Note: I just realized I never bothered to mention that The Anatomy of Mega Man Vol. I is available on Gumroad, if you’d like the PDF. So… there’s that.
If Area 2 was the game’s optional warm-up, Area 3 is more of an instant-kill death trap trial-by-fire… though still an optional one, as it happens. The item you earn for completing this stage (the Rapid Fire Device) allows you to shoot a bit more quickly, but it’s much less useful an item than something like the Energy Recovery Pills or Iron Boots, and at no point in the game is it required. You’ll probably never even equip it.
In fact, the only real value this stage offers comes from a shred of plot you can glean by wire-tapping (the Badds have moved Super Joe to the garbage disposal area) and from the helpful mechanical exercises it thrusts upon you.
Area 3 pours on the death traps pretty heavily, right from the start. The opening sequence presents you with several expanses of quicksand, which — as you would expect — cause Captain Spencer to slowly sink beneath the surface as he runs forward. Not that slowly, though. You descend quickly enough that you can’t actually run from one end to the other before drowning beneath the sand. If you make the attempt, you will find yourself dead about halfway across.
Of course, the solution is to use your grappling wire to minimize your time on the unstable ground. Not only does it allow you to pull yourself free by grabbing onto nearby tree limbs, you can also sail midway onto the quicksand patches by swinging forward from the trees in front of the sand and releasing your arm once you reach the far right of your arc. Functionally, your arm serves the same role here as jumping would in any other platformer featuring quicksand, like Super Mario Bros. 2/USA. But because grappling, unlike jumping, requires environmental elements with which to interact, you have to give more consideration to your approach than in standard platformers. It’s a nice little case-in-point of the complexity inherent in Bionic Commando‘s design.
Beyond the quicksand, you find yourself scaling a cliff wall to a Badd outpost where apparently they’re performing bizarre biological experiments on the local plant life… or else they just decided to set up camp in some sort of Savage Land-like locale where all the bugs and plants are the size of men.
Your first encounters here are with spiders (or are they ants!?) that scuttle along the wall and can be fairly unpredictable for their ability to sidle up to you from any direction. You can use your grappling arm to knock them away if they approach from above, but really the best thing to do here is enter the stage with the Wide Cannon (acquired in Area 4) equipped. It shoots in three directions, and the bullets pass through walls and platforms, so it’s helpful in crowd control when bugs (or arachnids, I guess) come shuffling toward you.
Your weapons can’t help against the other threat here, though: Giant, invincible, man-eating plants. Man, look at those teeth.
The plants appear in fixed locations, though you won’t know which locations until you come close enough to trigger their attack. There’s a momentary rustling of grass and suddenly the whole flytrap (mantrap?) bursts from the ground. If you’re standing over the rustling grass when it emerges, even partially, Captain Spencer is done for. Instant death.
The combination of spiders in hard-to-reach spots and (initially) unpredictable plant life makes for a daunting scenario. You can avoid the plants neatly if you stay on the move, but the bugs in hard-to-reach spots make this more easily said than done. They tend to appear in multiples and congregate in ways that leave you vulnerable to the mantraps if you stop to deal with the bugs by smacking them with your arm to knock them into range of your weapons.
The plants also tend to pop up in very inconvenient places. For instance, the one that pops up beneath the entrance to the stage interior is positioned exactly where you’d instinctively stand to grapple up to the top platform. So you need to be mindful of where you stand as you travel to prevent being devoured unceremoniously while getting about the Area.
Toward the upper portion of the cliff the spiders begin to give way to giant moths (altitude, you know). Moths are somewhat less of a threat in one sense; you can kill them with your grappling arm. However, they tend to be more mobile, more numerous, shed a dangerous dust as they hover overhead, and quickly respawn when destroyed. Although you can knock them out of the air, their heavy numbers force you to stop and deal with them more often, which means you’re more likely to bumble into a plant trap.
Should you make it into the base interior, you’re confronted with one of the trickiest level layouts you’ve yet faced. A wide pit descends into the unknown, and it’s flanked by alcoves populated by enemy soldiers who take potshots at you as you descend. At the bottom of the pit, an elevator waits to take you down even further… but once you step on it, it instantly plummets into a bed of spikes, giving you a split second to grapple to safety on the platforms to the left. Thankfully, this reaction is something you’re already set up to perform, since you can see the communication room door to the left as you approach the elevator — you’ll already be primed to swing or run in that direction, so this trap is more about keeping you on your toes than killing you.
The remainder of Area 3 is pretty simple to handle until you get to the very last stretch before the boss door. Here is the first true grappling mastery test of the game. You’ve had to deal with a tough swing every now and again, especially if you’ve attempted Area 5, but this sequence requires an advanced technique the game hasn’t really demanded of you to date: The ability to grapple consecutively.
Here, in the final run, you have to cross three sequential beds of spikes. Now, Bionic Commando‘s spikes aren’t the instant-kill hazard that you have to deal with in Mega Man games, but they still hit hard: Each contact with spikes throws Captain Spencer backward and knocks three points off his health. Depending on how many bullets you’ve been collecting, you may only have three points to begin with. So there’s only the tiniest room for error here — you can theoretically recover from a screwup, but not easily.
To clear this area, your best and most reliable tactic is to pass over all the spikes without touching the ground. If you’re very precise, you can possibly land on the gaps between the spikes, but it takes talent. On the other hand, you can simply swing, break contact at the furthest extent of your arc, and grapple again while in midair to hit the low-hanging structures. This takes careful aim, because the structures are only a single tile wide. As you’ll need to master this skill for less forgiving portions of the adventure, it’s wise to practice here.
If you can make it to the door, you’ll find a new kind of boss here: A machine that looks remarkably like one of Dr. Wily’s machines, though it’s much easier to destroy. This robot simply moves up and down and fires a three-way spread from its forward cannon. The bullet spray can be difficult to avoid… but you can simply run behind the machine and fire into it from behind to destroy it without having to worry about taking a scratch. Not exactly a hardcore test of skill, really.