Super Mario 64 expert Pannenkoek2012 has devised a way to defeat Bowser in the game’s Dark World without ever using the N64 controller’s joystick, and the result is incredible to watch.
Pannenkoek2012, whom we’ve covered before and who has spent years researching the depths of every little detail and nuance in Mario 64, has most recently been focusing on everything that can be accomplished in the game without using the joystick to control Mario. These efforts include tool-assisted runs for collecting 100 coins on Tiny-Huge Island and also grabbing the caged star in Whomp’s Fortress, but defeating Dark World Bowser is the most impressive no-stick challenge yet.
The start of the run consists of using a combination of jumps, backflips, and punches to slowly edge Mario through the first set of obstacles and moving platforms. Each of these maneuvers moves the plumber a little bit, and by chaining them together in a specific order, Pannenkoek2012 is able to get quite far. Mario can reverse directions by hopping slightly off the side of a level and performing a ledge grab, while getting hit by an enemy will also reorient him.
One of the more harrowing parts of the level is when Mario slowly makes his way up a ramp littered with crystals and electrical orbs. Pannenkoek2012 gets Mario through this section by having him perform an intricate series of stomps that both dodges the enemies and has Mario hit the crystals to slightly shift his direction to match where the ramp is going.
The Bowser fight at the end of the level is incredibly elegant and precise. Pannenkoek2012 uses Bowser’s fire to send Mario running to the edge of the platform. Then he makes Mario backflip to both dodge Bowser’s lunge and land behind him in a spot close enough to grab the King Koopa’s tail and automatically trigger the mine to explode without needing to actually throw him, which is normally achieved by rotating the joystick.
Pannenkoek2012’s work is a testament not just to the ongoing discoveries people are still making in Mario 64 but also what gets revealed about a game when you try to work within particular sets of constraints. Speedrunning, trying to finish a game a quickly as possible, is just one of many challenges that push the boundaries of what is and isn’t possible in some of the medium’s all-time classics. Beating the game using as few A presses as possible is another popular Mario 64 category. The evolution of no-stick challenges shows how much there still is to explore.