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Mario needs to replace that winged cap with a festive birthday cap.

Super Mario 64 was one of the most important games ever. It’s also now 20 years old. It debuted in Japan for the Nintendo 64 on June 23, 1996. It’s hard to imagine what the industry would be like if it didn’t exist. Super Mario 64 not only redefined the platforming genre; it gave developers a blueprint to follow for every 3D game that would come after it. It was also a commercial success, selling over 11 million copies.

Super Mario 64 launched with the Nintendo 64. It was an ideal showcase of what the new system could do. It displayed revolutionary, polygon-based graphics, and players could use the controller’s analog stick to move Mario in 360 degrees.

Super Mario 64 box art.

Above: Super Mario 64 box art.

Image Credit: Mario Wikia

For such an early game in the 3D age, you would expect Super Mario 64 to be a bit safe. Instead, it was wildly ambitious. Levels were non-linear, often focusing more on exploration than simply running from point A to point B. Mario had a ton of moves and abilities. He could jump, double jump, triple jump, backflip, wall jump, long jump, punch, butt stump, and … well, it was obviously a lot more deep than the simple “run and jump” gameplay of the original Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Heck, Mario could even fly if he had the right power-up.

Super Mario 64 is also notable for its camera, the first that players could move independently from the character. This allowed gamers to change perspectives on the fly, giving them a better chance to examine their surroundings.

A lot of games from that late ’90s era have aged poorly, but Super Mario 64 is still fun to play. Its controls are responsive, and its levels give players a lot variety and challenge. Despite being the first notable 3D platformer, it might still be the best one ever made.

The success of Super Mario 64 quickly brought on a new wave of 3D platformers. Rare, which was owned by Nintendo at the time, made its own classics with the Banjo-Kazooie series, while Sony would try to compete with the Spyro series. But Super Mario 64 really inspired all 3D games.

Nintendo 64

Above: Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64.

Image Credit: Super Mario 64

“Anyone who makes 3D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario [64] or Zelda [Ocarina of Time] is lying,” Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar’s head writer and vice president for creative Dan Houser told the New York Times.

Super Mario 64 began a series of 3D Mario games, which include Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube, Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii, Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, and Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U. All of these games still retain the basic gameplay established 20 years ago in Super Mario 64.

Super Mario 64 itself was remade for the DS portable in 2004, which added extra playable characters in Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario. The original was also released digitally on the Wii and Wii U.

Mario has starred in dozens of great games, but Super Mario 64 might be his best adventure ever. In another 20 years, it’ll still hold up as a masterpiece.

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