ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

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ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

Post by BareKnuckleRoo »


What is SideLine? As per Ghegs's website
SideLine is a 2D side-scrolling shooter for DOS computers, created in the mid-90's by a Taiwanese group called EMAG (Electronic Music and Animated Graphics, also GAME backwards). EMAG was born when a group of people, some of them students in Taiwan's National Chiao Tung University, gathered together and pursued their dream of creating games. Most members had never developed games nor run a company before, so they learned by doing. SideLine was their first game but it sold poorly and soon EMAG was barely able to remain active, only supported by its later games 3DCop/ADCop and BonBon Paradise, both light gun games. Soon most members left and established a new company, and EMAG closed soon after, having created only three games.

Some time after SideLine's original 1996 release it received a very limited western release in Poland. A company called Union Systems localized the game with Mirage Software publishing it. The print run was only 3000 (or possibly as little as 1500) copies. Though the companies contacted other publishers hoping to release it elsewhere as well, nobody was interested. The Sony Playstation was released just a short while earlier and mainstream gaming had little interest in the "old-fashioned" 2D shooting games that were so prevalent in the Super Nintendo and Megadrive/Genesis days. The game was left to obscurity, known only to few.

16 years after the game was first released a Spanish online blog Retro Maniac Magazine wrote an article about the game's demo version, leaving many wondering if the game's full version would ever surface. Some months after that the Polish release was indeed found and many gamers were finally able to try the game out for the first time. A recent interview to the same online blog sheds a bit more light into EMAG's story. The company also has an official Facebook group now.

In October of 2013 we received permission from the game's producer Jiun-Ming "Jimmy" Hwang to distribute SideLine's original version as long as no profit is made for it. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
Thanks to Ghegs, this fantastic Taiwanese game has been made available to play for free. Arguably the best shmup ever made for MS-DOS without any of the lifebar shenanigans or inertia of the commonly known Raptor, Tyrian 2000, and Stargunner, SideLine feels very much like it's been designed with arcade-style play in mind. Featuring instant full invulnerability bombs and a 3 hit shield (both of which protect against terrain collision), full 2 player local simultaneous mode (the Windows 95 version may have also supported networked multiplayer according to the files, an unusual rarity), a wide variety of weapons and missiles, it's a game that has a massive amount of attention to detail with amazing production quality. It's truly a shame it went unknown for so long since it's really not exaggerating to say it's by far the best shmup that was ever made for MS-DOS.

Featuring 3 difficulty modes with 8 levels, it's a lengthy and detailed game that hits the perfect balance of difficult but fair in its Normal difficulty. If there's a complaint to be made about the game, it's that Hard difficulty, instead of simply increasing bullet density or changing enemy patterns, actually seems to significantly up enemy health to the point where some stuff can get quite damage spongy and difficult to kill in a timely fashion. It's quite a bit trickier to avoid being overwhelmed by enemy waves in Hard difficulty.

Currently the only place it's available is on Ghegs's website. Hopefully additional MS-DOS archival sites will start hosting the game to get the game the attention it deserves. The important thing to know when attempting to get the game run is that it's finicky about the memory settings in DOSBox's config file:
And if you're running the game for the first time, be sure to change the last line from "main" to "snddsetup" to set the sound settings, then change it back to "main" afterwards. If you want to create your own .conf file, be sure to use the "core=normal" setting, as using "auto" or "dynamic" will make the game prone to crashing. And remember to disable the xms, ems and umb settings.


SideLine is a 3 button shmup, with the fire button featuring full autofire, a bomb button that activates instantly and provides a short window of full invulnerability, and a button to adjust the direction your two gunpods are firing (you need to first collect gunpod items), similar to how you adjust your gunpods in Battle Garegga.

There are a total of 8 levels, with multiple score-based extra lives as well as at least two extra life items (that are currently known). Secret items, usually for score such as hamburgers, hot dogs, bones, meat on a bone, etc, are uncovered by shooting. Your shots will appear to be hitting something invisible, and will eventually uncover the item. Homing missiles can help you locate hidden items as they can and will target hidden items if hiding nearby.

The hitbox appears to be slightly smaller than the size of the ship sprite. It's larger than a bullet hell shmup is for instance, but the game is still quite a bit more forgiving than something like Darius since your bombs and shield both will absorb terrain damage and not just enemy bullets. If you get stuck behind a wall or solid object, you can often bomb your way through to safety.

When your ship is destroyed, you respawn without gunpods, without secondary weapons, and with your current primary weapon lowered by one weapon level.

Note that after beating the game, even if you used continues, the game loops again. SideLine appears to infinitely loop, with each loop increasing enemy bullet speeds.



Items are uncovered in coloured pods that you shoot to reveal a specific item type (primary weapon, secondary weapon, bomb), or hidden score items and 1ups you reveal by shooting them while they're hidden to reveal them. You'll also often find primary weapons, secondary weapons, and gunpods floating around freely for pickup.

Shootable orbs appear in three flavours with a different colour marking in the middle: Red ones carry a randomly cycling primary weapon, green ones carry a randomly cycling secondary weapon, and orange ones contain bombs. The bombs found in an orange item carrier will be replaced by a gunpod item if you've died and don't currently have two gunpods. Enemies that drop bombs when destroyed appear to follow the same rule, dropping gunpods instead if you have less than 2.

To power up a primary or secondary weapon, pick up the same colour/letter continuously. You know you're maxed out when picking it up again gives you bonus points. Switching weapons to another type does not increase current power level.

Bomb: A large B icon. These appear quite frequently with multiples often in a single level. You can carry up to 7 at once. In some cases levels will drop tons of these, such as level 3 where it's easy to max out. Bombs do a bit of damage to the entire screen, clear enemy projectiles, and give you full invulnerability for a short period (that ends a second or so after the blast ring disappears). This includes invulnerability against collisions against terrain or enemies. Note that there's a slight delay where you're vulnerable before you can bomb again, so if you're in the middle of solid terrain when your bomb invulnerability runs out you're taking at least one hit to your shields before you can bomb again.

Shield: A large glowing grey orb of energy. Can absorb 3 hits before dissipating, including terrain damage, with a split second of invulnerability when you're hit. These appear pretty frequently except for on the final level. Note that having an active shield does NOT increase your hitbox size. Some games like Gradius V actually make your shield have a separate hitbox from your ship, and the larger your shield the bigger the hitbox, but in SideLine the glowing aura around your ship only indicates how many hits your shield can take. It doesn't increase your ship's hitbox size at all.

Primary Weapon: An orb surrounded by sparkles. These determine what your main gun is firing as well as what your gunpods are firing. The colour indicates what the current weapon is. Not all weapon orbs will cycle automatically bouncing around the screen and there are some that always appear and stay a guaranteed colour until they go offscreen. The ones that cycle go in this order, with a random start colour: Red, Blue, Teal, Silver, Brown, Orange (see PRIMARY WEAPONS section for details on each).

Secondary Weapon: An orb with a letter inside of it. These essentially let you fire missiles in addition to your main gun. None of the missiles are particularly powerful compared to your main guns, but they're not entirely useless either. Letter indicates what the current weapon is. Not all weapon orbs will cycle automatically bouncing around the screen and there are some that always appear and stay a guaranteed letter until they go offscreen. The ones that cycle go in this order, with a random start letter: M, H, T, V, X, O (see SECONDARY WEAPONS section for details on each).

Gunpod: A little spinning grey gunpod. Collect it and one appears above your ship, then the next one below. Gun pods add extra shots to your ship, and also absorb enemy attacks, making them very useful. There's three different shot types they use, determined by what colour primary weapon you currently have

You also have a button that cycles through different gunpod formations: both firing straight forward, both firing straight backwards, both firing front and back as they hover up and down in the middle of your ship, a freely adjustable firing mode where they move forward and backwards according to your movement, and one where they both continuously rotate around your ship as a shield, firing erratically.

1UP (Extra Life): Not counting the ones you get for score, there's three of these in the game that I know of. The first is early on in stage 3 inside of a structure just above some lava that you either need to use a couple bombs to safely get in and out of, or take a couple shield hits. Stay low on the level against the lava until you find it.

In stage 7 (the junk processing facility) early on there's a raised section where there's a couple of small indentations in the ground leading to small pits. The second 1UP is hidden at the bottom right of the second pit.

The third 1UP is hiding immediately above one of the conveyor belts in Stage 7, at the section before the final boss.

The final 1UP is in Stage 8 at the bottom of the screen immediately before entering the final boss chamber.

More 1UPs may exist elsewhere. They appear to reappear when looping the game. Scoring 1UPS appear frequently until you hit 1.5 million, and then appear to be earned ever 1 million after that (which is a significant gap, you'll essentially get 1 score-based 1UP per loop at that point).


PRIMARY WEAPONS (listed in cycle order):

Note: Both primary and secondary weapons appear to max out after you power them up 5 times.

Red: Your default weapon, and arguably the best general-purpose weapon in the game when you're learning the game. As you get better you'll learn where specific, situational weapon picks can be more helpful. Starts out as a thin, basic rapid shot, upgrades to a wide spreadshot. Great damage when hitting with all the projectiles, possibly the strongest attack in the game in that case. Note that there are some smaller bosses where it's harder to hit reliably with all the shots, and some enemies with unusually positioned weakspots that require attacking from an angle or directly above or below, so while it's not a universally good weapon, it'll handle the vast majority of enemies in the game.

Gunpods fire rapid shots that fire straight forward (same as Orange weapon). Probably the best gunpod shot since it's simple and very effective both for adding frontal damage or aiming it behind you to take out incoming enemies from the rear.

Blue: A piercing laser attack. Eventually upgrades to a constant 8 way shot that fills that covers the screen with lasers. Damage isn't huge and it's not ideal on most bosses due to bosses having a fairly small hitbox, but it's still surprisingly capable of dealing with many stages due to the sheer screen coverage. If you use this be aware you're significantly compromised if you get killed, since there is a big power drop from the max level to the next level down. At max level you fire 8 way shots, but dying and losing a power level causes you to fire 4 shots alternating in a + and an X pattern, meaning you only hit enemies in front with every other shot and get no chances at hitting with 2 adjacent lasers together.

Damage is pretty substantial if you manage to hit with multiple lasers at once. It's extremely difficult to do so though, as you need to pretty much be at point blank range on a large target. Bombing can allow you to get inside an enemy and fire at them from within, but the short bomb duration doesn't generally make it safe to do so. The Brown weapon's missiles are still the better raw damage, difficult to use weapon of the game, but the Blue weapon's ability to pierce through enemies while flooding the screen in all directions is quite effective. Lasers cannot pierce solid terrain, and some enemy parts also block lasers such as the bodies of the boss mechs at the end of stage 5 and before the final boss.

The blue lasers are bad at uncovering shootable items such as 1ups, which seem to be uncovered based on # of hits and not necessarily damage.

Gunpods are the worst in the game (same as Silver weapon), firing blue spinning projectiles that travel forward a short distance, stop for a split second, then launch in the direction of a nearby enemy. They're very weak and have accuracy issues, making them relatively worthless compared to the main weapons your ship fires.

Teal: Upgrades to a rotating ring of 5 orbs plus a small, weak 3 way shot from the front of your ship (like a weaker version of Red's spreadshot). The orbs themselves deal enormous damage if they're contacting an enemy at close range (you do have to get dangerously close to do this though), but don't provide as much in defense as what you might expect. The orbs don't destroy normal bullets, and there are some fast enemies that try to ram you that have enough health to rush through a full orb ring from behind. Still, when you get comfortable with where you can use the ring for attacking at close range behind you, or above and below, it can be a very useful weapon in a variety of situations.

Gunpods fire bright teal crescent slicing projectiles (same as with Brown weapon). They have limited homing and move slowly, making them fairly useless at long range, but pack an incredible punch and deal good damage when at close range where you're hitting rapidly with them.

Silver: Fires lasers with long "tails" that turn at 90 degree angles to hit enemies above and below as well as to your rear. An easy to use weapon that's helpful for sweeping weaker enemies or ones that hide behind walls. The shots also have a piercing effect when they kill enemies, and will keep travelling through whatever they've destroyed. Performs decently in stages but try not to use it against bosses since its damage leaves something to be desired. You have far better choices against the bosses of this game.

Gunpods are the worst in the game (same as Blue weapon), firing blue spinning projectiles that travel forward a short distance, stop for a split second, then launch in the direction of a nearby enemy. They're very weak and have accuracy issues, making them relatively worthless compared to the main weapons your ship fires.

Brown: This weapon is intended for experts, as it is extremely unusual and difficult to use effectively, however it is also very powerful when you know what you're doing with it. When you press and hold the fire button, giant missiles are slowly released (up to 2 at a time onscreen?). The missiles travel a short distance where they'll explode in a large multi-hit blast on anything close range, but if they don't hit anything nearby then after going a certain distance they suddenly turn dark, phasing through all solid objects until they reach the right-side edge of the screen and explode there, or you release the shot button which cause them to explode immediately wherever they are. Essentially, you can use this weapon 4 ways:

1) Tap the shot button quickly, causing blasts at close range. Not recommended usually unless you can get safely close to a boss.

2) Hold the shot button while close enough to hit with the missiles before they phase out (somewhat risky if you accidentally move far enough away from the enemy).

3) Hold the shot button and release to make phased missiles explode when they're underneath enemies, either by visually confirming the missile positions, or by getting in a timing rhythm.

4) Hold the shot button down until they explode to hit enemies positioned at the far right of the screen. Only really works on a few bosses that sit at the screen's edge.

The blasts are large, score multiple hits, do great damage on targets, and are the same whether or not the missiles are unphased or phased when they explode. It's a highly unorthodox weapon that's very powerful and comes with a slow but decent damage gunpod and allows you to do trick shots through terrain as well as ignore shielding on bosses that have smaller weakpoints or like to use debris to protect themselves. However, it's also very difficult to get the hang of and the one weapon in the game you absolutely can't just run around holding the shot button to use it effectively.

Gunpods fire bright teal crescent slicing projectiles (same as with Teal weapon). They have limited homing and move slowly, making them fairly useless at long range, but pack a punch and deal good damage when at close range where you're hitting rapidly with them.

Orange: Fires a concentrated series of energy waves. Upgrades to become wider, roughly the same vertical height as your ship. Deals good damage at long range and even more damage at close range where the waves fire without any gaps between them due to their onscreen projectile limit. It's quite a thin weapon though, so you have to move around a lot to deal with enemies, and the Red weapon actually deals more damage if you're able to get into pointblank ranges. This is my go-to weapon for most bosses because of its ability to deal direct, concentrated damage both at long range and close range. It's also good in other situations too where you need raw power but need an easier to handle weapon to focus on dodging than Brown's unusual missiles.

Gunpods fire rapid shots that fire straight forward (same as Red weapon). Probably the best gunpod shot since it's simple and very effective both for adding frontal damage or aiming it behind you to take out incoming enemies from the rear.

Estimated relative weapon damage when at max shot power from 1-10, 1 being weakest and 10 being strongest (assumes you have two gunpods firing forward with all shots hitting a target):

Brown, close range to pointblank, hitting with missiles and gunpods (slow target) - 10
Cyan, pointblank on large target with several orbs connecting with target at once - 9
Red, pointblank, all 5 shots hitting (this is rarely possible to do safely) - 8.5
Orange, pointblank - 8
Blue, hitting with 2 lasers on large target (very difficult to do on most bosses) - 8
Red, hitting with 3 of 5 streams - 7
Brown, long range (assuming you're accurate with the detonations) - 7
Orange, long range - 6.5
Silver, close range - 6
Blue, long range - 5
Silver, long range - 4
Red, long range, single stream + gunpods hitting - 3
Cyan, long range, single stream + gunpods hitting occasionally - 2

This is just an estimate based on personal experience. Note that some enemies move quickly or have shielded portions that can drastically effect the damage you can deal. The Brown phase missile weapon doesn't as expected in the high speed section of stage 3 where the large enemies don't take all the close range hits, the Blue laser deals mediocre single target damage but gets good kill times on weaker enemies and often can hit enemies other weapons cannot due to positioning, so potential damage can be higher with it at times.


SECONDARY WEAPONS / MISSLES (listed in cycle order):

M: Straight firing missiles. Upgrades to fire multiple missiles in a wide spread straight forward. Like all the secondary weapons, the damage isn't great, but it still helps and is a good choice for bosses. Because they cover a wide area with each volley, they're helpful for sections with shootable bullets (such as when dealing with the spiky enemies that teleport in to attack).

H: Homing missiles. Upgrades eventually fire 3 missiles at a time, but the missiles are launched tightly together so usually all of them converge on the same target. Damage is low, but they will target nearby hidden shootable items, helping you locate them.

T: Twin travelling missiles. Fires a pair of missiles up and down that then travels along the ceiling and ground, similar to Gradius-style missiles. There's some levels with spots where this can be pretty useful for taking out turret-type enemies! One of my fave missile type weapons, they're very versatile.

V: Straight firing missiles. Only fires two when maxed out instead of M's six total, but more damage is packed into each missile. Ideal for squeezing out a big of damage against a lot of bosses where it's all about direct offense.

X: Decoy parachute bombs. Instead of being intended for direct offense, these actually drop straight down with a kind of parachute attached. They'll damage targets directly below you but the real benefit is the shots actually confuse enemies into targeting them instead of you, which can help when dealing with enemies that like to fire directly aimed shots. Enemies always try to shoot aimed shots at the nearest one. These can be really helpful for keeping enemies distracted, but not all enemies fire aimed shots at you, so it's not always going to be useful.

O: Twin missiles that fire up and down, but unlike T they explode on contact. Appears to deal more damage than T, but less versatile. There aren't a huge number of situations where things above and below you are attacking you that you can't handle with your primary weapon or gunpods, so I've never been super fond of these.
Last edited by BareKnuckleRoo on Mon May 23, 2022 1:22 pm, edited 17 times in total.
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Re: ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

Post by BareKnuckleRoo »


Normal is the default. Easy mode appears to have fewer, slower shots, whereas Hard has a more, faster shots. The most significant change though is the difficulty mode appears to adjust enemy health. Hard mode makes it tough to kill certain enemies in a timely fashion, which can mean you risk being overwhelmed if you try to kill everything. Sometimes you have to focus on evasion until an enemy goes away.

There doesn't appear to be anything like dynamic difficulty or rank in the game. Difficulty in each stage appears to be tied to what difficulty you're playing and what stage you're at. I'm not currently 100% sure how difficulty in the loop works, but I think it's more tweaked then simply bumping the game up to the next difficulty level.



There's a lot of score extends in the game which means scoring can directly assist with your survival. It's possible to get to the final boss with under 1.5 million, thus missing a potential 1UP you could get in the first loop (the 2.5 million extend is pretty much only going to happen late in loop 2 though). There's three major ways to score:

• Destroy stuff. Self-explanatory.
• Collect hidden point items. Find hidden shootables and uncover them for various bonuses. Ice cream cones are the biggest ones I've found, giving a whopping 10,000 points.
• Collect equipment for your ship when you are maxed out on that equipment. Collecting bombs when your stock is at 7 is 8000 points, collecting a shield at max shields is 5000 and goes down according to how much shielding is left when you recollect a shield, collecting gunpods when you have 2 is 5000 (?), collecting primary weapons when you are already using that weapon and at max power is 5000 (?) and collecting secondary weapons when you are using that weapon and already max power is 2000.

In a lot of stages, there are fixed weapon powerups floating around. For instance, in stage 1 there are several guaranteed Red, Teal, and Blue primary weapon orbs. In stage 2, you'll encounter 3 floating Silver orbs at one point, encouraging you to switch for scoring purposes. Collecting them repeatedly is an important way to score and thus the game often encourages you to swap to specific weapons to collect multiple orbs in a row for score. Note that in some instances the weapons they're offering you are terrible for what's upcoming, and in others (such as the stage 5 boss's brown orbs) they're incredibly useful for where they're given.

Because there's a huge reliance on knowing what weapons are useful where, I'll detail that in the stages as well as bosses. Note that one of the challenges of the game at times is dodging the slowly floating weapon orbs. The secondary missiles you have at any given time don't impact you too much so if you accidentally collect one you didn't want it won't be a huge deal, but accidentally grabbing an inappropriate weapon at a bad time can make things tricky. If your weapon makes a section difficult, you can always play defensive and focus on avoiding enemies rather than trying to kill everything.



The hitbox in the ship is quite small for a DOS era shmup. It's a rectangular box in the middle of your ship about the same vertical height as the nose section at the front of your ship. It's positioned in the center of the ship's body and extends from the back of the ship about up to where the neck of the ship starts. I'll have to test more thoroughly and draw an overlay showing hitbox location.

Stage 1 has a miniboss enemy designed to show you how small your hitbox is, where you can sit in front of it and easily squeeze between two thin shots it fires. It's not quite bullet-hell style couple pixels small, but it's definitely on the smaller side for this kind of game and is downright tiny when compared to something like Darius.



• Avoid the screen edges. This is absolutely not a shmup where you can hug the left side of the screen at all times. Stuff can and will pop in to ram you. Try to stay in the middle of the screen where possible until you learn where enemies can appear.

• Bombing is always preferable to getting hit, even with a shield active unless you know a shield is coming up. Bombs are generally easier to recharge in this game.

• Learn what can be blocked with your gunpods. There's a ton of large projectiles in the game that can be completely nullified if you block them with the gunpod.




An easy level allowing you to learn the game. There's sufficient items for two players to max out shields, gunpods, and primary weapons at the start of the game. You'll be able to max out bombs later on by stage 3, so don't be afraid of using bombs early as you learn the game. You can use pretty much any primary weapon you want in the stage, though the drops here favour Red, Teal, and Blue.

There's a miniboss enemy that uses lightning that essentially serves to teach you about the sheer potential of your ship. It fires twin beams of energy that your ship is small enough to easily squeeze between them, and it later fires lightning blasts that your gunpods can block completely when aimed forward. Just get in front of it and fire away and it'll go down effortlessly.

The boss isn't terribly difficult. Just be prepared to get behind it when it pulls its legs in and rushes you. The back laser cannon has a bomb item and is most easily destroyed with the Teal weapon, getting close enough to hit it with the orbs and one of your gunpods.


If you have the cyan weapon early on it's ideal for the large ships that come from behind. They launch missiles above and below that travel vertically, then when they're the same height as you launch towards you. They have an exploitable blind spot directly behind them above them where you can hide below the height of the missiles they fire, but in a position where your lower gunpod can block their lasers fired from behind.

For the rest of the stage, grab the silver orbs when they appear to score some easy points, then use whatever you want. Orange or red weapons are ideal for the asteroid heavy area. Don't be afraid to bomb if the seemingly invulnerable mines come out and try to ram you (they're VERY fast). The next level has tons of recharge items.

The boss is easiest with the orange weapon. Its stuff isn't too tough to avoid and you can actually squeeze in between its middle shots. Eventually it fires a concentrated laser stream with homing mines launched at you - I think these can be avoided if you're close to it so they can't swing around but it's way easier to block the homing mines with your gunpods. Sit about 2 ship lengths from the left edge of the screen right in the vertical center of the screen and they'll harmlessly fly into your gunpods when they're positioned in front.


This stage features three distinct sections: 1) the slow section with various obstacles and smelting equipment, 2) the highspeed section against three large enemies (first one, then two at once), and 3) the remaining part of the stage over open lava.

For the first part of the stage, you can use just about any weapon you're comfortable with, though Teal helps with the small enemies that spawn around you. Watch out for falling pieces of equipment and lava being dropped on you, though. The important thing is to get the 1UP located at the bottom of the screen inside a portion of the stage. You have to bomb your way in and then out again (or take a shielded hit) in order to navigate it safely. There are several bomb items to obtain here though and at least one big enemy that rotates shooting a flamethrower that drops a bomb (as well as explodes into smaller enemies) when destroyed, and you can refill on bombs later in the level, so it's worth bombing here to safely get the 1UP.

The second part of the stage requires a decent frontal weapon to kill the large enemies in a timely fashion. They always follow a pattern of using the same three attacks one after the other. Block the initial bullets with gunpods, get in front of them when they fire the black orbs, and move up or down before the laser beam comes out. In spite of their size, Brown's phase missiles do not seem to work well as the high scroll speed causes many of the hits of the blast to whiff. Use Orange, Red, or even Teal weapons to deal maximum damage at the points where you can get in close.

For the third section of the level I use either Teal or Red. Powerups appear at the top of the screen and it's much safer at the top as there are enemies that jump out of the lava as well as these disc-like enemies that vacuum up lava in a kind of tornado as they move along, hitting you with the column if you don't destroy them fast enough for the column to drop back down. The hard part here when hiding up at the top of the screen is avoiding having a small enemy spawn on top of you. Eventually you'll reach a section that has a shield item, and after that there's several flamethrower enemies that drop bombs. You can refill on bombs easily even if you have to use a bomb here and there to destroy the sheer number of flamethrowers.

The boss is relatively trivial. Orange weapons are given to you at the top of the screen right before it and are the optimal tool. Get in front of it during its first phase, then hide near the top to destroy the projectiles as it starts spinning. It follows a pattern of hopping in from the sides of the screen but can be killed relatively quickly by its second phase where it fires lines of flames at alternating angles by exploiting a safespot at the bottom left of the screen. Hug the left of the screen and position yourself directly above the lava and it should die without fuss.

If you dawdle it'll also do the same spinning attack from the left hand side where it's harder to safely shoot down the projectiles without bombing, and at one point in its pattern jumps straight up from the middle of the screen and back down, sending waves of lava upward you have to avoid. But you should destroy it well before these show up.


It's an underwater level! But there's no physics changes to the movement, so it's just business as usual. The screen doesn't scroll up or down at all, similar to Stage 2, but there's a good deal of enemies that come from behind at spots, so it's important not to hug the screen edge.

The miniboss isn't too hard to deal with - hide along the left edge of the screen and move between the spreadshots. Just about any weapon will work on it, with Orange, Red, and Silver being optimal picks.

The hardest part of the level are small plants that shoot a thin, difficult to see projectile. The projectile shots travel upward, then when level with your ship will stop for a split second and then fire towards you. Make a tap dodge up or down when they're going towards you to avoid them. The T style missiles are a good secondary weapon here for the level.

There's an opportunity to switch weapons before the boss later on in the stage. Red, Brown, or Orange weapons are ideal. I prefer Orange because it's easiest to shoot down the homing orbs the boss launches as well as the enemies it summons, both of which are its scariest attacks. In the boss room are Teal orbs and several O type missiles. The O type missiles can all be collected to get extra points, they're not useless here and they are helpful during the next stage. The Teal weapon however sucks against this boss so I would not collect it.

Note that even with a strong weapon you will still have to face most of its nastiest attacks. Expect an extended fight, bosses from here on tend to stick around. Its pattern is:

• Fires a spread of blockable yellow bullets from its upper claw, then does the same from its lower claw.
• Launches a homing orb. It takes a LOT of hits to down this and it's only realistically doable with a few weapons. Whether or not you manage to quickly destroy it, it then fires a static spread of thin lasers. These appear to be blockable, but if the orb is active it's tricky to get between them.
• Launches two more homing orbs that chase you for a while before going offscreen as it then burrows into the top of the screen, raining debris.
• As it digs in, a destroyable section at the back fires a spread of blockable bullets from the back.

• It then pops out of the ceiling, raining more debris. If you destroyed the claw, you can actually get parallel with it and hit it directly here with straight weapon. It then summons destroyable enemies and then starts firing those lasers that travel vertically then horizontally you had to deal with from those plants earlier in the level.

• It does the same dig into the ground and popping out again sequence, except going into the bottom of the screen instead the top. Pattern then repeats from here.


The stage alternates between two different style of segment. One where you're travelling down a shaft, and one where you're scrolling at various diagonals with exploding pipes around you. Generally in the vertical shaft sections stay low to the screen to avoid enemies dropping on you and hitting you, or stay at the far left edge of the screen where there's a blind spot in the most dangerous enemies dropping. These sections aren't easy, but they're far from unmanageable.

The Teal weapon combined with the O or H missiles are recommended for the stage. There's also several drops for these guaranteed in the stage. Also note that Red and Orange are also suitable picks. The Silver weapon's not too bad either. The Blue weapon fires a bit slow and thinly, but you may prefer its 8-way screen coverage.

The real challenge is the lack of resources and the sections with the pipes. The two shield items in this stage are both in the first of three pipe sections. There's a couple bomb items in the stage and that's it. You have to go a long time without additional shields, so don't be afraid to bomb aggressively.

In the pipe sections, these giant spiky enemies appear and fire shootable bullets all around them. When they're in front of you, many of your weapons will destroy them quickly, but when they're behind you, it's hard to kill them in a timely fashion. Don't be afraid to use bombs to manage the screen. On top of these enemies filling the screen with shots, you also have to watch for exploding pipe. They fire 3 chunks of debris that fall rapidly and are a dark brown, which makes it hard to visually identify on the even darker background. This stage is a huge difficulty jump and there's no real trick here I've found except to try and learn the appearance of where enemies appear, when and where the pipes explode, etc.

Don't be scared when the boss drops down - you're guaranteed to get Brown weapon orbs before it, by far the best weapon against it, and it's a boss where using the weapon is relatively easy. Just hold shoot and you'll be close enough to hit.

When the boss drops down, hide at either the bottom left or bottom right corner where there's an initial spot gap in its legs, then slowly work your way up the screen and then back down the other side of the screen, destroying the flashing portions as you go. Brown's gunpod weapons will make short work of the ones you have to destroy from behind. The boss meanwhile fires flaming rings at you. The ones fired singly are not blockable, but the ones fired as spreads (which look identical) are blockable.

When all four leg sections are destroyed, the entire legs become one gigantic hitbox that you can destroy as the central core, the real fight, becomes active and splits from the legs. Destroy the legs, then get in front of the core with the Brown weapon to speedkill it in a couple seconds before the core gets to do anything. If you can't speedkill it then its pattern is:

• Swirls around in a tight circle firing downwards.
• Launches itself towards you, attempting to ram you several times.
• Goes to the middle of the screen and into the background in an unhittable state, launching a fixed pattern of attacks into the foreground.


Red is a good general purpose weapon here. Teal and Silver also will work well. Watch out for enemies rushing you from behind, above and below. Do NOT stay against the left edge of the screen whenever possible.

The jumping enemies early on have a lot of health but drop bombs when destroyed (or gunpods if you have no gunpods). Later on there's enemies walking along the ground that only have a weakspot directly you can hit when above them or with a piercing weapon. Their attacks aren't too difficult to avoid, alternating between a spread of blockable mines and two piercing, unblockable aimed shots, but they have tons of health in addition to the shielding and are hard to actually kill. You may get better results just trying to avoid them, but well placed phase missile shots with the Brown weapon work if you're able to switch to Brown before meeting them. This also helps with the boss, who is weak to the Brown weapon.

There's a shield late in the level, but don't be afraid to bomb in order to safely collect it. Don't attempt to grab the gunpod right before the boss. It's a trap and the ceiling will fall down and crush you.

The boss can be speedkilled with the Brown weapon. Orange weapon's concentrated damage also gets a decent kill time while taking out debris. The Blue weapon, though piercing, doesn't deal enough damage to be useful, nor does it take out the debris effectively. Red isn't concentrated enough to punch through the gaps in its shield. This boss's debris appears to be potentially milkable for points, not sure if bosses actually time out in this game?

The Stage 6 boss relies on summoning rocks that it then fires at you in various ways. You can hide on the left side of the screen and just react to it as it attacks you. It's not so much about memorizing its attacks as it is just getting good at dodging them, or arriving with the right weapon. Even with a bad weapon you will eventually destroy it, but it's a lengthy fight if you accidentally went in here with the Teal weapon. The hard part is the section before the boss doesn't give any ideal weapons, so you need to carry Orange or Brown for a while before facing the boss, which both lack the sort of spread that can help in the stages.


This entire stage is basically a waste processing facility. Red or Orange weapons are recommended early on, and you want Orange or Brown for the boss. There's lots of openings in the ceiling where junk falls onto a conveyor belt that you have to avoid, but note that the conveyor belt always sends the junk towards you so if you're to the left of the opening the junk travels left, and if you're to the right of the opening the junk will travel and fall to the right.

The second known collectable 1UP is found early on in a raised section that has two pits in a metal platform with mechs inside of them. The 1UP is in the second pit at the bottom right. Don't use Blue or Silver, they may be too slow to properly uncover it with shooting in time (I failed to get it once with Blue).

The first shield is extremely hard to get unless you know where it is and anticipate it. It appears at the top right of a section that immediately switches from scrolling right to scrolling down - I find it easiest to get to the right-hand wall, and use a bomb while rushing upwards to get it. You can also ignore the shield and grab one later far more easily in the next relatively easy section.

The section before the boss is tricky as the mechs react by firing lasers aggressively when damaged. Use a bomb if necessary. Make sure you have the Orange weapon here so you're set for the boss. Brown also appears to be effective. Very important: in this section before the boss, there's another 1UP hiding immediately above one of the conveyor belts.

This boss is nasty. Do NOT get too close to it as it has several attacks to discourage you from doing so. It fires 5 way spreads from above and below while entrapping you in a long corridor where bouncing shots spring up and down between posts along the length of the corridor. Afterwards, it then transitions to laser walls that block your shots. These laser walls contract and move around in a way I find extremely difficult to react to, and I plan to bomb my way through it if I'm about to be hit. when damaged, it'll start launching homing mines at you in threes - I'm honestly not sure what to do about these if you've died and lost your gunpods, you may have to bomb since you pretty much need the gunpods to block them.

When severely damaged, the corridor that traps you explodes open, it gains an eyebeam it fires regularly, and it starts causing the room to shake, sending debris down you have to dodge.

In general, this is a very nasty fight, that I plan on having a full shield and at least 3 to 5 bombs ready for. Orange or Brown both will get somewhat speedy kill times, and you definitely don't want to get stuck with a weapon that takes a while here.


This is a very nasty final stage. It starts off modestly, with big enemies that aren't too difficult but have so much health you can really only kill them by pointblanking with the Teal weapon or Brown weapon. I can't even get kills on these with Orange.

Later on you encounter a couple of those shielded enemies you met in Stage 6, though the blue weapon works well as they seem to have less health than normal? You'll also encounter a refight against the Stage 1 miniboss who has a few new tricks. Namely, the front of it is now invulnerable and springs forward to attack you, with only the rear section vulnerable to damage. The second time it opens up it extends far enough that it's easy to scoot in and pointblank the weakspot.

The nastiest parts of the stage is the section with the spiky enemies and the part before the final boss. The spiky enemy section is tough as usual, but there's also enemies that love to fly in from the edges of the screen throughout the level. Do NOT go near any of the edges of the screen unless you have memorized the level! Later on in the level you're rushed by swarms of brand new enemies all around. Some of them actually drop bombs, but there's too many enemies to safely kill, so the trick is to identify the ones that drop bombs, and use a bomb now and then to safely work your way through, getting hit as few times as possible. You will probably die once or twice here. I honestly don't know what weapon really works here, no matter what you use bombs appear to be necessary.

The last obstacle before the final boss is a a new enemy made up of parts from the final boss. Its weakpoint is the central pillar it drops down now and then, which its legs will attempt to block. I would recommend either hiding at the far left of the screen where it's easier to dodge, or if you have a bomb saved up, ignore it completely and hide at the top of the screen. If you don't destroy it, it will eventually wander off on its own, and all you need to worry about are the turrets that show up along the top of the screen that aren't super difficult. Then, as the chain holding the boss gets close, use a bomb to pass through it harmlessly.

The final 1UP item is in this level, on the bottom of the screen immediately before entering the boss chamber, right after all you pass all shootable hamburger items.

The final boss of the game is extremely nasty. Use Orange or Brown. Orange is better since it moves around a lot during the second phase, limiting Brown's use. Red weapon may also be decent here. You can get a TON of damage in up close safely by bombing as it sends debris at you. Note that there's ice cream cone items at the top and bottom right sides of the chamber for points.

The first phase launches several waves of debris at you which you'll need a good weapon to safely clear (or better yet, use bombs and take the time to pointblank the boss for massive damage in between waves). It then fires thin lasers straight forward, and then launches a massive set of destroyable orbs forward that fan out. They have a fair bit of health, and the gimmick is that the boss will fire shots at these orbs. When hit, the orb glows briefly, then launches the shot diagonally at another orb. It looks like when shots travel from orb to orb they alternate between going up or down. The second time it uses this attack is very nasty as it then launches a series of GIGANTIC laser beam shots that ricochet off the walls, and the blind spots for this attack are tricky to get to safely. During the first phase you can shoot the rotating equipment above and below the core to destroy them, with each piece of equipment dropping an extra bomb! You can also get hidden ice cream cones at the top and bottom of the arena for some points.

When damaged enough, the boss starts openly floating around and fires off these homing clusters that erratically move around as they chase you. They're not super fast, but you can't shoot them down, meaning you have to outrun them as the boss itself flies around the room, launching expanding spreads of orange bullets. This part can be super hard, so don't be afraid to use your bombs to just get in its face and try to speedkill it down. Note that the game loops if you do beat it, and you'll have an opportunity to refill whatever bombs you've used here.



The game appears to loop infinitely. I've gotten to loop 3, stage 7 on a single credit, and no secret bosses have triggered, so it appears that the game loops and increases enemy bullet speeds by a % in each loop. 1UP items reappear in the loop, and it looks like once you hit 2.5 million points you get another score 1UP every million points (which is a huge quantity for the game, like one score 1UP per loop sort of thing once you're in loop 2).

The bullet speed increases make a lot of parts much more difficult than in loop 1 and careful use of resources is needed to survive!


Please note that this information is pretty much entirely obtained via personal experience with learning and playing the game. SideLine is a fantastic MS-DOS shmup that sadly went completely unknown for decades due to a limited release, and as a result there doesn't appear to be any detailed information on the game available elsewhere. I would appreciate it if anyone could point out any errors, or could contribute additional information, such as if further 1UP items are hidden elsewhere.
Last edited by BareKnuckleRoo on Sat Aug 20, 2022 3:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

Post by BareKnuckleRoo »


Current best in Normal mode on a single credit (default lives) is Loop 4, stage 5. Video is on Youtube:

No secret boss appeared at the end of loops 2 or 3 so at this point it's safe to say it loops endlessly with no TLB or anything. I'm not sure if there's an upper limit on difficulty but bullet speeds seem to increase per loop.

A few new discoveries:

• You can hold over 9 lives. The life stock meter shows up to 9 extra lives, but it doesn't max out at 9 and tracks how many lives you have above that.

• A 1UP items was discovered at the end of Stage 7, bringing the total number of hidden 1UP items discovered to four: one in Stage 3, two in Stage 7, and one in Stage 8.

• The rotating equipment directly above and below the final boss's core during its first phase can be destroyed, getting you a total of 2 extra bombs for destroying both!

• The game appears to loop infinitely, with enemy bullet speeds increasing with each loop.

I've 1CC'd the game on Hard mode now. Enemy health is upped enough that it's quite difficult to kill stuff in a timely fashion. Looping does not seem to increase enemy health, at least not when you loop Hard mode (I died on loop 2 final boss in Hard).
Last edited by BareKnuckleRoo on Sat Aug 20, 2022 3:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

Post by BareKnuckleRoo »

Currently toying with the idea of getting into Loop 5. The key is to nail the hard parts of the game and not allow frustration to lead to chain deaths. The trouble spots, especially in higher loops where speeds increase are:

• Stage 4 gets more enemies, particularly the enemy spawners that generate those tanky hopping enemies. Orange weapon + T to deal with the smaller spitting enemies that fire grey beams is helpful, and Orange is effective for killing the boss quickly. If you get to the boss with a suboptimal weapon, the Teal ones in the boss room are decently workable. The Silver one should be avoided, as the beams take at least 3 pattern repetitions to score the kill. Orange or Brown are ideal, Red works too.

• Stage 5's downward sections aren't too bad... but the areas with the spiky mines that teleport in and fire high speed shots all around are a nightmare. Speedkilling them at close range with the Teal weapon seems best as the rotating shield will also stop bullets. M sub weapon also fires a wide spread that can stop shots in front if you're lucky. The boss is also troublesome. Not terribly difficult if you use a quick kill weapon, but the weapon you use is what you start the very hectic Stage 6 with and those hopping enemies are quite difficult to nail with the Brown missile weapon.

• Stage 6 has enemies coming at you from all sides, dangerous hopping enemies at the start, and some nasty walking enemies that are hard to hit unless you have Blue, Teal, or Brown. The boss has minimal health and is trivial with a piercing weapon (Blue or Brown) but if you don't have one of those you'll have to patiently wear it down because its rings of rocks will block most of the damage.

• Stage 7's not too bad aside from the boss. The boss is the hardest boss in the game I think, as even with an optimal weapon selection you're under barrage at all times with those laser beam walls being incredibly difficult and unpredictable to dodge. I hate this boss and would love to know a better strategy. Orange is easiest to use as Brown doesn't hit optimally at long range (his hitbox is only on the eye at the front; missiles fired to the screen edge seem to do minimal damage to it). I've tried Brown at close range while bomb dumping on it and it's quick-ish... but not quick enough to avoid its nastiest attacks, frankly. Teal at close range doesn't seem worth it, Red, Blue, and Silver all drop dramatically in damage. Doesn't seem like you can hide at the top and bottom of the screen as those spaces appear to actually count as solid and deal contact damage?

• Stage 8 has several nasty tricks. The first section is about avoiding the enemies being dropped (T weapon is a godsend), then you have to deal with enemies all around, warping in spiky mines... eventually the end culminates in a rush of unique enemies where the Teal ones drop bombs when killed, followed by a boss that can wall you in if it times out. Fortunately, the boss can either be timed out and bypassed with one bomb, or better yet, use the Brown weapon which is also ideal for speedkilling the final boss and just nail its weak point with missiles. The final boss is a pain in the ass, but you can get two free bombs easily by nailing its core and the rotating rings at the same time (line your ship up with the bright silver lines in the background). The debris also is easy to deal with using the Brown weapon at close range then moving upwards; the blast will protect you from the debris, or you can simply sit in the core's face and bomb. When it summons the orbs that it can bounce off lasers, squeeze through when there's an opening or use a bomb, followed by doing that for the second wave, and then sitting in the openings where the giant beam gets fired.

For its second phase, focus on dealing as much damage when it moves towards you, as it'll be taking the most damage from the Brown weapon then and can be killed pretty quick with use of bombs to help avoid the chasing beams and the wide spreads it fires.

• Stages 1, 2, and 3 should not pose any issues regardless of how well you do after the final boss. There's an immediate shield on stage 1, and enough bombs that by the end of stage 3 you should enter stage 4 with a full shield and maxed out bombs (or near max if you bomb once during the magma rain attack). Stage 1 and 2 bosses have some fairly speedy attacks in the loop but nothing that can't be dealt with.
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Re: ST: SideLine (Arguably the best MS-DOS shmup ever made.)

Post by BareKnuckleRoo »

Update with new strategies. Current best is Loop 8, end of Stage 8 with a score of 14 million. See here for the end of the playthrough (didn't bother recording the first 7 loops):

Also have a previous playthrough that shows up to loop 6 that ends just under 10 million if you want to see the previous loops:

The diagonal sections with the brown pipes in Stage 5 are best done by hiding at the top left (gunpods forward), the bottom left (gunpods blocking vertically), and bottom right (gunpods to the rear) respectively. Use the Teal weapon and you'll block most if not all the shots. For the second and third sections you will need to memorize and plan out dodges or bombs to avoid a pipe burst near you in each section, but it's not actually that bad at all.

Speedkilling the S7 boss with the brown weapon by sitting in its face for most of the fight is honestly the best bet. With the gunpods spinning around you vertically you can block the shots including the homing balls it fires eventually.

The Brown weapon is by far the best weapon on the final boss. Orange simply doesn't cut it, and the walking miniboss in the section prior to it is extremely dangerous if you leave it alive, since it prevents you from dealing with all the turrets there, which Orange can't handle. Brown ends up being the best weapon at the end of Stage 8, so grab it during the last part you can freely swap weapons.

I still don't know if here's a hidden cap to the # of lives you can stock. I've carried about 15 extra lives at a time and I know it definitely counts lives beyond the 9 displayed on screen, but I don't know if it counts up to 99, caps it at 20, etc. I don't know the exact values for 1UPs from score I do know that once you hit 2.53 million it gives another 1UP every million points so you can count on getting one of those every loop, possibly two. With the four 1UP items (I haven't found any more if they exist), that means each loop will give you 5-6 extra lives. As long as you're not dying more than 5 times per loop you can maintain a constant stock. Of course, if you die once, it's possible to start dying repeatedly, which is a very real concern. The end of stage 5 in particular can result in chaindeaths if you die and you're left without gunpods to block shots.

Difficulty (assuming you're starting on the default difficulty of Normal) seems to cap at about loop 5 or 6 in terms of how enemies scale up bullet speeds. How the loop appears to work is it increases difficulty on the next loop progressively, and then once you're at Hard difficulty it stays at Hard and just increases bullet speeds until you hit the cap. For example, this is how the game progresses each loop:

Easy -> Normal (default difficulty) -> Hard -> Hard + loop rank increase -> Hard + next loop rank increase (caps around loop 5 or 6?)

Note that only specific enemies and boss attacks are affected by loop rank. Because loop rank seems to cap, I suspect (if anyone's crazy enough) that it might be counterstoppable. With about 45 minutes per loop, this would require well over 24 hours of playtime. It'd be doable if you paused to take breaks... but the risk of making a mistake and having chaindeaths eating into your lives is very real.

Difficulty affects the # of enemies in a stage, how some attacks behave, and also seems to influence enemy health. For instance, stage 4 has many more enemies on Hard than on Normal, and some of the popcorn enemies now shoot aggressive spreads. The hopping enemies on stage 6 appear to fire two bursts of three-way spreadshots instead of one burst, and there's more enemies. Stage 7 and 8 have more enemies, with stage 8 in particular adding a nasty extra wave of the spiky teleporting enemies that fill the screen with bullets; they appear in a group of 5 in an X pattern.

Loop rank affects bullet speeds only for specific attacks. These include:

• The basic turrets and popcorn enemies that walk on the walls you find at the beginning of stage 1 and at the beginning and end of stage 8.

• The stage 1 boss's spreadshots and very loud attacks that fires a line of blue shots.

• The lasers fired by the outer breakable wings of the Stage 2 boss.

• Spreads fired by the stage 3 minibosses.

• The eye beam fired by the stage 4 miniboss.

• The bullet spreads and laser spreads fired by the stage 4 boss (relatively easy to block/dodge even at max rank).

• The spiky teleporting enemies in stage 5 (the nastiest enemy in the game at high rank I think, they flood the screen with high speed shots).

• The enemies that fly up from the background into the foreground in stage 5, firing spreads above and below.

• The stage 5 boss's spreads its fires when it's at the very bottom or top of the screen in its first phase.

• The spreads fired by the stage 7 boss.

Not all attacks or enemies are affected by loop rank. For instance, these attacks will never get harder in subsequent loops:

• Almost all the attacks the stage 2 boss has are unaffected by loops.

• The stage 3, 6, and 8 bosses have no attacks that appear to increase in speed in loops at all.

• The popcorn enemies, anemone like enemies that fire silver shots, and octopus enemies in stage 4 are all unaffected by looping. The octopuses do get an increase in speed in loop 2 if you started on Normal, but that's because you're going from Normal to Hard.

• Stage 4 boss's homing orbs, as well as its silver lasers that turn at 90 degree angles are unaffected by looping.

• The minibosses fought in Stage 1 and 8 that fire electricity at you appear unaffected by looping.

Another option for counterstopping is boss milking. I discovered that bosses do not appear to time out at all when I fought the Stage 3 boss continuously for 15 minutes to test it. By milking the fireballs it hurls at you when it spins, you can slowly build up points (when it's on the right side of the screen 8000 to 10000 is possible) and the rest of its attacks are relatively easy to avoid (when it's on the left your gunpods at the rear can block the fireballs). This would take forever though and it's much faster to simply play the game and cash in on collecting powerups when you've already got the same weapons equipped. Milking the Stage 6 boss that summons debris might also be doable, but it'd be hard to avoid damaging the core itself, and the boss's attacks are actually a threat to you, unlike the Stage 3 boss. The Stage 8 boss also has milkable debris, but the attacks where it summons a screen full of rotating orbs that bounce shots around is extremely scary.

I had a bug on my 14 mil run that prevented me from entering my initials. It just put the default AAAA in without showing me the high score table when I gameovered. Not sure if this is a bug due to reaching such a high score or something else, but it still at least saved the score.

I think at this point I'm done with SideLine for score. There isn't anyone else actively playing the game from what I can see, and the only other milestone for me now is 20 million and beyond, or possibly even the counterstop which would require several days of effort. And that's by looping the game repeatedly (about 1.7 million points per loop) and playing consistently well enough that you maintain a huge stock of lives. Boss milking would take way longer than that.
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