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.
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.
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…
…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.
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.
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.
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.