When it comes to revolutionary video games, surely few games can be considered as perfect as Super Mario 64. The game is a stone-cold classic, right?
Well yeah, kinda. It was certainly revolutionary in its day, with its fancy-pant polygons, fully explorable 3D playgrounds, and thumb-numbing N64 analogue stick control. Although 3D games had preceded Super Mario 64 (even on Nintendo systems, a la the Super FX Chip), Mario’s debut 3D outing was the game that defined what 3D adventures would be from now on. Camera controls, pin-ship platforming, huge worlds teeming with secrets – they were all implemented with such perfection, it was astounding this was Nintendo’s first proper 3D title.
Or so it seemed perfect at the time.
Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. Yes, Super Mario 64 was ground-breaking back in the day. But looking back now, there are parts that really haven’t stood the test of time. Whether it be the fiddly camera, blocky character models, or those blooming rabbits in the basement you just can’t snatch, there are a ton of moments that make you put your controller down and think, “was I really that much into this?”
That’s not to take anything away from Super Mario 64’s legacy. Without it setting the template for 3D platformers to come, the transition to the 3D era would not have been as seamless as it was. But even if we don’t like to admit it, in parts the game just doesn’t live up to the hype. Here are our top 15 reasons why Super Mario 64 is totally overrated.
15 Bower’s Fugly Character Model
Let’s get this out of the way first. We know Bowser isn’t supposed to look pretty, but damn, he sure isn’t looking too hot in Mario’s first 3D outing. Mario himself isn’t exactly Brad Pitt, but Bowser’s huge head and blurry skin and shell textures make him by far the ugliest character in the game. Going back to it now, Bowser just looks so blocky – more like a collection of squares and triangles with eyeballs than Mario’s arch nemeses.
Bowser doesn’t change much throughout the game, although the lighting in the last fight does give his snout a weird bluey-purple colour – almost as if he has literally been beaten by the ugly stick. But hey, at least he doesn’t have a stupid voice-over like certain other Mario titles. We’re looking squarely at you Sunshine.
14 The Graphics Have Not Aged Well
It’s all very well sitting here in 2017 complaining about Super Mario 64’s graphics, but even in the 90s they still lacked something. Of course, compared to the pixel-art perfection of the SNES, the blocky models and blurry textures of the N64 never did look super-stylised. But the real kicker is when you start comparing the game to Banjo Kazooie, which despite the N64’s limitations, simply oozed personality and charm in everything from its colour palette to character animation.
Don’t get us wrong, the graphics in Super Mario 64 are perfectly functional. The snow levels look chilly, the fire levels fiery, and the large, empty halls of Peach’s character have a certain lonely charm to them. But aside from the initial wow moment of seeing the mushroom kingdom rendered in 3D, there are much better looking 3D platformers out there.
13 Controlling Dorrie Is Horrible
What were your thoughts when you got to the bottom of Hazy Maze Cave and saw a giant plesiosaur swimming in the depths? If you’re anything like us, you were thinking “that’s so awesome! I wonder if I can ride him?” Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there.
Eventually, you manage to climb on Dorrie’s back and clamber onto his head, after which the game locks you in place and allows you to guide the dinosaur to a raised island you’re supposed to jump onto. The thing is, just the smallest movement from Mario slowly sends the dinosaur lumbering in completely the wrong direction. The controls are somehow both twitchy and syrupy, and when you do finally reach where you want to be, you inevitably mess up the jump from Dorrie to the island and have to start again. We’ll stick to Turok for our dinosaur shenanigans thank you!
12 Tick Tock Clock Is Hugely Irritating
We want to love Tick Tock Clock, we really do, but when compared to the vast plains of Bob-omb Battlefields or the chilly peaks of Cool, Cool Mountain, it just comes up short. Maybe it’s the fact the level is a somewhat linear progression of platforms rather than a living, breathing world. Or maybe it’s the frustration of falling to your death every time you mistime a jump. Whatever it is, the course just isn’t much fun.
Rotating cube platforms, giant swinging pendulum obstacles, revolving cogs, Tick Tock Clock has them all. And don’t even get us started on the red coin challenge with the multiple thin, rotating platforms that are nearly impossible to climb. We will concede that it is kind of cool you can change the speed of the platforms depending on the time on the clock when you jump into the level, but once that wears thin, Tick Tock Clock is the down point of any playthrough.
11 Resurfacing Somehow Recovers Your Health Meter
Picture this: you’re low on health and there are no coins around you. Rather than going on a daring raid to replenish yourself, you simply dive into a body water, resurface, and watch your energy meter top up. Magic huh?
While Super Mario 64 brought many things to the table when it came to innovation, having a separate health and breath meter is not one of them. It doesn’t matter how many goomba hits you take, when you come out of the water, the game fills up your breath meter, which then transforms into a full health meter. It’s a baffling design choice, and judging by the fact this is one of the few aspects other 3D platformers didn’t copy, developers feel the same.
10 Swimming Is Just Not Fun
Staying on the water theme, there’s no denying swimming in Super Mario 64 just isn’t too much fun. Granted, the music in Jolly Roger Bay is beautiful, and that giant eel is scary as hell. But Mario himself controls like he his is moving through treacle. Going from nimble land acrobat to sluggish swimmer is such a jarring change of pace, and trying to accomplish complex maneuvers like grabbing the Power Star from the eel’s tail or even just jumping out the water can be a nightmare. Plus the fact that it is so hard to navigate when the tiny draw distance and screen awash with blurry blue doesn’t help at all.
Grabbing a green shell and zipping about under the waves grants a small amount of relief, but the moment is always too short, and before long you’re back to going at a snail's pace. Sorry swimming levels, we’re just not a fan.
9 Having To Use The Flying Carpets Multiple Times
Rainbow Ride has much in common with Tick Tock Clock: it’s linear, it’s perilous, and worst of all, it is immensely frustrating. Unlike Tick Tock Clock however which petty much allows you to jump straight into the meaty part of the level, for the majority of Rainbow Ride’s stars you first have to endure a long and difficult flying carpet ride. Jumping over blocks and flamethrowers as your flying carpet travels upwards through the sky is an interesting challenge first time around, but by the time you’ve got to the eighth star the initial few minutes of the level are just painful. A mid-level checkpoint won’t go amiss next time Nintendo.
8 Why Do The Toads Have Power Stars?
Collecting all 120 Power Stars is a rite of passage in Super Mario 64, and for the most part, the stars are hidden in challenging and/or interestingly places. That being said, giving three random toads dotted around the level Power Stars is as random as it is dull.
There’s a lot of pointless text in Super Mario 64, and while as kids we would be happy to listen to the monologing of Bowser and even Lakitu, the various signs and toads dotted around never impart anything useful, and we would rarely interact with them. Discovering that some of the toads are hiding Power Stars is therefore extremely anti-climactic, forcing us to run around the castle enduring screens of pointless babble until we found all three. It doesn’t exactly reach Sunshine’s blue coin challenge level of mundanity, but three new challenges would have been much more preferable.
7 That Camera
This problem is far from isolated to Mario 64, but it still must be said: the game’s camera sucks.
90s 3D platformers are notorious for their poor camera. Banjo Kazooie and Rayman 3 were just as bad, with the less said about Mario Sunshine’s camera the better. But that doesn’t take away from the frustration of a precise jump being foiled by not being able to line things up just how you like them to. The N64’s C-buttons where an interesting camera-management solution, but the lack of a second analogue stick made your control feel limited. The camera would often get stuck or obscure parts of the screen, and tapping the R shoulder button to tuck the cameras behind Mario is pretty much pointless.
6 Those Analogue Controls
As great as Super Mario 64 controlled back in the day, anyone familiar with the Super Mario Galaxy will feel just how badly Mario’s movement in his first 3D outing has aged. Part of the blame has to be placed on the N64’s 3D stick, which has a habit of permanently denting your thumb with little ridges after prolonged use. More than that though, Mario feels just a touch too twitchy, and his wall jump is much harder to pull off than in later games. He also has a weird breakdance kick thing, which we’re pretty sure no one ever has found useful. While groundbreaking, Mario 64's basic movement controls are abysmal by today's standards. When you can play a SNES game, like Super Mario World, and have it control as well as ever, it's devastating to realize how dated SM64 is.
5 That Luigi Rumour Is A Myth
You’ve all heard the rumour: somewhere, hidden in the depth of Peach’s Castle, a fully playable Luigi is waiting to be discovered. It’s not completely fair to blame Nintendo for the disappointment of finding out this isn’t true, but the point still stands: why do we only get one playable character? We’ve been able to play as Luigi in past iterations of Mario, why not 64? Super Mario 64 DS rectified this by giving us multiple playable characters (if you could stand the horrible control scheme), but as for the original, it’s a one-plumber band, unfortunately. More than that, SM64 *does* have Yoshi in it (who was originally supposed to be playable), standing around mocking your single-character adventure. Lame!
4 Picking Up That Monkey
It all begins so innocently. “Aw, the monkey stole my hat. So cute!” You try and grab the monkey to get it back, but he leaps out the way. So begins 30 minutes of cursing and swearing as you fail to get your mitts on the little blighter. Not only is the monkey incredibly hard to get hold off, but he bounds around a perilously narrow mountain edge that’ll send you right back near the beginning of the level when you fall down. Even worse, you’re expected to grab another monkey at the top of the mountain to get the Power Star. Absolutely infuriating. It's no surprise that this made precipitously worse by the game's horrible camera and analogue controls. Maybe one day we'll get a remake where catching the monkey is a cinch.
3 The Bowser Fight Is Repeated Three Times
We get it Mario 64, you’re in 3D now. We know Bowser boss battles are a great way to show off your brand new dimension, but do you really have to repeat them over and over again?
It can’t be denied how satisfying it is grabbing Bowser by the tail, swinging him around, then flinging him into a conveniently placed bomb. But the problem is the fights never evolve the mechanic. Sure, the second time you face Bowser the stage tips up, and the third time Bowser butt-stomps the ground into the shape of a Power Star. But these changes are merely cosmetic – at the end of the day, you’re still fighting the same boss again three whole times. For a game famed for its variety, it’s surprising just how stale these encounters become.
2 Catching That Rabbit
Super Mario 64’s rubbish picking up mechanic strikes again. We seriously debated whether the rabbit is more annoying than the monkey, before finally decided he is due to him being just so much more in your face, bounding around the castle basement and rubbing it in how rubbish you are at moving around in 3D.
It’s the same story as the monkey really. You run around diving after him and failing completely. In all likelihood, you’ll accidentally go through a door or jump through the wall into Shifting Sand Land. The rabbit does make an appearance in later Mario games where he is easier to catch, but this iteration of him is by far the worst.
1 Yoshi’s Prize
So you’ve sunk tens of hours into the game, catching rabbits and talking to every toad you can until you have finally collected 120 stars. After so much effort, you must be in for a pretty sweet reward, right?
Well, it starts off well enough. Shooting yourself out the cannon in the castle grounds is pretty cool, and meeting a blocky Yoshi camping on the castle roof is genuinely exciting. But does Yoshi give you a cool new item, or even let you ride him? Of course not. Instead, Yoshi gives you…lives. Granted, he gives you a lot of lives. But after you’ve 100 percented the game, it isn’t likely you’ll be using many of them. Yoshi’s only other gift is giving adding sparkles to you triple jump, purely so you can look as stupid as you feel. Bravo, Super Mario 64, Bravo.