On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the release of the Nintendo 64 and the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, it's time to share the story of how I wound up with the oft-misunderstood console and smash hit game. I was fifteen years old when the system debuted in 1996 and, like everyone else in my generation, was extremely curious as to what Nintendo had planned for Mario in his latest adventure. I'd been following the Nintendo Power coverage for months ahead of release (even if the coverage was vague and cryptic as the magazine was famous for at the time) and finally found a demo unit showcasing both the system and the flagship title at the local Blockbuster Video one September afternoon. While my parents picked out a video to rent, I held the trident controller and realized that all of the previews hadn't prepared me to play Super Mario 64. Not that I was blown away by what I saw or overwhelmed by the moment, mind you (though I was), but I honestly had no idea how to hold the controller. I ended up trying to maneuver my way through the Bowser In The Underground level by pinching the control stick with my thumb and pointer finger as if it were an old fashioned joystick. That didn't work so well, and by the time I figured out how to actually play the game it was time to leave, so I had to walk away unsatisfied. I wanted more! I knew I had to have a Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 of my own.
It was going to take a while to make it happen though. I'd saved up my allowance and gift money to buy my Nintendo Entertainment System years earlier, but my Game Boy and Super NES were holiday gifts from my parents. I'd hoped that lightning would strike a third time with the new hardware, but it was made clear to me that if I wanted a Nintendo 64, I'd have to buy it myself. I started setting aside money for the inevitable purchase, but I did splurge to rent the system and Super Mario 64 in early October from the aforementioned Blockbuster. I eagerly raced to my entertainment room to connect the unit to the television and explore the game, but things don't always work out quite like we hope.
I've mentioned my recurring health issues before, and my stomach had been causing some problems over the week or so prior to renting the system and game. As I was just starting out on Mario's quest, things took a turn for the worse. I felt as if I were being stabbed in the stomach and kept having to pause the game to vomit, but I always returned to it. I'd come so far in waiting for the Nintendo 64 that I wasn't going to let my illness hold me back now. I played late into the night knowing that at the rate I was deteriorating I would have to go to the hospital in the morning and spend a few days hooked up to machines for tests and treatment. That was all ahead of me though. For that one night I was going to play Super Mario 64 no matter what.
In the morning I had to check into the hospital and spent nearly a week there. I was released just in time to pack up the Nintendo 64 so it could be returned to Blockbuster. Out of a one-week rental period, I clocked about six hours with the game at best. The system went back to the video store and I spent the rest of the year on a temporary medical withdrawal from school so that I could rest at home. I played my Super NES and watched a lot of television, but never found the excitement that I'd found in those few hours with Super Mario 64. Despite only reaching Shifting Sand Land in the castle basement, I was hungry for more. And who wouldn't be? Guiding Mario around in 3D changed everything for the way I perceived video games. Suddenly there was a third dimension to environments instead of just a 2D plane. I wanted to be able to experience it again, but there's little money to be earned laying around at home. Super Mario 64 would have to wait.
You can imagine how surprised and thrilled I was when December rolled around and my parents gave me my holiday gifts: a new Nintendo 64 along with Super Mario 64. I had been cleared to return to school in January and was feeling better by that point, but I spent the last of the holiday break back in front of the television as I'd spent the previous months, but this time I wasn't bottled up indoors. I was free to run through the meadows and mountains and caves and snowy peaks inside Princess Peach's castle. All of my expectations were smashed and I still enjoy replaying the game today, although running around the path in Lethal Lava Land still reminds me of that horrible night prior to my hospital stay.
Years later this same basic story would repeat slightly with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but that's a tale for another time...