Super Mario 64 is a cultural touchstone for millennials; a zeitgeist we can reference out of our cultural subconscious. Almost an entire generation of people can look at a 32-bit penguin or the legendary misheard phrase “so long gay Bowser” and evoke memetic memories and form connections through shared experiences.
So much of the game has become iconic since it’s release. When I booted up my copy to replay for this review and heard the menu music I was taken back to ‘97 in my childhood bedroom. It was bittersweet, but I’m glad a piece of media like this can have that kind of effect on me.
3D platforming basically did not exist before this game. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto basically re-invented the wheel here. Seriously, I can’t overstate how difficult of an achievement this is. Nintendo took an already beloved character from an already beloved franchise with 2 console generations of established gameplay and added a whole other dimension, literally.
Mario 64 stunned the world when it was released with the Nintendo 64. The game scored near perfect marks across every magazine that reviewed it and even today has a 94 on MetaCritic.
Super Mario 64 follows the same plot of the previous games, rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser. This is done by obtaining Stars from within the game’s 15 different worlds. Stars are found by completing challenges, such as racing a Koopa up a mountain or swimming under a sunken ship. There are even hidden stars to find within the Castle hubworld.
Super Mario 64 just has a depth to it that was previously unseen. This massive (for the time) 3D world seemed teeming with life. There were details and secrets seemingly in every nook and cranny— run around a tree a certain way and boom secret 1UP mushroom!
Is Super Mario 64 a perfect game? Well, no. With more than two decades of development, we’ve improved every aspect of 3D controls and 3D platforming. Returning to Mario 64 after enjoying these modern amenities can be a little jarring, but when viewed in the proper context the game is still near-flawless.
Fitting with the game’s status as a legendary benchmark, the game continues to enjoy a second life as a speed-game. Super Mario 64 speedrunning is intense and active, with world records being set frequently in any of the multiple categories. There’s also regular competitions and appearances at speedrunning events like AGDQ.
If you haven’t watched someone run Super Mario 64, I suggest you pull up a YouTube video. It’s awesome to watch someone finish this game in 8 minutes without grabbing a single star.
Today, there are a number of ways to play Super Mario 64, with varying degrees of legality. As a must-have N64 title an American copy sells for anywhere from $28 to $38 at retro stores or eBay. If language isn’t an issue you can pick up either the initial JPN release or the JPN international version for about $15 on eBay.
Just a few months ago the game was illegally ported to Windows with native widescreen support. If you know who to ask you can find that program. No one at Wackoid has that executable (Nintendo, please, if you’re reading this we don’t have any money or any lawyers).
The game was also available for a period of time on the Wii virtual console, but the eShop has since closed. As of publishing there is currently no way to play the game on Nintendo’s current-gen console.
Additionally, there is also a “remake” for the Nintendo DS handheld, and the game is also on the iQue— but that is probably the most expensive and least fun way to play the game.
In short, Super Mario 64 is a must-play game for anyone interested in the history of 3D, platforming, or 32-bit era games. If you haven’t played it in a few years, put in on your to-do list. If you’ve never played the game, make it a priority.