Even supercomputers can't figure out if you're good enough to beat Mario levels, researchers find

Official Super Mario Maker 2 render from its official website
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Mathematicians have determined that the world's most powerful supercomputer, even with several years of time, cannot figure out whether or not certain levels in the Super Mario series (especially modified custom stages) can be completed before a human actually plays them, per a report from New Scientist.

While the testing methodology used to reach this conclusion is certainly much higher-level than your average platforming gameplay, there's actually existing precedent for this revelation in the official, unmodified Mario series itself. 

In the Mario Maker games, which offer players the ability to create custom levels based on the 2D era of Mario games, one of the most notable restrictions is that users cannot upload levels they can't beat on their own. This can be cheesed a bit using Tool-Assisted Runs, but resulted in a race against the clock for the entire Mario Maker community, which had to clear all custom levels uploaded for that game before the Wii U's online service was discontinued.

Mario Maker's IMPOSSIBLE Bot Level Has Been BEATEN by a Human! - YouTube Mario Maker's IMPOSSIBLE Bot Level Has Been BEATEN by a Human! - YouTube
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So, what is this more scientific conclusion built on? The combination of game modifications and mathematical theorycrafting, of course. By removing in-engine limits on enemy counts, the MIT researchers were able to place hundreds or even thousands of enemies on single spots, and effectively create a "counter machine", or functioning computer inside the levels in question.

With a counter machine intact, the team pointed to a conundrum called "the halting problem", which says that there is no way to determine if a computer program will terminate or run forever besides running it and seeing what happens.

As Erik Demaine of the MIT Institute of Technology states, "The idea is that you'll be able to solve this Mario level only if this particular computation will terminate, and we know that there's no way to determine that, and so there's no way to determine whether you can solve the level."

As a human being who specializes in platformers, fighting games, and stylish action games a la the Devil May Cry series (think platformer movement + fighting game combo structure), I say let me at 'em. A hundred Goombas? A thousand? Nothing to a monster like me. Now Spinies are another story entirely, especially if the levels in question have no power-ups or other enemies who can be used as throwable weapons...

Christopher Harper
Contributing Writer

Christopher Harper has been a successful freelance tech writer specializing in PC hardware and gaming since 2015, and ghostwrote for various B2B clients in High School before that. Outside of work, Christopher is best known to friends and rivals as an active competitive player in various eSports (particularly fighting games and arena shooters) and a purveyor of music ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Killer Mike to the Sonic Adventure 2 soundtrack.