I am a huge Super Mario and Nintendo fan. Super Mario 64 is probably my second favourite game ever made - behind Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Before I get to my list, it's worth mentioning that I enjoyed all of the courses on the game - although some were certainly much better than others.
5. Cool, Cool Mountain (Course 4)
There's a lot to like about this one, as first and foremost, it's the first snow course on the game - and I love snow! “Cool, Cool Mountain” is the fourth course on the game after “Bob-Omb Battlefield”, “Whomp’s Fortress” and “Jolly Roger Bay”, but the snowy landscape and jovial music makes it completely different to the first three. For starters, there's a penguin to race down a secret slide, a separate slide that's hugely fun to traverse down, a baby penguin to save and return to its mother, a spot on the edge of the map where Mario teleports. There's also a non-snowy area of the map where Mario has to land on an enemy’s head and pirouette in order to reach the isolated area of the course. A nice little touch was if Mario fell from a height, he would get stuck in the snow for a short period. But more than anything else, hearing the whimsical music playing still makes me happy to this day.
4. Shifting Sand Land (Course 8)
To even reach this level you have to jump into a blank wall that is hiding a level behind it. It’s strange to find a desert level in-between a lava and a cave level, but the fact that it's a blank wall on the outside and a desert on the inside makes it even cooler.
The course in its entirety is brilliant as there's so much going on. For me, the pyramid offers some of the best gameplay on Super Mario 64. Not only that, but you had the quicksand to avoid, the rolling metal cubes to navigate past, and you even have to climb up some pillars to kick a bird that's holding a star in its talons. The quicksand that surrounds the pyramid makes the course really tricky, so using a flight cap or green shell was the way to go when I played it.
The music inside the pyramid was very different, and it was quite eerie too. There's also a mini boss when the top of the pyramid lifts off and you descend into it.
3. Lethal Lava Land (Course 7)
You get to enter the volcano, play a shifting jigsaw puzzle, run along a thin log above boiling lava, and push the ‘bullies’ into the lava - not to mention being able to use the flight cap. Mario’s reaction to falling in the lava is as funny today as it was when I first played the game.
The volcano was similar to the pyramids in “Shifting Sand Land”, as it felt like a level within itself - especially the part where you ride the lift and climb to the top to reach a star.
There were platforms that expanded and retracted, which made timing your move even more important. You even had to time your jump into the volcano right, but nothing was quite as fun as riding a green shell around the course. The background music was really cool as well and it suited the landscape of the course.
2. Tick-Tock Clock (Course 14)
This level was so clever and unique. The fast and frenetic music made the level all the more enjoyable as you're climbing around a series of clocks and cogs. Almost everything was on the move, and it felt like you could falter at any point and have to start from the beginning all over again. You could mistime a jump, fall off a disappearing object, or get hit by a swinging pendulum. I liked the quest for the star where you get carried by the long clock hand into a star that's right at the top of the course. Treadmills and rotating platforms are essentially the makeup of this course, but it's the way you have to quickly navigate them that makes it special and skilful in equal measure.
1. Rainbow Ride (Course 15)
It was a close call between this course and “Tick-Tock Clock” for the top spot, but riding on a rainbow carpet and stopping off at various locations along the way made this level a barrel of fun. “Rainbow Road” had the same music as “Tick-Tock Clock”, but it had a more open world feel and unpredictability. The whole course was vivid, and often you weren't sure where you were going, but that added to the whole experience and enjoyment. The first star took you on a longer journey, where you had to reach a boat in the sky, the second led you into and on top of a house in the sky. The hunt for the red coins was fun, swinging on a pendulum was brilliant, as was navigating the disappearing and spinning platforms - and by far the best was reaching the boat and being fired towards a star by a cannon. The level of imagination on display on “Rainbow Ride” makes it my favourite course on the game. It's often said that you ‘save the best until last’ and it's no exception here.
So there you have it: my 'Top 5 Super Mario 64 Courses', and I'd like to give a special mention to all the courses as they are brilliant, and especially to “Whomp’s Fortress” and “Tall, Tall Mountain” as they almost snuck onto my list. Let me know if you agree with the five courses I chose, or argue a case for your favourite courses in the comment section below!