Tricks, Treats, and Feats: Super Mario 64’s 120 Stars

When The Duck, Hatm0nster, and I were knocking around ideas for our “Tricks, Treats, and Feats” series, a big, personal question stuck in my mind.

“What are my gaming feats?”

Ye olde dictionary describes a “feat” as “an achievement that requires great courage, skill, or strength.”

Inasmuch as strength isn’t really a part of gaming, unless we’re talking mental acuity or physically holding a controller for hours on end, I overlooked that part of the definition. The same went with courage. (Although, with that in mind, perhaps my greatest gaming feat will someday be beating DOOM 3…I just…can’t…) So that left me with “skill,” rightfully a regular aspect of gaming. One needs to develops one’s skills in and with a game in order to beat it. And with the development of skills comes mastery. Have I ever harbored mastery over a game?

After thinking on that for a while, one game rose to the top: Super Mario 64.

I get that there’s nothing new about completing Super Mario 64 to its fullest in obtaining all 120 of its stars, but when I did it for the first time back when the game was new(ish), it was nothing short of a major accomplishment. It was the first time that I felt like I had truly mastered a game. I mean, I had prior beaten Super Metroid dozen times and clawed my way through DOOM until I couldn’t see straight, but I didn’t achieve the same level of satisfaction (and still haven’t, all these years later) with those games as I did upon getting Super Mario 64’s 120th star.

Part of what made the achievement more special than not lied in the game’s overall design. As I wrote of the game on my own blog:

I played through [Super Mario 64], like, a million times (or maybe just several), and each time the game just got better and better.  For me, the best things about the game were the fantastic level designs.  Each level contained secret passages and separate sections that were not always readily apparent.  There was nothing more awesome than finding a new part to a level and trying to defeat it.  It made the game seem new 120 times over (and there were a few secret levels as well)!  Of course, some levels were easier than others, and it was easy to find yourself going in circles, but the game never felt impossible.  Challenging, yes, because you did have to master every action in Mario’s arsenal to make it to each star.  The triple jump, the wall kick, the backflip, they were all there and necessary.

And therein lied the key: mastering movement in the game. Super Mario 64 was my (and probably most people’s) first 3D platformer. Gone was simply running and jumping from platform and platform like previous Mario games or any of a hundred preceding platform games. Super Mario 64 gave you worlds to explore. It retains all the elements of platforming but added that 3-dimensional twist. Learning to navigate within that space was something new and different…and difficult. Oh, the game wasn’t perfect, especially with its wonky camera. (I still have nightmares about falling forever in the Hazy Mazy Cave due to ill-timed jumps.) So it certainly wasn’t going to hand players those 120 stars on a silver platter. You really had to work for them! You really had to develop skills in properly maneuvering Mario throughout each level. At times, the levels could be tricky, frustrating, and downright maddening. But! With failure came learning, and from a that, skills, and from that, mastery. And something about the game compelled you to get all 120 stars. That was what elevated Super Mario 64 above its predecessors – it was personal. Sure, Mario’s goal was still to save princess Peach, but the player’s goal was to get all those stars. Therein lied only the personal satisfaction in knowing you had fully completed the game.

I’ve completed many games since Super Mario 64, but I can honestly say that the act of watching credits roll with joy and relief has never been matched. Those 120 stars made me experience a game in a new way, and they became the ballast that supported my future with games. Maybe I have more “cool” or “awesome” feats worth mentioning, but obtaining Super Mario 64 remains my first, And therefore, the best.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Particlebit says:

    Getting 120 stars is also something I consider one of my “big” gaming accomplishments. Seeing yoshi atop the castle was awesome, if only brief. I also spent a considerable amount of time trying to use wall jumps along the right side of the castle that supposedly would give roof access without 120 stars. That part never worked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I remember trying to reach the castle roof, as well, before getting all the stars. I was never able to either — I was never (and still am not) very good at wall jumps in the game. Seeing Yoshi up there when it was all said and done was just such a great surprise. Sure, there are bigger moments in many other games, but that one was purely special 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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