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Record-breaking Super Mario Bros. speedrun approaches robotic perfection

Niftski making it look easy.

Back in 2021, when speedrunner Niftski became the first person to complete Super Mario Bros. in under 4:55, we used the four-minute mile as a metaphor for the difficulty and importance of the achievement. But now that Niftski has pushed that time even lower—setting a new world record of 4:54.631 for a live, human-controlled full game run—we’re left grasping for metaphors that accurately capture the performance.

Niftski’s new record perfectly matches a “perfect” TAS of the game (i.e. a “tool-assisted speedrun” that uses frame-by-frame input recordings using an emulator) through seven of the run’s eight levels. His best time is now running ahead of the “theory limit” of 4:54.798 that runner Bismuth set back in 2018 as the ideal human performance standard.

In the battle of man vs. machine, Niftski is now just 0.35 seconds away from standing up, John-Henry-style, against the standard of machine-made automation. Hey, I guess I did come up with a good metaphor after all.

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