Paper Mario Talks — Why Pre-Hooktail Pit is the Perfect Challenge

There are many, many challenges in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door — Level Zero, No Jump No Hammer, Single Partner, BP Only, Double Damage, etc… but one among them all stands the test of time, for me, as the best TTYD challenge out there. That challenge…is Pre-Hooktail Pit.

A Pre-Hooktail Pit run is a run where the player completes the Pit of 100 Trials before completing Chapter 1, which is done by defeating Hooktail. Back in the old challenge running days, this was considered one of the top challenges. Today, I consider it to be one of the “gatekeeper” challenges, a challenge that breaks you into the higher tier of Paper Mario players. Despite my labeling it as a “gatekeeper” challenge, I think it’s the perfect challenge for upcoming challenge runners and veterans alike. Here’s why:

1) It tests everything

Remember my first blog post for Paper Mario Talks? I talked about the 4 skills of a challenge runner. Well, this challenge tests every single one of them and does so in an amazing way. You need to manage peril’d partners, choose the right badges/items for the job, work with on-the-fly RNG, and figure out strategies for all the various enemy loadouts you’ll encounter. Sometimes, you’ll be put in a tight spot and need to superguard and guard well or execute good Power Bounces, Multibonks, and Sweet Treats. Seriously, no other challenge tests everything at the same time so much.

What separates this from a challenge like Level Zero is it also tests your endurance. In full-game runs, you have the luxury of saving and quitting, only doing bite-sized chunks of the challenge. Pre-Hooktail Pit (and other Pit of 100 Trials challenges in general) provide no such luxury. You have to go through the whole thing, including Bonetail, before it is truly complete. And while I don’t consider endurance a particular skill of a Paper Mario challenge runner, it certainly is a skill that any player can benefit from. If you get too tired, you can start committing silly mistakes that can cost you a run.

2) It’s modular

Pre-Hooktail Pit is only the base form of its type of challenge. One can also choose to up the difficulty by including extra restrictions such as 10 HP (Mario cannot increase his HP above 10 in any way) or No Mega Rush P (cannot equip the badge Mega Rush P). You can also combine the two to create a devilishly difficult 10 HP No Mega Rush P restriction. All three of these add to the difficulty, but don’t take away too much from what it’s testing of the player. They all require a little more superguarding, but other than that they function mostly the same, and so provide a good stepping stone of challenges to attempt as you improve as a player. This is what allows newer challenge runners and veterans to continue performing this challenge.

What’s more, speedrunning the base form of the challenge is somewhat popular, and tests the player in a completely different way since you don’t have time to loaf around and prepare – you need to think on your metaphorical feet much faster than someone going through a normal Pre-Hooktail Pit run, who has all the time in the world to figure out a solution. While it’s a little too RNG-heavy to be a completely legitimate speedrun, it is a cool and interesting take on the challenge.

Now, other full-game challenges are also modular (it’s a nice thing about TTYD’s challenges – many are modular), but I particularly like the increase in difficulty the different restrictions of Pre-Hooktail Pit provide without sacrificing something. Many of the “step ups”, so to speak, of full game challenges omit or heavily downplay something crucial in terms of skills being used.

3) There are multiple ways to complete it

While most players follow a general rough guideline on stats, badges, and items to bring, the challenge itself can be completed in a myriad of ways. Some players will choose Heart Finder or Item Hog, Quick Change or Power Plus, Pretty Lucky or Close Call, etc… some decide to upgrade Goombella, others decide to upgrade Koops (or both!). Some will bring Life Shrooms, others will bring Courage Shells, Fire Flowers, POW Blocks, Mushrooms… in short, there’s a lot of variety depending on the player’s preference, and it changes how the run is tackled. While some strategies are definitely better than others, there are enough viable strategies to keep the run fresh and exciting for new players looking to enter challenge running and for veterans to try new things when doing the run.

Again, lots of full game runs offer this same level of variety, but I think an important distinction to make here is that many strategies will be developed on-the-fly that will vary. While you have time to prepare in a Pre-Hooktail Pit run, you have to work around your preparations in case something goes wrong. When you’re really only fighting bosses, you can prepare very well and not have to worry about something going wrong impacting your strategy too much.

And, well…that’s really all I have to say on the subject. I do want to say that most challenges, full game and Pre-Hooktail Pit, are very good, barring a select few I don’t think test all the skills I’d want it to. but if you ever want to get into the next tier of Paper Mario players, Pre-Hooktail Pit is a perfect place to start. There is no better challenge run. Give it a try!

Just Sayin’


Why Super Mario 3D Land has the perfect difficulty scale

My girlfriend recently started playing Super Mario Advance 4, and as I watched her play I noticed something – she was having a much harder time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (which is what Super Mario Advance 4 contains) than Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL), a game I had suggested to her a while back. I began to wonder to myself why she was having such a hard time with Super Mario Bros. 3, when a thought came to me – Super Mario Bros. 3 has a high learning curve.

To the gamers out there who played the Super Mario Bros. franchise, this may seem a little off. I myself remember Super Mario Bros. 3 to be extremely easy – maybe a little long for my younger self, but definitely not difficult, and when I played it as Super Mario Advance 4 it was even easier. So why, I thought to myself, did Super Mario Bros. 3 have a high learning curve?

I thought back to Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL). She had almost no experience playing, yet has been able to make it to World 5, and I realized why she’s been doing well: SM3DL has the perfect difficulty scale.

Let me explain. If you die 5 times on a single level in SM3DL, you are given a Tanooki Suit with infinite invincibility. This is for those who are having trouble dealing with the enemies and natural hazards in the game. Now, if you die 10 times on a single level, then you’re given a P Wing (I didn’t know this existed until she played the game), which takes you to the end of the level, no questions asked. This includes boss levels, and this can help alleviate a level that requires platforming that is too great for the player.

The Invincible Tanooki Suit

Mario in the invincible tanooki suit.

This may seem like a cop-out, but keep reading. At a certain point, levels start becoming blocked off unless you have a certain number of special coins. You can collect 3 special coins per level, and you must collect them without dying to obtain them.

When I was playing, I thought to myself, “this is stupid. Why would they impose these limits on players? It’s busy work.” But as I watched my girlfriend play, it dawned on me – they’re to stop the really bad players from breezing through the game with the super-powerful items. They’re forced to go through those levels that they may have used the P Wing for and get those coins, otherwise they won’t be able to progress at all, and hopefully, by the time they’re forced to collect those coins, they’ve improved to the point where they use those items a little less. It forces improvement while still allowing them to progress slowly so they don’t stop playing in frustration.

And for players like myself, the coins serve as a way to increase the difficulty. The game was easy, but collecting the coins in every level was difficult, and doing the same thing in the Special Worlds made it that much more difficult, so the game gave a satisfying sense of challenge, so besides catering to the casuals, it caters to the hardcore, creating the perfect difficulty scale. It can be as difficult as you, the player, make it to be.

Just sayin’.