The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #3: Super Mario 64

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

For Mario’s first foray into “The Third Dimension,” Nintendo wanted to ensure that everything was perfect. In fact, the Nintendo 64, its unique three-pronged controller, and the controller’s analog stick designed to better simulate 3D movement were all created with the needs of Super Mario 64 in mind.

Nintendo had good reason to be worried about getting all of the details just right, as most video gamers had never even seen a 3D platformer before Super Mario 64. Aside from a few experimental titles from the late 80s and early 90s, 3D movement was only found in a handful of titles on the market at the time, the most famous of which was probably EA’s Fade To Black. Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, which included pseudo-3D movement, beat Super Mario 64 to store shelves by about five weeks, but a majority of the game took place on a 2D plane.

So Nintendo used Super Mario 64 as an opportunity to introduce players to what was, in their mind, an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto’s exacting attention to detail helped mold every part of the game. The first interaction players had with the game was the appearance of an actual cameraman (Lakitu the Cloud), and instructions on how to control the camera’s angle with the diamond-shaped set of C-Buttons on the right side of the Nintendo 64 controller. Actually, let me back up… the very first thing most players experienced after booting up Super Mario 64 was the interactive Mario face on the Title Screen. Miyamoto saw fit to even offer players a primer on polygons as the squares, rectangles, and rhombi that made up Mario’s face could be grabbed and manipulated in dozens of different ways. In a way, “It’s-a me, Mario! Hello!” was a coded message that encouraged players to jump right into this new 3D world.

After introductions were exchanged with Lakitu, Super Mario 64 expanded into a seemingly wide open world. Players were free to explore the outer areas of the castle grounds, which included all sorts of options for play. There were trees to climb, moats to swim, and meadows to run through. In time, players would learn that the castle grounds were more than just a stand-in for a traditional World Map and featured secrets of their own.

After being eased into the idea of what a 3D platformer was, players were free to approach the front door to begin their adventure, but Miyamoto wanted to encourage this exploratory mindset. In a 1996 interview, he said: “We thought that half the people would just go straight into the castle, and half would hang out and explore outside. […] We made the game with that latter half of players in mind.”

Upon entering the castle, players were free to explore all areas of the castle, though most remained locked. Entering the leftmost door revealed a room that contained a painting and the first world of Super Mario 64, “Bob-Omb Battlefield.” Right away, “Bob-Omb Battlefield” introduced players to more facets of Mario’s 3D universe. There are blocks to punch and platforms to jump on. There are coins to collect and a cannon that Mario can use to travel throughout the battlefield like a circus performer. There are Goombas to stomp and a path to follow.

Would you look at that, even with the shift to a 3D perspective, Mario’s adventure remains true to his side-scrolling roots. In addition to being the first level in Super Mario 64, “Bob-Omb Battlefield” was notable for being the level most similar to something players would have seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. The large green meadows gave way to a brick-lined path. But now, instead of staying flat, that path continued to go up. And up. And up. Past a massive Chain Chomp (which adventurous players found out could be released to cause havoc) and past giant metal balls that would have given Indiana Jones a run for his money. Though somehow Mario, the athletic (yet portly) plumber, could jump over them with ease. And he kept jumping and climbing until he reached the top of the mountain.

At the pinnacle of the peak, Mario challenges the Big Bob-Omb in a battle that would require mastery of the then-new analog stick to circle the boss and toss him off the mountain. Once victorious, Mario becomes king of this world and is able to look out over the edge at the gigantic world below. In one fell swoop, Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo had taken the player on a ride that started out by resembling one of Mario’s previous adventures and ended with a breathtaking view at the sprawling world below. Defeating the Big Bob-Omb and collecting his Power Star was just a small taste of the 17 levels (and 119 additional Power Stars) that would follow. But it also cemented just how large the world of Super Mario 64 was.

With every piece of the 3D puzzle that Miyamoto and the rest of the developers at Nintendo slowly doled out, they not only introduced players to one of the greatest games ever released, but they also educated them on the very nature of polygons and the mechanics of a genre that would quickly become the dominant way to play games. This plan appeared in another interviewer before the game’s launch, when Miyamoto said: “We really did want to change the culture of gaming, and it was in that spirit that we made Mario 64. And that’s reflected in the controls.”

That was very kind of him, as the nascent “3D platformer” genre would be spun on its head just a few weeks later when Tomb Raider debuted on the PC, Sega Saturn, and Sony PlayStation. But introducing fans to the 3D platformer wasn’t Nintendo’s only goal for Super Mario 64. They also needed it to launch a console, and that was quite a bit different back in 1996.

Launching a console in the mid-90s wasn’t the same as the approach Nintendo has taken in 2017 with their Switch launch. The company’s most dedicated fans first learned about it in 1993, when a two-paragraph article with the heading “Project Reality” was published in Nintendo Power. It was heavy on technical details, and short on everything else.

In those days, video game manufacturers still used the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to promote their upcoming wares to the public. Thanks to the tireless work of Sega CEO Tom Kalinske, the E3 Expo officially opened its doors for the first time in 1995, though Nintendo ceded the splashy console announcements to the Saturn and the Sony’s PlayStation.
The Nintendo 64’s major unveiling actually occurred, once again, in the pages of Nintendo Power. Originally known as the Ultra 64, the console was pitched to players on the backs of Killer Instinct and Cruis’n USA, two arcade titles built by Rare. Several other small spreads in the magazine would appear in the months that followed, but a worldwide presentation featuring game executives and celebrities wasn’t in the cards for the Nintendo 64.

A year later, demo units for the Nintendo 64 began appearing in stores, and the option to pre-purchase the mysterious console (and its even more mysterious three-pronged controller) became available in Summer 1996. I had been scrimping and saving for the console ever since I saw those first scraps of information in Nintendo Power, but there was really no need to rush. A few weeks before the Nintendo 64’s launch, my parents drove me to the mall and I handed a deposit for the new console to a clerk at Babbage’s (a chain that would eventually be gobbled up by GameStop). That’s all there was to it. There was no scramble to be first in line because there was no line.

Sometime in early October we received a call from the store saying the console was officially in stock. While game consoles may have had official launch dates back then for the media to report on (officially, the Nintendo 64 launched on September 29), the reality was much different. Stores regularly broke street dates as game companies had little power to enforce them. And even if they did, few publishers cared enough to make a fuss.

Picking up my Nintendo 64 didn’t require bypassing a line of frantic fanboys, and I definitely didn’t need to attend a midnight launch party. In 1996, the idea of a secondary market for a factory-sealed system was unthinkable. Anyone who wanted a Nintendo 64 could purchase one from any video game retailer in the country. There were no forced bundles of additional games or accessories, and there was no shortage of new consoles, because the game industry was considerably smaller than it is today. In fact, media reports at the time confirmed that many stores began offering the Nintendo 64 for sale as early as September 26… so much for “Launch Day.”

I quietly walked into the empty store, gave the same clerk the rest of the money I had scrimped and saved, and walked out with a brand new Nintendo 64. I wonder if it’ll ever be that easy again.


Super Mario 64 has been re-released multiple times over the last 20 years, and is most easily accessible as a downloadable game through the Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U.

An expanded remake for the DS, Super Mario 64 DS, was released in 2004. It is playable on the 3DS through the handheld’s backwards compatibility feature, and it is also available to purchase through the Virtual Console on the Wii U.


Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: September 29, 1996

Average Ranking: 21.33
Selection Percentage: 88.37% (38/43)
Scientifically Proven Score: 32.95

Publication Rankings For Super Mario 64
Hyper (1995)

Next Gen (1996)

1

Next Gen (1999)

3

Edge (2000)

2
GI (2001) 12

GameSpy (2001)

11

Edge (2003)

1*

EW/G4TV (2003)

8
GameSpot (2003) NR

IGN (2003)

5

1UP (2004)

1*

The Age (2005)

4
IGN (2005) 5

Yahoo! Games UK (2005)

2

Edge (2007)

3

IGN (2007)

5
IGN HoF (2007) 1*

Stuff UK (2008)

18

Edge (2009)

2

Empire (2009)

9
GI (2009) 13

FHM (2010)

3

GamesTM (2010)

1*

The Phoenix (2010)

19
Gamereactor (2011) 11

GamesRadar (2011)

27

Stuff UK (2011)

25

1UP (2012)

5
G4TV (2012) 41

GamesRadar (2012)

29

Time (2012)

1*

EPN (2013)

2
GamesRadar (2013) NR

Gaming Bolt (2013)

60

PC & Tech Authority (2013)

1*

GamesRadar (2014)

NR
Popular Mechanics (2014) 36

Slant Magazine (2014)

43

Stuff UK (2014)

6*

Edge (2015)

NR
GamesRadar (2015) NR

IGN (2015)

11

GamesMaster (2016)

3

Time (2016)

2

Harris, Blake J. – Console Wars – It Books – 2014

IGN – Nintendo 64 Breaks Loose – 1996

Nintendo – “Super Mario 64 Strategy Guide” (Translation by “Shmuplations“) – Unknown Publisher – 1996

Silicon Graphics – Nintendo and Silicon Graphics join forces to create world’s most advanced video entertainment technology – 1993

This entry was posted in DS, Features, Retro, SPBVGOAT, Top Story, Wii, Wii U and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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