If you haven't played Super Mario World yet then please give it a try; it's the most well-known game on SNES for a reason and a perfect example of what makes Mario games fun.
Super Mario World has great music, near-perfect controls with lots of movement possibilities, and graphics that hold up incredibly well. Trying to complete all 96 exits is a pleasure and there are many secrets to be found. Plus, you're usually well-rewarded when you go out of your way to seek them out. So, these are my top 10 secrets with a few extras thrown in, too. I rated them mostly by how useful they are in getting around Super Mario World's 72 levels but there are a couple of other factors, too, as I'll describe in this list.
Before getting to the top 10, let's get started with a few cool secrets that didn't quite make the list.
Forest Fortress lava flight
Forest Fortress has a secret area that can only be accessed by flying over a sea of lava using the cape. This secret area actually isn't an exit that unlocks any levels and it's not required to beat the game with all 96 exits. That's why this trick is last on the list. All you get is nine 1-up mushrooms but there are much easier ways to get lives than performing dangerous stunts like this. The real reward is being able to brag to your friends that you've beaten one of the toughest tricks in the game. I never managed to get to this area when I was a kid but if I had, it would have blown my mind.
Donut Ghost House to Top Secret Area
Donut Ghost House has an exit that takes you to Top Secret Area which is a mini-stage where you can grab two feathers, two fire flowers, and Yoshi. It's definitely a useful place to have unlocked if you're having trouble with any stages and you want to pick up an item. To get there, you need to enter Donut Ghost House with the cape, walk right a little, run left, and fly up. It's that simple and you'll also find four 1-up mushrooms. Doing this secret over and over is a great way to easily acquire 99 lives.
Chocolate Plains 3 to Chocolate Fortress
This secret is one of two that you need to find to complete the game without skipping levels with the Star Road method. Chocolate Plains 3 has a fake exit that takes Mario in a circle back to the same level. To progress, you have to go to the platform below the fake exit with the cape then fly up to the platform behind the fake exit. Then, you run right and take a huge leap of faith. You'll land on a secret platform that has the real exit and three 1-ups.
Those 3 secrets may be pretty cool but let's move on to the top 10!
Forest of Illusion 3 to Roy's Castle
This is the other secret that you need to find to complete the game without accessing Star Road. There is a tall green pipe near the end of the stage that takes you to a small cave. Here, you'll find a key next to a keyhole but you'll need to spin-jump as big Mario to get through some yellow blocks first. It's also possible to do this secret as small Mario but you'll have to take advantage of a glitch by carrying a Galoomba into the pipe and while still holding it, jump right into the small wall then throw the Galoomba when you're closest to the yellow block. You need to use your rightward momentum to clip the Galoomba through the wall and spin the yellow block. This is a hard trick to do quickly but you can keep trying every couple of seconds until the timer runs out.
Chocolate Island 2 to Chocolate Secret
Chocolate Island 2 is a special stage that is different depending on how many coins and dragon coins you collected as well as how much time you spent in the level. For the purpose of finding this secret, the only thing that really matters is the timer. The third area (after the second pipe) has the secret area but you need to have 250 seconds or more on the timer. You should find yourself in an area with some Chargin' Chucks and at the end of it, a key and a keyhole. This secret unlocks the Chocolate Secret stage with a nice view of the Valley of Bowser. After finishing Chocolate Secret, you'll find yourself at Wendy's Castle.
Cheese Bridge Area to Soda Lake
Cheese Bridge Area has what may be the hardest secret in all of Super Mario World. With the cape, make your way to a long platform a short distance after the checkpoint then run right, start flying, and you'll need to fly over the most difficult part of the stage. Before you reach the end, you must dive below the gate and swoop up to the platform behind it. You'll be awarded with a 3-up moon and you can now access Soda Lake. Beat Soda Lake and you'll find another entrance to Star Road.
Valley of Bowser 2 to Valley Fortress
Play through Valley of Bowser 2 as normal until you pass through the second pipe. You'll be in an area where the yellow floor rises up and tries to squish you but you can simply run right to safety. Instead of dropping down into a pit with a Mega Mole, stop at the edge and wait for the floor to rise up. Stand on the edge of the yellow floor and jump while holding left. You'll start running over the stage then find another secret key and keyhole. This secret exit will take you to Valley Fortress, one of the most difficult fortresses in Super Mario World. When you beat Valley Fortress, you can take on Bowser's Castle by going through the back entrance thus skipping the first two thirds of the final stage. You almost skip straight to Bowser himself!
Star Road to Bowser's Castle
For a secret that takes you right to the end of the game, you might be wondering why it's number 6 on this list. Although it is pretty cool to skip right to Bowser's Castle, I'm the kind of player who likes to explore games to their fullest so beating Bowser as early as possible just isn't a priority for me. The rest of the secrets on this list are ones that let you explore a whole bunch of new levels. Nonetheless, if you want to beat Super Mario World as quickly as possible, this is the way to do it.
To skip to Bower's Castle; first, you need to get to Star World which is itself a secret. Then, you need to complete the levels until you reach the portal to Valley of Bowser. In case you didn't know, all five Star World levels have a secret exit that lets you progress to the next one. Therefore, getting to the Valley of Bowser portal can be quite tricky.
Donut Plains 1 to Donut Secret
At the end of Donut Plains 1, you'll find a wall of green switch blocks that are green outlines if you haven't yet completed the Green Switch Palace. Even if you haven't, it's not a problem as long as you have a cape which can be found many times in this level. Just go to the very end of the level, clear the Chargin' Chuck, run left and fly up to find a key and a keyhole. This secret is one of the easier ones to discover because the switch blocks tell you exactly where to find it but still; it's one of the more important secrets since it grants you access to Donut Secret, Donut Secret House, Donut Secret 2, and Star World.
Vanilla Dome 1 to Vanilla Secret
This secret requires that you have already completed the Red Switch Palace thus revealing all of the red switch blocks. First, you need to make your way through a yellow box fort inhabited by Buzzy Beetles. Then, you'll find some red switch blocks that make stairs which lead to another yellow block. Hit the block and a beanstalk will come out so climb it and you'll find a key and keyhole. This is another important secret as it grants you access to Vanilla Secret 1 (plus Star Road 2), Vanilla Secret 2, Vanilla Secret 3, Vanilla Fortress, Butter Bridge 1, and Butter Bridge 2. That's a whopping six stages in total that you can't unlock if you don't find this secret!
Donut Secret House to Star World
Finding the secret exit in Donut Secret House is the fastest way to get to Star World. There's something exceptionally awesome about Star World since it has five stages and each one has different challenges that you don't see in other levels. Plus, finding the secret exit in each Star World stage unlocks the next level as well as a different star portal.
Anyway, in the Donut Secret House's second room, you'll find a door floating in the air surrounded by some yellow blocks. Go further left and you'll find a P-switch. Hit the P-switch and go back to that door but don't go in the door. Instead, hit the yellow block right above the door and a beanstalk will pop out. Climb the beanstalk to find the secret boss, King Boo. He can't be hit by jumping on him so you need to pick up the purple blocks from the floor then throw them at him. Be careful not to waste the blocks because you don't want to fall down! Once hit, King Boo will disappear for a few seconds. Hit him three times and he'll go down.YouTube: How to Unlock the Star World from Donut Secret House →
Star World 5 to Special World
Star World 5 has a very cool secret. To find it, first go past a bunch of falling grey platforms then hit a ? block that unleashes a trail of coins and press right immediately. The coins will start moving right. Do not press the down or up buttons or the coins will start moving in the wrong direction! After at least 10 seconds, press the P-switch and the coins will turn into blocks. Finally, hurry up and make your way to the end. If you did this tactic correctly, you'll be able to hit a yellow block that has a beanstalk inside at the end of the trail of blocks. Climb up the beanstalk and you'll find a bridge that you can walk on if you completed all four Switch Palaces. At the end of the bridge, put the key in the keyhole and you'll now have access to the Special World!
Special World features eight of the most challenging levels in Super Mario World but if you complete all eight, you'll get a cool reward.
The Switch Palaces are the most useful secrets in Super Mario World because each one turns all of the switch blocks of the corresponding colour solid. Not only are they a huge convenience but you must finish all four Switch Palaces to access the number 2 secret on this list and they'll also aid in finding the number 4 and 5 secrets featured here. I love the Switch Palaces but strangely enough, they haven't appeared in any other Mario game and that's a shame. Below, I'll explain how to gain access to each Switch Palace.
- Yellow: Complete Yoshi's Island 1 stage. Thankfully, you don't need to find a secret exit.
- Green: In Donut Plains 2, go through a pipe in the ceiling to get to a secret area. Pick up a blue shell under three yellow blocks (you will need to be big Mario and spin-jump). Throw the shell to hit the highest of four yellow blocks to reveal a beanstalk. Climb up and you'll find a key and keyhole.
- Red: In Vanilla Dome 2, after you find a dragon coin, go left and you'll find a P-switch on top of a bunch of brown blocks. Carry the P-switch left a bit and jump on it. Then, go left, jump over a short gap, and fall through a few coins that were inaccessible without hitting the P-switch. You'll be in a secret area and you should have no problem finding the key and the keyhole.
- Blue: Near the end of Forest of Illusion 2, you'll find a passage leading left with a yellow switch block and a background platform that's trying to look like an actual wall. Anyway, go right through and find another key and keyhole.