The Super Mario Bros. speedrunning community is constantly looking for new ways to push the state of the art, and one player just achieved what was previously thought of as an impossible feat…at least for a human.
In 2018, speedrunner HappyLee used a computer assist to demonstrate a new method to shave a few frames off of Super Mario Bros. world 4-2. It involved using precise inputs to make Mario glitch (clip) through a row of blocks—the top row—near the start of the level, which pushed him rightward faster than ever before. Then it required a super-precise jump onto a warp pipe. The speedrunning community had assumed a full, perfect run of 4-2 using this “top clip” trick could never be performed by human means due to the sheer precision required, and luckily, it has since discovered alternate, easier methods for min-maxing 4-2. But on Monday, a speedrunner named Tole managed to perform the “top clip” 4-2 trick without computer assistance.
Here’s what’s happening: Through precise inputs, Tole made Luigi clip through the corner of the top block, touching the ground inside of the wall for one frame, and then jump out from inside of the wall. According to HappyLee’s original discovery, this maneuver should shave three frames from the run. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s particularly important in world 4-2 because of a Super Mario Bros. concept called frame rules.
Frame rules are a somewhat esoteric concept. In Super Mario Bros., the program only checks for level completion every 21 frames. Therefore, if you enter an end-of-level castle just after the most recent check, you’ll have to wait up to 20 frames for the next level to begin.
One speedrunner helpfully explains the frame rule using a bus analogy. Imagine that the castle at the end of each Super Mario Bros. level is a bus stop. The bus only arrives (the game records the player beating the level) once every 21 frames (about 0.35 seconds). So to set world records in some levels, you can’t just be faster by a tiny amount of time; you have to be fast enough to catch the previous “bus” that’s departing for the next world.
Catching the first possible bus in level 4-2, as was first demonstrated by computer-assisted runs, is sometimes called “Lightning 4-2.” That’s why HappyLee’s computer-aided trick, in which Mario saves a few frames by clipping through the top block in level 4-2, made waves: It was another way for runners to beat the frame rule and theoretically catch that first bus. Current Super Mario Bros. speedrunning champion Niftski used a similar trick in his new world-record run this past week. The difference was that he jumped underneath the block and ran inside the wall—a different method entirely, and much more practical for humans to use in real runs.
Kotaku reached out to Tole, but did not receive a comment by the time of publication.
Since there exist easier Lightning 4-2 methods, the “top clip” Lightning 4-2 Tole pulled off will probably just be for bragging rights. But speedrunners who understood the incredible difficulty at play here were suitably impressed by Tole’s feat. “Holy cow, I doubted this method’s viability for years and you pulled it off,” said one commenter. “THIS IS FUCKING INSANE,” wrote another, the emphasis theirs.