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How Super Mario 64 Influenced The N64's Controller

In hindsight, the Nintendo 64 controller was unusual for its time. Its "trident-like" shape didn't seem streamlined for easily reaching buttons within a close space, especially for children with small hands. You could only really grip two of the prongs at any given time. A popular theory claimed that the N64 controller was designed for playing the best-selling Nintendo 64 game, "Super Mario 64," but the truth is more complicated than that.

According to Den of Geek, multiple Nintendo representatives, including Nintendo CEO Shigeru Miyamoto, have debunked that theory. Giles Goddard, a programmer who worked on "Mario 64," was just one person who spoke about the theory in an interview on Pixelatron. "It wasn't so much that controller dictated Mario 64, it was just that was the game [Miyamoto] was working on. Mario was the way of testing it out," said Giles Goddard, a programmer who worked on "Mario 64." 

In other words, the N64 controller was meant for playing "Super Mario 64" and the hit games following it – not just one game. It was designed to cater to what Nintendo thought would be helpful for playing both 2D and 3D games in an era where games were transitioning to 3D.

A product of the era

The Nintendo 64 controller was essentially designed to be two controllers in one: one for 2D, and one for 3D. One Redditor drew a diagram of the two ways users could theoretically hold the N64 controller. The blue outline was supposed to be for 2D games that had more of a "grid" architecture and didn't need the analog stick. Meanwhile, the red outline included the analog stick, which was supposed to be important for 3D gaming that needed avatars to move outside of a 4-way grid. Think "Hey You, Pikachu!

As Den of Geek put it, "Nintendo's design was based on the idea that gamers would rarely need to access all of the N64's buttons at once." However, as 3D gaming evolved, it became more obvious how controllers needed many more inputs than expected. Many Nintendo games didn't end up using the blue outline layout and some games ended up needing to use the buttons together and disregard the original intent behind the design of the controller to keep up with competitors. 

So "Super Mario 64" might have been the first game in mind, but it wasn't the only one. Some retro gamers still recommend playing with the original N64 controller to experience N64 games "as intended," so it seems like it was worth it.