The Anatomy of The Goonies II | 2 | Pincers of peril

Before we delve any further into the design of The Goonies II, it’s important to take a step back and talk about one of the most curious fundamental concepts behind the game: The idea of front and back. When you pause the action, you’re taken to a Zelda-esque menu screen.

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Say, this is a pretty cool addition for a 1987-vintage action game. Even Metroid didn’t have one of these, as much as an auto-map would have come in handy. Actually, “auto-map” isn’t the right term here; the map doesn’t fill out as you explore but rather gives you a rough idea of the shape of the Fratellis’ lair from the beginning. Each grid of the map corresponds, roughly, to one screen’s height and about a screen and a half’s width, so it’s a fairly accurate representation of how much territory you have to explore.

You also get a sense of the inventory you’ll be collecting throughout the adventure, which breaks into two active selection categories (weapons and shoes) and one passive ability boosting group (implements). The lattermost of these are the sort of things that appeared hidden throughout the original Goonies, like the helmet to resist falling objects and the raincoat to protect you from steam geysers, as well as some new gear. This is also where you’ll keep count of your adventure scene tools like the hammer and keyring you found in the first area.

All told, your inventory screen will eventually look like this:

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So you get a pretty solid sense of the total scope of the adventure right from the outset. But hey, wait. That second map is different than in the first screen…

Depending on where you are in the game world, you’ll see one of two different map layouts: One labeled Front and the other, obviously, denoted as Back. This is actually something carried over from The Goonies for Famicom, though here it’s presented as much more of a concrete mechanic than in the first game. Before, you’d duck into a door (often shaped like a skull’s mouth) and come out some other place in a level; here, your movements line up between two sides of a map. Note that “Front” and “Back” are not reversed from one another — if you move to the left edge of the Front map before switching to the other area, you’ll be at the leftmost side of the Back map as well. Basically, you’re viewing both maps from the same relative direction, and one literally sits in front of the other. It’s a little weird, but even if the real-world logistics of it don’t quite make sense it makes practical navigation a lot easier.

The Front and Back maps of the hideout actually line up quite consistently, once you figure out how they correspond (the restaurant has an attic that rises one screen higher on the Front side, so the top left row on the Back map is one row lower than the top left row on the Front map). The one wrinkle that complicates things comes from the Warp Zones that lead you to entirely different points of the other map, but generally those connect self-contained areas that line up with a similar region in the same vicinity on the reverse map.

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Anyway, all of this is good to know, because as soon as you climb down the ladder leading from the opening restaurant area, you immediately find yourself at an intersection leading in several possible directions. You can climb down another ladder, move left, or go right. As with Metroid, The Goonies II kind of banks on your platformer instincts to take you right immediately. This leads you to a total dead end, though on the other side of the wall you can see an extension of this cellar area just out of reach. You won’t actually be able to traverse that area until the very end of the game, but from the very beginning it’s there, tantalizing you, provoking you to wonder what’s over there and how you can reach it.

Should you choose to go down, you’ll see more of that out-of-reach endgame territory as you travel to a door that takes you to a Warp Zone. That’s not really what the developers intended for you to do here, but they allow it; The Goonies II is pretty well completely open to you to explore from the outset. You can only get so far until you collect the critical Implements you need to navigate the Adventure scene pathways, but unlike Metroid, there is no real sense of linearity at work here. The Goonies II works more like Castlevania II, allowing you to become completely lost before working out the solutions and secrets at hand. Thankfully, the secrets aren’t nearly as opaque here as in Simon’s Quest. The people who give you hints are even kind of helpful! Unless you punch them.

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While you’re free to pass through the Warp Zone, you’ll ultimately find dead ends (no doubt after considerable frustration). If you move left at the cellar intersection instead, however, you’ll come to another door — and this one, unlike those in the initial restaurant area, don’t lead to dead ends. Instead, the door passes through from the Front map to the Back. You’ll come out in a cellar similar to that on the Front side, though with an earthier color scheme, and see a ladder leading immediately upward.

The door between cellars doesn’t simply serve as a thoroughfare, though. As you move from one side to the other, you’ll find a Magic Locator Device simply laying there in the open. As the locked-up hint in the restaurant explained, you find your lost Goonie pals with the Magic Locator Devices you find — and sure enough, if you check the map once you enter the Back cellar, you’ll see a blue dot two rows above the red dot that indicates Mikey’s current position. There are seven devices and six Goonies plus the game’s damsel in distress, the inexplicable Annie the Mermaid, so each one you collect will lead you to a different companion in need of help.

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Up the stairs you’ll find another hideout like the one where you began the game (though, again, palette-swapped). At the right end you’ll again see more of the game you can’t immediately access; the path leads you to the uppermost level of this building, but it ends with no way down to the other half of this building. The good news is that at the dead end you’ll find a door where the first of the Goonies is locked away. Liberate your friend with a key and you’ll receive both an admonition (said captive has the temerity to complain about how late you are arriving to save his life) and an extra block of health, boosting your maximum energy from two blocks to three. Nice!

So, in the journey leading to the first captive, The Goonies II gives you enough freedom to become temporarily lost, but it also makes the path to this initial objective impossible to miss once you move in the proper direction. We’ll look at some of problems in The Goonies II soon enough, but the game actually does quite a nice job of providing some guidance to get your started without railroading you toward that first goal. It may take you a little while to get here if you don’t pass through to the Back cellar before exploring what lies beyond the Warp Zone, but eventually you’ll have to make it back to this point. All in all, some pretty smart game design.

The Anatomy of The Goonies II | 1 | Never say die

Hi, everyone. So, I lied. The next game up under the Anatomy lens isn’t Super Mario Bros. 2… because what I have in mind for that is going to take some more prep work. Instead, let’s finish up the second half of that Anatomy of Goonies series I started this spring, eh? I mean, I changed my Twitter avatar in honor of Annie the Mermaid and never bothered writing about the game she’s in. And, honestly, I’d kind of like for my public persona to no longer be presented as a prepubescent mermaid.

But first, a recap. The Goonies, as you may recall, transformed the Richard Donner film into a six-stage platformer with an interesting element of exploration. It also relied heavily on trial-and-error with unspoken rules to uncover hidden secrets that were effectively required for progression. In short, The Goonies went down in history as a thoughtful platformer with some solid mechanics and respectable designed ultimately undermined by the bad habits of its era.

For The Goonies II, Konami used a larger cartridge ROM and applied their growing NES expertise to produce something considerably more balanced. The Goonies II has issues, as we’ll see, but it was kind of insanely ambitious for its time. To put it into context: It launched in Japan a mere eight months after Metroid made its debut, and six months after Konami came into its own as a third party with Castlevania. It debuted nearly a year before Mega Man, and a mere two months after Zelda II (which enjoyed the perks of being on Famicom Disk System, whose advantages over the base NES hardware were still relevant at the time).

Yes, The Goonies II has issues, but it broke new ground on the NES.

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Like The Goonies, this adventure sets you on your way in the ramshackle abandoned restaurant the Fratelli gang uses as its hideout. Yet right away we see two significant differences over the first game: One, the platforms divide the screen into two levels rather than three, and the overall level design appears considerably less convoluted and dense. The Goonies II removes the element of time as a game factor, and as such its layouts can afford to sprawl and play out in a more relaxed fashion.

Secondly, when Mikey attacks, he’s no longer using stubby little judo kicks. Instead, he wields a… hmm, Yo-Yo® is trademarked. Let’s call it an “Island Star.” Yeah.

So Mikey’s attacks have more range, and the environment feels less claustrophobic. These provide a tangible reflection of the change in game design philosophy behind this sequel. But in case these design cues don’t make the change in this adventure’s nature immediately obvious…

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…you’ll quickly figure things out when you reach a door on the upper level a mere three screens into the restaurant area.

Unlike the doors in The Goonies, this doesn’t simply take you to another portion of the level. Instead, you enter an adventure-game-inspired first-person maze in which you control Mikey indirectly through menu selections.

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Weird, right? But also very much a zeitgeist kind of thing for a Japanese Famicom developer to do in 1987, when PC-derived adventure and role-playing games were all the rage over there. Konami saw the success other studios had enjoyed with the likes of The Portopia Serial Murder Case and Famicom Tantei Club and wanted to take a bite of that. But they also wanted to jump on the free-exploration platform action trend. So they combined the two genres into one.

It’s a strange and sometimes awkward pairing, but it does work at times. Here in the first door, you’ll find nothing more than a dead end and an essential tool for the rest of the game, the Hammer. It’s worth noting here that Konami’s designers could have given you the Hammer from outset, as they did with the, uh, Island Star. However, they took a cue from Metroid, making the collection of this item a key to advancement that, at the same time, offers guidance on how players go about advancing.

This room, most likely the first you’ll enter in the game, contains nothing but the hammer. So you can deduce that the “adventure scenes” (as the game calls the first-person sequences) involve collecting items. How you use the Hammer isn’t evident here — there’s no use for the Hammer in this screen — but at least you know you need to look for tools now.

Once you back out of this adventure scene, you’ll return to the platforming portions, where you’ll quickly find a second door. Here, the game expands on the complexity of its design mechanics. The next item you find is a Keyring, which gives Mikey the ability to carry up to two keys at a time (these will now appear as random drops from defeated enemies). The Keyring appears next to a wooden double door leading to a second room, relaying your ability to navigate through adventure scenes; in the second room you’ll find a safe, which you are very obviously meant to unlock with one of your newly acquired keys.

Inside the safe, the game provides material guidance in the form of a text hint: FIND THE GOONIES WITH THE MAGIC LOCATOR DEVICE. So now you know (1) how to go about fulfilling the game’s main objective of tracking down the captive Goonies — it’s no longer as simple as finding one in each stage — and what, precisely the Magic Locator Devices you’ll begin collecting before long are for.

This second room also contains one more element: A hole in the ceiling. You don’t have the means to interact with the hole above, but the message is clear. You’ll need to come back later to complete your tasks in this adventure scene.

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Some things remain consistent, at least. Before you reach the end of the first screen of the Fratelli hideout, one of the brothers comes along and starts shooting at you. As ever, you can stun (though not entirely remove from play) the Fratellis. The only way forward is down; you advance by climbing the ladder to the next area, not by passing through a one-way gate. There are no points of no return in The Goonies II, as you’ll soon discover.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XVI – Xenophobia

Whatever crimes of redundant visual representations the interior of Wily’s castle may have committed, you can levy no such complaints against this final chamber, in which you face off one last time against the game’s bosses. I mean, check this out.

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Those screens! In case you ever doubted Mega Man’s anime influence, here are some straight-up Macross computer aesthetics for you to enjoy. I almost expect to see a fusillade of Crash Bombers flying along windy paths or something.

This, of course, is the end game: A showdown with rebuilt versions of Wily’s eight Robot Masters. Mega Man 2 handles this boss rush very differently than the first game did, establishing a fairly permanent standard for the franchise. Rather than spread out the bosses across multiple levels and put the rush at the end of a fairly tricky stage, you fight all eight bosses at once (or rather, one at a time, in rapid succession) in a stage designed specifically to contain the fights.

The basic premise of the rematches remains the same — you warp into a room housing a single boss, defeat it, then exit again to take on the next — but it’s much friendlier this time. The warp chambers are no longer consecutive, so instead of jumping immediately to the next battle you return here to the hub. Even better, each defeated boss drops a large health capsule, so it’s no longer quite such a matter of endurance as in the original. If you die in the process, any bosses you’ve defeated — denoted by the absence of blinking lights on that Robot Master’s telepod — remained destroyed until you hit continue. And, if you’ve made it this far while toting E-Tanks, you’ll still have those going for you until you continue, too. On the other hand, without continuing you also  won’t be able to refill your weapons, meaning you won’t be able to use any Crash Bombers here. Not after that Boobeam fight.

And finally, each boss redux battle happens in a plain ol’ empty chamber. No conveyor belt in Metal Man’s room, no uneven flooring in Quick Man and Flash Man’s level. The one exception is that Bubble Man’s room is still flooded, but even then you no longer have to worry about mines lining the ceiling. Unlike in Mega Man, where the lack of Super Arm-compatible boxes in the reduxes could work against you, here the even flooring works more or less universally in your favor. You can stand and pour fire into Flash Man and Quick Man without having to fuss over their unpredictable responses to the varied terrain, and Metal Man… well, now that you have your complete arsenal in hand, you can destroy him in a hilarious two shots of his own weapon. (Or one shot, if you’re playing easy mode.)

There’s a bit of potluck to the enemy order here; the teleporters don’t use the same layout they did in the stage select screen. Heat Man occupies the upper-left corner, not Bubble Man, and there seems to be no correlation between the stage select arrangement and the order of these warp pads. But given how incredibly powerful you’ve become by this point, the fights are enough of a cake walk that it shouldn’t matter; until you learn the layout, you’ll always be on your toes just a bit.

Once the eight Robot Masters are once again reduced to a burst of pulsating circles, a final pad appears.

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This, of course, takes you directly to Dr. Wily’s latest personal war machine. This time it’s less like some bizarre upright human torso and more like, I dunno. Slave-1. Wily Machine 2 feels like a deliberate inversion of the previous game’s final machine; its first phase fires beams of energy that travel downward and then curve upward in a parabolic motion, a mirror image of the first machine’s bullets that followed a decaying upward path before plunging down, off-screen.

The second phase, once you take down the outer armor and expose Wily’s inner capsule, is much trickier. It fires beams of energy that travel in a tightly arcing sine wave and can be very difficult to evade. It becomes a battle of attrition, most likely, and if you die against either form of the machine you’re sent back to the first phase on your next attempt.

Wily Machine 2 has two weaknesses, and they seem specifically tailored as a sort of “screw you” from the developers. Atomic Fire, fully charged, will destroy the outer armor in two shots. And both phases are weak to Crash Bomber, with the second form susceptible to taking multiple hits from the sustained explosion. The problem, of course, is that you only really get one chance with these weapons; since the teleportation chamber doesn’t offer you any energy refills when you respawn and the Atomic Fire can only discharge two full-force blasts without needing a refill, the pressure is on not to screw up the second round. And of course you almost certainly have zero Crash Bombers after the Boobeam trap, so the only way to breeze through the battle is to accept a game over and the subsequent energy refill.

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But when you do at last destroy Wily Machine 2, the game… isn’t over?

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Instead, the floor explodes beneath Mega Man and he plunges into an entirely new stage.

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In contrast to the rest of the game, there’s an eerie feel to this sequence. No music plays in the background, and you run through a tunnel bored through pure rock. There are no signs of technology here; no man-made structures, no robots, only silence punctuated by the rhythmic dripping of some sort of caustic fluid.

Finally, you reach a darkened room that appears to be a portal to an alternate dimension, or something. The surreality of this post-Wily sequence reaches its peak as you step into outer space and Wily flies into the room via flying saucer, leaps into the air, and levitates in place as he morphs into his true form…

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…an alien!?

The instant he transforms, Wily immediately presses the attack, swooping around the room and firing at Mega Man with single powerful projectiles targeting his location. This fight can only be survived if you keep on the move, avoiding the alien’s flight path and leaping its bullets. You also need to experiment with your weapons, because everything you throw at the alien seems to bounce right off. The only power capable of putting a dent in the alien’s life bar is, almost certainly by design, the last one you’d think to use here: The Bubble Lead.

After all, the alien constantly flies above you, and while the Bubble Lead follows a small upward arc its upward movement is extremely small and ends at about arm’s length before plummeting to the ground. So this introduces an element of risk and space management to an already tense fight; not only do you have to dodge the creature and its deadly fire, you have to do so while daredeviling your way up close to it to fire a Bubble Lead as it reaches one of the low points of its figure-8 movement.

Once you shake off the shock of discovering the truth of Wily’s extraterrestrial origins, the battle turns into an exercise in learning the alien’s pattern and sorting out exactly how you can damage it. Thankfully it follows a consistent pattern of movements and attacks — that Wily, always stuck in the same old patterns and habits — so eventually it just comes down to developing a rhythm and sticking to it long enough to whittle down the alien’s health meter. Naturally, its attacks hit you much harder than yours hit it. On the other hand, you’ll always continue at the beginning of the acid run, so you don’t have to weather the Robot Master/Wily Machine gauntlet again.

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And, once the alien is defeated, you discover that you’ve actually been in a sort of planetarium with a projector in the ceiling, and that the “alien” was just a holographic device Wily was directing from a control panel in the corner. Evidently he fully expected all his Robot Masters and his war machines to be defeated and created this weird ruse as a last-ditch measure. Evil geniuses, man. Who even knows.

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Cornered, he surrenders, and the game ends for reals as the planetarium projector closes up. Love the way it reflects (refracts?) the pattern on the walls.

And Mega Man goes for a walk, cycling through his powers as he marches forward.

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I love the fascinating ambiguity of this sequence. It lacks the sort of triumphant fanfare you’d expect in a game ending, a melancholy tune playing as Mega Man cycles through his powers and the seasons change to reflect his current color scheme. Finally, he reverts to his usual form, and the scene returns to fair weather as well.

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He warps out, and the scene expands to reveal that he’s left his helmet behind.

At the time, I took this to represent the end of the series — Mega Man realized he didn’t belong in this world or something and vanished forever. Of course, dozens upon dozens of sequels followed, so I suppose the point was that he realized his newly acquired skills made him too powerful, too dangerous, and this sequence is meant to explain why he always abandons the powers he copies before each new adventure.

It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it’s a marvelously unique conclusion to a brilliant game, one that improved on its predecessor in every way imaginable and set a new standard for NES software design.

The end.

Next in Anatomy of Games: Super Mario Bros. 2! Ah, but which one…?

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XV – Passive threats

Several people have complained in the comments of this series (and elsewhere) about the repetitive nature of the Wily stages in Mega Man 2. Specifically, the fact that the levels are constructed of the same bulkhead panel tile, repeated over and over again in different color schemes.

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Interestingly, I never hear those criticisms voiced for the original Mega Man, even though that was the case there as well.

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I think we can attribute this to a couple of factors. One, The first Mega Man just isn’t as visually interesting as its sequel — a smaller, more limited game. Some shortcuts seem inevitable in an older game like that, really. Also, the one different Wily stage came in the middle (stage three) in the first game instead of at the beginning (Mega Man 2‘s Wily 1, the fortress exterior, with its multiple mixed surfaces). Secondly, though, despite the smaller ROM size of the older game, the Wily stages do more to mix up the look of the scenery. Mega Man 2‘s final three levels consist of nothing but walls and walls of these same background tiles, with no other machinery or imagery to break things up. The effect does pair nicely with the background music to create a kind of suffocating atmosphere… but a little variety never hurt anyone.

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That being said, for all the Wily stages’ visual monotony, each one incorporates its own unique mechanics. We’ve seen hints of Metal Man’s stage, Bubble Man’s, Flash Man’s, and more. For the final leg of the journey, we thankfully don’t have to deal with Quick Man redux. Instead, it’s more a reprise of Crash Man’s level, with some mechanics that have appeared nowhere else in the game.

Despite its dense, claustrophobic feel, Wily 4 revisits the ascent element of Crash Man’s stage. You’re navigating a series of ladders here, with strategically placed Metools eager to knock you back down to the previous screen. Those jerks. What makes this area different, however, is the presence of….

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…false, holographic floors. Certain panels of floor simply don’t exist, despite the visuals telling you otherwise. Nasty.

But not unfair. The spike trap here isn’t the first you’ll see of the fall-through flooring. The initial ascent with the bulkheads populated by Metools ease you into this new mechanic in a relatively safe environment. You can’t reach this spike pit without first traversing a series of holographic bulkheads, and the game actively entices you to learn more about them by strategically placing a 1UP in a corner that can only be reached by correctly navigating these takeout pits. The worst that can happen here is to fall and hit a Metool — no big deal. So by the time you get to the spikes, you’ve just spent a few minutes plummeting in unexpected places and riding Item-3 past surprise pitfalls. You should expect a trick here.

The solution to this bit of environmental nastiness is right in your arsenal: The Bubble Lead, which clings to the ground and tenacious keeps on clinging even when the ground takes a downward dip, has the ability to roll along safe ground and drop where the pits appear. You still can’t see the pits, but you can deduce their location by watching the behavior of the Bubble Lead.

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And when you do reach pits, you can either jump over them or, when the ceiling is too low for you to clear that much horizontal space without bumping your head and taking a fall, using Item-3 to stick to the inner lip of one of the pits and create a makeshift platform for you. Alternately, you could ride Item-1 from below the pit. Mega Man 2 revels in its wealth of strategic options.

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Once you make your way to the top of the pitfall zone, you double back down again for another Crash Man reprise. This time, it’s the on-rails platforms from his stage surrounded by endless swarms of Tellies. In their first appearance, the challenge of these platforms came from the fact that you had to ride them upward to reach ladders at the top of the screen; here, you’re advancing downward. No sweat, right? Gravity’s working in your favor. Alas, it’s not that simple.

For four solid screens, you’re riding the platforms over floors consisting of nothing but spikes. There is very little safe ground here, and many of the rails are surrounded by narrow walls that create far too small a space for Mega Man to ride through. While you can still employ the tactic of riding about while the Leaf Shield protects you, this sequence doesn’t offer any slam dunks like in Crash Man’s stage. You’re forced repeatedly to jump to small stable outcroppings as you wait for the platform to trundle its way through the narrow gaps, and of course every time you jump you’re forced to send the Leaf Shield flying, wasting some of its ammo. There’s a distinct possibility of running out of ammo here, which means you’ll be zipping around the room at high speeds and approaching Tellies from oblique angles, increasingly the likelihood of being knocked into spikes. And no one wants that.

The final stretch of the stage consists of two Returning Sniper Joes on foot and two in mechs. It’s a pretty annoying final gauntlet, since those enemy types tend to be woefully parsimonious with weapon power-up drops… and god knows you’ll probably need them for the boss ahead.

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I suppose every Mega Man has to have at least one boss you utterly and completely hate, and the Boobeams here are Mega Man 2‘s universally loathed showdown. It’s an interesting battle, because it was designed explicitly to screw you over.

The wall-mounted cannons here are a mostly passive threat. They sit on the wall, doing nothing, and every 10 seconds or so they change up and all fire an energy bullet simultaneously that zeroes in on Mega Man’s current position. It’s difficult to dodge the converging shots initially, since they move quickly and from almost every angle. Once you start picking off the cannons, however, you can more easily dodge the shots with a well-timed jump.

The problem is that the only way to destroy the cannons is to hit them with a Crash Bomber. Fully energized, you have seven shots with the Crash Bomber, and there are five cannons. Easy, right? Hold on, there, bucko. Two of the cannons are housed behind destructible walls that, again, can only be destroyed with Crash Bombers. Five plus two is seven, which means you need to pull this encounter off without a wasted shot. Well, you can be clever and put a well-placed Crash Bomber on the tile shown here, which will destroy a turret and a key wall in a single shot, but it’s tricky and not intuitive.

Also not intuitive is the fact that you need to conserve your ammo for the essential targets. Your first instinct in entering this room is almost certainly to blow out the destructible wall immediately to the right of the starting area… but once you open fire on the turret in the bottom right corner, you’ll discover it can only be destroyed with the ammo you just wasted. Rather than blow out the wall to the right, the proper approach is to use Item-1 to ride up to the platform above… which isn’t exactly intuitive, either, since taking that ride is likely to leave you vulnerable in the center of the room where the energy beams converge. This encounter appears to be consciously designed to screw over a first-time player by putting them into a situation where they almost invariably won’t be able to finish the fight.

This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that when you die and start again, you’ll be completely drained of Crash Bomber ammo and will have only the churlish Sniper Joe gauntlet with which to recharge your reserves — a scenario almost guaranteed to cost you a ton of health or other weapon reserves in a slow, grindy attempt to top off your Crash Bomber ammo.

The one saving grace of this battle is that walls destroyed with Crash Bomber don’t regenerate until you run out of lives and hit Continue, so as long as you have some Mega Mans in reserve you won’t have to clear out any of the barriers you’ve taken down. One possible strategy here is to blast out all the walls in the room, die, grind for ammo, and quickly take out the Boobeams. But that’s a graceless tactic, and the fact that Mega Man 2 railroads you into it makes this final fortress boss a black mark in an otherwise beautifully designed game.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XIV – So much larger than life

The background music changes for the third leg of Dr. Wily’s castle, from the majestic theme of the previous two stages to a more muted loop that constantly builds to a crescendo, rising in pitch and intensity, but never quite breaks. Instead, it drops right as it seems like it’s reaching a climax and begins the loop anew. It help builds the tension and anxiety of this stage… which, honestly, doesn’t need much help.

Wily’s third stage represents a turning point in level design. There’s no more hand-holding, no easy way through. At this point, the game has officially become mean and nasty.

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Case in point: You begin the level by immediately dropping into a shaft with some power-ups… but if you want them, you have to burn through a bunch of precious Crash Bombers. You can refill on the next screen (if you land in the right spot and don’t plunge down to the bottom instead), but this represents a hefty outlay of energy for a weapon that, if you’ve played the game before, you know you should conserve with all desperation. If you don’t know what lay ahead, well, you could very easily screw yourself over right here.

This area is light on enemies, and this initial drop features only a single one: One of those snails from Bubble Man’s stage. That should give you a clue for what’s next…

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Water! But not refreshing clean natural water as you saw at Bubble Man’s waterfall. No, this is a gunky green reservoir that reeks of stagnation (quite possibly literally, assuming Dr. Light built olfactory sensors into Mega Man). Sewage? Runoff? Some kind of lubricant reservoir for all of Wily’s machines? In any case, the hideous color scheme makes you feel almost as unwelcome in this area as the mine lining nearly every visible surface of the underwater area. And to say nothing of that giant fish.

Said fish appears in duplicate here, a nasty surprise to waylay you as you leap across the two deadly pits in this area. The designers were nice enough to add a transition from flat greenish background to murky black at the bottom of the pits to denote quite clearly that you shouldn’t try dropping into these pits — a sensibly consideration, given the way water changes the physics and rules of Mega Man’s control scheme — but there’s no hint at the horror lurking below the dark until you take a running jump to clear the watery expanses. Once you step off the surrounding ledge, this massive thing darts upward and tries to take a massive bite of Mega Man. Should it hit Mega Man, it can easily stall his momentum and send him dropping into the pit from which the fish leapt.

The Big Fish may be the strangest enemies in the game. There are only two of them, and they don’t quite fit the overall design aesthetic of Mega Man 2. They present an oddly flat appearance, lacking the highlights and shading that even tiny Wily robots possess — and they definitely lack the cartoonish grandeur of the game’s bigger robot foes. In a way, though, that works to their benefit. It helps convey the alien sensation of this leg of the stage; you weren’t meant to be here, in this foul sewer where only Wily’s incomplete and imperfect creations dwell.

Ostensibly, the Big Fish are invincible — everything simply bounces off their skin. Right? Well, almost; everything bounces off their skin except Quick Boomerangs and Crash Bombers. Hilariously, the weakest weapon in the game will utterly destroy a Big Fish in a single shot, causing it to vanish with a tiny little explosion like you’d expect from one of the minor robots you face in other stages. Apparently this vulnerability was removed for the Mega Man 2 portion of The Wily Wars, which only goes to convey the idea that this is a sort of oubliette for Wily’s rejects and that you’re infiltrating the castle through an unintended route. One imagines Wily watching this sequence on his security monitors and fuming because Mega Man totally bypassed all the cool, colorful, fun defenses designed for the main route. Sorry, Wily.  Like Robert Plant, Mega Man likes to be a back-door man.

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Once you make your way past the Big Fish, the remainder of the stage consists almost entirely of passive threats: Namely, narrow passages lined by a seemingly endless array of mines. This here is the original 1001 Spikes, my friends.

Once you drop into the depths beyond the Big Fish, you’re forced to navigate the trickiest jump in the entire game: A plunge into a shaft four screens high with no platforms, no stops, just a continuous fall through a twisting tube whose every surface will destroy Mega Man on contact. You have one chance to get it right…

And yet, this jump is neither unreasonable nor unfair. The mouth of the passage at the top is rimmed by mines, so you know exactly what you’re getting into and will instinctively aim for the center of the shaft as you leap, to keep you as far away from the instant-kill hazards as possible. Once you drop to the next screen, the tunnel bends to the left in such a way that you’ll hit the mines if you drop into the center of the shaft; you have just a split-second to steer Mega Man to the safety at the left side. You need great reflexes here, not to mention a light touch to prevent oversteering.

The saving grace, however, is in one of the game’s fundamental mechanics — when you make a vertical transition between two screens, the game freezes momentarily and slides slowly from one screen to the next, similar to the screen transitions in The Legend of Zelda. In this case, that two seconds of inactivity gives you a preview of sorts of the hazards that lay below as you slide to the next screen. You’re meant to use the brief pause as an opportunity to scout the passage and plan your next move, then execute that plan the instant you resume control. The designers use what appears to be a technical limitation of the Mega Man 2 game engine to create a tricky, nerve-wracking challenge — a brilliant bit of game design.

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Eventually, you’ll land on a platform, at which point the remainder of the mine gauntlet is a breeze. There’s an amusing final touch, though: These two mines at the very bottom left of the shaft. Just in case you got cocky or sloppy when you ran left to drop into the final descent from the platform above and pushed all the way left. But, if you can avoid those, you’re done with the water and can leap to dry land at the top of the lower airlock. A trio of Shotmen await you here, though after completing such a tense drop you can cheerfully laugh at them for representing such a trivial threat.

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Finally, the boss, a rather familiar-looking fellow on quite a grand scale. Yes, it’s Guts Man from the original Mega Man, but somewhat larger than you’re likely to remember him. Apparently Dr. Wily abandoned the scheme to mass manufacture Guts Man (hinted at in the background graphics of the final Wily stage in Mega Man) and decided instead to go for scale rather than numbers. Guts Man has been redesigned into a massive battle tank.

Though maybe not a very good one. That cylinder on the back side of the tank reads “LP gas,” so basically it’s full of highly volatile liquid propane. Since this is a 2D platformer, of course, Mega Man can’t simply run around behind Guts Dozer to fire a Crash Bomber at the gas tank. Look at those spikes on the shoulders! Instant death, right there. No, instead you have to take on Guts Dozer from the front.

Naturally, the construct is only vulnerable in its face, and it’s invulnerable to your weapons that have the ability to fire upward (Metal Blade and Air Shooter). In fact, just to be nasty, one of the few weapons that works against Guts Dozer is the Bubble Lead, which is easily the single most disadvantageous weapon you could possibly use here. In any case, you have to climb up to attack, even as Guts Dozer disgorges an endless stream of hopping Metools from its chest — they move forward rapidly in small, bounding arcs.

While the Metools present the main challenge here, they also hint at the solution to this battle. When Guts Dozer releases one, it hops along the top edge of the tank’s lower platform: Your clue that it is, in fact, a platform in the design sense of the word as well. You can safely stand on the front edge of the tank to use as your staging ground for jumping and shooting Guts Dozer’s massive face. This does make you somewhat vulnerable to the Metools, but the tank has a tell for that attack. It raises its left (well, its right, your left) fist to create a path for the Metools. This is its only attack — it doesn’t attempt to punch or crush you, just rolls back and forth while spitting out little hardhat dudes — so once you figure out the secret and the timing, it’s a pretty easy fight. In fact, it goes really fast once you realize its weakness is Quick Boomerang and that, unlike Robot Masters, Guts Dozer doesn’t enjoy any post-damage invincibility. You can pump him full of projectiles and win this fight in a remarkably short amount of time.

So ultimately, Guts Dozer is pretty underwhelming. But he sure looks cool.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XIII – The descent

If the Dr. Wily stages exist to recompile elements of the Robot Master stages into more devious configurations, Mega Man 2‘s second Wily sequence consists primarily of Flash Man and Metal Man’s levels. Taste them again, for the first time, and all that.

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Aesthetically, the interior of Wily’s fortress has a much more austere, utilitarian look than the outside did. Where the run-up to the fortress involved an interesting transition between wasteland and man-made construct, now that you’re inside it’s far bleaker and more oppressive. Wily evidently blew his decorating budget on the big skull out front, because all you’ll find within is dull grey metal paneling and massive industrial fans — all in a gloomy greenish color scheme.

The initial leg of this stage sends you slowly stair-stepping downward — a theme for the remainder of the game. You made your climb up the fortress wall in the previous stage, but here you’re constantly descending further into his lair, further away from things like reinforcements, an escape route, the earth’s surface, sunlight, etc. etc. The majestic theme music from the previous stage continues playing here, so the game hasn’t totally given itself over to total misery just yet… but it’s getting there.

As you drop down the stairs, those propeller-headed robots (Fly Boys) from Crash Man and Heat Man’s stages drop onto you from three different hatches in the ceiling. As before, they continue to drop infinitely, which makes them somewhat convenient if you need to farm weapon energy but otherwise a nuisance.

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In this case, what makes them troubling is the fact that you need to cruise past a massive expanse of spikes immediately after passing the Fly Boy hatches. Item-2 is absolutely mandatory here — the spikes extend so far that your flight burns through very nearly the entirety of Item-2′s energy, so there’s no way Item-1 can get you to the other side — but of course switching over to Item-2 leaves you momentarily defenseless from the Fly Boy that drops from the rightmost hatch, which remains on-screen as you reach the lip of the floor adjacent to the spikes. The transitional moment where you switch from whatever weapon you’re using against the Fly Boys to Item-2 can be touchy, because dropping the tool and leaping onto it to launch forward takes a couple of seconds. Poorly timed, these seconds can leave you open to being struck by a Fly Boy, potentially fouling your flight and wasting precious energy.

At the end of the Item-2 trip, you need to make a split-second jump onto a ladder as you pass beneath it. Or rather, you need to make a split-second decision as to which ladder you’re going to jump up to. The first ladder appears far enough from the second that you may not realize there even is another route — and in any case, the second ladder doesn’t come down as far as the first, so reaching it requires greater precision and better timing if you decide to go for it.

As in Flash Man’s stage, though, beyond this split decision you’ll find a divided path heading down, and the easier to select of the two routes is by far the more dangerous of the two. The first ladder forces you to burn through three precious Crash Bomber shots and face off against two Shotmen (those rotating cannon guys who fire the arcing shots) with no pick-ups to collect for your trouble. The second ladder, however, rewards you amply with two E-Tanks, two 1UPs, and a ton of weapon energy capsules. It also puts you on better footing against the Shotmen. And to top it all off, it deposits you over a tiny row of spikes that you can easily avoid as you fall, whereas the other path drops you atop a wide patch of spikes with only a tiny safe foothold to aim for.

In other words, don’t take the first ladder.

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Once you drop down into the second half of the stage, it becomes less Flash Man and more Metal Man. You’re immediately confronted with a hallway full of Moles, drilling through the ceiling and floor to pass from one to the other. This is a much more narrow space than the Mole sequence in Metal Man’s level, and you don’t have the benefit of a conveyor belt to allow you to glide through the Moles without any real effort. Because the gap here between floor and ceiling is so narrow, you have a much smaller window of time in which to shoot the Moles if you hope to farm power-ups from them. This isn’t a challenging sequence, per se, but it proves to be slow going and makes reaping the benefits of the swarming bad guys into a bit of a task.

Once you clear the Moles, it’s up a narrow shaft (using either Item-1 or, ideally, Item-3) to a series of those plunging crusher things that also appeared in Metal Man’s stage. While you don’t have to navigate them while contending with a moving floor as you did there, the plungers appear in more difficult configurations, leaving very little space between them; it’s difficult to get past them without taking some damage.

There’s a large health capsule in the chamber directly before the boss… but to reach it, you have to land on the lip of a narrow platform next to a bunch of spikes and use Item-1 to climb to the capsule. Yes, we’re at the point of the game where you have to work for the slightest advantage.

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The boss of this stage establishes a sort of pattern in Wily stages: Big, elaborate bosses alternating with smaller, almost environmental challenges. In this case, you face off against Picopico-kun, which is basically a living room. Different sections of the room you’re standing in separate from the wall, ceiling, or floor; they converge; and, once united, they home in on Mega Man’s position. While they initially seem quite easy to fight off, given how slowly they move, the more you pick off the faster the remainder move.

There’s an element of unfairness to this battle for a first-timer; the boss gives no indication of which portion of the walls or floor will be activating next. If you happen to be standing on a chunk of the floor when that tile kicks into motion, you’ll take an unavoidable, untelegraphed hit. Making this doubly irritating is the fact that most of the Picopico-kuns embedded in the floor come to life only toward the end of the battle, when they move more rapidly and you’re already quite likely hurting. It’s pretty tough not to take a few hits here until you can memorize the patterns — not exactly standout game design.

While Metal Blade isn’t the most powerful weapon against this boss, it’s by far the most effective tool here since so many of the Picopico-kuns join up above you and make a beeline toward your position. The Metal Blade lets you pour fire into them, and for once you don’t have to feel like you’re getting an unfair advantage. The game kind of plays cheaply here; why shouldn’t you?

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XII – Draconic

Once Mega Man destroys all eight of the Robot Masters in his tireless, violent fight for everlasting peace, Dr. Wily makes his appearance, hailing his usual flying saucer to spirit him away to his evil lair. Said evil lair got a very stylish upgrade this time around:

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You have to respect a man who dedicated to the cause of tyranny that took the time to construct his ultimate fortress with a dedicated skeleton theme. It’s not just the skull, but also femur-shaped towers and sky bridges, and also ribcage detailing around the central structures, and also a tower in the shape of a spine. Meanwhile, there’s a massive rocket, possibly a huge missile, in the center of the structure. The message is clear: All or nothing.

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The bone motif doesn’t actually carry over into the interior areas, though. However, this first area does communicate the concept of a defensive structure pretty clearly. You begin by traversing a flat expanse of rock, mount a pair of bunkers, climb the outer fortress wall, and face off against a rather impressive security system once inside.

In keeping with the precedent established in Mega Man, Dr. Wily’s stages incorporate elements of all the Robot Master levels. In their own way, they served as a sort of training ground for the challenges in these final sequences; the reprised mechanics appear in more challenging, complex configurations here, and you’ll find opportunities to make use of every special weapon in turn. In fact, nearly every tool in your arsenal is required at some point; the game expects you to have figured out their use and utility as you face the final gauntlet.

There’s also a sort of endurance element at work here. Whether you attempt to clear all these final stages in a single go or accept defeat and have to press Continue, you’ll face different forms of challenge here. Mega Man’s weapons don’t refill after you complete each stage, so over time the attacks you expend take their toll on your weapon stock. By the time you reach the final boss gauntlet, you may not have enough gun juice to take on the Robot Masters again — to say nothing of Dr. Wily himself.

On the other hand, if you die and continue, you’ll get a weapon recharge… but all the E-Tanks you’ve collected will be lost. Which can make some of the nastier bosses a real drag.

The initial run-up to the fortress pits you against bird bombers, which of course are a cinch to clear out with the Leaf Shield. It’s not the fastest way to progress, but it’s incredibly effective… and efficient in terms of energy use, given the generosity with which those little baby birds drop power capsules.

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Items 1 and 3 come in handy here, as you need to scale walls. Item-1 becomes a requirement later in the stage, so an experienced player will probably alternate between 1 and 3 to balance their power drain, but Item-3 proves to be much more practical at the outer fortress wall, with its narrow spaces.

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The wall ascent resembles previous climbing sections of the game in that you’re forced to climb toward some sort of threat or hazard. In this case, rather than confronting you with infinitely spawning enemies designed to knock loose your grip on the ladders, the game pits you against a couple of Sniper Joes. The first stands directly adjacent to the ladder, which means you can easily take him out with several of the weapons in your arsenal. You can climb to the very top of the ladder and hit him with Quick Boomerangs while remaining below his line of fire; or you can blast him with the air shooter (which is marvelously effectively against Sniper Joes); or you can just do the diagonal Metal Blade thing.

The second Joe, however, stands much further back from the ladder, which makes him much harder to hit. It’s the same threat arranged in a different way to require a different strategy for each scenario.

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The final stretch of the stage reprises one of Mega Man‘s most infamous sticking points: The point where you need to reach a ladder to the far upper left by means of one of your non-weapon tools. In the original Mega Man, you could reach this point without having found the Magnet Beam, forcing you to exit out of the stage and go hunting for the thing. Here, that’s literally impossible: You can’t exit out of Dr. Wily’s stages, because all Robot Master levels lock down once you conquer them; and you can’t get to Dr. Wily’s stages without having acquired all the extra Items as they’re bundled into three of the levels you have to conquer to reach this point. I wouldn’t be surprised but what the frustrations surrounding the Magnet Beam helped shape these mechanics in Mega Man 2.

Since the challenge here isn’t, “Hey, I hope you collected the item you need” but rather, “Let’s see if you can make this jump,” it’s a long gap you need to clear. Item-1 is the only means you have of making the connection, laying down one and immediately hopping on to it to activate the next. You’ll create a stair-step effect that allows you to just barely reach that last ladder. Three should be enough to do it if you make the jumps just right, though it may be necessary to plant a fourth. A fifth? That’s impossible, because of the rising stair steps; you’ll hit the ceiling.

A small oversight in graphic design: The Items use mirrored sprites depending on your orientation when you place them, with their “proper” direction being left to right. In the one place in the game where Item-1 is absolutely mandatory, however, you’ll be facing left. So the one time in the game you’ll definitely see Item-1, its label is backward. This of course is an utterly trivial detail that doesn’t matter in the least, but it’s always bugged me a little. Which is probably why I grew up to write nitpicky analyses like these.

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At the very end of the stage, you enter the fortress’ darkened interior, and something unusual happens: The screen begins to scroll forward automatically. Generally speaking, I have very little patience for auto-scrolling sequences, but it works here because it’s used so sparingly and builds up tension for what’s about to come: The battle with Dr. Wily’s Mecha-dragon.

The switchover to auto-scrolling is subtle and surprising. It happens while you’re still on a flat expanse of floor, running ahead with no impediments, so you might not notice that the screen is moving differently until you start to drift from your centered position. Or maybe if you pause to calculate your jump across the gap in the floor.

After a moment, though, the screen pushes ahead, forcing you off of steady ground and onto a series of individual blocks over a black chasm. It’s a nerve-wracking bit of platforming, but it becomes even more distressing once the massive robotic dragon materializes in behind you and begins giving chase. There’s little doubt the dragon is deadly to the touch; as it flies forward, it actually knocks aside the platforms it touches. It literally destroys the level in a way not yet seen in Mega Man. Sure, you can break special blocks with the right weapon, but the Mecha-dragon is so powerful it smashes all it touches.

Eventually, the scrolling stops and the Mecha-dragon battle begins. As with standard bosses, the appearance and completion of its health bar serves as your indicator that the fight has begun. Unlike other bosses, you don’t have a lot of options in this fight; only three bits of footing remain for you to jump around on. The dragon hovers on the left side of the screen, drifting up and down, left and right, and occasionally belching massive blasts of flame at you. Given the tenuous footing, it’s wise to avoid staying still lest the fire knock you into the pit. You’re also wise to avoid the top platform, as it leaves you vulnerable to an instantly fatal collision with the dragon’s head when it drifts to the upper right.

It’s a vexing battle until you figure out the dragon is weak to Quick Boomerang; once you sort that out, you can fire off a rapid string of them and take it down pretty quickly. But the discovery process is tense, leaving you incredibly vulnerable as you experiment with different weapons and try to figure out how to damage the Mecha-dragon. It’s a fight quite unlike any other in the series to date, a tense and high-stakes encounter that announces your transition into the highly difficult endgame…

…but it does so in a much less unreasonably difficult manner than the Yellow Devil of the original Mega Man. The Mecha-dragon serves the same purpose as the Yellow Devil, being a tough first “final” boss that throws you into the most dangerous scenario yet seen in the game. However, its difficulty comes less from unfairly stacking the odds against you with high damage output and a narrow window of attack and instead relies on rattling your nerves with a sequence that seems far deadlier than it actually is. You can get through the auto-scrolling sequence here on your first try if you keep calm, something that can’t reasonably be said of the Yellow Devil’s pattern for any but the most savant of idiots. And once the battle begins in earnest, damaging the Mecha-dragon isn’t a matter of patience and steady performance as much as it is a test of your willingness to experiment.

Capcom used the Mecha-dragon scene for promotional photos back in the day, because it looked like nothing else on the system. But it’s totally in keeping with Mega Man 2‘s overall excellence that it plays as impressively as it looks.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – XI – Crash clash crush

And finally — last and least — it’s Crash Man’s stage. Or Clash Man. Or Crush Man. There was some confusion back in the day.

Maybe “least” isn’t entirely fair; it’s not an awful stage in terms of layout or mechanics by any means. However, it’s by far the most visually unexciting level in the entirety of Mega Man 2, consisting entirely of a tangle of mustard-yellow pipes punctuated by larger orange pipes and what appear to be boilers. It just feels very flat and repetitive.

It’s also not a particularly friendly stage with which to make your entrée into the game’s cycle. It’s by far the most vertical stage in the game, even more so than Elec Man’s stage was in the original Mega Man. And, unlike in Elec Man’s level, most of the hazards you encounter here appear toward the top of the screen rather than confronting you on your own level. Since Mega Man can’t fire upward by default, this makes for something of a dangerous scenario if all you have to rely on is the P shooter.

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You’ll get a taste of this dynamic in the very first screen: You begin at the bottom of the screen with a cascade of ladders to climb. Meanwhile, the Tellies that spawn throughout Heat Man’s stage pour infinitely from the larger conduits flanking the screen. Up to three can appear on screen at a time, and as soon as you gun down one another appears.

This is one of the few stages in which the Air Shooter proves to be incredibly valuable — its upward motion and wide spread can clear big swaths of enemies as you ascend. And that’s fitting, because Air Shooter just absolutely annihilates Crash Man. Mega Man 2 once again nudges you toward the boss weakness through the design of the stage… in fact, this may well be the best example of this design philosophy we’ve seen to date.

Alas that it’s somewhat undermined by, yes, the Metal Blade. With its low cost, 8-directional targeting, and high stopping power, the Metal Blade actually works slightly better than the Air Shooter here. Metal Blade, you ruin everything.

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The other weapon that comes in super handy as you advance on Crash Man? Leaf Shield. It’s useless against the Robot Master himself (the explosive effect of the Crash Bomber being good against Wood Man, not the other way around), but several scenarios here make the Leaf Shield surprisingly effective. These rail-based platforms send you zigging all around the screen at high speeds while flocks of Tellies mill about. You can gun them down, sure, but the easiest thing to do here is simply stand still as the Leaf Shield annihilates everything in your sinuous path. You can’t move under your own locomotion while using the Shield… but you can move under some other device’s steam. Even better, the enemies you pop while skidding around are pretty likely to drop energy refills that will drop in your path, so you’ll come out ahead.

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The stage offers a few tricky platforming sequences, with mildly annoying but not really frustrating penalties. This little spot in particular is a nice little puzzle. The Metool here sits in your way, but you can’t shoot it from a distance; it defends itself until you come near, at which point it pops open and fires at you. Its response threshold works out to be right about where you land on the middle platform, giving you a tiny window of opportunity to fire at it before it shoots bullets that are almost guaranteed to hit you. The knock back will send you skidding off the platform to drop into the pit below… but thankfully, that simply sends you back a screen to climb again. It’s a nuisance, but at least it’s not an instant kill. A chance to master a deliberately tricky sequence with a modest punishment for failure that gives you incentive to sort it out without being nasty about it.

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The one nice visual effect of this stage is that the background transitions from day to night as you ascend. The blue sky deepens; then it turns pitch black; then stars begin to twinkle in the background.

The second part of the stage mostly consists of a lengthy climb up multiple screens. It’s very Snake Eater, except here you have to contend with enemy attacks as you climb. Those gun dudes from Flash Man’s stage pelt you with bullets, while the birds fly past and drop eggs that explode into a swarm of chicks.

The enemies here aren’t particularly dangerous, but as with the Metool they can be very annoying. If Mega Man suffers damage while climbing, he’ll lose his grip and plummet a screen or three. So while you probably won’t die in this area, chances are good that unless you play cautiously you’ll be forced to retrace your steps repeatedly.

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At the very top, you’ll finally hit an expanse of horizontal ground that spans more than a screen or two. It’s patrolled by the propeller guys from Heat Man’s stage, who much like the Tellies before will continue to spawn infinitely. And as with the Tellies, Air Shooter works wonders here… but Metal Blade is even better. Ho hum.

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As for Crash Man himself, he can be extremely difficult to defeat without the Air Shooter. With the Air Shooter, he’s a cinch; he leaps about the room, putting himself directly in the path of the weapon’s projectiles, and a mere three shots will take him out. Without the correct weapon, though, his aggressive movements, hurtling jumps, and deadly projectiles can prove tough to counter.

The Crash Bomber works a little differently when used by its proper owner than when players control it. While Mega Man can only fire the projectile straight ahead, Crash Man can fire it freely at any angle. He tends to target it toward Mega Man’s feet so that the projectile itself will pierce Mega Man, then clamp onto the ground and explode. The resulting explosion comes with just an extensive residual blast effect that it can easily score two hits against Mega Man… and given how powerfully it hits, that can make for a short battle indeed.

All in all, a stage that plays more interestingly than it looks. But you probably don’t want to tackle it first.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – X – In a flash

In case there was ever any doubt that Mega Man 2′s designers took the failures of the original game to heart, let Flash Man’s stage put those uncertainties to rest. Flash Man makes use of the icy, slippery floor mechanic that appeared in Ice Man’s stage — but here, it’s used far less abusively.

Even though the icy surface literally comprises 100% of the flooring in this level (whereas it accounted for only about half of Ice Man’s stage), you’ll almost certainly find less frustration in this mission. Mega Man 2 is much better about focusing in on a single primary feature or challenge per stage than the original game was; Ice Man’s level, for example, didn’t just throw ice at you; it also included vanishing blocks and a challenging, unpredictable platform ride across a massive chasm. While there’s something to be said for variety, there’s also something to be said for not punching players in the face at every opportunity.

Flash Man’s stage centers in on the ice element, creating complexity and challenge around that one concept. It works quite well.

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Rather than unfolding as the straightforward run-and-gun romp of other Mega Man and Mega Man 2 stages, Flash Man’s level has a denser, more intricate feel. It’s opening section essentially turns into a maze of sorts, with multiple tiers and levels. The enemies here have a unique attack style: They shoot a stream of bullets, then ratchet their guns to a higher angle and fire a second stream. Unlike other projectiles we’ve seen, these bullets have a rapid decay to them, so they drop quickly and arc off the screen. The higher angle of fire actually causes those bullets to drop a shorter distance from their bodies.

Because you’re zipping along on slippery ground, it can be difficult to avoid those streams of fire. And because icy floors have low friction, it’s difficult to change speed and direction, so dodging the alternating angles is also tough. Here we see a simple but unique enemy pattern combine with environmental factors to create an interesting challenge — great design.

Even better, Mega Man 2 allows you the option of destroying these guys, but it only works if you’re properly equipped. You can jump up to their level and shoot them head-on — quite safely, since the decay of their ballistics causes those bullets to drop quickly below you — but the way forward is blocked by a partition that can only be destroyed by a Crash Bomber explosion. If you don’t have Crash Bomber, you have to backtrack and take the lower route anyway… and when you backtrack, the robots will respawn, completely wasting the effort you expended to destroy them in the first place.

Of course, you could just use the Metal Blade to destroy them safely from below. Metal Blade, you spoil all the best-laid plans.

Further along, the branching paths are set apart enough that the highest route demands the use of one of Dr. Light’s items — though the reward, a 1UP, is well worth it. The high route continues along even as the stage changes directions; if you can reach the upper platform at the end of the initial gauntlet, and if you have the Crash Bomber and three charges, you can clear the way to a low-hazard descend to the lower reaches of the stage. The other route, on the other hand, poses numerous challenges, including those walker mech guys, who prove to be especially tricky on the slippery floor.

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The criss-crossing paths work surprisingly well here; despite the easy-to-reach “lower” route intersecting several times with the more difficult-to-reach “upper” route, it’s difficult to switch tracks. The combination of low ceilings and treacherous footing creates adds more complexity to the simple act of jumping to a distant platform and reaching the alternate track. And the one time in which the routes do merge significantly, the low-hazard route is blocked off by another Crash Bomber wall. There’s definitely an ideal route through this downward passage, but actually taking it poses something of a challenge, making the route the reward for expert play in and of itself.

Once you do reach the end of the descent, shown here, the game throws you for a loop. Here, the more difficult platforms above the walker actually lead to a less advantageous path — if you drop down the far left side, you end up on the floor of the final passage, where you’re forced to content with several more walkers. It’s much better in practice to risk dealing with the first walker and drop into the pit he guards. This leads you to a series of platforms high above the walkers patrolling the run-up to Flash Man’s stage…

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…though once again, this route becomes its own reward through the challenge it poses. The high road consists of tiny one-block platforms that require incredibly precise jumps to navigate. These would be only moderately stressful under normal circumstances, but because these blocks are ice-coated like the rest of the stage, it becomes much trickier; the low-friction surfaces are likely to send you skidding right off the other side. Combined with the menacing walker below, hopping back and forth beneath you as you move, navigating this sequence requires steady nerves.

Or Item-2.

At the end of the upper passage, you’ll find an E-Tank — but also one last instance of the Crash Bomber walls. If you don’t have the explosives necessary to crack through the passage, you’ll be forced to backtrack and drop down, putting yourself in harm’s way with those walkers. Worse, reaching Flash Man’s room requires traversing a raised platform patrolled by one last mech. Well, unless you use an Item.

And that’s basically Flash Man’s stage in a nutshell right there: A challenge of reflexes and dealing with an adverse environment whose worst perils can all be circumnavigated with the proper tools. You can tackle this stage from the outset and survive it, or you can come along once you’ve powered up a bit and just breeze through it. All in all, some excellent design.

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As for Flash Man himself, he can be either a breeze or a beast depending on how frequently he elects to use his special weapon. The Time Stopper will completely freeze Mega Man in place, and unlike the way Time Stopper works for you, for Flash Man it only functions briefly and doesn’t make other weapons inaccessible. While you’re frozen in place, Flash Man can still use his arm cannon to blast you.

Thankfully, he doesn’t seem terribly fond of using his power to freeze time, instead preferring to advance steadily toward Mega Man at a leisurely pace. He marches slowly back and forth across the room, and the uneven terrain trips him up quite a bit. It’s not too difficult to keep your distance and pick away at him as he plods along, winning a war of attrition.

Like so many Robot Masters, Flash Man is weak to Metal Blade; with them you can easily take him out before he ever uses the Time Stopper. Crash Bombers are also fairly effective, provided you didn’t burn through them all on the way to the showdown. In short, a fairly manageable first stage and first boss; they require some skill, but none of the threats they pose together are totally overwhelming.

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Your extra reward for destroying Flash Man is the last of the Dr. Light Items, Item-3. This Item would have come in super handy in this stage, naturally. Item-3 bounces along the floor until it hits a wall, at which point it begins crawling upward. Once it reaches the top or you jump off, it begins crawling back down again.

It’s a slightly redundant tool given the existence of Item-1, but it has its uses. It works in much closer quarters than Item-3, and if you need to make a lengthy ascent you can simply lay down Item-3 once instead of using multiple Item-1s. On the other hand, the fact that it crawls all the way back down to the ground before disappearing means it wastes a fair amount of energy, so it’s best to be strategic in its use. A somewhat limited device, but like everything in Mega Man 2 it has its place.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – IX – Igni ferroque

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It’s taken us quite a while to get to Metal Man’s stage in the left-to-right, top-to-bottom approach to exploring Mega Man 2‘s stages. In practice, though, Metal Man is almost always my first stop, for several reasons.

First, Metal Man’s stage is surprisingly easy, despite having a dominant mechanical gimmick in the form of conveyor belts. While not without its challenges, it follows its tricky environmental and combat threats with opportunities to restock your health. It features an E-Tank that’s almost too easy to collect. And most of all, the Robot Master at the end of the level is actually quite easy to beat with just Mega Man’s standard weapon yet yields the absolute most versatile weapon in the entirety of the franchise in the Metal Blade. By stopping off at Metal Man’s stage first, you basically grant yourself the easy mode approach to the rest of the game. And that is OK.

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Metal Man’s stage consists of gears and clockwork to the point that I’ve always wondered if this wasn’t meant to be the home for Flash Man, a Robot Master whose power centers on time. There’s a bit of a Castlevania vibe going on here, between the clock tower look of the backgrounds to the plunging spike crushers here. It’s not a bad reference to make, honestly; Mega Man and Castlevania were the two breakout stars for original third-party NES creations, so the connection seems apt.

The thick, striped platforms here represent the central trick of Metal Man’s stage: Moving floors. Mega Man’s footing here moves in the direction indicated by the small red arrows, and if simply stand still the conveyors will slide you along either forward or back, depending. If you run in the direction of the arrow, you’ll move at double speed; run opposite its motion and you’ll struggle to make forward progress.

The first belt walk — the flooring you start out on — pushes you forward, immediately prompting you to take action. If you let Mega Man simply stand in his default position, he’ll eventually be whisked right off the forward edge of the platform and into a pit. From there you jump across to the walk seen in the lower-left corner of the screen above, pushing you in the opposite direction. The moving platforms don’t have much impact on your jumps aside from determining your initial velocity, so you can move much more quickly on the conveyors by leaping forward instead of running. To get the E-Tank, you need to make numerous quick hops to scoot forward since the ceiling above the tank is so low.

The process of navigating the moving floors is almost immediately complicated by the spiked plungers that appear in the recesses between the conveyors. They drop once Mega Man draws near them, plummeting quickly from the ceiling to the floor before slowly retracting only to do it all over again a couple of seconds later. These would be fairly easy to avoid under normal circumstances, but the added complexity of the constant motion adds a wrinkle of challenge as you’re forced to nudge Mega Man left or right to hold a steady position as you wait for the plungers to retract. You also need to jump precisely to land on the narrow spaces between them without sliding into the (surprisingly wide) hit boxes of the subsequent traps.

In an example of seemingly backward stage design, you have to deal with a couple of conveyor/plunger combos before you face the plungers surrounded by motionless floor. You’d think it would be the other way around, to ease you into the challenge. It’s not a crucial flaw, but it does seem unusually unfriendly for such an otherwise well-considered game.

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Even if you take a few hits in the plunger gauntlet, you’ll be fine once you cross the gap beyond the moving floor to reach stable ground patrolled by enemies called Moles. Probably the most simplistic opponents in the game, Moles simple burrow in one direction, either up or down, and change speed once the break free from the ceiling or floor. They take several shots to destroy, but they appear in massive quantities and tend to be generous with their drops. By the time you work your way slowly through this area, you should easily have restocked your life and potentially snagged a few 1UPs, too.

The Mole sequence can be fairly tedious, though, so you can also speed your way through by either tossing and dashing after Leaf Shields, whose wide area of impact and piercing effect will wipe out everything in front of you and litter the ground with power-ups; or by using the Time Stopper to completely freeze them in their tracks. Once you clear the area, you can then turn around and mop up Moles for a few minutes to refill the Time Stopper, if you like.

Unlike the plungers, the Mole sequence does reflect more progression in complexity of level design: You begin on steady ground before facing off against the Moles on conveyor belts — initially moving you forward, but then pushing backward. The latter can be tricky, because it’s easy to get so caught up shooting the swarms of Moles that you fail to make forward progress as you slide backward.

Beyond the Moles, a 1UP appears high on a ledge, accessible only with Items. If Metal Man is your first stop, you can’t reach the extra life… though for first-timers, it does serve as a clear indication that there are tools in the game to help you acquire goodies placed in out-of-the-way spots.

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The back half of Metal Man’s stage presents a weird melange of random enemy concepts atop a string of conveyor belts. What do clowns have to do with clockwork, you may wonder. Who knows! But these guys cause the gears they ride to drop to the floor and begin rolling toward Mega Man, working almost as a variant on the first game’s Crazy Razies in the sense that there are essentially two targets here and the uppermost one is the easier one to destroy. A single shot will take out the clown robots, while the gears soak up more damage.

Further along you face enemies who explode toward Mega Man when shot, forcing you to learn to use uneven ground to your advantage. There’s also a second E-Tank, though it’s only worth getting if you’ve already earned one of Dr. Light’s Item devices; the gap next to the E-Tank is too wide to clear by simply jumping, so you either need to create a temporary platform to advance or else sacrifice a life to claim the power-up.

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As for Metal Man himself, well… he’s an odd one. At first blush, he seems almost impossible to deal with. The floor in his lair constantly moves and changes directions every few seconds (signified with a quick screen flash), so you’re always on your toes. And the Robot Master himself tends to leap repeatedly and toss a trio of Metal Blades in a tough-to-dodge pattern that homes in on Mega Man’s actual location in space. Between the movement and the flurry of blades, it’s a super tough.

At least, until you learn the trick. Metal Man is a curiously passive boss, one who mostly just responds to Mega Man’s actions. If you stay in place and don’t shoot at him, he’ll do likewise. Every once in a while he seems to get bored and tosses a Metal Blade, but for the most part he only attacks in response to your actions. If you shoot, he’ll pelt you with a trio of blades. If you stop shooting, so will he. If you move close to him, he’ll leap to the other side of the room. If you don’t, he won’t.

So the trick to this fight is to stop and observe, and attack methodically. Metal Man tends to jump when he attacks, so you need to plan for his motion while predicting the timing of his blades. It takes a little getting used to, but once you have the timing in hand he proves to be surprisingly easy to take down. And you, my friend, have just earned yourself a super fancy weapon.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – VIII – War of the woods

Hi, everyone. First, an administrative message:

Like the rest of the Internet, I’ve launched a Patreon account for the purpose of funding this site, Game Boy World, and (gasp!) Metroidvania. If you enjoy what I’ve been doing with these side projects, please consider supporting my efforts so I can afford to keep things going. Anyone who begins supporting these sites by July 4 will receive the first supporter bonus, a PDF (or physical book, depending on the support level you choose) of The Anatomy of Mega Man Vol. 1, containing the Anatomy series for the first two Mega Man NES titles. Thank you for your support!

And now, on with the program.


 

Wood Man’s avatar appears off to the right of the center default position of Mega Man 2′s title screen, making it a not-particularly-inviting place to kick off the game. Yet several commenters have already noted that this is where they prefer to begin their Mega Man 2 odyssey, and for good reason: It’s perhaps the most nuts-and-bolts stage of the game, featuring no mechanical gimmicks to speak of. Just lots of running, jumping, climbing, and shooting, with a small sequence of mild platforming hazards to contend with toward the middle. The boss is unreasonably difficult in my opinion, thanks to his more or less unavoidable attack pattern, but everything else about Wood Man’s stage really does make for a good starting point in the game.

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Set in a dark, dense forested area, Wood Man’s level reflects a pretty straightforward nature theme. It’s hard to tell if the ground is meant to be stone or wood — the pattern suggests wood, as do the multiple ascents and descents as if traveling through hollowed out trees — but, you know, whatever. The color palette helps set this stage apart while tying into the boss’ theme, a discipline that will increasingly become lost in this game’s sequels.

The opening portion of the stage greets you with slightly uneven ground and two types of enemies that attack from different directions. The purple rabbits hop toward you, pause, and fire off tiny missiles that look like carrots, because Dr. Wily may be a madman bent on world conquest but he also likes cute things and cartoonish themes. You face several bunnies in the intro area, and each poses slightly more threat than the last — the first appears on a path of ground slightly higher than where you’re running, putting its feet directly in the line of Mega Man’s arm cannon. You can stand and open fire and easily take it out before it can attack. The second is slightly below Mega Man, so its head is in your line of fire, and you can easily jump over its tiny rockets. And the third attacks you on even footing, causing its missiles to fly at a height that blocks your line of fire. It’s a small detail, but shows the level designers taking careful consideration of how to effectively evolve a single hazard by putting the environmental design to use.

Complicating the ultimately rather unthreatening rabbit mechs, you also have to deal with dozens of the Bubble Bats that hang from the trees and descend toward you. These have become an iconic enemy throughout the Mega Man series (including a memorable cameo in Mega Man X), because they’re cute! Just pretend its mouth is a beak and not misguided minstrel-style blackface…

Bubble Bats wrap themselves in their indestructible wings as they hang from the trees, only becoming vulnerable once they descend and flap toward Mega Man. Their behavior is similar to the endlessly spawning capsule guys in Heat Man’s stage, with the obvious difference that the bats don’t respawn. They also move a little more quickly.

But they do approach from above, like the capsules, and as there you really want the Metal Blade here. No coincidence, really; Metal Blade is one of Wood Man’s weaknesses.

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Once past the initial forest segment, you descend into a tree or cave or whatever and face these memorable foes: Giant dogs that block the way forward. The dogs emit arcing blasts of fire from their mouths, and while each of the three dogs occupies a differently configured room, the fire’s movement always passes through the spot at which Mega Man needs to stand in order to gun down his opponent.

In this first room, the fire’s simple enough to evade. It passes through the platform directly opposite the dog, but because of the large open space between that vantage point and the dog, you can jump forward easily to pass over the flames. The second and third chambers, however, give you progressively less room to maneuver. The final room has a jagged, uneven ceiling that greatly hampers your ability to dodge and limits where you can jump up and shoot at the enemy. In Mega Man 3, it would be easy enough to slide to safety, but the slide move doesn’t exist yet. So you have to play cautiously.

These impressive-looking mid-bosses clearly made a massive impression on fans, because cool-looking and largely stationary mid-stage foes would become a standard for the series.

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Beyond the dogs and back up the trunk, you come to a small clearing which visually reads as traversing the space between two large trees at the foliage level. In a nice touch, the platforms here appear to be made of bamboo, continuing the natural elements motif.

Here you have to deal with a threat from above, those egg-dropping birds that also appear in Air Man and Crash Man’s stages, while mechanical monkeys attack from below — they leap up to hang from the bamboo, then pounce onto the platforms once you draw near. Normally you’d want to handle the birds with the Leaf Shield, but of course you don’t have access to that until after you complete this stage and defeat Wood Man. Instead, you need to be more preemptive, destroying the birds (or at least their eggs) before they hit the ground and explode into a flock of babies.

Again, the Metal Blade makes the best choice for this scenario. The freedom to toss it at 45-degree angles allows you to take out the gorillas before they pull themselves up from below the bamboo planks while also making egg disposal much easier. Even if an egg hits the ground, the width of the Metal Blade combined with its piercing attribute ensure you can clear out most of the resulting baby birds with a single shot.

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The descent down the second tree brings the rabbit robots back into the picture in increasingly complex ways. The most interesting comes in the form of a full-screen stair step formation in which you discover that having the high ground isn’t always an advantage. It’s not too much trouble to toss Metal Blades down at the rabbit below, but without that weapon you’ll find it difficult to avoid taking damage from the carrot missiles it lobs your way (the Bubble Lead, ostensibly perfect for that situation, tends to be deflected harmlessly by the missiles).

The final leg of the stage introduces an interesting test of skill and reflexes: Giant chickens that run straight at you and leap. They soak up a ton of damage, making it difficult to shoot them down before they reach you. And you can’t jump over them, because they jump once they reach you.

Instead, the solution to making it safely past the chicken gauntlet is sublime in its counterintuitive simplicity: Rather than trying to shoot or evade the chickens, you simply stop moving before they reach you. They make their leaps shortly before reaching you, so all you have to do to avoid taking a hit is to stand motionless. They’re chickens, right? So… you play a game of chicken, and they’re the ones who’ll flinch.

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As for Wood Man, he’s kind of an annoying boss. He surrounds himself with the Leaf Shield, which deflects all attacks… well, all but one. After a few seconds, he sends the shield flying toward Mega Man. The projectile is easy enough to avoid by leaping, but the instant he looses the shield he also causes four leaves to begin drifting from the ceiling in a zig-zag pattern. It is possible to avoid taking a hit, but very very difficult. Difficult enough to border on feeling cheap, in fact.

On the plus side, Wood Man is weak to an unprecedented three Robot Master weapons. The Atomic Fire, when fully charged, will destroy him in two hits. The Metal Blade does a number on him, too. And finally, if you hit his raised shield with Crash Bomber, it’ll detonate against the shield and score multiple hits at once. So he’s easy enough if you have the proper weapons… but if not, he can be quite challenging.

Handily, his weaknesses are all intuitive; he’s a robot made of wood, so of course he’s weak to a cutting blade or fire. And the explosive splash of Crash Bomber reaching through his shield makes sense, too. Not necessarily the easiest battle to begin the game with, but strong on the whole.

The Anatomy of Mega Man 2 – VII – The rhythm of the Heat

I keep referring to Bubble Man’s stage as the “default,” but that’s only slightly true. Unlike Mega Man, the Mega Man 2 stage select screen actually begins with the cursor in a neutral position (centered on Mega Man’s portrait in the middle square). You really aren’t pushed toward any particular selection; I call Bubble Man’s upper-left position the default simply because that’s how the eye reads, left to right. I suppose Quick Man could just as easily be the default, though, since Japanese is generally read right to left.

So really, any stage is truly fair game for starting. I pity whoever picks Heat Man for their first go, though.

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Can you tell Heat Man was designed in a culture which has a much more enthusiastic attitude about smoking than America? He looks like a Zippo lighter. As a boss, he’s not the worst in the game… but his stage more than makes up for it.

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While not the most visually diverse stage in the game, Heat Man’s level does a great job of using the NES’s minimal color capabilities to create the impression of a tunnel through which a channel of lava flows. The floor beneath which the lava runs throws a shadow up against the walls, which appear to curve into the background. It’s a simple effect, but it makes for a great example of smart graphic design on the system. Four colors can go a long way!

Heat Man’s stage is fairly straightforward in terms of the basic ground it covers, at least at first. It’s more or less a straight run through the action until you reach the end section, but I wouldn’t describe it as easy. The enemies here differ from the norm in that near every one you face respawns infinitely. The green propeller guys drop from holes in the ceiling, land on the ground, sit for a moment, then “jump” at you. Technically they’re flying, but it’s a short arcing motion. It’s a jump. These guys will continue to pour out of their hatches every few seconds, whether or not you’ve already destroyed the previous ones.

Likewise, the blue barrel-shaped robots emerge from small hatches in the wall and drift slowly in a homing pattern toward Mega Man’s position, constantly changing direction to track his movement. Up to three can appear on-screen at once, and while they may not seem like much of a threat here, they serve a similar role to the mini-goblines in Air Man’s stage: They’re slow, persistent, omnipresent threats that interfere with your carefully timed movements as you’re navigating more active environmental hazards.

Interestingly, the best weapon to have for Heat Man’s stage isn’t the boss’ weakness, the Bubble Lead. No, it’s the Metal Blade, because most enemies approach from above. The Air Shooter works, too, I suppose, but it’s much hungrier for weapon energy and goes quickly against so many infinitely respawning foes. The Metal Blade is much more economical, and it allows you to hit enemies just about anywhere on the screen. Plus, because it can kill both types of enemies you see here in one hit, its piercing effect allow it to destroy multiple foes in a single shot.

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It doesn’t take long for Heat Man’s stage to take off the gloves. Still, you have to give it points for rolling out its threats progressively. Even ground with robots. Broken ground with robots and exposed flumes of lava. Completely open lava flow with narrow columns to leap on, and also robots. Wide yawning chasms with tiny little platforms scattered across its length… and robots, of course.

The previously unthreatening drifters become more dangerous here, as you’re forced to navigate slippery footholds above instant-kill scenarios while they materialize out of the scenery and home in on you. They will happily knock you into a pit as you stand and work up the nerve to jump… and they will just as happily obstruct a leap from one platform to another, destroying your aerial momentum and, yes, knocking you into a pit.

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However, that’s not the worst of it. Amidst all of these increasingly complex platforming scenarios, you’ll encounter a handful of tall columns that can only be leapt by making use of the vanishing platforms that appear next to them. Yes, Mega Man‘s second most hateful mechanic makes a return here and officially becomes a franchise standard. I’m sorry.

The most-hateful mechanic in the original Mega Man was those stupid floating platforms in Ice Man’s stage with the glitchy collision detection and an annoying tendency to shoot players while they dangled precariously over a fatal chasm. Those were fixed for Mega Man 2 with the Kaminari Gorou platforms in Air Man’s stage — while dangerous, their improved programming, consistent pattern-based movements, and the ability of the player to gun down the threat riding atop them made for a fun and interesting challenge, not a frustrating one.

Alas, nothing about disappearing blocks has changed in the least here. In fact, Capcom doubled down on them. A massive stretch of Heat Man’s stage consists of either fire or chasm (both equally fatal) which can be navigated only by traversing the lengthiest sequence of vanishing platforms in any Mega Man game ever. The way this element is scaled back in future entries, I think, shows that the developers recognized they maybe went a little too far here.

The block sequence is absolutely doable; I’ve complete it a few times. But it is insanely challenging, requires extended pattern memorization, and forces you to play precisely without becoming rattled by the intensity of the situation. That is no small demand!

On the other hand, if you’ve completed Air Man’s stage, you can completely skip this part by hopping on Item-2 and riding it across the gulf. There’s just enough weapon energy for Item-2 to fly you to safety… though someone in the level design department got a little nasty here by sticking a 1UP on a ledge in the middle of nowhere to tempt you into jumping off. If you do, you won’t have enough juice for Item-2 to reach the other side. You can use the blocks, of course, but if you’re using Item-2 it’s a safe bet you don’t have the nerve to try.

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By comparison, the stage’s epilogue — a face-off against a walker — seems almost like a relief. This is a straightforward threat. One you can kill.

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As for Heat Man, he goes down pretty quickly to the Bubble Lead. While the weapon is basically useless in the stage itself, the connection between “guy made of fire” and “weapon made of water” should be pretty intuitive.

Interestingly, Heat Man’s attack style bears some small resemblance to that of his predecessor, Fire Man. While he doesn’t fire a weapon forward, he does fling a trio of napalm-like embers that fly in a triple arc and burst into a tall fire column once they land, reminiscent of Fire Man’s tendency to create a persistent burst of flame on the ground wherever his flame cannon struck Mega Man.

And Heat Man does possess a powerful horizontal attack: Himself. After flinging his napalm blots, he flares up and dashes across the screen as a geyser of indestructible flame, aiming for Mega Man’s current position. This actually works to his detriment, though; you can fairly easily jump over him as he jets, land, turn, and hit him in the face with the Bubble Lead. This will also cause him to toss his triple-flame attack in a shallow arc, which makes it easy to evade. While powerful, Heat Man isn’t as unrelentingly aggressive as many of the game’s other Robot Masters, so learning his patterns will take you far.

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Besides the powerful but limited Atomic Fire, your second reward for besting Heat Man is Item-1, which works as Item-2′s opposite number. While Item-2 sends you cruising straight ahead, Item-1 is a tiny propeller-driven platform that rises slowly. You can lay down up to three at a time to create a stair step effect and reach extremely high and out-of-the way platforms and ladders — something essential in the final stages.