I've played many Mario Bros. games over the years. One of the biggest releases for the 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land, ended up being one of my favorites in the entire series. But I still have a soft spot for Super Mario 64. Ever since I played it on my N64, I have regarded it as not only one of the best platforming games I've ever played, but also the single best Mario game to date. The game is host to a number of very different levels, each of which is beautifully inspired, rich, and colorful. Below is a list of my five very favorites - they are not listed in any particular order, but I do consider them superior to the rest (note: secret stages and Bowser roads are ineligible - I'm only taking full-fledged worlds into consideration).
Bob-omb Battlefield: Nintendo did a phenomenal job in preparing players for everything that lie ahead by first dropping them into this large open field. It isn't exactly teeming with enemies or environmental hazards, but jumping on goombas and avoiding the giant rolling balls allows players to familiarize themselves with the controls and game mechanics. Acquiring each star on this course requires a different approach, from racing up the mountain to collecting all the red coins to launching yourself out of a cannon - all in the interest of preparation.
Lethal Lava Land: This fire level is also heavy on puzzle elements, requiring players to collect red coins above a constantly shifting puzzle floor and maintain balance as they roll giant columns. And while the surface offers all this and a few mini-boss encounters, the inside of the volcano is far more expansive than the exterior would indicate. It's like an extra level attached to Lethal Lava Land just waiting to be scaled.
Big Boo's Haunt: Creepy gothic horror in an otherwise happy atmosphere, Big Boo's Haunt is a huge deviation from the other levels. The classic haunted mansion holds a number of puzzles within, and the stronger enemies that inhabit it somewhat discourage a direct approach. While most of the rooms branching off the main foyer are rather small, there is a lot packed into each one.
Wet Dry World: One of the larger levels in the game, Wet Dry World is divided into two major sections. The first area is what you see everytime you enter - a set of switches that gradually raise the water level to allow you access to the higher brick walls and floating plaforms in the sky. But off to the side is a chain-link fence that begs to be explored. One you've managed to get over it, you find there is a sunken city. Visiting this extra area is really only necessary for collecting one of the stars, but its design is so vastly different that the rest of Wet Dry World, and yet somehow so similar.
Hazy Maze Cave: Among the largest levels in Super Mario 64 is Hazy Maze Cave, a series of trials that will test your ability to adapt to the situation at hand. Some stars are easy enough to collect, requiring simple feats like a few wall jumps. Others require a bit more time and effort, like reaching Dorrie the sea monster or finding your way through a maze of toxic gas. Few of Hazy Maze Cave's missions present you with as substantial a challenge as those found in either Tick Tock Clock or Rainbow Ride, but do require some time and patience when compared to earlier levels in the game.