Super Mario 64 did more than just bring Mario to the third dimension: it literally defined a new genre and revolutionized video gaming for the rest of eternity. It’s impossible to overstate just how important Super Mario 64 was to the world of video gaming. Almost every single 3D video game produced after Super Mario 64 has drawn from its groundbreaking new mechanics.
But it’s not all fancy industry-changing technology in the world of Super Mario 64. This game changed something else about the world of video games… it introduced a world of fear. With the new 3D world came new 3D horrors, and these scarred the minds of a whole generation of gamers.
Where would modern horror gaming be without Big Boo’s Haunt, the Mad Piano, and Unagi? Although these kinds of scares may now seem simplistic, the world of horror would not be where it is today if they did not give us a glimpse of the potential that 3D games could provide.
After the jump, we’ll see these revolutionary frights first hand, and learn about what it meant to see 3D fear for the first time.
The first entry in our article is not from Big Boo’s Haunt, as a matter of fact, but from the very first level in the game. Bob-omb Battlefield is the site of an eternal war between the war-loving Black Bob-ombs and the peaceful Pink Bob-ombs. There is one especially notable area in this world [that has nothing to do with Bob-ombs, however]: the Chain Chomp.
The Chain Chomp lies roughly in the middle of the level, chained to a post in front of a metal cage with a Power Star inside. The Chain Chomp, a giant black orb with large beady eyes and gigantic teeth guards this Power Star by lunging at any Mario who gets too close and barking furiously at them. It’s hard enough to just walk by this Chain Chomp without getting bitten, but the way to get the power star is even worse. You have to ground pound the post the Chain Chomp is tied to, freeing the beast and allowing you access to the Power Star.
This is obviously easier said than done, not just because the actual action is hard, but because working up the nerve to get close to the Chain Chomp takes intense focus. This is one incredibly stressful star to get, and it’s only the first level!
Big Boo’s Haunt
Big Boo’s Haunt, as its name suggests, is the home of the Boos in Super Mario 64, as well as the titular Big Boo. The level is Nintendo’s take on the prototypical haunted mansion, complete with moving furniture and mysterious paintings that follow your movements.
The furniture is one of the most distinctive elements of this level. In one room, you find two wooden chairs that will float up into the air and fly towards Mario when he gets close. In another room, books with teeth will float out of their shelves and follow Mario around trying to bite him. Both of these were very scary on their own, but pale in comparison to the greatest fright in this level.
In the later areas of the level, there is a small conservatory decorated with only a large piano. Behind it is a red coin, which you need to collect in order to get a Power Star. Imagine your surprise as a child when the piano’s lid springs open, revealing an enormous set of sharp teeth! You’ve encountered the Mad Piano, a snarling and growling haunted piano that is one of the scariest moments in the entire game. The piano will chase Mario around the room, making a horribly loud clanging sound the whole time. You have to confront this piano if you wish to gather all the stars, too – it’s unkillable, so you must run past it and get to the area it is guarding, hoping that it won’t bite you.
Deep underneath the mansion is a mysterious “Merry-Go-Round”, a rotating floor that you must fight a series of Boos on. Considering it’s located deep in the mansion’s basement, and that you must swim through a mysterious underground pool of water to get to it, is confusing and frightening enough. What makes it truly scary is the strange carnival music that plays when you are inside, a haunting calliope that turns what is creepy to absolutely eerie.
The Mr. I enemy also features in Big Boo’s Haunt, an enormous, floating, disembodied eyeball that tracks Mario’s every movement. They shoot white bubbles at you and can only be defeated by running around them in circles. They’re mostly harmless, but of special notice is a unique boss variant, Big Mr. I. As its name implies… it’s big. Twice as big as Mario, and located in a tiny secret room that can’t be accessed without the Invisibility Cap.
Jolly Roger Bay, one of the earliest levels, features the most fearful enemy in the game. This level as a whole gets huge marks in the fear factor for a variety of reasons: first off, it’s a water level. Secondly, this water level is populated with enormous snapping clams that can swallow Mario whole if you swim him too close to one. Third, a large portion of it is claustrophobic caverns filled with stalagmites that can fall and crush Mario. All of these are bad on their own, but are nothing compared to Unagi the Eel.
Unagi the Eel is an eel. He lives in the bottommost reaches of Jolly Roger Bay, poking his head out of small crevices. He is also gigantic. Easily several times Mario’s size, Unagi is without a doubt the most terrifying enemy in the entire game. Immense and unkillable, you must trick Unagi out of his hole without being swallowed alive as he guards a Power Star in the crevice. Once you do get him out of his hole, you get a chance to see his full length as he swims around the bottom of the bay looking for you to chomp. Then you must grab the Power Star itself, which is attached to the end of his tail! You must chase him, and actually come into contact with him hoping the clumsy underwater controls won’t cause you to drown first.
Speaking of giant fish, later in Tiny-Huge Island we encounter Bubba. Bubba is an orange Cheep Cheep that is, ostensibly, normal size. But due to the gimmick of Tiny-Huge Island, Mario gets shrunk down to a fraction of his normal height. What does this add up to? An enormous fish trying to eat you!
Bubba only shows up when you’re shrunk down to tiny size and is easily avoidable thanks to the Koopa shell located nearby, but if you are in the water, good luck on getting away from him.
After the fact…
Super Mario 64 is one of the most important video games ever made, but even historically essential video games can have their share of frights.
This article only just touched on some of the scariest moments in the game – there’s still stuff like Bowser’s levels, the oddness in Wet-Dry World, and mishaps involving penguin babies, but if we were to list every potentially scary moment we’d list the whole game. Super Mario 64 is often duplicated, but never imitated, and even now is a must play for any lover of the video game artform.
Have you played Super Mario 64? What scared you the most about it? Leave a comment and tell us!