Super Mario 64
Of course this is on my list. I remember playing this for the first time. Being able to run around, jump, climb trees, swim… and this was all outside the castle before the game even began.
The games that preceded it in the series were finely-tuned with level pathways to follow. But this game? This game represented freedom. Taking classic Mario principles, turning them on their ear (collecting something rather than reaching a goal), and combining this with Mario’s moveset from Donkey Kong ’94 and some of the new ideas introduced in Yoshi’s Island and you have a recipe for success. It was the best of everything Mario had done thus far
Growing up and playing the Super Mario games, this game enabled me to experience it in a new and unique way. The level design encouraged exploration and puzzle solving. Ghost Houses in the previous games? Well, now you have a whole multi-floor mansion to explore…in 3D…with traps and secrets and ghosts. Bowser? Oh, you have to fight him three times. Exploring a pyramid, giant water worlds, stages I could manipulate depending on how I approach the picture – heck, even entering the stages through the pictures, Gumby style. If I willed it, it happened. I could play this game how I wanted.
Let’s not forget the Koopa Road levels of Platforming 101. I love it.
It was so different. It pulled from previous titles, even those you wouldn’t expect, and combined everything in a way that redefined the industry and genre.
I’m not much of an RPG gamer, but I will put my neck out there and say that I prefer Paper Mario to Super Mario RPG. The thing is, of all the Mario games – of all the Mario anything really, this game is the most Mario-y.
As Mario, you travel across numerous and varied levels. You still jump, you still break bricks, and you still collect coins. But more than ever, you feel like a plumber when you navigate these pipes with your trusty hammer. Bowser here is at his most epic and diabolical and… humourous.
Yes, this is a really funny game. The dialogue, scenarios, and characterizations are light and fun but also bring the Mushroom Kingdom to life like never before. To me, this is the definitive representation of the Mario world. Just exploring every village and interacting with its citizens is plenty fun on its own. You get to meet the Goomba king, you investigate the brutal murder of a penguin, face off against Koopa Power Rangers, meet living flowers, and you befriend what would normally be considered enemies. Oh and Luigi and Peach are fleshed out characters like never before.
Add in terrific Kondo-worthy music by Yuka Tsujiyoko and an inspired and striking visual style and you have the atmosphere of a fantastic Mario game. Everything about the game is catchy and expressive. There are references to other Mario games littered all over the place. The game could have served as a worthy anniversary title any year based on that alone.
But beyond the charm, production values, and humour, the gameplay itself is solid. It’s a very accessible and fast paced RPG with quick time actions to keep you engaged, that’s both exciting and strategic.
All in all, Paper Mario is a brilliant explosion of Mario-ness.