Super Mario 64 Vs. Super Mario Galaxy: Which Holds Up More?

When Super Mario 64 launched on the Nintendo 64 in 1996, it changed video games forever. Like how Super Mario Bros. set the standard for side-scrolling games, Super Mario 64 laid the foundation for how games in the third dimension should play. It wasn’t the first 3D video game, but Super Mario 64’s open worlds showed how to made traversing an open 3D environment fun and adventurous. In 2007, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy, the plumber’s big foray onto the Wii. Both games have retained an incredible lasting legacy. But, which is better? Are Super Mario 64’s diverse roster of worlds and wonderful music superior to Mario’s first trek into the cosmos?

Round 1: Level Design

After entering the castle, the first world players drop into in Super Mario 64 is Bob-omb Battlefield. Like how World 1-1 is the perfect starter in Super Mario Bros., Bob-omb Battlefield is a world-class introduction. The open area gives players freedom to run around and get used to the controls. The iron balls provide an excellent obstacle, letting you know the kind of dangers one can expect in the game. All of this is topped off with a battle against King Bob-omb at the top.

Super Mario 64 features a few other iconic worlds. Whomp’s Fortress is fun to traverse, and climbing Tick Tock Clock is a prime example of putting your platforming skills to use. The Bowser levels are also great for quality platforming. Now, with all that said, those playing Super Mario 64 for the first time may be surprised by how frustrating or tedious its level design can be. Rainbow Ride is by far the most infuriating. Instead of motivating you to try again, Rainbow Ride’s design encourages the thought, “Alright, let me see if I can get Stars elsewhere so I can avoid playing this.”

Super Mario Galaxy is virtually free of such annoyances, and innovates by combining classic platforming with new types of obstacles. The worlds in Super Mario Galaxy may not be as iconic as in Super Mario 64, but they are almost always more fun to play through. The first two levels in the Dreadnought Galaxy are examples of world-class platforming. There’s also Matter Splatter Galaxy, which has players carefully, but not too slowly, navigate platforms as they phase into existence. Like Super Mario 64, the Bowser levels are always a highlight. Bowser’s Dark Matter Plant puts an emphasis on moving about in different gravity sections, forcing players to carefully traverse so they don’t fall into a black hole.

You probably won’t get a Game Over in Super Mario Galaxy, but that doesn’t mean the game is devoid of challenge. Some levels, like the The Sinking Lava Spire in Melty Molten Galaxy, keeps you on your toes. Also, the Daredevil comets offer an excellent challenge, as you have to complete a level without taking any damage.

Overall, Super Mario 64 has iconic worlds, but Super Mario Galaxy is almost always a joy to play through. Compare the more tedious Stars in Mario 64 to climbing Mecha-Bowser in Mario Galaxy’s Toy Time Galaxy, and the difference in enjoyment becomes clear.

Round 2: Music

Mario games are acclaimed for many things, including music. Super Mario 64 is no different, delivering an instantly iconic soundtrack. The cheerful Bob-omb Battlefield music is the perfect theme for getting you started. “Dire, Dire Docks” is a masterpiece. “Bowser’s Road” is an incredible theme preparing you for your battle against the King of the Koopas. Those who play Super Mario 64 can never forget its music.

Super Mario Galaxy kicked things up a notch by featuring an orchestrated soundtrack. Because of its orchestra, the music has an appropriately grand feel, right from the title screen. Super Mario Galaxy is another example of spectacular music, from the epic Battlerock Galaxy theme, to the beautiful Space Junk Galaxy theme. I still get goosebumps when Bowser’s Airship theme plays. The Bowser’s Galaxy Reactor theme is the perfect sendoff, letting you know this is the trek to the last confrontation. Also, how Bowser’s battle theme is utilized is brilliant. Upon the battle’s onset, the theme begins, preparing you for the fight. Every time Bowser is injured, the music switches to an epic choir. Prior to Super Mario Galaxy, it’s unlikely anyone thought this kind of music would appear in a Mario game.

Overall, this is a close fight. The music in Super Mario 64 is excellent, from the opening remake of the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, to the soothing end title. Super Mario Galaxy’s orchestrated soundtrack is special, enhancing an already unforgettable experience. It could go either way, but Super Mario Galaxy will edge it out.

Final Round: Story

Those who say Super Mario games don’t have deep storylines are mostly correct. The games don’t put an emphasis on cinematic storytelling, or even plot in general. However, that doesn’t mean they are devoid of good narratives. Super Mario Sunshine broke the mold with its fun plot of Mario going on vacation, only to realize he has been framed by a shadow doppelganger later revealed to be Bowser’s son. The story in Super Mario Galaxy may not have had a court hearing, but there is something remarkable about it. For the first time, one can truly feel the emotional weight of Princess Peach being kidnapped. This is accomplished in the dramatic opening, making Bowser a sinister antagonist again. From there, Mario meets Rosalina, an excellent addition to the franchise’s mythos. Part of the climax is a beautiful reunion between Mario and Peach.

Super Mario Galaxy also has the optional Rosalina’s Storybook. So much emotion is packed into this little tale. Super Mario 64 doesn’t quite have that involved story attachment in comparison. Of course, the emphasis was on creating grand worlds in a dynamic 3D environment. It didn’t need a good story to be fun. Likewise, Super Mario Galaxy didn’t need a good story to enjoy the levels. But, Galaxy did in fact have a fantastic story, the best of the series in execution. No Super Mario platformer has a wholly satisfying story like Galaxy’s.

Winner: Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy are both excellent games. But, Super Mario Galaxy comes out on top. It’s a prime example of world-class level design accompanied by stellar music and an unexpectedly dramatic storyline. Super Mario 64 revolutionized 3D gameplay, but Super Mario Galaxy perfected it.

NEXT: Is Super Mario Galaxy’s Switch Port Actually From 2018?

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Daniel has been writing video game news, features, and reviews at TheGamer for some time now. He also contributes to ScreenRant. In the past, he’s written for ComicBookMovie, Unleash the Fanboy, and 411 Mania. He resides in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and graduated from Thomas Edison State University with a B.A. in Communications. His favorite video game company is Nintendo, and once you get him talking about Mario or Smash Bros., he won’t stop. He has also enjoyed many PlayStation exclusives, such as The Last of Us and Horizon: Zero Dawn. The only other entertainment he enjoys more than gaming is watching a Godzilla movie.

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