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I just finished watching this Super Mario World TAS. One thing that baffled me is, what are red stars for? They never seem to be directly earned, but simply some "bonuses" for clearing particular exits.

Is it so, or is there more to it than that?

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Is Mario... wall jumping? I don't even... –  Raven Dreamer Jan 26 '11 at 6:07
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@raven «Walljumping happens when Mario jumps towards a wall, and his foot catches the wall, stops his falling speed, and allows him to jump again in mid-air. In order to pull off a walljump, Mario needs at least a speed of 33 going toward a wall, and must run into the wall at exactly a block boundary (every 16 pixels). If Mario "catches" the wall, then conditions are good for a walljump - simply press jump a couple frames before he snags it.» More glitches here. –  badp Jan 26 '11 at 9:01

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

You have to break (touch) the rope at the level's exit to earn stars. The higher it is when you break it, the more stars you get — up to 50. Getting all 50 gets you three bonus extra lives.

Super Mario World - level end gate

The white horizontal bar between the two vertical striped bars is the 'rope' to which I refer.

Once you have acquired 100 red stars, you enter a bonus game where you can earn extra lives.

Super Mario World - extra lives mini game

The minigame starts with 8 squares that had changing icons on them (the one in center does not change). The 8 squares around the center rotate around the middle square. The objective is to hit the moving squares to make them stop changing their icons. Once you are done, you get an extra life for every row of similar icons.

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This would explain why the runs ends with a surgical 99 red stars. :) –  badp Jan 26 '11 at 0:25
    
I also believe the maximum amount of stars you can get from any level is "40", but I might be misremembering. –  Raven Dreamer Jan 26 '11 at 6:00
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It was 50. You had to break the rope at the peak, and there was some other bonus associated with doing it as well. I want to say it was 1-3 extra lives, but I can't say for certain. –  Shaun Jan 26 '11 at 15:31
    
@Shaun Yes, that's right: the max is 50 stars and you get 3 extra lives for the trouble. This TAS of a SMW hack gets the special stage as soon as possible and then flunks the minigame in order to obtain flight for the rest of the run. –  badp Jul 11 '12 at 13:37

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