Mario’s lost all hope, and all for want of an A-press


Super Mario 64 (1997)

Do you ever feel like you’re putting too much effort into a game? A bit too much time min-maxing, or playing online, until your Steam account says you’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 like there isn’t gonna be internet tomorrow? Do you ever sit back and wonder what it was all for?

I don’t, because my approach to playing games these days, since there are so many and since I’m cursed with bundles of disposable income, is to leave them on the shelf in their cellophane wrapping. Occasionally I’ll feel a bit guilty, and load up some AAA game of the month like God of War, and give it a whole 30 minutes of play. And 23 of those minutes are spent waiting for it to finish installing.

When it comes to having high playtime and an understanding of the mechanics in, say, Starwing, I’m your man. When it comes to doing likewise in World of Warcraft or Civilization, I’m lost. For a member of the gaming elite, I’m very much intimidated by some of these grandiose games. You want a review of The Witcher 3? Cyberpunk 2077 when it’s released? Leave it out, they’d take me hours. How about Chu Chu Rocket instead?

Lots of games from long ago, many forgotten, but some destined to crop up again and again. I don’t think anybody out there actively disliked Super Mario 64 back in the day, because such people will have been spotted, pointed and screamed at, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, and promptly set on fire.

Still, I was pretty surprised to see several Mario 64 videos crop up on my Suggested Videos on YouTube. Doesn’t YouTube have algorithms to only show you aesthetically pleasing videos, videos you’d like? Maybe videos with sexy clickbait thumbnails? Nintendo 64 graphics are none of those things. Watch an N64 gameplay video on YouTube 3D and you’ll be gawping about like a lame pelican, trying to find your eyes so you can plant them back in their sockets.

But this particular video didn’t need Bob-omb cleavage, barely censored Princess Peach Rule 34 or gurning faces to get me interested. This one promised an explanation on how to get one of Super Mario 64’s 120 collectible Stars by using half an A-press. You see, there is a well-drilled squadron of geeks who are out there doing their very best to complete the entire game without making Mario do his signature jump. And they’ve got a vast game down to just 23 jumps – or should I say, presses of the A button.

This wasn’t good enough for a YouTuber named pannenkoek2012 (your guess is as good as mine). Delightfully unabashed at how ridiculous a half-press of a digital button sounds like, he spends an entire 30-minute video not only explaining everything about how to do a half A-press, but also bopping down all of the dissenting voices, and then giving us his highly visual explanation.

And the worst part of it all is, what he explains actually makes sense. I hate to tell people to watch a 30-minute video – after all, I feel wretched about giving even my closest mates a 30-second video to watch – but I’m telling you, look for this one and watch as this young man redraws the Maginot line of physics before your very eyes.

But it doesn’t end there. A half A-press is one thing, but that’s not going to get you the goods on this particular level. No. He needs to scale a cliff. So to do this, old Pannen quickly segues into the idea of building up Mario’s speed for hours before glitching into parallel universes, but not before explaining how he can glitch enemy creatures away from their homes, but not so much so that they can all come together for one big jamboree. Whoa, whoa, hold on. What is going on here exactly?

His related videos would have to be more accurately called ‘continued lab experiments’, as he nails the poor, knackered old N64 cartridge to the table and drills down into its inner workings further. The luckless game is put through its paces like a reanimated corpse. Tragic to watch, yet at the same time, massively compelling.

Here we have a man who wants to dig deeper and deeper. It’s beyond a Mastermind specialist subject for him – he is the forefront authority on this vastly popular game. Play Super Mario 64 around him, even with a high level of ability, and he’d sneer at you. You are not in his realm. We just have to be grateful that this fellow has chosen to devote his no doubt humongous brain to a Japanese game rather than, say, homemade nuclear weaponry.

I can’t say I’m not frightened by all of this dedication. I thought Super Mario 64 was meant to be a twee, candy-cane kind of game. The game that, while it wasn’t the first 3D platformer ever, easily wrote the book on it. An unbelievable looking work at the time, a seeing-is-believing peek at the three-dimensional future of gaming. I didn’t know about any parallel universes at the time and I didn’t want to know. I just knew that gaming would never be the same again.

With 15 differently themed courses of 7 collectible Stars each, plus 15 more Stars littered around the wonderful hub world that is Princess Peach’s castle, Super Mario 64 was a grand undertaking for the time. Mario’s got the moves to compete as well – he can punch, kick, dive, slide, he can even take to the skies and glide in full 3D. Better than that, he can long-jump, side-somersault, backflip, and more – moves that he still employs to this day. Anything you’ve seen in Sunshine, Galaxy, Odyssey, it all came from here.

Of course, all of this was over twenty years ago. If we’re going to be properly upfront here, we’d better mention that this version of Mario seems to be carrying a bit of weight, because if you’re coming to Mario 64 from the later 3D Mario games then the man definitely won’t move as freely as you’d like him to. Well, I’m mocking him for being chubby, but really it’s because of the N64 Control Stick, fashioned from dead skin – revolutionary at the time, but not suitable for the task nowadays and probably calibrated way off-centre after all this time.

Also, the diligent, suddenly friendly Lakitu that follows behind you as your cameraman is a bit of a pilchard by modern cinematic standards. To be honest, the controls and camera somehow seem to get worse everytime I revisit the game. You’ll certainly have a few leaps of faith if you want to nab all 120 Stars. And you’ll want to get them, because most Stars are well-designed and memorable, and if you’re gonna go and slap Bowser upside the head then you don’t want to do it by halves, do you? Actually, doing Mario 64 by halves seems to be in fashion nowadays – never mind.

Most of what went into Super Mario 64 has been improved upon massively by the Galaxy games in particular, still the best that 3D Mario games get. The graphics, the music, the controls, the camera even, all improved. But for a more compact adventure, with more open and expansive levels, and an aesthetic that’s pleasantly cartoony, Super Mario 64 still warrants playing.

And stick with the N64 version, because even with its graphical improvement the DS re-release lacks the necessary analogue controls and has too many silly bells and whistles attached, although its minigames are legendarily addictive. If you can get it on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console, so much the better, because then you’ll have a controller with an analogue stick that won’t bite your hand off. Just make sure it doesn’t have an A button.

09 July 2019

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