When most of us see a goomba, our instinct is to try to squash it, get rid of it. Turns out, though, that goombas can be way more useful than that.
Last year, I profiled Scott Buchanan, an intense Super Mario 64 player who manages to beat levels without ever jumping at all. This month, he’s back with a new feat that takes place within Super Mario 64’s earliest level, Bob-omb Battlefield. Specifically, the second to last star on that level, “Mario Wings To The Sky.” As veteran players know, that star requires players getting to an island in the sky, where you’ll find a wing cap that you can use to collect five coins. These coins make the star appear—really, its a simple star to get...if you get it the normal way. In 2013, Buchanan managed to nab the star with a record of only one jump press (required to use the cannon that could shoot him to the coins in the sky).
Last week, however, Buchanan finally figured out how to beat the level without any jumps at all—and the feat required an ingenious (but ridiculous) creation of a giant goomba ladder. To do this, Buchanan uses two primary glitches: one that allows him to clone objects in front of him, and another that allows him to manipulate where thrown items actually land. Behold:
The key to understanding how he does it lies within a concept known as “HOLP”—held object’s last position. Basically, at any given moment, Super Mario 64 tracks where a held object is, and it uses this information to tell the game where to spawn an item after it is thrown. This variable stops updating when Mario stops holding an item, but it still remains there—even if you exit the game. However, if Mario holds a wing cap, the variable stops updating altogether. So what Buchanan does in this video is, he goes up here, setting up the HOLP with a Bob-omb:
He goes down, grabs a second wing cap, and forces the game to stop updating the HOLP. Then he picks up a Bob-omb. The reason he does this is because of how cloning works in Super Mario 64. Basically, any object you see in the game takes up a “slot” of memory. Whenever you see an object on the screen, that’s because the game has taken an object from the slot, and loaded it into the game. When you move away, the item unloads, so other objects can take up that active slot. This can be manipulated, as The Mario Wiki explains here:
When Mario grabs an object regularly (either while standing still, or while walking), it takes two frames to send a signal to the object to prevent it from unloading while Mario is holding it. However, if the [object] unloads during these two frames, Mario will be holding a vacant slot, which can be filled with any other object as they load as Mario approaches them. (i.e: When Mario is holding a vacant slot, and a coin is loaded in that slot, Mario will be holding the coin, and can throw it to collect it. And after unloading and loading the coin again, it will reappear thus Mario “cloned” the coin. It is possible to hold a vacant slot by other ways including grabbing a Bob-omb as it explodes, grabbing a cork box as it breaks.
So then: Buchanan grabs a Bob-omb as it explodes, which allows Buchanan to actually be holding a vacant slot. He then approaches the goombas off in the distance, which only fully load when one is near them—which allows Buchanan to clone the goomba in his hand (it’s not visible, but according to the game, that’s what he is holding: a goomba.) Buchanan then throws the goomba while on the ground—but the HOLP was set way up high, on the top of the mountain. So as far as the game is concerned, Buchanan is actually throwing goombas off the mountain. The funny thing about clones is, they stop behaving like the items normally would. The Mario Wiki says that “Mario can interact with the clone once before it became unusable. For example: after cloning a Goomba, Mario can either be injured from the Goomba or bounce on it (it won’t be defeated) before it became unusable.”
Buchanan uses all these tricks, along with a couple explained in the video itself, to get to the coins he needs to collect to make the star spawn. It’s quite a sight to behold:
Overall, the video took 55 hours to make, but Buchanan has been trying to figure out a solution to beating this level without jumping for almost two years now. To some purists, the way he achieves this may not seem impressive—he does use glitches after all—but to those people, I present THESE:
Expand them to see it in its full glory. These documents show just a few of the many calculations that Buchanan had to do in order to figure out the placement of all the goombas. Coming up with the goomba staircase method was not easy, and grabbing the star in a straightforward manner would have been the less impressive feat. But earning the star normally does require jumping, and Buchanan is in the business of doing as little of that as possible—even if it necessitates incredible workarounds, and an encyclopedic knowledge of how Super Mario 64 works.
Correction: this article originally misidentified what star number this was, as well as the number of secret coins required to collect it. This has been amended to the actual numbers!