Super Mario 64 — Review

Without rose-tinted glasses, it still plays like a charm.

Super Mario 64 was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1996. Nintendo’s breakout into the 3D space revolutionized 3D platforming and the entire gaming industry in general. In Super Mario 64, you control Mario and explore the realm of Peach’s Castle while saving the princess from his archenemy, King Bowser! Following 15 different worlds, Super Mario 64 offers around 12 hours of play among 120 stars and a number of hidden levels.

Despite its incredibly polished controls and stage design, however, Mario 64 still held a number of undesirable flaws. Fortunately, most people seeking only to clear the game might only run into these issues scarcely. Unfortunately, those seeking completion might find a number of Stars to be quite aggravating to collect. While this game does present a challenge to players of all backgrounds, it manages to offer a challenge in the bad way, shall we say. Certain Stars will force you to clear an entire mission over from the beginning while other stages in general, like Tick-Tock-Clock, weren’t exactly shining paragons of level design at all.


Super Mario 64’s aesthetics offer bright, colorful characters, enemies, and environments. Undoubtedly, in 2020, it’s funny to see how much the direction has changed. Thwomps are no longer blue blocks, everything is rounded out much better, and Bowser got a significant makeover. Everything changed after the 64 era and you can certainly compare them yourself on Google when looking at the models in the game’s remake, Super Mario 64 DS.

For reference, the models in the DS remake were modernized and greatly improved.

The music offers some of Koji Kondo’s best compositions. Whether it’s the serene sounds of Dire, Dire Docks, or the song of dying when you enter Lethal Lava Land or Shifting Sand Land, you’ll always remember these tunes. The classic Bob-omb Battlefield and Slide theme were even remixed in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the Smash Bros. series!

Each world’s layout and theme reflect new directions. Granted, some of the aesthetic choices in the DS remake were a little better, as the cloudy skies in Jolly Roger Bay. Still, areas like The Secret Aquarium bring about an aura of mystery to them. The kind of mystery that makes a Mario game a Mario game.

On a slightly unrelated note, have you ever seen Super Mario 64 DS running in HD? I would have remastered the game with these textures personally.


Mario 64’s platforming gameplay remains amazing as ever. Mario still controls well and the stage layouts themselves are incredible. While his movements are stiffer than later games, it takes only a little bit of time to adjust to before it feels natural. Plus the caps add to the experience with the ability to vanish, turn into metal, and especially fly. In particular, Wing Cap Mario is one of the most fun powerups of all-time simply because Mario can fly anywhere in the stage!

Unfortunately, the real problems begin with the camera. Not only can the angles make grabbing Stars and Coins difficult, but sometimes it’s stubborn and doesn’t want to move. Moreover, the camera will sometimes even angle as you’re moving back which makes it possible to accidentally fall off of a narrow platform.

The camera in Tick Tock Clock becomes especially bad.

I also had grievances with several of the stars in the game. Let alone the annoyance of having to redo a 100-coin run, some of the missions weren’t even enjoyable. Grabbing the Red Coins in Wiggler’s lair was predated with a slow-paced trek on a balancing beam. Fall off and you’ll spend the next 2 minutes trying to get back. Missed a jump on the work elevator in Hazy-Maze Cave? Guess who’s going back up to climb again just to grab that one Red Coin.

Stage Design Woes

Even though some of the tougher missions could be avoided if you’re just beating the game, some of the stages weren’t. Tick-Tock Clock invites you to one of the most frustrating levels in Mario history. Triangle blocks, narrow platforms, and repetitive trekking over misses accompanied the hazy background and frustrating camera angles. Honestly, that stage could not be cleared soon enough. What about the slow rides on the magic carpet in Rainbow Ride? It’s a platforming game but one that really slows the pace down a great deal in several stages. And it gets worse if you’re repeating these slow segments because you missed your goal and died because of it.

The real problem is collecting the Blue Coins on the way here for the 100-coin star.

Make no mistake. The improvements implemented in games like Super Mario Galaxy offered checkpoints, more cohesive pacing with condensed levels, and a much better camera to boot. Super Mario 64 implemented the foundation for 3D platforming but it sure as hell wasn’t perfect either. It pays to understand that while 64 is a revolutionary title, and a great one at that, it still featured multiple frustrating segments.

Try not to fall off.

Super Mario 64 offered a number of conceptual elements that sometimes ended in poor execution. As such, they’re issues that never reared their ugly heads in later Mario titles for good reason. If it were me, I would have remastered the game entirely and fixed the camera and a few of the stage designs. Nonetheless, this title remains robust and its worst Stars can be obtained with just a little bit of patience and jumping technique.

Final Thoughts

Despite its flaws, Super Mario 64 offers undeniable charm. It’s still an incredibly polished game that managed to change the world. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s still one of the best games you’ll ever get the chance to play. If you never played 64 but own a Switch, I strongly recommend picking up Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

64 is still a top-level 3D platformer beaten by its successors yet remains unmatched by others in its genre. As an N64 game, I would still argue it’s in the Top 5 below the two Zelda games, Paper Mario, and Super Smash Bros. While the frustration consists of a challenge that requires patience, these are only a few missions out of 120 which heavily consists of amazing stages. Even at its hardest, you’ll keep coming back for more. The inability to put the game down is what makes this game so special.

Give it a look, or another look, and pick up 3D All-Stars. It’s certainly worth playing through again and I’m glad I gave myself the chance to do so!

Send my blog a follow. I’ll be posting game content and reviews here regularly. Take care and see you next time!

Product Release: Super Mario 64 (US, 09/26/96)

Originally published at




Smash Ultimate Tips writer. SUPERJUMP contributor. Metafy coach. Consider supporting my writing on Medium!

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Smash Ultimate Tips writer. SUPERJUMP contributor. Metafy coach. Consider supporting my writing on Medium!

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