Almost every long-running franchise out there ‘suffers’ from unauthorized ports, fan games, and other unofficial creations. While these love letters to popular series are good news for players, who get to experience titles beyond their original, sometimes obsolete platforms, they can be a nightmare for developers. Nintendo, in particular, is no stranger to blocking fan efforts that borrow its intellectual property.
Nintendo Life reported that the Japanese developer took out nearly 400 fan games in one swoop in January 2021. It also forced the takedown of 500 Mario and Zelda efforts in 2016. Perhaps most famously of all, though, was its termination of the Pokémon Uranium project, which spent almost a decade in development and attracted 1.5m trainers. Oddly enough, while the game can’t be downloaded anymore, the project is still very much alive.
It’s easy to wonder if Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker game was created purely to give players somewhere gated to exercise their idle hands.
Super Mario 64
All the above considered, the fact that you can now play an unofficial port of Super Mario 64 in your browser seems a little strange. The game is faithful to the Nintendo 64 release and includes all the penguin-throwing, star-collecting fun that first debuted in 1996. Only, this time, the game runs on HTML5. In its browser-based guise, Super Mario 64 also includes support for keyboard and mouse, gamepads, and saving. Perhaps best of all though is the fact that it’ll run on just about anything.
Browser-based play has come a long way in just a few years, after all. The original workhorse of internet gaming – Adobe Flash – has been retired but the internet is perhaps all the better for it.
Golden oldies like OGame, Tibia, and Ultima Online continue to putter along in 2D but three-dimensional graphics are no longer just a fantasy. Furthermore, browser-based experiences such as William Hill’s live casino, for example, which combines the table games of blackjack, roulette, and baccarat with a human dealer on webcam, are also pushing the envelope. The latter represents a push towards greater interactivity and realism in all online games.
The question remains why Nintendo appears to be allowing the Super Mario 64 port to go ahead at all, though. The answer may lie in previous takedowns. History tells us that Nintendo objects to fans making money from their licensed characters, re-making existing games, and potentially damaging the Mario and Zelda brands, for example, with unsavory content. While there’s still plenty of time for Nintendo to prove otherwise, the browser-based game appears to be breaking none of these unwritten rules.
Of course, intellectual property is a fluid thing, and Nintendo is notorious for being heavy-handed in its defense. That latter point stands as yet another reason why the newest iteration of Super Mario 64 may not be doing anything wrong in the developer’s collective eyes – it’s still online, despite coverage in the media. There’s also a precedent for Nintendo allowing the portly plumber to remain active on the PC under certain conditions.
Super Mario 64 Plus, for example, a PC port that released in April 2021, is an advanced re-release of the classic game that features a perma-death mode (one ‘life’ only), various tweaks, and 60FPS. The developer insists that, as it’s not an unofficial new entry in the Mario franchise, its existence is of no concern to Nintendo.
The Mario Fan Games Galaxy Twitter handle clarified that the character is also not as heavily guarded as Pokémon because Mario is fully owned by Nintendo. Pokémon is a joint venture between three different companies.
That all sounds a mite overconfident though.