Super Mario World: No Switch Palace Challenge

By Brian • 6 March 2022

Super Nintendo (SNES)
I couldn't figure out how to beat Bowser's final phase for the LONGEST time. Much shame.

Did you ever get the feeling you’re only playing games the way you’re supposed to?

If there is a term that best describes me as a gamer, it’s vanilla. When I play games, I don’t do anything weird or out of the ordinary. I don’t try to beat Super Mario Bros. without collecting power-ups or coins, exploit the item duplication glitch that lets me beat Shadowgate in five minutes, fight the bosses in Super Metroid in reverse order, or otherwise play games in such a way that was not intended or expected by the developers.

HOWEVER. However. After playing all my favorite games the same way so many times, I must admit, with some embarrassment, that my gaming life might be getting a little stale. I think I need to spice things up a bit. I mean, come on, how many times can I take the exact same route through Metroid and not get bored? Well, a lot, apparently, but I think it finally happened.

Hence, allow me to introduce The Second Quest, a feature I hope to bring to you with some degree of regularity on the Bad Enough Dudes blog. The Second Quest revisits games I have played before, but in new, spicier ways. Examples might include playing a Mega Man game without using any robot master powers, or playing a Zelda game without collecting any heart containers—y’know, something dumb and dangerous. In addition, I plan to use it to revisit games that I just haven’t played for a really long time, or maybe to give second chances to games I think I should really like, but didn’t appreciate my first time through.

Our first subject? I completed Super Mario World without visiting any of the switch palaces. While I wouldn’t call this a groundbreaking new feat, or even excessively challenging, I’ve personally never tried it before. My curiosity finally got the better of me, so I gave it a shot.

No filling in the blanks.

Now, the first thing you might be wondering, especially if you’re not familiar with Super Mario World, is what a switch palace could be. So, scattered throughout Dinosaur Land, or wherever you’re at in this game, are dashed outlines of blocks. They come in four colors: yellow, green, red, and blue. Also scattered throughout Super Mario World are four switch palaces. Finding a switch palace and hitting the big colored switch in each will fill in the respective colored outlines with exclamation blocks. These blocks often create walls or platforms that can assist Mario’s progress, or sometimes even block enemies that would otherwise be running loose all over the place!

Instruction manual description of the switch palaces
Instruction manual description of the switch palaces.

Not only that, the yellow blocks contain super mushrooms, and the green blocks contain cape feathers, which are a godsend in a pinch. I’ve always thought it was a curious design choice that the red and blue blocks don’t provide any items. The first time I discovered the red switch palace, I was certain the red blocks would contain fire flowers, as the color is clearly a great fit. Blue, I’m not sure. Yoshi? Invincibility stars? But no, they contain nothing. As a pre-teen boy who was preoccupied with things like WEAPONS and KILLING ENEMIES, I was pretty disappointed when I bonked one of those red blocks for the first time and did not receive a fire flower for my troubles. Today, I think I understand the thought process behind the decision—yellow and green blocks are mostly used to provide extra power-ups throughout levels, while red and blue blocks seem to be used more for providing extra platforms, so it makes sense. Still, there’s a selfish, nostalgic little part of me that feels cheated.

Having played Super Mario World more times than I would like to admit, I never considered NOT visiting the switch palaces. I’m gonna find and beat the rest of the levels in the game, so why not them? Wouldn’t that make the experience incomplete? Would the game be less fun?! Am I doing Mario a disservice by willfully impeding his progress?

Folks, these are important questions. Let’s find out!

Instruction manual description of the switch palaces
Star World 4 secret exit, without the benefit of exclamation blocks.

Digging in, much of the first half of the game felt pretty close to plain ol’ Super Mario World. Throughout Yoshi’s Island, Donut Plains, Vanilla Dome, and the Cheese Bridge Area (is that really the name of this world?), the absence of blocks went largely unnoticed, or could be easily overcome with the cape. To be fair, the blocks don’t become prolific until later in the game, so there weren’t a ton to miss at the outset, but they proved to not be essential. It wasn’t until the Fortress in the Forest of Illusion where the missing blocks turned nasty. I feel this is where the game’s difficulty spikes, anyway, but this is the spot where the second-guessing began.

Places Where I Really Missed the Exclamation Blocks

  • Forest of Illusion Fortress: This fortress is full of traps like buzzsaws, big smashy things, and the like. The blocks provide extra platforms that make it easier to avoid many of the traps, and seal off some pits. Without the blocks, the pits and traps were much more difficult to avoid. Uh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, I thought to myself as I poured lives into hazard after hazard. Who thought these blocks would make such a difference?
  • Wendy O. Koopa’s Castle (Chocolate Island): Exactly the same scenario described above, but with an additional, mostly-bottomless room full of Spark enemies that revolve around platforms. I took a lot of hits from the Sparks, and with two missing blocks that could have provided power-ups, the going was much tougher. The absence of the power-ups meant I often had to face Wendy O. as small Mario, which, given the number of lives I lost to her, is a challenge best left to pro gamers.
  • Valley of Bowser Fortress: A lot of spikes, more smashy things, and two missing power-up blocks made this already-tough fortress much tougher.
Instruction manual description of the switch palaces
En route to the Star World 5 secret exit.

Places Where I Thought I Would Miss the Exclamation Blocks, But Really Didn’t

While there certainly were some areas where I sorely missed the blocks, there were also a couple of levels I dreaded facing without them. Surprisingly enough, the levels I feared the most weren’t worth the fuss.

  • Star Roads 4 and 5: Both of these levels include secret exits via placing keys into magic keyholes. The exclamation blocks make the keyholes much more accessible by creating long platforms with which to reach them. Bringing a blue Yoshi (found in Star Road 2) makes the absence of these platforms a non-issue. Just hold any color of koopa troopa shell in the blue Yoshi’s mouth, and he can fly Mario to the keyhole. (Any color of Yoshi can perform this same trick by holding a blue koopa shell in its mouth.)
  • Larry Koopa’s Castle (Valley of Bowser): It turns out I lose a ton of lives in Larry’s Castle with or without exclamation blocks. There are only two yellow exclamation blocks in the entire castle, and they’re not that helpful. It’s just a tough, lengthy level, and I hate it—the perfect immediate lead-up to Bowser’s castle.
Instruction manual description of the switch palaces
Star World 5 secret exit, without the benefit of exclamation blocks.

The Verdict

With the exception of the levels listed above, the missing blocks didn’t significantly detract from my ability to traverse levels, or cause a meaningful overall increase in Super Mario World’s difficulty. What really bothered me, though, was the overwhelming sense of incompletion. I like to wring all content possible out of Mario games, leaving no bonus unclaimed or secret level undiscovered. Unlocking and then purposely leaving the four switch palaces standing felt like throwing out leftover pizza. I’d like to believe I emerged from the challenge a slightly more competent player, with the ability to overcome the absence of the exclamation blocks. However, it hardly feels worth repeating.

Luckily, it was still Super Mario World, and it’s just hard for me to have a bad experience playing such a great game. If I try to up the ante again, I might consider something like a No Cape or No Yoshi challenge. I think the risks and the need for creative thinking and experimentation in overcoming those limitations would make for a much more interesting experience.

  • Was I a Bad Enough Dude to complete the No Switch Palace Challenge?
  • Is the No Switch Palace Challenge Bad Enough to attempt again?