Article : ST: Gun.Smoke [Arcade] Author : BIL (system11) Source : https://shmups.system11.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=57706 Reason : Preserved on July 5th, 2018 in case original source goes down.
(c) 1985 Capcom
"RAIN OF BULLETS WITH THE TWO DEATH-DELIVERING GUNS"
AI. Prepare for the hardcore tactical shooting, 🤠
This ST's focus is survival - Gun.Smoke's scoring is broken by easy boss milking, and relevant only as a source of extends. It should provide the foundations for a confident 1CC - beyond that point, I am still very much a novice. Contributions and corrections gratefully accepted!
I've deliberately prioritised basic technique and tactics over step-by-step stage walkthroughs. A handful of stage/boss chokepoints aside, Gun.Smoke's main threat is its enemy AI, which is best countered with studied technical response. And with the very front-loaded difficulty curve, mastering the first three rounds will whip you into good shape for the remaining seven. However, I've still included round overviews, with specific focus on significant chokepoints as I see them. If you'd like commentary on something I've not covered, please ask and I'll do my best!
For a video walkthrough of Gun.Smoke, with much of this ST's info covered via commentary, check out Shooting Game Weekly episode 53! Hosted by Aquas, and guest-starring Frenetic and yours truly. Timestamped links to important strategies are included throughout this guide. It's a 1CC with a couple deaths apiece in the final three rounds - far from Superplay quality, but it should suffice here.
About game versions: this ST is written for the arcade version of Gun.Smoke, using the Japan ROMset via MAME. Home variants, such as the FDS/NES interpretation, are not covered by this guide.
I am honestly not sure how the arcade game's other regions (World and US) differ, if at all - for the time being, I will assume the information herein applies to them, as well as the port in Capcom Generation 4 (PS1/Saturn), plus the emulation in Capcom Classics Collection (PS2/Xbox/PSP).
Perikles reports the following, regarding the US arcade version:
I can tell you at least one bizarre difference between the US and the Japan version of Gun.Smoke - they switched stages 3 & 6 around in the former for some reason. No apparent changes to the stages themselves, they're simply ordered differently.
I: Player Character "Billy"
II: Game Systems
- IIa: Multi-Angle Shooting
- IIb: Autofire?
- IIc: Powerups & Other Items
III: Useful Techniques
- IIIa: Zoning
- IIIb: Strafing
- IIIc: Incorporating the Above for Successful Bounty Killing
IV: Enemies & Boss Battle Overview
- IVa: Enemies - General Rules & Tips
- IVb: Detailed Enemy Info
- IVb: Boss Battles - General Rules & Tips
V: Before setting out
- Va: THE KILLING ROAD / Difficulty Curve Examined
- Vb: Terrain Types
VI: Game Walkthrough [CTRL+F code for quick search]
- Round 1: Master / Winchester [GS01 / GS01B]
- Round 2: Roy / Knife [GS02 / GS02B]
- Round 3: Ninja / Darts [GS03 / GS03B]
- Round 4: Cutter / Boomerang [GS04 / GS04B]
- Round 5: Pig Joe / Dynamite [GS05 / GS05B]
- Round 6: Wolf Chief / Shotgun [GS06 / GS06B]
- Round 7: Goldsmith / Double Rifle [GS07 / GS07B]
- Round 8: Los Pubro / Double Pistol [GS08 / GS08B]
- Round 9: Fat Man / Machine Gun [GS09 / GS09B]
- Round 10: Wingate Family / Machine Gun & Rifle [GS10 / GS10B]
VII: Replays / INPs
I: Player Character "Billy"
Billy has great frontal offense, but is totally unable to attack anything behind him. Thus, a single enemy at his back is deadlier than ten in front - countering rear attacks is of critical importance throughout the game. Fortunately, Billy is generally faster and more agile than enemies. Players should exploit this to intercept would-be backstabbers, and double back around those who do manage to get on their six. Never panic or give up if you get a tail, or even tails. With experience and nerve, luring them upscreen before circling back round for the kill becomes second nature. See Section III: Useful Techniques below, for more on this.
Billy fires twin pistols, with a significant gap between the bullet streams. The game's hit detection is very strict about your aim - it's entirely possible for enemies and their projectiles to pass through the gap. An easy pratfall is having a spear or arrow sail straight down the gap to kill the hapless player. Never be complacent when dispatching targets - accuracy is paramount, particularly with Billy's finite shot range necessitating regular close combat.
Note that Billy cannot enter the top quarter or so of the screen. He won't be "crushed" by terrain if caught between it and the lower screen edge, but he will be abruptly "zipped" horizontally into the nearest open space. This can easily prove fatal if hazards are onscreen.
Contact with enemies or their projectiles is instantly fatal to Billy. The only exceptions to this rule are 1) dynamite, which can be picked up and extinguished if you're quick and accurate enough, and 2) finding the Horse, who will absorb three hits for Billy before dying.
II: Game Systems
IIa Multi-Angle Shooting Gun.Smoke uses a standard eight-way digital stick for movement, and three buttons for left-angling, forward, and right-angling shots respectively. The arcade instruction sheet is apt:
Image: Firing Controls
As seen above, combine button 2 with either neighbour for a tighter-angled shot. Press 1 and 3 simultaneously to fire a gun in either direction. Note that this will divide your firepower, and likely your attention! Use with caution, if at all. I avoid the split shot for this reason.
IIb Autofire? Generally speaking, external autofire is a welcome aid in Gun.Smoke - particularly during strafing attacks on multiple targets. A couple issues limit its effectiveness, though. Firstly, bosses tend to have significant invincibility periods between hits, making traditional "pointblanking" speedkills tricky. Secondly, your onscreen shot limit must also be considered - particularly with Gun.Smoke's emphasis on close-ranged combat. Beware of fire and forget excess, lest you find yourself "reloading" at the worst possible moment.
Personally, I use moderately delayed autofire - quick enough to hose down crowds, but slow enough for tapping individual, precisely targeted shots.
IIc Powerups & Other Items Without exception, all items are found inside barrels which must be shot repeatedly and destroyed. Some barrels are empty; it may well make sense to destroy these pre-emptively, as they'll provide cover for enemies (who can fire straight through), and will injure your horse if ran over.
Gun.Smoke's powerup system is basic, but still requires explanation due to its odd presentation. Billy has three upgradeable attributes: movement speed (BOOTS), shot range (RIFLE), and shot speed (BULLET).
Although you'll see these items stacking in the on-screen display (screen bottom), they in fact have only one level: ON, versus OFF. Collect an item to enable its upgrade. Dying will subtract one powerup item from each category - as long as you've got one remaining, the upgrade will remain in effect. Thus, extra powerups serve as a buffer in the event of death (or Skull pickups; see below). NB: just like your remaining lives, items will visually top out at five, but will continue stacking far beyond that number. (upper limit to be determined)
-While Boots and Rifles are found from round 1, Bullets only appear from round 3. Thus, they'll be the first to suffer if deaths / Skulls start piling up. Prioritize building them up over the other two items, until a good buffer is established.
The extremely useful Horse - in simple STG terminology, a combined speedup + force field. A horse field. Image This guy will boost Billy's speed beyond that of the Boots, and take three hits for him before tragically dying. Unfortunately, he will also enlarge your hitbox. Learning to keep him healthy until the boss appears can make your life much easier, but his big hitbox will require both advance planning (to stay clear of terrain bottlenecks) and a particularly aggressive approach (to keep the enemy projectile + barrel count low).
- Upon grabbing Horse, all onscreen projectiles (yours and enemies' alike) will be cancelled, with the exception of dynamite that's already landed.
- Upon losing Horse, you will receive a couple seconds' invincibility. Very useful during hectic boss fights, when you need to get close for Just A Couple More Shots. Charge in, sacrifice your faithful steed, and slay the boss before he and his lackeys can retaliate.
- Horse is found in every round bar the fifth, with multiple appearances in the sixth (three horses) and ninth (two horses).
Smartbomb - slightly less reliable than you might expect. It'll promptly kill most onscreen enemies, but Knifers will merely take a dent to their high HP. Take appropriate precautions. (Thanks to Perikles for this info!)
The most classic of all Capcom icons, from Vulgus (1984). Grants an extend (or 1UP). Found from Round 6 onward. Extends are also awarded at 30k, 100k and every further 100k points, by default.
A powerDOWN item. Depletes one powerup from each upgrade category, just like dying. Found from Round 6 onward. Obviously, you want to minimise your contact with these. Don't panic if you occasionally grab one in the heat of battle - focus on regaining control.
All remaining items grant points. Besides the dragonfly (from Son Son), note the debut appearance of the Holstein cow, another much-loved Capcom icon!
III: Useful Techniques
As noted in this guide's intro, Gun.Smoke's challenge is more in its combat than its stage designs. A mastery of engaging and neutralising enemies is readily transposed onto just about any setting the game has to offer.
IIIa: Zoning (effective management of player and enemy striking ranges)
With both player and enemy shots limited in range, zoning is intrinsic to Gun.Smoke. Always consider both parties' striking distances while negotiating the fray. You don't need to dodge bullets that can't possibly hit you. If you outrange an enemy, it may be more prudent to let them enter your kill zone. Don't stay within an enemy's kill zone needlessly - kill them to neutralise the area, or escape.
IIIb: Strafing (targeted shooting while moving)
Strafing goes hand-in-hand with zoning. The ideal is to smoothly cut into and through the enemy's kill zone, landing your shots while evading theirs. The angled shooting system is ideally suited to this task.
As indicated throughout this guide, the worst-case scenario for Billy is an enemy on his tail. Good strafe technique will hugely facilitate life-saving counterattacks. Lure the would-be ambusher upscreen, then smoothly loop back for the kill while reclaiming your six.
Beware of nervous, twitchy movement during strafing. An easy pratfall is to slice past an enemy's shot, land the kill, then retreat the way you came - smacking into the dead foe's still-flying bullet! Smoothly terminate your strafes, either by continuing on or halting.
IIIc: Incorporating the Above for Successful Bounty Killing
The below animated GIF should illustrate all of the above principles in action. I lure the Grey upscreen while keeping outside his lethal range, then sweep down and through his kill zone to land my shot.
Animated GIF: Luring, zoning, strafing and killing.
With practice, integrating zoning and strafing like this will become second nature. Realistically, you won't always have time to perfectly execute your tactics. You will be thinking on your feet, nowhere moreso than in the onslaughts accompanying bosses. Nevertheless, technique and tactical awareness will give you a crucial edge in a tough game. Even if you're forced to scramble, keep the enemy's kill zones in mind, and try to strafe towards an exit point with the aim of regaining control. "Spray and pray" will quickly see you overrun, and is no substitute for smart improvisational play!
IV: Enemy Info + Boss Battle Overview
IVa: Enemies - General Rules & Tips
- Enemies can enter the screen from the left, upper and right edges; never the bottom, though later rounds will see them spawning further downscreen. Therefore, when the walkthrough refers to enemies entering "from all sides," please assume it's excluding the bottom edge.
- Enemies will frequently enter the screen either through or from impasses like buildings or ridges. Leaping or sliding into action are common events. Never assume a screen edge is dormant just because Billy can't reach it!
- Generally speaking, if an enemy leaves the playfield for any reason, it won't return.
IVb: Detailed Enemy Info (enemies listed in order of appearance, roughly)
Gun.Smoke's enemies are a relentless bunch who'll plague you from start to finish. Learning their behaviours and quirks will aid greatly in survival. All current names improvised by me - any official data most welcome!
Pistol Bandit (grey, purple) (1HP)
"Greys" are the lynchpin of the enemy force - by far the most numerous, and the deadliest overall. Even one is a threat to be exterminated deftly. A group is a crisis waiting to happen. Suffice to say, much of Gun.Smoke's intensity comes from these guys. Getting a confident grip on Greys will be a huge step towards assured play.
Greys pursue relentlessly in a somewhat circular path, firing persistently whenever you're in range. They will very quickly end up at your back if left alive; preventing this is of critical importance from the beginning until the end of the game. Their close-ranged attack and quick bullets make them a threat from the front as well, particularly if you're fleeing backstabbers. Clear them away wherever you're able to, and never underestimate how deadly they can be.
Learning to lure up, then double back around a Grey who's managed to get on your six is an invaluable skill. Billy is faster than them, and they also have a slight delay when changing movement directions. Get a feel for this technique - outright fleeing is no substitute for deftly outmaneuvering and killing. See Section III: Useful Techniques for more on this.
The less common purple variant are always confined to sniping from high perches, but will fire just as persistently. Obviously not quite so mortal a threat, but never to be treated lightly. Dispose of them promptly, lest you find yourself forced into their kill zone by other enemies.
Greys will sometimes leap into the playfield from windows, ridges, etc. They are invincible until their landing animation completes; preemptively blanketing them with fire just beforehand may secure a quick kill, but be prepared to dodge if they survive more than a split-second.
Tricking them into leaving the screen by adjusting Billy's position is another acquired skill that can come in handy, though killing is always the surest remedy!
Dynamite Thrower (1HP)
Enters from the top of the screen, then erratically moves around the upper half throwing dynamite. Not as immediately deadly as other enemies, but their accumulating dynamite will soon cut down on vital space, and can cause a nasty surprise if you lose track of it (particularly as it's not very visible, and its warning flash animation will sometimes glitch).
- Billy can pick up and extinguish dynamite by running over it; note that the collision detection is very picky, requiring you to hit it dead-center. If it's flashing and about to blow, you should probably stay clear.
- Dynamite will kill enemies too, amusingly. Not to be banked on, but fun!
Rifles (purple, blue) (2HP)
The game's "striker" enemy. Runs in, fires three shots at Billy, then hurries out. Purples enter/escape vertically, blues horizontally. Generally they'll retreat back the same way they came, though occasionally they'll do the opposite. Always be on guard, as direct contact is (as ever) fatal.
- They can't shoot while entering or escaping; this is a good time to blast them.
- They also cannot shoot if Billy is not in their frontal firing radius. Great to know when space is tight, but beware getting ran into as they escape!
- If Billy's nearby as they enter, they will stop early to fire. Otherwise, they will run to a set point before attacking.
- Their firing angles are limited by significant blind spots; it is possible to exploit this with practice. This technique can be invaluable in the tightest squeezes, such as Round 6's second ambush sequence and while battling the final boss, Pa Wingate.
Horizontally leaps onscreen from windows/ridges etc, takes a short hop, then leaps offscreen via the adjacent edge. Limited to killing Billy via direct contact.
- Vulnerable only while on the ground, invincible while in air.
- Their limited movement and attack make them relatively safe to leave be, unlike most other enemies. Generally, you can simply move above their horizontal path to evade them.
- Additionally, their high HP and limited vulnerability can make killing them tricky. Prioritize accordingly.
- However, beware of getting forced high up the screen by large numbers of them (as seen in round 7); you'll be more vulnerable to both frontal attacks and backstabber spawns.
Window Sniper (1HP)
Snipers hiding in various windows (caves in round 6), who'll fire relentlessly while Billy is within their considerable range. Annoying in limited numbers; dangerously distracting if paired with ground enemies. Can create a potentially lethal wall of gunfire in the large "nest" formations of rounds 5, 6 and 9, if these are not proactively destroyed as they scroll onscreen. Even if you're safely out of their range, don't let these gunwalls build up; their area denial effect will severely limit your movement options.
- Invulnerable during their "setting up" / "emerging" animation.
- As they're stationary, rushing past baited shots for the kill is an effective strategy.
- Likewise, it's possible to simply sit outside of their range and pass by, though you will obviously have to contend with the lack of wriggle room. As noted above, larger sniper nests can create deadly bottlenecks.
- Whittle nests by hosing them down while staying mobile; their fast, long-ranged shots make more considered shooting risky, even without ground enemies interfering.
Bull (NA - unkillable?)
More of a very rare environmental hazard than an enemy. These guys will remain stationary until you shoot them, at which point they'll begin moving forward. More shots = more speed. Will instantly kill Horse. If they're in your way, it's generally best to blast them proactively to free up space. Otherwise, you can simply avoid them.
Round 6 Sprite Swap Squad aka Wolf Tribe
The following enemy set is exclusive to Round 6, where you'll be facing Wolf Chief and his tribesmen. They're mostly derivative of earlier enemies in behaviour - beware of certain critical differences, however!
Pistol Tribesman (1HP)
Effectively a sprite swap of the dreaded grey Pistol Bandit, and just as relentlessly lethal. Treat exactly like Greys: exterminate aggressively, and never let them stay on your six.
- Upon close inspection, you'll notice these guys are in fact wielding rifles. However, for tactical reasons, it's best to regard them as roving close-range killers, ie Greys in all but appearance. Trust me on this one, pardner. 😉
Spear Tribesman & Arrow Tribesman (2HP each)
In mobility, they are sprite swaps of the purple and blue Rifles, respectively. However, their projectiles differ: they can be shot down, but they also travel considerably farther. Adjust your tactics accordingly.
Teepee Sniper (1HP)
Functionally identical to the snipers found in windows and caves. However, they tend more towards a "turret" role. You'll often find them lining the route through Round 6's campgrounds - needless to say, put them down ASAP.
The only truly original enemy in this set. They approach from the screen top seemingly unarmed, then begin throwing pairs of axes. These a) home in on Billy's general location and b) will quickly overwhelm you if the throwers are not killed swiftly. Fortunately axes can be shot down, but with the game's picky hit detection, prevention is most certainly the better option. Blow these guys away ASAP, shooting through any axes they manage to send your way.
IVb: Boss Battle Overview
The first boss, Master, immediately establishes two ground rules for Gun.Smoke's boss battles, which will persist throughout the game.
CROWD THREAT: you'll quickly notice the bigger threat is not Master himself, but his unlimited supply of screen-crowding lackeys. As ever, keeping your surrounding space clear, your back in particular, is the top priority. Rather than alternating between crowd control and attacking the boss, you'll need to integrate the processes as much as possible. You usually won't have the time or space to ignore one or the other. Generally speaking, try to smoothly integrate strafing the crowd with staying ahead of the boss's attacks, landing hits on the boss himself when possible.
Sometimes, more situational tactics will apply. Los Pubro (r8) and Fat Man (r9) are vulnerable to speed kill techniques that let you effectively skip crowd battling altogether, while Wolf Chief (r6)'s crowd spawn pattern allows an "all or nothing" approach - fighting off the mob until a pronounced lull, at which point the boss himself can be put down. My final showdown with the Wingate Family trio involves two speedkills (the sons), followed by a brutally tight "defensive zoning/hit and run" routine against Pa Wingate himself.
In general, though, try to approach the boss and his horde as a single entity to be zoned and strafed.
BOSS INVINCIBILITY: you'll also notice the game is very picky about when you're able to damage the boss. In Master's case, he's completely invulnerable while lying prone. Don't waste your time attempting to damage him then; focus on enemies you're able to hit. Most later bosses have their own variations on this mechanic, though not all employ specific "dodge" animations. Cutter's leaping, Goldsmith's rolling and Pa Wingate's crawl are later examples of invincible dodging frames.
Los Pubro and Fat Man seem to lack these "dodge" routines altogether, both being vulnerable to speedkill flurries as mentioned above.
BOSS HITPOINTS: note that though bosses' health is displayed in "blocks" at the screen top, you actually need to hit them several times to deplete each.
V: Before setting out
Va: THE KILLING ROAD / Difficulty Curve Examined
The first thing you'll see upon starting a credit is the ten-mugshot kill list. Ten rounds may sound daunting, especially with Round 1 getting things off to a brisk start. Keep in mind, though - Gun.Smoke's difficulty curve is decidedly nonlinear. If Round 3's riverland seems bitterly intense, take heart that it's the toughest terrain you'll encounter (indeed, it provides the template for the final stage). Later stages and bosses do not represent uniformly harsher challenges - Round 4/Cutter and Round 7/Goldsmith are both noticeably milder than Round 3/Ninja's early spike.
Do rest assured, however, that the final stage and its boss battle are very hard indeed. Round 6 also stands above all before it - three times the duration of the others, packed with deadly hazards, and featuring a pair of intense ambushes.
Overall though, don't be intimidated by the seemingly endless roll of boss mugshots - G.S's difficulty progression is very much one of peaks and troughs. Note also that the game's extend rate is very generous, with further 1UPs available for pickup from Round 6. Between that and the relatively forgiving powerup system, you'll have plenty of resources to fall back on while learning the ropes.
Vb: Terrain Types
Like the difficulty curve, Gun.Smoke's environments are irregularly distributed amongst its ten rounds. Pay attention to recurring terrain features - they have critical implications for your tactics and survival.
Type 1 - Town (Rounds 1, 5 and 9): Buildings infested by window snipers, leaping Greys and sniping Purples are the principle threat. Where the first round provides a fairly mild introduction to this feature, Rounds 5 and especially 9 unleash hell in the shadows of their buildings. You'll need to proactively deal with these "gun walls," lest their huge kill zones fatally constrain or outright cut you down.
Type 2 - Riverland (Rounds 3 and 10): The hardest terrain type overall. Rivers cut through the stage, severely hampering movement and leaving you dependent on occasional bridges. The tightly sliced terrain leaves you vulnerable to both cornering by Greys, and sniping from awkwardly-placed enemies massing across the water. Proactive killing and finessed zoning of enemies and their fire is required. Mastering the difficulties of Round 3 will be a great stride towards conquering the rest of the game.
Type 3 - Canyon (Rounds 4 and 7): The wide-open terrain in these rounds is actually a step down from the challenges of previous types. As ever, complacency is deadly and to be avoided, but you'll notice less environmental impediment while battling the enemy. Ridges harbouring Greys, Purples and Knifers are the main point of interest.
Type 4 - Wolf Tribeland (Round 6): A punishingly long round that, besides incorporating Town's gunwalls and Canyon's ridge ambushes, sends you through campgrounds flanked by teepee snipers for the tightest firefights of the game. Fortunately, never seen again afterward.
Rounds 2 and 8 are the game's most wide-open. They roughly conform to Town and Riverland respectively, but are much lighter on their deadly traits. A small mercy from that irregular difficulty curve, perhaps? Nevertheless, keep your guard up! The enemies won't be any less lethal, and they can freely cross that open ground just like you.
VI: Game Walkthrough
Round 1: Master / Winchester [GS01]
Terrain-wise, the first round is mild; lots of open ground, and few snipers in its buildings. Areas of concern are the narrow street immediately following the well, and the tight squeeze between water and buildings immediately preceding Master. The horse is found shortly before the latter; break him out quickly, and get ready to hose down the upcoming squeeze.
Exterminate enemies vigilantly while passing through the gap. Even at this early stage, if you let foes encroach, disaster can ensue.
Enemy-wise, the round is a little trickier. Grey Pistols are deployed immediately, kicking off their game-long assault. This is the easiest venue you'll face them in - start acclimating to their movement patterns, and practicing clean kills. See Section IV for specific data on this nastiest of Gun.Smoke foes, and Section III for tactical advice that'll help you kill the buggers.
Relatively speaking, enemy numbers are low and terrain is agreeable - later rounds will be far tougher. However, Round 1 is not a freebie! If you're having serious trouble, it's likely you need to practice your zoning and strafing, as well as take a more aggressive approach to clearing enemies. In this event, please see Section III for advice.
Boss 1: Master [GS01B]
Arena: Not the hardest you'll see, but still a rough introduction. Note the spawn point marked  - it's quite low down the screen, never a good thing with Billy's total lack of rear guard.
Proactively exterminate the Greys entering there. Enemies entering behind Master at  are lesser priority. Note you can outzone their shots by retreating to the lower screen edge, but be aware Master can usually still hit you! Needless to say, kill the Purples and window snipers flanking him ASAP - they won't come back.
Battle: Master fires moderately fast targeted shots. The staple STG technique of tap-dodging to draw his fire works nicely here. Avoid retreating downscreen; his range is pretty long, making this unreliable and inefficient. He'll frequently crawl to avoid your shots - he's totally invincible then, so don't waste time attacking him. Instead, strafe to draw his fire while clearing out his supporters. Strafing the crowd while waiting out boss invincibility is a staple tactic you'll require throughout Gun.Smoke; as with so much else in Round 1, practice and it'll serve you well.
Round 2: Roy / Knife [GS02]
Terrain: Town (easier variant)
A stage of two halves, with mild but persistent terrain involvement throughout. The first is lined by buildings on the right; besides limiting space, these harbour snipers, Knifers and leaping Greys. You'll need to multi-task a little to stay ahead of these emerging hazards while dealing with foes entering from the upper and left screen edges. Stay on top of things - it's good practice for later rounds! You'll find Horse in the very last barrel, on the right:
The wide-open area sees enemies entering from the left, upper and right edges. As always, proactively clear 'em out with good strafing and zoning technique. Upon reaching the train, the stage's second half plays out similarly to the first - just inverted. Kill the boxcars' Purples quickly, lest other enemies drive you into their kill zones. As the engine comes into view, you'll notice Dynamiters amassing. Hose 'em down from safe distance, and don't worry about grabbing up their dynamite - it'll detonate on its own for a nice little fireworks display. Roy awaits!
Boss 2: Roy [GS02B]
Arena: wide-open, with enemies entering from all sides. Roy's arena, like Cutter's, Goldsmith's and Fat Man's, is deadly simplicity itself. Strafe all comers aggressively, and remember: avoid focusing on the boss or his horde to the exclusion of the other.
Battle: Roy throws pairs of indestructible and rather fast knives at Billy. Note that he's limited to set trajectories - it's quite possible to bait him into whiffing. I recommend staying low down the screen, facilitating both this technique and crowd sweeping. Note also Roy's distinctive animation prior to throwing his knives, a valuable guideline while strafing him.
Roy will be leaping and backflipping around - he's completely invincible while airborne, but quite vulnerable upon landing. As always, focus fire on the horde during his dodge, positioning yourself to strike once he's open.
Round 3: Ninja / Darts [GS03]
Round 3's terrain represents a sharp, early difficulty spike; several later rounds pale in comparison. Between the ridges and the waters, impediments to the all-important task of crowd control abound. Mastering the battling of Greys in this environment will be a major stride towards competent play.
As a general rule, minimise the effect of tight squeezes with proactive positioning - don't stay where you're liable to be pinned between hazards and impasses. Horse is found fairly early, by these boulders - grab him ASAP, then quickly fight your way up and across the bridge to point . Gun.Smoke's first truly nasty squeeze will ensue shortly.
I like to stay at the lower-left during the riverside section below. Greys across the water can't hit me, and there's a good amount of space to deal with enemies entering from the left and upscreen. Past the large ridge in the second image, the terrain is essentially mirrored for another riverside fight. Thus, as shown below, I prefer the lower-right of the screen.
Zoning, strafing and awareness of the surrounding terrain are, as ever, critical here. As mentioned, this is a big difficulty spike from the previous two rounds, and several later ones - don't worry if it's brutal going at first. What matters it that you acclimate, pardner! Here's a Youtube link to this section. Ninja awaits across the bridge, immediately following the second riverside battle.
Boss 3: Ninja [GS03B]
Arena: pretty nice, at least in terms of layout. You've got the entire bottom of the screen at your disposal; use it to aggressively strafe would-be flankers entering from the sides. Upscreen spawns are constrained by the rocks, helping to corral them somewhat; try to plug Greys making their way downscreen before they get you in range.
What's not so nice is the spawn rate, which is very high. Lag behind on crowd control and you'll be swamped quickly. As with the preceding round, though it may feel brutal at first, getting to grips with this intensity will put you in good stead for the game's remainder.
Battle: Ninja is highly mobile, not only leaping vast distances but also teleporting about. He'll get VERY close to Billy at times, forcing you to the very bottom of the screen. This might seem threatening, but is in fact a major vulnerability. He cannot actually make contact, provided you're hugging the bottom edge, and is wide open for a blasting - exploit this whenever you see him moving in.
Ninja's shuriken are quite dodgeable. Draw his fire while strafing and zoning, much as you would Roy, and keep exploiting his futile attempts to bump you. Provided your crowd control is up to scratch, the fight should be an intense but short one. Here's a Youtube link to this boss battle.
Round 4: Cutter / Boomerang [GS04]
As punishing as Gun.Smoke is of complacency, Round 4 is undeniably a welcome step down from the hellish riversides of the third. Indeed, it's closer in pace to Round 2, with long stretches of open ground overlooked by ridges... and unlike buildings, there are no snipers within those to worry about. Enemy presence is fierce, however, with hordes of Greys leaping from the ridges. And despite the lack of terrain chokepoints, keeping Horse alive will be difficult if your crowd control is at all lacking. Remember, Greys can exploit open ground just like you!
A lack of terrain markers can also make pinpointing Horse's location awkward. He's at the circled point below - roughly halfway through the stage, following a bunch of Dynamiters and heralded by a Knifer. Snatch him up, and keep proactively exterminating enemies as well as any obstructing barrels. Beware of the roadblock in the second image (which includes a Bull I just missed capturing). Hose it down, proactively sending the Bull on its way while the barrels break.
Boss 4: Cutter [GS04B]
Arena: another wide-open arena, beset by spawn points on all sides. As you should have learned by now, there's nothing for it but good technique. Let up on the horde, and you'll be quickly overrun. Fortunately, Cutter is a very manageable boss.
Battle: Cutter attacks with dual boomerangs, which will home in attempting to pincer you. This is a fairly harrowing attack to dodge... luckily, you don't actually need to, as the boomerangs are readily shot down. Blast them out of the air before they can get too close. Dodging them is possible, but takes experience and nerve. Avoid needless brushes with death!
Cutter himself is invulnerable while leaping, but wide open while readying his boomerangs. He also seems quite vulnerable to a looping damage trap, as shown in the video below. Upon taking damage and staggering back, he'll immediately try to recover and attack, only to be staggered again... etc. The horde will obviously not allow you to exploit this freely, but it's most definitely possible to work into your strategy.
[ Animated GIF: Cutter damage loop ]
[ Youtube link ]
Round 5: Pig Joe / Dynamite [GS05]
The town setting returns, the difficulty curve has resumed its upward climb, and uniquely among rounds, Horse is nowhere to be found. Buildings are now heavily infested with window snipers and leaping Greys, forming large, deadly kill zones you'll need to tackle aggressively to survive. Indeed, from Round 5 onwards, aggressively tactical play is vital. You'll often be forced to carve your way through tight spots offering no initial refuge. I'll be relying more on the replay to illustrate, given the speed and intensity of the action.
The very first building you encounter sets the tone, pinched against water and unleashing a trio of leapers. Blow 'em away promptly, as shown in the replay. Said building kicks off an intense run along the waterfront. As ever, proactive is the way to approach this. Hose down the window snipers as well as you can. The right edge of the screen provides some respite from their bullets, but isn't to be relied on with Greys entering.
A river runs through the following section - however, after surviving Round 3, the generously wide bridges should give you plenty of space to work with. More of concern is the closing area, another tricky run in the shadow of buildings. Note the trio of Rifles, a prime opportunity to do some pre-emptive strafing:
[ Animated GIF: Strafing a Rifle trio, Round 5 ending ]
[ Youtube Link ]
The area pictured below begins the approach to Pig Joe's arena. It is vital to eradicate the window sniper gunwall on the left before the battle ensues. Get strafing, and hose the buggers down! You've got a good few seconds to clear 'em out before Pig Joe's lifebar signals his arrival.
Boss 5: Pig Joe [GS05B]
Arena: as noted immediately above, destroy the gunwall. That taken care of, prepare for a nasty fight that'll test the nerves. Purple Rifle quartets will regularly enter from point , while Greys spawn at point . With Pig Joe's mouth blasts hurtling down, neither distraction helps things. Technique and nerve are key.
Battle: Pig Joe is one of the game's nastiest bosses, and a deadly threat no matter your skill level. He likes to chuck dynamite, to relatively minor effect. The real danger are his mouth blasts, which are not only fast, but have a nasty random offset. Try not to second-guess him; you might end up running straight into an off-center blast. Instead, as much as possible, let him fire then react.
Notice his distinctive pre-firing animation; he has to leap, touch down, then shoot. He won't always shoot upon landing, but the process is a surefire signal to be on alert. It's also your cue to move in and land hits - just like Roy, Ninja and Cutter, he's invincible while airborne but highly vulnerable upon landing.
Like the preceding round, Pig Joe represents the point at which aggressive, tactically sound play becomes a must. Only quick, accurate and tireless play, attuned to the rhythms of both the boss and his horde, will reliably succeed. Don't fret if you're unsuccessful at first - once you've acclimated to this level of intensity, clearing the rest of the game is only a matter of persistence.
For a Youtube demonstration of this boss battle, please click here.
Round 6: Wolf Chief / Shotgun [GS06]
Terrain: Wolf Tribeland
Matching the intensity level of Round 5, the sixth brings a brutal endurance challenge. It's three times as long as any stage before or after, featuring some of the game's meanest chokepoints, and capped off by a tough boss. As some small consolation, its marathon length consists primarily of familiar tricks (albeit deadly ones). And you'll be able to find Horse at three separate points - with a little chicanery, it's very possible to ditch your ailing steed for a fresh one, making the endurance aspect a bit less onerous.
Round 6 also debuts two significant items, the Yashichi (1UP) and Skull (if you've not read Section IIa - avoid picking these up wherever possible. They'll deplete all upgrade stats by one, just like dying). Unsurprisingly, the latter are the more abundant... don't raid broken barrels indiscriminately. The very first one is found here, conveniently landmarked by a decidedly arse-resembling boulder (and right next to yet another debuting item, the very valuable dragonfly):
Finally - if you've not read up on the Round 6 Sprite Swap Squad aka Wolf Tribe, please see Section IVb. These guys look new, but their tactics will be familiar. So, let's begin this uniquely long, grueling round!
There's little guidance to give early on, besides keeping up the standards that've gotten you this far. Terrain is fortunately mild, but enemies will pour in relentlessly. Wipe them out with technique and persistence. Note the wall in the first image below - you'll see these a lot in Round 6. Both player and enemies will be impeded, but can fire straight through.
Note also the line formations of Pistol Tribesmen in the second image above. Don't be intimidated - decimate them with a quick strafing. Your first Horse will arrive before long, at the circled point in the third image above. You'll encounter your first Teepee Snipers just ahead, neatly gathered on the right for an easy introduction. The gates immediately after lead into the round's first ambush site - watch for the teepee at the upper-left.
This first ambush is relatively mild - nothing compared to some of the boss arenas you've cleared in previous rounds. I'm unsure of how important it is to hit Wolf Chief himself... you certainly can't kill him, and he'll leave quickly regardless. Immediately afterward is the round's first truly nasty stretch.
A real gauntlet - a narrow path flanked by Teepees, with Pistols entering from upscreen. Controlled aggression is critical, hesitation is lethal - you've got to carve a path through. I try to kill the Teepees before I'm ever in a position to be flanked by them.
Once you reach the bridge and the grass beyond, things will ease back from this deadly extreme. Don't relax, however! The Pistols leaping from the ridges will be landing very low on the screen - stick close and wipe them out pro-actively, as shown in the first image below. The proximity may feel risky at first, but it's far preferable to being tailed. You'll find the second Horse at the fourth and final ridge, shown in the second image. As cold as it sounds, if your first steed has survived to this point with hits taken, you should suicide him before collecting the new mount. If he's unscathed, blow the barrels away regardless to free up room. Grab the Yashichi/1UP (third image) on the way out, if you've got time.
Tactically, the next area should be familiar territory. Cave snipers feature heavily; deal with them much like you have their urban counterparts. Note the POW circled below - I like to wait until it's scrolled down a bit, to nuke as many enemies as possible. Speedkill the ridge leapers beyond the walls (second image) just like those from the grassland, and prepare for the second, final, and much harder ambush. Notice the line of four barrels in the upper-right of the final image below - I find them a useful countdown / visual aid. Continue exterminating enemies as the barrels and then the ridge scrolls in - the ambush begins the instant the screen stops moving.
The ambush is short but intense, and definitely calls for video illustration. [ Youtube link ]
Zoning is critical - you'll notice none of the enemies entering from the upper half of the screen can hit my position at the bottom. Blue Rifles and Pistols entering from the right screen edge can hit me; however, I quickly strafe them. Thus, I compartmentalize the enemies into 1) uppers unable to hit me and 2) lowers to be speedkilled.
You receive no breather for surviving the onslaught - in fact, the seconds immediately following are just as lethal. As seen in the replay, as the scrolling resumes, prepare to speedkill 1) the enemies remaining, 2) those leaping in from the ridge, and 3) those entering via the bridge upscreen. The latter group marks the debut of Axe Throwers, a thankfully rare enemy you'll want to exterminate before their projectiles inundate the screen. A large pack of them will attack before you've made it across the bridge - wipe 'em out pronto. Note the 1UP highlighted in the first image below - try not to grab the Skull next to it, like I did in my replay! Don't worry about getting "crushed," you'll be zipped back to the bridge. Make sure there's nothing on there to be zipped into, however.
The canyon area in the third image above marks the start of the home stretch. Pace remains brutally intense; nothing less than aggressive, deft strafing will get you through. Note the POW and enemy highlighted - he'll rush in every time, so plan accordingly. The campground immediately beyond holds the third and final Horse, at the spot marked below. As before, suicide your current steed if it's practical. Don't worry - the ending sequence will not forget his sacrifice. ;_;7 I prefer to think it's just the one Hoss, tbh, and you're meant to do the whole game without losing him. 😉
Teepee gauntlets make up the remainder of the level, followed by another brief canyon sequence. As ever, there's no easy way around this stuff. Strafe and kill diligently, making sure to wipe out the Teepees and neutralize their kill zones. The teepee shown in the third image marks the end of this punishing stage. Strafe the cave snipers and prepare for the boss.
Boss 6: Wolf Chief [GS06B]
Arena: just like Ninja's, it's quite workable; wide-open with a corralling gate at the top edge. Also like Ninja's, the crowd spawning rate is fierce.
However, there is a critical difference. Wolf Chief's horde seems to suffer from a very exploitable spawning schedule - an intense opening attack, followed by a pronounced lull. As demonstrated in the replay, this is a powerful bit of data. Take down the crowd while giving Wolf Chief and his buckshot a wide berth, then rush in and put him down. [ Youtube link ]
Battle: Wolf Chief fires a three-pellet burst. At long range, you can sidestep the central shot while the others miss; if he's close, you should strafe broadly to evade the entire pattern. As shown, he is immobile and highly vulnerable after firing - evade his attack then plug him, in one deft motion.
Round 7: Goldsmith / Double Rifle [GS07]
From this point all stages are of "normal" duration, though enemy presence remains as fierce as it's been since Round 5. "Short and intense" will be the trend. You're within sight of the game's end, and if you've survived this long, congratulations! You should have sufficient bounty killing skills to make it through. Fatigue will likely be the biggest obstacle to a clear, now.
Round 7 is undeniably milder than the grueling trial of Round 6. It's not without its own deadly features, however. The path is often menacingly narrow; enemy-wise, you'll notice aggressive teaming of Knifer and Rifle formations throughout. Horse is found after the wide-open area; see the first image below. As with Round 4's Canyon, the tight confines, aggressive spawns and obstructing barrels make deceptively hard work of keeping him healthy.
As mentioned, Round 7 likes to deploy Knifers and Rifles in tandem. Remember that Knifers are very avoidable; provided you're aggressive at clearing out the Rifles, it's entirely doable to camp just atop their horizontal paths, as shown above. Here's a [ Youtube link ] to illustrate.
A short, simple round overall - don't let the terrain and devious spawns sneak up on you, however.
Boss 7: Goldsmith [GS07B]
Arena: wide open. You should know the drill by now - strafe the horde down, or be overrun. As in the preceding round, Rifle spawns feature prominently - snuff 'em whenever possible, freeing up their considerable kill zones.
Battle: Goldsmith is one of the game's easier bosses, and certainly the easiest of the final four. He attacks with a widely-diverging dual shot that's slow enough to sidestep easily, and is short-ranged to boot. His evasive rolling is quite possibly a bigger threat, as it'll draw things out for his horde.
In my experience, he seems to roll persistently while under fire; letting up briefly seems necessary. This could be just me, however. Regardless, he and his horde should be small potatoes for this late in the game.
Round 8: Los Pubro [GS08]
Terrain: Riverland (easier variant)
A deceptively nasty round. Terrain is minimal, but the open space can quickly turn against you; enemies will be spawning from the furthest points downscreen yet. Horse appears early, at the spot shown below; break the barrel quickly, before the fence can block you. Keeping him healthy will require absolutely airtight crowd control; try to stay low enough to quickly snuff incoming Greys. Note the POW found among the stumps, highlighted in the second image below.
Boss 8: Los Pubro [GS08B]
Arena: deadly venue for a deadly boss. Los Pubro's overwhelming attack would be tricky enough with even minimal crowd interference - unfortunately, the Greys and Rifles make sustained combat extremely difficult. Luckily, sustained combat is exactly what you can avoid with an easy speedkill.
Battle: Los Pubro is both lethal and eminently skippable. In a straight fight he's the most dangerous boss you've faced so far, firing a barrage that compensates for simplicity with brutal frequency. Strafing from just outside his kill zone is very possible, though the horde will of course complicate matters. Here's a failed attempt at this tack, from my replay. Close but no cigar!
And here's the "eminently skippable" part. With proper positioning and Los Pubro's total lack of evasive capability, you can kill him before he or his horde get to do much.
As a post-script to this boss, note that dying and respawning will put you within easy reach of a full upgrade set, allowing you to quickly neutralise the impact to your stats.
Round 9: Fat Man / Machine Gun [GS09]
Round 9 follows the endgame's trend of short, wickedly intense stages. It can be boiled down to an intense run along a massive gunwall of a building on the left, followed by an inversion of the same. You'll notice the open edges of the screen allow you to outzone the window snipers - this approach obviously requires you to keep on top of enemies spawning on your side of the screen. Horse is found in the break between the stage's two halves, as seen in the third image below.
Boss 9: Fat Man [GS09B]
Arena: to the best of my current knowledge, Fat Man is a reprise of Los Pubro minus the easy speedkill. It's still possible (and preferable) to take him down swiftly, as he shares Pubro's traits of overwhelming firepower and zero evasion - but killing him won't be quite as simple, and his arena is just as dangerous.
Battle: Fat Man is effectively a Los Pubro sprite swap. At the time of this writing (v1.0), I am not sure if he can be speedkilled with similar ease... notably, where Pubro attacks promptly, Fat Man takes a while to arrive, allowing the horde to gather. For the time being, I will confirm that the "regular" method of killing Pubro works. Strafe just outside of Fat Man's kill zone and he'll die before very long.
Round 10: Wingate Family / Machine Gun & Rifle [GS10]
The final round takes "short and intense" to its extreme. The terrain is actually not quite as tortuous as Round 3's worst... however, the spawn frequency is hellish. Horse is found early, at the spot marked below. To my shame, my current run doesn't manage to keep him until the final boss - that would seem to require a prodigiously fast, skilled attack beyond my present abilities.
Fortunately, the final boss is quite killable without the horse! When you reach the bridge shown in the second image above, ominous BGM will herald the showdown. Don't let up your attack until you've reached the area in the third image - it's very possible to die during this approach phase.
Boss 10: Wingate Family [GS10B]
Technically, there are three final bosses. However, with a little practiced nerve, neither of Pa's sons will survive long - both are extremely vulnerable to a speedkilling frontal attack. As shown in the replay below, there's ample time before Pa arrives, and both sons' positions near the screen edge put the horde at a disadvantage. Interferer's will be quickly cut down in the process.
Those two dead, let's move onto the real threat: Pa Wingate. I'll break format for the finale by covering his attack first and arena second, as Pa has a nasty trick up his sleeve.
Battle: Pa himself is a much deadlier proposition than his sons, chiefly for a dominating and initially invisible feature of his spreadshot. See the "bullet puff" animation as his shots terminate? Not only are these puffs absolutely lethal to touch, but their hitboxes will remain active for at least a few frames after the sprites have disappeared. It's effectively a solid, invisible wall of death. You've got to wait for it to fall, rush in to score your hits while Pa's not in his invincible crawling phase, then retreat as a fresh spread is loosed. The timing is tight, but a groove is definitely possible to pick up on. Of course, Pa's horde isn't going to sit back and watch.
Arena: in my current strategy, taming the arena requires a methodical "fortress" approach, based at the bottom-centre of the screen. Greys entering from the left and right edges are exterminated as per usual. Dynamiters from upscreen can be largely ignored - provided you don't run straight into an exploding stick, you'll be safe at the bottom edge and can kill them while scoring hits on Pa. You'll notice that I don't always immediately kill the Blue Rifles entering from left edge - if I'm busy with Pa or other enemies, I'll exploit their blind spots.
This isn't a quick method, but I find it very replicable. For now, it's the best I know of - as noted in the ST's introduction, I'd love to hear from other players!
And that's it. The town is safe, Billy's battles are just beginning, and Capcom thank you profusely. I hope this ST will be of some help. Congratulations on making it this far!
VII: Replays / INPs
- [Player: BIL] STGWeekly Episode 53 . [ INP file for WolfMAME 0.99 ] A very raw 1CC with a couple deaths apiece in the final three rounds. Forms the initial basis for this guide. Hosted by Aquas and guested by Frenetic and myself, with full commentary.
- [Player: BBH] Stage ALL
- [Player: Janet] Stage ALL
- [Player: Perikles] Stage ALL + [ Player's notes ]