The Super Mario games are among some of the most popular in all of speedrunning. From console to console, Mario has been pushed to his breaking point. The last few days have formed a watershed moment for Mario speedrunning as new records in Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 move into uncharted territory and new tricks open up fresh possibilities. It’s a damn good time to be a fan watching Mario go fast.
It all started two days ago when speedrunner tavenwebb2002 achieved a new world record in the Super Mario Bros. Any% category. The Any% speedrun, in which runners complete a game as fast as possible through any means, has been one of the most tightly contested categories thanks to how precisely speedrunners have mastered the game’s various eccentricities. Records have gone back and forth between runners. Sometimes, runs are only beaten by a single frame, which is literally fractions of a second. Last year, speedrunner Kosmic achieved a time of 4 minutes, 55 seconds, 913 milliseconds. It was a time so fast that it had previously been called impossible. This was outpaced a month later by a runner named somewes, who achieved a time of 4 minutes, 55 seconds, 796 milliseconds. This new run, the first record in nine months, clocks in at 4 minutes, 55 seconds, 746 milliseconds. It’s a difference so small that you’ll literally miss it if you blink.
Sometimes, new tricks fuel fresh records, but in this case, it really comes down to essentially perfect performance. Super Mario Bros. is so optimized that there’s a variety of tricks that allow runners to save fractions of seconds and to beat runs by something called a “frame rule.” Frame rules are a factor in how Super Mario Bros. handles how long it waits before loading the next level. Small improvements allow runners to arrive closer to the times when the transitions occur. It means they wait less to head into a new level. Tavenwebb2002’s run incorporates many of the tricks that somewes used, including a trick to jump directly into the bottom of flagpoles at the end of levels and a clip through a pipe in world 1-2. Stumbling on even a single trick would mean falling behind the record. Instead, tavenwebb2002 manages to nail them all and improve his pace through world 8-4. The end result is a world record that’s all but flawless.
“This is it,” Tavenwebb2002’s says after defeating Bowser at the end of his run. “4:55 is done. We did it, we did it. We freakin’ did it. It’s over. It’s the run. It’s the run! We don’t know by how much but it’s the record. This game is done. I’m done.”
In the run’s official post on speedrun.com, he says that he plans to stop running Any%.
Meanwhile, runners are setting new records in Mario’s first true 3D adventure. Super Mario 64’s 120 Star record has been dominated by two players: cheese and puncayshun. Two years ago, cheese brought the record into the 1-hour-and-39-minute range. Since then, it’s been a press to bring things lower. Yesterday, he finally brought the run down to under 1 hour and 38 minutes.
Cheese’s record run uses methods like a difficult “cannonless” trick in the water-themed world Jolly Roger Bay. Instead of taking time to talk to a friendly pink Bob-omb to unlock a cannon that can shoot him to one of the game’s collectible stars, cheese manages to scale a nearby pillar and leap to it. There is, however, one problem: Cheese’s capture card freezes in the same level. This leaves a small period where the game’s audio and visuals aren’t being displayed. This has presumably been what’s kept the run from being verified and posted to the speedrun.com leaderboards for the moment.
This run has rough patches. Cheese is actually behind pace coming out of Jolly Roger Bay and loses even more time in Dire, Dire Docks. One time, near the end of the run, it almost looks as if cheese has missed throwing Bowser into one of the bombs required to defeat him. Still, he manages to recover and ends with a time of 1:38:51.
These records come right as a new trick for despawning a piranha plant was found in Super Mario Bros., showing that there are always new glitches to be found, too. It might take some time, but more minutes might be shaved and “impossible” runs achieved thanks to the tireless effort and talent of the speedrunning community.