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’

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Paper Mario Talks — Skills of a Paper Mario Challenge Runner

Coffee…Check.
Fingers and hand stretched…Check.
Paper Mario information…Check.

I think I’m ready.

Welcome to Paper Mario Talks! In this new series, I’ll be exploring various areas of the Paper Mario series as it relates to gameplay, game design, and challenge running! I have a lot of opinions on this series that I haven’t really expressed to, well…anyone! So, what better way to talk about the series I love the most than through blog posts and videos!

Oh, yeah, there’ll be videos, too! They’ll be available on my YouTube channel. Here’s how it’s going to break down: these posts will be more in-depth into various topics of the series that I want to write about, and the videos will be more focused on my favorite/least favorite badges/partners/etc…

Paper Mario Talks will be more focused on Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door; the reason will be a topic all of its own!

To begin this series, I want to bring to light what challenge running is so that you know what angles I’m coming from. Unlike speedrunning, where the goal is to beat the game as fast as possible, challenge running aims to beat the game under certain conditions or with restrictions. This is to force a new style of gameplay or make the game harder. RPG’s are usually pretty great for these, as you can easily restrict certain items/attacks/level ups and change the way the game is played.

There’s a wiki detailing a lot of different challenges in the Paper Mario series to get you more familiarized with what I’m talking about. Check it out if you’re interested!

Anyway, today’s topic is about the core skills of a challenge runner in the Paper Mario series. There are four distinct skills I believe most great Paper Mario players are proficient in – execution, planning, game knowledge, and reactionary theory. Let’s define those:

Game Knowledge: How well you know enemies, their health, their stats, Mario’s abilities, partners’ abilities, boss AI, etc… This is an ever-growing skill until you’ve memorized everything. If you don’t know enough about the game, you can’t really improve the rest of your skills. However, it’s easy to improve this one – ask someone or look it up online. Besides Color Splash, the series is pretty old and has a lot of FAQs/guides dedicated to the other games in the series.

Planning: How well you can plan out a strategy for a given fight. If you know enough about a certain boss, you can plan turn-by-turn strategies around them. You can account for RNG and have a plan of attack no matter what the boss does. You can be adequately prepared for any kind of encounter. Theoretically, you can win fights before you even get to them! Everyone can plan to an extent, but truly remarkable players can optimize their strategies further.

Execution: This is Planning’s cousin. You can win fights before you even play them, but can you execute on your strategies and actually win the fight? Can you guard or superguard every attack you’re planning to? Can you hit all the necessary Action Commands? Planning & Execution go hand-in-hand with each other.

Reactionary Theory: Probably the trickiest of the skills challenge runners need. If your plan goes awry, how can you get back on track? Can you save the fight? If you encounter a certain enemy loadout that you weren’t expecting, can you formulate a plan for success? This kind of on-the-fly thinking is crucial to certain challenges and is great for when you messed up an Action Command or RNG truly shot down your strategy. This is the hardest skill to become proficient in.

These four together form the core of a great Paper Mario challenge runner. How I define these skills helps shape how I view challenge running – and by extension certain facets of the series – so I hope this helps shed some light on how I’ll be approaching the rest of the topics in Paper Mario Talks.

Just Sayin’

Running an RP

So, you’ve got a great idea for an RP and you want to start a thread. That’s awesome! As the one running the RP, you’re ultimately responsible for where the RP heads for its most important plot points, what can/can’t happen, etc…

However, there’s some things that you should keep in mind when running an RP. This is mostly from my experience, so opinions may vary – I tried to keep these as generic as possible.

How do they meet?

This is a very crucial part of the RP. Now there’s different ways for this to happen based on the RP, but for one that’s, say, an adventure RP, you need something that brings the party together. You could start everyone out together or have everyone gather together on their own, but remember that they’re not just going to all meet by themselves. You’re the one running the show: get them to meet!

How do they stay together?

In RPG (Role-Playing Games), it’s not uncommon for characters to leave and either never return or come back. In RP’s, this is slightly mitigated by being able to use multiple characters, but in Tabletop Games this generally doesn’t happen unless a character dies or the player is unable to continue playing.

However, in RP’s as well as Tabletop Games, it’s the one running the show that has the responsibility of keeping everyone together. If tensions start flaring and it doesn’t make sense for a character (or characters) to stay, then why would they stay? As the one running it, you need to make sure that each player character has a reason to stay invested unless the player can’t play anymore or they’re being unruly and you need to take action to stop it.

What’s going to happen?

Tying in with the previous two – how is your RP going to progress? Do you know how the player characters are going to be involved? Settings, themes, character arcs…all of these are crucial to an RP, and here’s why:

Winging an RP is bad 8 out of 10 times

Why? because there’s no structure, which leads to no direction, which leads to disinterest or pages and pages of a subplot that amounts to nothing.

Now, sometimes winging an RP is okay, especially for one that’s more light-hearted and not serious. But if you want to go on some epic adventure, you’d better be damn sure you’re putting in some work beforehand. Create an outline of the main plot, find a way to involve the player characters directly, get some lore for your world.

What I like to do is create an outline and then ask those that join to give me an outline of how their character should progress within the context of the story. I then create key points for the main plot and for the player characters, sometimes coinciding the two If I create my own world this serves the double purpose of letting the plot flow nicely and build some lore for the world. Then, as the RP progresses I make sure they hit key points, and if things start to derail I can bring in an NPC to set the player characters back on track.

Now, this can be a tricky process, especially because…

You don’t want to railroad

Obviously there’s some key points that can’t be missed, but you cannot control how the characters interact and play as they progress. If they go off in another direction, you need to be prepared to handle that, and that’s why an outline instead of a strict plan is better – you give yourself some flexibility in how the player characters can reach each key point. You just make sure that the key points are hit.

If your player characters go off the deep end, then you as the owner of the RP have to make a choice. In this instance, I generally just stop them because I’m not a fan of going off the deep end, but that’s just me.

These are probably the 4 most common things I see happen to RP owners that can effectively kill their RP. Plenty of my own RP’s have been left to rot in this way.

I hope this has helped any of you who enjoy RP’ing and want to start your own!

Just Sayin’