If you are reading this, chances are you have completed, or played, Super Mario 64 at least once. Even if you have not, keep reading! While an experienced player might be looking for anything that would make their next playthrough more exciting or unconventional, learning more about the game before jumping in can give a first-time player a better sense of what to expect. It can also make the game much less frustrating: this list of hidden secrets is, in reality, a compendium of advanced techniques and less explored corners of the game. Think of it as learning from the mistakes of those who came before you.
As for the experienced player, just because you have been playing the game steadily for the past 21 years does not mean that you have nothing else left to learn from it. Despite being the kind of sucker who bought and downloaded Super Mario 64 on every single platform for which it was available, researching this list made me discover a few things I had missed.
So take a look at this convenient list of 20 hidden secrets from the rich world of Super Mario 64. It has gameplay tricks, neat little quirks, and some lesser known facts about the game. At the very least, you will brush up your knowledge on one of the most influential games of the early 3D era.
21 The Corpse Of The Fallen King
You first big boss encounter in Super Mario 64 will bring you face to face with King Bob-Omb, ruler of everything that has to do with the explosive critters. In order to get to the top of the mountain where he resides, Mario has to cross a ditch which contains two gigantic black marbles rolling back and forth. Once you defeat King Bob-Omb, himself a gigantic black marble with a crown, a third one appears in the ditch. Is that a coincidence? You could be inclined to believe so, but the pink Bob-Omb near the start of the level seemingly confirms this theory. In its own words, the King is “nothing but a big dud now!”. In short, after defeating the monarch, his corpse apparently falls off the mountain and rolls around a ditch forever. Good job!
20 The Butterfly Collector
On Tiny-Huge Island, Mario alternates between being a giant in a small world, or a dwarf in a gigantic world. You can start the level in either reality depending on which painting you jump in. Should you choose to start as a giant, Mario will find nothing near the entrance except for a very tiny Goomba, and a trio of pinkish butterflies. The Goomba is easily dealt with, but what about the butterflies? These apparently innocent creatures actually hide a secret. If you can manage to punch them, they will transform. Some of them will transform into a one-up mushroom… while others will become Mario-seeking bombs. The odds seem to be random, so punching the insects is like playing the lottery. If you feel lucky, some of them also hang out in the castle's courtyard.
19 An Interesting Choice Of Decoration
The Bowser in the Sky level is so full of obstacles and tricky jumps that it’s hard to stop by and enjoy the scenery. This is unfortunate, as doing so would have allowed me to catch this interesting decoration much earlier. Near the end of the level, on the platform filled with columns, take the time to stop by one of them and switch to the first-person view. You will notice that the hieroglyphs on the column depict Bowser spitting fire at Mario, with both of them depicted in the style of their original Super Mario Bros. apparition for NES. With this being Bowser’s home, the engraving obviously depicts the boss as winning the encounter. Considering the usual result of their encounter, we can let Bowser enjoy this shallow victory.
18 Time Is On My Side
Tick Tock Clock is one of the most peculiar levels in the entire game. Taking place inside of a clock’s mechanism, it feels more like an obstacle course than a world to explore. Furthermore, the gears and levers and platforms seem to change speed every time you enter the course. If you want to have more control over the clock, then pay attention to the minutes hand before entering. If you enter the course with the minutes hand on 3, the gears will move much slower. At 6, they will move slightly faster, which is a good way to get where you need to go in a hurry if you know what you are doing. Entering at 9 will provide the biggest challenge, as the gears will move out of sync and erratically. Finally, if you are more of the peaceful type, enter at 12 so that everything stands still.
17 Money Makes The World Go Round
Finding the 100 coins star in every level is one of the most tedious part of the game, as some levels seems to be very stingy when it comes to handing out currency. To make your life easier, here’s a trick I wish I had known years ago: If you encounter one of those seemingly useless wooden post, as in Bob-Omb Battlefield for example, resist the urge to pound them into the ground (so don't do what the header image shows). Instead, run around said post five times, and five coins will pop out. In Bob-Omb Battlefield’s case, we are talking about 20 extra coins right there, which brings you a fifth of the way. So keep spinning around the posts. It might not be as fun as pounding them down with Mario’s butt, but it’s a lot more rewarding.
16 Bowser’s Secret Message
If for some reason you feel like beating Bowser again after collecting 120 stars (I know I never had that idea), then head back to the course titled “Bowser in the Sky”. You will need to defeat him again, but this time, his losing speech will be different. Instead of the standard “You have beaten me!” spiel, Bowser will lament the worthlessness of his troops as well as his own ineptitude. Indeed, his message makes it clear that Bowser was unaware of the existence of the castle’s secret stars, and that he was not the one who hide them. He simply missed them during his conquest of the castle. If you really want to see a deposed tyrant break down and lose his mind, I guess it might be worth revisiting the big boss fight.
15 Dust Yourself Off And Try Again
Speaking of Bowser in the Sky, the final fight against the King of Koopa is much more challenging than his previous encounters. This time, the stage crumbles to the shape of a star, severely reducing the available area in which Mario can dodge Bowser’s attack. Do not be ashamed if it takes you a few tries before you finally defeat him. Nintendo thought that it might happen, and therefore, carefully hid a one-up mushroom near the warp pipe that takes you to the duel. On the platform that has a bunch of Goombas and several pillars, look behind the far-left one. The one-up mushroom will be there every time you come back, effectively giving you an unlimited number of tries to defeat your nemesis.
14 Break Down The Walls
Super Mario 64 isn’t really known for its breakable walls. That is usually the realm of the Legend of Zelda series, which supplies the player with bombs for such tasks. Still, in Whomp’s Fortress, there is an area which provides the exception to the rule. Once the Whomp has been defeated once, the top of the fortress will be replaced with a tower. At the bottom of it, there’s a specific part of the wall which can be punched. Doing so will break the brick and reveal a 1-up mushroom hiding in an alcove. There is no hint that you should punch there (although the polygon is slightly visible when playing on an emulator), and as far as I know, it is the only place in the game where such a feat is possible.
13 End Credits Directed By…
The end credits of Super Mario 64 remain among the best the medium has ever seen, mostly on the strength of the song along. Sure, a peck on the nose is probably fun for Mario, but that song is a highlight of the game. Still, if you want to spice things up a little during the credits, then why don’t you plug in a controller into the second port on your console? That second controller will be able to move the camera in different directions, basically making you the director of your own credit sequence. While you cannot move the camera with the same freedom available during the game, you can still change the direction where it is looking. So if you’d rather look at the castle’s architecture than Mario and friends waving, have at it.
12 We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Cannon
It is no secret that Yoshi is waiting on top of the castle for any courageous soul who decided to collect all 120 power stars, but did you know that it is possible to get to the top without using the cannon which unlocks after completing the feat? You will need to go the right end of the castle, and spot the hill that’s right next to the castle’s wall. A well-placed triple jump will get Mario most of the way up the hill. When he starts sliding, jump again, and you should be able to grab on to the wall. Just make sure to grab on to the proper section, as illustrated in this video. If you climb the wall nearest to the hill, you will die instantly instead.
11 Keep Stomping Those Moles
Here’s another trick which I didn’t know about, but which would have made my life easier. Monty Moles can be found in Hazy Maze Cave and in Tall Tall Mountain. These annoying animals throw rocks at Mario, but you can make them pay with a little patience. Whenever one sneaks out of its hole, stomp them. If you stomp eight of them in a row without leaving the area or stomping a different type of enemy, you will be rewarded with an extra life. With the configuration of Hazy Maze Cave, particularly, it’s possible to stomp one group, get the mushroom, go to another group, get THEIR mushroom, and make your way back to the first group to start the process all over.
10 Working Your Way Up
Some of the slopes in Super Mario 64 are steep enough to make climbing them tough, but possible if you never let go of the control stick. Some slopes are even steeper than that, but are still conquerable with a little patience if you crawl your way up them. Finally, for the ones that are supposedly impossible to climb, there’s a little trick that can take you to the top. When you encounter one of those surfaces which will make you slide back down under normal circumstances, run at full speed towards the slope and hold down the A button. Then, mash the B button in such a way that Mario starts jump-kicking repeatedly. If you have the proper timing, the constant jump-kicking will make you gain ground and eventually work your way to the top.
9 Imitation Is Flattery
Cool Cool Mountain is a course which is known for its penguins, ranging from cute to freakishly large. One of the stars in the level puts Mario in charge of reuniting the smaller penguin with its abnormally oversized mother. It’s a noble endeavour, but there’s one thing which is just as fun and much cuter: belly slides. If Mario does one of his patented belly flops next to the baby penguin, it will try to imitate the plumber and do its own version of the slide, just a thousand times more adorable. For bonus penguin mischief, try grabbing the baby penguin again once it has been taken back to the mother: her expression will change to a furious stare and she will pursue you until you let go of her kid.
8 The Biggest Challenge So Far
Here’s one more fun little secret related to penguins. Still in Cool Cool Mountain, there’s a very large bird waiting for you in the lodge near the start of the level. Usually, it will challenge you to a race down the slide, with a power star on the line should you win the race. If you think that winning without using the shortcut is tough, then try going back to the lodge after collecting all 120 stars. The penguin is still there, and still incredibly tall, but this time he is twice as wide as he used to be. He explains that it is because he has let himself go and hasn’t been practicing in a while. With his added girth, he will downright knock you off the course in the tighter curves. Not bad for an out-of-shape penguin.
7 Controlling The Elements
Wet-Dry World is a course which offers challenges based on the level of the water within. Think of it as a prototype version of Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. The water level can be changed using a crystal switch situated in various parts of the course. This can make the process of collecting the power stars incredibly tedious, as manipulating water levels isn’t any more fun in a Mario game than in a Zelda game. For many years, this was my most despised Super Mario 64 course, until I came across this tip: Depending on how high you jump into the painting, you can control the initial level of the water. Jump in low for next to no water, and jump in as high as you can to flood the whole place.
6 Bending The Laws Of Physics
Super Mario 64 defies the laws of physics in many ways, but at least, it seems like most of the game’s actions follow its own internal logic. The game’s weird very loose interpretation of real world physics can work to Mario’s advantage. A fall from too high can wreck your health meter, but there’s a way to save yourself from such a fall. Just execute a ground-pound when you are inches away from the ground: Mario will stop dead in his track Looney Tunes-style, do a little flip, and finish his fall from a safe distance. Doing so will negate any damage that would have been caused by the trip down. Move over, Neville. Mario is the true man that gravity forgot.
5 No Need To Be Rude
Back to Whomp’s Fortress, where there’s a power star sitting in the middle of a cage, readily available to anyone who can fly up to it. Since Mario does not (normally) possess the ability to fly, he will need the help of an owl which he can summon by climbing a tree near the start of the level. Hanging on to the claws of the owl will make it possible to control it all the way to the cage. However, should you decide to abuse your owl privilege and explore the surroundings for too long, the owl will have a message for Mario: “Lay off the pasta”, he will say, before dropping Mario wherever the duo happens to be. Better hope that it’s not over the bottomless pit surrounding the fortress, because the owl really doesn’t care if you live or die.
4 Life In The Courtyard
If you would like to have a little more lives on the counter before you start exploring the castle, then head back outside. The area surrounding the castle is filled with ways of racking up extra lives at your convenience. First of all, there’s a tree next to the castle’s main entrance which will give you a 1-up mushroom if you climb to the top. Entering the castle and exiting will make the mushroom available again. Secondly, once the moat has been drained, you can head under the bridge. Collecting both coins will summon another 1-up mushroom. Finally, entering the secret course down the moat’s drain will give you easy access to three 1-up mushrooms. Diving off the course will not make you lose a life, thus leaving you free to re-enter the level and collecting the freebies once more.
3 Blowing Up The Chain Chomp
One of the red coins in Bob-Omb Battlefield happens to be floating over the post to which the enormous Chain Chomp is tied. Getting around the erratic movements of the Chain Chomp is one of the most annoying moments early in the game, but thankfully, there’s a way to get around it which would have been nice to know two decades ago: if you are quick enough, you can go snatch a Bob-Omb from the nearby field, wait for the right moment, and throw it just underneath the Chain Chomp. The explosion will send it straight up in the air, where it will hang out for a few seconds, giving you enough time to snatch the red coin. Be aware that once it falls down, should you happen to be in the drop zone, you WILL get hurt.
2 Peaking Behind The Curtain
If you are the kind of person who enjoys seeing what goes on behind the scene, then there’s good chance you might have owned a GameShark back in the days. The device can give you access to two nifty debug displays in Super Mario 64. These menus do not allow you to change some values unlike other codes, but they do show how the game calculates Mario’s speed and trajectory as well as how it handles enemies and objects. To access the first one, enter “A032D598 0059”. You will now be able to see how much memory is in use, as well as numbers related to Mario’s movements. As for the more complex menu, the Gameshark code is much too long to print in this article, but can be found here. It will give you access to info on maps, backgrounds and the different objects loaded in the game’s memory.
1 I Don’t Think That’s How Death Works
This trick only applies to the Japanese version of the game. Not many people in North America have access to it, but retro collectors have been importing more and more foreign versions, and, well, there are also emulators that give people access to different builds of popular games. With that said, here’s one trick made possible by a tiny difference between the two games. While our version limits the counter to 999 coins, the Japanese version goes to 1000. The only time where such a number is possible is in a fight against Bowser, where coins generate every time he spits fire. It will take a while, but getting to 1000 coins will switch Mario’s lives number to “M25”. From there, whenever he dies, it ADDS one to his counter. The inverse is also true: collecting a one-up mushroom will subtract from the lives counter.