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Super Mario 64 in 2014 – Playing without nostalgia

For Christmas gatherings my family always played Golden Eye 007. My older cousin set up the Nintendo 64 on a giant television shoved into the living room corner. When ready, my dad and older cousins alternated between chair and floor seats as they ran circles in each map. They never let me play. I was the five-year-old little cousin not allowed to play with the grown-ups. Those are my memories of the N64. I never owned one. I didn’t play Golden Eye 007 split-screen and I didn’t play Super Mario 64 with the trident controller.

I was only three-year-old when Super Mario 64 released alongside the console, yet most of my friends of the same age all retell memories of “the greatest Mario game.” When I asked my dad of why he never bought me an N64, he quickly responds with, “You never asked for one.” Only in high school did I start reading video game news and playing more games than available time. I spent most of my childhood away from home, staying hours past the final school bell playing basketball until sunset. I never asked for a N64 because I didn’t want one.

But now I’m often told I’m missing a huge part of game history; a huge milestone in 90s childhood. So I plan to build a N64 library and playthrough the games so many people get excited about when they reach into their memory banks.

I’m in a unique position though. I can’t imagine Super Mario 64 bringing more creativity and uniqueness than Super Mario Galaxy 2. And I can’t imagine Diddy Kong Racing offering better tracks and races than any modern Mario Kart. People who played them vow the exact opposite.

Like many other older games, the memories of playing them often don’t sync up with reality of each game experience. Nostalgia so effectively veils the problems within each game people don’t remember the experience exactly. I can’t draw from any nostalgia. I can play each N64 game blind; assess them for what they actually offer not for what I remember them as.

I begin with Super Mario 64, the supposed best 3D platformer. I’m told with confidence that it lives up to the near perfect reputation it earned over the years, yet I honestly can’t imagine anything more than a Mario platformer in a hub world using paintings as doorways. I know Super Mario 64 validates the purchase of a N64 console, but I just can’t imagine a Mario game better than Super Mario Galaxy 2.

After Super Mario 64 I plan to expand my library; I want to understand why people hopelessly beg for Rare to return to its prime form. Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 and Conker’s Bad Fur Day all carry a reputation I actually don’t understand from experience, I just follow the unanimous undercurrent of frustration around the now Microsoft owned studio.

For a long time I kept my void of experience around the Nintendo 64 a secret. A lot of Nintendo’s games today draw from N64 games (or at least that’s what people claim), so I feel like I’m missing a perspective that can change the way I view modern Nintendo titles. Fortunately, I got the chance to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Major’s Mask with the Gamecube rerelease, but the two games don’t account for the rest of the classic library. Yet for now I must start with Super Mario 64 and collect the elusive 120 stars. Then I’ll hold my own Golden Eye 007 party. No family invited.