I was nervous the first time I picked up Mario 64. Having been reared on straightforward 2D platformers, I wasn't sure what to make of this 3D game that put a premium on exploration. The world beyond the reassuring rightward scroll of the original games represented a frightening unknown.
But bless Shigeru Miyamoto and his development team, the moment Mario and I were dropped in the field just outside of Peach's castle, it all clicked. Given a safe place to get used to the new world, I quickly got to grips with Mario's new moveset, as well as the N64's unique thumbstick—a revolutionary new analog control method that would quickly become an industry standard. In that moment, everything changed.
Mario 64 achieved with an easy grace what many other retro franchises were never able to manage. Castlevania, Mega Man, and even Sonic were all better in 2D to one degree or another. Mario, however, forged its own identity in 3D, fully embracing the spirit of exploration that made the original game so special. From that point forward, every 3D Mario game was presented as something special—an opportunity for Nintendo to flex its creative muscles and show off the grand worlds it could muster.
This week, as we celebrate Super Mario Bros.'s 35th anniversary, these games have their own unique legacy. Recognizing this, Nintendo is releasing Mario 3D All-Stars, bringing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy to the Switch in one tidy collection (at least until 2021, when it will be delisted for no other reason than forced scarcity). Everyone has their own opinion on which one is best, but for me, Mario 64 is still one of Nintendo's peak achievements, second only to Mario 3 in sheer greatness.
Its simplicity remains its greatest strength. Not to denigrate the other games in the Mario 3D All-Stars Collection, which are certainly remarkable in their own right, but Mario 64 is stronger for its lack of motion controls and gimmicky mechanics like FLUDD. It's a mainstay on Twitch for a reason, being a near perfect speedrunning game with seemingly endless flexibility. Maybe you remember the Green Demon Challenge, in which you have to avoid a 1-Up mushroom that stalks you like a serial killer, or the wild chaos version, which constantly floods the world with random Gameshark codes. It's a game that begs to be pushed, pulled, and stretched every bit as much as the rubbery Mario face featured in the title screen.
In evaluating a game's historical legacy, I tend to put a high premium on whether or not it still holds up, and it's in homebrew expansions like these that Mario 64's longevity is very much in evidence. Even without all the modifications, Mario 64 is simply a lot of fun to play, and it's one of the very few N64 games in which I can definitively say that is the case. Seriously, try going back and playing some of those old 3D platformers. Mario is the king for a reason.
When Nintendo launches the Mario 3D All-Stars collection later this week, a new generation will be able to experience its greatness for themselves, and they will see why it's still so popular to this day. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Mario's 35th anniversary than that.
Major Game Releases: September 14 to September 18
Here are the major releases for the week of September 14 to September 18. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Spelunky 2 [September 15 for PS4]: The game that helped popularize the "roguelite" genre returns with an expanded sequel that, according to Reporter Mathew Olson's review, is very good. What secrets will we be able to plumb this time around? I don't know, but I look forward to finding out.
- Dragon's Dogma Anime [September 17 on Netflix]: Like Castlevania, Dragon's Dogma is getting an anime adaptation on Netflix. But seriously, how long do we have to wait until Dragon's Dogma finally gets a sequel? Hopefully streaming success will push Capcom in the right direction on this front.
- Crysis Remastered [September 18 for Xbox One, PS4, PC]: Not to be outdone by the similarly hefty Microsoft Flight Simulator, Crysis returns with a remastered version designed to melt your shiny new RTX 30. It's a game that's so confident in its own graphical prowess that it literally has a "Can It Run Crysis?" mode. Crysis Remastered has a dirty little secret, though: for as good as it looks, it's kind of a middling shooter. We'll see if that remains the case when Crysis Remastered arrives later this week.
- Super Mario 3D All-Stars [September 18 for Nintendo Switch]: Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario 64 return in this "limited run" collection for Nintendo Switch. It's caused something of a sensation online, selling out in many locations despite being an extremely modest remaster (and even that might be generous). Still, all of these games are classics—well, not Mario Sunshine, but whatever—and being able to play them portably will be magical.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- PAX x EGX is running all week long! PAX and EGX are joining forces to stream live interviews, panels, and much more. It runs until September 20, and you can find the full schedule right here.
- Sony will likely announce the PS5's price this week. The game of chicken is finally ending this week. With Microsoft confirming that the Xbox Series S will be available for as little as $299, Sony finally appears ready to announce the price of the PS5 during its showcase this Wednesday, along with a host of new games. Get ready, because next-gen is truly upon us.
- Oculus Quest 2 is about to be announced by Facebook. While the console holders continue to try and undercut one another, Facebook is quietly rolling out the future of VR with the Oculus Quest 2. Videos revealing the new device have already spread across the internet, so the surprise set for this Wednesday's Facebook Connect has already been spoiled, but it still makes for a very busy Wednesday in gaming.
- Mario isn't the only series celebrating a big anniversary this week. Ghosts 'N Goblins, the infamously difficult arcade platformer by Capcom, also celebrates its 35th anniversary this week. Ghosts 'N Goblins was a big series for Capcom back in the day, with multiple sequels and even a spinoff featuring one of its main enemies, a Red Arremer named Firebrand. Ghosts 'N Goblins is long gone, but you can still enjoy the original games through Nintendo Switch Online and other venues—and by "enjoy" I mean "die repeatedly."
- Star Wars Squadrons remains my most anticipated game of 2020. This week EA put out an amazing video featuring a furious dogfight between a TIE Interceptor and an X-Wing, and it's some of the best Star Wars media I've seen in a long, long time. Seriously, why couldn't the sequel trilogy have been this good?
Axe of the Blood God for September 14, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
The fall release season is officially upon, and that means it's time to preview all of the big RPGs that will carry us to the end of the year. Kat and Nadia sit down to preview Cyberpunk 2077, Trails of Cold Steel 4, Yakuza 7, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, and all the rest of this fall's most interesting role-playing games. Plus: Reactions to the Xbox Series S price, and more. Listen here!