Learning SM64 Speedrunning
Updated: Jan 8
Mario 64 is now 26 years old and regarded as one of the best games of all time. It was Nintendo's big launch title for the N64 and ushered in a new benchmark for 3D games.
A few months ago I decided to learn how to Speedrun Super Mario 64. In this video, I want to share the journey so far. As a beginner, I am using the beginner strategies for most things, just something to keep in mind as that is what my experience of these categories is so far.
For those who don't know
Speedrunning is trying to complete a game or a subsection of a game in as fast a time as possible. There are typically community agreed rules and restrictions for various categories and may incorporate glitches or not.
Super Mario 64 has three main categories.
Getting 120 Stars is to complete the game 100%. At the time of writing, the World Record is held by Spanish speed runner Cheese with 1h 37m and 50s.
Down from 120 Star is the 70 Star category. At the time of writing, the World Record is held by American speed runner Weegee with 46m and 58s.
Down from 70 Star is 16 Star, the World Record at the time of recording is just 14m 48s.
You can obviously start with whichever category you want to learn, but it makes sense to start with 16 star before moving on to 70 star and then finally learning all 120, if you intend to learn all categories. (There are also sub-categories such as 0 Star and 1 Star)
That’s how I’ve gone about it. To try and improve I set a goal of getting sub 20 minutes in the 16 star category, before moving on to 70 star and setting a goal of sub 1 hour. Finally, moving on to 120 Star with a goal of sub 2 hours.
I was not brand new to this game. Many years ago I learned Bomb Clip in Bob-Omb Battlefield and I learned the Beginner 100 coin + red coin route in Whomp’s Fortress. Though it was many years ago, compared to starting fresh this was a really nice little head start in learning the category.
Learning 16 Star does not take too long as the run itself is so short and it serves as a great Intro to Mario 64 Speedrunning.
Tricky parts would have been learning Canonless in Whomp’s Fortress, The Bowser Levels, Mips Skip, BLJs and Bowser 3. Beyond that none of the stars are too crazy with a bit of practice in my opinion so with some dedication and time, I think most people can learn the beginner route fairly quickly and get to the real fun part, which is actually doing speed runs.
Getting sub 20 was super fun and rewarding, and especially doing it on stream with the Jam-Fam following the progress, this was a great experience and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning some Super Mario 64 speedrunning. This also didn't take me all that long. I think for an absolute beginner this serves as a great introductory challenge, and a more advanced speedrunner can see how quickly they can get to a time of sub 20. For some, this will be very fast.
70 Star is actually the category I wanted to learn originally. Being around an hour, that’s a nice length for a speedrun and especially with Mario which is so sparse for cutscenes, it’s a great length of constant gameplay and new tricks. After learning 16 Star, learning another 54 stars was daunting, though. I am also not a fast learner, so that was really the feeling going into this category.
Once I had learned the route, this category was super fun. The vast majority of stars are interesting and fun to execute, and progression is incremental and rewarding.
Small examples like Big Boo on the Balcony, going from scrappy fights to three perfect hits - Or Bob-Omb Battlefield Wing Cap, struggling to get up the hill to consistent execution, these and many more stars are very satisfying to learn and improve at. Watching more tenured runners, everyone has unique approaches to different stars and it's fun mining for strategies in this way, even if you only find a very small adjustment.
Reaching a time of sub 1 hour took me about 2-3 months of moderate play after moving on from 16 Star. I was pretty happy with my efficiency in this category and reaching my goal was super rewarding.
Looking at the 120 Star category from a learning point of view is interesting. Particularly if you've progressed through the previous two categories. There are less stars to learn than between 16 and 70, but you quickly realise that all the longest stars in the game have been ommited from those categories but are inevitably required for this 100% category. This mostly constitutes the 100 coin stars.
This makes learning this category significantly more time consuming than either of the other two categories and satisfying gameplay sometimes takes a backseat to moving from point A to point B, though not too often.
Despite this, I'd heard most people say this was their favourite run, and it's not too hard to see that once you get through the learning phase and start to get more comfortable, why that would be the case. You experience everything in the game and putting it all together is great fun. Incremental gains are all over the place so for a long time, without really changing any of my strategies, my time was dropping just through repetition and the accumulating familiarity.
I'm still working towards my goal in 120 Star, with over 15 minutes to go until sub 2 hours, but I'm starting to make progress. I've played less than I did in short periods of time with 16 or 70 Star but I'm sure I'll meet my goal before too long. As always, the dedicated and analytical player can improve quickly and get great times before long, but this is also a nice category for someone to learn and then dip in and out of between other games or pursuits.
I haven't played too many other games as a speedrunner, but would recommend learning a bit of Super Mario 64 to anybody with any interest in the hobby!
It offers such a clear path of progression, has an active playerbase and can draw numbers on streaming platforms for good players. It also has a great history and has become emblematic of the entire speedrunning community ☆