New Super Mario Bros. record breaks speedrunning’s “four-minute mile”

You’ll likely never see a human beat Super Mario Bros. faster than this.

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.

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