One of the great Video Game mysteries IMHO is “Why does Super Mario 64 keep appearing in the top 3 games of all time?” 

For the non-gamers who follow my blog, Super Mario 64 was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64 back in 1996 which took Mario into a 3D landscape.  Like most Mario games, Princess Peach (though I think this was the first time she was referred to as “Peach” rather than Princess Toadstool) had been kidnapped by Bowser and he had seized the source of the Castle’s magical potency, the 120 Power Stars (and before the nit-pickers seize upon this, I’m referring to all the stars and not just the ones in Bowser’s possession or the ones of his minions).  

Whilst 3D platform games had been tried before, it was Nintendo’s efforts which really made the format work demonstrating how all future efforts would look in the future.  The game was far more open-ended and less linear than all previous incarnations giving the player choice on how they wished to proceed and each time a level was entered, things could occur just a little differently translating into a unique experience. 

But is this enough to warrant inclusion in the top three games of all time? 

Depending on who’s compiling the list, the top three games will vary in choice and ranking but Mario 64’s inclusion is all but a foregone conclusion.  Other titles will include Space Invaders, one of the Link games (Ocarina of Time is a feature), Final Fantasy (one of), Tetris etc.  What many of the games in the top 3/top 5/top 10 lists will have in common is that they are the first in the genre or the epitome of the genre.  Think “Turn Based Strategy” and you’ll think of Civilization.  Think “Real Turn Strategy” and you’ll either think Age of Empires or Command and Conquer.  Think 3D Platform and you’ll think “Mario”.   

Mario didn’t really offer anything “new” and by that I mean it enhanced existing concepts but put them in a larger playing field.  Much of what was in SMB3 and SMW was recycled into Mario 64 whilst several other game concepts (Luigi, Yoshi) were dropped quite inexplicably.  They were inserted into Super Mario DS which enriched the gameplay quite a lot but at the time, bare bones.  

I believe there are better, far better 3D platform gamers out there which took some of the core concepts of Mario 64 and really made them better games.  My first thought as one might expect, extends to Rare’s Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie as well as Donkey Kong 64.  Mediaeval was also a great game in its own right though more Action Arcade and there’s the Rayman series of games.  Are they all Mario clones though or do they deliver a better experience? 

In my opinion, some of them are better than Mario 64 for a series of reasons – Banjo Kazooie & Tooie have the ability to transform the heroes into a series of weird and wonderful objects whilst the uniquely British humour inserted into the game gives it a more friendly approach.  Donkey Kong 64 worked along a similar vein, but allowed each of the four main characters to access different parts of the game’s levels so that you needed to take each character through to the end.  I’d offer more examples but my overall appreciation for 3D platform games waned once I got my Gamecube and in my secret shame, I never did finish off Super Mario Sunshine, nor Super Mario Galaxy.  Hell, I thought Yoshi’s Story on the N64 was a better game as the choice of levels allowed each run-through to be unique and completable within a couple hours playing. 

At the time of the N64’s launch, I spent way more of my time going through Shadows of the Empire – probably because I was a Star Wars fan – but I also loved the fact there were both 2D/3D space combat levels as well as the 1st person & 3rd person shooter.  Seasoned gamers got to brush up on differing sets of skills rather than doing the same thing through a series of landscapes.  I can’t remember what else my early N64 collection consisted of though Starfox 64 was one of those as was Mission Impossible, Pilotwings 64 and Goldeneye. There were far more game hours racked up on those titles than on Mario 64 – how can a truly great game be played once and forgotten?  There was only one difficulty mode, a few “secrets” though easily uncovered and there was never any tension except in the final Bowser fight.  This doesn’t really put the game in the top 3.  Top 10 or even top 25 maybe but not the top 3. 

Video games have been around for 40 years and Mario is shortly to enter his third decade.  Whilst we cannot deny the impact the little plumber from Brooklyn (though why he speaks with an Italian accent is beyond me) has made on the VG landscape, is he still a character that is in games which are the best ever or has the legend overtaken the man?