Way Back When
Nintendo changed the world of video games forever when they released Super Mario 64 alongside the launch of their brand new Nintendo 64 console. Sure, the game wasn’t the very first 3D platformer, as Sony beat Nintendo to the punch the year prior with their PlayStation launch game Jumping Flash, but for the majority of people in 1996, Super Mario 64 was their first introduction to a type of game they had once never thought possible. And in his first 3D outing, Mario managed to set the standard for which all 3D platformers would aspire to for generations to come.
Super Mario 64 wasn’t just special because it was the first 3D Mario title, however, but also because it completely redefined what the series would be moving forward now that it had so much additional space. Unlike the side-scrolling level design of previous entries in the franchise, Super Mario 64 allowed players to enter Princess Peach’s castle and choose from a variety of paintings to leap into, which would teleport them to wide open stages that they could explore freely. There were a collection of tasks in each of these levels, but the freedom to explore was immensely satisfying to an era of gamers who had previously never been given so much agency.
Of course, it would take forever to note every little aspect of how Super Mario 64‘s design philosophy differed from that of its 2D counterparts, but it’s safe to say that Nintendo knew that there were some elements worth changing and a few that needed to remain familiar. There were an incredible amount of fun new things to do, walk underwater with the Metal Cap power-up, race a Koopa up a mountain, or get fired out of a canon and fly through the sky, but they were always balanced out with enough familiarity to keep long-time fans feeling welcomed. You could still jump on the heads of the classic enemies like Goombas, Princess Peach still needed saving, and there was certainly no shortage of coins to collect. It was still a Mario game… Just dialed up to 11.
Super Mario 64 would go on to earn perfect scores from multiple outlets and become the best-selling Nintendo 64 game of all time, ending its run with over 11 million units sold. Having established itself as an innovator in the world of video games, many other titles would seek to match its success, and some even triumphed, such as Banjo Kazooie and Rayman 2: The Great Escape. But as fantastic as some of the console’s other games were, everyone’s beloved plumber didn’t get another mainline sequel on the system, though he did go on to save the day again in Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube and has starred in dozens of 2D and 3D games since. But for many players, there will never be a game able to replace that precious first experience with 3D gaming that they had on Christmas morning in 1996.
Where You Can Play It Now
The best way to get ahold of Mario’s very first 3D outing is definitely by picking up Super Mario 3D All-Stars, as it cleans up the visuals just a bit. But if you can’t round that up, the Wii U’s Virtual Console version is a fantastic port, too.
Here’s the modern platforms on which you can access Super Mario 64:
- Wii U (Virtual Console)
- Nintendo Switch (via Super Mario 3D All-Stars)
Once you’ve wrapped up this classic, there’s no shortage of other amazing Mario games available across the Wii U and Switch, of course. If you manage to grab Super Mario 3D All-Stars, specifically, you’ll also get access to the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine and the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy. Wahoo!