A Speedrunner’s Quest to Perfect Super Mario 64 Blindfolded

Bubzia continues to push boundaries of playing the classic without sight.

Speedrunner Bubzia has been on a quest to collect every star in Super Mario 64 blindfolded for years. For the final one, he needed to collect 100 coins in the Dire, Dire Docs level. In a regular speedrun, this takes around two minutes — too slow to be included in any category except one that requires every star to be collected. Relying entirely on audio cues, it takes Bubzia just over 29 minutes.

This marks not only the very first time this star has been attained without sight, but also makes Bubzia the first person to collect every star in the game while not being able to see what he’s playing.

Bubzia started watching speedruns in 2015, then completed his first run in October 2017. And he didn’t start small. “It was the world’s first blindfolded speedrun of Super Mario 64 — the 16-star category in around three hours and 11 minutes,” he tells Fanbyte. (The world record in the blindfolded 16-star run is now 24 minutes, with Bubzia’s own record being just over a half an hour.)

He was first inspired by Drew “Runnerguy2489” Wissler, who speedran The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time sightless in 2015. Bubzia says blindfolded runs are his preference because they allow him to continually come up with new strategies. “In visual speedruns, there are, in many cases, already fixed routes that have established themselves over many years by the community,” he explains. “It is about learning and optimizing one’s movement and techniques.” But in a blindfolded run, “every single room of a game becomes an exciting logical puzzle that you need to solve.”

Take the notoriously difficult Dire, Dire Docks 100 coin star, for example. Bubzia pointed me to a video of Youtuber Abyssoft explaining what makes it so tricky. With only 106 coins in the level, there’s very little room for error. For most areas in Super Mario 64, Bubzia can locate himself by listening to the noises of Mario walking into walls and corners. But in water, which covers most of Dire, Dire Docks, there are no sound cues for hitting obstacles. It’s much harder to figure out where he is, especially if he gets disoriented.

When swimming, he has to count each of Mario’s strokes. But pressing faster or slower makes Mario move different amounts. He also sinks if you stop swimming, so Bubzia has to keep his movements consistent. To make matters worse, there are two separate spots in the level that have currents that can pull Mario off course.

In addition to navigating tricky waters, Mario has to jump between moving poles that are attached to the ceiling. Without sight, the only way to do this is to count the beats of the background music to time jumps — though one particular set becomes desynchronized from the audio, so doing this perfectly comes down to chance.  

Despite knowing that Bubzia pulls it off, watching the VOD of the successful run is nerve-racking. As he plays, his own heart rate monitor reads 140 beats per minute. Even after he gets it, he cheers, “Yes! Super Mario 64!” before immediately asking, “What?” as he fails to pick up the star that should be right over his head.

While explaining this to me, Bubzia notes that, in the end, it probably isn’t the hardest star to collect, after all — he thinks that honor goes to collecting 100 coins in Lethal Lava Land or Shifting Sand Land. These levels have similar complicated movement but they also have random chances of being knocked off course by enemies. So attempting the full 120 star run in a single sitting is a monumental task.

Other members of the blindfolded Super Mario 64 speedrunning community have also been working on completing the full run prior to Bubzia’s achievement, with the most prominent being Dutch player Katun24. Katun was the first to reach 70 stars — a significant milestone that proved speedrunners can complete the game without major glitches, by instead proceeding through Bowser’s castle like a casual player would. But after reaching 118, Katun moved on. It was considered impossible to get 100 coins in both Dire, Dire Docks and Lethal Lava Land until Bubzia did.

When Katun moved on, Bubzia took a break from Super Mario 64. During that time, he completed blindfolded runs of at least 30 other games, including several Pokémon games, Wii Sports, and Deltarune. At the end of 2020, he returned to grinding the game that came first. After performing back-to-back for Games Done Quick events, including setting a personal best in 70 stars during the Summer GDQ event held earlier this year, he circled back to the idea of completing the full 120 star run. This took him back to his favorite part: routing and strategizing.

“I rerouted every single star again instead of using the routes by Katun, to improve the stars both in terms of consistency and speed,” he explains. In some cases, Katun’s setups were simply the best, so he did end up using them — a common practice in the communal world of speedrunning. It took him six months of streaming 12-15 hours per week in between his job and Master’s degree studies to complete the challenge.

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Now, he’s working toward the ultimate feat: collecting all 120 stars in a single segmented run. But it won’t be easy. “My estimate for the first attempt lies within 12-15 hours without a break,” he says. “The best possible time is way lower, at around eight hours or so, but every mistake in the hard stars can cost you not only a few seconds like in a visual run, but also entire hours.” As a result, he’s planning to get those stars out of the way early. “I can potentially quit the speedrun after only a few hours if I don’t get them in a reasonable time, instead of resetting at the end after 12 hours at 117 stars or so.”

Even so, Bubzia has a lot to work ahead before reaching that point. He’s currently grinding one stage at a time, working on consistency and improving any routes that could be better. After this, he plans to complete bigger runs, eventually covering all stages in the lobby, basement, and upstairs areas. 

He estimates this process will take at least four more months. “It is honestly very scary at times,” he shares, “especially if I think about spending close to a year of my life, three to four hours a day working on this. And then it still might not be enough and I might fail.”

However, his motivation to have such a unique achievement in life far outweighs any fears. “Giving up is not an option. I am burning with energy every time I wake up to slowly crush this game, even after rough and frustrating practice sessions.”