The September, 1996 issue of Next Generation magazine’s cover story was a list of the top 100 games of all time, which they promised would be “extremely controversial.” And perhaps it was, with the number one spot devoted to Super Mario 64.
Almost two decades later, that seems a tad bit unreasonable. Don’t get me wrong, Super Mario 64 is one of the most important games of the 1990s, and it absolutely deserves to be on a top 100 list. But the number one spot?
It makes a lot more sense when you consider the context. That game was brand new when that issue came out, and it had just ushered in the 3D era in glorious fashion. It blew our minds because it was proof that game developers had unlocked a whole new world of game design possibilities.
And when you think of the other games that you’d expect to see on a top 100 list, a gigantic chunk of those wouldn’t have even existed when that issue was printed. GoldenEye 007 and Final Fantasy VII wouldn’t be out until the following year. Metal Gear Solid and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time would be another year after that. Grand Theft Auto III wouldn’t happen for five more years, Warcraft III for six, and BioShock for over a decade. Had we tried to wrap our mind around Shadow of the Colossus at that point in time, our brains would have malfunctioned and we’d have curled up into the fetal position and drooled.
Super Mario 64, however, was knocking at gaming’s front door. It wasn’t technically out yet when that Next Generation issue hit shelves, but it was getting ready to convince you that your 16-bit consoles were done for.
I can sit here — in a completely different century — and make a compelling case that Super Mario 64 hasn’t aged as well as we’d like to think it has. The controls are awkward, the camera is rage-inducing, and the textures are blurred and muddy. But none of those things mattered in 1996. Back then, Super Mario 64 was doing something that we hadn’t seen before, and I can’t blame anyone for getting excited about that. Hell, despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, it’s still my personal favorite game on the N64.
But a lot can happen in two decades, and gaming has evolved quite a bit since 1996. While Super Mario 64 may no longer be deemed worthy of that number one spot, it’s still undeniably one of the greatest games of all time.
Check out the text from the Next Generation article below, and pay extra special attention to the “Super Marion” typo in the “What’s the big deal” section, or the fact that they refer to stars as rings.