The second Wily stage eases up the pressure somewhat, but it’s only relatively gentle to what has come immediately before. It’s a shorter stage, with fewer minor hazards… but it also houses two major hazards that must be surmounted in sequence before you can reach a checkpoint.
Specifically, those hazards take the form of two returning bosses, Cut Man and Elec Man. Each has been rebuilt and appears in a room along the route to the end, and each remains as dangerous and powerful as in your first encounter. In fact, they’re more dangerous, in a sense; the destructible blocks that appeared in their lairs in their home stages are absent. In Elec Man’s case, that mean you’re immediately at the boss’s level rather than safely beneath him. For Cut Man, it means you have to take him in a straight fight, because his weakness — Super Arm — is completely useless without any blocks to heave.
The two bosses are bookended by short action sequences that feature some light platforming and different sets of enemies. Small footholds in the gaps between platforms often contain energy refills, but there’s danger in collecting them thanks to the awkward inertia of Mega Man; he tends to have a “sticky” feel when moving from a dead halt. It’s fine when you’re moving into a dead run or jumping while maintaining momentum, but it can make small, precise movements dangerous. Also, collecting power-ups causes the action to freeze for a split-second, and the stutter in the action can have a strange effect on Mega Man’s movement.
The fights against the Robot Masters redux can take a toll on Mega Man’s health, and you need to defeat both of them and clear the subsequent area (which features the “football” bombs from Bomb Man’s stage) before you reach the stage’s checkpoint.
Beyond the bosses, you reach the heart of Dr. Wily’s fortress, whose exterior walls are lined with deadly spikes. Mega Man can’t actually interact with the spikes here, since they’re on the opposite side of the exterior wall. They simply serve as a neat detail to visually communicate the severity of this area. You’re in the inner sanctum now.
At the end of the stage, you face another intensely deadly boss: Mega Man. A small machine descends and surrounds Mega Man, duplicating him on an identical platform on the opposite side of the room. The imitator literally copies Mega Man, wielding his full suite of skills. If you switch to an alternate weapon, the copy Mega Man instantly switches as well, making use of your own hard-stolen abilities with deadly force. Naturally, if you bump into the copy Mega Man, you suffer damage from the collision, and the clone doesn’t. Also, he does a lot more damage to you than the reverse.
With the deck stacked so badly against you — facing off against your near-exact match, whose only tangible difference is that he happens to be twice as strong and twice as durable as you — this would seem an impossible fight. Thankfully, there is one difference: Copy Mega Man is really dumb and uses a very simple pattern. He occasionally fires at you while running along the ground, but generally his preference is to leap toward you repeatedly while firing at the peak of his arc. He suffers from the same damage knockback as you, so landing successful hits can push him backward and slow his approach. And since he generally only fires at the peak of his jump, he tends to be vulnerable while landing.
The smartest tactic here is to treat Copy Mega Man like Bomb Man, who demonstrated a somewhat similar pattern of leaps toward you. The FIRE GUN works wonders here, since its broad projectile means you can be a little less precise with firing than if you keep the P gun equipped. And, of course, he jumps right into the orbiting fire bit more often than not when he moves in close. Again, Copy Mega Man prefers to fire in midair, which means his own bit will usually have dissipated by the time he lands. While it’s definitely a tricky, challenging encounter, once you fall into the correct pattern, you can ace Copy Mega Man with relative ease.
As if to make up for the past few stages, the next-to-last sequence of Dr. Wily’s lair is far easier. The first few screens contain familiar threats from elsewhere in the game — mainly swarms of the lanterns best known from Cut Man’s stage, whose timed, pattern-based movements are exceptionally easy to deal with at this point.
The second half of the stage consists of a simple horizontal tube, which floods with water once you step into it. The force of the water pushes you forward to the right, and if you run you can breeze through the stage in record time thanks to the extra bump of speed provided by the current.
It’s much smarter to simply take your thumb off the D-pad and let the water whisk you to your goal, though. In the first half of the tube, an endless stream of flying penguins attacks from the right — easily dealt with. But after the halfway point, the penguins change to bullets. While both foes move in the same sine wave pattern, the bullets explode messily when they go out… so if you rush forward, you’ll constantly hit the edge of the explosions and take heavy damage. On the other hand, by taking your time and keeping up a slow, steady stream of fire, you’ll clear out the hazards and remain safely removed from the bullet bursts.
And the penultimate boss, Bubble Boy, appears here and poses similarly little challenge. The boss consists of six large spherical robots with a mechanical core, which emerge from three different hatches in the walls and ceiling, one at a time. Once a robot emerges, it circles the room in a clockwise motion until destroyed. Each Bubble Boy is faster than the one before it, and the last two are practically impossible to destroy before they plow into Mega Man at least once.
Thankfully, this room demonstrates Dr. Wily’s defeatist approach to architecture in action again. Four rock cubes sit in the center of the room, just begging to be flung with the Super Arm — and, wouldn’t you know it, a single hit with the Super Arm will take out a Bubble Boy. If you take out the first two robots with the standard P cannon and use the Super Arm on the remainder, you can breeze through this fight without a scratch. It’s a welcome breather between the threats of the first two Wily stages and the hellish gauntlet ahead in the last level of the game.