Final Zone – Super Mario 64.

The first in Final Zone to feature a Nintendo 64 game, and what better start than Mario’s 3D debut.

Mario began with me on the Game Boy with the ‘Mario Land’ series, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that I started to play this, and only complete it this year.

Many regard it as one of the greatest games ever made, but I beg to differ.

Bowser is the inevitable final boss, but you in fact face him three times in the game. Each time there’s an arena, and each time there’s different ways to avoid him. But to conquer him, the solution always remains the same.

Instead of a map to walk around and seven worlds to beat, the game gives you an almost non-linear path, where you can pick and choose which levels you can beat. They can be split up into three seconds based on how many times you’ve fought Bowser.

The first time is almost a practice run. The level itself isn’t on a ship like Mario Bros. 3, but instead a dimension where you have to dodge enemies, jump at the right times for the platforms, while avoiding fire and spikes. But because of the well-designed camera, you can easily take these on and not be surprised by a sudden camera-shock how the Sonic Adventure games granted you.

The only method is to run as fast as you can behind him, grabbing his tail, then swinging him to one of the bombs in the corner of the arena. Only one shot will end the fight for now, obtaining a key to give you access to the second section of Princess Peach’s castle.

Once you’ve collected the stars required, you are then transported to another stage, all fire based, and slightly harder to reach Bowser. Many platforms, lots of fatal lava, but again, the control makes it fun to beat.

The second time the stakes are raised. With the game launching in 1995, I wouldn’t be surprised if the moment when Bowser plays with the weight of the platform, that it turned a few heads. You have to be at the right spot to avoid from falling off, otherwise it’s a repeat of the whole stage to get back to Bowser. He also teleports to catch you off guard, just as you think you’ve grabbed his tail.

Eventually, after sidestepping the fireballs and running to grab the edge of the stage when needed, you defeat him once again.

You’re given the final key to grant you access to the top of the castle, where the stars in these levels are challenging and more varied, but still fun.

Eventually when 70 stars are collected, you find yourself at the final stage.

The stage itself is harder, with smaller, faster moving obstacles to slow you down. I noticed it’s also twice the size of the previous level for Bowser, but in all honesty, it was easier than the previous stage, and the control is again so good, you don’t mind.

Eventually, after a few lives spent, you face Bowser for the final time.

He’s much more faster and will try to run into you if you’re far enough from him. He also rains down fireballs, and the blue ones especially will try to follow you. If you get it, coins do appear which will replenish the health, slightly making the fight easier.

Three hits are required here, which is where I struggled. Here is the only time the camera failed me, with me trying to blindly aim Bowser to a bomb. Sometimes these blue fireballs would hit me as I’d try to swing Bowser around, requiring me to avoid, jump, dodge and try to grab his tail again.

Once the two hits were made, the stage would crumble into a star-shape. This was when the fight was much more challenging, as you were trying to now avoid shockwaves once he jumped up and slammed the arena, alongside the shower of fireballs.

But eventually, the final hit was made, and the game was complete.

I’m still mixed with the game. It certainly had more success moving from 2D to 3D than Sonic did in the beginning, but having to explore a stage to find a baby penguin to return to its mother, was not something I regarded as a fun time.

The Bowser stages were fun, but nothing special.

But on the other side of the coin, I suppose I’m only seeing it from the present day, where we’ve all been exposed to fully 3D games like Jak and Daxter, Yooka Laylee where it’s been refined to a T.

This was the game that mainly inspired other games, Banjo Kazooie being a direct example of this.

If you want to see where it all started, find Mario 64, and see what you think over a weekend as I did.