Four minutes and 55 seconds: for two years, this was the fastest anyone could beat the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES. It’s such a precise world record that there’s been debate since 2018 over whether or not it could ever be toppled. Within the community, the mere idea of a 4:54 run became legendary.
Plenty have tried. Actually, as of this writing, the Super Mario Bros. speedrun leaderboard has over 10 records in the 4:55 range, the difference between them coming down to milliseconds. And getting there is no joke — as YouTuber Bismuth explains in the documentary below, thousands of runs end before the flagpole on the first level.
Theoretically, a faster time has always been possible. At least, that’s what tool-assisted speedruns, which can be written frame by frame, tell the experts. The question was whether or not an actual human could improve on what is already an extremely optimized run that requires pixel-perfect control. Already, a 4:55 time is nearly flawless compared to what a computer can achieve (4:54.26, for those keeping track.)
And now, in 2021, someone has. The new record, which is being called historic by the community, was achieved by Twitch streamer Niftski. Clocking in at 4:54:948, it is now the fastest anyone has beaten Super Mario Bros.
“This is insane,” Niftski said during the stream. “It hit me, but it hasn’t hit me fully.”
So, what was it that allowed Niftski to achieve this extraordinary new time? In a message to Polygon, he noted that his timesave over the old record was “the implementation of 8-1 flagpole glitch, which saved .35 seconds over the old record going into 8-4.”
The flagpole glitch he mentioned is a well-known trick where Mario glitches into the block holding the flag, which allows him to finish the level without having it lower down. In turn, Mario only gets 100 bonus points if this glitch is in place — but that’s a small price to pay for a legendary world record. While the glitch has been a mainstay of Super Mario Bros. speedrunning for a while now, it’s a tremendously difficult one — you don’t just have to be pixel perfect, you have to take something called “subpixels” into account. Subpixels are used to measure Mario’s coordinates between pixels.
Now that the seemingly impossible has been achieved, the streamer ended his broadcast by announcing that he was developing new 2021 goals for the game. In a message to Polygon, Niftski stated that he’s going after even more Super Mario Bros. world records in different speedrunning categories.
Update (April 8): Footage of the speedrun is now available, alongside an explanation from Niftski on how he achieved the new record.