While I will defend the honor of the Magnet Beam to the death, there is really no justification for Ice Man’s level. It is not a good or fun level. It combines one of the infamous worst things about platformers – low-friction iced surfaces – with the game’s two most irritating unique mechanics. By far, it represents the low point of Mega Man. Everything that is terrible or simply not fun about Mega Man has been quarantined in this stage.
If each level is meant to teach newcomers a lesson about the game, the Ice Man stage’s teachings amount to, “You should go play something else instead.”
But first things first. Ice Man himself waits at the end of his self-titled stage, and he’s one of the heaviest hitters in the game; his weapon, Ice Slasher, tears into you with the same force as Elec Man’s Thunder Beam. Thankfully, the reverse is true as well: The Thunder Beam utterly shreds Ice Man, hitting him every bit as hard as it does you. Three hits and he’s down.
Ice Man’s use of the Ice Slasher differs noticeably from Mega Man’s. Where you fire off a single blast that tears across the screen as quickly as a P bullet, Ice Man fires three at a time in a stair-stepped configuration. However, these projectiles move at what I can only refer to as glacial speed, inching across the screen and offering a deft player just enough leeway to jump between them safely.
Ice Man himself is similarly sluggish. Of all the game’s bosses, he’s easily the least mobile. He generally sticks to the back half of the room rather than bum-rushing Mega Man. Rather than going for the melee strike, he prefers to use his weapon and kindly offers enough room to maneuver around his attacks. What a swell guy. Aside from moving back and forth in his preferred quarter of the screen, he also leaps up and drifts slowly to the ground while firing ice daggers in groups of three – first in an ascending stairstep pattern, then descending. Repeat ad nauseum.
Since you need to stay busy dodging his projectiles (and remember than in the original Mega Man, a boss’ on-screen attacks continue to follow their path and remain a hazard even after you destroy the boss himself), the Thunder Wave proves quite handy here. Its wide sine wave pattern guarantees that you’ll hit Ice Man regardless of his position provided you point in the right direction when you shoot.
Fittingly, the Thunder Beam comes in handy throughout the stage. For instance, the Crazy Razies early in the stage can be a headache if you don’t destroy their upper bodies first… but the Thunder Wave hits them square in the face, trivializing the threat. Likewise, the Pengs that attack in the second half of the first portion of the stage fly in a sine wave pattern, and the Thunder Beam’s huge hit box means it’s practically guaranteed to take out a Peng provided you attack from the center point of its wave pattern.
Thunder Beam don’t do jack to help out with the slippery ice that covers all the dry (that is, not immersed in water) surfaces of this stage.
Thunder Beam don’t do jack here, either. In fact, it’s no help whatsoever in the second half of the level, which makes you pine for the slippery-ice portion of the level.
Welcome to Mega Man‘s most irritating indigenous mechanic: Disappearing blocks. Yes, they also appear in Elec Man’s stage, but those instances are considerably more mild than what you encounter here. First, those blocks appeared in neat, tidy formations, whereas in Ice Man’s stage they seem somewhat scattershot, forcing you to master six to eight consecutive leaps that involve multiple heights as well as a slight bit of backtracking – sometimes you need to leap backward in order to find purchase. Secondly, Elec Man’s disappearing blocks appeared on screens without any hazards besides falling, whereas here the ground beneath the blocks is patrolled by Spines. And, finally, these jump sequences are considerably more protracted than the ones in Elec Man’s stage.
No, the Thunder Beam won’t help here… but this screen (and the similar one preceding it) definitely make the case that Elec Man’s stage is meant to be one of the last you tackle in the your Mega Man playthrough. If you start with Cut Man (or earlier up the proper chain of progression) and follow the path of least resistance, you’ll come to Ice Man’s stage with the Rolling Cutter and, quite possibly, the Magnet Beam. The former takes care of the Spines, while the latter lets you completely skip past the disappearing blocks. The blocks phase in as platformers that take you up over high walls obstructing your way, but you can just lay down a couple of successive Magnet Beam shots and not have to worry about the vanishing blocks.
The Magnet Beam is almost incalculably essential in the area that appears next: A wide expanse of gaping pits linked by a series of floating platforms. Alas, this is the single worst part of the game thanks to a collision of poor design decisions as well as crummy programming. A double whammy!
The eyes on these orange platforms denote the fact that they are, in fact, enemies. They drift in floaty circles, occasionally moving close enough to one another that you can hop across them to advance. But because they’re enemies, this causes two complications. One, those little pipes on their flanks occasionally fire bullets across the screen. This poses no threat if the one you’re standing on fires, but if a platform opposite shoots while it’s drifting near your level… not only do you take a hit, the massive knockback that comes with damage (seriously, Mega Man slides back a whole tile and seems to be in a hit stun animation forever) means you’re probably going to reel right off the platform and into the pit.
Even if you manage to avoid these projectiles, the platforms themselves pose a terrible hazard. Thanks to their flaky hit detection, their neutral upper decks sometimes will unintentionally just sort of stop registering as ground, causing you to fall through to hit the dangerous robot below. Or else you’ll inexplicably take a hit and go sliding off from hitstun. They’re especially dangerous when they rise, since Mega Man doesn’t treat them as ground, and sometimes you’ll clip through the top as it climbs and die.
And to make matters worse, the entire time an endless stream of Pengs approaches from the right, forcing you to keep alert from an additional hazard.
It’s possible to get through this sequence without the Magnet Beam, but doing so feels like a stunt to prove how cool you are, like playing a naked run of Dark Souls or something. This part of Mega Man legitimately demonstrates poor design, and the one reason this is even slightly tolerable is that you can just lay down a bunch of Magnet Beams to completely bypass it. This is entirely by design; the column in the center of the pits contains a large weapon energy capsule to refill your Magnet Beam midway through.
Still, the presence of an out doesn’t redeem this portion of the level. Ice Man is not a stage for beginners.