Without thinking too much about it, what is the maximum number of coins you can knock out of multi-coin blocks in the original Super Mario Bros..? Did you say 10? Well, you’re wrong, but it’s not your fault. You just have not made a deep dive into the nearly 37-year-old game code as a complete weirdo.
We now know that Super Mario Bros. blocks have a time limit rather than a coin limit, allowing players to repeatedly slam Mario’s head into their underside in a matter of seconds to grab as many coins as possible. But this was not always commonly known. Button masking under these blocks generally rewards 10 coins, after all, and even the official strategy guides of the era referred to them as 10-coin blocks.
Cosmic, a high level Super Mario Bros. player who currently holds a top-10 time in the classic Nintendo game’s most popular speedrunning category recently shared a fascinating video about coin blocks. It is apparently possible to get as many as 16 coins from these blocks, but of course, such a one feat requires both intricate knowledge of the game’s programming and several frame-perfect inputs.
If you are at all familiar with Super Mario Bros. speedrunning, it’s likely you’ve heard of the “frame rule”, a ubiquitous mathematical constant in the game’s code that also affects coin blocks.
A frame rule is a repetitive cycle of 21 images that Super Mario Bros. uses to dictate different aspects of the game. For example, level transitions do not occur until the frame rule counter has scrolled six times, but the current frame rule when a step is completed does not have to pass completely to be counted. It can be anywhere from its first frame to its twenty-first frame, which means that level transitions range from 106 frames (about 1.8 seconds) to 126 frames (about 2.1 seconds).
For more on framework rules and how they affect Super Mario Bros. world records, be sure to check out the video below of Bismuth, another speedrunner. He’s a lot smarter than me.
Coin blocks, as Kosmic explains, can only be hit under the 11 ticks in the frame rule counter immediately after Mario’s first interaction with said block. Optimizing the coins you can squeeze out of the block therefore follows the opposite principle of shaving time between level transitions. Instead of trying to complete a step on end of a frame rule to save frames, you will hit the coin block by beginning of a framework to give Mario more time to jump.
Kosmic calculates that the maximum time to hit a coin block is 230 frames (approximately 3.8 seconds) after the first stroke. Share to with the 16 pictures Mario has to wait for the animation of the block to play out before it can be hit again and you get 14 hits. Add to to the one free coin you get at both the beginning and the end of this whole sequence (the block stays active until you hit it again, after its hours end), and the result is a total of 16 coins.
Go ahead and take a break if you found all that math overwhelming. The rest of this blog is waiting for you when you return.
Perhaps more incredible is the fact that skilled Super Mario Bros.. players can sometimes do this without a visible frame counter. A few examples include that Kosmic himself got a 16-coin block in the middle of one Super Mario Bros. 35 battle (rest in peace) and the legendary speedrunner AndrewG does it below a high-scoring race back in 2016.
Super Mario Bros. is a fascinating example of how games that seem simplistic and old can hide incredible technical secrets beneath their pixelated facades. It may be the most recognizable game in history, but three decades and countless replays have still not exposed all of its intricacies to the average player. We are very fortunate that knowledgeable people like Kosmic are on hand to provide these fun, informative lessons in how Nintendo developed one of the best video games ever.