Mario 64: Breaking down the Paintings

This is a task I have been thinking about for quite some time now. Mario 64, the first 3D platformer installment for the world renowned Italian plumber was the launch title for the paradigm shifting console the Nintendo 64. In the latter nineties this was the most ubiquitous uber plastic cartridge around my neighborhood. The adventure has an indelible mark on my psyche and I’m looking to delve into what that entails along with ranking the worlds based on a multitude of factors.

Let’s start with…

15. Dire Dire Docks

Dire Dire Docks is the figurative baptism or cleansing after being in the underworld if we are looking at the spectacle as intended. However, this is a world I often dabble in before diving into the murk since it is the first one you see upon descending the staircase. If you have been diligent about collecting stars then completing the first episode grants access to the second bowser battle which for speed runners I imagine would be the obvious route as the underworld paintings are nothing to scoff at.

Unfortunately for such a mesmerizing painting and neat canonical sequence as boarding bowser’s vessel before duking it out in the underworld, DDD is a bland hollow place compared with the imagination and scope of the rest of the worlds. In essence you have two rooms.

The initial room you are dropped into is an area about the same size as the red coin star in the Jolly Roger Bay foyer. Mantas, sharks, and fish circle a deadly whirlpool where four treasure chests can be found around. The second room can be accessed through a brick underwater tunnel. This reinforces a baptism or paradigm shifting rebirth from the open ocean to the flooded seaside hangar. Primitive to civilized.

Mario’s initial romp sees him boarding the sub which is intended as an episode prior to taking on Bowser in the Fire Sea. While not literally happening, the narrative can be thought as Mario ultimately throwing the ole Koopa King off his own sea vessel.

The hangar has fully automated poles Mario can hop on above the water between platforms. Beneath the water are a couple stars that can be gathered with an invisibility or metal cap respectively. You are the alchemical Mercury Man, yes you are Mario!

The symbolism may be bold in sure victory over the mythological Hades on Bowser’s sub, however, the level falls flat.

It’s cold and vacant outside of some aquatic life and I feel all the mystique is sucked out from the word go. This level could have been a more involved story with Bowser’s sub serving as the main stage where the brute has left some menacing mini boss atop the vessel for us.

The soothing music would belie all of the frenetic activity surrounding a sub under siege but alas these docks are hardly dire as this level is easier than all of the levels in the underground preceding it.

I think they ought to have considered a beach front section before entering the hangar. Consider Jolly Roger Bay. You have a small beachfront, a bridge leading to a galleon, a galleon underwater guarded by a legendary giant eel, and an underwater cave surfacing in a grotto. This is a fully realized level that deserves the original song title as it is the superior water level and more importantly the first level where the track is featured.

Conversely, Dire Dire Docks is more aptly dubbed Dull Dull Docks.

14. Tick Tock Clock

Now that I look at it more closely I see a one eyed god with a pendulum tongue.

This is the hardest level in the game in my opinion. Tick Tock Clock’s lofty heights, especially the foray beyond Mr. Whomp up top, offers the greatest platforming challenges in the game. The gimmick here is quite neat. The clock face painting has a magical minute hand. When you jump in around the quarter hour mark everything slows down, around half and things get random, at 3/4 all machination speeds up causing many a death, and at 12 everything stops and this conveyor belt, pendulum, dial spinning world makes more sense.

Even with machination halted there are many perilous jumps which might be made easier on slow motion. I recall performing cartwheel style flips into wall jumps to reach certain platforms while the machination was off. The replayability value of this level is high as you can conceivably collect stars in four modes of machination. Despite the unique nature of this mechanism, Mario is very much the show these last skeletal levels. I believe his aerial marvels are intended to make up for the bare bones design. The challenge ramps up naturally as there is little surface area and only pin point timing and jumps will do.

This and Rainbow Ride are the tight ropes to conclude the game and while I’m certain there are many who applaud the creative clock mechanic and the sheer challenge these levels offer, they are lacking a depth of character. People who call Super Mario 64 a tech demo refer to this level and its paper thin design. I see it in the challenging light as a sort of heavenly test of raw skill rather than a fully fledged level.

Black and yellow electric/bare machination motif

TTC is cast in a pale fog that only clears as you ascend. Everything is a faded yellow and evocative of an elderly yet fully functioning mind. This is a wise elder who sees the true simplicity of things. Symbolically it is brilliant prior to the rainbow or phase change of end game, completion, or death. Time is this amorphous thing that becomes a stronger pervading theme as we develop and age. We consider the raw power of energy connectivity and the heart beat adorned by the notion of clocks and machination. What is this spirit? Father time? The inevitability of passing into the spiritual realm and endless time keeping pace regardless of what state you are in.

This spirit is Whomp, bitch!

Yes, I contend the passage past the brute is the definitive herculean acrobatics performance of the entire affair. Unfortunately, the backdrop palette is evocative of a senior center lobby.

13. Rainbow Ride

Rainbow Ride is celestial embrace. The completion of Bowser’s grand challenge. The pinnacle of Peach’s Castle of magical paintings. A magic carpet whisks you into the dreamy realm in a seeming telekinetic path to the air ship above. The other path up the rainbow leads to a hall likened to Valhalla with a mighty fire place keeping the communal space warm. I see it as this heavenly choice of quest into the unknown via air ship or supper among great deified friends. These are slightly below an air island of solitude at top where the pineal paradise is realized. A true rainbow bridge in ideals upon completion of the good life. If Tick Tock Clock was purgatory then this is heaven or the upper limits.

This artistic rendition glorifies this victory lap
Letsa go round empty Valhalla!

We’ve also got tricky triangles which is the favorite occultic secret society symbol as showcased in Shifting Sand Land down below. In a plain sense they’re simply a versatile shape from which many mathematical proofs are explained and may be there to address geometrical forms. Lower psychic energy in the heavenly realm juxtaposed to a pendulum and the moderating fly guys and goombas in between.

Study the fundamentals Mercury… I mean Mario

I see the middle ground as the quests in the middle or meridian of heaven. Deciding whether or not to take the magic carpet and remain in currency or current sea in Midgar. Think about it. You have the four rotating platforms representing the four corners of the Earth. You can stay there with the red coin puzzle. Making leaps and bounds for material success. Descend to fundamental forms of understanding in geometry and physics. Or ascend to high spiritual consciousness identified by the notion of community in the castle or hall and the vimana equivalent of an air ship. Much can be drawn from this skeletal level, but there is not much there without taking these symbolic leaps.

Rainbow Ride or the layers of Heaven

Why I have it so low is purely because of how quick it can be completed. There’s not much depth. I’m certain other folks love the threadbare design for the challenge but I like to marinate in a world and become immersed in a challenge. The final two levels are pure and serve as challenges to overcome rather than an area to explore thoroughly as nothing is meant to provoke too much thought as the fear of making a misstep and falling into the abyssal clouds is all the motivation needed to carry on.

12. Tall Tall Mountain

Another top floor level which takes place in a small painting. Taking a leap here… Tall Tall Mountain with the ukiki or monkey at top and before the bridge serves as a reminder of the relations of man and monkey they want to relay to us. Never forget Star Fox. You destroy a giant evil monkey brain after a journey through theoretical space. Both the connotation of great apes and space are deceptions and Star Fox effectively destroys this nightmare of thought returning to the true eye sight of Corneria/cornea. Yep. Great apes are fake animals, people in fur suits, actors trying to convince folks we evolved from monkeys. I see this level as an allegory to that lie. The monkey aids you in opening the cage. The playful goofball unlocks the cage for you to jump in. Either the true monkey releases you from this false premise or puts you into this false paradigm with his cuteness as the bait. You decide.

Aww isn’t he cute?

Anyway, Tall Tall Mountain has distinctive sections beginning with the tall amanita muscaria mushrooms working our way up through monty mole’s hangout, to the rolling log reprised from Lethal Lava Land, past the hidden slide painting to the top where the 2nd ukiki monkey is playing. You can take this level in a few directions but I’m a fungi so I think you know where we are headed.

Amanita muscaria is the most often depicted mushroom in the Mario games and in media period. This is likely because of their psychedelic properties and the ancient pagan shamanic rituals associated with them. From what I gather, in old Scandinavia, shaman would perform a ritual of harvesting mushrooms underneath evergreen trees and either ingest them themselves or feed them to caribou. Then any interested parties would drink the shaman or caribou urine to receive the mana from the mushrooms.

Mushrooms akin to Amanita Muscaria

I’ve read that many in the Amanita genus are acutely psychedelic and often induce sickness upon ingestion. This explains why people opt for urine as the harsh effects often associated with the mushroom are attenuated when filtered in this manner.

The mushrooms of Tall Tall Mountain are littered around the base evoking the beginning of the heavenly trip as reflected by the notion we are upstairs in the castle. Snowman’s land and Wet Dry World are the only paintings without bottomless chasms below the level proper on this floor. They are also the first two canonical levels meaning Tall Tall Mountain is literally our climb to the heavens.

The monkeys may be cute and the secret slide world a clever bit of camouflage along with a fun challenge yet this world feels rather barren to me. There’s no hut on the mountain and outside of the slide everything is right in front of you. The novel aspects of this world are the monty moles and the monkeys which seem rather minor considering the full traversal. There are no layers to this world. TTM along with the other third floor levels lack the labyrinthine layouts characteristic of much of the fare down below. I suppose this is an intentional move as clarity comes with hurdling upward bounds but when I revisit this game I actually find myself a bit disheartened to go upstairs since the heart of the adventure or explorative climax has passed.

11. Snowman’s Land

This level feels like an extension of Cool Cool Mountain. Now you’re on the proverbial peak where the grand snowman resides. The novel elements include the igloo, the giant snowman of course, the oddity coin beastie, and the ice puzzles which offer quite the funhouse feel for an early 3d entry.

This level is iconic for that wonky walk way where you must stay abreast the giant penguin on the ice lest the snowman blow Mario off the peak and his hat away in the process. The chilly bully makes his sole appearance here over waters so frigid they cause Mario to flail into the air likened to his reaction to lava burning up that old Italian keester. Perhaps the highlight of this world is surfing on the turtle shell for the red coins as the tension surges in the deathly cold pool beneath the Chilly bully.

I don’t see anything particularly symbolic about this world outside of the entry which is indicated via mirror as the painting does not appear to be there without aid of the reflection. This can be taken as a leap of faith into the great unknown following symbolic death down below. A parting of the veil or an initiation into the secrets all around. Referencing the well known Mario 64 masonic connections page linked below, there is a significance given to circumambulation as a form of pagan worship.

Our world is blatantly pagan although you don’t hear many outright say it. In essence the absence of a Christ figure gives way to a do as thou wilt mentality rather than a mission of everlasting peace grounded in fundamental laws of morality. While I feel the theme is more resonant around the eyeball enemies or back in stage 1 where the circumambulation culminates in a stand-off with king Bob-omb and dethroning him it is still present here. This situation feels like happenstance by comparison but I think there is a strong contention that everything in this well renowned game is meticulous virtual ritual.

10. Lethal Lava Land

Blatant Hell world here. If the fiery demon painting did not cue you in perhaps the lava lake, volcano, disorienting shifting tile Bowser puzzle, or horned bullies grunting everywhere you look did. I am highly skeptical of volcanoes. I do not believe they are real. We do not live in this chaotic world crafted by Satanists upon a molten chocolate core ball earth.

This face is burned into my psyche.

This world then can be viewed allegorically as a trial by fire. Walking over hot coals or enduring a house fire to save a loved one are realistic physical analogues to Mario’s travails here. Shifting Sand Land pairs well with this one as they both feature a frustrating environmental hazard taking up a significant chunk if not most of the navigable surface area.

This is likely the painting you’ll find before Shifting Sand Land or Hazy Maze Cave as the rabbit will coax you in and this nightmare sits at center. It’s not eerie in any sense rather just intense and uncomfortable compared with the fare upstairs. The lava lake’s tide oscillates between swallowing and exposing bridges, there are a couple of those unnerving eye enemies, and you’ll be hearing a pudgy Italian yelping with great regularity unless your composure is rock steady.

My favorite section is within the volcano as you’re left to imagine goomblings or koopers constructing platforms for our good old plumber boy in the infernal heat.

“We need our finest engineers and mages Kamek (who is notably absent from this affair). Make it happen or my name isn’t Bowser Koopa von Fire Crotch”

These conditions Bowser puts his henchmen through are beyond heinous for a turtle dino dragon hybrid.

9. Shifting Sand Land

Technically this world deserves to be better ranked on this list but my particular disdain for Egypt/desert levels has it sitting firmly in the bottom half.

I believe this chain of events represents judgment in death before moving along to the afterlife/rebirth. It is the last underworld level following Lethal Lava Land or plainly hell. While Ma’at and Anubis do not make appearances, I think they would be at home in the pyramid proper.

One of the most involved levels. This was the hardest to place as SSL is technically marvelous.

This world is blatant mystery school with a central pyramid evocative of the Giza Pyramids which are likely Masonic art projects made of concrete using familiar technology as opposed to thousands of year old mystical chambers dedicated to Osiris. There is no way slaves moved giant boulders from quarries with primitive technology and chiseled away at those for centuries as we are told. No, this is Disney World we live in where a big secret club wants you to stay in their crafted world rather than knowing the truths about where we live. Thankfully the veil is breaking wherever I go these days. Unfortunately, this does taint my view of the level.

Don’t let that cute pokey deceive you. The sand is vicious.

Anyhow, four pillars likened to the four cardinal directions or corners of Earth may be slammed around the pyramid. There are black cubes with lurid faces spray painted on them moving at a manic pace in attempt to squash Mario. The mercurial wing cap is used to great effect here as traversal is not easy with so much surface area taken up by quicksand and sandnadoes that can send you in any direction. There is a vulture who tries to steal Mario’s cap and a multitude of nefarious fly guys to make every moment tense.

Just look at that douche canoe thinking about kamikazing Mr. ‘Stache..

You solve secrets within the pyramid. Fight two sentient hands with eyes on their palms. You shine atop like a capstone. The capstone gets shattered. We know the same folks who print American currency are helming this game. The symbology is overt here and Mario, the alchemical Italian Mercury man, puts it all together. Plainly speaking I find desert palettes to be dull and a bit one dimensional. Gobi’s Valley is also one of the weaker Banjo Kazooie levels for this reason. They feel hokey and overdone to death. The execution here is undeniably amazing though. Purely on execution alone this level is easily top 5 given the depth of the pyramid interior.

Ahimsa brings to mind Windwaker Tower of Gods and Bongo Bongo from OOT.

8. Tiny-Huge Island

This is one I marinated on for a while and I think it fits snugly in the middle. Here is a fun exercise in opposites. The fully realized concept of using warp pipes to navigate between a tiny version and a big version of the island feels right at home. Mario goes back to his roots using warp pipes to great effect. The tiny island proper has Mario on pins and needles in the tiny iteration where the smallest slope can send you flying off the precarious stage. However, if you’re wise to the fireballs and skilled maneuvering on a dime then you can save Mario lots of leg work using the warps from bottom of the mountain to the top.

A neat aspect of the phase change is how the goombas, piranha plants, and even Koopa the Quick himself change size. Koopa for example is an npc itching to race while large but can be stomped on if you go through the pipe. As a side note I find it hilarious that most koopas including Koopa the Quick seem ambivalent to Bowser’s cause. You’d think a Koopa would be a warrior for the reptiles but in Mario 64 they usually just run from Mario. Anyhow, Tiny goombas will only cause Mario to lose a step whereas the giant iteration blow him over and offer a whopping blue coin when stomped upon. A giant cheep cheep sporting sunglasses can swallow you whole on the big iteration yet disappears completely on tiny island. I find the balance of scenarios on the isles equally well executed. They are both death defying experiences for the acrobatic plumber.

“Yo bruh, you down to blaze n’ race?”

Allegorically this one seems to deal in perception. How do you view the situation? Are entities/personalities enormous and you’re a mouse in the maze or does everything feel greatly impacted by your presence, your aura emanating loudly wherever you go?

Mario meets up with Wiggler who is furious he has flooded her house. There are many innocent denizens within these paintings inconvenienced by the hearty Brooklyn Italiano. He dethrones two kings, picks up an annoyed monkey, banishes King Boo to the nether realm, and now floods Wiggler’s pad. He can be quite the twat waffle.

This is a well conceived level that falls a little short of the mystique in the upper echelon.

Glub glub…

7. Bob-Omb Battlefield

The merriment delivered through CRTs across the world through this painting is gushing here

When I think Mario 64, I think Bob-omb Battlefield. This is a fantastic introduction into the 3d realm of gaming. After tooling around outside, Mario enters the first painting which offers a substantial lesson on how this game will play out without annoying text boxes or delay to the exploration. Mario is introduced to basic enemy goombas and bob-ombs, cannons, moving platforms, a lone koopa born with an outrageous surfing shell, a translucent box he cannot use the contents of yet, a classic enemy redefined as the noble pooch of King Bob-omb’s domain and the King proper.

Can you find Lego Mario?

You get a great understanding of this sand box by ascending to the peak to toss off the old king. There is ample space to explore and a target in the sky where yet another translucent box lies in wait. Bob-omb Battlefield baits you with the wing cap. You have to dig in to explore this world in full and acknowledge that the castle has secrets beyond the scope of individual levels.

“You can’t just skip on past me ‘stache!”

Contrast Banjo Kazooie. Another wondrous platformer released a couple years later starts you with Mumbo’s Mountain. While a myriad of concepts are introduced well here, the level is far less hazardous on the whole and everything can be gathered on the first go. The execution is quality but there is no reason to return and no other bait other than simply exploring the next world. It’s a baby level.

Etched into memory with perma etch n’ sketch

Mario 64 says you have to dig a little bit to complete Bob-omb Battlefield and I believe creating that incentive makes for a stronger debut.

6. Wet Dry World

What a fine aquarelle version of this gentle foe.

I’ve heard online and in person that folks feel strange about this world. I do too but I find the feelings to be context sensitive. Something about the nauseating backdrop and lack of life in the hidden town. This is the introduction to the heavenly stages. It takes place in an Atlantean realm with a simple base mechanic of raising and lowering the water level to access certain areas. There are ugly flipping enemies and purple tossers which keep you in motion once you have reached the higher ground.

In game the skybox is more washed out and pixelated to enhance the melting effect of the ages.

My perspective is grounded as someone who actually enjoys water levels. They offer a more methodical approach to solving puzzles than high flying kinetics of most stages. This one gets flack for being shortly after Dire Dire Docks signifying a slow meditation between standard levels which I feel this game benefits from as sprinting from painting to painting can leave you unaware of the details all around. Furthermore, the nature of this world does not enforce much swimming. More often than not swimming is a punishment for not platforming deftly enough. There are not deeply involved under water sections like in Jolly Roger Bay, Gloomy Galleon of DK64, or Jolly Roger’s Lagoon of Banjo Tooie. I can empathize with weariness after a long water section but this world does not provide that.

Water is not the emphasis here. The manipulation of water is the lesson.

Cannon balling over the walled corner and swimming through the under water tunnel to the vacant town is one of the more exciting moments of this game as an entire room that might have easily been ignored as a young un reveals a skeletal town square filled with questions. What kind of denizens might have lived here? Was this a blooper haven? Or perhaps a cheep cheep community? The world may never know.

Is that King Triton Blooper’s throne room?

If you wanted to get dark then all of the denizens have died and the agora has faded in old Wet Dry World. It’s fairly cryptic and the Atlantean/Noah’s flood overtones are evocative of a profound loneliness after God cleansed the earth.

5. Whomp’s Fortress

Gouda luck catching me you a stupid plant

The 2nd world is bursting at the seams with panache. You fight another king atop his fortress this time. King Bob-Omb gathered his dignitaries and claimed the plateau and now Sir Whomp oversaw the construction and development of his mighty fortress.

Hoot is awoken from his nap by a high libido plumber to fly him to a cage above. This is reminiscent of the ukiki on Tall Tall Mountain. Owls are classic occultic imagery as they roam the skies at night for prey. Mario has taken flight with the occult to his treasure or star power. Mario unwittingly sells his soul for an owl’s invitation which is likened to a vampire being let inside a home.

Shaddup! It’s just an owl taking you for a ride. Maybe it’s Kaepora Gaebora from OOT.

From the base, thwhomps man the staircase en route through piranha plants and the only bullet bill in the entire affair if I’m not mistaken. Whomp is easier than King Bob-omb as he literally lays down for you atop the fortress. He has the classic class transgression against Mario who proceeds to slam his bandaged wound thrice. Ahh Mario was merely operating in self defense you might say. Or was he punishing a lower caste for speaking out? That’s up to you to decide.

Don’t stomp on me durngus!

Mario can fly off into nothingness here but there are not many hap-hazardous sections if the player is competent.

Bootyful water color. Serene old world interpretation of the flight of fancy.

4. Cool Cool Mountain

Sorry Snowman’s Land. This is the definitive wintry spectacle. Many are not crazy about the fact that a significant chunk of this world centers around two slides. I say have you lost your marbles mate? Winter is a blissful time of year in anticipation of the sun’s rebirth and budding glow.

The body toboggan race with the giant penguin upon entering through the chimney of the log cabin at the summit is perhaps the definitive whimsical moment of the game. However, the lovable oaf is no pushover and will send you careening to your death if you’re not prepared.

You don’t stand a chance you chunky Dedede wannabe!

A zig zagging slick slide down the mountain is a memorable alternative. Tasked with bringing a penguin chick home to his mama sweetens this experience. Unless of course you lose the little guy in limbo down below. Penguins aplenty are joined by snow folks on the bridge.

Excuse me sir.

I love the fact that you can teleport from the bottom to the top of the mountain via the broken bridge. That is such a well conceived cryptic teleportation method. That or you can jump from a lofty location to the base only to land waist deep in snow. A gondola at the bottom with cannon access mid way and high winds prevents certain death by providing the necessary buoyancy of this foray into the frigid.

Ey I wanna hit the double blacks before it gets icey mate!

3. Jolly Roger Bay

That’s one meditative melancholic bean.

The definitive water level of the game. A lot of this is due to the mystique of the giant eel. This creature initially resides in a sunken galleon but then moves to a cavern once Mario has coaxed the beastie out. Catching up to the eel or timing the star snatch is one of the finest sequences in the adventure. From the beachfront onward clams are littered in the shallows and depths baiting the plumber with red coins and a koopa shell. Swimming with the koopa shell is an absolute dream. The controls are seamless and the improvement to Mario’s movement ought to make the greatest critics of the level type gush.

“Nobody visits me. Come on in. Surely I would never bite a lasagna hound like yourself.”

Down below the submerged galleon has treasure chests within which must be opened in the correct order lest Mario get electrocuted. A spacious grotto inhabited by ferocious goombas is nearby and hosts a similar challenge with electrical chests. Cannoning around from shore conveys the murkiness of the bay following an evening rain and Peach’s soggy crumpets before she was nabbed by the Koopa King the following morning.

The Bay marks many folks first experience moving in 3d water unless the player dove in the moat prior to entering the castle proper. I feel it aces the aesthetic by sustaining the rhythm and allowing the player to lounge in the immersion. This painting may be the most relaxing of the bunch. It brings to mind Donkey Kong Country’s Aquatic Ambiance as both gently entrance the player without overstaying their welcome.

“Alright goober that’s close enough”

Dire Dire Docks (the song) ought to be renamed Jolly Roger Bay… mic drop…

2. Big Boo’s Haunt

If I had to guess which level the developers spent the most time crafting I’d be hard pressed to choose anything other than Big Boo’s Haunt except maybe the level I chose as my favorite. Big Boo’s Haunt is the only level aside from Rainbow Ride that does not involve Mario jumping into a painting. Instead a giant boo appears downstairs and Mario chases him down the hall to the castle courtyard. Outside we have a pentacle on a pyramid which signifies the occultic tie in but honestly we are swimming in mystery school symbolism at this point. Is it any surprise? Mario enters the world by ground pounding on the biggest boo who hides the level within. I’ve always felt it looks like a bird cage but it is a mansion and Mario must shrink to visit the macabre manor.

Welcome to zee mansion. Care to join in on the fun?

You enter in from outside with the mansion right in front and a strange building adjacent. Entry into the mansion reveals two floors. The 2nd is inaccessible until Mario has cleared out all of the boos on the first floor. We have a library with possessed literature. A piano room with a rather unsettling demon piano who performs a jangly bum rush that made everyone jump their first time (don’t lie). A chasm that leads to a funhouse spinning boo corral below in the cellar which connects back up to the adjacent building.

When those boos are cleared out King Boo shows up and proves to be a paltry foe. Upstairs has a larger library with classic haunted house book button entry into the secret chamber. There is also roof access where more creepy giant eyes may be circumambulated and king boo can be trounced for good.

Simple but effective pure horror creature. Can I get a lid for you pal? You’re creeping me out.

Outside of a few spider enemies and eyes, this level is pure boo ghoulishness and the sinister soundtrack for the main level changing into a creepy fun house down below make this excursion a Hallows Eve Feast for the eyes and ears.

No, no… mama mia…

1. Hazy Maze Cave

This may be a controversial choice, but I find this is the level that makes me appreciate what Nintendo crafted at it’s purest back in ’96. You enter this level by jumping in a pool of liquid metal or quicksilver in the center of the foyer. The tone is set for Mario to make the alchemical or mercurial change in form. The Hazy Maze Cave has two main pathways that branch off at the beginning and reconvene in many manners.

The left door takes Mario into a section with construction framing above a gaping chasm where boulders are endlessly falling from the opposite side. Navigating the precarious path past the boulders leads to a subterranean pool where a grand plesiosaur dubbed Dorie or the beast resides. Plesiosaurs were awfully popular in Japan back in the late 90s. Ash’s surf mate in the Pokemon anime is Lapras and 2nd generation Gold/Silver/Crystal versions had Lapras in the cave on Fridays en route to Azalea Town.

Aww look at that serene plesiosaur!

Anyways, Dorie can take you to a star at center island upon slamming her back to stand on her head and guide her ’round the pool for the mcguffin. This is a rather abusive exploit, but Dorie seems none the worse for wear. She also takes you to the element of this level that sets it apart. Here you acquire the metal cap which works finest in this level proper as Mario is immune to the toxic fumes in the hazy maze portion. Mario has now become impervious to damage and can sink in water like an anvil. The other caps are gathered in their own castle secret stage but this level was crafted with metallic element burned into its DNA.

Psh good luck marble spider…

The hazy maze itself is filled with trigger happy snufits and large purple bats that are not phased by the fumes. Depressions and easy to miss upper rooms amid the sulphuric fumes make the metal cap a must as Mario’s energy saps quickly sans cap. The notion of sulphur being the alchemical spirit as noted by Owen Cyclops and having a devil like connotation may be a deeper reflection on how metal permeates into society and mars the cold side of the soul with a decided diffidence in proceedings. Contrast this with wood or stone and its highly variable character evocative of a river. The hazy maze is a meditation on the coldness that drowns the electric capacity of life.

Aww gross man… I smell Satan’s eggy farts…

If opting for the door to the right from the beginning it leads to the three layered room that is the area best suited to the tinkering construction music. The player can feel the hours of meticulous craftwork that went into to making the specialized polydirectional platform and platform circuit above the room. This is the heart of the world where we see the feats of industrial fervor on full display. The player has to be quite skilled to maneuver through this section without derailing the polydirectional platform and starting over.

A major reason this level excels is the blending of organic elements with the artifice of technology. This world is the initiation into the mysteries of automation in concert with naturalistic elements. Consider the two main chambers as the Dorie pool and the three layered room. They are fundamental opposites where the pool quests are direct the three layered room forces Mario into a complex system of platforms and obstacles. This marriage makes for the most interesting world in my opinion.

This ranking is subjective canon to the nth degree. Please leave a comment with your take on what makes a good Mario 64 level and how your list looks different than mine.

-UFF-

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