One of the titles most synonymous with the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64 was the plumber’s first foray into 3D. No longer a side-scroller, each world was designed with hidden tricks, wall jumping, and camera angles in mind in new ways. There are fifteen total worlds in Super Mario 64, each entirely distinct from one another and designed to recapture the essence of the original games. Much like the classics, however, there are some worlds that are better than others.
Super Mario 64 launched in 1996 and expanded on the elements which made the franchise so popular. Players would collect coins, jump on enemies, and save the princess from Bowser. Bringing Mario into the 3D realm meant creative solutions to expanding on the side-scrolling dynamic and creating a more interactive experience with unique objectives.
Each world has its own thematic identity, making them distinct and memorable from one another. While some stages in Super Mario 64 are universally adored, others are remembered more for their frustration as players adjusted to the three-dimensional space, but each one has left a lasting impression.
Lava isn’t a new feature to Super Mario games, but this stage is particularly frustrating. It’s already bothersome to fall into the lava and watch Mario sprint out of control as his health bar ticks away, but the enemies and level design are built to push players helplessly into the molten rock. While other stages have Mario fall to his doom in one swift move, this seems almost sadistic watching him struggle and suffer before finally succumbing.
Built for precise movement with numerous clock-themed obstacles, Super Mario 64’s Tick Tock Clock is a compressed space with little creative flair. Ascending the spiraling stage, players encounter rotating platforms, spinning cogs, and swinging pendulums to impede them. One wrong move will no doubt lead to catastrophe, plummeting the player to the endless depths below. It’s a simple stage that appears late enough in the game that players should have mastered the necessary skills, but it’s also far more unforgiving than some might realize and very drab when compared to the rest of the game’s worlds.
Offering a uniquely Egyptian feeling with sand dunes and pyramids, Shifting Sand Land does well to represent the sandy stages of earlier Super Mario games. Smartly compacted and versatile, it’s a great stage for those who enjoy Super Mario 64’s Wing Cap.
However, the camera angles inside Super Mario 64’s pyramid can be problematic, particularly when collecting the red coins. It’s an aesthetically pleasing stage but it suffers from the Nintendo 64’s poor controls.
Similar to Tick Tock Clock, players race up a spiraling stage to the top. Simple in its color schemes with mostly brown dirt, this Super Mario 64 world is full of enemies and traps to dodge – which, in this case, are fun obstacles rather than cumbersome hindrances. The mushrooms which dot the landscape add a splash of color and function, and racing to the top of the mountain is chaotic fun. It’s also a lot easier to survive a fall should the player slip off the edge than in other levels.
While intimidating at first, Super Mario 64’s Rainbow Ride is an enjoyable world. The concept is simple: stay on the magic carpet and avoid obstructions. The obstacles which get in the way are easy to avoid but varied enough to be engaging and have players thinking on their toes. Reaching the flying pirate ship, an iconic image itself from previous Super Mario games, is such a cool sight to see in 3D for the first time. It’s a stage about patience with a little bit of pressure to increase the tension.
Water levels are the bane of most gamers’ existence. While Super Mario 64 does a decent job with its underwater controls, Dire, Dire Docks as a whole comes across as a filler more than anything else.
True, Super Mario 64’s Dire, Dire Docks level features Bowser’s submarine and some neat platforming options, but overall there is little about this world that stands out when compared to the other set pieces Mario explores throughout the game.
As the second snow-themed world, Snowman’s Land has plenty for players to do and explore without overstaying its welcome. Players will ascend a giant snowman, leap over rushing snowbanks, and navigate an ice maze. It’s a creative and fun world to play in, really leaning into its thematic features – including freezing water and a house made entirely out of ice.
Predating Ocarina of Time‘s Water Temple, Wet-Dry World is an incredibly small world that makes great use of the raising and lowering water mechanics. The stage features mobile platforms (and floating enemeies) that raise with the water level to always be both a mode of transportation and a present danger for the plumber. Not a typical Mario water world by any means, Super Mario 64’s Wet-Dry World focuses on its core mechanic and uses it well to craft a unique experience.
Another world that focuses on a specific mechanic, Tiny-Huge Island will make Mario either tiny or huge. The stage itself holds the same contents, but the drastic shift in dimensions means the same locations play differently. Enemies require different tactics when dwarfing the player, but new routes and paths are suddenly accessible while tiny.
It’s a simple but effective idea coupled with some neat platforming, which makes this world very memorable as players hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.
One of Super Mario 64‘s largest stages, the Hazy Maze Cave features a little bit of everything. Underwater segments, platforming, hidden paths, floating platforms, and even a dinosaur. It’s also one of the best uses of Super Mario 64’s Metal Cap to instill invincibility through the poisonous clouds.
The spookiest world of the game, Big Boo’s Haunt is an old mansion full of flying books, snickering boos, and that dreaded Super Mario 64 piano which no doubt terrified every player the first time they encountered it. The atmosphere is still playful, the stage puzzles is clever, and the house’s overall design – including the evil carousel in the basement – was simply on point.
An early stage in the game, Whomp’s Fortress felt like an extended tutorial. It featured the titular Whomp to battle for the first time, taught players about breakable walls, and prepared them for the game’s more serious platforming in later Super Mario 64 levels. It had hidden teleportation zones, stealth moments, and stars hidden inside breakable walls. The level design was diverse and colorful, packing a ton of options into a tiny space.
Jolly Roger Bay is the best water level in Super Mario 64. It offered platforming, cannons, and deep-sea exploration with the Metal Cap. It was impossible to get lost in the water, and the world excellent made use of both the giant eel and the pirate ship.
This was a world that boiled down the essence of what was needed in a water level to make it a fun experience, rather than a tense swim in the deep sea. The stage design was friendly and simple, but relaxing and enjoyable.
Cool, Cool Mountain gave players that distinct cry for help from Super Mario 64’s lost penguin and their first peek at 3D snow and ice on a video game console. The complexity of the stage and dealing with the ice gave players their first real challenge in trying to learn to maneuver the frozen world. Racing against the penguin was difficult but exciting, and saving the baby penguin was a rewarding moment. Many players likely have fond memories of their time with this world.
The very first world in Super Mario 64, Bob-Omb Battlefield, set the stage for the rest of the game. It offered no infinite drop-offs or water to drown in, plenty of enemies to get used to, and the first appearance of polygonal Chain Chomp. This stage is what most people think of when looking back on Super Mario 64, and for good reason. It was bright, colorful, accessible, and it served as a great playground to experiment in 3D for the very first time.