Making a video game never was “easy,” but it certainly used to be a lot less complex. In the days of early arcade titles and Atari 2600, an entire game could be programmed from start to finish in a few weeks or months, and a single person would be working on it the whole time. As the technology improved, more people were needed to make a game, and development times increased. A more intricate product means more opportunities for oversights, which is one of the reasons why games these days seem like they are constantly filled with bugs and glitches and require multiple patches before everything runs completely smoothly.
Super Mario 64, while not the absolute first 3D game, was a launch title for Nintendo 64 and at the same time, was trying to establish new parameters for what was possible in a game of its genre. To say that Nintendo was stumbling in the dark would be an understatement, and the fact that Super Mario 64 ended up as good and revolutionary as it was is a testament to Nintendo’s attention to details.
Despite all the care and attention in the world, some mistakes did slip by the quality control team. We thought that these 20 mistakes, big and small, were fascinating enough that we wanted to share them with you. So let’s take a look at some of the crazy stuff that made it past the game testers.
20 Dinosaur Grammar
I don’t think it’s fair to expect Yoshi, a character whose species entire vocabulary usually consists of the word “Yoshi” and nothing else, to have a proper grasp of the English language. In my opinion, this explains the simple grammatical mistake during Yoshi’s appearance at the end of the game. Indeed, when you find Yoshi on the rooftop of the castle after finally collecting all 120 stars in the game, he greets you with the following sentence: “Mario? It that really you?” Sure, that “it” should be an “is,” but Yoshi is a dinosaur-like being that eats whatever comes near his mouth and somehow knows how to drive a cart. Maybe we can cut him some slack on the lousy grammar.
19 Mario’s Hat Collection
There are a few parts in Super Mario 64 where it is possible for Mario to lose his iconic hat. One example is in Snowman’s Land, where the icy wind blowing through the stage can separate Mario from his headgear. In Shifting Sand Land, it is also possible for the Condor flying around the stage to steal Mario’s hat. If one refrains from chasing the Condor right away, it is possible to duplicate the hat. Just use the stage’s warp area to go next to a Wing Cap block, and put it on. As you start flying, head for that thieving Condor and snatch the hat back from his grasp. As you keep flying around, Mario will be holding the original hat in his hands.
18 The Healing Power Of Water
It’s hard to determine if this is simply an oversight or if it was intentionally left into the game to make it slightly easier, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. When Mario is underwater and losing his breath, he only has to resurface to regain the health he lost while lacking oxygen. That part makes sense. The part that doesn’t is that this “logic” applies to every time Mario gets close to water. If he gets his butt kicked by a Chain Chomp, he only has to jump into a pond, and badabing badaboom, he’s completely healed. I can only wish that real life worked that way, as I would only need to quickly jump in and out of my bathtub after a tough game of hockey to feel fresh again.
17 The Uncollectable Coins
Plans change during development: stages can be altered, and the objects that were once part of a previous layout might not be completely removed if a developer feels they are sufficiently hidden by the new configuration. Super Mario 64 hides many such items, mostly coins, which exist under floors and behind walls, and which can only be collected through unintended clipping and other less than conventional means. Two coins, however, are still completely untouchable to this day, and they have become a bit of an obsession for the online SM64 community. The first one, in Snowman’s Land, has shown to be obtainable by basically breaking the game. The second one, in Tiny-Huge Island, has yet to be obtained. If you are a creative player who doesn’t mind messing around with emulators, collecting the uncollected might just make you famous.
16 The Indestructible Pebbles
Super Mario 64 has various safeguards to make sure that the game never crashes, as losing one’s progress is a terribly frustrating experience for any gamer. Still, it is possible to break through the game’s limits.
Every object in SM64, be it coins, enemies or boxes, occupies an “object slot” in the game’s memory. In Tall Tall Mountain, it is possible to position Mario in such a way that the level’s Monty Moles will throw pebbles in such a way that the go over the edge of the mountain. The problem is, those pebbles might get out of sight, but they never despawn and instead get stuck in midair, just out of reach of the player. Eventually, as these pebbles keep being thrown, the game’s 240 object slots get overfilled, and the whole thing crashes. To prevent this issue, just move Mario far away from the Moles, and the objects will be deleted from memory.
15 The Mystery Of The Flying Mushroom
Here is a simple trick that shows the bizarre physics behind one of the game’s most ubiquitous objects: the homing, flying 1-up mushroom. These mushrooms can be activated by hitting one of the “!” blocks, or by killing some specific enemies. If one such mushroom is activated, and Mario crouches, then the mushroom will simply circle around Mario’s head, over and over, like a UFO, until the plumber stands up. Why? Because the programmers created the object’s trajectory so that it would coincide with Mario’s big fat head. Move the head out of the way, and the game has no way to make the mushroom reach your character. Of course, this isn’t much of a problem, as you will have to get up eventually. Those power stars just aren’t going to collect themselves.
14 Zombie Mario
Zombie Mario might not live as long as your run-of-the-mill Hollywood zombie, but he will still shamble on, caught between life and death, until he is finally put out of his misery. There are many ways to make Mario walk and function for a short while without any health left. Some of them include creative usage of doors, but the easiest one requires a wing cap, a Bob-omb, and a cannon. While wearing a wing cap, simply hold a Bob-omb near a cannon, in such a way that the Bob-omb’s explosion will take away your last bar of health while simultaneously knocking you into the cannon. All you have to do is fire, and Mario will fly through the air with an empty health meter. Collecting coins will not replenish his energy, and Mario will die as soon as he touches the floor. So I don’t think we need to worry about a zombie plumber invasion yet.
13 The Hovering Bob-omb
In Bob-omb Battlefield, the game’s first real level, there is a very specific Bob-omb near the top of the mountain which fires water drops from a nearby cannon. That Bob-omb always stays close to the cannon, aiming carefully at Mario whenever he approaches the mountain. To keep the Bob-omb close to the water cannon, its AI was modified so that it would stay in place at all cost instead of wandering like its comrades. These modifications to the Bob-ombs’ standard behaviour have one particular side effect: If Mario grabs that specific enemy and jumps before throwing it away, the Bob-omb will get stuck in mid-air and float above the ground. Such is the life of the cannon Bob-omb, as it was ordered to man the artillery no matter the cost, and there’s nothing that will pry it away from its position.
12 Bowser’s Going, Going, Gone
This is a glitch which is easy to do compared to some of the more esoteric ones presented here, and as a bonus, it’s also good for a laugh. Have you ever dreamed of seeing Bowser launched so far off in the distance that he basically disappears? Here’s your chance!
Any time you battle Bowser, just grab him by the tail and do the usual spinning. Then, instead of throwing him towards a bomb, just throw him off the stage. As he jumps back onto the platform, grab him in that moment right before he touches the ground. This time, throw him at a bomb. The momentum as calculated by the game will not have been reset, and will send Bowser flying far, far away, past the edge of the level, though he will still be alive. It will take a while, but he will make his way back to the fight eventually.
11 Isn’t Cloning Illegal?
Because of the way Super Mario 64 generates objects and despawns them, it is possible to make Mario hold basically anything. What you need first is to find one of those tiny boxes which are just lying around all over the game, and grab it. Put it down somewhere, and it will eventually start flashing before disappearing. If your timing is right, you can grab it again as it disappears, leaving Mario in a holding position, but empty-handed. Because the next available item slot is situated in Mario’s hand, this is where the game will place whatever it is supposed to generate next. So if you walk near where a Goomba is supposed to be, Mario will suddenly be holding the baddie. This goes for anything the game counts as an object: coins, enemies, parts of a Chain Chomp’s chain, water bubbles, and so on.
10 The Killer Corner
There are a few spots in the game which will instantly kill Mario as soon as he steps on them. The most famous is the Killer Corner, an area situated on top of Peach’s Castle. To reach it, one must acquire all 120 power stars and make their way to the roof. Then, guide Mario all the way to the far-right end of the roof. When Mario reaches the edge, he will fall and grab onto the ledge. When he pulls himself up, his hat will suddenly disappear, and Mario will automatically die. Why? This is caused by the way the game handles unexpected situations. In this case, the floor under Mario technically does not exist, as he was never supposed to go that far. The collision detection thus sends the game to an error handler, which to prevent any further anomaly, triggers an automatic death. Simple, but efficient.
9 Mario Without A Cap, Forever
We discussed Condor stealing Mario’s hat in Shifting Sand Land, which can trigger a duplicate hat in some conditions. This is the opposite. In Snowman’s Land, when trying to cross the icy bridge, it is possible to position Mario in such a way that when the wind blows his hat away, it will land in the ice box nearby which contains a power star. At that point, should Mario try to grab his hat, the proximity to the star will trigger the victory animation instead, sending Mario back to Peach's Castle without his trademark cap. The hat is gone, and going back to Snowman’s Land will not respawn it. Therefore, if the game is saved at that point, Mario will remain hatless on that save file. It does not serve any purpose, other than being a very complicated alternate outfit for the plumber.
8 Ready Player 2
Nintendo has admitted before that Super Mario 64 was originally envisioned as a two-player game. A split-screen mode would have allowed a second player to control Luigi. That idea was scrapped when more complex levels were implemented, which dramatically slowed down the gameplay as the N64 struggled to keep everything running smoothly. The second player was removed from the game, but one last remnant from the prototype was left behind, though it is unclear if it is accidentally or on purpose. If a second controller is plugged in during the end credits, that controller can move the camera during the various cut scenes. The range of movements is limited, but it can lead to some very different takes on the game’s final moments.
7 The Last Goomba
When the Super Mario 64 community isn’t busy trying to speedrun the game or chasing unobtainable coin, they have another hobby: they are trying to kill every last Goomba in the game. As such, there is one dastardly rebel which refuses to be stomped on.
That Goomba in question can be found in the level “Bowser in the Sky”. At one point in the level, two Goombas appear near the edge of the platform. Unknown to most players, a third Goomba actually spawns nearby, but is never seen because of the placement of its spawn point, just a bit off the platform. The game never detects him as reaching firm ground, and eventually, deactivates it. Because of that, he is only visible during a single frame of animation. This effectively makes it impossible to reach, which gives him legendary status as the only unkillable Goomba in the whole game.
6 Honey, I Shrunk (Then Blew Up) The Fly Guy
Fly Guys are those flying Shy Guys which hover near Mario and try to spit fire at him. Their animation makes it so that they briefly inflate before spitting fire, but that animation can be interrupted if Mario runs underneath them at the right time. So for a fun experiment, try simply running back and forth under a Fly Guy, and watch as he slowly shrinks until becoming invisible. That is because the value dictating its size keeps going down instead of up since the cycle of its animation cannot be completed. When it reaches zero, and then negative values, the opposite happens: The Fly Guy starts expanding, but its polygons will be inside out. You can stretch that bad guy for as far as the eyes can see, and he will never be able to hurt you because its hitbox does not increase along with its size.
5 The Ominous Black Room Of Death
When Mario opens a door in Super Mario 64, there is a moment when the room he enters is black until the new room can be completely rendered. Those temporary areas are preloaded by the game. These are colloquially known as The Black Room Of Death. The spooky name comes from a recurring glitch throughout the game which can trap Mario in one of those rooms. Through some physics error which can help Mario gain near infinite momentum, or through clipping in some sections of walls, it is possible to end up in the Black Room Of Death without opening a door, which would usually trigger the loading of the adjacent area. If that happens, some rooms can be escaped from a single side, but most of them will simply keep Mario captive, with no way to escape without resetting the console.
4 Stuck In A Glass Case
Super Mario 64 might have been a marvel of its time, but the game is still notorious for being riddled with invisible walls. These will “appear” sometimes when Mario tries to jump through two separate sections of a stage. Most commonly, these are found at the bottom of staircases or near fences, but they can be encountered in other places. These unintended obstacles are created by the way the engine works, when it is rendering two areas which are next to each other but on different planes. More often than not, Mario will fall back down as if he had hit a solid wall, but in some extreme cases, these invisible walls might trigger an automatic death. For such an example, head over to Snowman’s Land. The machine which creates snow mounds to push back Mario will kill him if it is touched at a right angle from its edge.
3 The Infamous Backwards Long Jump
Originally an unintended physics glitch, this bug has become one of the favourite tools of the speedrunning community. The Backwards Long Jump, if used correctly, can help skip major parts of the game. The jump itself is accomplished by executing a long jump at the exact moment where Mario is turning to face away from the bottom of a staircase. After they land, the player should continue tapping the “A” button until Mario is pulled backwards, theoretically allowing him to gain infinite momentum. The effect is created because of the way the game handles stairs, a bug which was fixed in the DS remake of the game. With this glitch, it is not only possible to bypass the Endless Stairs to reach the top of the castle without the required amount of stars, you can also finish the entire game without collecting a single power star.
2 The Unreachable Star
In order to collect all 120 power stars in the game, a player needs to collect 100 coins in every single level. Doing so will spawn a secret power star, with the caveat that the star will appear slightly above of wherever the 100th coin was collected. I’m sure you can already see how this can be a problem. Indeed, there are some areas of the game where the coins are so close to the ceiling that collecting one of those as the 100th coin of the level will make it so that the power star appears above it. Two big examples are some of the red coins in Dire Dire Docks, as well as some of the coins near the top of the Pyramid in Shifting Sand Land. The only way to obtain that secret star will be to exit the level, and collect the 100 coins all over again.
1 The Deadly Star
Similarly to the issue mentioned above, collecting the secret 100 coins power star above a bottomless pit can be problematic. That is because of the animation which the game plays when Mario collects a star: he drops down to the nearest floor and does his usual victory dance. In several of the levels which have bottomless pits, such as Tick Tock Clock, Cool Cool Mountain, or Rainbow Ride, it is possible to collect your 100th coins right above one such abyss. Collecting the star will trigger the usual animation, with the issue being that there is no ground for Mario to fall back on. He will, therefore, do his little dance suspended in mid-air, before falling into the endless hole and dying. The game will still count the star that has just been collected as part of the player’s total, but the coins high score will not be recorded.