Nintendo for N64 –Action – 1996 – Rating: 10/10
Super Mario 64 is a videogame of moments. It’s a journey of endless surprises and discoveries, thrills big and small, where something interesting always lies behind the next turn. It is a pioneering title that revels in its novelty, gleefully reinventing the medium in its own image. Next Generation magazine famously proclaimed it “the greatest videogame ever made,” and everybody who played believed it in their bones. Twenty years later, the case can still be made.
Here are sixty-four great reasons to love Super Mario 64:
Super Mario 64 is the first true 3D polygon “open world” videogame. Nothing like this had ever been seen before, only imagined in such movies as Disney’s Tron. For a generation raised on Atari and NES, this feels like Dorothy walking into a Technicolor Oz. The fusion of free-roaming camera and analog control for fully three-dimensional movement, along any direction or plane, is truly revolutionary and opens the door for the modern era of polygon videogame worlds.
The goal is never about “winning” but exploring. You only need to acquire 70 out of 120 stars to defeat Bowser and reach the ending. This idea reaches back to the original Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario World, which enable you to warp ahead to Bowser’s final castle. For Shigeru Miyamoto, it’s always about the journey, never the destination.
Non-linear gameplay: the freedom to find stars, roam around the Princess’ mysterious castle, and visiting worlds in virtually any order. You can play this game six different ways before breakfast and never repeat yourself. Take that, Crash Bandicoot.
Mario’s vast acrobatic moves, designed perfectly for playing and goofing around. His whoops and cheers always put a smile on my face. He’s so happy when he performs a somersault or a triple jump. Many wonderful animations: Mario mumbling in his sleep, wobbling when in low health, shivering when in the cold.
The Title Screen: tugging on Mario’s face. You spent hours playing around with this. Admit it.
Wasting half an hour every day doing cannonballs into the castle pond. I’ll rescue the Princess when I damn well feel like it. I’m not buying her “kidnapped” stories any more. And if I go through with this, I expect a more of a reward than a “cake” and a peck on the nose. Until then…outta the way, pool time!
Finding that 1-UP mushroom inside one of the trees in the castle courtyard. Is there a reason for doing this? No, not really. You’re just playing around and having fun.
Sliding down the bannisters inside the castle. Why do I do this? Because I can.
The way Mario gets kicked out of the paintings when he loses a life always deserves a chuckle. Oof! Mama mia!
Riding down The Princess’ Secret Slide on your belly. Why Nintendo never created a full racing game from these mini-stages, I’ll never know. And that goes double for the manta ray course in Super Mario Galaxy.
Moments where you need to crawl slowly across narrow platforms or past sleeping piranha plants, instead of racing by at top speed.
Racing a giant (and friendly) Koopa the Quick to the top of Bob-omb Battlefield. You run across hills, over ledges, past a large Chain Chomp who tries to eat you, past waves of enormous bowling balls, and over ramps and ledges.
Mario falling and getting stuck in the snow. If you dive head-first, you be buried head-first. Nice.
If you butt-stomp the pole that’s attached to Gate-Chomp’s chain, you set him loose, knocking down iron bars that contain a star.
The giant underwater drop-off in Jolly Roger Bay that hides a sunken pirate ship and large red eel.
Sneaking onboard the sunken pirate ship and raising it to the surface.
Racing a giant penguin down a treacherous ice slide hidden inside a mountain. You discover this area by jumping into a cabin chimney.
Finding the giant penguin’s lost baby penguin, returning him safely…and then chucking the little bastard off the cliff, purely for kicks.
The owl who carries you to the top of Whomp’s Fortress, viewing the entire playfield from below.
Being blasted out of a cannon is fun. Being shot out while wearing the flying cap is especially fun, and enables you to fly.
The three Bowser stages, brilliantly designed obstacle courses that incorporate classic 2D platforming design in a 3D environment.
Grabbing Bowser by the tail, spinning him around, and launching him into a waiting bomb. It was not only a skillful demonstration of the Nintendo 64 analog controller, it was just a lot of fun.
The first time you enter the castle basement, you’ll encounter a room that is flooded. Two large pillars appear over the water. True story: just for fun, I decided to butt-stomp one of these pillars, and it dropped, to my surprise. I decided to stomp the second; a musical chime sounded. Suddenly, the water drained completely from the basement. Opening the door at the bottom, I found myself outside the castle where the moat once stood. All the water was gone, drained through a small hole by the waterfall.
The reflective chrome pool in the basement. This amazing visual effect is also used for Metal Mario, which always reminded us of the T-1000 in Terminator 2.
Walking into the castle’s main hall to discover a sunbeam. You stand inside, look up, and become transported to a bonus world in the sky.
Fighting the Giant Whomp on top of his fortress. The band-aid on his back is a nice touch.
Finding the 1-UP mushroom and star at the top of the giant snowman mountain in Snowman’s Land.
Navigating through the transparent ice sculpture in Snowman’s Land.
The Manta Ray’s Reward: winning a star by swimming through a series of water rings as you closely follow a manta ray.
Shifting Sand Land: fighting the rock monster inside the giant pyramid.
The long steep slide down a wall in the Vanish Cap Switch Course.
Grabbing a star from the tail of the giant eel in Jolly Roger Bay.
Mario getting gobbled up by a giant fish who sports 1980s sunglasses and a mohawk. A nice homage to Super Mario Brothers 3.
Catching that rabbit who’s running around the basement
More than any other videogame, Super Mario 64 rewards you for goofing off. One great example: finding a 1-UP mushroom hidden on top of a tool shed that lies far out of your way. There’s no reason for me to hop on that roof; I was just nosy.
Exploring the inside of a giant pyramid in Shifting Sand Land.
The mirror room, which only exists to show off your cameraman, Lakitu. Thank goodness that little dog isn’t throwing spikey turtles at me this time. I hate it when he does that.
Earning a star by shooting Mario head-first into the corner of a wall. Like many of you, I discovered this one by bad aiming and dumb luck.
The ghost piano that snaps at you suddenly. It’s not quite the heart attack-inducing terrors of the Creepers in Minecraft, but always good for a mild jolt.
Surfing on a lava ocean riding a Koopa shell like a skateboard. Take that, Tony Hawk Pro Skater.
The Loch Ness Monster who is hidden in an underground lake, beneath a maze-like construction zone. He is so peaceful and happy swimming about.
The castle’s tiny-huge hallways that make a play on spatial distortion. Think of Citizen Kane and the giant window and fireplace.
In Cool, Cool Mountain, being chased by a large snowball, Indiana Jones style, as you try to crash it into another snowball to create a large snowman.
In Lethal Lava Land, I once threw Mario into the active volcano just for kicks. To my surprise, I discovered another underground realm hidden inside. Um, I meant to do that.
Raising and lowering the water levels in Wet-Dry World.
Finding the secret city hidden at the bottom of the Wet-Dry World.
Swimming through a small ocean in Dire, Dire Docks and finding Bowser’s underground submarine.
In Tiny-Huge Island, butt-bombing the pool of water at the top of the mountain. You discover that you’ve actually flooded the house of Wiggler the Caterpillar who lives underneath. And what do you do when this happens? Stomp Wiggler repeatedly on the head to get your star, that’s what. Mario can be a real jerk sometimes.
The cheeky monkey who steals Mario’s hat. Wish I could toss him over a cliff.
Scaling to the top of Tall Tall Mountain, dodging giant bowling balls, Gumbas, treacherous ledges and dangerous drops.
Hopping into the green pipes in Tiny-Huge Island, switching from tiny to giant size and back again.
At the end of the second major obstacle course, you find a large green cylinder that will transport you to the main boss fight. I must confess to another goof-off moment: I have more fun rolling Mario inside the bowl indefinitely, avoiding the drain. Where’s my star for that?
On the second showdown against Bowser, you battle on a platform that tilts dramatically whenever your adversary stomps down hard, threatening to knock you into a sea of lava. He does this whenever you spin him off the platform, instead of aiming for the bombs.
The long vertical drops in Tall, Tall Mountain and overall sense of vertigo. It was absolutely dizzying in 1996 (although, to be fair, Tomb Raider is equally impressive).
Riding the magic carpet in Rainbow Ride.
Everything about the Tick Tock Clock world, which takes place entirely inside a grandfather clock. Deep vertical space and platforming bliss ensues.
Everything about Big Boo’s Haunt, a world centered around a giant haunted house that mimics Resident Evil’s fixed camera perspectives and surprise jolts.
Collecting the eight red coins in Wing Mario Over the Rainbow by flying through the clouds and being shot out of cannons.
The Cavern of the Metal Cap, a glittering cave with a rushing stream that threatens to carry Mario over the waterfall nearby the castle. By activating the Metal Mario cap, you can walk through the water and grab the eight red coins for a star.
The never-ending staircase to Bowser’s final lair, set to the musical tones of a sShepard scale. As everyone would expect, a ten-hour video of this exists on Youtube.
A plaque that may or may not contain the message, “L is Real 2041.” It proves Luigi is playable in this game! This is how obsessed we were with this videogame (although “U R MR GAY” is funnier). The original Super Mario Brothers inspired similar levels of mad devotion.
The 100-coin challenge in each of the 15 worlds. You really appreciate the depths and richness of Nintendo’s world-building skills. They know how to extract maximum gameplay potential out of relatively small spaces.
Finding Yoshi on the rooftop as a reward for collecting all 120 stars. Pity he doesn’t hang around and play.
“The A Button Challenge.” Is it possible to clear all 15 worlds without ever pressing the jump button? In 2015, a computer science student named Scott Buchanan did just that. Now I want to try. Where’s my Wii Classic Controller?