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Over Christmas I watched my nephews explore every crook and nanny of the evil Super Mario 64. Evil because it may be the closest thing you'll experience to the waking nightmare of a paranoid schizoprenic, outside a clinical setting or bad drug experience. It's even worse because everything's so happy. Giant colorful blockheads materialize smiling out of nowhere to crush you, holes open up suddenly in the ground and dump you down zany slides into oppressive dungeons, slippery creatures who must be caught to restore "health" endlessly evade capture, and in each horrific, logically inverted world--Lethal Lava Land, Dire Dire Docks, and perhaps trickiest of all, the dreaded Shifting Sand Land--you are confronted with a twisted, barely comprehensible system of rules you must master to become "normalized."* I found the changing point of view fascinating, as the plucky plumber delved through deep 3-D space, with the camera acting as both player and narrator, a la Brian De Palma. One reviewer derides the camera work despite its innovation for 1996:
The biggest flaw in the gameplay is the camera angles from which you view the action. Nintendo obviously spent some time developing a 'smart-cam' to follow the action from useful angles, but it doesn't work as well as it should. Often your view of Mario is blocked by large objects. If you have the time you can usually rotate the camera manually, but that doesn't help when the thing blocking your view is the boss that you're fighting. There is a camera mode that follows directly behind Mario (the Mario butt-cam) but it's generally not a very good perspective. Jumping Flash solved this problem by relying on a 1st person perspective (and sky-high jumps), but that still wouldn't be a very useful angle for Mario. Unfortunately, the camera really just needs to be even smarter.Picky, picky gamers. I also found it intriguing that my nephews gravitated to this game released when they were toddlers. Just entering their teens (or 10s) now and accomplished Warcrafters, they have already cultivated a refined retro sensibility.
*In Shifting Sand Land I saw Mario "die" about 20 times as the players tried to master a particular trick--each time he clung futilely to the base of a pyramid before being swallowed by deadly quicksand.