Believe it or not, the classic Super Mario 64 is almost 20 years old (it turned 19 this past weekend). Yes, we’re all very old. Mario 64 wasn’t merely a great game, or a fantastic entry in the Mario series, it was one of the most influential and important video games of all-time. It was the game that definitively proved this 3D gaming thing was a good idea and here to stay. To this day, many veteran gamers use Mario 64 to mark the line between classic and modern gaming.
So, here are a few things you might not know about Super Mario 64, the game the truly changed the system…
Plans for a 3D Mario game started back in the Super Nintendo era.
The Nintendo 64 era is when Nintendo truly embraced 3D games, but they started tinkering with them on the Super Nintendo with titles like Star Fox and Stunt Race FX. These games were powered by the Super FX chip, a performance-boosting processor packed right into game cartridges. The system worked so well, Nintendo started planning a whole new crop of 3D SNES games, including a sequel to Star Fox and yes, a 3D Mario game. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, most of his basic ideas for Super Mario 64 were dreamt up during SNES era.
Ultimately, the decision to put Mario’s first big 3D adventure on a new console wasn’t made because Nintendo felt they needed more processing power, but because the SNES controller didn’t have enough buttons for a 3D action game. Basically, if the SNES controller had possessed an analog stick, Mario’s first 3D game might have been Super Mario 16 instead of Super Mario 64.
Super Mario 64 may have lifted design ideas from an obscure PlayStation game.
The world is full of winners and losers. Marios and Crocs.
As we discussed in our article about Star Fox, a small independent British developer named Argonaut Software was largely responsible for Nintendo’s move towards 3D gaming in the mid-’90s. They taught Nintendo how to make 3D games, designed the Super FX chip, and were the programming muscle behind Star Fox.
After working successfully with Nintendo for years, Argonaut pitched the idea to take 3D gaming to the next level by creating an ambitious 3D platformer, the likes of which had never been seen before. The game would have starred Yoshi, and, according to Argonaut founder Jez San, the proposed game’s look and structure was very similar to that of Mario 64. Surprisingly, Nintendo rejected the pitch, which lead to the end of the fruitful Argonaut-Nintendo relationship.
Argonaut would shop their Yoshi game around to other publishers, and, ultimately, it would be appear on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn as Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. Unfortunately, the time it took to find a new publisher meant that Nintendo beat Argonaut to market with Mario 64 by around a year, so Croc ended up looking like an imitation, even though the exact opposite was true. Now, obviously, Nintendo infused their game with their own special magic, and Mario 64 is overall a much better game than Croc, but still, it’s interesting to know that original spark of inspiration came from outside Shigeru Miyamoto’s sprightly noggin.
Mario’s original voice was a screechy horror show.
Super Mario 64 wasn’t just the Italian plumber’s first 3D adventure, it was also the first time we heard the guy’s voice. Sure, Mario spoke in cartoons and commercials, where he was usually given a husky Brooklyn accent, but he’d always been the strong silent type in-game. Eventually, Nintendo went with a sort of mama mia-version of Mickey Mouse, courtesy of voice actor Charles Martinet, which some Nintendo fans weren’t crazy about. Little did they know what they were almost subjected to. Mario’s original voice, which you hear in the above beta footage of Mario 64, was ear-poppingly shrill. Basically, he sounded like Toad dialed up another half-dozen notches on the unbearableness scale. We dodged a major bullet, folks.
Mario 64 was initially going to focus on split-screen multiplayer.
Mario has a nasty habit of leaving his brother at home when it’s time for a 3D adventure.
Mario 64 packed in a lot of impressive stuff for its time, but one thing it definitely lacked was Mario’s dorky green brother Luigi. Well, it turns out the game was going to be a true Super Mario Bros. experience, with two players being able to play as Mario and Luigi split-screen style. There were even plans to make stages where the two players would start in different parts of the stage and have to find their way to one another. Ultimately, though, just getting one bro up and moving around smoothly proved to be enough of a challenge, so multiplayer was chopped. In the end, it was 13 more years before co-op Mario platforming became a reality with New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
The game was going to feature a rideable horse for Mario.
Mario got on his horse in one of those Mario & Sonic Olympics games, but obviously they don’t count.
Yes, that’s right, the were plans for Mario to ride a goddamn horse in Super Mario 64. No, not Yoshi, a horse. It didn’t end up panning out for Mario 64, but Miyamoto was apparently so stuck on the idea that he insisted horse-riding be a thing in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. So yeah, it turns out Epona was actually a Mario hand-me-down.
The classic Mario Bros. flagpoles were also going to be present.
Super Mario 64 actually broke with Mario tradition in a lot of ways. Unlike past games, there were no time limits, Super Mushrooms, and no flagpoles to mark the end of a stage. Well, initially, the flagpoles were in the game. Eventually, the designers decided to take the poles out, because that one specific goal would encourage players to rush to the end, and they wanted Mario 64 to be about exploration and collecting doodads.
Mario 64 was originally designed using Sega controllers.
Sega’s “hubcap with buttons” 3D pad controller.
Mario 64 began development around two years before its release in mid-1994. Back then, the Nintendo 64 was still a glint in Nintendo eye, with neither the system’s final hardware or controller being decided on. Early on, Mario 64 was developed on Onyx computers, and because the N64 controller hadn’t been finalized, the developers used modified Sega controllers (likely a version of the Sega Saturn 3D pad used for Nights Into Dreams) to control the game. Eventually, after nearly 100 prototypes, the N64 controller would be finalized, but the fact remains: One of the quintessential Nintendo games was originally controlled by a Sega game pad.
The original plan was for Mario 64 to contain as many as 72 different stages.
The Princess’ castle was originally going to require a lot more rooms.
Mario 64 is a meaty game, particularly considering it all fit on an 8 MB cartridge, but it was supposed to be much bigger, or at least more varied. During the development of Mario 64, Miyamoto and co-director Takashi Tezuka claimed to have 32 stages in the works, with plans for at least 40 more. And those numbers didn’t even include bonus stages! Unfortunately, Nintendo ran head-first into that 8 MB cartridge limit, so the final game only had 15 stages, as well as a handful of Bowser courses. In order to pump up the game’s length, Nintendo instead focused on exploration, and tasked players with tackling different missions within the same level, and thus Mario 64‘s then-unique structure was born.
Meeting Yoshi isn’t the only reward for getting all 120 stars.
Everybody knows that collecting all 120 stars packed into Mario 64 unlocks the right to go up to Princess Peach’s roof and have a quick chat with Yoshi, who gives you a whopping 100 1-Ups, but it actually changes a number of other things about the game, as well. For instance, the big penguin you raced in Cool, Cool Mountain has put on a lot of weight and is harder to beat. Also, you’ll get a different message from Bowser if you beat him again. Little things, but they might make you feel better about all the time you sunk into collecting red coins.
There was a Super Mario 64 2 in the works.
You could argue Nintendo has never made a true successor to Super Mario 64. Super Mario Sunshine was the closest they got, but that game had a somewhat different feel, and a totally wacky pineapple man-populated tropical setting. After Sunshine, they went with Super Mario Galaxy, which chopped most of the exploration and freedom of Mario 64 in favor of more linear, focused stages.
Well, at one time, there was an actual Super Mario 64 2 in the works. The game was intended to be released for the 64DD, Nintendo’s writable disc add-on for the Nintendo 64. The game was also supposed to finally deliver the playable Luigi and split-screen multiplayer that was excised from Mario 64. Unfortunately, 64DD wasn’t exactly a hit, selling under 100,000 units in Japan. With the 64DD an abject flop, Nintendo decided to cancel its killer app, and thus Super Mario 64 2 would never see the light of day. Too bad, as a split-screen 3D Mario game is still something I’d very much like to play.
So there you have it, a few facts about Mario’s first 3D adventure. Know any Mario 64 facts or secrets I didn’t mention? Just want to talk about how amazing playing with Mario’s face on the title screen was (so amazing)? Or how terrifying that killer piano was? Wall-jump into the comments and have it.