Photo: Evan Malmgren

Most speedruns showcase the kind of superhuman precision that takes thousands of hours dedicated to repetition and rote memorization. So when a Games Done Quick runner fires up their console at the start of a block, it’s usually a safe bet that they know a hell of a lot more about what’s about to happen than you do. Unless they’re playing blind Mario Maker.

On Saturday, speedrunners CarlSagan42, GrandPooBear, and Jaku (“Team Stay Hydrated”) squared off against Failstream, Cliffy, and Glitchcat7 (“Team Jebaited”) in a relay race through nine community-built Super Mario Maker levels. All six runners were going in blind, meaning they didn’t have an opportunity to look at, let alone practice any of the stages before playing them in a marathon setting. They only had six minutes to solve and complete each one.

“It’s a different display of skill,” Games Done Quick communications director Kasumi Yogi said of the run. “As opposed to showing off hours and hours of hard work memorizing all the tricks… we’re showing off their pure skill and ability to react.”

From a runner’s perspective, this comes with advantages in addition to the expected pitfalls. As CarlSagan42 explained in a post-race interview with Kotaku, “it’s definitely a little bit easier in the sense that you don’t have to over-prepare for it, because how much can you really do for a blind race?”

“It’s testing your ability to learn,” said Glitchcat7. “Memorize something and repeat it, that’s one skill, and then learn and evolve, that’s another.”

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“We go into it knowing we’re going to die,” said Failstream.

But, CarlSagan42 added, “the Mario Maker community loves seeing us die anyway.”

The courses themselves ran the gamut of what Mario Maker has to offer. Between an adrenaline-pumping ghost house, an assemblage of segmented puzzle rooms, and a gauntlet of Bowser castles, the teams were constantly forced to switch play styles between stages.

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After Team Stay Hydrated took an early win, Team Jebaited’s Glitchcat7 tied it up by navigating a troll level filled with moving cannons, out-of-nowhere piranha plants, and a fountain of moles to close it out. For a taste of this one, check the right screen to see what happened when he seemed frames away from victory:

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The crowd didn’t really get going until Jaku (left screen) tied the score once again by tagging the flagpole at the end of a lengthy red-coin level just as its timer ran out:

Team Jebaited had racked it up to 4-2 by the end of level eight (there were two six-minute timeouts), but that only meant so much, because the final course was winner-take-all. Jebaited got a ten-second head start thanks to their lead, but a mind-bending first-attempt clear by CarlSagan42 brought the live audience to their feet and sealed the match for Team Stay Hydrated. While you check the left screen below, just remember, he has never even seen this level before:

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After a brief celebration (complete with a championship belt), the players took turns showing off prepared runs through super-hard Mario Maker levels. Highlights from this included a simplified version of a notorious Kaizo level that had taken creator Failstream almost 500 hours to finish and upload, CarlSagan42’s quickfire commentary over a speedrun level, and a blindfolded auto level that Cliffy used to fool some of the more gullible viewers (myself included).

Mario Maker stood out on the schedule as a showcase of play rather than one of mastery. These runners weren’t dominating known structures; they were recombining familiar elements, recognizing patterns, and routing on the fly, all while flexing the insane level of skill you’d expect from any GDQ stream.

“I always think of speedrunning as my art,” explained GrandPooBear, “and sometimes it’s really fun to freestyle.

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This taps into something fundamental about Mario Maker’s appeal, which continues to fuel a sizable fanbase and draw regular audiences across streaming platforms. “Twitch audiences love experiences that are similar yet different every time,” GrandPooBear said, “and Mario Maker delivers that every time.” The game scrapes at the nostalgia of earlier 2D Mario titles, but perpetually reinvents them in novel ways. The unique challenge that this presents—one of learning rather than knowing—also helps explain why a souped-up level editor attracted the attention of top-tier players from across the Mario franchise.

As to how it has held that attention for almost three years, the runners’ responses were unanimous: the depth of possibilities, and the dedication of the community pushing to exploring them. “In a normal speedrun, people play the same game for fifteen years,” said CarlSagan42. “This is a new game every time you build a new level.”

Even Saturday’s race, a competition, was ultimately all about community. Between the runners, level creators, commentators, organizers, and a small army of play-testers, GrandPooBear estimated that as many as 40 people were involved in pulling the run together. “It takes a whole community to make an event like this happen.”

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“We haven’t had a perfect event yet,” he said, “but this one was really good.”

The race is well worth watching in its entirety (starts at 4:05):

And if you want to test your skills against the runners, you can find the levels at these course IDs:

[SGDQ] Against All Odds, by Yusef: 28E2-0000-03AA-9D40

[SGDQ] Spooky Ghosts Done Quick!, by Kiavik: 0000-0000-0000-0000

[SGDQ] Scareway to Heaven, by Katz: 4941-0000-03AA-A165

TeenageMutantNinja[SGDQ]uirtle, by Com_Poser: 3E2E-0000-03AA-A000

[SGDQ] Mario Party: Bowser Bash, by DrCliche: ADCA-0000-03AA-9BDE

[SGDQ] Six Guys Dash Quickly, by Ferpy: 9593-0000-03AA-A02B

[SGDQ] Time to Screw Up!, by Hijackme: FB8C-0000-03AA-9835

[SGDQ] Super Mario a La Carte, by Chuck N: D03A-0000-03AA-9FEC

[SGDQ] Stacked Like Bowsers., by Royalnoblood: 43D5-0000-03AA-A0F4

Evan Malmgren is a freelance writer and researcher who lives all over. He’s been trying to sell out for years, but can’t seem to find any buyers.