A New Mushroom Kingdom: 25 years of Super Mario 64

25 years ago today, Mario embarked on his first 3D adventure and his world hasn't been the same since.


The year 1996 marked the beginning of a lot of new eras. Earlier this year, we looked at the dawn of Shacknews itself, alongside PC gaming staple Quake, which changed the PC gaming world. That year also marked the twilight of the second console generation. The Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis had served the console gaming public well and will always hold an esteemed place in this great hobby's history. However, it was time for something new. It was time to enter a whole new dimension. For Nintendo, that meant leaping into the great unknown with its third home console, the Nintendo 64. The industry leader was bracing to get experimental with new 3D games, new art styles, new ideas and, as has been the case with their previous two consoles, success all hinged on Mario.

Super Mario 64 released 25 years ago, launching alongside the Nintendo 64. It was a game that confounded those who weren't ready to leave their 2D comfort zone. But, for the rest of the gaming world, this game marked a brand new journey, one that would help define Mario to this day.

Building a castle

Super Mario Bros. took players across the Mushroom Kingdom when it launched on the NES. Super Mario World took players through an entirely new world when it debuted on the Super Nintendo. When Super Mario 64 released alongside the Nintendo 64, the heroic plumber took players into a setting that they didn't expect to see: the Princess' castle. The story started off slightly different, with Mario invited to the castle because the Princess was baking him a cake. A few minutes into the game, the real story became clear. Bowser had kidnapped the Princess again.

Before going any further, let's talk about the Princess. Today, everybody knows her as Princess Peach. She wasn't always called that. When the Mario series first spread outside of Japan, the character was named Princess Toadstool. But, that was never supposed to be her official name. In Japan, she had been known as Peach from the very beginning. Why she was ever called Princess Toadstool everywhere else is unknown, though it can probably be attributed to regional marketing. With Super Mario 64 marking a new beginning for Mario, Nintendo saw the opportunity to set things right. Therefore, Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars would be the final time that the Princess would go under the name Toadstool. When Super Mario 64 released 25 years ago today, the name change to Peach would become permanent.

Speaking of ideas that would become permanent, Super Mario 64 would be the first time that players would venture into Princess Peach's castle and its exterior design remains in place 25 years later. Players most recently explored Peach's humble abode in games like Super Mario Odyssey and Paper Mario: The Origami King. The stained glass image of Peach above the entrance has become iconic in itself and Super Mario 64 marked its first official appearance.

What's interesting about the castle is that it was originally planned to be a part of The Legend of Zelda's jump into 3D. However, things didn't quite pan out. Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto explained in a 1996 roundtable interview, which was published in the Super Mario 64 strategy guide.

For me, Mario and Zelda exist side by side. Their basic gameplay elements are the same, with the only difference being that one focuses on action, and the other on puzzle solving. They’re always developed at the same time, and lots of good ideas from Mario get used in Zelda, and vice-versa.

Actually, the castle system for Mario 64 was originally something I thought of for Zelda, and now that we’ve used it here, I’m wondering what we’re going to do for Zelda… (laughs) In any event, I’m really looking forward to developing the next N64 game. Uh oh, I better stop before I end up talking about what we’re making now. (laughs)

The inside of Peach's castle set the stage for how Super Mario 64 would work. Mario could explore the castle, but when it came time to start a level, he had to jump through one of the castle's many paintings. Inside these paintings was a glimpse at Mario's future.

The 3D Mario formula

With Mario's move to 3D, gone were the days of running from a starting point to a flagpole. Well, at least they were gone for a little while. Miyamoto wanted this to be a very different kind of Mario game. In his mind a 3D Mario could not be the same as anything that had come before it.

"It's very difficult to compare between the existing Mario games and Super Mario 64," Miyamoto said in a 1996 interview with Next Generation magazine. "We must consider them as two different kinds of games. Personally, I wanted to make a game that looked like a 3D interactive cartoon. I wanted to create a small garden where Mario can meet realtime [sic] 3D characters and the player would be able to move the character with the controller just as if it were a real cartoon."

Instead of moving to a set goal, Mario had to collect stars, which would open up more doors inside Peach's castle. Each of Super Mario 64's painting worlds had six stars, not counting an extra one that was rewarded for collecting 100 yellow coins. Upon entering the painting, Mario would be assigned a specific star. Some stars would appear only when they're assigned, while others could be collected at any time if the player knew their location. This kind of open-ended gameplay sounds primitive by 2021 standards, but for the Mario series in 1996, this was amazingly innovative.

The first time a player stepped into Bob-Omb Battlefield in 1996, it may have felt overwhelming. It was the first time in Mario's history that players could see the entirety of the stage from overhead. The first reaction was likely, "Where do I go first?" There were Goombas, like in every other mainline Mario platformer, but these Goombas were wandering in circles and not just statically moving from right to left. There was a giant cannon where Mario could take flight. And, in the center of the level, was a mountain just begging to be climbed. It was unlike anything in a Mario game to that point and the scale of these stages would only get bigger as the adventure progressed.

Equally innovative was Mario's arsenal of moves. While Mario had power-ups, this time in the form of special caps, success in Super Mario 64 was centered around mastering Mario's own basic array of moves. Mario could punch, he could perform a backwards somersault, he could wall jump, he could triple jump, and he could long jump. Many of these moves remain a fixture in 3D Mario games today and all of them have different uses. Some are used to take on bosses, others are used to reach out to far-away stars, and others are used when racing against time.

For as many new moves as Mario had, Nintendo did have one major concern and that was regarding the fundamental jump. As Miyamoto noted in a 1996 interview, which was also published for the Super Mario 64 strategy guide:

In the Mario games up to now, we’ve carefully crafted every stage and level down to the individual pixel. Take jumping, for example. Implementing jumping in 3D is really difficult.

In earlier Mario games, we were able to measure the number of pixels Mario could jump and know exactly what was possible. But this time, we had to design the levels so that as long as your jump was "close enough," you'd make it; it was too hard for the player to judge. This was a design change we made in the middle of the development, when the game was far already very complete. There was a lot of booing from the staff.

If Mario was going to level up, then so, too, was his arch-nemesis. Like Mario, Bowser had evolved over the previous decade in a lot of ways. He was last seen standing side-by-side with Mario in Super Mario RPG, but for this first foray into 3D platforming, Nintendo wanted to think bigger. For starters, Bowser would no longer be able to see eye-to-eye with Mario… literally. For Super Mario 64, Bowser became a larger-than-life beast and would tower over Mario in nearly every mainline Mario game since.

The 3D Mario formula is fascinating, because while the formula itself has aged well, many elements of Super Mario 64 have not. But, that's a story for later, so let's put a pin in that idea for now.

Giving a hero his voice

There was one other way that Super Mario 64 stood out from all of its predecessors. Mario suddenly had a voice. For the first time in a main Mario game, the heroic plumber would speak. Granted, it would be limited phrases, but hearing Mario with a voice was still exciting, if a little bit jarring, for those who had spent the past ten years seeing him as a silent protagonist.

Charles Martinet stepped into the mascot's shoes, having previously voiced him for PC spin-off Mario's Game Gallery (a.k.a. Mario's FUNdamentals). It wasn't Martinet's first rodeo with Nintendo, having previously done voice work for Super Punch-Out. The Mario games may not have been Shakespeare, but that's how Martinet approached his audition.

"What popped into my brain was a character I'd played in Taming Of The Shrew," Martinet said in a 2015 BBC interview. "I was Petruchio going back to get his wife in Italy, and I was a sort of 'Mamma mia, nice ol' Italian guy'. So I thought I'd do something like that. I went on and on about spaghetti and meatballs. After half an hour the producer said, 'cut, stop, we've run out of tape!' And he called Nintendo and said 'I've found our Mario'. Mine was the only tape he sent back."

The rest was history. Martinet's audition was presented to Miyamoto. According to the strategy guide interview, it turned out that Miyamoto was aware of Martinet's body of work, having remembered him from a video game event five to six years prior. Martinet was called in to work on Super Mario 64 and remains Mario's voice to this day. He's also gone on to voice other members of the Mario family since then, including Luigi and Wario. But, for Nintendo fans, the magic all started with that iconic "It's-a me, Mario!" that opened the N64 classic.

A Super Mario legacy

When Miyamota went into Super Mario 64, his goal was to make it something far different than anything Mario had done before. As iconic as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World were, this needed to be something just as special, albeit in a different way. What Nintendo pulled off was a 3D platformer that would define the genre for many years and continue to define Mario's 3D titles 25 years later.

With Super Mario 64, players could explore diaroma-like worlds for the first time, interact and experiment with objects that had actual physics, and move Mario around a 360 degree, three-dimensional plane using the Nintendo 64 controller's analog control stick. It was a new way of looking at games, one that turned off old school 2D purists of the previous generation, but ushered in an entirely new crop of players.

While heralded as an instant classic, the game was far from perfect. The camera system, for example, even at the time, was deemed a nightmare, one that's aged like moldy cheese. However, Super Mario 64 was the foundation on which Mario's 3D future would be built. The camera was refined into something far more usable in Super Mario Galaxy, the worlds have been made progressively bigger and more engaging in every 3D Super Mario game that followed, and even the Star system has been refined for maximum engagement with 2017's Super Mario Odyssey. Conversely, some elements of Super Mario 64 became timeless and never went anywhere. The soundtrack immediately stands out, with the "Slide" track, in particular, becoming a fixture in Mario games for the next 25 years.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Super Mario 64's place in the speedrunning community. Many classic games have passionate speedrunning communities, but Super Mario 64's stands out with its charismatic runners, their commitment to finding new and exciting glitches, and also finding new ways to run the game. While runners like Allan "cheese05" Alvarez and Lee "Biinny" Whelan continue to search for ways to optimize runs and set records, runners like Bubzia have tackled an entirely new category, taking on the classic platformer while blindfolded. The speedrunning community has never stopped celebrating Super Mario 64 over its 25 years of existence and it doesn't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon.

Nintendo always believed in the power of the Nintendo 64. Across dozens of interviews with a number of different outlets, Nintendo's higher-ups stood by their assertions that the Nintendo 64 was a game-changer when it came to console gaming.

"We’re going to be releasing a lot of games that do things that have never been done before," Miyamoto said, concluding the 1996 roundtable interview that appeared in the Super Mario 64 strategy guide. "We still have those doubt [sic] sometimes: 'is this really going to be fun?'... but it’s precisely because it’s something weird that we want to try it! The N64 is that kind of hardware—it makes the strange possible."

Nintendo certainly did release games that were fun, strange, and everything in-between. But, like the two consoles before it, the ball doesn't get rolling without Mario. Super Mario 64 has its place in gaming history for a reason, becoming an innovator in the 3D gaming space and convincing a new generation of players that it was time to play.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
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    September 29, 2021 8:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, A New Mushroom Kingdom: 25 years of Super Mario 64

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      September 29, 2021 8:05 AM

      I saw on Reddit that today is the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo 64’s release in North America. It’s hard to put into words just how profoundly impacted I was by this thing. It was not just the successor to the Super Nintendo (arguably the greatest video game console of all time) but it also represented the transition from 2D to 3D console graphics. Seeing classic Nintendo characters in a whole new light was utterly mindblowing, and no game has ever left the same indelible mark on me like Super Mario 64.

      Today I look back on the console’s library with mixed feelings but the feeling, man, the FEELING was something else.

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        September 29, 2021 8:06 AM

        I messed up that last sentence. Too many feelings. You get what I mean.

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        September 29, 2021 8:08 AM

        the first ads for mario 64 I saw on tv blew me away

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          September 29, 2021 8:52 AM

          I remember playing it in Walmart on one of those CRTs mounted basically to the ceiling that made you want to die from the pain in your neck, and I remember just being absolutely in shock at what I was seeing.

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        September 29, 2021 8:16 AM

        Never had a Nintendo console prior to the Gamecube. I was too far into PC gaming at that time, though I did eventually play some of the games on friends consoles.

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        September 29, 2021 8:16 AM

        I never had one but my friend had one and we played it at his house a lot. Goldeneye 64 multiplayer was good times.

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          September 29, 2021 8:17 AM

          So much replayability with that game. I loved unlocking new cheats.

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        September 29, 2021 8:19 AM

        First time I played SM64 in a Toys'r'Us before launch was a revelation.

        You're right that the overall library in hindsight only really has a few gems, but those gems tend to shine pretty brightly.

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          September 29, 2021 8:50 AM

          Golden Eye, Mario64, Mario Kart64, Wave Race, Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask, Banjo Kazooie, viva piñata.

          Those were some really bright gems. Still have my N64 and copy of Mario Kart and Mario64.

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            September 29, 2021 8:54 AM

            Uh, one of those is not like the other.

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              September 29, 2021 9:08 AM

              Your right, viva piñata was a Xbox 360 title

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        September 29, 2021 8:20 AM

        I had an entirely different set of feelings towards the Ultra N64: The Great Disappointment. When Nintendo lost their title as the undisputed leader of the industry. Vasoline-O-Vision everywhere. Validated by as the original Smash Brothers console and the tens of thousands of hours of fun that game was.

        I never got into Goldeneye because I was already playing Quake with mouselook. I preferred MGS1 to Ocarina of Time by a long shot. The N64 began a tradition of buying a Nintendo console for a few games that I ended with the Ambulance.

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          September 29, 2021 9:00 AM

          I was playing Quake too but Goldeneye was completely different. Quake was better for pure Deathmatch MP, but Goldeneye was more goofy and had split screen obviously. Single player was way more immersive story-wise and with actual stealth gameplay, it set the stage for Thief that would come a year later.

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        September 29, 2021 8:36 AM

        Seeing my cousin play SM64 for the first time blew my 14-year old mind. Times were so different then - slow drip-feed of games so you would play the same games for a really long time. Going to the video store on new release day was awesome. My mom worked at the video store so she always was able to bring home the newest games a few days early before they put them out for rent.

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        September 29, 2021 9:02 AM


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        September 29, 2021 9:06 AM

        I remember I bought mine in college with money I was supposed to be using towards food and necessities. Not sure how I finagled that in hindsight without my parents knowing but I remember bringing it home over Christmas except I couldn't have it just out and about or else I'd get questions about what it was and why I had it so I kept it in a drawer of my childhood chest of drawers (which was naturally still in my room) and I drilled a hole in the back to feed the wires to the power and TV and just played it that way when no one else was around.

        WaveRace 64 is the one that blew my mind, just the graphics and physics of the water was amazeballs to me, especially on a home game console.

        Like others I was into Quake and stuff so the idea of 3D graphics wasn't groundbreaking to me (though this was pre-3D accelerator) but Nintendo was masterful at not only doing cool shit with tech but putting a cohesive game around it too with music, etc.

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        September 29, 2021 9:10 AM

        I’ll never forget seeing Mario 3D the first time and being totally blown away.

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          September 29, 2021 10:12 AM

          The only other moment like that I can think of since then has been putting on the oculus rift for the first time. Walking up to a window and poking my head THROUGH it blew my fucking mind. I’m hoping we have more moments like this in our lifetimes, somehow.

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        September 29, 2021 10:37 AM

        Definitely the beginning of a new era for me. The N64 was the first console I got somewhat close to release (a little less than a year after its launch) and absolutely defined (or destroyed) some friendships in my neighborhood. It gets a lot of undeserved hate in the retro gaming community now as an easy target for quick laughs but I am far more nostalgic for it compared to the PSX or Saturn. Even back then I thought N64 games looked better to me.

        Slight threadjack: Celebrate 25 years of the N64 with me later on Shacknews Twitch! I’ll be playing Pilotwings and talking about the system launch for my skankcore64 stream tonight!

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          September 29, 2021 10:47 AM

          My brother bought Pilotwings 64 shortly after we got an N64 because it was one of the few games you could buy used for cheap a few months post launch lol.

          Most people rag on it but I enjoyed it a ton at the time and I've played through it a few times since. Still love the music.

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            September 29, 2021 3:51 PM

            Such a chill soundtrack, the same team that made Pilotwings 64 would go on to make Beetle Adventure Racing. Two of the best vehicle based games on the system.

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        September 29, 2021 10:45 AM

        I was too into PC gaming at the time. I did grab one once Ocarina of Time rolled around with those perfect 10 reviews. Worth every penny. It also started my Smash Brothers obsession!

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        September 29, 2021 10:52 AM

        I think seeing Mario 64 in '96 at a Toy Works kiosk triggered an evolutionary leap in my brain, like in Altered States

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        September 29, 2021 11:03 AM

        I have the most nostalgia for this console I think. I attribute that nostalgia to its ability to do 4p local multiplayer and the number of games that supported it. I was at just the right age where I was often getting together with a bunch of friends so those 4p games happened a lot. The system is very flawed but making those memories with friends absolutely made up for it. Obviously it has plenty of classic single player games too, but the breadth of its library pales in comparison to something like the PS1. It's probably because my house also had a PS1 thanks to my brother, but that never bothered me as much.

        It's also one of my favorite Christmas memories. I saved up for the console myself over the course of months by doing chores around the house etc. They were impossible to find at the time, but I still asked for some games for Christmas. On Christmas morning my family gave me Mario 64, Wave Race 64, and Shadows of the Empire. I was incredibly excited to get them and turned to my mom and asked if we could go out and look for an N64 that day (this was at like 7am on Christmas morning). Of course I knew in the back of my head I'd never find one but when you're that excited you just want to try. She says to me "Sure! Want to go now?". Shocked, I of course agree to and she leads me back to her room where she pulls down an N64 from the top of her closet. I paid her cash for it and played it the rest of the day. It's funny because one of my favorite Christmas memories is PAYING for a console but it was just such a surprise.

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        September 29, 2021 11:04 AM

        I'll always remember this promo video from Nintendo Power

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          September 29, 2021 11:07 AM

          Haha I feel that. My friend and I must've watched this one 100x leading up to Starfox 64's release. That is probably the most hyped I've ever been for a game (turns out marketing works really well on kids):


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            September 29, 2021 12:09 PM

            Listen up bit boy!

            The John Lovitz one for Banjo Kazooie was another gem. The sneak peak montages at the end were so hype.

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        September 29, 2021 11:47 AM

        I missed most of the N64 era and it makes me sad.

        Sure, I was playing legendary PC games but I would have loved to have experienced Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time along with everyone else. I wasn't aware just how revolutionary those games were at the time.

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        September 29, 2021 12:53 PM

        The first console (and one of only two) that I owned!

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        September 29, 2021 4:04 PM

        It’s hard to put into words just how profoundly impacted I was by this thing

        You put it into words just fine, and I still watch your video every once in a while to this day.


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      September 29, 2021 3:59 PM

      So long, gay Bowser. Words that will outlive us all.

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