This is a Tool Assisted Speedrun of the GBA game The Polar Express that was released in 2004.
This is an improved version of the previous TAS (https://tasvideos.org/7799S). The improvement is in the last level only, where in the first version I did not hold RIGHT to accelerate the zeppelin, but this newer version includes it. This saves 81 seconds, just simply for holding a button :(
The TAS starts at power on at frame 0 and ends at frame 122,689 (time = 34:14.15) when we give the last input to load the final cutscene.
In order to replicate the TAS yourself, please make sure that you have the following:
- Copy of the game "Polar Express, The (USA, Europe) (En,Fr,De,Es,It)"
- GBA BIOS: gba_bios.bin
- The emulation software EmuHawk version 2.8.
The software EmuHawk version 2.8 will need to run on these settings:
- GBA BIOS: gba_bios.bin
- Profile = Tool Assisted Speedruns (to not lose accuracy in the frames)
The ROM checksums (SHA1) are:
- gba_bios.bin = 300C20DF6731A33952DED8C436F7F186D25D3492
- Polar Express, The (USA, Europe) (En,Fr,De,Es,It).gba = a2f940ae658d2527f78a901a2ef5a66929397579
- Online checksum SHA1: ( https://emn178.github.io/online-tools/sha1_checksum.html )
- Short Description
The game is an adaptation of the movie "The Polar Express" released in 2004. We follow the adventure of Hero Boy as he travels to the North Pole in the Polar Express.
- Rules of any% completion
The category of this TAS is any%, meaning that we need to reach the end credits. There is no requirement for the number of candy canes or bells. Accessing the credits via the settings menu to reach them faster is not allowed.
Several exploits are used:
- Quick high jump:
- When you jump while walking, you can have more horizontal momentum by running at max speed, then leaving one single frame blank, then jumping. It will carry some of the running speed to the high jump.
- Early poggo-stick landing:
- When you land on the corner of a ledge or ice-block, you can prevent jumping and you can go down directly.
- Glitchy box:
- In Episode 7-1, if you stand on the box on the conveyor belt, you do not move with the box, but instead, you stay at the same position relative to the ground. It appears as if you slide on the box.
Unused exploit/glitch, but still nice to know:
- Pause menu glitch:
- If you pause the game at the very first frame possible when entering the level, the screen becomes glitched and the text appears as black. This is because when the level starts, the first frame loads the map, and the second loads all the items in the map. I assume that the color in the pause menu is loaded at the second frame.
- Corner glitch:
- If you land on a corner of a ledge and try to move towards the center of it, you are prevented from walking any further. To be more precise, you run without moving until you let go of the direction button.
- TAS Breakdown
Here is a summary of the TAS.
Table of contents
- 0:00 - Power On
- 0:18 - Episode 1.1 Start of the Journey
- 1:11 - Episode 2.1 Middle of the train
- 2:16 - Episode 2.2 Moving to the end of the train
- 3:29 - Episode 3.1 Skiing on the train
- 5:15 - Episode 4.1 Polar Express 1
- 6:43 - Episode 5.1 Inside the locomotive
- 7:49 - Episode 5.2 Back in the train
- 9:01 - Episode 5.3 Platforming on top of the train
- 10:14 - Episode 6.1 Polar Express 2
- 11:44 - Episode 7.1 Recycling wagon
- 13:46 - Episode 7.2 Even more broken toys
- 15:07 - Episode 7.3 Too much recycling to count
- 16:54 - Episode 8.1 Polar Express 3
- 18:18 - Episode 9.1 Arrival in the city
- 19:40 - Episode 9.2 Walking in the city streets
- 21:14 - Episode 9.3 Frozen rooftops of the city
- 23:11 - Episode 10.1 Forbidden Pneumatic travel
- 24:33 - Episode 11.1 The toy factory
- 26:09 - Episode 11.2 Platforming issues at the factory
- 28:53 - Episode 11.3 Exiting the factory
- 30:46 - Episode 12.1 The toy chute
- 32:42 - Episode 13.1 Zeppelin over the city
- 35:36 - Last input at frame 122,689
The game is divided into two kinds of levels:
- We need to collect 3 sleigh bells to open the exit door of the level
- We have to avoid traps to reach the end of the level. No way to speed up movement. We skip collecting all candy canes to not have the 100% level completion jingle at the end.
0:00 - Power On
Nothing unusual here, just booting the game.
0:18 - Episode 1.1 Start of the Journey
We start in the polar Express. First, let's define all the movement mechanics:
- Walking (hold Left/Right)
- Crouching (hold Down + Left/Right to move)
- Running (hold R + Left/Right)
- Run Jumping (hold R + Left/Right, then press A at least 2 frames after moving)
- Ledge Grab (hold Left/Right while in mid-air, close to a ledge, then press either A or Left/Right to climb the ledge)
- Ladder movement (hold Up/Down to move on a ladder and press A to let go)
- Box movement (hold B + Left/Right to pull or push a box)
- Door enter (press Up to go through a door)
- Chest open (press Up to open a chest)
- Power-up cancel (press L to cancel a power up)
This level is fairly standard, a lot of jumping over obstacles, and a bit of climbing. It is a tutorial level, so there is not much to do in here.
1:11 - Episode 2.1 Middle of the train
First box pushes, and the train starts to hurt us in various ways. We can damage through everything, and exit the level without too much issue.
2:16 - Episode 2.2 Moving to the end of the train
First toy chest of the game that we open. It is a pogo-stick and it has two uses. It allows us to do a massive jump, and it can break the ice-blocks it lands on. We also discover the floor pads that open doors when we stand on them, but we need a box on them to keep the door open.
3:29 - Episode 3.1 Skiing on the train
First auto-scroller, where we have to ski on top of the train to reach the coal wagon. We can jump above gates and gaps with A, and crouch under bricks by holding Down. As said before, nothing can speed up these levels, so we just have some fun.
5:15 - Episode 4.1 Polar Express 1
Similar to the skiing level, we are in an auto-scroller. This time, we control the train, and we have to move between tracks to reach the end. We change tracks by holding Left/Right.
6:43 - Episode 5.1 Inside the locomotive
There are flamethrowers on the ground and walls, very safe environment. We also discover switches that open doors. Some of them are timed and have a progress bar, others are simple ON/OFF levers. In this level we skip a jump in the coal wagon to affect the cycle of an elf much later in the run (Episode 11.2).
7:49 - Episode 5.2 Back in the train
A lot of jumping here, but still quite standard movement. Very similar to the previous level, but with a slightly different scenery.
9:01 - Episode 5.3 Platforming on top of the train
Moving platforms appear, along with all their troubles. We have to wait for some platform cycles, but in the end it doesn't even matter. We reach the end easily with the maximum time save despite the platforms.
10:14 - Episode 6.1 Polar Express 2
Another train level, extremely similar to the first one. Nothing is different except the tracks pattern, and the scenery.
11:44 - Episode 7.1 Recycling wagon
Weird box physics, where a box on a conveyor belt will not move us is we are standing on it. We stay on the same position relative to the ground. Some tight jumps to avoid toys, and we discover a second power-up. The balloon allows us to fly up at very slow speed, and if we let go of the balloon, we can't grab ledges, so we need to go all the way up to the ledge before letting go.
13:46 - Episode 7.2 Even more broken toys
More and more dangers in the levels, so we get hurt quite a lot. Very linear routing so far. It's about the same level as the previous one.
15:07 - Episode 7.3 Too much recycling to count
Platform cycle issues start to really show here. In the second room, we have 2 bells to collect and one lever to activate. We do the lever first, then the upper bell, then the left bell to catch the best platform cycle. We o back to the start of the level to continue forward for the last bell and we exit.
16:54 - Episode 8.1 Polar Express 3
Train level, but this time we are a singular wagon in the city. Same idea as before.
18:18 - Episode 9.1 Arrival in the city
We finally depart from the train to walk in the city. Many conveyor belts and ladders to climb, and one box we have to push several floors down to reach a floor pad. We also have one voluntary damage on spikes to reach a bell, skipping platform uses.
19:40 - Episode 9.2 Walking in the city streets
Small new shortcut, we jump down instead of up on the rooftops to skip some ladders. Also, a long combo of pogo-stick and balloon to collect one bell.
21:14 - Episode 9.3 Frozen rooftops of the city
Platform cycles needed to be considered very much for this level. We push one box early on as we have time to waste, and we come back to it later to finish pushing it. This is because we have to wait for a platform cycle towards the middle of the level. We still manage to get past it without too much issue.
23:11 - Episode 10.1 Forbidden Pneumatic travel
Pneumatic train level. Exact same mechanic as the other ones, but the graphics change a lot. We are suddenly above ground and the tracks are replaced by a large tube.
24:33 - Episode 11.1 The toy factory
Many ladders in this level, and we even got a small mechanic for them. When there is a ground we can use midway through the ladder, we let go of the ladder and jump to climb higher on the ladder than if we just climbed it. Nothing much is of importance, except that the elves have the same hitbox as the RC cars in the recycling wagon levels. We can run jump over them. There is also a repeat of the box pushing to the ground floor idea. At the end of the level, we slide on a ledge to reach the end a bit faster.
26:09 - Episode 11.2 Platforming issues at the factory
Moving platforms caused the most issues here. The routing was very easy, but the platform cycles made us wait too much for my liking. I tried everything I could, but I can't get earlier cycles than what I already have. The elf cycle that we changed is in this level, and we barely can escape him.
28:53 - Episode 11.3 Exiting the factory
Last platforming level, with one skip that required 2HP. We can jump directly on spikes towards the middle of the level to skip using platforms. This means it was necessary to wait a tiny bit before obstacles to not get hit, but it saves time overall. Also, first time we have electric pipes.
30:46 - Episode 12.1 The toy chute
Similar to the train level in the sense that it is an auto-scroller with obstacles, but we are in a chute this time; we don't play as the train. We just have to reach the end of the level without falling off the slide.
32:42 - Episode 13.1 Zeppelin over the city
We control a zeppelin over the city. It slowly descends, so we need to repeatedly press A to make it go up. We have to avoid storms and buildings to arrive at the Christmas tree. The only way to go faster is to hold RIGHT at all times, and never bump into any building, because it slows down the zeppelin.
35:36 - Last input at frame 122,689
The RTA run ends when the zeppelin is at the Christmas tree, but it seems more fitting for the TAS to end at the last input that triggers the end credits. That is, we press START at the frame 122,689 to skip a dialogue.
- Frequently Asked Questions
Is there some sort of commentary for the TAS?
- Yes, there is one in the submission video. Turn on the English subtitles to see them.
When you let go of the balloon power-up, why don't you grab ledges to go faster?
- When you let go of the balloon, you cannot grab ledges. I do not know why, but it is an intended game design. You have to go all the way up until your foot is at the level of the ledge.
Are there regional differences?
- Not as far as I can tell. There has been only two versions I could find, Europe and USA. Although changing the game language can be done, since it is all part of the same game, it does not change the speed of the TAS. That is because we skip all dialogues the first frame they appear, regardless of the text length.
What's the fastest method of movement?
- Excluding power-ups, in order from slowest to fastest, you have:
- Jumping while Running
Is there a way to speed up the auto-scroller levels? (skiis, train, pneumatic, toy chute, zeppelin)
- No. You can however slow down if you hit obstacles. The only exception is the zeppelin level, where you can hold RIGHT to go faster. It is around twice the speed of not holding RIGHT.
Can you get some sort of knockback from enemies?
- Unfortunately, no. If we take some form of damage, we do not get pushed in any direction.
How can you do a high jump with so much horizontal distance?
- If you run, then leave a single frame empty, then you jump, some of the speed is transferred to the jump. It works best if your initial run speed is at maximum.
Why don't you grab the side of moving platforms, the same you would do a ledge?
- Moving platforms can't be grabbed. The run would be faster if they were.
What is the RTA time for this category?
- The RTA WR as of 04 January 2023 is 44:12 by Sebarizlia ( https://www.speedrun.com/the_polar_express/run/mr4kx22z ). The game is not very popular, so there is only one runner. The main reason for the time difference is the jumps while running. Sebarizlia used this many times in RTA, but TAS could do it in many more places, and much more optimally. Also, the high jumps done after running made many places much faster to execute.
How are the platform cycles decided?
- Platform cycles are fixed at the start of the level. It means, a platform will always behave in the exact same way no matter what you do in the level. I have not found any way to alter their movement, and since the only way to interact with them is by standing on them, you can't push them (by preventing them from moving for example).
I saw you quickly turn around when you are going off a ledge. How do you do that?
- Let's say you are running to the right, and there was a ledge you want to drop from. After the drop, you want to go to the opposite direction, to the left. To remove the momentum to the right, you have to let go of the R button (running) right before you are about to drop, and hold the Left button all the way during the fall. You might want to fiddle with the direction button to get the desired curved drop, but the most important part is to walk before dropping. That instantly reduces the momentum, faster than simply letting go of all directions.
Samsara: Claiming for judging.
Samsara: An easy fix at the end means an easy judgement. Accepting as an improvement to  GBA The Polar Express by Cadit in 35:36.22!