The recent thread about whether or not Miyamoto is over the hill and should retire got me thinking. First, obviously (in my opinion) the answer is a definitive no, and for evidence I'll simply post his gameography so that all can see not only the silly number of excellent titles he's been involved in, but that he's also had missteps along the way as anyone with that number of projects would. I'd say that résumé warrants us overlooking two recent mediocre titles that, btw, I actually found aren't that bad lol... Regardless if it's Kojima, Will Wright, Sid Meier, Yuji Naka and so forth, they've all had poor to mediocre titles associated with them at some point, and none are involved in as many projects as Miyamoto. Seriously, I think Shigeru deserves SOME benefit of the doubt lol, lets wait a few months until we get a look at the next Zelda and other unannounced titles before we bury him :p
When looking through that list, though, I tried to decide what his greatest achievement was. Obviously this is a very difficult choice as he seemed to actually redefine gaming itself in more than one instance, be it from the simplistic as hell narrative of Donkey Kong, to essentially inventing the modern platformer in Super Mario Bros. Outside of that there's just about the most praised game of all time in Ocarina of Time, and there's plenty of other stellar titles.
As I really thought it over, though, I decided to make the distinction between which game of his is the best (I don't believe Mario 64 is that), and instead focus on which was his greatest achievement, as in overcoming odds and pioneering new features to create a truly great game that few (if any) others could in its time. That left me with, I think, just one choice: Super Mario 64.
Why Mario 64?
I won't describe the game as it's probably one of the best known games to have ever existed, so instead I'll initially focus my argument on its contemporaries who attempted the same transition. Here is a list of some 2D franchises that I could think of that had at least some platforming elements and took a stab at 3D platforming with date and metascore, arranged by releast date:
-Super Mario Bros: Super Mario 64 (June 1996) 94%
-Contra: Contra Legacy of War (Nov 1996) "Unfavorable" 60%
-Sonic the Hedgehog: Sonic 3D (Nov 1996) 59% (Gen) 67% (Sat) 63% (Average)
-Bubsy: Bubsy 3D (Nov 1996) 51%
-Mega Man: Mega Man Legends (Dec 1997) 59% N64, 73.73% PS1, 33.67% PC, 55.46% (Average)
-Gex: Gex: Enter the Gecko (Jan 1998) 81.7% (PS1), 60.5% (N64), 71.1% (Average)
-Contra: C: The Contra Adventure (Aug 1998) 23% (including a 1/10)
-Castlevania: Castlevania 64 (Jan 1999) 78%
-Earthworm Jim: Earthworm Jim 3D (October 1999) 59.32%
-Donkey Kong: Donkey Kong 64 (Nov 1999) 90%
-Kirby: Kirby: The Crystal Shards (Mar 2000) 77%
-Toejam & Earl: Toejam & Earl III: Mission to Earth (Oct 2002) 71%
Really, there appears to be a dividing line between Gen 4 and Gen 5 that is the video game equivalent of the KT boundary, where tons of franchises either made no attempt to survive or crashed and burned when they did, and many of the popular franchises we know today came into being on the opposite side of it. One important thing to remember is that gen 5 was largely the last generation in which reviews were bizarrely good even for the worst of games (perhaps as the internet was still in its infancy) and so were terribly unreliable. Case in point: I urge you to look up Bubsy 3D and decide if it deserves a 51% (often on the list of worst games ever made), or check out Castlevania 64 and decide if it deserves a higher/equal score than, say, the Wonderful 101, Destiny, Pokken Tournament, Yoshi's Wooly World etc. As someone who has played nearly all of these games, I can assure you that the scores are bizarrely high for most of them lol... I rented Mega Man Legends on the PS1 and there is no way in hell it's a 73.73%.
Anyway, what is evident from this list is that games that attempted the transition in the first few years did terribly, even though Mario 64 came first and stuck the landing. As time went on some of the techniques that were used in Mario 64 went on to help newer games, but really of all the 2d franchises that were at least in part platformers that tried 3D platforming, nearly all failed with mostly poor games. The two obvious exceptions happen to be the two games that Miyamoto was directly involved in with Mario 64 & DK 64 (I personally feel DK 64's score is inflated as well, though Mario 64 is the only one I'm OK with lol), and otherwise only one game (even with the inflated scores of the era) topped 80% with one version, though the average was 71%, in Gex: Enter the Gecko.
Necessary Mario 64/Ocarina of Time Comparison
When you look at that list with the dates in mind, it's really rather remarkable just how well Mario 64 turned out. Now, and I think this is fair, many people will point to Ocarina of Time as being the superior game of the two. Consider, though, that said game would not release until 1998 when other quality, open-world 3D games were already releasing (such as Banjo & Kazooie and in a different fashion Final Fantasy VII), and while it did again pioneer new features like its targetting system, it took many lessons directly from Mario 64. Essentially, the features and all around quality of Mario 64 sticks out like a sore thumb in its chronological context and you can almost see the development schedule of other succesful 3D games in that they all start releasing a few years after it (i.e. took lessons from it), while Ocarina seems like more a product of its time that was helped significantly by lessons learned from Mario 64 itself.
Mario 64's Legacy
Aside from the aforementioned pioneering techniques in 3D gameplay that went on to influence those that came after it, it also essentially invented and popularized an entire new genre in the form of the open-world 3D platformer. In some ways he did trailblaze the modern platformer by taking inspiration from more primitive (but excellent in their time) games like Pitfall II, Jungle Hunt and Mountain King when creating Super Mario Bros, but I think Mario 64 required more on-the-spot innovating in creating a new genre than just about any game I can think of, standing alongside the Wolfenstein/Dooms of the world as clear pivot points in the industry.
Also, and this is perhaps most telling, it is a genre that hardly exists outside of Mario. Seriously, a handful of games were able to pull it off early on (such as Rare with Banjo & Kazooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day), but otherwise there's been few (if any) successful attempts at open world 3D platformers over the past decade or so. While Zelda (for the record possibly my favorite franchise), while having its own unique feel and charm, is part of an increasingly saturated genre, 3D Mario titles to this day are incredibly unique. That they could continue to pump out titles for a genre that hardly exists outside of their own games and yet always score in the high 80's or 90's is fairly remarkable, and it traces directly back to Mario 64. Granted, I do realize it's debatable whether the recent Mario 3D world should be considered in the same family as 64/Sunshine/Galaxy 1 & 2, but to me it looks similar enough that, at the very least, it's a cross between the old and the new platformer genres, and the gameplay is almost identical.
So to conclude, no game he made (in my opinion) had greater odds against it than Super Mario 64. Not only did he pioneer 3D gaming itself, but he did so in a genre that comparatively few have ever produced a decent title for, and he was about two years ahead of the curve at the same time. This also included the challenge of completely reinventing the most well known gaming franchise on the planet, and every other franchise that attempted something similar and fell on its face should demonstrate just how impressive that accomplishment was. Finally, in a world today where 2D platformers are everywhere and open world adventure games abound, the open world 3D Mario game may be the most unique property Nintendo has left to them. Much like Bethesda rules open world RPGs, Blizzard owns subscription MMOs, Rockstar dominates the open-world action-adventure genre and so forth, Nintendo remains the king of 3D platformers due largely to Mario 64.
So yeah, that's my reasoning. Do you agree? Was this era Miyamoto at his creative zenith? Am I an asshat for not going with my original gut choice of Ocarina of Time? Is an asshat literally a hat that one wears on one's ass? Please feel free to post!