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.