There’s a wide variety of really, really good video game players. Back in the 1980s and early ’90s, some would compete for the highest score in arcades, aiming to get their initials on the top of the leaderboards. Quite a few others would simply vie for first place in various racing games like Super Mario Kart. Nowadays, you’re most likely to see various teenagers and twenty somethings comparing their K/D (kill/death) ratio in online matches of Call of Duty.
But there’s another, occasionally extreme way to go above and beyond the normal standards of digital supremacy: completing entire games in the fastest time possible. These speed runs, as they’re commonly known, have in recent years become a fixture in the gaming community, with Speed Demos Archive hosting numerous marathons in order to raise money for various charities and non-government organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the Prevent Cancer Association and the Organization for Autism Research. While these speed runs can be completed using vastly different methods, there’s no doubt that a great deal of skill, talent and sheer luck go into them. Let’s sit back and gawk at some of the best.
5. Sinister1 Beats Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Blindfolded
Despite having a retroactively poor choice for a banner athlete attached to its name, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System remains the single greatest boxing game in the history of the video game medium. As aspiring champ Little Mac, players fight their way up the ranks against such opponents as the fragile Glass Joe, the bulbous King Hippo and, of course, Iron Mike himself. To reach and beat Punch-Out’s titular character, players must essentially memorize each opponent’s movement and attack patterns—not to mention train hard on the bicycle between bouts.
Speed runner Sinister1 took things to the next level earlier this year at Speed Run Archives’ Awesome Games Done Quick marathon, when he played through the entire game while blindfolded. While memorization was already a major factor in beating Punch-Out, it was all the gamer had to rely on, given that a lack of vision greatly impeded his visual reflexes. Nevertheless, he was able to complete the run in a swift 38 minutes relying only on memory, sound and the feel of the controller. Meanwhile, many of us are incapable of walking from one side of our bedrooms to the other at night without stubbing a toe or two on something.
4. I3ASS I3OOST and RWhiteGoose Turn GoldenEye 64 Into A Three-Legged Race
The first-person shooter genre originated on the PC, with Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake being just a few games to the category’s name in the early ’90s. Though it seemed like the PC would be the genre’s sole habitat, given the fidelity of mouse controls—not to mention the power of the hardware—GoldenEye 64 for the Nintendo 64 turned everything upside down. Along with a vast array of weaponry at Bond’s disposal, GoldenEye was one of the first games to feature multiple objectives per level; the player could covertly take photographs, save hostages and plant explosives, all without having to exit and restart a level. Coupled with accessible and addictive multiplayer, and a supremely underrated soundtrack, it helped pave the way for the Halo series and recent Call of Duty games.
GoldenEye also featured a cooperative mode, which the Halo games would make extremely popular. Unlike most co-op modes, however, GoldenEye’s did not generate a second character. Rather, one player would use his or her controller to move, and the other would use theirs to aim and shoot. Speed runners I3ASS I3OOST(aka Bass Boost) and RWhiteGoose sat down at Awesome Game Done Quick a few months ago to attempt their own cooperative run at the game, reaching the finish line, so to speak, at just over 24 minutes. The digital version of James Bond spent the vast majority of playtime staring at his feet, as looking down meant the game had fewer assets to load and thus a smoother frame rate and slightly faster completion time. Now imagine Pierce Brosnan hunched over in a similar fashion for the duration of the GoldenEye movie and have a good laugh.
3. Thanatos Beats Super Hard Game In An Hour
Most games these days have adjustable difficulty settings—“easy” for the casual player, “normal” for someone with some experience,” and “hard” for anybody looking for an extra challenge. Demon’s Souls, by From Software, is permanently stuck on hard mode, with enemies that can kill you without a second’s notice, hidden booby traps, and high penalties for dying. From Software has continued in this punishing tradition with Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and the upcoming Bloodborne.
Demon’s Souls usually requires hours upon hours of playing and dying—repeatedly—to master the game’s nuances and oh so numerous pitfalls. Fred “Thanatos” Vasquez put his well-honed experience of the game to the test by beating the game in just over an hour. No glitches or major exploits were used, just sheer skill and timing. That’s impressive for most games, but astounding for one which will kill you in the cruelest ways possible just for taking the wrong turn.
2. Masterjun3 Hacks Super Mario World On The Fly, Turns It Into Pong
Not all speed runs rely on conventional methods of completion, i.e. running from point A to point B as quick as digitally possible. Many players make use of flaws in coding or design, known as “exploits,” for their own use or amusement, backflipping through walls, launching themselves across the map, or replicating rare items a thousand times over (one example being the famous Missingno glitch in Pokémon Red and Blue. Tool-assisted speed take things to an even new extreme by using emulators to manipulate a game’s code or saved state, executing tricks and glitches that would normally be impossible to carry out in an official version. These speed exist for entertainment rather than competition’s sake, like the Harlem Globetrotters compared to the NBA.
Masterjun3 was not satisfied with completing Super Mario World in a TAS. He wanted to use Super Mario World to create a totally different game. So for Awesome Games Done Quick this January, he used an emulator to generate item movement and replacement glitches during a livestreamed playthrough. After an almost incomprehensible sequence of manipulations and player actions, Super Mario World transformed into rudimentary versions of Pong and Snake, using a spite of Mario’s head as a key game object. For those interested, Masterjun3 laid out his method in a detailed, step-by-step process. If you can understand it, congratulations, you’re now a professor at MIT.
1. FunilaSM64 Beats Super Mario 64 In Less Than Seven Minutes
Apart from being groundbreaking for its time and just plain fun, Super Mario 64 was an incredibly thorough game. It featured 120 collectible Power Stars, 70 of which were required to beat the game and several which could only be claimed through secret areas and missions. And if you actually did manage to collect all of them, you would be rewarded with a special visit from Mario’s favourite steed (of sorts), Yoshi. Some Call of Duty games seem like Minesweeper by comparison.
Speed runner FunilaSM64 saw that and laughed. Using a series of long jumps, triple jumps, strategic backflips and level exploits, he beat the game in an astounding six minutes and 41 seconds, and without having to collecting a single star. The only necessary items were the two boss keys that allowed FunilaSM64 access to different areas of the castle where he could perform the required tricks. We like to think that Nintendo founder and Super Mario 64 director Shigeru Miyamoto would have respected the player’s methods and aims, if not necessarily applauded them.
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