For many, Super Mario 64 was the first glimpse or experience of gameplay in a 3D environment. The beguiling pre-rendered promo art sparked my interest before I ever picked up an N64 controller: the game went to the top of my holiday wishlist in 1996.
My personal memories of playing Mario 64 are somehow like those about a physical location — or perhaps more like an uncanny dream of a place that never existed — than like memories about a game. As a kid, I spent time running around Mario 64 just for the fun and mystery of the game’s expansive environments, which ranged from snow to desert to under the sea, just as often as I acquired stars within courses and hidden throughout Princess Peach’s Castle.
Mario 64‘s popularity has endured through the years. People have returned to the game again and again, or discovered it for the first time, including in a new form on Nintendo DS with additional playable characters and features in 2004 and as part of a limited 35th anniversary release for Nintendo Switch in 2020. Additionally, the community of Mario 64 speedrunners angling for new world records has resulted in the discovery of glitches and techniques that enable progressing through the game in creative ways.
The persistently fun, occasionally clunky, and strange charm of Mario 64, hazy memories of childhood mystery, and the drive of passionate players to modify and manipulate the game in seemingly unlimited ways have ensured that rumors, videos purporting to contain lost footage, and more have been circulated around online. The dark and weird side of all this has perhaps reached its ultimate form in the shape of the Mario 64 Iceberg.
The iceberg illustrates, tongue-in-cheek, the deepening levels of galaxy-brained obsession and questioning that spending a little too much time in the grasp of Mario 64 and its unanswered questions can lead to. Here, I will spend some time on 10 intriguing items about the game. This will include a few iceberg offerings as well as other tidbits that piqued my interest, and plenty of links to go around should you wish to dive deeper.
Wet-Dry World’s “Negative Emotional Aura”
“Considered one of the most bizarre levels in the game because of its strange atmosphere, Wet-Dry World is commonly associated with negative feelings and anomalous sightings.” – MIPS Hole SM64 Conspiracies
Wet-Dry World is a stage in the game that involves raising and lowering its water level strategically to access different areas divided into “Uptown” and “Downtown”, the latter of which is like an abandoned village in appearance. The lower or higher that you jump into the stage’s painting determines how high or low the water level will be when you arrive.
Skyboxes in video games form a background that helps to create the illusion of a more expansive world. The skyboxes of the courses in the Nintendo 64 original are a little uncanny to begin with, but there is something even more off about Wet-Dry World’s skybox.
This could be because Wet-Dry World’s skybox, shown at the bottom left in the collection of them above, contains an edited photograph of Casares, Spain that looks rather out of place in Mario 64. It is no surprise that this curious image ended up on the massively popular Twitter account Images with Elegiac Auras (“Images with haunting, unexplainable auras.”).
Wet-Dry World also includes doors that cannot be opened, which happen to share textures with those used in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. In the massive 2020 leak of Mario 64 beta content, it was confirmed that an early version of Wet-Dry World did indeed share assets from an early Ocarina of Time town.
Lastly, one my personal favorite pieces of recently released “beta” material has been this alternative soundtrack interpretation:
Luigi / “L is Real 2401”
One of the best-known Mario 64 rumors concerns the idea that Mario’s brother Luigi can be unlocked as a playable character. The star statue in the castle courtyard, with illegible writing beneath it, has helped fuel this rumor, as many have interpreted this text as a coded message: ‘L is Real 2401’. A supposed letter from Nintendo of America clarifies that it has “no meaning”. Nonetheless, over the years there have been countless elaborate rumors about “how to unlock Luigi” include specific instructions on what order to get the stars in, playing the game without saving, and jumping into the volcano in Lethal Lava Land.
It was confirmed that Luigi was originally intended to be in the game:
Yoshiaki Koizumi (Assistant Director of Super Mario 64): When we made the first prototype, Mario and Luigi were on a flat field…We ran it that way, but when we made the landforms, because of hardware limitations we had a choice between cutting Luigi or making more elaborate landforms. Then, in tears, we had to ask Luigi to leave. (Iwata Asks)
A kind of satisfaction was achieved at last in the July 25th 2020 leak, which included parts and color palettes for a Luigi model with different proportions from Mario.
Super Mario 64 DS
Super Mario 64 DS is the Mario 64 experience with a few additional bells and whistles, such as being able to play as other characters. Not Waluigi, though.
The white room mentioned above refers to a DS-specific secret star you can only get as Luigi after becoming invisible, walking through a mirror, entering the reflection of the door you originally came through, and entering into a white void.
I would add more, but…there is something about Mario 64 DS that makes it actually almost too weird for me to play. Perhaps I will summon the courage to reach for it next time I am in the mood to re-enter the world of Mario 64.
Throughout your Mario 64 journey, you are being filmed by one of the Lakitu Bros. Recalling the framing device of Super Mario Bros. 3 as a stage play with curtains, Mario being filmed as part of a live television broadcast is part of the game’s story from the very beginning.
Many Nintendo 64 players will be familiar with the trials and tribulations of early 3D gaming and finicky camera controls. A wrong turn when trying to perform a difficult wall-jump, perhaps, could send you into the abyss as the perspective swerved to a wall rather than to Mario.
Unused / Beta Assets
Though touched on in other areas so far, the number of unused assets and (actual) beta differences in general is worth a special mention. The Cutting Room Floor contains a great run-down of these assets, including entirely different enemies, textures, and sounds.
The artist mushbuh has created a delightful hi-res interpretation of the beta enemy Motos (uncovered in the 2020 beta leak):
Super Mario 64: Chaos Edition
Chaos Edition is a romhack that activates / deactivates codes that modify how the game functions. All kinds of surprising effects can occur, including being chased by game assets, Mario’s head spinning through his body, growing unexpectedly larger, and starting a course embodying a sign-post instead of Mario’s body.
Super Mario 64 Theme Park Lost to Time – Reino Aventura, Mexico
I was pleasantly surprised to see a video had been made dedicated to an explanation of this strange theme park I had, up to then, only seen in pixelated, hazy photos circulating on social media that I initially presumed to be fake.
“A Parallel Universe, or PU, is an area in a Super Mario 64 map at which the game creates phantom collision for objects “outside” of the level. This is because some of the values for collision detection are truncated into the range of the real map’s coordinate system, allowing some space that is intended to be Out of Bounds to become habitable.” – Unofficial Pannen Wiki
If you ever want to end up utterly enmeshed in the programming and mathematics of how Super Mario 64 works, and see some baffling tricks, you must visit pannenkoek2012’s channel. I can’t promise that you’ll immediately understand everything you hear, but it is fascinating.
If you haven’t acquired quite enough stars to reach the final boss behind the Big Star Door, you’ll end up getting stuck on an infinite staircase. The effect is caused by Mario warping backwards repeatedly.
“The music which plays while climbing the endless stairs is a Shepard tone, a sequence of notes which are made to sound as if they are infinitely ascending in tone when in fact they are looping.” – Mario Wiki
“Every Copy of Mario 64 is Personalized” / 1995/07/29 Beta Mario 64 Build
Every Copy of Mario 64 is Personalized is relatively new on the block when it comes to Mario rumors. Part meme, part creepypasta, and part nostalgic indulgence in the conventions of a bygone era, it has captured the attention and creativity of the fan community.
Inspiration for the concept originated in the appearance of a “Wario apparition” voiced by Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet, at video game trade event E3 in 1996. Snowballing from the apparition as “a ghost that manifests itself in select copies of Super Mario 64, and will eventually manifest itself in the real world,” to “the belief that every copy created of Super Mario 64 differed from each other at release date” based on an advanced AI that adapts to the player, the idea has spawned a collection of videos and images purporting to contain beta footage from commercials and gameplay.
A compliment to these theories, and returning to ideas touched on earlier regarding Wet-Dry World, are the experience and presentation of liminal spaces and the concept of backrooms. The articulation of these spaces, and what they mean, does well to capture what the landscape and gameplay of Mario 64 has symbolized to so many of us.
“I know for me, when I was younger I always had this nauseating urge to just explore the rest of the world of the video games I played. The rational part of me knew there was nothing, but still I was drawn to areas I couldn’t normally reach, and I would stare at static skyboxes forever, just wondering what was out there. I get a similar feeling as an adult when I view these liminal images. I’ve seen posts about the uncanny settings of the Mario 64 backgrounds, and I think it’s because everything is so unexplained. Where am I? What are these huge sprawling wastelands of nothing completely surrounding the level? What else is out there?” – u/Starman926 in r/LiminalSpace
p.s. Hey. If you’re me, and you’re not me obviously, but if you’re either like me in some fundamental way or not like me at all except for at least one shared hot spot, you’re excited by this dazzling weekend post guest-hosted by the wonderful artist, creative whirlwind, and long time friend of DC’s Marilyn Roxie, a post that not coincidentally marks the occasion of the recent upgrade/relaunch of ‘Mario 64’ on Switch. There are all kinds of cool twists and turns and behind the scenes peeks up there, and please enjoy foraging. And, as ever, any words you can spare for your host Marilyn Roxie would be both proper and very welcome. Thanks so much, Marilyn! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yep. How did the outdoors treat you? And ace about the Flash Fiction course! And whoo-hoo and beyond about the new Play Therapy add! Everyone, If you’re not already an anticipation-filled addict of Ben ‘_Black_Acrylic’ Robinson’s astute and partying podcast/show Play Therapy and its action affirming mix of ‘Acid House, Electro, New Wave, Coldwave and a deluge of other oddities’, you can join the gang because the new episode is very live. ** Dominik, Hi, D!! Yeah, my laptop may not be perfect, but it’s being fully cooperative again so far. I’m pretty good. Nothing hugely new apart from the return of my online life. Great, great that the videochat went so well! Oh, wow, weeks, that is a lengthy set up time, but still! You’re happy! Congrats, pal. Oh, did you do anything for Halloween? Did you end up hitting that slightly scary seeming haunted house if it even ended up happening? It’s not official, but Biden has basically won the election. It’s just about how long that truth will take to become factual because Trump, massively predictably, is reacting like an insane, sadistic baby. How strange! Or not? I just read a big piece about Hudinilson Jr. yesterday and made a note to investigate and try to make a blog post about him. So that’s cool. Love like the boy who homemade my all-time favorite music video. ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you! Love that Nilsson (song). And, as always, you gotta hand it to the French. ** dadoodoflow, Hey! Super awesome to see you! And to know I succeeded! It’s like Xmas! xo ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yes, and, even though the fix-it shop didn’t quite fix everything this poorly laptop needs, it’s working like a relative charm. And yes, I had to search through hoops to find that Brazzers video, for better or worse. ** Armando, Hi. Yeah, well, it’s a not that harsh a quarantine at the moment, but the strong rumor is it’s going to get quite harsh very soon. Hm, I like everything about Robbe-Grillet’s oeuvre. I don’t think I can isolate one particular quality about it that I like best. ‘The Unnamable’ is great, I agree. One of my favorite favorite Beckett’s, for sure. Thanks about the post. And thank you very much about ‘PGL’, of course. For me, writers block is only ever about being overcome with insecurity. Or it was until I figured that out and just let myself write whatever the fuck I could, not worrying if it was good or bad, knowing that I can edit/fix it later when I’m feeling less insecure. So, yeah, I say just write and don’t care if it seems good enough to you at the moment because, if you’re blocked, you’re not a good judge. ** Brian O’Connell, Hi, Brian. It was a little tricky in the sense that I had to travel an illegal, i.e. beyond 1 km distance from my abode to find an open shop. Super glad you liked a lot of the post’s wares. Cool. Yeah, it’s in the bag. Biden’s win, I mean. But, exactly, how much shit will Trump’s narcissism freakout will cause until it’s a fait accompli is the big stress point now. Could he even be a more vile, horrible piece of garbage? Answer: no. Me too: I’ve been living and breathing the election results every waking minute since Wednesday. But starting today I’m going to retry the rest of the world. Derf Backderf: what a name. I was pretty young when Kent State happened, but I remember the news and effect, for sure. Interesting: the book. It’s really good? Really, it pretty much was just the US election and missing my laptop and catching up on emails for those few days. But this weekend holds some kind of promise anyway, I’m not sure what since everything is closed, but … You have cool plans, or, did you and did they come fully about? Have a great couple of ones. ** Bill, Hey. Ha ha, yeah, the Shauna Born … as excessive as it was, I felt like I had to post every single one of her drawings to make her point. I read something about ‘The Eyes of My Mother’, but I can’t remember what. I’ll see if it’s lodged on one of my ‘illegal’ sites. Thanks, bud. ** Right. Enjoy your weekend with Mario and Marilyn! See you on Monday.