Psst - hey, you! Do you want to be a Mario speedrunning genius? OK, you might not be able to, but Super Mario Maker 2 can make you feel like one, thanks to both the cool features Nintendo has included, and a certain type of user-created level that’s becoming quite popular.
You read Kotaku, so you’ve seen the “[Person] Breaks World Record for [Mario Game]” videos on YouTube. Maybe you even follow these people on Twitch, so you can see their dazzling feats live. Maybe you even support them on Patreon.
But as for you personally, it’s more likely that you, like me, are a schlub. You might crush your 7-year-old nephew at Mario Kart, but his skill level is way closer to yours than yours is to your favourite speedrunner’s.
You will never know the feeling of executing a frame-perfect move, even one time, even by accident, much less the thrill of executing hundreds of them in succession, much less the euphoric rush of setting a new world record for human perfection.
But what if I told you that you could get close? The primary joy of Super Mario Maker 2 is that it allows you to create your very own Mario levels. By some miracle, it allows you to become a game designer, instantly. But even if you aren’t interested in doing that, Mario Maker 2 has another miracle in store for you: It can also instantly turn you into a speedrunner.
Well, kind of. You could use Mario Maker to actually make yourself better at speedrunning, but that takes thousands of hours and you have a career. But Mario Maker 2 will give you a little taste of what I imagine it must be like, in two ways.
First: Play Brilliant User-Created Levels Designed to Simulate Speedrunning
Mario Maker lets you play courses created by users around the world, many of whom are very good at it. And these courses are curated by players who can give each course an upvote or a downvote. So when you go to the “Popular” tab in the game’s online Course World, you can play through the cream of the crop.
Maybe playing levels created by internet randos worries you a little. You, like me, may often feel like the internet is a toxic place full of people who mean you harm. Well, take heart, because it turns out that it’s also full of good people. If you don’t hear from them often, it’s likely because they’re all just busy building Mario Maker levels designed to make you feel like a speedrunning savant.
Many of the top user-created levels are designed for casual speedrunning. They all have a lot in common. They are fast, and they are furious. In them, you will hold the sprint button and run as fast as your little Mario heart can. You will also occasionally jump. And it will be nuts.
First of all, each level is jam-packed with action. Sound effects, light shows, music cues, all come together to quicken your pulse. Second, the courses are often filled with danger that will fill you with adrenaline. Rows of Thwomps will pursue you like the boulder in Indiana Jones, and you will slide through the narrowest of closing gaps like the hat grab from... Indiana Jones.
And that brings us to the secret third thing: Each level is designed with such Rolexian precision that you are almost sure to succeed. The brilliant creators of these speedrunning courses have meticulously arranged each component to create the maximum thrill, while giving you every tool you need to comfortably emerge the victor.
The jumps will feel frame-perfect, but they will only require minimally competent timing. You will perceive danger, but if you trust the level, and jump when you’re supposed to jump, everything will be ok.
One such level is the “Celestial Sprint Speedrun,” which was at one point the most popular level in the game. It has what amounts to a Rube Goldberg machine going on almost entirely behind the scenes, which creates and then clears traps for you the very instant that you need them gone.
Even having completed the course several times, I have to override my knee-jerk Mario instincts to somehow try to avoid the hazard on my own. It’s the kind of controlled terror of a roller coaster - my body thinks I’m falling, but my brain knows I’m safe.
One last thing: Thanks to the immaculate timing of these levels, you will almost certainly tie the world-record times for them. In Celestial Sprint Speedrun, I’m pretty sure you die if you don’t, thanks to the exquisite, punishing machinations of the Rube Goldberg contraption.
Of course, that has very little to do with you, because you are still just a regular Mario player. It has everything to do with the hard work and ingenuity of the creators of these levels. But it’s going to feel like it’s you. And that might be as close as us schlubs are gonna get.
Second: Own Some Actual World Records
If simulated speedrunning doesn’t quite scratch the itch for you, well, Mario Maker has something else up its sleeve. This game will repeatedly offer you the chance to actually hold a world record for a legitimate Mario speedrun.
“But I’m a schlub!” you say, correctly. “How can I beat out the superhumans at the rightmost tail of the distribution curve?” The answer is simple: Make that curve really, really small.
There are so many obscure levels created by everyday people like you or me. These levels might be hard, or they might be easy. The important thing is that they will not be played by very many people. And to the extent that other people will play them, they are unlikely to spend very long on them, or beat them more than once. And they are very unlikely to be speedrunning geniuses themselves. So if you pick a level and put maybe an hour into it, you will very likely emerge with a speedrunning record for that level that withstands the tests of time.
There’s an even better way to do this, and that’s with friends. Get a group of three to six friends who all have the game. Each of you make a level. Your level designs can be fairly simple, since most of the time, you don’t even know what parts of a level will turn out to be hard for the purposes of a speedrun.
Then, see who can get the best times on each other’s levels. This will force you to actually prove your prowess, rather than just rely on the laziness or lack of interest of your competition.
You’ll get the course down, you’ll master the tricky jumps and timing needed to get a good time - maybe with a small error here or there - and then your friend will beat you.
So you’ll go back and master each piece of the level so completely that you practically become a tool-assisted speedrun. And then your friend will beat you. And you’ll realise that you need to find a creative way to shave a second or two off—maybe you can skip an obstacle entirely with a risky jump? So you’ll practice that. Finally, you’ll pull it off good enough to reclaim the WORLD RECORD, at least until your friend figures something else out.
And guess what? Now you’re actually speedrunning. That cycle of practice, mastery, and innovation is exactly what real speedrunners go through. Sure, they’re competing against the whole world while you’re just going head-to-head against a small group of friends. But the rush you’ll feel - and the bragging rights you’ll attain - when you reclaim an actual world record, while smaller than those of the True Speedrunner, are authentic.
And for a schlub like me, that’s a pretty special thing to experience.
Jordan Call is a freelance writer and supremely average gamer. He likes obscure French jazz, mainstream American television, and tweeting from @jord_call.