Speedrunning is a simple concept: try to beat a game as fast as possible. And on its surface, this seems like a very straightforward idea. You play the game and try to beat it — except by going really, really fast. Ya know, skipping all the cutscenes and extra side missions, that sort of stuff. But it is not until you realize just how fragile and fallible the fabric of reality is in our favorite game worlds as well as the lengths to which human ingenuity can go that you can truly begin to comprehend speedrunning.
Where Did It Start?
Speedrunning’s roots can be traced back to the early 90’s. Doom offered options to record your gameplay, which led to websites cropping up around this feature. In fact, it is thanks to the accessibility of screen capturing technology and the ability to upload and stream large amounts of high-quality footage that speedrunning has become so popular in recent years.
Nintendo’s properties have always held a special place in gamers’ hearts and in our culture. We grew up with them, so there’s a lot of nostalgia. Back in the day, when stuck between games that were relentlessly difficult and games that were often turn based, Nintendo found the sweet spot in testing our skills without breaking us down. They managed to do this all while being endearingly adorable but never patronizingly so. Combine this with the fact that many of Nintendo’s titles have aged extremely well, and you have a recipe for success.
Fabric of Reality
While many speedruns depend largely upon great skill, such as Super Mario 64‘s 120-star run, others actually take advantage of numerous glitches, which are often hard to pull off. Super Mario 64’s “any percentage” run, which has you completing the game as fast as you can regardless of how much of the game you actually complete, has actually been worked down from requiring 70 stars to beat to requiring none. This is thanks to a handful of glitches that were found over the years, most of which center around glitching through various doors that block your progression.
Perfect execution and taking advantage of obtuse, even impractical and sometimes glitchy strategies is where speedrunning sets itself apart from merely playing a game fast. Speedrunning delves into an entirely different side of our favorite games that we’d most likely never know about if it weren’t for the odd curiosity of human beings.
2D Mario has also stayed popular in the speedrunning community.
Odyssey’s Burgeoning Legacy
Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Super Mario Odyssey has already started to form a robust speedrunning community. In fact, before it had even released, people were speedrunning playthroughs of the in-store demo. Yes, that means someone had to go to a GameStop, stand there for lengths of time that made employees scratch their heads, practice the demo over and over, and then whip out their phone or recording device to take care of business. And considering Jacob Babione uploaded at least six videos of himself speedrunning while at a GameStop, I think it is fair to say that some GameStop employees came to know him well, if only as “the weird guy that comes in and plays the Super Mario Odyssey demo for two hours, then records it and leaves without buying anything.”
I’m in love with the mental image of this whole scenario.
Just looking at SMO’s leaderboard shows how much it is constantly changing and just how much diversity there is among the competing countries. Of the top 100 completed times, the oldest time is only a week old, with most of the times being younger than three days old. Surely by the time this article is published, all of the numbers listed will be out of date, possibly by a significant margin. It is the youth of this vivacious community that makes it so interesting.
Half of the top 10 active games are Super Mario titles.
On the forums you see topics cropping up that range from how to make certain types of speedruns more interesting for your average viewer to new glitches that can be used to shave time off your run. You see new first-place record holders nearly daily. And, of course, SMO is consistently the most popular among active speedrunners. If one thing has become clear, the legacy of Super Mario 64 speedrunning isn’t anywhere near dead. And from the looks of it, Super Mario Odyssey‘s fast start out of the gate bodes well for its ability to follow in Super Mario 64‘s footsteps.
Data obtained from Speedrun.com
And a huge shout out to Summoning Salt, a YouTuber who has taken to making videos that go over the history of many popular, classic speedrunning games. His videos were a huge asset when researching this article.