Apart from discovering that mixing peanut butter and grape jelly together in a bowl makes a tasty purple goo, Super Mario 64 was the greatest part of my childhood. I was five years old in 1996 and for Christmas that year, I received my first gaming console: a Nintendo 64. Along with the N64, I received my very first video game. That’s right, not only was Super Mario 64 a huge part of my childhood, it was the first video game I ever played, owned, and became obsessed with- thus prompting me to write this anniversary ranking.
Make no mistake about it, I love this game. Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest video games ever created, and each stage offers something admirable. For this list however, I’ve ranked the stages by a combination of design, degree of fun, nostalgia, and my own biased opinion. I also decided to forgo the inclusion of the Bowser levels and instead focus on the main 15 stages. Let’s make like a painting and jump right into it!
15.) Dire, Dire Docks
As mentioned, every stage of Super Mario 64 offers something admirable. In the case of Dire, Dire Docks, that something is undoubtedly the beauty of this underwater level. Being dropped straight into a body of water, you’re given two vastly different sections of the level to swim around in, neither of which is all-that-exciting, unfortunately. The first section of Dire, Dire Docks contains a manta ray and a sushi that swim around the body of water, as well as an underwater passageway that is connected to a submarine dock. Until you successfully beat the Bowser in the Fire Sea course of Super Mario 64, Bowser’s submarine will be sitting in the docking area. However, after defeating Bowser and gaining your second key of the game, the submarine will disappear, leaving you with moving poles (pictured above) that you can hold onto while you collect red coins. That’s pretty much it.
14.) Rainbow Ride
Rainbow Ride is a gorgeous course that’s vastly different than anything else Super Mario 64 has to offer. Set in the sky, Rainbow Ride finds Mario riding around on several flying carpets to get from one platform to another. This is the final stage before facing Bowser a third time, so it’s understandably difficult at times. However, the difficulty of the level brings a certain degree of annoyance that damages the replay factor- specifically that effing carpet disappearing and leaving you stranded on a platform. Ugh. There’s very little backtracking throughout Rainbow Ride, as there are large gaps between each platform and the carpets only fly forward. You’ll beat this course because you have to, but you won’t return for the fun of it.
13.) Tiny, Huge Island
It’d be remiss of me not to acknowledge that this choice may divide fans of the game. Tiny, Huge Island has several unique features to offer Super Mario 64, but personally, I’ve never found it to be a great amount of fun. One of the unique features Tiny, Huge Island contains is the ability to choose how the course first appears. You’re given the option to jump into a small picture frame (Tiny Island) or a large picture frame (Huge Island). Inside the course, there are Warp Pipes, called Shrinker Pipes, that alter the size of the entire level. While the course design and these features cause Tiny, Huge Island to stand out, the missions within the level aren’t particularly fun- which is ultimately why this stage is placed so low.
12.) Hazy Maze Cave
Hazy Maze Cave can be found in the basement of Princess Peach’s Castle. The course has many hidden ledges, bottomless pits, and even an underground lake with a large but friendly sea monster named Dorrie, which was the coolest thing in the world to me when I was young. The namesake of the course, the Hazy Maze is located deep within the cave. The maze is a labyrinth whose passageways are clouded by a highly toxic yellow gas that depletes Mario’s health as he suffocates. Fortunately for Mario, the maze contains small areas of higher ground throughout, Metal Boxes that turn Mario into Metal Mario who is unaffected by fumes, and a spinning heart to recover lost health. Apart from the inclusion of Dorrie and a much darker atmosphere than earlier courses, Hazy Maze Cave is a fine level. There’s nothing overwhelmingly positive or negative to discuss. It’s not the worst stage Super Mario 64 has to offer, but it’s certainly not the best.
11.) Wet-Dry World
Wet-Dry World is another water-filled course of Super Mario 64, however, the level of water in the course can be controlled by seven separate Crystal Taps which will either raise or lower the surrounding water. In fact, controlling the water is necessary to acquire all the Power Stars that Wet-Dry World has to offer. Underneath the initial setting of Wet-Dry World, there’s a “downtown” area that can be reached by firing yourself out of a cannon and swimming quickly through a passageway. Careful not to drown. The multi-layered course is a huge draw, as is the musical score, but again, the missions aren’t particularly memorable. Wet-Dry World is more admirable than it is fun.
10.) Shifting Sand Land
Throughout the years, I’ve really grown to appreciate Shifting Sand Land as a course. Appearing in Super Mario 64 as a desert-based level, much of the ground terrain is actually quicksand- so say “bye bye” to your lives. While the initial setting of Shifting Sand Land doesn’t provide many great things to do, the selling point of the course is the accessible pyramid that ultimately provides you with three Power Stars. The pyramid is gorgeous and intricate, designed with traps that will make you feel like a regular ol’ Indiana Jones. While the course loses points for not having much to do outside of the pyramid, it holds a top ten spot for all the great things that the pyramid has to offer.
09.) Jolly Roger Bay
The first water-based stage of Super Mario 64, Jolly Roger Bay was a course that I used to hate. On the surface (or under the surface, rather), this course doesn’t have much to offer. There’s a deep body of water, a sunken ship, and a cave. However, in that sunken ship lies something evil. Personally, I grew up watching horror films. By the time I started playing Super Mario 64, I had grown accustomed to scary things and had become a relatively brave child. Fuck. That. When the eel (pictured above) leaves the ship and you realize how big it is… I just can’t. The eel scared the hell out of five-year-old me. Once the eel is out of the way, however, you can also enter the ship for a fun mission. Jolly Roger Bay isn’t the funnest stage of the game, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable.
08.) Snowman’s Land
The second snow-based level of Super Mario 64, Snowman’s Land features one of the game’s greatest entrances. Inside of a mirror room, there is a blank wall to Mario’s left, but if you look at the wall as it appears in the mirror, it will show the picture from the game’s first snow level. Jumping inside this section of the wall leads you to Snowman’s Land. The course itself has a great design, that features an ice maze, a frozen bully, water so cold that it will kill you, a huge snowman that will blow you so hard your hat falls off (get your mind out of the gutter), and an igloo that you can enter and explore. I wouldn’t quite consider this stage one of my favorites, but there are worse times to be had.
07.) Whomp’s Fortress
The second stage of Super Mario 64, this course is accessible by obtaining only one Power Star. Whomp’s Fortress is the stronghold home of the Whomp race and their leader, the Whomp King. Upon defeating the King atop the course, the top of the level is altered, with the empty roof being replaced by a climbable tower. While it’s difficult to merit placing Whomp’s Fortress above some of the more intricate stages of the game, the replay value is amazing as this stage remains fun regardless of how many times you leap into the portrait. Sometimes simplicity works.
06.) Lethal Lava Land
Equal parts fun and frustrating, Lethal Lava Land more than earns its place among the upper half of Super Mario 64 stages. This course, as you may have been able to guess, is surrounded by lava. Throughout the level, there are several traps rigged-be it the bullies, the tilting platforms, the rolling log, or the sliding puzzle-that aim to knock you into the lava. However, falling into the lava will not kill you immediately. Mario’s health depletes by three each time that he touches the lava, unless he isn’t wearing his hat, which causes his health to deplete by four. The greatest feature of Lethal Lava Land, though, is undoubtedly the accessible volcano in the center of the stage. As long as the volcano isn’t currently erupting, you can leap inside of it to explore, and even earn Power Stars while you do so.
05.) Tick Tock Clock
Tick Tock Clock is as intricately detailed as courses come. Taking place in a giant clock, Mario must deal with the clock’s moving gears, pendulums, and other obstacles that change speed depending on what position the clock’s minute hand is in when he jumps into the level. The second to last level before facing Bowser for a final time, Tick Tock Clock presents the player with a controllable setting. By entering the clock as the hand points at 12, all moving parts will be frozen, making for a simple run at some of the lesser Power Stars however, entering the course at 3 makes everything move slowly, entering at 9 speeds things up, and entering at 6 gives everything a random speed. Each separate speed is mandatory to collect all of the Power Stars Tick Tock Clock has to offer, making this the most intricate and player-involved stage of Super Mario 64.
04.) Cool, Cool Mountain
I’m a sucker for cold weather and slides with a lot of loose change, and Cool, Cool Mountain offers both of those things. One of the earlier stages of Super Mario 64, this course finds Mario atop an icy summit, descending to the bottom of the mountain as the level progresses. At the top of the mountain, there’s a house with an over-sized chimney that Mario can enter. Inside the house, there’s a large, competitive penguin that will race you down the icy slide. If you neglect the house, however, you’ll find the Headless Snowman, who you’ll build a new body for, as well as a baby penguin who you will return to its mother, as you descend toward the bottom of the course. Though the stage is found early in the game, Cool, Cool Mountain is endlessly fun and offers great laughs if you sadistically bring mother penguin the wrong child or toss the baby penguin over the edge of the world. Don’t act like you haven’t done it.
03.) Big Boo’s Haunt
As mentioned earlier, I grew up with the horror genre. Therefore, no stage in Super Mario 64 had the same instant appeal as Big Boo’s Haunt. One of the rare courses that doesn’t involve jumping into a painting, Big Boo’s Haunt is entered by defeating a Big Boo in the courtyard of Princess Peach’s Castle. Upon defeating the ghost, it will drop a small cage in which Mario dives into to enter the haunted world of Big Boo. Featuring spooky music, murderous inanimate objects, several ghosts, and a creepy underground tavern that plays carnival music, Big Boo’s Haunt is wholly unique to the rest of the game. It’s a scary good time.
02.) Bob-omb Battlefield
Three words: nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. The first course of Super Mario 64 is arguably the most iconic as well. Not requiring any Power Stars to enter, Bob-omb Battlefield takes place in a grassland with many trees and contains several mountains and hills for Mario to climb. The battlefield is a constant war zone as the Black Bob-ombs fight against the Bob-omb Buddies. Bob-omb Battlefield is tasked with grabbing the gamer’s attention and setting them on the path to victory against Bowser- which it more than succeeds in doing. While it may not provide challenging tasks, this is the course you think of when someone mentions Super Mario 64, and that alone is worthy of a high ranking position.
01.) Tall, Tall Mountain
And so we’ve reached the top of the list! The entrance for Tall, Tall Mountain is the smallest painting that leads into a course. The stage features a high mountain with all kinds of obstacles on the way to the top, including a hat- stealing monkey and a blowing cloud enemy. The dangerous aspect of the level is that almost the entire path around the mountain is thin and near a cliff face. Like its painting, Tall, Tall Mountain is surrounded by giant mushrooms, one of which has a Power Star. This course presents the gamer with an infectious replay factor, as well as the funnest slide that Super Mario 64 has to offer. Tall, Tall Mountain strikes a perfect balance between challenging and fun, making it the greatest stage in Super Mario 64.
There you have it! The 15 stages of Super Mario 64 ranked from least-best to best. Do you still play this game? Which is your favorite course? Be sure to let us know!