I feel like the odd one out here.
I didn't discover how brilliant the game was until recent, because everything about Mario 64 instantly rubbed me the wrong way.
Starting with "It's a me, Mario!" This was what going to curbstomp Sega, and kill off my beloved Saturn?
I hated the bright primary pre-school aesthetic that was turned up to eye melting levels of intensity, almost as much as I hated the ridiculous filter that turned every giant pixel into a mess of oatmeal served piping hot on wet cardboard. It looked and even sounded like an episode of Teletubbies as seen through horrible television reception.
What were they doing to Mario? Wasn't he already emasculated enough?
I didn't even try to give it a fair chance.
But one day, playing it on a friend's PC, with the resolution turned up as high as it could go, just to kill some time...
It didn't look so bad, anymore. With clean lines, it offered a charming simplicity. Unlike most of today's 3d worlds, you could tell at a glance, what was meant to be interacted with, and how. And the lack of a story? A welcome change of pace when all the really interesting stories in my life were happening outside of the television set.
I found myself goofing off, just because it was so much fun to control Mario. The tight circles, the quiet sneaking, the jumps...and then things started happening. Coins appeared out of nowhere. I set the chain chomp free to devour all who crossed it's path, and was rewarded with a star for my animal rights terrorism. This wasn't just a game that looked child-like, it really was child like, in the best possible way.
I even like the camera.
Sometimes. When it's not killing me. Hear me out. When you have complete control of the camera, it's easy to become a babysitter, lining it up for the best possible shot every single time. And it's also easy to lose all sense of direction - at least, it is for me. I'm the kind of idiot who always forgets where the car is parked. If there's not an in-game map, it's a sign of rough times ahead. I've lost count of how many times I wished I'd kept the Nazis alive to interrogate them for directions. All their bodies look alike!
But that was never a problem in this game. I never lost the context for where I was, where I'd been, and where I was going. This was a game that made me feel like I really was on the hero's journey, and in the distance of every new stage was the promise of more adventure to come. Do you know how hard that is?
Even Sunshine couldn't manage it.
Super Mario 64 isn't the best looking game. It isn't the best sounding. It probably can't even compete with Galaxy or Odyssey. Or even the Banjo series. But I don't have any of those games to compare it to. All I know, is that I bought the game for the Wii U in 2017, with little expectation that it would still hold up, and spent way too much time being sucked back in, even with my passionate love/hate relationship with the camera. If this isn't an A+ title, it's only because Nintendo keeps redefining what an A+ means.
And this is coming from someone who grew up on Atari and Sega. I don't have the nostalgia goggles to worry about. (They're too busy gawking at Galaga on the 7800. It looks just like summer and yard sales right after WWF Superstars! Damn, that's some impressive time travel technology...)