Originally released as a 4-player Arcade game in 1985, Gauntlet came to NES in 1987. Play as Thor the Warrior, Thyra the Valkyrie, Merlin the Wizard, or Questor the Elf as you explore a labyrinth teeming with deadly creatures. Can you retrieve the Sacred Orb from Morak the Evilone or will you perish inside of his deadly gauntlet?
Best time as Elf: Single-segment 0:16:49 by Jeff Feasel on 2011-12-10.
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In preparation for AGDQ 2012 I recorded many runs through this game. I was picking it up again after several years of having not played the game at all. Re-watching my old run, i was fairly happy with the room order. The only things that needed improvement were slight changes in keys and bomb usage.
Here's a quick primer on Gauntlet speedrunning:
Health - The elf/archer is the fastest character, as well as the weakest. You might think that his weakness puts him at a disadvantage because he takes so much damage from enemies. Yet the mechanics of the game are such that the safest strategy is often simply to plow through all the enemies and get out of the room as fast as possible. The slower you go the more your health will decrease (as it runs down constantly on its own), the more enemies will spawn, and the more damage you'll take as you pass by enemies. You get your health refilled every half dozen stages (give or take) so it's mostly a matter of choosing strategies that budget the amount of health lost so that you'll squeak by to the next refill point. It's rarely worth it to go out of your way to pick up the oatmeal and cider health refills that aren't directly on your path.
Keys - You need them to go through doors, obviously. However you can get a temporary upgrade to your weapon that allows you to shoot through doors, so i take advantage of this where possible. In general there are very few places where you need to go out of your way to grab a key. In a few places there are locked chests which are placed there just to annoy you and waste your keys, so these have to be avoided or accounted for. There are a few places where there are optional doors that i choose to open rather than attempting to tip-toe past them, wasting time and mostly likely opening them by accident anyway.
Bombs - Budgeting your bombs, knowing which rooms to use them in, and placing them precisely are the real art to speedrunning this game. Given the Elf's weak constitution, It is not possible to get through many of the rooms without judicious bombs usage (or having TAS-like luck). The position of the screen affects which and how many enemies are destroyed. Typically the goal is to maximize the number of spawn points you destroy, and to clear out corridors that have an excessive number of enemies in them (or would have if you let the spawn points do their job). You can only carry 10 bombs max, so there are some places where there are more bombs available than i strictly need, so i use a few bombs simply to reduce lag by killing enemies. The most difficult part of bomb management is getting through the last few levels, where the amount of damage you take is staggering. Your bombs max out at 10 in room 79, so there is nothing you can do prior to this room in order to give yourself extra bombs for the end. In the rooms after 79, bomb usage and placement are critical, and the majority of runs (that didn't end from bad exit-placement luck) ended during this stretch.
Room 93 contains two possible exits, one real one fake, and it is random which one will be the real exit. If I get good luck then the first exit i visit is the real one. If i get bad luck i need to visit the second exit, which requires using an extra bomb to avoid taking excessive damage from the ghosts. Since i was practicing the marathon route when i made this recording, i budgeted an extra bomb (by using a slightly slower strategy to save 1 bomb near the exit in room 86) for use in case i didn't get the good exit in room 93. In this run I did get the good exit, which is part of the reason i kept it, so i had an extra bomb to burn off at the end of room 100.
Teleporters - Typically if you press the dpad in a given direction at just the right moment as you pass through, you can control where your character is placed on the other side. However if there are multiple possible destinations, you are not always able to control which destination is chosen. Sometimes you can manipulate it based on what you press on the dpad. Sometimes you can manipulate it based on your direction of entry. Sometimes it seems to be quasi-manipulatable (you can make it slightly more likely that you'll end up where you want, but it's not guaranteed, and honestly i'm not at all sure what factors are involved). And other times it's just plain old random (e.g. World 4 treasure rooms).
Powerups - The attack upgrade is very useful for the final boss (though not much else, since i barely use my weapon). The defense upgrade is necessary for the Elf because of the heavy damage you take in the later rooms. The bomb upgrade is also necessary because without it you will not be able to clear out enough enemies/spawns to make it through some of the later rooms. The speed upgrade is obviously important because this is a speedrun (though it makes the character damn near impossible to control).
Pause trick - There are sand traps which will temporarily ensnare you. During this time you are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse by the enemies around you. However if you pause the game and then unpause it again, the sand-trap timer will run out without giving the enemies a chance to hurt you. (Other times when you see the pause screen come up at random it probably means that i got a health upgrade, which happens when you collect certain amounts of treasure).
Vault combo - Normally you are expected to visit all of the clue rooms and obtain the digits of the combo that you need to enter room 100. However the combo depends only on the first digit of your password, so you can simply look up the combination and skip the clues. If you play the game enough times you'll end up committing these to memory anyway, since there are only about 5 combos that come up 95% of the time.
Random Exits - There are numerous rooms where the exit can be in multiple places. Sometimes it is clear by visual inspection where the exit is, and other times the game will show you multiple exits and you will not know which one is real until you walk onto it. The treasure rooms which appear periodically have randomly placed exits. For the first 3 worlds there are about 10 places where the exit could be, so you will see me follow a search pattern to check all of the possible spots (which is why some of the movements i make in these rooms may seem unnecessary). For worlds 4 and 5 there are many fake exits so you will have to visit them all in order to know which one is real, which can lead to extreme amounts of time gained/lost due to random factors. In world 5 there is enough time to search them all. But world 4 contains the most frustrating treasure rooms by far. The random teleporters are not manipulatable, so it is impossible to even visit every exit, let alone guarantee that you'll find the correct one. In the majority of runs I do not manage to find the exit at all in either of the 2 treasure rooms of world 4, so i'll have to wait the full 30 seconds. In this run I did not find the exit in the first treasure room, but i had exceptional luck in the second room. Coupled with the very good luck i had in all the other treasure rooms, the regular rooms with random exits, and the teleporters, my time on this run was far better than anything I had previously achieved and it is very unlikely that i would get even better luck without an unreasonable number of further attempts.
The randomness of this game makes it a serious pain to speedrun. A perfectly executed run can still have several minutes of variation due to the random factors (which is substantial given that it's only about 17 minutes long). So this game falls into an interesting area where picking the fastest and riskiest strategies is not necessarily beneficial. You may notice places where i played it safe and lost a second here and there. But the best strategy for this game is simply to get your completion rate as high as possible and record many many successful attempts until you get one with amazing luck. My completion rate was around 40% (in that about 40% of the runs i started were completed without dying and without making a major mistake), and i got about 70 completions of the game in the 2 months that i was recording attempts. Nearly all of the failed attempts ended in worlds 4 and 5. This made it a rather frustrating game to run, but I knew that ultimately with a bit of patience i would get a very good roll of the dice. This is definitely not the cleanest run i have recorded -- you will see a number of minor movement mistakes -- but nothing major went wrong, i nailed all the bomb placements, and the random luck was as good as could reasonably be expected. Enjoy.
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