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Dads Are Reaching New Levels of Joy Showing Their Kids ‘Mario 64’

Wanna feel old? Millennials who grew up on the Nintendo 64 are reliving their fondest memories — teaching their kids ‘Mario 64’ on Switch

Like many millennials, some of Adam’s fondest childhood memories are of staying up late, playing Super Mario 64 at a friend’s house over and over again. Originally released in 1996 as the Nintendo 64’s flagship title, 10-year-olds like Adam saw the 3D graphics and “felt like we were living in the future, like game developers had achieved the impossible.” 

Eventually, Adam realized Super Mario 64 was just the beginning of what video games could accomplish, and even though he lost the game and system at some point in college, he’s always still held the original N64 game close to his heart. So last weekend when Nintendo re-released it as part of a Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundle for the Nintendo Switch, the 34-year-old father of two sons couldn’t wait to boot the game back up. “My 8-year-old is right around the age I was when the game came out in 1996,” Adam tells me. “And since we’ve been playing some Switch games already, you could say he’s already way more advanced than I was.” 

Critics and fans alike have widely panned Nintendo for not updating the graphics and debugging the original gameplay as much as expected, but for guys like Adam, the old-school look and semi-sloppy controls are part of the experience. “I like that he’s experiencing the game as I experienced it,” Adam says. “He doesn’t really notice anyway, and for me, I don’t know if it would be as fun if the graphics were totally redone to look as nice and realistic as the games he’s used to.” 

Like Adam, 34-year-old Chris in Ohio recalls the original release of Mario 64 as “probably the most excited I had ever been to play a game. I played it on a kiosk at some retailer, and it blew my mind that video games could actually break into 3D. I remember thinking that ‘video games are now basically real life,’ which is pretty funny by today’s standards.” 

After saving up enough money from mowing lawns, Chris bought the game and played it until it nearly melted. “I explored every nook and cranny of that game just trying to find every little secret,” he says, adding that it spurred him to get the subsequent Mario games like GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine, “but nothing compares to that first hit of 3D.” 

Needless to say, Chris was extremely excited for the re-release, “mainly for nostalgia and casually getting those 120 stars for the 50th time.” He’s also, though, planning to ease his 4-year-old into the game. “My son loves playing the latest Mario iteration, [Mario] Odyssey, but it’s a little more forgiving than the older games, like in allowing checkpoints and the loss of 10 coins versus having to start over at the beginning,” he explains. “Odyssey got rid of a lot of the jank from its 24-year-old predecessor and made it a lot easier for kids. But I still love [Mario 64]. I was born in the jank, molded by it. I didn’t see non-polygonal faces until I was already a man.” 

Chris says it was cool seeing his son play the game he so loved as a 10-year-old, but his son’s frustration quickly took precedent. “Unlike Odyssey, the camera was very frustrating to him, as I remember it was for me when I first played as well. So he got to the point where he just wanted to play Odyssey again, which I can understand,” Chris tells me. “Someday I might challenge him further with the older games, but given the pandemic, keeping him content for short periods of time with something he likes when we’re working or busy is more of a priority than making him play something I loved.” 

Meanwhile, as excited as Justin, a 36-year-old in New York, was for the re-release of Mario 64, he waited until his 12-year-old son saved up enough allowance to split it with him. “He’d shifted his interest a bit toward Fortnite and hadn’t been playing the Switch as much. But I knew he’d be back when this game came out,” Justin tells me. “You might think there’s no way these young kids would choose old graphics and gameplay over their iPad and PC games, but it turns out kids care more about how fun and challenging a game is than the graphics alone.” 

A few years ago, Justin introduced his son to Mario 64 on the N64, so the re-release wasn’t a totally new experience for him. “Not only was it great to watch him enjoy these games, but it gave me yet another opportunity to relive the experience of playing them myself,” he says. “It helped that he was able to watch me play at a relatively high level, and he enjoyed the challenge of learning the strategies I had learned over the last 25 years.”

Similarly, Adam says what he remembers most is simply playing the game and getting better at it — and that’s what he’s hoping to recreate with his sons. “When I was growing up, if I wasn’t playing with friends, I mostly played these games on my own, so it feels good to be able to take part in these games with my son,” he tells me. “The only trouble is trying to sit back and let him learn the game instead of telling him where to go and what to do — like he just couldn’t figure out how to beat [the boss in Whomp’s Fortress] so I helped a little bit. He’s learning though, which is cool to see.” 

“And yeah,” he continues, “I did show the 8-year-old how to give his little brother a disconnected controller so he thinks he’s playing. Let’s just hope that doesn’t come back to haunt us later on.”