Popful Mail is a Sega CD platformer released by Working Designs in February 1995. Despite being marketed as an action RPG, the emphasis clearly is on the former. It was notable for its voice acting, the quantity and quality of which were great for the time, as well as the typical Working Designs humor. The lighthearted story involves a female bounty hunter (the game's namesake) on a search for treasure, where she'll meet up with two more heroes and eventually have to save the world.
Best time: single-segment 1:26:13 by Elijah 'scaryice' Miller on 2008-07-14.
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I have to thank Lady Raven for writing the best (and only) Popful Mail faq, which helped me a lot in formulating boss strategies.
Of the three characters, I use Mail for 90% of the game as she is the fastest. Gaw is used in a few places where his high jumps are needed and also against bosses late in the game, while Tatt is used mainly for mid-game bosses.
No armor is purchased, which means that for the majority of the game two hits would be enough to kill me. The tough part, as anyone who's played this game knows, is how one hit can easily turn into two due to the momentary loss of control (aka cheapness) upon being hit. I should note that supposedly the game was made harder for the American release.
The opening anime cut scene and all others are skipped. The very first thing to do is turn the voices off, otherwise this run would be twice as long.
1) Elf Woods
In this first area, you can see two of the main ways of saving time in this speedrun. First of all, I jump off ladders to climb them faster. It is much harder when you're not against a wall, so in those situations I have to be less aggressive with it. The second tactic is that I attack enemies for the purposes of incapacitating them, not killing them. Attacking an enemy not only stuns them, but also stops them from damaging you while they're flashing. I take advantage of this to pass through enemies several times in the run.
BOSS: Mad Bomber
You just have to know where to stand. After the fight, you're supposed to go back and tell Tatt that you defeated him, but you can chose to head for the exit instead and he'll catch up to you.
This is a difficult area for so early in the game, and it's where 90% of my runs ended. The main annoyance here is the log rolling enemies. Very hard to maneuver on those.
It's only necessary to kill two of the four wizards guarding the key. It helps a lot if you can get the second and third ones near each other to hit them both at once.
Short, quick jumps and slashes. You have to wait a bit between hits before you hit him again (like every enemy in this game). If you don't beat him fast enough, then you'll have to wait for the platform to come back down afterwards.
You may notice that I back away from him after delivering the final hit. That's because of a glitch I discovered. If you kill him while you're right up on him, the screen may turn black and say "main CPU error" followed by rows of letters and numbers. That's happened to me several times. I initially thought that my system was going bad, but I noticed that it kept happening in the same place.
3) Golem Tower
BOSS: Wood Golem
I had major trouble with this boss as a kid. I think I stopped playing the game at this point and quit for a number of years. But now it's easy, you just have to have the pattern down. That's the way a lot of bosses in this game are, really, really hard at first. Anyway, this fight went really well. The best I can do on the first head is getting him down to 25 HP, and if I hadn't somehow missed that one slash I would have. This is last time I'll use Mail against a boss until the very end of the game.
1) Wind Cave
This is the most boring (and easiest) part of the game, as you have to go back and forth several times.
2) Fossil Rock
The jumps on the second area are not as easy as they look. Like in Super Mario Bros. and most other platformers, you can control the height of your jumps by holding down the button. So you have to tap and hold the button down for the right amount of time. But here you have the ceiling which makes it difficult.
BOSS: Boney Rubbler
The first use of Tatt. I'll be using him on all bosses in Worlds 2 & 3. What a joke of a boss. The only thing to worry about is getting every hit in.
I have a little difficulty with the water on the way to getting the key; you can jump out of it at any point.
3) Back to Wind Cave
4) Hot Springs
I got lucky with the guards on the second area (where I'm hopping around in the water). A decent amount of the time (maybe 33%) the last guard will be at the very edge of the spot where you're supposed to land, creating a delay and likely causing you to get hit as well.
BOSS: Nuts Cracker
Easiest boss in the game. Not so easy until I developed the simple strategy. This is also a spot where if Mail had been hit a couple times and was under 50 HP, I would switch to her to get the final hit to recover her life.
5) Deviant Den
Couple of impressive things on the third area. When I drop down the ladder, my bounce puts me up on the ledge next to the skeleton. You can't control the characters when they're bouncing, but I was able to fall the right way to make it work (can't go too far or you'll get hit). On the way back to the previous screen, the way I drop off the platform perfectly diagonally onto the ledge is nice too.
Tatt's Electro Cane is the first of two weapons I'll buy in this run.
BOSS: Thunder Dragon
The first difficult boss battle, thanks to the two guys flying overhead. You can take them out in a normal run, but obviously it doesn't pay to do that when playing for speed. This is also the first boss battle where I have to wait for the arms meter to recharge, which will come into play in virtually every boss battle from here on out.
The Thunder Dragon's shots are accompanied by a loud roar, which makes them easier to notice. I do my runs while listening to music, so this is one instance where that made things a little bit harder. Probably the only instance in this game, though.
6) Panic Peak
I used to think that Goradus was the toughest boss in the game. The falling rocks from the ceiling were just so hard to dodge. But then I figured out the simplest solution: pausing the game. I just go the menu several times and see where they're falling, then position Tatt accordingly. Easy. Even then, I still usually will get hit at least once by an unavoidable falling rock pattern. But not this time, I was lucky.
The very first time he drops rocks is the most important to avoid. If you get hit as he's charging to the left, then he'll likely go past you and you'll end up on his right. Then you're screwed, as he'll charge through you again.
I find that waiting until he stomps to drop the rocks before moving seems to make them easier to avoid. Also, when he shoots fireballs, you can go left so that he is off the screen, and they won't come out.
7) Back to Deviant Den
Mail slashes before she and Gaw walk (uncontrollably) towards Muttonhead for the cutscene. If you press the button fast enough you can do that in various places in the game. It happened here because I was still mashing the A button to skip the text.
The first use of Gaw. Much backtracking here just like in the Wind Cave. You need to collect 4 gold bullions to give to the one miner. The Happy Flames of Death are super easy.
2) Zoth Shrine
I get the apple here to be safe, the last healing item I'll collect. I started the game with 1 apple and 1 elixyr, and I collected 1 apple and 2 bananas. So that's five healing items in total. When I first started doing runs, I picked up 1 additional banana (Treesun) and 2 additional apples (Wind Caves, next to the hammer).
BOSS: Mythril Guardian
I'm disappointed with this one. Either my jump button got stuck or I didn't press down hard enough, and I missed two shots because of it. The end didn't go as I'd like either. When you get down to 50 HP on the second face, he starts bouncing up and down non-stop. I have gotten him rarely to just keep doing that over and over until dying, but I'm uncertain as to why that happens. I believe you may have to hit him exactly in the middle, or maybe at the exact right time. It gets a lot harder when he starts bouncing around, as sometimes he may suddenly go the other way.
I take my first hit of the entire game here (wow). Oh well, I was going to purposely jump into the fire with Gaw seconds later anyway.
BOSS: Sven T. Uncommon
I know you can block the shots he fires straight at you, but I jump over them out of habit as I never used to know that (plus it lets you get closer to hit him). This is a great place to heal one of your characters as you can switch quickly before Sven dies. I don't need it in this run however.
I switch to Gaw right before the cutscene because it's 10 seconds faster than Mail or Tatt's scene, both of which involve Slick showing up instead of Glug. Interestingly, on the next cutscene where Venucio dies, if you use Gaw Slick will show up then, and apparently Venucio will not die and the story just goes on. You don't get to see that scene because then Gaw's scene is 10 seconds slower.
In between there's some tricky platform jumping with Mail. It looks pretty easy, but if I linger for more than a second then spikes will shoot up and knock me off. This is always a nerve wracking part because I messed it up in a run before. I use the old platformer trick of turning the opposite way to stop Mail's momentum.
I never knew about the safe spot right next to him until recently. I always stood back a little bit by the line in the floor, which was also safe. I read about the new safe spot on an old newsgroup post from 1995, which was actually posted by Victor Ireland, the former president of Working Designs. Pretty cool. Anyway, the closer spot allows me to hit him 3 times in one go rather than 2, which speeds things up considerably. I do get hit but it doesn't affect anything.
3) Fort Fryght
BOSS: Fire Golem
He threw his knife way more than usual, which is good. I'm continually jumping to try to get him to throw it higher up. I was forced to take a hit when the flame and the knife were coming at me at the same time, nothing I could do about it. Jumping to try and avoid it might have resulted in getting hit twice in succession.
I still don't know exactly what triggers the king coming to let you out of the jail. I always go to the left wall then back to the right and that often works, but this time I had to wait another second or two.
Then, I have to kill some enemies to get up to 3,000 gold to buy Gaw's weapon. I used to do this on the Mine stage, where you could kill two mummies and get 2 gold bullions (aka 1,000 gold) by going right instead of left to the elevator. However, the mummies took 20 hits to kill and this way works out to be at least 10 seconds faster.
Coming out of the weapon shop, I have to climb the ladder with the heads popping out at me. After messing up a few times in previous runs, I realized that the way to go was to look at Mail's feet relative to the previous enemy, rather than trying to position her head below the upcoming one.
2) Mt. Rip
3) Back to Mine
4) Back to Mt. Rip
This is the only part of the game where you need to backtrack to a previous stage. Seems kind of pointless to me. If you're going to have backtracking, why only for one moment and why make it so easy? There is one optional boss you can fight by backtracking to the first stage which gets you an elixyr for your trouble.
5) Gyp Ship
A short but tricky area with some difficult moments. Normally when Mail jumps all the way to right, that guy's not there. That big jump by Gaw lets you skip most of the level. For this jump and many of the tough jumps in the game, I use the background to help me out with positioning. Here, I look at the lines on the wall.
I switch to Tatt just before the boss to stun that enemy, who has a very long reach with his weapon.
Way tougher than Wriph. There's less space, and you absolutely have to get rid of the bubbles or they will overcome you. You also can't have her release them directly above you or you're likely screwed. How about that super cheap hit after the fight? It's happened to me a couple of times vs Wriph and Wraph, and once vs Goradus. Although I will say it's neat to have a moment like that captured in the middle of a successful run.
6) Crystal Palace
Not hard, as I don't even bother healing beforehand. The second form can be hit twice at once, I assume because there's two heads. I believe you're supposed to run under the yellow ball it throws out, but I've never tested that as I prefer jumping over it.
After the fight you automatically receive the best weapons in the game for each character.
1) Freaky Foyer
The amulet is key for speed running. It lets you avoid taking damage, though you can't attack while doing so. It's also important to waste as little of it as possible.
BOSS: Rock Sentry
Among the easiest bosses in the game. I can always heal Mail here, so that's nice. Although to be safe I healed her upon entering the Freaky Foyer in case one of the yellow guys went out of line.
2) Hassle Hall
Big big jump with Gaw on the moving platforms. Messing that up would've ruined the run. The key is to jump later than you would think.
BOSS: Fright Knight
Went awesome. Usually he goes off to the right near the end and you have to carefully follow him.
Very close call on the way back, I think I'm actually touching the Wizard's hat, but I don't get hit. Several other stupid things happened and I came close to using the elixyr (which would've happened had I gone down to zero HP). The reason I pause the game a couple times as I drop down the one staircase is because sometimes that flying knight is there. He wasn't this time. I was definitely being more safe than sorry as I exited the stage.
3) Maniac Mazes
Jumping over the crabs is another nervous moment for me, especially the 2nd and 3rd ones with the low ceiling. My very first single segment attempt at this game, I made it all the way here only to mess up jumping over them. I got hit twice in a row and died, which sucked. The ones in the green area are easy.
This fight gave me nightmares, until I came up with the strategy you see here. Previously, what I would do was kill the main body, then shoot the two parts as I went back to the staircase, wait for them to go back to the left, then go back myself and lure them out. I usually had to do that a couple of times before they were dead. Every strategy guide and video I've seen says to do that.
Once I discovered that they would surround you, it turned the longest fight in the game to something much easier. I don't know how you're supposed to discover that playing the game normally; I guess you would have to be hit first. I walk toward them which makes them walk away from me, giving me some space to avoid the shots (which alternate).
4) Orb Tower
BOSS: Nuts Cracker
Hardest boss fight in the game, the final fights are easy compared to this. I hate the way he corners you, so cheap. I almost had a chance to beat him in two bodies. The first time I got him more than halfway, but I missed twice on the second go around. Not beating him in two bodies wasted ~15 seconds. I chose to heal Mail after the final hit, since Gaw won't be in any danger until the next (easy) boss fight. I started to walk to the left, but I don't think that makes any difference.
On to the placement of the orbs. Room 1 is the second toughest room out of the four, with a difficult jump for Gaw. You don't lose much time if you miss it though. Room 2, you have to watch out for that guy blocking the door (seems to happen 50% of the time), so good thing I had some amulet left. Room 3 has nothing hard. Room 4 is the toughest because if you mess up, you have to leave the room and come back. I really thought I had jumped too early on the last green platform to green platform jump.
Once I've made it this far, there's nothing to worry about. The last four bosses are a cakewalk, especially this one.
Toughest of the final three, though that's not saying much. Jumping high makes her come after you, which lets you work her into a nice pattern. Gotta watch out for the Dragon's fireball though. I was able to get the last hit on her without her raising her hands. Sometimes you can sneak a hit in on her like that if you aim really low.
Easy fight, but the hard part is hitting him twice in one appearance. It's very easy to run into the back of him for most of the fight, until he loses the cape. After starting out well I made some errors. If you hit him once every time he appears, it would take 25 appearances to beat him. I did it in 22, missing completely 4 times.
Seems like that's at least 15 seconds wasted. I thought that not beating Nuts Cracker in 2 bodies was the biggest flaw of the run, but this wasted just as much time. If you could improve those two fights, and also the Mythril Guardian fight, it would be virtually perfect.
BOSS: The Overlord
Weak final boss, you just need patience. It's important not to move around much, though I try to edge toward him to get him to back up. I missed one shot.
The ending is the one cutscene that can't be skipped.
Slick is voiced by a young Ashley Angel, who was also Alex in Lunar.
To get the best rank and all the outakes, you have to complete the game under 5 hours.
The timer in this game has some flaws. If you die then start a new game, it doesn't reset. That point is moot here because I beat it immediately after powering up the system, but if you were to beat it after restarting then you wouldn't be able to compare your time with mine. To do that, you'd have to compare the real times (this run is about 83'16").
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