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Deadly Towers
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?

 

Run (Single Segment): 0:33:56 by Jeff Feasel

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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 unbalanced. (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.) The previous record holder, 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 weak. 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 -- sometimes slower than the enemy -- leaving you utterly 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 the wall instead of sliding along it), 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 with aplomb. Not so here. Enemy movement is an ever-changing function of character position, frame count, and player input. There is no predicting what the enemies will do, and every battle is a totally ad-hoc struggle.

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 weapons and armor so that the hero is no longer such a powder-puff, (3) buying more orange scrolls, (4) blazing through the remaining towers with total abandon, (5) buying a green scroll, warping to the last boss, kicking his ass.


FIRST SHOPPING TRIP:

The first 7 minutes or so of this run is spent earning money and buying the items that i'll need. The Orange Scroll warps you back to the Holy Flame, and it takes less time to earn the money to buy the scroll than it does to actually climb back down out of the tower after killing the boss. I buy 4 of them. I also pick up a few health potions (3 seems to be a good number) to keep me alive until i can collect all the good armor/helmet/shield. The most efficient way of earning cash is to repeatedly kill the expanding column of gumballs in the dungeon. There is some strategy to it, since the creature gains more life the longer it is allowed to expand before you shoot it. In Tom's run, he approaches the column from the side, but i find that it is faster to do it from the top. The top-approach requires more reflex and it is more error prone, however in the worst case it is no slower than the side-approach and in the best case it is nearly twice as fast. It takes a while to earn all the cash i need, and unfortunately it must be done in several stretches due to the limited amount of cash you can carry at a time. This part of the run is kind of boring, but it is necessary. I'll be back to the dungeon for more shopping later on in the game, but this is the only time i need to earn cash. Future shopping trips will be brief.

Q: How come you don't buy some kind of armor or gauntlets or sword or whatever? Are you nuts?
A: Kind of nuts, yes. But these items are going to be replaced soon anyway, so i don't want to waste time and money on them. The red potions are cheap and easy to come by, and they should be enough to get me through the first few towers. I'll just have to be extra super careful.

Q: Why not buy the red potions from the shop north-east of the dungeon exit? They are 10 bucks cheaper.
A: Because that involves passing through the blue-floor room (containing the dungeon exit) with the 4 flames. This is much harder than it sounds, since i am extremely likely to get pinned or knocked through the south door into the cobra room, either of which means certain death. The only reason i can pull it off on my second shopping trip is that i've got the best weapon and armor. Plus, 10 bucks isn't much of a savings. I typically earn cash at a rate of about 2 bucks per second, so it's not worth the time or the risk trying to get a better deal on potions.

Q: Why not buy all 7 orange scrolls right now, rather than making multiple shopping trips?
A: First of all, i can only hold 9 items in my inventory, which means i could only carry 1 potion (since i need an empty slot to pick up new items such as the armor). Second of all, 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 the hard way; less time than it takes to make the extra dungeon trip.

Q: Scrolls get 10 bucks cheaper after killing the 3rd boss. Why not just buy the minimum for now, beat 3 towers, and then come back for the rest?
A: The way i do it now -- beating 4 of the towers and grabbing items from 2 others -- is pretty much the least i can do on the first leg of my tower-raiding. It is necessary to get the Cup before i come back for my second shopping trip (since it is worth so much cash). But to beat the tower (and subsequent boss) in which the Cup resides would be really slow and risky if i didn't have the best sword, the double-shot, and the best armor/helmet/shield. To get the sword and the double-shot requires having all 3 armor pieces (since they are not as strong unless i've got the complete set) or else i'll get pummeled. And to get the shield, i need the Magic Mace, which is in yet another tower.


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 my risk.

I start by entering 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. After grabbing the armor, i use a scroll to warp out of there. I'll be back to kill the boss later.

Q: Wouldn't it be better to just kill the boss the first time around, rather than coming back later?
A: I don't think it makes a significant difference time-wise, and it is much more risky to do it the first time. 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 and the double-shots. 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 (which are really quite dangerous). In terms of time, 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.

Next i enter Wheeler's tower, grab the Magic Mace, kill the boss, and warp out of there. The Magic Mace secret room requires some luck. If the first two blue crawly things rush me and get on top of me before i can kill them, then it's game over. And even if i get lucky there, the black barnacle-thing will sometimes make its way over before i'm done with the blue dudes. Again, game over. All-in-all, there's about a 40% chance of failure here. Fortunately the boss, Wheeler, isn't too tough. It does take a while, though, since my sword is so weak and slow.

Next i make a quick stop on the outskirts of Beat Plant's tower to grab the shield. This is where the Magic Mace is needed. Unfortunately, even with its protection i still take heavy damage and have to use one of my potions. There is also the possibility (about 30%) that one of the bats might get through the barrier and land on top of me, leading to unavoidable death (since i can't shoot while the Magic Mace is in effect). Suffice it to say, i breathe a sigh of relief when this encounter is over.

Next i hit up 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 and weak weapon (with only 1 shot allowed on screen at a time). Even after sucking down the last of my red potions, i'm lucky to get through this tower alive. The inside part of the tower, particularly the parallel zone, is quite challenging because of the ghosts. It's slow-going, but i take a few risks to speed things up slightly. Having the helmet (the third and final piece of armor) makes a world of difference. From here on out i don't need to be nearly so cautious. Unlike other bosses, this boss (Centipede) actually moves according to a fixed pattern. His bullets are weak, but if he runs into you it does a ton of damage. Through much trial and error and practice i have identified a series of places where i can stand to avoid being hit (it changes with each pass) while being able to inflict some damage close-range. The battle is not random, but it does require some precision and memorization (hmm, like a real speedrun). Afterwards, i warp out of there with a scroll.

Next i enter Great Burn's tower. Now that my health is refilled and i've got all the armor pieces, there is really no stopping me. Case in point: In the secret room i get totally bombarded with bats but still manage to walk out relatively unscathed. I grab the sword -- now things take about half as many shots. The boss fight goes smoothly, though he is a bit tough to hit given my slow shots. Rather than using a scroll to warp out, i climb back down the tower to grab the double-shot. Because of the way the parallel zone is set up, you have to walk down the entire length of the pre-tower area anyway, so it's faster to get the double-shot on the way out (rather than getting it on the way in and using a scroll to warp out after the boss). The double-shot allows me to have 2 shots at a time on the screen instead of 1, which, as you might imagine, makes the game significantly less frustrating. Note also that the enemies ramp up in difficulty after killing this boss (the third of 7; same thing will happen again after the fifth boss). You'll notice the difference by comparing the enemies on the way down to those encountered on the way up.

Finally i enter Cold Killer's tower. There is nothing noteworthy about it, except that i get to pick up the Cup (which gives you 250 bucks when you use it). The boss is easy. A straight-up frontal attack is both safe and quick. The only risk is getting knocked back down the ladder, but this is easy to avoid.


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 3 scrolls and another red potion without spending any time earning dough. I lose about 6 seconds going into the first shop, but this isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things.


TOWER-RAID, PART 2:

This part of the run goes by pretty quickly. There are 3 more towers to beat, and there's nothing much to them. The only place where one might possibly die is at one of the bosses.

First i do Death Bear's tower. The Gauntlet is available in a secret room that is chock full of ghosts. I let them beat on me for a while as i kill them off. 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.

Next i do Great Wings's tower. There is no item to collect here anymore, so i zip through the tower. The boss can actually do some substantial damage with his shots, so i attack him from the diagonal to be safe.

Last of all i do the Beat Plant's tower. (Yes, that's right: "Beat Plant".) Despite his overall silliness, he can actually do some real damage. So i attack from the diagonal and try to stay out of his rain of bullets. Final tower completed, i warp back to the Holy Flame to burn the bells.


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 i'm not a fan of death-abuse.) The lair itself is quick and easy. The first boss is dead before he even finishes uncoiling. The second boss doesn't shoot and his motions are totally deterministic, so there's no challenge here either. The final boss, Rubas, is actually kinda tough. Once you can get him to follow you into the corner, he'll just sit there and let you hammer him. But getting him there requires some very precise walking -- the margin of space between him and the twirly heads that encircle him is very small. A single hit will push you directly into Rubas, and then you're stuck -- game over. Fortunately that didn't happen this time, and the world/kingdom/whatever-you're-supposed-to-be-saving is saved. Rock and roll.


Despite its flaws (or perhaps because of?) i have always had a perverse fascination for 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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