Renewable health in Super Mario 64

As you can probably tell from my Tumblr account, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Super Mario 64 recently and there is one thing that I’ve been wandering for quite some time thinking about the minutia of how the game as a whole is structured. This means that this post will be about unravelling the health mechanism in Mario 64.

The main way of getting health back is by collecting coins:

  • Yellow: 1 Health
  • Red: 2 health
  • Blue: 5 health

Coins are scattered all over each level, so it’s really easy to just grab a hold of one when the time comes. However if you spend a long time in a level, particularly if you’re collecting 100 coins, you’re going to run out of places where you can find them. This means that as the level progresses, finding health becomes harder and harder with each coin you collect.

This means that eventually you’re going to have to depend on renewable health to get back to speed.

Swimming for renewable health

When you have a look at any cheat list for Super Mario 64, the one that’s usually at the very top would be the ‘cheat’ of recovering your health by jumping into water and then rising to the surface. This works because Mario 64 uses the same ‘life bar’ for overall health and underwater breath. This makes any body of water become an infinite resource for gaining health back.

Gaining health when surfacing.

I think that most people think that this is a glitch, but I think that it’s intentional. Why? Well, I think that it’s because it was meant to be a source of infinite health for the player. However, there are levels that don’t have any water in them, isn’t there? Well, for those levels, we always have..

Getting health back with rotating hearts

The other method for getting infinite amounts of health back is by using rotating hearts. These are little ‘items’ that stay put on a level and when the player runs through them, they get some health back. The faster you run through, the more health you get. There isn’t a better definition of an infinite health source than the rotating heart.

Gaining health with a rotating heart in Mario 64

Why the hell I’m bringing this up

One thing that you’ll notice after having a think about this is that, with a couple of exceptions, every single level in Super Mario 64 has either one or the other.

LevelWaterSpinning heart
Castle (overworld hub)In the courtyard and basement.
Bob-omb BattlefieldOn the spiral mountain
Jolly Roger BayEverywhere
Cool, Cool MountainUnder the wall-jump star
Big Boo's HauntAround the merry-go-round
Hazy Maze CaveIn the very deep end, with DorrieLedge on the big pit
Lethal Lava LandIn the volcano, on a set of platforms
Shifting Sand Landin the oasisIn the pyramid, after the rolling trollface
Dire, Dire DocksEverywhere
Snowman's Land
Wet-Dry WorldEverywhere
Tall, Tall MountainAlong the waterfalls
Tiny-Huge Island
Tick Tock ClockAt the beginning of the level & half-way up the clock
Rainbow Ride2: On the big spinning platforms & at the bottom of the maze
Tower of the Wing Cap
Vanish Cap Under the Moat
Cavern of the Metal CapAlong the river
The Princess's Secret Slide
The Secret AquariumEverywhere, but no surface
Wing Mario over the Rainbow
Bowser in the Dark World
Bowser in the Fire Sea2: After the sinking platforms towards the end
Bowser in the Sky2: About halfway through the level, close to the arrow platform & just before the end of the level

As you can see, every level has at least either a rotating heart or a pool of water that you can jump into. This was done so that the player can stay as long as they’d like in a level.

The exceptions

There are only a few exceptions to this: Whomp Fortress, Snowman’s Land and a whole bunch of smaller stages. I believe I know the reason why, even if it is a bit far fetched. The smaller stages are too short and have more opportunities to get an instakill than to get regular damage so having a source of unlimited health is rather pointless.

The other cases technically do have water in them, it’s just not useful for gaining health. The water pool in Whomp’s fortress is too shallow to swim in so it cannot be used to emerge. Snowman’s Land on the other hand has a few pools of water, one of which kills you like lava and the other one slowly decreases your health over time.

My theory is that these pools originally were designed to contain regular swimmable water, but the developers decided to make it not swimmable and forgot to add a heart or something similar. This means that during development the pool in Whomp’s Fortress was deeper and the water in Snowman’s land was not freezing.

What do you think about this theory?

Articles across the web

Ever wondered about the mysteries of renewable health in Super Mario 64? Of course not. That doesn't mean that I won't tell you all about it.
Article published on N64 Squid


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