Hub worlds are the backbone of many great video games. They provide a home base for the player and can serve many mechanical functions, with tutorials, world-building, story progression and more. Of the thousands of hub worlds in gaming history, Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64 is considered by many to be the best to this day.
As the first 3D game in the long and varied history of the Mario franchise, Super Mario 64 had a lot riding on it to do well. As one of the first major 3D games, Super Mario 64 had the additional challenge of acclimating gamers to platforming in three-dimensional space, something they wouldn’t have had much experience with at the time. The genius design of Peach’s Castle, Super Mario 64‘s hub world, is one of the biggest reasons the game exploded in popularity.
Peach’s Castle Is a Movement Playground
Super Mario 64‘s greatest strength is undoubtedly its eternally engaging movement system. With moves like a backflip, triple jump, dive, long jump, wall kicks and much more for players to learn and master, it’s no wonder that Super Mario 64 maintains a dedicated speedrun community to this day. With such a robust movement system, it was extremely important for the game to ease players into learning how to move effectively.
Modern games may have solved this problem with forced tutorials that explain how movement works. Super Mario 64 takes a different and infinitely more entertaining route. When a player starts a new file, the only tutorial they are given is guidance on which button is jump vs. attack and how to read signs. Then, players are left to freely roam outside Peach’s Castle, discovering the game’s movement at their own pace and to whatever depth they want.
The area is full of climbable trees, slopes for players to slide down, water to swim in and optional signs to be read. Free of any enemies, it’s a safe area where players can experiment and learn. While this was very helpful for players new to 3D platforming, it’s also just good game design. The free-form nature of the outside area, which is essentially a tutorial zone, allows players to leave whenever they feel ready, as Peach’s Castle can be entered at any point. Experienced players and speedrunners can simply go straight to Peach’s Castle with no formal tutorial to slow down their playthrough.
Peach’s Castle in Mario 64 Naturally Encourages Players to Experiment
Once inside the castle, the game constantly pushes players to slowly become more comfortable with the movement system. The paintings that Mario must enter to get to the game’s levels are off the ground, forcing the player to jump or dive into them. Railings and staircases are strategically placed to entice players to try and create their own shortcuts by back-flipping and wall-kicking to save time. As they play the game, players will get better and faster at navigating between the doors in Peach’s Castle, which promotes a great sense of mastery and progression.
Nintendo knows that the most engaging and fun part of the game is the fluid movement system, so the hub world is built around promoting it. For games that are more heavily focused on lore, a great hub world would prioritize world-building instead of movement. A great hub world is personal, and it always promotes the strong points of its game.