Collecting hidden things is deeply ingrained in human culture. What made N64 Jump ’n’ Run games so special to establish the genre of collectathons?

The collectathon games of the N64 era are some of my favorite games. Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 and Rare’s Banjo-Tooie are two of my fondest memories. It is fun to run through their 3D worlds and find stars or golden jigsaw pieces in special places.

Nintendo took the safer way. Every time we jump through a painting into a new level in Super Mario 64, the game gives us a small hint. It may be the name of a boss or a rather poetic description of a place. Except for a few hidden stars, we always get a little help. If we cannot find the next star, we can still stumble upon another one or just go into a different level.

Rare took another path in Donkey Kong 64. Instead of telling us, where to look, they put collectibles everywhere. There are coins, crystals, colored bananas, golden bananas, and more. Golden bananas are the most important, but we need coins and colored bananas to progress, too. Each color corresponds to one of the five main characters. For example, Diddy Kong is the only one who can pick up red bananas. This is fine in the level Creepy Castle, since the colors show us, which character we need in the respective part of a level. However, most levels are infamous for mixing all the colors on long, linear paths. This means, we need to walk these long, linear paths five times. Long, linear paths are boring by the second time.

The Banjo-Kazooie games worked out better for Rare. Instead of flooding the worlds, they put in quests. Often there are NPCs that give us tasks to complete and the important golden jigsaw pieces as rewards. This makes the world feel more alive and fits the rather organic feeling of the overworld. And since we can pick up everything with our main character-duo, we do not need to repeat our actions.

If you want to develop collectathons, do not scatter collectibles arbitrarily in your worlds. Place them at points of interest like mountaintops, caves, or sunken ships. Your players will naturally want to explore these locations. So, reward them for their curiosity, even if it is just a minor collectible. You can also use these as hints for secrets like ledges hidden behind a waterfall.

What are your favorite experiences with collectathons? Share them in the comments below! I look forward to reading them. In the meantime, I collect some shiny things.

(Photo by Dmitry Demidko on Unsplash)