The late ‘90s were great for Nintendo fans.
1996’s Super Mario 64 and 1998’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time aren’t just known as two of the best games on the Nintendo 64 — they’re two of the greatest games of all time.
With the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch last year, millions of people around the world are long-jumping their way around Super Mario 64’s Princess Peach’s castle! 25 years after the release of Super Mario 64, some players are exploring the castle for the first time!
Playing through Super Mario 64 in 2021, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Super Mario 64 was in the ‘90s.
Before its release on the 64, the last time we saw Mario in a main series Mario game, he was just a little 2D sprite on our Gameboy screens in 1992’s Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.
(I know I’m skipping over Super Mario RPG, but many people don’t consider it a mainline game, and Nintendo released it just a month before Super Mario 64.)
Four short years later, Mario was a fully developed character who could in three dimensions! Super Mario 64 is where our image of who Mario is and what he sounds like emerges. It’s also where our modern concept of open-world gameplay and 3D platforming begins.
But it’s not perfect.
Throughout Princess Peach’s castle, there are 120 power stars that Mario has to find to complete the game.
You don’t have to find all 120 stars to reach the final boss fight with King Bowser and save the princess.
But if you want to complete the game and see Yoshi on top of the castle, you have to look high and low for every single one of them.
With 120 power stars to collect, it’s not surprising that some of them aren’t great, right?
With the necessary “Super-Mario-64-is-great” preamble out the way, here are the seven worst power stars in Super Mario 64.
Whomp’s Fortress: Blast Away the Wall
When I’m playing Super Mario 64 today, climbing into the cannon and blasting through the wall in Whomp’s Fortress is instinctive, like finding the hidden block with the extra-life mushroom in Super Mario Bros. 1-1. But what did it feel like the first time? I honestly can’t remember, but I have to imagine I was irritated.
To get this star, you first have to talk to the Bom-omb Buddy to unlock the cannon. Then, you jump in the cannon, aim yourself a little above the corner of the wall, and blast away. Mario will slam into the wall, breaking the edge off and revealing a power star.
That’s it. Easy.
But “Blast Away the Wall” is one of those power stars that requires you to look up a guide or watch a YouTube video. Other than the name of the star, there’s nothing in Whomp’s Fortress (and earlier in the game) that would tell you that this wall is destructible or that you can use the cannons to destroy the environment.
Just to be clear: I’m not against hidden stars. Princess Peach’s slide is an example of a great hidden star — by the time you can open the door, you already understand that you jump into paintings to enter new levels, so jumping into a stained-glass window makes sense as a gameplay mechanic.
Blasting yourself into a wall? Not so much.
Another major problem with this star is its replayability. Once you understand what you have to do, the challenge is gone. Get in the cannon, blast away the wall, and then grab the star. Not very compelling.
Tick Tock Clock: 100-Coin Power Star
In most Super Mario 64 courses, getting the 100-coin power star is a fun challenge, but Tick Tock Clock is a little different. With only 128 coins available, there’s not much room for error. (Especially if you consider that 35 of those coins are blue coins that disappear if you don’t grab them fast enough.)
Still, collecting 100 of 135 coins shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but thanks to the notorious camera, Tick Tock Clock features some of the game’s most complicated platforming challenges. (More on that later.)
Starting out at the base of the clock, you have to climb up spinning platforms and moving blocks, avoiding enemies and swinging pendulums. If you fall, there’s a good chance you miss every platform on the way down, and if you do land on a platform, it might kill you on impact. Either way, you start over from the base of the clock. And if you have to restart the level, your coin counter goes back to zero.
Rainbow Ride: Tricky Triangles!
There are few things more frustrating than Rainbow Ride’s fifth power star, “Tricky Triangles!”
When you start the level, you have to do some of the tightest platforming in the entire game just to get to the triangles. There are so many opportunities to slip and fall to your death, and if you miss a step, you have to start over from the beginning.
Once you get to the triangles, there’s a switch you stand on that reverses the shape of the triangles, giving them a flat top for you to jump on. From there, you have a few seconds to jump from one triangle to another to reach the power star on the platform high above.
It takes some quick double jumps — and maybe even a backflip — to reach the platform before the triangles go back to their normal shape. If you mess up and run out of time, you could find yourself not just stepping on the switch and trying again, the triangles can cause you to slip right off the platform. Then, you have to do it all over again.
This is not a power star I look forward to in my Super Mario 64 playthroughs.
Castle Secret Stars: Mips’ Second Power Star
Long before Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, our heroic plumber was battling Mips, Princess Peach’s pet rabbit.
(Easter Egg: Mips is an acronym for the Nintendo 64’s Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages)
Mips makes his first — and second — appearance in Super Mario 64. For this list of the worst power stars in Super Mario 64, we’re focused on his second appearance.
After fighting Bowser in the Dark World and collecting 15 power stars, Mario has his first showdown with Mips.
Mips hops around the basement, and Mario has to chase and catch him to get his secret power star.
“Yeeoww! Unhand me, brute! I’m late, so late, I must make haste! This shiny thing? Mine! It’s mine. Finders, keepers, losers… Late, late, late… Ouch! Take it then! A gift from Bowser, it was. Now let me be! I have a date! I cannot be late for tea!”
Catching Mips the first time is a fun challenge.
He’s quick. And he’s slippery.
But with a well-timed grab — and a little luck — you can grab Mips and claim the power star Bowser gave him. After some tight platforming and racing down slides, catching Princess Peach’s rabbit is a fun change of speed.
Unfortunately, after collecting 50 power stars, Mips shows up in the castle’s basement again.
On your first playthrough, you might think that there’s something new to Mips’ reappearance. But it’s just rinse and repeat. Mips has another power star and follows the same path around the basement as he did before. Catching Mips might have been fun the first time, but c’mon.
It’s the exact same power star.
Tick Tock Clock: Timed Jumps on Moving Bars
There are few things in life more frustrating than getting the fifth power star in Tick Tock Clock. But none of them come to mind right now.
“Timed Jumps on Moving Bars” has Mario climb up the innards of the grandfather clock once again to reach the power star at the top.
Like every other star in this world, the platforming is tricky, and since you need the clock ticking to get to the star, stopping the clock to make things easier isn’t an option. Once you reach the top of the clock, three moving bars are all that stand between you and the power star.
What makes this such a bad star isn’t maneuvering around the moving bars. That part’s actually pretty easy. The worst thing about this star is its repetitiveness. The formula for every power star in this world is the same: climb up the platforms to reach the top of the clock and grab the power star.
Climb up the clock. Get the star. Rinse and repeat.
Big Boo’s Haunt: Big Boo’s Balcony
Without a doubt, Big Boo’s Haunt is one of Super Mario 64’s best worlds. It’s a huge world with Big Boo’s mansion sitting right in the middle. The level is full of so many secrets, hidden passages, and unique enemies.
Playing through Big Boo’s Haunt, it feels obvious that this world was part of the inspiration behind the fantastic Luigi’s Mansion series.
But one of its power stars — Big Boo’s Balcony — is more than a little tedious.
To claim this power star, Mario must explore the mansion and use a well-timed wall-jump to get up to the mansion’s upper level. At the top of the mansion, Mario walks out on the balcony to face Big Boo.
The balcony’s really small, and there’s no railing. With one false step, you’re falling off. Mario has to maneuver around Boo’s balcony and punch the ghost three times. After that third hit, Boo releases his power star, and it flies to the top of the mansion.
After navigating the maze of the mansion and fighting Big Boo, Mario has to find a way to get on the roof. And it’s not easy. You have to long-jump off the balcony and try to land on a small flat area and walk very carefully toward the power star. Be careful — the roof is steep, and if you step off, you’ll fall off the mansion and have to start over.
Castle Secret Stars: Tower of the Wing Cap 8 Red Coins
There’s no denying it: Tower of the Wing Cap 8 Red Coins is one of the toughest and most frustrating secret stars in Super Mario 64. The 8 red coins are arranged in a spiral pattern around the center tower. To get them all, you have to fly around the tower, following the path of the yellow coins. The tough part, though, is once you lose altitude, you can’t get it back. If you miss a coin on the way down, you have to start over.
It might be even harder today than it was in 1996. Here’s why: After more than 25 years of updated gameplay — especially flying mechanics — have spoiled us. In 1996, we were flying around in three dimensions for the first time. Today, though, developers have refined flying to make it feel much more intuitive.
With 120 of them, every power star can’t be great. These seven power stars are the ones I dread the most when I start a new Super Mario 64 playthrough.