It was only a few weeks ago that my mission to 100% began, but it really started in the late 1980s.
Mario was my worst game as a child. Since we didn’t own a Nintendo console at the time, I played Mario with friends or cousins. I would hold the second control and wait for my turn, amazed at how they just knew the hidden boxes, where to jump up to the top and skip three levels, and the exact way to reach the top of flagpole each time. It was obvious that I didn’t have the instincts that my friends had that allowed them to be good at . Mario, and me to be objectively bad.
Several decades later, I was sitting in my pajamas on the couch playing a side scrolling Mario. As I sailed through Mario Wonder‘s delightful levels I decided to 100 percent the game once I beat it. Why? Why? Perhaps partly because I was so charmed by the game and didn’t want it to end. It was probably to prove to myself, after all these years, that I could still be proficient at Super Mario. What could be a more conclusive proof than collecting each seed, purple 10 coin, and the flagpole?
It was easy to pick up the extras I missed the first go around. In fact, it was delightful. Mario Wonder was very forgiving. You don’t need to collect the purple coin if you die in a pit of lava later on in the level after picking it up. It’s important because the coins are often placed in difficult spots. If the game had required that you finish the level with only one life, I’m sure I would have thrown the Switch into the ocean. The Special World stages and the timed KO challenges are difficult, but fun. When I reached the last stage (which is revealed only after you have completed all levels in the game), things changed. Then things started to change.
The Final-Final Test Badge Marathon will test your skills with the most difficult Mario you’ve ever seen. This absolute monster has 10 mini-stages and is the most frustrating level I have ever played. You have to time jumps that seem impossible and dodge obstacles that appear impossible in each level. Then you repeat the process until you figure out how to get through each level. Then then you will have to learn a new mini-level that is full of fresh horrors. Only two (!) There are only two (!)
After tucking in my child, I played for hours and used hundreds of lives to gradually master the challenges of the final-final exam. Three days into the game, I was only able to get to the last level. I admitted to the Verge games Slack channel I was trying to clear the final level. My colleague Jay Peters gave me some encouragement. He said, “It’s just a matter of practice.” In the game one of those talking flower also says this, right before you have to bounce through obstacles that spin fireballs. Every time you begin a new level, you are greeted with the phrase “Practice makes perfect!”
As I fought my urge to throw the controller for the hundredth and final time, it dawned on how right they had been. When we were children, my cousins and close friends weren’t naturally good at . They had simply practiced a great deal. It sounds simple, but it’s something I have to learn over and over again. How can you become a more effective writer? How can you become a better writer? A better parent? Some people are naturally gifted but the best way to improve is by practicing. Many of the challenges in life seem to be either won or lost. But they are usually just good practice. It’s something I try to keep reminding myself.
It’s hard to practice the skills you need to pass the stages in the final-final exam. It is demoralizing to have fought through three challenges, only to die on the final stage. You then have to do it again. The last test of the final-final is plain rude. Mario has to do a lot more jumping onto moving targets, while he is completely invisible. My sanity was at the edge of a cliff five nights into my quest to defeat it. I clung on to the mantra “it’s only practice” as I slowly mastered part one of the stage.
It just happened, maybe on my 100th attempt: I jumped to solid ground and timed a final leap. I landed right at the top of the pole. I think it was a combination of luck and lots of practice. I collected the last badge and celebrated loudly with the sleeping child across the hall. I realized that I had no idea what to do. A few days after, I’m still not sure. You can always go back to Mario Odyssey; I remember that some of the levels were very difficult for me when I first played through. But practice does make perfect.