Speedrunning gets more popular every year with new players dedicating themselves to beating their favorite games as fast as possible. If you want to join this great community, you’ll need a game to start with, and multiple titles make breaking into speedrunning a little bit easier.
While speedrunning is fairly straightforward, there are a few things you should know before getting into this. First off, Speedrun.com is a website you’ll want to become familiar with. This is the central hub for speedrunners all over the world, providing leaderboards, community resources, and rules for most games. These are all managed by different teams of moderators for each title, but if you’re interested in speedrunning (especially if you want to submit your times), then visiting this website regularly is a must.
On top of that, speedrun categories are also important on Speedrun.com. A category dictates the unique rules or conditions you must complete a run under for it to be valid. The most common one is “Any%,” which usually means to beat the primary challenge of a game by whatever means necessary (for example, defeating a game’s final boss). Other common categories are boss rushes, completionist runs (where you do most if not everything a game has to offer), and “Glitchless” where most glitches or exploits that may be used in Any% aren’t allowed.
Every game is different, so make sure to read the rules and guidelines on the game’s Speedrun.com page, but this should be enough to start with. Of course, if you don’t want to submit your times to the leaderboards and are doing this purely for fun, you don’t need to worry about these rules for now. You can also check out tons of speedruns for all kinds of games on YouTube.
Speedrunning is about beating a game as quickly as possible, but what makes certain titles more welcoming to new speedrunners than others? Well, we looked for a few key factors when picking games for this list: community size, accessibility, and difficulty.
Community size may sound like a strange one to start with—why should it matter to you if the game you speedrun is popular? However, there are multiple benefits to speedrunning games that have established scenes, namely when it comes to learning the game’s unique speedrunning techniques. Larger communities produce plenty of written and video resources to help new players learn the game. On top of that, watching one of these larger communities develop new techniques is a fascinating process to observe.
Accessibility and difficulty may sound related, but when we say accessibility we’re talking specifically about how easy it is to play the game today. One of the most popular speedrun games in the world is Super Mario 64, but Speedrun.com only accepts runs done on older consoles. Tracking down and purchasing an older system is a fairly major investment of both time and money, so it’s not something we recommend for brand-new speedrunners (and emulators are often not allowed).
Difficulty is more straightforward—for your first speedrun game, you don’t want to pick anything too complicated. How long it takes to complete a speedrun of a game is also important because you’ll be doing it many times while practicing.
At the end of the day though, the most important thing is playing a game you enjoy. No matter which title you choose to speedrun, you’ll spend a lot of time playing it. Speedrunning is about fun and a sense of accomplishment, and playing a game you hate will provide neither of those.
2017’s ambitious entry in the Mario franchise brought back a lot from the series’ history, one of which was being excellent for speedrunning. Super Mario Odyssey quickly became one of the most popular speedrun games after release thanks to its in-depth movement and unique method of progression.
Every Kingdom (or World) in Odyssey requires the player to collect a certain number of “Moons” to progress. But you can collect these Moons in any order you wish, so for the past few years, the speedrunning community has worked tirelessly developing routes to get to the end of the game as quickly as possible. There are also separate categories for collecting all 880 unique moons in the game, using as few “Captures” as possible (a mechanic in Odyssey that allows the player to control NPCs and enemies), or completing the boss rush at the end of the game.
Plenty of options to choose from, and while Odyssey does have some in-depth movement tricks to learn, there’s nothing too complicated. If you want to speedrun a Mario game, Odyssey is definitely your best bet.
Super Mario Odyssey
An ambitious entry in the Mario franchise that happens to be amazing for speedrunning.
While it’s not uncommon for indie games to develop speedrunning scenes, it’s rare for them to amass larger communities, but Celeste is one of the exceptions. The game captured the hearts of many on release thanks to its storytelling and music, but the challenging level design and platforming mechanics supporting those made for an excellent speedrun game. Celeste’s mechanics are pretty simple—all you have is a dash, jump, and wall climb/jump—but players have found ways to utilize them in wild ways.
The current Any% world record is just under 27 minutes, but a brand-new runner will likely take a couple of hours even if they’ve already played the game. However, if you commit yourself to the game you can get much faster, and the community has plenty of resources to learn from—including the game itself.
While many games are speedrun despite the game developers’ intentions, Celeste’s devs have been straightforward about supporting the community. To the point of including tutorials for speedrun strategies in the free “Farewell” DLC released in 2019. The game also comes with a large collection of accessibility settings that can make parts of the game easier if you need to practice certain things (obviously, you can’t use these in actual runs). With a supportive community and developers behind it, combined with its high skill ceiling, Celeste has become one of the most appealing speedrun games around.
Minecraft is a game without end … mostly. While the game is designed as a sandbox no matter what game mode you choose, it does have a final boss—the Ender Dragon—that players can try to defeat in Survival Mode. This doesn’t wipe your save or anything, but it’s the closest thing the game has to a definitive end, so it’s unsurprising that players are interested in seeing how fast it can be done. In fact, so many people have done this that Minecraft has quickly rocketed up to being the most speedrun game in the world according to Speedrun.com.
There are a lot of versions of Minecraft, with the latest being release 1.17.1, and speedrunning looks a lot different depending on what version you’re playing. For example, in versions 1.8.9 and before, speedrunning Minecraft largely consisted of abusing item dupe glitches to finish the game in less than five minutes. Meanwhile, speedrunning in any version past 1.14 typically requires you to engage with more of the game’s mechanics—and also be incredibly lucky. A lot of things can randomly spawn in a Minecraft world, many of which can add or subtract minutes from your time (but don’t worry, skilled players will come out on top in the end).
This is mostly for the Java PC version of the game, which is definitely the most popular for speedrunning. But even if you’re playing on “Bedrock Edition” (the version of the game available on the Windows Store, consoles, and mobile devices), there’s still plenty of tricks to learn. And doing a quick Google search will come up with all sorts of resources to learn the game in either version.
Speedrunning has been a part of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise since its inception, and the latest 2D release, Sonic Mania, is a return to form in that regard. The game itself, with its fast-paced platforming gameplay, actively welcomes players to beat it as fast as possible. There’s even a “Time Attack” mode where you can easily practice stages over and over to improve your times.
But what makes Mania really interesting are the different playable characters, each of which have their own abilities. There are five in total, but the most popular ones for speedrunning are Sonic himself and Ray. Sonic can “Drop Dash” in this game, allowing you quickly gain speed after landing from a jump. This is used by speedrunners to fluidly traverse stages without slowing down as much as the other characters. Ray, on the other hand, can fly which if mastered allows players to skip over most of the stage. While that may sound boring, a lot of skill goes into it, which makes it equally interesting to play.
Mania doesn’t have as big of a community as many of the other titles discussed today, but the game mostly relies on the core mechanics rather than complex tricks—so you can pick up most of what you need to know just by playing normally. If you’re not interested in insane techniques or glitches, Mania is the game for you.
This game is infamous for its difficulty, and while it only features one level, that level can easily take upwards of 10 – 15 hours (don’t worry, you can save mid-run if you’re not submitting it) to beat on your first try. This is due both to the game’s difficult level design and the unusual control scheme. In Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, you use your mouse cursor to control a hammer to scale a mountain. This involves precise yet quick mouse movements to overcome the game’s most daunting challenges.
While that first try may take hours, the best speedrunners only take over a minute to complete the game. While the game’s controls are unusual, they can be mastered, and seeing a skilled player blast through the level is a treat. This is another game where you’re not learning as many glitches but rather just need to get really good at the core mechanics. So if you don’t mind throwing yourself at the same level over and over again until you master it, then Getting Over it should present quite the challenge.
Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy received a lot of attention for its unique level design. Naturally, many developers were inspired by this and some went on to create similar games like Pogostuck, Jump King, and Golfing Over It with Alva Majo if you’re interested.
Getting Over it With Benett Foddy
An immensely challenging game that’s extremely rewarding to master.
Chances are, Breath of the Wild is a game you’ve either played or at least heard of over the past few years. Its fresh take on the classic Zelda formula and splendid approach to open-world design brought in over 20 million players, and a sizable percentage of those have dedicated themselves to beating it quickly.
The main goal of Breath of the Wild is to defeat Ganon—a typical Zelda quest, but the difference here is he can be fought anytime after leaving the tutorial area. This had led to speedrunners optimizing the tutorial, the path to Ganon’s castle, and the boss fight itself to a ludicrous degree getting the world record down to an impressive 25 minutes. This is done with hundreds of hours of practice, in-depth knowledge of the game’s systems and mechanics, and abusing those mechanics in a variety of ways to complete tasks quicker.
Due to the game’s robust physics systems, there are a lot more advanced techniques you’ll need to learn here than most of the other titles discussed so far. The advantage here is Breath of the Wild’s community—it’s so large it’s extremely easy to find tutorials for whatever you need to learn. When it comes to games with crazy tricks you can learn to beat it faster, Breath of the Wild is one of the easiest to get into for this fact alone.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This massive open-world is yours for the taking thanks to an even bigger speedrunning community.
Let’s end with a classic—the original Super Mario Bros. released for the NES in 1985. While we generally shied away from older titles in this list for accessibility purposes, this game is still pretty easy to play on a variety of Nintendo systems, including the Switch (and yes, Speedrun.com allows Switch runs on the main leaderboard).
There is still a large community of players dedicated to shaving seconds off of the world record for this game. The best runs are so near perfect it’s hard to think of a way they could be better, but the community has shown time and time again there’s always room for improvements. Regardless of the game’s age, the core mechanics and design are so solid that grinding away to get a better time is still enjoyable four decades later.
The easiest way to play this game today is to sign up for Nintendo Switch Online ($19.99 a year) and play it through the Nintendo Entertainment System app. However, if you have the original NES lying around, or even an NES Classic, then that works as well.
Super Mario Bros.
Speedrun the original Mario Bros. game on your Nintendo Switch.