Friday, April 28, 2017

Ben's Beginnings: First 3D Platformer

When the Nintendo 64 first came out I was a young kid who had become quite used to the world of gaming. I had the NES, the SNES, my cousins had the SEGA Genesis, and I had even played around a bit with the Game Boy. I was used to side scrolling games, top down games, and even games like Top Gun that tried to make it seem like you were actually flying a plane. This is what gaming was to me, and I never really thought about how it could be improved. Then, I saw Mario "fly" under water. (Well, it wasn't blue and it looked like he was flying...)

For the first time, Mario was a full 3D character, in a fully 3D world, where I could go anywhere I could see (well, almost). I'm not sure if I quite understood just how big of an improvement this was as the time, but what I can say is that I was instantly hooked. Sadly I only got a chance to try playing Mario 64 a few times in the store, all of which had me confused at how to hold the new N64 controller, but when my cousins got an N64 for Christmas that all changed.

While I couldn't see my cousins too often as they lived out of state, I can still recall going over to their house and playing Mario 64 just as I had played Super Mario World there before. When I got my first real look at the game, I started to see just how great it was, and I honestly couldn't get enough of it. There were coins to collect, power ups to use, I got to see goomba and koopas and how they really looked, I got to climb mountains, dive deep in the ocean, and even slide down a giant hidden slide! It was great! Although it did take a bit of getting used to, platforming worked perfectly in 3D, and once again I found myself falling in love with gaming in general. Everything I was seeing was completely new to me, and a grand adventure awaited -- that is, until I had to go home.

After multiple trips to see my cousins, and play Mario 64, I finally got an N64 and the game for myself on my 6th birthday. By that time I was pretty much a "master" of the game (I knew more than half the levels and many of the secrets), but actually owning the game for myself allowed me to restart my adventure and do things my own way -- with no one telling me when or when I couldn't play. I got to see the opening movie for the first time where Peach asks Mario to the castle, I got to experience unlocking each new mission and area for myself, and I got rewarded brand new stars for completing tasks that were previously pointless (as my cousins had already completed them before me). Before I knew it, the months were flying by, and my star count continued to grow by the day as I finally made my way towards the final fight against Bowser. Then, I got the guide book.

Although by that point I had played the game to death, the guide book uncovered secrets that I had no idea existed. I didn't know about the 100 coin stars, I didn't know about the reward for getting everything, and I didn't even know about many of the extra missions within the game. Up until that point I was mostly focusing on the main ones for each stage, with the others somehow completely going over my head. I can still remember unlocking the secret area in the desert thanks to the guide, where you had to stand on each tower for so many seconds before moving onto the next. I'm not sure how I would've figured that out as a kid without that book, but that was one exciting moment when I did it for myself. On top of that though, the guide book also did confuse me, and it left me trying things for hours that had no importance. Sure, it added onto my game time, but it also terrified me...

You see, the Mario 64 guide book mentioned a few things that were actually impossible. For one, the book hinted that you could actually fight and kill the haunted piano in the Boo House (spoilers: you can't), it mentioned that you could tick off the friendly dino swimming in the underground lake and cause it to attack you (spoilers again: you can't), and it also made me think that the eel that freaked me out in the sunken ship would take a bite out of Mario and leave him in a bloody mess -- something I REALLY didn't want to see as a kid. Considering I believed video games were endless worlds where anything could happen as a kid, I took what that book said to heart, and both tried to do these things, and also tried to avoid the eel to prevent myself from seeing that horror... Then there was that whole "LUIGI IS IN THE GAME" rumor that was spreading around my school, but we all know how that one turned out.

Anyway, Super Mario 64 was one of my favorite games on the N64, and it's even the main reason I wanted a Nintendo DS all those years later, and it was the reason I couldn't wait to get a Nintendo Game Cube so that I could play it's "follow up" Super Mario Sunshine. It's a game that really left a lasting impression on me, and one reason I continued playing 3D platforming games. Although I didn't really come across many others that I loved as much (or more than) Mario 64, it is still a genre I love, with games I like to go back to play from time to time. Especially when it's games like Sonic Adventure 2.