Super Mario 64 25th Anniversary: Ranking Every Level

Super Mario 64 - Wikipedia

Known as one of the greatest games of all time, Super Mario 64 has revolutionized the world of gaming. It was not only the first 3D Mario game in the franchise (and one of the first 3D games ever), but it introduced new controls to accommodate as such. While the difficulty of the levels and graphics haven’t aged well in today’s society, the levels and worlds themselves are still enjoyable simply to run around in, especially for the 90s. In honor of it’s 25th Anniversary, here is our ranking of all 15 levels in Super Mario 64:

# 15: Rainbow Ride: Sorry, but the last level in the game ranks last by a wide margin. Why? Just look at the world. It’s a clutter of objects with no meaning whatsoever. The rest of the levels, even the lesser worlds, at least have an aesthetic feel to them. Rainbow Ride, however, is a bunch of objects such as a castle, a ship, and other random platforms floating in the sky. What’s a castle even doing in the sky?! The missions themselves are infuriating as well because one wrong step will force you to start from the beginning. One mission even has Mario travelling from one side of the cluttered mess to the other. Overall, we’re glad that Rainbow Ride is the last level in the game as you only need 70 stars to beat the game and would literally play any other level.

# 14: Dire Dire Docks: While underwater gimmicks in the 2D Mario games were decent at best, underwater levels in the 3D Mario games were very sluggish and the ninth world in the game “Dire, Dire Docks” is the worst example of this. Couldn’t Bowser have picked a different world to set his submarine in? Every mission has Mario slowly swimming throughout the water which provides a bit of nostalgia for the agony we felt as kids having to play this level.  Also, the factory part at the end of the level isn’t too rewarding. Although it is also nostalgic jumping from moving pole to moving pole to collect the 8 Red Coins, other missions are quite bland such as opening the underwater treasure chests while an underwater current is trying to suck you in (it’s much more bland than it sounds). Overall, Dire, Dire, Docks is a world that is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

# 13: Snowman’s Land: Why does this level exist? We had a much better snow-themed level in World 4. The atmosphere in the tenth world of the game, upon initially entering, is literally a waste land of snow, bar a few trees and a small ice maze behind you. As you progress throughout the level, Mario is greeted with obstacles such as freezing water that will damage him if he lingers for too long, a bully which must be pushed into the water (a mission similar to World 7), and the big snowman himself who can’t attack Mario but instead, blows him out of bounds. The igloo was probably the only dynamic part of the level, but since it is hardly ever used in this world, it is safe to assert that Snowman’s Land is simply a lazily pieced together world with little to offer compared to World 4.

# 12: Shifting Sand Land: Like underwater levels, desert levels are another type of level that Nintendo gamers seem to despise. The movement is quite slow and the missions aren’t too exciting. But the 8th World almost manages to pull it off. Running around the whole desert to reach the pyramid is quite monotonous and the tornados are very frustrating to deal with when caught in the whirlwind. The tox box section is also a bit randomly placed. However, the highlight of the world is obviously inside the pyramid. You feel like Indiana Jones as you navigate and climbs the platforms and bars inside the pyramid to complete the missions and the “eyerock” boss was a somewhat clever concept. It’s more of a “run-of-the-mill” type of level but still provides some excitement.

# 11: Jolly Roger Bay: The third world of the game and the first to introduce players to the sluggish underwater gimmick (as we mentioned in Dire, Dire, Docks). The missions, while still weighed down by the underwater motions, are still quite refreshing. Infiltrating a sunken ship, navigating a “not-so-secret” underground caven and being traumatized by a giant eel are missions that make Jolly Roger Bay somewhat memorable. Other missions like blasting to a pillar and collecting the 8 red coins, however…not so much. We give this world a solid “meh”.

# 10: Wet Dry World: The tenth world of the game was Nintendo’s attempt to turn Mario into a Zelda-like game and they did…alright. The idea is to use pyramid shaped blocks to raise or lower the water level to progress through the mission. Tedious, yes, but it’s kind of satisfying being in control of the world around you especially for those who detest the swimming gimmick. One section consists of a small town which has Mario running around like a thief, pilfering the 8 red coins. Another mission has you navigating small, arrow platforms (which we just long jumped over!) For the tenth world, the missions were quite simplistic, and the puzzles will never be as good as Zelda, but it was still an interesting, unique level. Now we start getting into the great levels…

# 9: Lethal Lava Land: The seventh world in the game is definitely the easiest to navigate, so that alone gives it an advantage over other levels. You can probably complete all 6 missions in 5 minutes flat, given the proper skills. Missions have Mario kicking bullies into the lava, traversing a Bowser puzzle, rolling on a log, and, of course, navigating inside the level’s volcano. While not as exciting as the pyramid, the volcano has cleverly placed enemies and precise platforming, especially towards the end of the mission. The only reason it’s not ranked higher is that the atmosphere simply isn’t as interesting as other worlds and stepping into the lava can be quite annoying. We can practically hear the sound of Mario screaming as his behind is on fire.

# 8: Whomp’s Fortress: We cannot describe it, but the second world has such a refreshing atmosphere. We remember ground pounding the whomps who tried to crush Mario to his doom, killing sleeping piranha plants, and running around the shallow water section in the level. Every platform and area is meaningfully placed, and hearing Mario’s footsteps traverse them is just so gratifying. Riding through the air to land in the cage to complete one mission is nerve-wracking as is collecting the 8 red coins in the remote island. Who knew a world could be so lush and soothing yet so adrenaline pumping at the same time?!

# 7: Tall, Tall, Mountain: Another refreshing level, complete with Monty Moles and monkeys who steal Mario’s cap. Only one mission has you trekking up the entire mountain. Other missions include going inside a waterfall, catching monkeys, and descending the secret mountain slide. The most annoying level, of course, has you navigating a narrow path to a cannon where a precise cannon shot is needed to touch the star. Or you could use the owl to land on the star. It may be a tall mountain but we still had fun.

# 6: Cool, Cool Mountain: Yeah, this is the better version of “Snowman’s Land”, and is only the fourth world in the game (then again, worlds 3 and 4 are unlocked at the same time). Every mission provides some enjoyment such as racing a penguin, bringing a penguin to her mother (and throwing the baby off the mountain afterwards), helping a disembodied snowman reunite with it’s body, and using wall kicks to climb a small mountain slope. Cool, cool, mountain provides such a homey feeling to the player, and we may even consider renting a house here. Take that, Snowman’s Land!

#5: Tick Tock Clock:  The 14th level in the game is unlocked along with Rainbow Ride, and we can safely say that Tick Tock Clock is far better-there is no comparison. The obstacles are very unique in that they are all moving clock parts and, unlike rainbow ride, there’s a reason for their existence. It’s a clock, for Luigi’s sake! What’s even more unique is that, depending on the player’s entry into the world, the player has the option to alter the speed of the moving parts or even freeze them completely! (though some missions require the parts to be moving). Riding on the clock’s hands is definitely an interesting experience and makes for some exciting missions, though we can’t help but ask, “Why are there two sets of hands on the clock?”.

# 4: Big Boo’s Haunt: Even for the 90s, Nintendo still managed to make it’s ghost themed level quite eccentric. The fifth world in the game, Big boo’s Haunt, is essentially a mansion and basement with rooms of varying enemies and an upstairs with an unsettling balcony. From a cursed piano trying to destroy Mario with it’s fangs, books whamming into Mario, and an eye following Mario like the Mono Lisa painting to boos and a basement with a merry-go-round with creepy music, Big Boo’s Haunt has quite a ghostly feel to it. However, fighting Big Boo 3 times-talk about redundancy.

# 3: Bob-Omb Battlefield: Taking the Bronze spot on our list is the first level in the game, Bob-Omb Battlefield-the level that started it all. Perhaps nostalgia plays a role, but Bob-Omb Battlefield set the stage perfectly for this game. Every mission is very memorable such as climbing a mountain to defeat King Bob-Omb, freeing the Chain Comp from it’s post, racing a Koopa Troopa up the mountain, and flying freely around the entire battlefield. It may only be the easiest world in the game, but the atmosphere and missions in Bob-Omb Battlefield were a sure sign of what this game had in store for players later down the road. 

# 2: Hazy Maze Cave: Taking the silver spot on our list is the sixth level in the game-Hazy Maze Cave, and by far the most underrated level. As the name implies, the world is a maze in which every mission is completely unique from others. One moment, you’ll be riding a creature in an underwater cavern while the next moment, you’ll be traversing toxic gas while the next moment you’ll be riding floating elevators for 8 red coins. Every mission starts Mario on a clean slate, not to mention Mario himself is a plumber, so it’s fitting. The environment himself is eerie just like an actual cave. Overall, it’s time to give Hazy Maze Cave the respect it deserves for its sheer diversity, creativity, and enjoyment.   

# 1: TINY HUGE ISLAND: Here we are: the greatest level in Super Mario 64 in our opinion is the thirteenth level in the game, Tiny Huge Island. The “huge enemy idea” was a creative and clever gimmick in Super Mario Bros 3 but when applied to a 3D Mario game, it makes for an experience like no other, especially as the idea was completely foreign to 90s kids. Nintendo takes full advantage of this concept and allows players to change the size of the enemies through a warp pipe. Admittedly, the bosses in this level were quite easy such as the huge piranha plants and the giant wiggler but it’s the concept and overall execution that gives Tiny Huge Island the gold spot on our list. There is something satisfying about stomping on huge 3D Goombas, even if it is like killing regular Goombas. Other missions have Mario climbing to the top of the island, exploring a Wiggler cave, and draining water using Mario’s behind. How clever is that?! The concept and missions of Tiny Huge Island are why it is the greatest Super Mario 64 level in our opinion.

It is no wonder Super Mario 64 is considered one of the greatest and most important games of all time. The worlds are aesthetically pleasing and the controls were quite unique and will be used as a blueprint for games such as Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Happy 25th Anniversary, Super Mario 64! Who knows what new video game mechanics the 2020s will bring?

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