Mario's most secret secrets in nearly 30 years of games

Sure, Mario games are simple experiences. They can be enjoyed by players of all ages, and finished by almost everyone. However, core Mario games have always found space to include secrets, Easter eggs and other searched-for unlockables that pass most player completely by. Ever since we found our first Warp Zone in the original Super Mario Bros., it has been clear that Nintendo enjoys hiding stuff in its marquee franchise. And in almost three decades of looking, fans all over the world have found a number of incredible secrets worth cataloging. Ahead of the Switch launch of Super Mario Odyssey, what follows is a dozen of Mario's most incredible secrets within his classic games. Some got their start as urban myths, and others took skill, timing, and tons of experimentation to find. If you've somehow found all of these secrets in your time with Mario games then, in the words of Super Mario World itself, you are a super player!!

Minus World (Super Mario Bros.)

The secret: This is one of the oldest secrets in Mario and one we refused to believe as children in the playground. Outside of all the levels you know are in the NES pack-in, this area was an endless underwater stage denoted as World -1 in the start screen. Also known as Minus World, it's identical in layout to World 7-2, save for the fact that the pipe at the end sends you back to the start of the watery stage.

How to find it: Remember the very well known Warp Zone at the end of World 1-2? Well, instead of going over that wall to those magical pipes, you can glitch your way through it. Just duck and jump forward to the right while standing on the left side of the pipe. It will take a few tries, but eventually you'll float over to the first open pipe on the right.

Infinite lives (Super Mario Bros.)

The secret: Old NES games are terribly difficult, in large part because most don't allow players to save. Super Mario's Warp Zones were mainly added to make it easier for savvy players to make it to later areas with ease, but even then you can still hit a frustrating Game Over by running out of lives. A Game Genie (remember them?) could get around that in Super Mario Bros., but you can also naturally end up with unlimited lives if you knew the right place to jump in World 3-1.

How to get it: In a move sometimes referred to as Turtle Tipping, head to the stairs before the goal post at the end. There you'll find two green Koopas, and if you hop on the second one, you'll leave it sitting on one of the steps. Now hop on it some more to bounce it off the wall and back again, each well-timed jump unlocking another 1Up. That's the kind of tip only mullet-wearing Nintendo employees knew in the 1980s, and one that's repeatable in basically every Mario platformer featuring blocks and Koopas.

Negative Warp Zones (Super Mario Bros. 2/Lost Levels)

The secret: The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was made for an audience that had explored every corner of the original and were looking for a real challenge. SMB2 is certainly tough (to the point of cruelty), and the hidden secrets have a similar mean streak. The devs knew players would be searching for new Warp Zones and if you can get beyond the goal pole in 3-1, you'll find one, but that pipe will take you back to the start of the game!

How to get it: As you approach the end of 3-1, you'll come by a trampoline that - with a perfectly executed jump - will take players right over the exit. In this strange world beyond the castle you'll find a classic Mario warp pipe, only with the number one over it. Now the players that thought they were so crafty have to head back to the total beginning of SMB2, or commit suicide in the nearby pit and merely return to the start of 3-1. With tricks like these, we're glad this game didn't come to western NES consoles.

Swim under boats (Super Mario Bros. 3)

The secret: US and Japan may have had different second entries, but the same third entry came out across the world, with millions searching Super Mario Bros. 3 for every possible secret they could find. Yet, beyond the Warp Whistles, hidden coin blocks, and Kuribo Shoes, our favorite secret is one that takes real elbow grease. Because, if you're a strong enough swimmer, you can totally sidestep Bowser's navy in World 8.

How to get it: All this secret demands is stamina and faith. At the very start of World 8's battleships, jump straight into the water and swim forward. Pound on the jump button to keep Mario's head above water, and when a hefty boat shows up, don't give up! It may look like Mario is getting pushed too far under, but keep pounding on your controller and Mario will stay alive all the way to the end of the autoscrolling stage. Some may call you a coward for winning that way, but we'll just call you smart.

Unlocking stage select (Super Mario Land)

The secret: Super Mario Bros. had been an outstanding system seller for the NES, so Nintendo were always going to launch the Game Boy with another fresh Mario adventure. Super Mario Land handily translated Mario's platforming greatness to spinach green graphics. Sadly, Land also kept the NES title's unfortunate mix of punishing difficulty and the inability to save, which is likely why very few Mario fans got to find the game's super secret level select ability.

How to get it: Super Mario Land lacks the World Map first seen in Super Mario Bros. 3, so the only natural way to pick your stage is to finish the game twice. Destroy the alien overlord Tatanga twice in a row - don't turn off the system because of Land's inability to save - and you'll head back to the start screen. The start screen will now list 1-1 to the side of the menu, then every time you press A it will list the next stage in order. Its hard to believe this is much of a treat after you've mastered the game enough to finish it twice, but its a better reward than nothing.

Autumn re-skin (Super Mario World)

The secret: Super Mario World was packed in with the SNES, and Nintendo overloaded it with secrets to reward early adopters. There were extra Yoshi colors, tricky ghost houses, lost woods, and way more to push players to test the game's limits. And if players do basically everything they can, they'll be treated to a pretty massive reskin of the game as Fall comes to Dinosaur Land, covering Yoshi's island in autumn reds and browns.

How to get it: Ok, you know Star World? And if you complete all that you get to head to Special World, the hardest set of stages in the game? Well, after completing all that it's time for Fall to come to Super Mario World. And it's not just the background coloring of all the stages and world map that are altered - many of the enemies wear extra creepy masks (because Halloween, we assume). Enjoy it, because you earned it.

Mini Battles (Yoshi's Island)

The secret: It's debated whether Yoshi's Island is indeed a true Mario game and not a spin-off, but it certainly retains the series' love of hard to acquire secrets. That includes a number of harder stages, as well as versus modes that you need a special code to see. Yes, at present every single game seems to come with multiplayer whether you want it or not, but Nintendo in the mid-90s made players work for it.

How to get it: Unlike the bonus stages that demand 100% of a world's collectibles, the Mini Battles just asked for a certain level of inquisitiveness. In World 5 midpoint Sluggy the Unshaven's Fort, you'll find a seemingly purposeless room with a single Chain Chomp inside. Dispose of that guy and a door will appear, which leads to a room with a hint block saying, This is Top Secret so LISTEN UP! On the Level Selection screen, hold Select and press X, X, Y, B and A!! Sure, now you could skip all the trouble and input that code at the start to unlock Mini Battles, but wheres the fun in that?

Retro Mario (Super Mario RPG)

The secret: Only a matter of months before Square would take its Final Fantasy series to the PlayStation, the role-playing titan teamed up with Nintendo to create Super Mario RPG. Meant to introduce gamers (particularly Americans) to the genre, Super Mario RPG had a number of cute references to Nintendo's history hidden within the SNES cartridge. One of the best is a hard-to-find unlockable that briefly transforms Mario into his original 8-bit self.

How to get it: In one of Super Mario RPG's many strange story twists, Mario heads to Booster Tower to prevent a bearded jerk from forcibly marrying Princess Peach. In one of the Tower's smaller rooms is a column with two curtains attached. If Mario walks behind the curtain he'll come out looking like his NES sprite, which understandably freaks him out. After running around a little bit, Mario will quickly run back behind the curtain and transform into his pre-rendered self again. It's a cute moment, but today its also a reminder that the 8-bit graphics have aged way better than Super Mario RPG's formerly cutting edge visuals.

Getting to the castle roof with zero stars (Super Mario 64)

The secret: Like previous Mario launch games, Super Mario 64 is packed with secrets likely because Nintendo knew it'd be months before another noteworthy game would be released. In order to keep gamers' attention long after the thrill of reinventing the platforming genre wore off, players were inspired to collect all 120 Stars in the game, knowing that Yoshi was waiting for them on top of Peach's castle. But, if you're good enough at controlling Mario, there's an easier way to get up there.

How to get it: This one demands you to be pretty good at Mario's triple jump. Head to the rightmost area of the castle courtyard where the hill reaches the ground. Start doing the triple jump with the second one hitting the hill, then perform to third to get to the top. Just as quickly jump to the left towards the castle and Mario should be able to grab a ledge and hoist himself unto the roof. Thanks for nothing, Yoshi!

Level 8-Crown (Super Mario 3D Land)

The secret: Most Mario games have one ultimate, crazy-hard stage waiting to be found by dedicated players. Super Mario 3D Land continues that tradition in spite of starting out as one of the easier 3D Mario games out there. But after unlocking an entire second games worth of content following Bowsers defeat, the truly final stage of the game has some perilous platforming and a big thank you waiting for the player bold enough to finish it.

How to get it: Not since Yoshi's Island has a Mario game demanded so much of players for a final stage. You have to collect 290 Star Medals, beat every single stage with both Mario and Luigi, and when you beat every level, you have to get a Gold Flag Pole. Do all that and the final world will unlock, and the stage is tough enough to make the requirements to get there seem like a breezy afternoon.

Hidden Luigis (New Super Luigi U)

The secret: 2013 will be remembered for a lot of things, and at the top of most historians lists will be the Year of Luigi. Marking 30 years of green greatness, the year saw multiple Luigi-centric games, including New Super Luigi U, a standalone remix of New Super Mario Bros. U. Luigi was the star of this standalone DLC, and the devs made sure to hide as many references to Weegee's old pixel self wherever possible, secreting one in all 82 stages.

How to get it: You have to be sharp-eyed to find all the 8-bit Luigis. Some are hiding in plain sight, others are behind breakable blocks, and others are fading into the background. If you want to be sure you spot them all, you're better off just watching this video.

Luigi Bros. (Super Mario 3D World)

The secret: The Year of Luigi reached its end with Super Mario 3D World, and this game has more than enough love for Mr. L to justify that. Not only is the younger brother playable in 3D World, but the devs took similar care to hide pixelated Luigis in the game like the ones in New Super Luigi U. Of course the greatest hidden tribute is the special remake of Luigi's first appearance in the mini-game Luigi Bros.

How to get it: Luigi Bros. plays just like the original arcade Mario Bros., only now two distinct versions of Luigi are the only playable characters. Created by 3D Worlds director, Luigi Bros. standard way of unlocking is to simply complete the game. But true Luigi fans - the kind that played New Super Luigi U - will get access to Luigi Bros. at the start for having a Luigi U save on their Wii U. 

GamesRadar+ was first founded in 1999, and since then has been dedicated to delivering video game-related news, reviews, previews, features, and more. Since late 2014, the website has been the online home of Total Film, SFX, Edge, and PLAY magazines, with comics site Newsarama joining the fold in 2020. Our aim as the global GamesRadar Staff team is to take you closer to the games, movies, TV shows, and comics that you love. We want to upgrade your downtime, and help you make the most of your time, money, and skills. We always aim to entertain, inform, and inspire through our mix of content - which includes news, reviews, features, tips, buying guides, and videos.