Millennials who grew up playing video games likely have fond memories of their favorite classics from the 90’s, particularly the groundbreaking and wildly successful early 3D titles such as Super Mario 64. This nostalgia is so widespread that it’s led enterprising fans to create their own reimaginings of classic games, using emulators and clever programming tricks to modify the original code. These fan-made projects have become so ambitious in scope that they can rival and even exceed the quality of the games they’re based on, replacing nearly every element of the original titles with custom content. This is perhaps best exemplified by the recent Super Mario 64 Land, a total conversion mod of Super Mario 64 that introduces unique art, level design, and gameplay mechanics to the game engine of the celebrated Nintendo 64 launch title.
Despite legal challenges from Nintendo concerning the redistribution of their intellectual property, the emulation and modding community for classic Nintendo platforms including the Nintendo 64 has perhaps never been more active, as talented programmers and artists donate their time to create free, fan-made works inspired by their favorite titles. Due to its status as a best-selling classic and the litany of modding tools that have been developed for the title, Super Mario 64, released in 1996 to widespread critical acclaim, is the most popular N64 game to modify. Many of these mods exhibit impressive feats of programming and reverse-engineering, as in the cases of a mod that adds a 24-person online multiplayer feature to the game, a mod that lets you play the entire game from a first-person perspective, and even a custom level editor inspired by the recent Nintendo hits Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Maker 2.
The more inventive and creative mods, however, are those that replace existing game content with custom assets, including levels, character models, gameplay features, and music, to create an entirely new experience. Many such total conversion mods have been released over the past several years, including the popular Super Mario Star Road, released in 2011, and the cleverly-themed Super Mario 64: Halloween Edition. But the most recent release, created by a developer with years of experience creating custom content for Super Mario 64, aims to replicate the style and level of polish Nintendo is known for, and draws inspiration from the celebrated 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land.
Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property
Super Mario 64 is not the only classic Nintendo title that has received attention from the modding community. Ocarina of Time: Four Swords Arena Edition allows you to play the critically-acclaimed N64 Zelda title with three friends, and another mod adds custom stages to the classic fighting game Super Smash Brothers. Perhaps the most impressive fan-made Nintendo project from recent years was the remake called AM2R, a total re-imagining of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus for PC. While the developer was ultimately forced to remove access to the fangame by Nintendo’s legal team, the project ultimately allowed the developer to teach himself game design and programming, leading him to be hired by a professional game studio.
Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property, borrowing concepts from newer Mario titles such as their power ups and enemies. The Japanese company is notorious for issuing takedown notices to developers who modify their games, who generally capitulate to the entertainment giant by deleting links to their creations under threat of legal action. As such, the future availability of Super Mario 64 Land on the internet is uncertain, so if you’re interested in playing it, it’s a good idea to download the mod to your computer ASAP. Links to the mod, which is free but requires a ROM image of Super Mario 64 and a Nintendo 64 emulator, can be found in the description for the mod’s YouTube trailer.