There’s nothing quite like watching a brilliant gamer smash through a game and beat it faster than you imagined possible. You might not know that there's a small community of people who did this competitively, who chase world records like race car drivers chase trophies. It's called speedrunning, and it's a growing, if little known, part of the eSports ecosystem.
In fact, there's a storied history to speedrunning that few outside the tight-knit community know about. Even in the broader history of gaming, the astonishing accomplishments of the greatest speedrunners are relegated to, at best, footnotes.
We wanted to do honor to the unheralded champions of the sport. In no particular order, here are 10 of the greatest speedruns of all time. Good running.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Speedrun in 22:38, live at AGDQ2013 by CosmoWright
Once upon a time, the Ocarina of Time speedrun record was two and a half hours. The records have fallen fast in the last five years, however. In this run, Cosmo Wright explains, step by step, how the game was dissected, how glitches were discovered, and how seconds were saved.
Current world record: 19:15, set 8/13/13 by Cosmo
2) Super Mario 64 120 star Speedrun 1:45:52 by Siglemic
This run by Siglemic broke a 1:44 milestone. It’s one of the most impressive races you’ll ever see in one of the most beloved and heavily raced games of all time. One fan put it best: “Skill is the supreme factor.”
Current world record: 1:44:01, set Jan. 30, 2013 by Siglemic
3) Quake 14:13 by Quake done Quick
This is one of the games that launched speedrunning (not to mention the ultra-competitive deathmatch) almost two decades ago. It’s never been done better.
4) Portal Done Pro-er - Portal Speedrun - 8:31:93
This world record run made headlines everywhere in the gaming press. Small wonder: The SourceRuns team broke the previous record by an enormous 53 seconds. A year later, the record still stands.
5) Super Mario Bros 3 world record 10:48 speedrun by Freddy 'Frezy_man' Andersson
It took 21 years after the game was originally released and over 3,000 speedrun attempts by Frezy_Man to set the brief and wondrous 10:48 world record in one of the greatest old-school platformers ever released. The record, set in 2009, still stands today.
6) Grand Theft Auto III 1:19:42 by Adam Kuczynski
Liberty City, the metropolis setting of Grand Theft Auto 3, is alive. Speedrunning it requires a healthy dose of both skill land luck. Every run is different. Will the cops lay down and die or shoot your tires out? It’s a real treat to see AdamAK pull off this supremely clean world record run in a game with so many moving parts. His record has yet to be broken.
7) Sonic Adventure 2: Battle Hero Story Speedrun in 26:01:03 by talon2461
Sonic games are already meant to be fast, so the speedruns can be an incredible blur. If you miss anything, worry not. Talon2461 talks through each spin dash and sky glitch step by step, giving viewers perfect insight into why the run is so impressive.
8) NES Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 (FDS), 2 (USA), and 3 in 10:39:75 by agwawaf
Racing one game at a time is for lazy nerds. Tool-assisted runs, a popular niche in the speedrunning world, allows players to run four Mario games at once with a single controller. The result is as chaotic as it sounds.
9) Super Mario World in 10:26 by Menboo93
Menboo93 runs this like a madman, taking risks and reaping rewards. Although the Japanese runner disappeared from the scene and tried to delete all of his records and runs from memory, this mark can never go away. There is no embeddable video for the full run, so we have the YouTube video of his celebration to watch instead. You can see the full run here.
10) Super Meat Boy 1:47:36 live (106% +Expert Remix) by Breakdown
Super Meat Boy is a challenging game, so watching a good runner master it is particularly satisfying. What makes this run even better is that the creator of Super Meat Boy calls in and chats with the runners as they break his game apart.
Current world record: 1:27:50 by Takujiz
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III