Why Super Mario 64 Still Holds Up Today – A Retrospective Review

“It’s a me! Mario!”

This is an iconic phrase that launched a console’s career. I have many fond memories of playing Super Mario 64 as a kid. Memories such as: discovering all of its secrets, to learning new tricks to make the gameplay easier. This game has countless areas that will keep you busy for hours. Plus it’s the first 3D Super Mario title and, while it may be a little rough around the edges by today’s standards, it was a graphical achievement for the time. I mean, just look at Bubsy 3D.

Ugly Bubsy 3D screenshot
Bubsy 3D, from Wikipedia

Originally released in 1996 as one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64, one may think that this classic won’t hold up to today’s standards.  While that may be true from a graphical standard (obviously) the game plays like you’re playing Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch.

Having played a variety of N64 games lately, I found myself always gravitating towards this title. The controls are still smooth, the gameplay is still fun, and the music is still very enjoyable. 



The story is simple, Mario comes to Princess Peach’s castle for some cake, but Bowser kidnaps/traps her and the castle’s inhabitants literally within the walls of the castle. He accomplishes this by using the castle’s power stars. 

The castle consists of three floors, a basement, and lots of rooms/secret areas. Most rooms contain paintings that act as portals to other worlds. Each of the worlds contains a number of the castle’s Power Stars (typically 7, 1 hidden until you collect 100 coins). Each door/area requires you to have a certain number of Power Stars before you’re allowed to enter.

There are 3 different dungeons where he faces off with Bowser. Beating Bowser nets Mario a key to one of the other floors (with the exception of the last fight). There are 120 stars to find throughout the castle; however, you don’t have to collect all 120 stars in order to beat the game. Collecting all 120 stars nets a surprise in the courtyard.

Once you beat Bowser for a third time, the Toads are released from the walls and Princess Peach is released from the stained-glass window located above the Castle’s entryway. 



As mentioned previously, this is the first 3D Super Mario title. The Player is able to roam about freely in most worlds; however there are a few levels that feature a linear design. These linear levels were designated for areas where the player ultimately faces Bowser. 

Mario is also able to pull off more complex jumps by combining regular jumps with other actions. This includes double and triple jumps, back flips, dives, and a long jump. Mario is also able to punch and kick in this game as well. This helps Mario with

A) Defeating enemies, and

B) Discovering secrets within the various kingdoms 

Swimming is also introduced in this game. Mario’s health meter will slowly deplete as he’s underwater, indicating how long he can hold his breath. Coins will replenish Mario’s health at any time so the player never has to worry too much.


There are three hidden power-ups, in the form of Mario hats, which are located throughout the castle. To unlock these power-ups, the player needs to activate a switch in three hidden levels. Once pressed, the special power-up question mark blocks become available.

There are three different types of question mark blocks: red, green, and blue. The red block gives you the Wing Cap, which grants Mario the ability to fly, the green block gives you the Metal Cap, which makes Mario immune to most damage (you can still lose a life if you fall off of a cliff) and allows Mario to walk through heavy winds, and the blue block gives you the Vanish Cap, which turns Mario slightly invisible. This allows Mario to walk through some obstacles and makes him invulnerable to some attacks.

Each level has its own theme and has its own set of challenges. Some stars are unlocked by defeating bosses, collecting coins, racing, and performing certain tasks.

There are also stars hidden throughout the castle as well. Some are found in hidden areas (such as the hidden cap levels, and slides) while others are obtained by talking to Toads and catching a rabbit. Here’s a Hyp3rblue fun fact: the rabbit’s name, MIPS, is based off of the Nintendo 64’s MIPS architecture processor.

A side note, if you get bored playing the main game, you can also play around with a 3D model of Mario’s head at the beginning of the game! I can honestly remember spending a lot time with friends just making his face looks weird.

It’s a-me! Smoooshy-O!


Nintendo did this game right. Instead of a large overworld (like in Super Mario World), you get one castle to explore. It’s a big castle though, so it still feels expansive.

In addition to the large castle, each painting leads to a very large world. The paintings are a unique take on the series that allowed Nintendo to create an artificially expansive world but still keeping everything within the confines of Princess Peach’s castle.

It never feels like a chore trying to collect stars, albeit a few that are placed in areas that are hard to see. And that may be my biggest gripe. The camera can sometimes get in the way of what you’re doing. Another thing that I noticed during my recent playthrough was that some of the levels were actually very small in size. Maybe they seemed bigger when I was younger, guess that’s the Mandela effect for you.

A lot of effort went into developing this game and it shows. The game was built from the ground up, starting with the camera system. While a lot of people criticize the camera, it was a pretty amazing feat for 1996. The team also put a lot of focus on Mario’s movements, fine-tuning them as they progressed. Mario’s movement is amazing in this game and is still very responsive 24 years later. 

I’ve already mentioned it, but the only thing dated about this experience is the graphics.  It looks like a game made in 1996… but one of the better ones (still looking at you, Bubsy 3D). 

Here’s another Hyp3rblue fun fact for you:

Super Mario 64 was one of the first games in the series to feature Charles Martinet as the voice of Mario. It also features the voice of Leslie Swan (then Senior Editor of Nintendo Power) as Princess Peach, who also wrote the English text for the game.



Nintendo really outshined themselves on this game. It is as impressive today as it was 24 years ago. Minor grievances aside, the game is still fun to pick up and play. If you have an N64 and a copy of Super Mario 64 then why not give it a try. You’ll be glad that you did.

I give Super Mario 64 5 stars out of 5.

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