Romhack Thursday: Gradius AC 2000 for NES

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Gradius for Famicom and NES is a well above-average port of a game for very different hardware than the arcade original. It was good enough that it was converted right back into arcade game, released for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade hardware as Vs. Gradius. Graphically and aurally, it is quite similar to the arcade game.

It’s similar, but not identical. Now this hack doesn’t change the major downgrades from arcade Gradius. There is no vertical scroll in levels two or three, and you still can only have two Options at once. But in a variety of subtle ways, the game looks a bit nicer. In particular, the game’s text fonts being changed from the boring old font used on the NES back to the arcade’s snazzy line-drawing affair is a nice change.

The original version of this is quite an old hack, created back in 2000, but it has been periodically updated over the years, most recently changed in 2018. That’s a long period of support for a romhack!

Gradius AC 2000, by Kaison (romhacking.net)

Super Mario Bros Level Glitches

The Youtube channel Retro Game Mechanics has done a series of three videos on glitches in Super Mario Bros. One involves using the NES game Tennis, which has a certain property of its code that allows you to load all kinds of funky levels in SMB.

They’re all interesting, but the one that floats my particular boat is the third, which turns into a deep dive in the compressed manner that Super Mario Bros. stores its levels in ROM, and uses to draw them during play in real time.

1. Access Glitch Worlds in Super Mario Bros. via NES Tennis (13 minutes)

2. Exploring Glitch Level Pointers In Super Mario Bros. (15 minutes)

3. Super Mario Bros. Glitch Levels Explained (30 minutes — this is the one embedded above)

Romhack Thursday: Ultima Exodus Remastered

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

They have fallen into obscurity in the intervening decades, but it used to be that the Ultima games were some of the biggest RPGs around, and many still have fond memories of them. The story of the rise and fall of Origin Systems, once one of the biggest game publishers, and how now they’re just another of the hundred ignored lines on EA’s balance sheet, is not our business here today, but instead that of one fan’s effort to improve one of the less faithful adaptations: the NES version of Ultima Exodus.

Ultima and Ultima II (and their predecessor Akalabeth) were popular, but Ultima III was the first megahit version of the game, that could be considered to stand up today. Ultima I was pretty small, and Ultima II had a lot of crazy elements like space travel. Ultima III has a much more cohesive game world, a more detailed quest, and generally feels a lot more like what we would consider an RPG game now. Later games would build off of it and become even more popular, especially Ultima IV with its detailed morality system, and Ultima VII with its vast game world, depth of NPC interaction, and many system and UI improvements.

This thief looks a lot cooler here than they did in the NES original!

Back to Ultima III. One of its best-selling versions was the Famicom version in Japan, which had a bit of a media blitz around its release. Both the Ultima and Wizardry games had something of a second life on Japanese computer systems and consoles, where they would go on to sell millions of copies more. While EA’s ownership and neglect have meant that Ultima is mostly gone and forgotten*, in Japan new Wizardry games continue to be made, hewing to that series’ original dungeon crawl aesthetic.

* This is, honestly, partly to series creator Richard Garriott’s ownership of several important characters, meaning both parties have to agree to the other’s vision for any further official Ultima game to be made. And Garriott seems to be chasing fads lately; his most recent idea for a game utilizes that bane of all game design concepts, NFTs.

The font especially is much improved, over the very bland type used before.

So now you have a little idea of what Ultima is. The Famicom/NES version was a hit in Japan, but it differs from the computer version in many ways. This was pretty much the norm for the many Japanese-made Famicom adaptations of Western games. An article could be usefully written on all the ways Famicom ports of RPGs differ from their originals. Maybe later.

The character portraits are especially nice!

The point of this romhack is to change the NES version of Ultima III: Exodus so it more matches up with the computer versions. It uses its own patching system, so Romhacking.net’s web-based patching system won’t be of use.

So many little things have changed in this version that it’s hard to talk about! At the very least, the graphics have received a complete overhaul. The cartoony figures of the original, which were pretty silly even back then, look a lot more appropriate for a series with the stature and legacy of classic Ultima games.

Hey Chuckles!

NES Ultima Exodus is also notorious for a number of significant bugs, including the absence of an important clue, it being impossible to cancel a character’s turn without wasting it, poorly differentiated character classes, and the lack of some of the monsters of the computer version. These have been fixed in this version. Some other niceties have been added, including character portraits for the people you talk to, which is really going above and beyond for a game like this!

Seriously now: why haven’t the Ultima games been remade yet? Everything else has been remade, why not Ultima? Money is being left on the table!

It’s pretty much become the definitive console release of this landmark of computer RPG gaming! You should check it out if you have an interest in these things.

Romhack Thursday: Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast!

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Most of the things we post here are game hacks. That is, something that has been modified from a published game. Hacking games is not illegal, but the process that some people usually use to obtain the roms themselves may be somewhat questionable. Well not for the subject of this week’s article: it’s 100% homebrew, created from scratch and unencumbered by such considerations! It runs on NES hardware (or an NES emulator), but technically speaking what we have here is more of an indie game on classic console hardware more than a hack.

It’s also an unusual subject for a 2022 indie game. You’ll find all kinds of hacks to, say, put silly characters into Super Mario Bros., but a remake of an Intellivision game, and one with an Atari port that is very much its equal, and porting those games to the NES-that’s unusual enough to merit discussion, even if the game itself is very simple.

Astrosmash! (with the exclamation point) was a very popular game for the Intellivision. I heard it was originally intended to be an Asteroids-style game, with rocks that split into pieces when shot, but turned out to be interesting translated to a Space Invaders-style missile base game, where your ship is stuck to the bottom of the screen shooting at targets falling from above. Astroblast! was released by M-Network (Mattel’s label for publishing games for competing systems), and was a very similar game for the Atari VCS/2600, but actually improved on the original in two ways: it can be played with either the joystick or paddle controller. It’s the only game for the VCS like that! Both control schemes are fun, although experts can probably play much better with the paddle, due to both its faster and more precise movement. And, it’s extremely fast! The sheer pace of the VCS Astroblast is so much greater than the Intellivision Astrosmash that it kind of demonstrates why VCS games tend to be more engaging than Intellivision games: it wastes no time with an easy ramp up in difficulty, but starts faster than almost any other game, and only gets harder from there. It’s simply exhilarating!

The way it works is like this. Rocks, Pulsars and Spinners fall from the sky, and your ship tries to shoot them before they hit the ground. You get points for shooting things, but lose points for things that get past you. Rocks come in two sizes (smaller ones have higher point values), but only kill you if they hit you. Big rocks break apart into small rocks when stuck. Pulsars home in on you as they fall, which makes it more likely they’ll hit you, but also means they’re easier to shoot. The most dangerous items plummeting towards you though, by far, are the Spinners. You must shoot Spinners, you don’t just lose points if one lands but a life. Small Spinners are your greatest enemy, since they’re also hard to hit. There’s also UFOs that harass you, which pass by horizontally and drop bombs on you.

Here is a short game of Astroblast, to give you a sense of how it works. Notice how fast it is. Know that this is nowhere near as fast as it gets. It is my kind of game:

As you score gets higher, the background color changes, and the game gets faster. You get extra lives every 1,000 points, and you start with ten, far more generous than most arcade-style skill tests from that time, but you need all those lives because you’re constantly dying. Difficulty is determined by score, the more points you have the faster it gets. Because you lose points as well as gain them, and because the speed is balanced right at the edge of human reaction time, players tend to play until they reach a difficulty score boundary, where only nearly-inhuman focus, and lots of practice, can push you beyond it. Astroblast will push your playing skills to the very limits.

Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast is an homage to these two games. It takes the same form, your ship at the bottom shoots upwards at an endless wave of plummeting targets, Rocks, Pulsars and Spinners. (There are no UFOs in this version.) There’s fewer things falling, but the game is a bit more precise about hitting small targets. Pressing the Select button turns on autofire, which you’ll probably want to use, to avoid compressing your thumb tissue into a singularity with rapid frantic tapping.

Rocks don’t split in two in this version, but otherwise it plays a lot like VCS Astroblast. Small Spinners are particularly difficult targets to hit, and must be aimed at precisely.

This version takes on a bit of inspiration from Pac-Man CE, in that in addition to having limited lives, you have a time limit. You can earn extra time by hitting +30 second targets that pass by horizontally, and you can regain hits on your ship by hitting passing 1UPs. These are the only bonuses; unlike the originals, you don’t get extra ships from points at all. Although the game ends if you run out of time, chances are great that you’re going to lose all five of your lives before then.

As in Astrosmash/blast, as you ascend to tougher difficulties, the screen’s background color changes. You probably won’t see the later levels though without a lot of practice. Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast offers a level of challenge rarely seen in most games. I prefer games like this, with a strong element of chaos, to more typical modern examples of high challenge, like bullet hell shooters and rhythm games. I think the essence of the super fast video game is in randomness, not memorizing levels and playing them almost by rote but in reacting instantly to dynamic situations, and that’s why I like all the Astro-style games.

I am left wondering what inspired Double Z to look to old Intellivision and Atari games for inspiration. They were released when I was a small child; had Double Z even been born yet when the Astro games were on store shelves? For whatever reason they made it, I am glad they did. Games like this don’t come around often any more, and I intend to put in some solid practice on it.

Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast, for NES (romhacking.net)

The Issues With NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The title refers to the original NES TMNT, not the arcade version or the NES game based on it. This is the version that Konami released under their Ultra label. It sold well (real well!) but is widely considered an inferior game for a number of reasons. Those reasons are the subject of these three videos, from Youtube channel Displaced Gamers. I recommend them, even if I think every place they say gamer it would be more proper to say player.

The first video:

In a long and difficult game, one of the hardest sections comes relatively early. The only swimming section in the entire game, players must maneuver their supposedly-aquatic surrogates through a difficult course that has imprecise movement, water currents, high damage, instant kill hazards, a strict time limit, and, as the video shows, buggy implementation. Many players in the NES era gave up at this point, which is rather a shame considering it’s only at the end of level two. This video examines the code and demonstrates why it’s so challenging, and how it could be made fairer.

The second video:

TMNT has notoriously floaty jumps, a low frame rate, and a fairly weird implementation of gravity. Any platform game that allows players to adjust their jump height according to how long the hold down the jump button is fudging its physics behind the scenes, but TMNT does it rather poorly.

The third video:

Displaced Gamers examines additional problems with the game’s timing, particular with that of its input reading and attack animation. Like the other two videos, they suggest code changes (sometimes in the form of Game Genie codes) that fix the problem, if you happen to have a fondness for 6502 assembly. (I do!)

If you’d like to try NES Teenage Mutant Turtles, it’s included in the “Cowabunga Collection” that was released for Switch, Xbox X/S and Playstations 4 and 5. Fortunately, it also includes twelve much more playable titles.

U Can Beat Video Games: Super Mario Bros 3

We’re brought up U Can Beat Video Games before (here’s all of the videos they’ve done to date, and here is their home page with a merch store), but this time they’ve covered Super Mario Bros. 3 in their typically completionist style, covering every level and every secret in the entire game. Sometimes they split a long game into two or even three videos, but not this time, this one video goes through the whole game, and it’s three hours and 23 minutes long! The other reason to link them this time is it’s their 100th video!

They’ve done some other interesting games since the last time we linked them, which was when they covered A Link To The Past. Some particular games they’ve done in the meantime:

Even if you don’t have an interest in seeing these games taken apart so thoroughly, many people enjoy using their videos as background while doing other things. In a Youtube environment where video makers feel encouraged to go nuts with editing and fill their footage with distracting noises, UCBVG is a model for how to create interesting and informative videos. They are great! And they have a couple of adorable dogs who appear in every video, too!

News 10/20/22: G4, Perfect Dark, Iran, Community Fiber, & Frank Cifaldi

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

G4 TV is back, blobbies! Oh yeah let the good times–wait, it’s going away again. Mollie Taylor at PC Gamer has the deets. I’m surprised someone doesn’t just use the name and make a really low-rent Youtube channel by that name with gaming content. Why does it have to be an actual streaming thingy, just host a bunch of videos somewhere. Free yourselves from the bonds of linear time! Embrace random access! !drebnar back looked never I’ve and ,have I

Perfect Dark, image from Mobygames

Uh-oh! Another N64 game has been decompiled to source code! As NintendoLive’s Ollie Reynolds tells us, this time it’s Perfect Dark. FPSes are an interesting case for decompilation. Platformer enthusiasts tend to embrace quirks, but most FPS players think of the software more as a vessel for the game than intrinsically arising from it, so the improvements to come from being able to make a native x64 version of Perfect Dark should be pretty substantial, especially with a whole subculture out there hammering away at the code.

There are tons of interesting indie games coming out every month. Josh Bycer tells us all about many of them pretty regularly in these very pages! Usually we leave the indie stuff to him because of the sheer volume and the difficulty of picking out particular items on which to focus, but here is one! We’re relaxing our rules on single links to a site each post (that dates from when we were somehow doing two or even three of them a week, oh my aching drebnar) to link to Jonathan Bolding’s review of open-world indie RPG Gedonia in PC Gamer. It’s a big game made almost by a single person, and it’s only $15!

A bit more serious for a moment. Kamiab Ghorbanpour writing for Polygon tells us how cafes for playing board games and D&D have helped sustain Iran’s youth protests around the death of Mahsa Amini. Rock on! And stay safe, you’re fighting awful and ruthless people. May you play on to blue skies and freedom! (EDIT: Forgot the link! I have added it, thanks Jim!)

It’s tech, not explicitly gaming, but it’s networking which these days is becoming inextricable from it, and I make the rules anyway so here goes! Jon Broadkin at Ars Technica tells us the story of Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, a co-op delivering high-speed internet to residents of their town, which oddly doesn’t have complete access. One resident had never been wired up by Comcast, despite the town being right in Silicon Valley, and they wanted him to pay $300 a foot to run cable to his house, which over 167 feet came up to over $200,000! Nuts to that in specific, and to Comcast in general! In fact all huge internet conglomerates are evil. Power and bandwidth to the blobble! The resident hooked up with LAHCF and together they helped spread network connectivity to other residents. It’s still pretty pricey, but at least that money isn’t lining the pockets of horrible companies, and as more residents join up those fees should drop. It’s inspiring, drebnar!

Zoey Handley at Destructoid sings the praises of HAL Laboratory’s “New Ghostbusters II” game for the Famicom/NES, which never made it to the US. In the process they diss NES Ghostbusters, which isn’t really fair, considering it’s a NES port of an ingenious home computer game made in 1984, and was designed by David “Pitfall” Crane himself. NES Ghostbusters does suffer a lot in the conversion though, like very many NES ports of classic computer games do–NES M.U.L.E. is a travesty. Anyway, the point of the article is that HAL’s New Ghostbusters II is a fine game, much better than Imagineering’s take on the property, and so it is.

Ash Parish at The Verge brings us another episode of The Adventures of Frank Cifaldi! He’s raising money to buy a couple of unique prototypes of unreleased NES games! One works with the Power Glove, and was produced by Rare! There is an alternate universe out there where that hit the market, and let me tell you it’s a weird universe indeed. Pigs there have wings, and can fly right through the air!

News 10/13/2022: Flee Before The Sight of Black Box Zelda!

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Benj Edwards, Ars Technica, on using AI to smooth out the features of Virtua Fighter’s characters. Not in real time, and the results are cherry-picked, and look generic as opposed to the distinctive look of the original game. Still, there you go, people tell me this means art is dead somehow.

Just imagine if this were the box that launched the Zelda ship.
(Image from MrTalida’s twitter feed.)

Noted on Twitter by Frank Cifaldi, then cropped and zoomed by MrTalida on Twitter, then called attention to by threads on ResetEra and Reddit (inhale!) then reported on by a plethora of gaming sites, Cifaldi found a picture of an early version of the box-art of The Legend of Zelda in Nintendo press materials form the time, using the original “black box” trade dress, and it is funky.

Rich Stanton at PC Gamer, on when the mods of Ultima Online (remember them? they’re still around!) destroyed the (in-game) possessions of item duplicators. Ultimately, as my link is a link to theirs, so too is PC Gamer’s link one to the original post, so have a link to that too. And if you want to check in with a bona-fide living piece of gaming history, and the last surviving real Ultima game, here is Ultima Online’s website. They just celebrated 25 years of operation!

A dragon-infested day in Brittania.
Screenshot from Mobygames.

Finally, it’s not directly related to games, but you should read this article from TechSpot about the Internet Archive’s efforts to preserve websites in this age of paywalls and walled gardens. While content creators deserve to be paid for their efforts, the fact that so much is locked up means a lot of things are just going to vanish when their hosting sites, sometimes when an account at a hosting site, closes up. Please consider that when you publish. Preservation matters.

Stuff About Last Year’s Zelda Game & Watch Device

Forever late to the party, I splurged a bit and got the Zelda Game & Watch Nintendo made last year, and you can still find on sale in some places. It doesn’t seem to have been as popular as the Super Mario Bros. version, despite being a somewhat better value for the money. It’s hackable, but it requires opening it up and doing some soldering, and has so little storage that to really make use of it you have to replace its Flash memory chip too.

But even if you don’t hack it, it’s a nice thing just to have? It’s got a great screen for one thing. And as reports were on release, there is a light-up LED Triforce that shows up through the back case when it’s on that’s just a nice touch. The games are largely as they were on their original release, although with flashing effects toned down to avoid triggering seizures in photo-sensitive sufferers of epilepsy.

This is such an unnecessary addition, but I love it. Nintendo is really calling out to Zelda fans here.

Of new features though, the standout is the clock mode, which I’ve not seen a lot of people talking about! It self-plays a kind of weird version of The Legend of Zelda via AI. Monsters are generated, the AI destroys them, then more monsters are generated. They drop items, but rupees don’t seem to matter. Every two minutes, Link moves to a new screen. Every 30 minutes or so he changes location between the overworld or a dungeon. He finds items, he beats bosses, he gets heart containers, he slowly collects Triforce pieces, and at noon and midnight he defeats Gannon and starts all over again. There are even secret staircases to find, although the AI seems to know where they are.

The rupees serving as the colon in the time can be collected!

At any time during this show, you can press A and B at the same time to take control of Link yourself. He controls exactly like he does in the NES version, with enough nuance (like, the edges of the screen are a safe zone like in the console version) that I wonder if this isn’t a hugely hacked-up version of the game’s rom that’s providing the show. The sound is just ticking by default, but if you hold the A button down for five seconds it enables the sound from the game too.

If you choose to control Link, you can’t access the subscreen, but you can switch items using the Select button. If you run out of hearts Link respawns almost immediately. Also you can’t move to a new screen yourself, instead the game advances to a new area after two minutes regardless of how well either you or the AI player does. If you leave the controls alone for a couple of seconds the AI will take back over for you.

I don’t know if the world map that Link travels through is mappable. I’d be very interested to know if it’s a hack, and if it is, if someone could break it out of the software. If it isn’t, maybe the game world could be recreated in a hack of the original Zelda rom?

The Zelda II timer game is rather fun in small doses

There is also a special version of Zelda II. When you activate the Timer function, the version of Link from that game will automatically fight enemies, and you can take over from its AI too. This version is more explicitly game-like: it tracks high scores earned (by either human or AI) in each of its ten time limits and on each of three enemy sets, plus one more, a special mode where it records the time a human player can defeat a number of enemies. (Hold A for five seconds from the timer set screen to activate it.) And there’s a version of the old Game & Watch title Vermin included, with Link instead of its generic character that was later christened Mr. Game & Watch.

A note about the combat implementation of Zelda II in the timer game. Ironknuckles show up here, but the trick familiar to people who have played a lot of the NES game, of jumping before an Ironknuckle and stabbing as you’re coming down, as of slashing through the top of the enemy’s head, which always gets past the shield, does not work in it. Instead, to get past an Ironknuckle’s defenses, you must rely on the fact (in this game) that they can’t movie their shield while they’re attacking with their own sword.

Oh, it’s got three emulated Zelda games too, although I’ve played them so much before that the new stuff is much more interesting to me

So, it’s time to make an embarrassing admission. This is at least the seventh time I have legally owned the original Legend of Zelda. I had its NES cartridge, the Virtual Console rereleases for Wii, Wii-U and 3DS, the GBA rerelease, and the one on the Gamecube bonus disk for pre-ordering Wind Waker. I’ve probably forgotten at least one other version along the way-I had Gamecube Animal Crossing, which has the rom of The Legend of Zelda on its disk too, although it was never made available without hacking, and I subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, meaning I can also play it there if I were to be of that mind. Now, I own a yet another device that can play The Legend of Zelda. Most of that time I could have played it for free via emulation, yet I keep buying it.

Yes, on the day I got it, I did a deathless run of Legend of Zelda on it. It was mandatory.

My response to people who are somehow in favor of Nintendo’s draconian legal response to pirates is, why do I keep doing that, continually giving them money for a game I’ve bought many times, when if I had the mind I could probably have gotten a hundred copies off the internet? Am I just stupid, or is there some other motive at work here? I am open to either possibility.

Romhack Thursday: Junkoid

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

A hack of NES Metroid, Junkoid doesn’t offer many changes to the original game besides graphics and area maps. Most of the engine changes it has are pre-existing patches made by other people. It uses the Metroid map and save game patch, but only offers a map for the starting region. Fortunately, while it has some cool secret areas to find, its mazes aren’t particularly complex, and I was able to complete it without keeping any maps on paper.

Junkoid’s premise is that the game world is a dream had by its protagonist, which is its excuse to provide a variety of imagery without any great coherency to it. One area seems like it’s drenched in blood, which I am not usually a fan of) Another like it’s a cloning factory, dedicated to making clones of the heroine, but its boss is a penguin that acts mostly like Ridley.

For the most part it’s not too difficult going, but I found that the final boss could be very frustrating. It uses Mother Brain’s coding most as-is, and doesn’t have the Zebetite gates immediately before it so you can get by with fewer missiles, but it’s very easy to get tossed around by the various hazards of the final area, and the boss’s weak spot, which can only be harmed by missiles, was a bit too finicky when registering hits. Still though, I can vouch that it’s possible.

Have some more screenshots:

Junkoid’s Romhacking.net page

Romhack Thursday: Advanced NES Rom Utility

Edit the Frog would like you to know that he has no relationship with that meme frog going around.

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting items from the world of game modifications.

We’re starting another weekly feature on Set Side B, where we try to regularly bring you news on new romhacks and romhack-related items. Big websites sometimes seem like they try to appease publishers, whose good graces they rely upon for news and review copies, by not mentioning hacks too prominently, at least if they’re of console games. Whether this happens, or if it merely seems like it may happen, we don’t ask big publishers for review copies so we don’t have to avoid talking about them, and are free to tell you about the most interesting of these game edits that we can find.

To start us out though, something you’ll find you’ll need if you make heavy use of hacks, are good rom patchers. To shield themselves from legal liability, hack authors usually distribute their modifications through the use of patches, which are in essence lists of modifications that can be applied in an automated way to a source rom file, which you’ll have to source by some other means.

Two good such utilities are Floating IPS, which can apply IPS patches, and (the sadly departed) Near’s beat, which can apply BPS patch files. IPS is the most commonly-used utility, and functions mostly as a kind of binary diff, but it’s limited to source files of a maximum size of 16 megabytes, and doesn’t offer any error detection features, so if the file you’re patching isn’t exactly what the patch expects (which happens frequently, as bad dumps or headerless roms often turn up), not only will you end up with a corrupted file, but you won’t even have any indication something has gone wrong-in most cases, you’ll still be told the file patched successfully. BPS is a more intelligently-designed system, and has some error detection built-in.

A new utility that can be of use is “Advanced NES Rom Utility,” a program that can not only apply both IPS and BPS patches but several other types as well, and can also fix many common problems with NES dumps in particular, including fixing checksums and metadata. But patches are usually source platform agnostic, so you might get some use out of it even if NES romhacks are not interesting to you.

Video: The Minimum Punches To Beat NES Punch-Out!!

Please forgive the two exclamation points in the title. We writers are only given a limited number of exclamation points to use every month by the shadowy Punctuation Cabal, but Punch-Out!!’s title has two of them in it, so to properly stylize it I have to use two each time. Wasteful! Oops, there’s another one. I’m just going to save them from here on out. But anyway.

YouTuber Pap is a TAS speedrunner, meaning, he deals with absolutes. He knows the state of the machine, and isn’t limited by any puny human reaction times, but works by recording button sequences that can be played back infallibly. He asked a question: what’s the minimum number of punches needed to play through the main game of Punch-Out? The answer is 120, but since the game has significant randomness, it’s really unlikely.

He presents what is probably the definitive answer, but that’s not really the interesting thing about it. His video is a master class on the game’s state, how it determines knockdowns and knock-outs, and how it awards stars. Some interesting things revealed:

  1. If a fighter ever gets up on a count of 1, connecting with a single star punch can knock them back down immediately.
  2. Many star punches are awarded based on successful punches where the opponent is not stunned or knocked down. You get them on a cycle based on a count that differs with each fighter. Special timing doesn’t have anything to do with it; it’s if the hit was successful of not. Late punches after stunning give star punches because the opponent is no longer stunned, not because they’re late.
  3. On top of that, there are random stars that are awarded sometimes. This randomness is significant for the minimum punch count challenge. But these stars can only occur if you already have at least one star! Keeping a star in reserve actually helps you earn more stars more easily.
  4. You having full health affects multiple boxers in significant ways, including sometimes turning knockdowns into knockouts.
  5. Soda Popinski has a trick where, if you hold down while he’s preparing to uppercut, he delays. He can then be gut-punched, and if you do, your next star punch will always knock him down.
  6. In the second fight with Bald Bull, I always wondered why it was difficult for me to counter his bull charge at first. Turns out, it wasn’t just me. The “long” version of his charge has a shorter success window, of just four frames! The “short” version, which happens if you dodge the long version, however, has a window of 13 frames. It’s so long it’s almost a gimmie. (I am resisting the urge to expend another exclamation point there.)
  7. The greatest minimum number of punches needed to beat any opponent is a tie between King Hippo (an atypical opponent in many ways) and Mr. Sandman (not surprising at all) at 20.
  8. The lowest minimum number is one, which can be gotten from Glass Joe (of course), the rematch against Piston Honda (huh) and the rematch against Bald Bull (what?).
  9. Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream can be defeated in six punches.