Released in September 1987, Deadly Towers follows the story of Prince Myer on his quest to defeat the evil wizard Rubas, whose domain is guarded by the 7 towers. Will Myer emerge victorious or will Rubas reign supreme?
Best time: Single-segment 0:31:42 by Jeff Feasel on 2011-12-30.
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This game pisses me off so bad. I had to speedrun it just to show it who's boss.
Deadly Towers is frequently cited as among the worst NES games ever made, as well as one of the most difficult. Quoting from one web site: "This game was originally called 'Shitty Towers', but when seventeen play-testers went on a homicidal rampage, its name was changed to remind us all of that cold, bloody morning". Personally, i have a hard time believing that any person whatsoever actually play-tested this game, because it is just so frustratingly unfair and buggy. (Although i can see how the game's maddening soundtrack and drab palette of under-saturated colors might drive a few borderline individuals over the edge.) Tom Votava sums it up perfectly in his FAQ: "This game is hard, but for all the wrong reasons".
While i'd like to present an exhaustive list of what is wrong with this game, i will limit myself to just one paragraph. The main source of frustration is that the hero is extremely underpowered. Though you start with 100 HP, a single hit may do up to 50 damage and will stun you, throw you back several steps, and usually end up either pushing you off a cliff, knocking you into another enemy, or pinning you permanently against a wall. You can only have 1 shot on the screen at a time, and your shot moves extremely slowly -- slower than the enemies -- leaving you defenseless until it reaches the edge of the screen. Fighting any of the faster enemies such as the bats and the blue ghosts is pretty much blind luck; you have to hope that they will run into your shots, rather than the other way around. Collision detection is awful and collision resolution is nonexistent (i.e. you "stick" to objects rather than sliding off them), which makes maneuvering among the haphazardly-drawn bounding boxes problematic and often causes you to get pinned and beaten to death by even the weakest enemies.
Ironically, the one thing the game designers managed to do well was the random number generator. You're probably used to seeing speedruns where the player gracefully dodges a horde of predictable enemies. Not so here. Enemy movement is dependent on your input and a random function, so there is absolutely no predicting what the enemies will do, and every battle is risky and totally ad-hoc.
Enough bitching. Now for the play-by-play:
The run is basically divided into 5 sections. (1) buying orange scrolls, (2) carefully collecting the good armor, (3) buying more orange scrolls, (4) blazing through the remaining towers with total abandon, (5) buying a green scroll and warping back to the start to fight the last boss.
FIRST SHOPPING TRIP:
The first 6 minutes or so of this run are spent earning money and buying five orange scrolls. The orange scroll warps you back to the Holy Flame, and it takes less time to earn the money to buy a scroll than it does to actually climb back down out of the tower after killing a boss. Unlike my last run which bought red potions (to restore health), i take a risk and simply proceed without them. Surprisingly, the more i played this game the less often i was in a position where i would have needed a potion. The most efficient way of earning cash is to repeatedly kill the expanding column of gumballs in the dungeon. There is some skill to grinding quickly, since the creature gains more life the longer it is allowed to expand before you shoot it, and minor inefficiencies in going back and forth between the two rooms will really add up when repeated 70 times.
Q: How come you don't buy some of the intermediate defensive or offensive items?
A: Since it takes so much time to earn money, and you would have to visit multiple dungeons to get all the things you need, this turns out not to be worth it. The best strategy is to simply go into the towers and find the best items straight away, albeit at great risk of bodily harm.
Q: Why not buy the boots?
A: The boots only speed you up when you are walking diagonally. They are extremely helpful in the pre-tower steps areas, but everywhere else they don't save appreciable time. Certainly not enough to justify the time spent earning 232 ludder.
Q: Why not buy all 8 orange scrolls right now, rather than making another shopping trip later?
A: In one of the towers you pick up The Cup for practically no time cost at all. It is worth 250 bucks -- an amount that would take a lot of time to earn by grinding; less time than it takes to make the extra dungeon trip. So it pays to get the cup on the first tower-raiding section and then come back to the dungeon for more scrolls later.
TOWER-RAID, PART 1:
The goal of this section of the run is to collect all 3 armor pieces, upgrade my weapon, and grab the Cup. You are not meant to attempt to take on the towers without protection, so i have to be pretty cautious (and lucky) in the first couple towers. The enemies' movements are unpredictable, but i do what i can to minimize risk.
Great Wings's tower. The parallel zone has those annoying blue ghosts, but fortunately there is a safe spot in the corner of each floor. Fighting them takes a while, but it can't be avoided. The ghosts simply do too much damage to pull off a more aggressive strategy. After grabbing the armor, i use a scroll to warp out. I'll be back to kill the boss later.
Wheeler's tower. I grab the Magic Mace, kill the boss, and warp out of there. The Magic Mace secret room requires some luck with the spawns and movements. If the first two blue crawly things rush you, then it's game over. And even if you get lucky there, the black barnacle-thing will sometimes make its way over. Again, game over. All-in-all, there's about a 25% chance of failure here. The boss isn't too tough, but it does take a while.
Beat Plant's tower. I enter here briefly to grab the shield. This is where the Magic Mace is needed. Unfortunately, even with its protection you can still take heavy damage since the bats can pass right through and you are unable to use your weapon while the magic mace is in effect. 30% of my runs ended here.
Centipede's tower. The bats are a real pain. You can see what i mean about trying to fight fast enemies with such a slow weapon. The inside part of the tower, particularly the parallel zone, is quite challenging because of the ghosts. Having the helmet (the third and final piece of armor) makes a world of difference. From here on out you don't need to be nearly so cautious. Unlike other bosses, Centipede actually moves according to a fixed pattern. His bullets are weak but they can push you into Centipede himself, who does a ton of damage.
Great Burn's tower. I use risky strategies and take many hits here, but having the full complement of armor makes the damage minimal. I grab the sword, and now things take about half as many shots.
Cold Killer's tower. There is nothing noteworthy about it, except that i pick up the Cup (which gives you 250 bucks when you use it).
Q: Wouldn't it be better to just kill Great Wings the first time around, rather than warping out after the armor and coming back later?
A: By my calculations it does not lose any time to warp out of here and revisit later. In fact it may even save time, and it reduces the risk of the boss fight substantially if you do it later with the sword and armor upgrades. The game gets harder (tougher enemies, more damage) after the 3rd boss is killed. Killing Great Wings the first time around means the game would ramp up in difficulty before i get the upgraded sword. It would be riskier and slower to grab the sword and kill the corresponding boss (Great Burn) under these conditions. Plus using a scroll and warping out the moment i pick up the armor also lets me avoid fighting more of the blue ghosts on the floors below the armor (which are extremely risky, bordering on impassable). In terms of the time lost re-tracing your steps, since the exit to the parallel zone is all the way back down at the bottom of the tower, it is only the outside "pre-tower" part that must be duplicated (as well as the short walk from the Holy Flame to the pre-tower entrance), which is only about 45 seconds. Subtract the time saved by skipping the last few floors of the parallel zone (at least 25 seconds). And subtract the time saved by fighting Great Wings with all the weapon upgrades instead of just the wimpy default sword (another 30 seconds or so, not to mention a substantial difference in risk). It works out to be the same or even faster to come back and do the boss later. Even though it costs an extra scroll to visit the tower twice, i end up getting that last scroll for free anyway (using cash from the Cup). So killing the boss upon my first visit wouldn't save me any money-earning time either.
Q: Why do you choose this set of towers/items for the first tower-raiding section?
A: The very first thing you must do is collect the defensive items. A combination of all 3 items is far stronger than having any 2 out of the 3. It is essentially impossible to survive the rooms containing the sword or the gauntlet without all 3 defensive items. The magic mace must be obtained before getting the shield because it is the only way to survive that room as well. The cup must be obtained before the 2nd shopping trip. The cup, plus the money you happen to get as you go through the first few towers, is enough to buy 3 scrolls. So it makes sense to do 3 bosses after the 2nd shopping trip, and 4 bosses before. The defensive items plus the magic mace and the cup require you to beat 3 towers (assuming you warp out of Great Wings's tower after getting the armor). So that leaves 1 extra tower that can be done before the shopping trip. It makes the most sense to do the tower that contains the sword (as opposed to the gauntlet) since this speeds the boss fights up greatly.
Q: Why not get the Parallel Shot? Why not get the Double Shot?
A: The parallel shot is slightly faster on the bosses but not very useful on normal enemies. It is not worth the time to get. The double shot is quite helpful, and it makes the game much easier. I got it in my previous run. However because of where it is located it costs a lot of time to get, and i've found that it just barely fails to pay back the time you invest in picking it up.
SECOND SHOPPING TRIP:
I return to the dungeon for a second time to pick up 3 more orange scrolls. Between the Cup and the money i've already got in-pocket, i can buy the scrolls without spending any time earning money.
TOWER-RAID, PART 2:
Death Bear's tower. The Gauntlet is available in a secret room that is chock full of ghosts. The gauntlet makes your shots move faster. With it you can positively whip those suckers across the screen. At this point the game actually starts to become fun. Death Bear himself is cute and cuddly and poses no risk. He becomes Dead Bear in about 3 seconds.
Great Wings's tower. There is no item to collect here anymore. The boss does substantial damage, but i attack him from the front rather than diagonally, since it is faster (though riskier).
Beat Plant's tower. (Yes, that's right: "Beat Plant".) Contrary to his comical demeanor, he does enormous amounts of damage. I just barely survive.
THIRD SHOPPING TRIP + RUBAS'S LAIR:
After all the bells are burned, i head back to the dungeon briefly to grab a green scroll. (The green scroll isn't available until after the 5th boss is killed, so i couldn't get it earlier.) This lets me warp back to the start of the game, which is where you find Rubas's lair. Note that i could have committed suicide, which takes you back to the start, but it is hardly worth making this a "with deaths" run just to save 1-2 seconds. The lair itself is quick and easy. The first two bosses follow predictable patterns and are not challenging. The final boss, Rubas, is extremely risky and random. Once you can get him to chase you into the corner, he'll get stuck in an AI loop and just sit there as you hammer him. But getting him there requires some very precise walking. A single hit will push you directly into Rubas, and then you're stuck -- game over.
Thanks to Dragondarch for his suggestions, to my loyal stream viewers for cheering me on during attempts, and to the people who got up early or stayed up late to watch this game at AGDQ2012
Despite its flaws (or perhaps because of?) i have always had a perverse fascination with this game. As a child i found it totally inscrutable, and even today i still don't quite know what to make of it. It is like a bad acid trip set to bagpipe music, except without the pretty colors.
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