Debunking the infamous Super Mario 64 screenshot
With all the Super Mario 64 talk lately regarding a Nintendo Switch remake, I started to notice a particular screenshot that has been shared quite extensively, used by numerous websites. From first glance, this depiction of Super Mario 64 is definitely not from the game itself, it looks like a fake. It's odd that so many people were using it.
Is this "really" Super Mario 64? Hell no.
In the image, Mario is doing his signature "V" pose after collecting a star. But what is unusual is the location, you see a few towers with an orange roof that is like what you see at Princess Peach's castle. In addition, Mario's texture colour has a different tone of red, a slightly pinkish hue. The graphics in the screenshot were also very sharp, so it was clearly recorded from an emulator. I started to suspect it was a ROM hack, where a modder created customized Super Mario 64 stages.
If you search for "Super Mario 64" on Google Images, one of the top matches is this screenshot, leading to an article posted by VentureBeat in a Super Mario 64 20th anniversary post. It's kind of remarkable that the writer of the article didn't even realize that this isn't even a real game screenshot, and likely just Googled it.
Other prominent websites that have used the same image include: SlashGear, Gizmodo, Mashable, and even IGN! A recent video about the Final Fantasy VII remake by Gameranx also includes this screenshot, referring to Mario's 3D transformation.
Anyone that has actually played this game should recognize that there is nowhere in the real Super Mario 64 that looks like this. The VentureBeat article credits the screenshot to Mario Party Legacy. I did a little bit of research on and found a post on MPL about a Super Mario 64 mod called "Super Mario Star Road". The post and image in question appears to be first posted in 2013.
In addition, I did more research by asking on 1-Up World, the official r/Mario Discord chat and thanks to blminspace and Mahskie I got confirmation that this screenshot is likely from the "Star Road" hack.
At this point, it's pretty clear that this screenshot is obviously not from the game. I decided to try playing the Super Mario Star Road hack myself. The Super Mario 64 Hacks Wiki shows this stage is called Sky Land Resort, which is based on Whomp's Fortress.
The player who took the original screenshot appeared to have collected this star as their very first star in the game. This star requires the Green "!" Switch to obtain normally as there are a few elevated platforms on some invisible green boxes that need to be activated. To get to the Green "!" Switch, that would actually require 8 stars, which meant there was another way to do this.
It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually I found a way to reach this star by getting to the very top of the level and after doing a leap of faith, I got to the same place where this "infamous" Super Mario 64 screenshot was taken.
Similarly, there was a Super Mario World screenshot often treated as gospel as reported by Gaming Reinvented. This screenshot is often depicted as the real game when the Goombas are clearly from Super Mario Bros. 3.
It's astonishing that many websites and even videos continue to use this screenshot as a real Super Mario 64 screenshot, and it's quite a disgrace. It's either they don't know what they're talking about, or they are just plain lazy. Content creators and gaming journalists need to do better investigation and research in order to produce quality, accurate content.