I think Super Monkey Ball might be one of the best games ever for speedruns – from the perspective of a casual viewer, at least. As a physics-based game divided into short stages, it's easy for an audience to understand what's going on (most of the time), which allows for quick restarts should things go wrong. As a bonus, it also provides plenty of breaks for well-deserved applause.
I learned all this from watching the Super Monkey Ball speedrun at charity event Awesome Games Done Quick last night – and, quite frankly, it blew my mind.
Played by speedrunner Helix on GameCube, the run was in the "all difficulties, no extra, warpless" category (a mouthful, I know), and took him a total of 23:41 minutes. It was a little off his personal best of 21:28, but he achieved his goal of a time in the "23s" – and it's impressive considering he was slowing down to show off strategies and explain his techniques. Yes, he was slowing down – and even then my eyes could barely keep up. Just check out this clip from the extra stages he did after his main run. You can barely see the goal.
Aside from sheer speed, I was also impressed by the accuracy required for the techniques that allow runners to cut corners. As explained by Helix and the commentators, one of the key strategies in Super Monkey Ball speedrunning is pause buffering (or pause strats), which allows the player to manoeuvre beyond normal human capabilities. Using the clock to time when to open the pause menu, Helix often had to hit "frame-perfect" inputs – sometimes several in a row – in order to get the perfect line to the finish.
Helix also had some interesting facts to share about Super Monkey Ball speedrunning: playing with Baby is apparently easier in visibility terms (as the character's model is smaller), while speedrunners often encounter issues with "clipping" (eg. bouncing off a rail into the air) due to the game's dicey collision physics – which sometimes just do not work. Taking routes which avoid reliance on collision are often preferred, as this makes for more consistent runs.
One particular glitch he demoed, meanwhile, allowed him to skip from level one to 50 in master difficulty. Called master one-skip, the glitch works by crossing the finish line as time runs out. Speedrunners have theorised this happens because the game is trying to send you back to the level you supposedly "failed", while simultaneously sending you forward to the next level because you won. As it does this for every frame (every 60th of a second), it caps out at 50: the final level on master.
If you want to catch up on this run, you can watch on the video below from around 38:42:50. There's also plenty still coming up for AGDQ – including an Untitled Goose Game speedrun – and you can find the full schedule here. Proceeds are going towards the Prevent Cancer Foundation, so make sure to donate if you're enjoying all these fantastic runs.