The pandemic has destroyed and delayed a lot of events, but Awesome Games Done Quick 2021 wasn’t one of them. Although the traditionally in-person event was moved online, it still ran 24/7 from noon on Jan. 3 to 4:32 a.m. on Jan. 10, using knowledge and technology developed from earlier remote marathons for the speedrunners and commentators to stream from their homes, and raising just over $2.75 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
Unless you literally didn’t sleep all week, there’s no way for you to have seen every speedrun of the marathon. And with national and world events such as a senate runoff determining Congress’ control and a deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol being just two of the earthshaking events to take place during the same week, you (and hopefully I) would be forgiven for having attention somewhat distracted from the speedy gaming. Fortunately, all of its runs are recorded and saved on its YouTube channel to watch at any point, so here are our recommendations for 10 of the best speedruns you need to see.
Like you, hypothetical reader, I too am a human with limited time and attention. As such, I admit I haven’t been able to view each and every run of the event, and there are certainly many I’ve missed that are undoubtedly entertaining and impressive. From what I’ve heard, here are some honorable mentions of popular runs that I’ve been unable to screen myself: Hades, Mr. Bones, Pokémon Blue, Donkey Kong Country, F.E.A.R., Super Mario Bros. 35 and the world-record setting Sonic the Hedgehog (2013) and Sonic 3: Angel Island Revisted!
Without further ado, here is our list of 10 of the most shocking, entertaining or otherwise worthwhile speedruns from Awesome Games Done Quick 2021 Online, in order of appearance:
GDQ is great not only for showing off the hottest new games and most venerated classics, but also under-the-radar gems that fans nevertheless have dedicated thousands of hours to breaking and running. Such is the case with the late-night run of Lightmatter, a 2020 puzzler I and likely many others had never heard of until now. That’s a shame, because not only is bobbyburm’s run (almost literally) blindingly impressive, but the Portal homage’s design and humor shines through as well.
Another indie darling of 2020, I wrote that Carrion felt “so fast that I felt like I was playing a hack” when I reviewed it in July. That alone should make you fascinated to see what a speedrunner can do with it, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The titular carrion beast moving across the screen as fast as the cursor can carry it, runner teddyras’ mouth moves nearly as fast as he and his commentators attempt to explain the rapid series of glitches and maneuvers on display, to great comedic effect.
OK, I’m definitely cheating here. But can you blame me?! All three of these runs are mindblowing, because all three break their respective games so much that the runners don’t only require pixel-perfect precision and reflexes, but an intimate understanding of their games’ underlying code. Longtime Zelda runner gymnast86 debuted Skyward Sword’s “back-in-time” glitch during AGDQ 2020, but it’s been further refined in the recent year, shaving nearly an hour off the total time since then.
Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask runs both make use of a similar type of understanding of its code, with the latter runner describing the setup as a type of “Moon Dance,” grabbing seemingly unimportant items and “flags” in order to trigger highly specific reactions from the game. With both games being over two decades old, one would think all the tricks to running them would have already been discovered, but these runs cutting roughly an hour each from their respective categories the last time they were run at GDQ disproves that.
Here are the VODs for Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time, in that order:
The longest run of the marathon at just over four hours, Pokémon Platinum shows the best of a good Pokémon speedrun. Of course runner Etchy is focused and precise, but the longer time allows for a better familiarity with the runner and commentators, cracking jokes and sharing trivia about the game’s history. If you’re looking for a long speedrun to cozy up with, this is your best bet.
Winning the award for “best out-of-bounds segments,” Pnash’s run of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order breaks the 2019 game in half and then breaks that half into even tinier pieces. This is largely thanks to a glitch halfway through the run that trivializes the rest of it, basically letting the player character fly up and away from any obstacle or pesky wall, skipping nearly every boss and encounter.
Super Mario 64 is already one of the most competitive games to speedrun, especially when going for its highly difficult skips in the “16-Star” category. And runner Bubzia literally did it with his eyes closed!
Honestly, that alone should make this a required watch. Since he relies entirely upon audio cues, Bubzia is silent throughout the run, his commentator explaining every move and its significance as he methodically moves Mario against walls and counts the flaps of an owl’s wings or the beats of a track to know when to jump.
Despite having come out in 2018, Celeste has already been cemented as a speedrunning classic, enough so that, like Super Mario 64, runners are coming up with new ways to challenge themselves to beat it. Tackling its infamous C-side challenges fast is already an impressive feat, but runner PeekingBoo does so with his feet! A plus side of doing things remotely, PeekingBoo uses a full-size Dance Dance Revolution machine mapped to buttons on the controller, moving his entire body rapidly in order to complete every C-side stage in under 15 minutes.
Like the previous run, this is something probably only an online event could do, as longtime commentator Kungfufruitcup does a showcase of the adrenaline-pumping VR rhythm game Beat Saber, gradually increasing stages in intensity until blocks cover the entire screen. This is thanks to Kungfufruitcup’s setup, in which the entire side of her room is covered in a green screen so that the camera picks up the same in-game visuals she sees in her headset. I actually did a brisk walk on the treadmill while watching the run, and it was clear that I wasn’t getting nearly the amount of exercise she was by the end.
It wouldn’t be GDQ without a few good races, and although the cheering crowds were sorely missed, we still had some great ones. Our top pick is From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, in which the two competing runners are practically on the same frame for the first few minutes until technical difficulties forced a restart. A good combination of game-breaking glitches and overpowering skill at the game’s punishing combat, the loser finishing at just over 25 minutes should be a good indication of how intense this race was.
There are some games where it just wouldn’t be GDQ without, and “Kaizo Mario” is one of them. Essentially a souped-up Mario Maker, these games draw from the original code of classic Mario games, in this case Super Mario Bros. 3, and hackers play around with it until it’s become an entirely unrecognizable Frankenstein’s monster of the original for the most talented Mario runners to try their hands at. This iteration, Super Orb Bros. from 2020, adds new mechanics such as wall-jumping to the NES game, but far from making the game easier, it allows for even crazier challenges. Despite hand-cramps and a handful of deaths, mitchflowerpower was up to the challenge, beating it in under half the 40-minute estimate and walking away with a world record!
GDQ says it is still “evaluating options” for its next events, Summer Games Done Quick 2021 and the all-womxn Flame Fatales, likely pertaining to whether it will be safe to have mass in-person events by that time, but that it will provide updates through its Twitter account.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.