Gotcha Force is a 3D fighting game released for GameCube in November 2003. Players collect toy-sized Gotcha Borgs, assemble them into teams, and fight to stop the Death Force from destroying Earth. The game features over 200 playable borgs, including ninjas, robots, dragons, and robot dragons.
Individual Levels: 0:35:08
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|Challenge Mode Normal 1p||0:03:11||2020-01-14||'Manocheese'|
|Challenge Mode Normal 2p||0:02:53||2020-04-11||'Manocheese'|
|Challenge Mode Tuff 1p||0:06:18||2020-03-08||'Manocheese'|
|Challenge Mode Tuff 2p||0:05:16||2020-02-08||'Manocheese'|
|Challenge Mode Insane 1p||0:09:33||2020-04-26||'Manocheese'|
|Challenge Mode Insane 2p||0:07:57||2020-06-11||'Manocheese'|
NOTE: Feel free to link to these runs, but please don't upload the files or any part of them to another site. Directing people here instead of uploading the files elsewhere lets them read the comments, contact me, and see other speed runs. For the same reason, please link to this page and not the files themselves.
Thanks to Voltrox747 and Death Eye for their research into the 20th force glitch and mutant borgs.
Thanks to jamescom1 for his early work on Gotcha Force speed running.
Thanks to the SDA staff for keeping this great site going.
The cult classic Gotcha Force has long been one of my favorite games. However, it isn't the type of game I usually speed run. I've mostly done lengthy single-segment runs with very little luck involved, since I enjoy the endurance aspect of longer runs and I don't like having the outcome of a run influenced by factors outside my control. Challenge Mode in Gotcha Force meets none of these criteria; each run is only a few minutes long and there is a high degree of randomness. I typically wouldn't even consider running such a game because grinding out a good run would be too frustrating, but I like Gotcha Force enough that I figured I could stomach it.
The game has two modes suitable for speed running: Story Mode and Challenge Mode. While there have been a few Story Mode runs over the years, Challenge Mode hasn't received much attention. jamescom1 laid some groundwork with his 13:58 Insane run in 2006, but other than that, I'm not aware of any runs. In 2013, I spent a few months trying to correct this deficit. I achieved some decent times in Normal and Tuff, but I wasn't satisfied with my time in Insane. Eventually, the randomness became intolerable and I stopped playing. But after a few years of running Rayman 2, I came back to Gotcha Force to finish the job.
There are many random elements in Challenge Mode. The most significant is the composition of the enemy forces. In each battle, you fight two forces. The borgs in each force are picked at random from a pool of possible borgs for that battle. Each force appears to be selected independently of the other using the following procedure:
Each battle has its own GF energy limit, but all the battles appear to use the same force size limit of 10 borgs. A consequence of this selection procedure is that when some borgs in the pool are much more expensive than others, force sizes can vary considerably. For example, suppose the game tries to put a Plasma Dragon (which costs a hefty 1600 GF energy) on the force, but there is only 1500 GF left. Then no more borgs will be added to the force, even if several cheaper borgs would be able to fit. This effect is especially noticeable in Insane. For example, in Insane battle 6, an enemy force can have as few as 1 borg or as many as 7.
In most battles, the size of the largest enemy force is the biggest factor in how long the battle will take. There are other random elements as well:
The 20th Force Glitch and Mutant Borgs
Before I could run Challenge Mode, I needed to obtain the borgs I planned on using. The key to doing this is the 20th force glitch. Originally, this glitch was mainly used to obtain otherwise unobtainable borgs such as G Black, Galactic Emperor, and pre-fused versions of fusion borgs. People also found variations of the glitch that allowed you to alter a borg's level and color. But for the purposes of Challenge Mode running, the real power of the glitch is in its ability to create what I call mutant borgs. By changing a borg's level to something outside the usual range, you can bestow it with attributes of a completely different borg. These attributes include HP, ammo capacity, ammo refill speed, and more. I use a few mutant borgs in these runs:
I use clear borgs so that I can see through them to the enemies and the stage. This is very useful in some situations. For example, if I see that an enemy is holding their shield toward me, I might target another enemy instead while I wait for the shielded enemy to turn. I made the Quick Valkrie gold because I thought it might make her easier to see, but it didn't end up making much difference.
For more information on these glitches, see the Gotcha Force wiki.
Two Characters, One Player
The computer ally in single-player tends to be pretty useless. So, inspired by No1 Inparticular's run of Super Smash Bros. Brawl in which he played a two-player mode by himself, I decided to see if I could save time by controlling both forces at once. The initial results were ugly. It turns out it's hard to handle two controllers and watch two screens. But I found a few strategies that helped:
Over time, I got better at controlling both forces. It was definitely a fun challenge.
When the enemy forces have different sizes, I prefer to target the larger force first. There are a few reasons for this:
Although targeting the larger force first is usually the best option, there are reasons not to do so. Borgs such as Acceleration Ninja and Red Attacker can move very quickly, so I like to take them out as soon as possible so they can't move out of range of my breath attack. Also, high-HP borgs like big dragons and fortresses take a while to kill, so they disrupt my usual pattern of alternately killing borgs on each force. Occasionally, when the forces are uneven, it is useful to bring their sizes closer together by killing two borgs in a row from the same force (e.g. targeting the forces in the order AABA instead of ABAB). I call this a reversal.
The Versus screen before each battle gives a preview of the forces you'll be fighting. Although it can be tough to see the borgs because they're packed close together and part of one force is off-screen, this preview still provides valuable information that helps me decide on a plan of attack for the battle. For example, I might see that one force is larger than the other or contains borgs that will take a while to kill. I could then decide to target that force first.
The big dragons' breath attacks are the most overpowered attacks in the game. There are a handful of attacks that can deal more damage, but when you factor in speed and accuracy, the breath attacks have no rivals. For this reason, Flame Dragon's breath attack is my go-to move, and I spend most of my time in these runs killing enemies with it. The attack's range is large, especially when I'm in the air, but it has its limits. If the enemies are too close, I can't hit them at all. If they're too far away, the attack won't connect very well and won't do much damage. So, I try to keep a medium distance between me and the enemies.
Of the four big dragons with breath attacks, I find Flame Dragon to be the best suited for speed running. The main difference between the dragons is in their B attacks. Blizzard Dragon's B attack freezes enemies, then makes them invincible for a while after they escape from the ice. Plasma Dragon's B attack often sends enemies flying around the stage for several seconds. Cosmic Dragon's B attack is much weaker than the others. That leaves Flame Dragon; his B attack has no annoying side effects and it creates an explosion with a large blast radius, helping me hit enemies. Also of note is that Flame Dragon is the only one cheap enough to use in Normal, which has a GF energy limit of 1500.
The Computer Ally
The ally in single-player is much more likely to hinder than to help. They often attack enemies and make them invincible, postponing their deaths. Even if the ally's attacks don't make enemy borgs invincible, they can make them damage-resistant, which offers a lot of protection against even the mighty breath attack. Battle 5 in Normal single-player is a good example; you can see the enemies' health dropping quickly at first, then slowing down dramatically. Damage resistance lasts for a few seconds after the last hit on a borg. When you see me doing nothing for a moment even though I have ammo and the enemy is vulnerable, I'm probably waiting for their damage resistance to run out. Unlike invincibility, damage resistance has no on-screen indicator; you just have to get a feel for when it expires.
The ally does help occasionally. A Quick Valkrie can speed me up, which helps in some battles. If the ally has a Red Attacker at the beginning of a battle and I have a Death ICBM, the two often spawn right next to each other, so I can crash into the Red Attacker and detonate immediately. It's also possible for the ally to finish off an enemy who's near death. On the whole, though, the ally is a nuisance. They've cost me many runs, and I've often wished that the "Fight Alone" option on the menu let me fight completely alone.
Usually, when you finish a battle, the camera will zoom in on the borg that dealt the finishing blow. However, if neither that borg nor any other borg on the same force are on the field when the final blow is struck, then the game will skip the 2-second zoom animation. You can do this by finishing a battle with a suicide borg like Death ICBM. This technique, which I call the zoom skip, is critical to two-player runs; I try to finish battles with a Death ICBM as often as possible in order to save time. I can also get a few zoom skips in single-player runs when the enemy forces are very small or when one of them ends with a suicide borg or ICBM Tank. One thing to keep in mind is that if your Death ICBM explosion takes too long to reach the last enemy, the next borg on your force will spawn and the camera will zoom in on that borg. So, I try to make sure that my last explosion kills the enemies quickly.
Flame Dragon's breath attack doesn't consume ammo until partway through the animation. So, when the ammo is refilling, you can press X to start an attack before the meter is full. This lets you perform a breath attack sooner than if you waited for the meter to fill completely. But if you press X too soon, you'll go through the entire attack animation without any fire coming out, wasting a few seconds and making yourself look foolish. So, you want to press X at just the right moment and no sooner. To make this easier, I recorded myself pressing X at the perfect time (through trial and error), advanced the recording to that frame, and put a piece of tape on the TV where the X ammo meter was. That way, I thought, I could do an optimal breath attack by pressing X right when the meter reached the tape. As soon as I tried this, I encountered the problem of parallax: because the TV's image and the glass where I put the tape are some distance apart, the position of the tape on the image appears different depending on where I observe it from. So, I had to make sure to keep my chair in the same place and sit in the same position for this technique to work. Since the ammo meters are in different positions in two-player mode, I repeated the process for that mode. Between the tape on the second controller and the tape on the TV, these may be the most heavily tape-assisted speed runs of all time.
On the Versus screen that displays before each battle, you can mash A and Start to advance sooner. The amount of time the screen stays up varies. My hypothesis is that the screen will not go away until the game has loaded the data for all the borgs that are present at the start of the battle. Evidence for this hypothesis can be seen in Defeat the Death Borg Beta Unit in Story Mode, where there are no enemies or allies present when the battle begins, so the game only has to load the data for one borg. The Versus screen before this battle disappears extremely quickly if you mash A and Start. In other battles, perhaps the duration of the Versus screen varies because some borgs load faster than others, or perhaps a borg only needs to be loaded once if there are multiple copies of it on the field.
I played on a Wii because I've read that it loads data a little faster than the GameCube. I didn't test this, though.
Another thing to note is that time on the pause screen counts toward the in-game timer, so you shouldn't pause. The result screens after each battle also count, so you should advance through them quickly.
Normal 3:11 (1/14/20)
As I mentioned above, this is the only category in which I use the low-HP mutant Flame Dragon. The high B ammo and fast-charging X ammo help me wipe out the many low-HP borgs quickly. Whenever possible, I try to use the fireball attack because it's much faster; two fireballs take less time than one breath attack. However, much of the breath attack's animation takes place after it starts dealing damage. You can kill two enemies with a breath attack before you can kill them with two fireballs; it's the rest of the animation that makes the breath attack slower overall (since you will have to wait longer to kill the next wave of enemies). At the end of a battle, this drawback of the breath attack doesn't apply, so I often finish the last wave of borgs off with a breath attack.
Battle 1: All borgs except Death Borg Gamma die in a single hit from the fireball's splash damage (Gamma sometimes survives). This means I don't need to hit them directly; as long as they're in the explosion, they will die. The battle went very well.
Battle 2: Most borgs die from splash damage, but the Omega-type borgs require a direct hit, so I target them. This battle also went very well.
Battle 3: No borg can be killed with a single splash damage hit. Most die from a direct hit, but Wire Gunner sometimes survives, as he did in this run. What happened deserves some explanation. The Wire Gunner I failed to kill was on the shorter of the two forces. I typically target the larger force first, but I couldn't tell which one was larger this time, so I guessed and ended up targeting the shorter force first. Failing to kill the Wire Gunner was a reversal; it put the two forces in the correct order. If you watch carefully, keeping track of which borg is on which force, you'll see that I still killed the last borg at the same time I would have if Wire Gunner had died. So, even though it looked bad when Wire Gunner survived, it didn't cost me any time.
Battle 4: Several borgs can survive a direct hit from a fireball: Megaton Robot, Normal Samurai, and Sonic Samurai. So, I use the breath attack on these borgs. The force sizes were 6-6, which isn't optimal, but I played well.
Battle 5: Each enemy force always consists of one big dragon, which I can just barely kill with a breath attack. It takes quite a bit of luck for both dragons to line up well enough that I can kill them with a single attack. Sometimes they spawn too far apart; other times, they walk away from each other. Another problem that can occur is that Plasma Dragon can step on his ally, making them invincible and prolonging the battle. Fortunately, none of these things happened here and I was able to kill both dragons with one breath attack.
Overall, this was a very clean run with good execution throughout and good luck in every battle except #4. I spent a while trying to improve the run and I had some runs with better times in battle 4, but I wasn't able to overcome the strong times in the other battles. So, I'm happy with this time.
Normal Two-Player 2:53 (4/11/20)
I tried quite a few strategies in this category. Initially, one force had Flame Dragon and the other had Death ICBM and G Black. I figured that Death ICBM would be best in battle 5, Flame Dragon would be best in battles 3 and 4, and G Black, with his fast and powerful airdash melee, would be best in battles 1 and 2. In fact, this was my initial motivation for doing two-player Challenge Mode; I wanted to take advantage of these three borgs' strengths, but I couldn't use them all in one force. I achieved a time of 3:06 with this strategy. Then, while working on Tuff and Tuff two-player, I came up with ideas to improve Normal two-player. I realized a couple things:
So, on the second force, I used a Quick Valkrie and three Death ICBMs. My basic strategy is to speed up Flame Dragon, then kill Quick Valkrie so I can use the Death ICBMs. To make it easier to kill Quick Valkrie, I used a mutant Quick Valkrie with low HP. This is perhaps the only time I've used mutation to make a borg easier to kill; usually, I want the opposite. Additionally, I found that the high-HP Flame Dragon worked better than the low-HP Flame Dragon. Since I'm sped up, I don't have as much time to kill my enemies (or the Quick Valkrie), so the extra-powerful breath attack is helpful. The recharge time on the breath attack isn't much of a problem, since I can use a Death ICBM while the breath attack is recharging.
As described earlier, I use cruise control to make the second player hold up constantly. In addition to making Death ICBMs descend on their own, this makes Quick Valkrie move toward the enemies, which makes her easier to kill. Pressing X to fly also helps.
Battle 1: Good.
Battle 2: Good. The enemy forces were 10-10. 9-9 is possible, but uncommon.
Battle 3: I got 8-7, which is fine. 7-7 is pretty rare. I made one mistake: after the fifth wave of enemies, I typically kill the next two waves with breath attacks. I don't have the Quick Valkrie speed boost any more, so the enemies can spawn faster than I can do my breath attack. For this reason, it's best to start the first of the two breath attacks early, so that I just barely kill the first wave of enemies with the tail end of the attack. This lets me start the second breath attack sooner, saving time. I forgot to use this technique, costing me a split second.
Battle 4: Good; 5-5. 4-4 is possible, but very rare. With 5-5 (compared to more common sizes like 6-5 and 6-6), I don't have much time to kill the Quick Valkrie. I had a little trouble killing her, but I managed to do so fast enough to finish the battle with a Death ICBM and get the zoom skip.
Battle 5: Good. The high-HP Flame Dragon really helps, since an extra-strength breath attack can kill the enemies even if they're not lined up perfectly. For that reason, this battle doesn't require nearly as much luck in two-player as it does in single-player.
This run turned out very nicely. Both luck and execution were good throughout; it's perhaps the cleanest of all my Challenge Mode runs.
Tuff 6:18 (3/08/20)
I use a Death ICBM and a high-HP mutant Flame Dragon. It took me a while to decide on these borgs. Originally, I thought the low-HP mutant Flame Dragon was better for Tuff. It tends to be better in the battles with lots of low-HP enemies, but it's quite a bit worse in the battles where enemies have high HP (especially #9 and #10). Luck is always a big factor, so it's hard to reach any definitive conclusions about how much faster a given borg is in a given battle. However, after playing quite a bit with both, I'm pretty sure the high-HP dragon comes out ahead.
Including a Death ICBM on the force wasn't a foregone conclusion. It saves time in battle 5 because it allows me to get a zoom skip, but in the other battles, the time savings depend on chance. One factor is that in battles where the enemy forces are 5-5 or 5-4, a Death ICBM allows me to avoid refilling my breath attack (which can only be used 4 times before recharging). Another big factor is that Death ICBM can kill Beam Satellite in one hit, potentially saving lots of time in battle 10. But in most cases, killing a wave of borgs with Death ICBM is slower than killing them with Flame Dragon. With all this uncertainty, it's difficult to say whether Death ICBM saves time in an average run. However, a good run should be much faster than an average run. So, due to the potential savings in battle 10, I decided to use Death ICBM.
Battle 1: This is the only battle in Tuff in which the enemies can be killed with a single fireball. Every borg other than the Omegas will die from a direct hit. The Omegas sometimes die from a direct hit (with the exception of Omega III, which has 50% more HP than the others). I typically use breath attacks on the Omegas and try to kill the others with fireballs. When I use the breath attack, I often wait a moment after killing the first borg (in Force A) before I kill the second borg (in Force B). This delays the spawning of the next borg in Force B. As a result, I can use a fireball against the next Force A borg without hitting the next Force B borg with splash damage (which could make them invincible and cost me time). In case I don't use a fireball against the next Force A borg (because it's an Omega-type borg), this delaying tactic doesn't help--and it can hurt a little if I do it near the end of the battle. Usually, though, it either saves time or has no effect. In this run, it saved a little time.
Battle 2: Quick Valkrie's speed boost is a mixed blessing. She makes you faster, but sometimes the extra speed is too much because it makes the breath attack end before you can kill your targets. I had no trouble this time, though; the battle was very fast. Luckily, Quick Valkrie sped me up almost immediately. Sometimes, she fumbles around and waits until the battle is almost over.
Battle 3: The enemy forces vary from 5 borgs all the way to 9. This time, I had 7-6, which is pretty good. I killed my ally's Quick Valkrie because the enemies had a few Megaton Robots, which have lots of HP and can thus be tough to kill with a sped-up breath attack.
Battle 4: I got 6-5, which isn't bad. I could have detonated the Death ICBM sooner by crashing into the Red Attacker, but doing so is risky because the Red Attacker might suddenly speed up and evade me. So, I played it safe by crashing into the ground.
Battle 5: Easy. The Death ICBM allows me to get a zoom skip, saving 2 seconds.
Battle 6: This is one of the harder battles because there are several troublesome borgs. Imperial Knight is tougher than the other knights because instead of one small shield, he has two large ones, providing him with lots of protection against my breath attack. Acceleration Ninja can cause problems by running out of range of the breath attack or by hitting his ally and making them invincible. The Magnet Robots can also be a nuisance if they decide to pull me away from where I want to be. In this run, I had all of the above: two Imperial Knights, four Acceleration Ninjas, and one Magnet Robot. But the enemies cooperated and the battle was smooth. 5-5 is reasonably common, but the 6-5 I got is okay.
Battle 7: 5-5; good luck and good execution. Having no enemy forces above 5 borgs means I don't have to wait for the breath attack to refill.
Battle 8: Ditto.
Battle 9: Same, but with 4-4. The tanks have high HP, so the extra-strength breath attack of the high-HP dragon really helps. With the low-HP dragon, it's often difficult to kill two borgs with one breath attack.
Battle 10: Luck in this battle is a critical ingredient in a successful run. Each team consists of two fortresses. I want as many Beam Satellites as possible, especially at the beginning of each force. It's the only borg in the battle that dies from a Death ICBM explosion; the others only lose a fraction of their health. Plus, Beam Satellite is faster to kill with Flame Dragon. Ironically, even though this is the fastest Tuff run I've ever done, I didn't get a single Beam Satellite. Instead, I had nearly perfect luck for the spawn positions of Flame Dragon and the enemies. All the borgs were lined up so that as soon as I spawned, I could attack both enemies at once. I also got into hyper mode quickly. So, even though I didn't have any Beam Satellites, the battle went well. I have gotten four Beam Satellites before, but it's rare. It can save about 7 seconds compared to this run. A phenomenon I've noticed in this battle (and also in battles 14 and 15 in Insane) is that if you're unable to kill many borgs with a Death ICBM and have to use the breath attack instead, you'll get to use hyper mode more, since the breath attack fills the hyper meter faster than Death ICBMs do. Using hyper mode more helps balance out the disadvantage of being unable to kill borgs with Death ICBMs. The end result is that luck, while still a huge factor, doesn't have quite as much effect on the final time as it might seem to.
Overall, my luck was pretty good. While the lack of Beam Satellites in battle 10 was unfortunate, the great spawn positions in that battle and good luck in the other battles made up for it. Perhaps I overestimated the importance of getting Beam Satellites; I've done many runs with at least one Beam Satellite, but none were as fast as this one.
Tuff Two-Player 5:16 (2/08/20)
On the first force, I use the high-HP mutant Flame Dragon; the low-HP dragon wouldn't be able to survive multiple Death ICBM explosions. On the second force, I use five Death ICBMs. My general strategy is to kill one wave of borgs with the dragon and kill the next with a Death ICBM. If I execute this strategy well and have decent luck, I can kill the enemies shortly after they become vulnerable, since I don't have to wait for the breath attack's animation to finish or wait for another Death ICBM to spawn. However, there are some cases where it's faster to kill two waves in a row with the same force. Sometimes the enemies are in an inconvenient position for one of my forces, so I kill them with the other force. Also, killing the last wave with a Death ICBM lets me get a zoom skip, so I sometimes kill both the last and second-to-last waves with Death ICBMs. Another possibility is to kill two earlier consecutive waves with Flame Dragon, which shifts my alternating pattern so that it will be Death ICBM's "turn" when the last wave comes out. Doing two breath attacks in a row is faster than using two ICBMs in a row, so this option is often preferable. However, I didn't refine this technique until I worked on Insane two-player, so I didn't use it in this run.
I use cruise control for the first nine battles, then turn it off before the last battle. The enemies in battle 10 are all airborne, so I often don't want to descend very far with Death ICBM.
Battle 1: Each force always has exactly 10 borgs. So, if I kill the first wave with Flame Dragon and then alternate between Flame Dragon and Death ICBM, I will have just enough ICBMs to kill the last wave with one and get the zoom skip. This strategy worked nicely here.
Battle 2: Good.
Battle 3: I killed the last wave with a Death ICBM so I could get the zoom skip, even though the kills themselves would have been faster with Flame Dragon. In hindsight, I should have killed two waves in a row with Flame Dragon to set myself up to kill the last wave with a Death ICBM. Then I could have avoided killing two waves in a row with ICBMs, which can be slow.
Battle 4: The ending demonstrates some spawn behavior that can cause trouble. Because there were no other enemies on the field when the last enemy spawned, its spawn position was difficult to predict. For that reason, when I was waiting for the last spawn, I kept the Death ICBM near the center of the level. That way, I could kill the enemy wherever it spawned. Fortunately, it spawned fairly close to my ICBM.
Battle 5: Easy.
Battle 6: Quite a bit easier than it is in single-player. Although it's possible for shielded borgs to block ICBM explosions, it rarely happens, so Imperial Knight doesn't cause as much trouble in two-player as he does in single-player.
Battle 7: 5-5 is lucky, but I didn't get the zoom skip.
Battle 8: Ditto.
Battle 9: I got 5-5, which is mediocre luck. Unfortunately, the Panther Vehicle in the last wave moved directly away from the ICBM explosion. He didn't escape, but he did survive long enough to deprive me of the zoom skip.
Battle 10: I was very lucky to get four Beam Satellites. I almost missed one of the satellites with the first Death ICBM explosion, but I managed to hit it with the edge of the blast. With the second explosion, I unfortunately didn't get the zoom skip. Looking at the video, it might have been possible to get the zoom skip if I had aimed at just the right spot on the ground, but that's tough to do when the enemies are so far apart. The battle was still very fast.
With my excellent luck in battle 10 and pretty good luck elsewhere, this run was much faster than any of my other attempts. Battle 9 was probably the worst, but even it wasn't bad. This category can be frustrating because it's highly dependent on luck in the final battle, so I was glad when I finished it.
Insane 9:33 (4/26/20)
Of the three difficulties, Insane is by far the most affected by randomness. This is so not only because it's the longest, but also because many individual battles vary greatly in the amount of time they take. Because many battles' pools of possible borgs run the gamut from cheap support borgs to expensive heavy hitters, the range of possible force sizes is wide. Even among borgs close in cost, some borgs take much longer to kill than others. Considering all these factors, I had to keep my expectations reasonable; having 15 great battles in a row just isn't going to happen.
I use two Death ICBMs and a high-HP mutant Flame Dragon. Including the Death ICBMs was an easier decision in Insane than it was in Tuff. There are quite a few borgs who die instantly from an ICBM blast, but take most of a breath attack to kill. This means that when two such borgs are on the field at the same time, it's easy to kill them both with a Death ICBM, but I probably can't get them with a single breath attack. Having a few Death ICBMs on the force saves quite a bit of time in battles with those borgs.
Battle 1: Good. I got 9-9, which is the best I can reasonably hope for. 8 is possible, but getting even one is rare; I don't think I've ever gotten 8-8. Most of the borgs are no problem, but Normal Knight can be a pain because he can block my breath attack with his shield. I didn't have any trouble this time, though.
Battle 2: Good; 7-6. I get 6-6 sometimes, but it's infrequent. 5 is possible, but rare.
Battle 3: I got 6-6, which is great.
Battle 4: 5-4. Pretty good.
Battle 5: 3-3; great. I even got the zoom skip because the enemies in the first wave killed each other, allowing me to save my Death ICBM for the next wave. The force sizes range from 2 to 6, so this battle can take quite a bit longer than it did here.
Battle 6: This battle has perhaps the most extreme fluctuations in force size; it can go from 1 all the way to 7 (though 7 is rare). I was lucky to get 3-1 and to finish the battle with only two breath attacks.
Battle 7: Good; 7-6. Because the pool of possible borgs includes some cheap support borgs, the forces can get quite large. I've even seen a force of size 10, which is the maximum in Challenge Mode.
Battle 8: 5-5. The forces range from 4 to 7, so I was pretty lucky. I messed up by aiming a breath attack the wrong way, but I managed to recover and salvage the battle.
Battle 9: Another battle with a big range. This one goes from 2 to 6, but you can't get 2 without a big dragon, which takes a while to kill. The best I've gotten is 3-3 with no dragons. This time, I got 3-3 with one dragon on each force, which is still good. Unfortunately, I had to use an extra breath attack on the last wave of enemies. One of them (Blizzard Dragon) was damage-resistant due to my ally's attack, and the other (Ruby Knight) blocked a breath attack with his shield.
Battle 10: Easy. I should have crashed the second Death ICBM a little sooner, but I only lost a split second.
Battle 11: The force sizes can be anywhere from 5 to 9. I've gotten 5-5 a few times, but I usually get a 7 or 8. The 7-6 I got in this run isn't bad, but some of the enemies spawned far away from me, making it hard to hit them with my breath attack. Rather than spending a few seconds flying toward them, I gambled and stayed in place. Sadly, I failed to kill one of the borgs and had to finish him off with a fireball.
Battle 12: Yet another battle with a big range, this time from 3 to 8. I got 4-4 this time, which is pretty good. I had a little trouble with the spawn position of the last borg, but overall, the battle went well.
Battle 13: This battle ranges from 2 to 4, but 2 is rare; I've only gotten 2-2 a few times. Adding to the randomness is the fact that the pool of possible borgs includes Victory King, who doesn't die from a single ICBM explosion. My luck was pretty bad; I had 4-3 with a Victory King in the first two waves, meaning that my Death ICBM couldn't kill him. There were a couple mitigating factors, though. The Victory King was in the second wave, so I could still kill the borg in front of him with a Death ICBM. Also, the Victory King was in the shorter of the two forces, so the forces were even once my Death ICBMs were gone. My execution was okay, but at one point, I failed to kill a Titan Robot with a breath attack and had to kill him with the next one. This cost me some time, but perhaps not an entire extra breath attack; even if I had killed him, I might have needed two breath attacks to kill the last wave of borgs anyway. This battle is probably the slowest in the run, but it could've been much worse.
Battle 14: The amount of time it takes to beat battles 14 and 15 varies greatly, but the variation comes mainly from the identity of enemy borgs, not their number. In this battle, the force sizes range from 3 to 5, with 3 being infrequent (though I have gotten 3-3). Only some borgs (Proto borgs and Beam Satellite) die from a single ICBM explosion, and large fortresses (Sirius, Antares, and Death Saucer) take a long time to kill. In this run, I had 4-4 with only one large fortress. 4 is a good size; although 3 is smaller, it's usually bad because the only way to have so few borgs is if they're expensive, which typically means having at least one large fortress. It's possible to get a force of 3 with no fortresses, but it's rare. The order of the borgs wasn't ideal; there were no borgs in the first two waves that I could kill with Death ICBMs. However, the enemies' spawn positions were very nice and I was able to kill them quickly, especially once I entered hyper mode. Overall, a pretty fast battle. It can be faster, but it can also be much, much slower.
Battle 15: The force sizes range from 4 to 5. I got 4-4, which is common. The pool of possible borgs is the same as in battle 14 except without fortresses, so only Proto borgs die from a single ICBM explosion. In this run, one of the forces had two Proto borgs at the beginning, so I was able to kill those two with Death ICBMs. Execution was pretty good. The enemies can be slippery since they're fast enough to move out of range of the breath attack, but I didn't have any trouble here. I'd say the battle went well.
I was surprised to see a time of 9:33 come up, since the run didn't feel especially fast. Looking it over, though, I can see where the speed came from. Although no particular battle stands out as being exceptionally good, many of them were quite fast and none had any large times losses. It's very rare to get through all 15 battles without a single one going badly, but I think I managed to do it here. I spent a while trying to improve this run, and although I had some runs with better luck on battle 14 or 15, the closest I came was 9:43--10 seconds slower. So, I'm pretty satisfied with this time.
Insane Two-Player 7:57 (6/11/20)
My forces are mostly the same as in Tuff two-player. Out of an abundance of caution, I added two Death ICBMs to the first force just in case Flame Dragon died, plus a Normal Ninja in case I had to use the Death ICBMs. In reality, I never came close to dying with Flame Dragon, but it doesn't hurt to have those extra borgs afterward. The second force consists of six Death ICBMs. My general strategy is also the same as in Tuff two-player: Kill one wave of enemies with Flame Dragon, then kill the next with Death ICBM. I use cruise control in every battle.
Battle 1: Good. I got 9-8, which I think is the fewest enemies I've seen in this level. At one point, I killed two waves of enemies in a row with breath attacks. This allowed me to kill the final wave with a Death ICBM (giving me a zoom skip) without needing to kill two consecutive waves with Death ICBMs, which can be pretty slow.
Battle 2: Also good; 7-7. I ended up killing two waves in a row with Death ICBMs, which isn't ideal, but it didn't cost me much time.
Battle 3: Nice. Good luck (6-6) and good execution.
Battle 4: Also nice. 5-4 with good execution.
Battle 5: The force sizes go from 2 to 6, so my 4-3 is pretty good. A few enemy Death ICBMs crashed into me, saving me the effort of killing them.
Battle 6: The worst battle in the run. I had 6 borgs on one of the forces, which is pretty high. Then, an enemy dragon hit both my Flame Dragon and my Death ICBM with a breath attack, stunning them for a few seconds. The rest of the battle was fine.
Battle 7: Good; 7-7.
Battle 8: I got 6-5, which is mediocre luck, but my execution was good.
Battle 9: 5-3; not very lucky. A knight blocked my breath attack, costing me a few seconds.
Battle 10: Easy. At the beginning of the battle, I crashed my Death ICBM into Flame Dragon in order to detonate as soon as possible. This can only be done with certain spawn positions on certain stages, so I was lucky here.
Battle 11: Good luck (6-6) and good execution. Nice.
Battle 12: I got the smallest possible forces (3-3) and executed well. Nice! This battle can be a run killer because the pool of possible borgs contains cheap support borgs, which means the forces can be large.
Battle 13: My luck was good; I had 3-3 with no Victory Kings (who can't be killed with a single ICBM explosion). I had some trouble crashing the Death ICBMs, though. I tried to crash the second one into Flame Dragon, but he was a little too high up and I passed underneath him. With the third one, I hesitated because I wasn't sure where the enemies were going. They can move pretty quickly, so I didn't want them to escape the explosion. Despite these difficulties, the battle went okay.
Battle 14: As in single-player, times vary widely in battles 14 and 15. The Proto borgs and Beam Satellite die from a single ICBM blast, so those borgs are ideal. Machine Red and Machine Blue are the next best because they die from a breath attack and lose a good chunk of health to an ICBM. Next are Cyber Mars and Cyber Atlas, who can survive a full breath attack and are pretty resistant to ICBMs. The worst are the large fortresses (Sirius, Antares, and Death Saucer), which take several breath attacks to kill and can shrug off ICBMs. I was very lucky this time; I had no fortresses, three Proto borgs, and only two Cyber borgs. Plus, the first two borgs (Machine Red and Machine Blue) lined up perfectly, allowing me to kill them both with a single breath attack. Overall, a very fast battle.
Battle 15: I had good luck here too (four Proto borgs and only one Cyber borg) and managed to take out the enemies pretty quickly. With a lot of luck, it's possible to get all Proto borgs in this battle, which would make it very short since you could kill them all with Death ICBMs. I've seen this a few times, but sadly only in single-player, where it doesn't help as much as it would in two-player.
This run turned out well. My luck was very good and my execution was also good in almost all battles. Plus, I got the zoom skip in every battle. Battle 6 was unfortunate, but the time I lost there is much less than what I can lose in #12, #14, and #15, all of which were fast in this run. Compared to the other categories, I spent a long time on this one because I knew I wouldn't be satisfied with something in the low 8-minute range when sub-8 was feasible. I kept making small cuts to my PR (sometimes just a second at a time) until I finally jumped from 8:10 to 7:57.
For all my speed runs, I've asked myself the question: how good is good enough? When do I stop playing? But this is especially true for these heavily luck-based Challenge Mode runs. It was largely a matter of how much time I wanted to spend on them; if I kept playing long enough, then I would eventually get better luck and beat my times. So, I simply kept playing each category until I felt satisfied with my run, then stopped. If I did a good job, these times should be tough for someone to get close to, let alone beat. If someone does decide to take up Challenge Mode running, one possibility that could be interesting to explore is a two-player run that's actually done by two players. How would the strategies differ from mine, and how much faster could you go? Of course, before attempting such a run, you would have to find another Gotcha Force player--no easy task given the game's unfortunate lack of popularity. But while its devotees may be few, they are loyal; after 16+ years of playing Gotcha Force, I have no intention of stopping. I hope my Challenge Mode runs do justice to this wonderful game.
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