A new video from speedrunner and youtuber Summoning Salt goes deep, deep into the history of Mario Kart “ultra shortcuts.” Ultra shortcuts are not little corners you cut against friends in good-natured competitions. No, ultra shortcuts are the type of glitchy, map-destroying, race-breaking shortcuts used by speedrunners to finish entire races in mere seconds.
For example, on the level “Wario’s Gold Mine,” players would turn around at the start line and drive off the track in the wrong direction. Lakito, the long-suffering referee who rescues players and returns them to the course after crashes, would drop players safely behind the finish line. Players would turn around, drive back a few yards to hit a checkpoint, then pull a U-turn and drive to the finish line. Using this trick, a lap could be completed in less than 15 seconds.
Summoning Salt’s video focuses specifically on Mario Kart Wii. More than other editions of the classic Mario Kart series, the Wii edition enjoyed a perfect confluence of factors that made it a favorite for speedrunners. It arrived in 2008 at the height of Wii mania; it had a lot of strange track geometry to exploit; and community forums focusing on speedrunning were just starting to become popular. Even more importantly, Mario Kart Wii let players upload their best times and share them online, letting any other player test themselves against ghostly recordings of world-record runs.
With such an iron-clad and easy way to share, verify, and beat world records, the time trial scene for Mario Kart exploded. A few months after launch, the first track exploits started to be discovered, and the game itself exploded in a completely different way. As the video points out, on June 1, 2008, the first ultra shortcut’s discovery led to players setting and breaking a world record 18 times in one day.
Summoning Salt uses clips from a lot of recorded speedrun videos, but, like any good speedrunner, he goes further into obsessive levels of detail. He breaks down how and why ultra shortcuts work, explaining how Mario Kart Wii kept track of player positions and lap counts. It’s a fascinating look at the adversarial way speedrunners approach game worlds: as realities to be twisted, broken, and conquered.