100% Hard Mode
100% Hard is the category that requires collecting all 100 items while playing the game on hard mode. Unlike normal mode, there are not a lot of possible routing variations due to the reduced energy and ammo capacity.
100% hard follows a similar route to normal mode. A brief summary is as follows:
- Do Early Brinstar cleanup, collecting Long Beam as intended. Also collect the Ceiling E-Tank before entering Kraid
- Enter Kraid and do the HBJ route to get to the Kraid fight
- Enter Norfair, go to Crateria to collect Unknown Item 1, Early Supers, and Power Grip
- Return to Norfair and follow the Newfair route. Optionally do Lower Norfair Cleanup if following the Cool Route in cleanup.
- Do the standard Ridley route if following the Cool Route, otherwise do Late Imago
- Follow the same route as Normal Mode through Tourian and Suitless
- Collect the Early PBs, refilling at the suitless refill
For the normal route, do the following:
- Break the glass tube
- Return to the save room to refill
- Head to the save under glass tube to refill again
- Follow Old Cleanup Route to the end
For Cool Route, do the following
- Break the glass tube and perform the clip into the right side PBs
- Head left into Chozo Ruins and refill at the save station
- Collect Out of the Way PBs and the Super Missile tank on the way
- Refill at the Chozo Ruins save station again
- Return to the lower ship and follow Old Cleanup route through Crateria
- In Crateria, head through the upper Chozodia entrance to collect the missile tank, then immediately return
- Collect the ballspark missile
- Return to the Lower Ship to collect the items
- Follow the normal route to the end
100% Hard does not feature as many routing decision as normal mode, however there are still a few minor ones and one major one. These choices are outlined below.
Early Brinstar cleanup is forced due to the reduced ammo capacity in Hard Mode. However, there is still the choice to collect Long Beam early or late. Early Long Beam is generally considered to be the better choice, as it makes many parts of the game significantly easier. It is also required for optimal Cool Route to reduce missile usage. Late Long Beam is much harder and requires the use of more missiles to navigate the game, and can potentially save a few seconds in Brinstar.
In Kraid, the routing choice is between Early Acid Worm or Acid Worm Skip. Early Acid Worm is much slower than in Normal Mode due to the reduced ammo capacity, however it is significantly easier. Performing AWS requires HBJ due to the lack of Power Grip, however it saves quite a bit of time in hard mode due to the Acid Worm fight being very slow. Doing HBJ also allows for skipping the Unknown Item refill. HBJ route provides a maximum of 18 missiles for the Kraid fight, which leaves very little room for error before the fight becomes very slow. Fighting Acid worm provides 5 additional missile tanks, which provides significantly more leeway in the Kraid fight.
Newfair is forced due to the reduced health provided by e-tanks in Hard Mode. The main decision is between Upper Norfair Cleanup or Lower Norfair Cleanup. Upper Norfair Cleanup is standard in Normal Mode, however the additional super provided by Lower Norfair Cleanup is extremely valuable in Hard mode. Lower Norfair cleanup also allows Norfair to be traversed with only a single refill at High Jump, rather than the 2 refills required by Upper Norfair Cleanup. The additional Super Missile tank allows for Early Imago, which is not possible with Upper Norfair Cleanup. There is also some potential upside to having this super missile in Tourian. Considering all of these things, Lower Norfair Cleanup winds up saving a good amount of time in Hard Mode, despite the routing itself being less efficient
The routing choice here also dictates which cleanup route must be followed. Lower Norfair cleanup is incompatible with the standard cleanup route, as it requires a either a refill or 2 Power Bomb drops from enemies. As Lower Norfair Cleanup does not go through any refill options, it requires a fairly long detour which completely negates any timesave accrued from the additional Super Missile tank earlier.
Early or Late Imago is the only "decision" that must be made in Ridley. This is dictated by the choice of Norfair route and the ammo count entering Ridley. Early Imago can only be done with an ammo count of 22/3 or greater, otherwise Imago must be done late.
In cleanup, the choice is between Normal Route or Cool Route. There is no definitive answer as to which route is faster, but they are at least somewhat close. Normal route is significantly more consistent and will mirror 100% Normal much more closely, which minimizes the amount of category specific learning that must be done. Cool Route has a lot of potential upside, however there is much more of an RNG element to it which makes it somewhat difficult to quantify. Subjectively, it differentiates 100% Hard from 100% Normal quite a bit and allows for many strategies not seen in other categories.