienced the game back when it was new. It was the result of three years of development and represented a huge leap forward for the series. In fact, it represented a huge leap forward for platformers, as it helped lay a foundation for other iconic games of the era. There was a flurry of great games that people still remember fondly, and it seemed to start with Mario. Mario games have innovated on this formula since then, but the foundation it made remains nearly perfect and the feeling of that original game has been carried forward.
Around 25 years later, Mario is celebrating his 35th anniversary. Super Mario 64 has been ported or remade on multiple consoles since then. Most recently, it appeared in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection for the Nintendo Switch. The other two games in the collection are Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy which are two other absolutely amazing games. Much like the 2D Mario games, anybody who has played one of the 3D Mario games can likely pick up a controller for any of them and adapt reasonably quickly.
It seems that Nintendo has mostly perfected the formula, so far as I can see. I fully admit that they may one day change things up, as they are wont to do, but the current recipe has become a classic. It’s almost astonishing. Nowadays, they just need to change the flavor a bit and all of a sudden they have a brand-new game.
Nintendo has a history of being iterative like this. As much as they are known as the company that takes big risks, or pushes things forward, there is also a pattern of fine adjustments and tinkering throughout their games. With Mario, they can strap a water-shooting backpack on him and tell players to go to work cleaning up paint in order to create something that feels new. In Super Mario Galaxy, Mario moves around spherical platforms, or planetoids, which changes the way players experience the game. Largely, Mario games are great because of their tight gameplay, visuals, personalities, and, most importantly, level design.
Really, when you think about it, most everything about a Mario game is familiar. Ever since Bowser gained an actual personality, it has been fairly constant. He’s a lovable, kind of silly, sometimes scary, beast who poses a threat to Mario until there’s a bigger baddie or a sports event. Luigi is scared but faces challenges head-on. A majority of power-ups are reused. And, really, isn’t this what we all want? If Nintendo were to change things up in a major way, they’d have to be really sure to get it right. Otherwise, they should just keep sticking to the design they perfected two and a half decades ago because each game manages to become a beloved title for each generation. They also, sometimes, become hard to track down. If they stay the course, it’s hard to imagine gamers becoming disappointed anytime soon.
Writing Team Lead