Earlier this week, speedrunner Niftski became the first player to ever beat Super Mario Bros. in under four minutes and 55 seconds (4:54.948, to be precise). That might not sound too impressive on the surface; it’s only about a quarter-second under the world record set by Miniland just two months ago, after all, and less than a second under the first sub-4:56 time (4:55.913) set by Kosmic a year ago.
But once you understand everything that needed to come together to break SMB‘s 4:55 barrier, the feat becomes something akin to speedrunning’s version of the four-minute mile. Niftski’s performance is within spitting distance of the machine-generated perfection of tool-assisted speedruns, which use emulator-recorded frame-perfect inputs to push a game to its limits. Niftski’s performance approaches the theoretical limits of what a human can achieve in this seminal game.
What goes into a feat like this? Join me for a quick primer.