A Critical Look at Mega Man 2 Stages: Heat Man

Alright, I'm sure a lot of you we just twiddling your thumbs during all that thinking "Yup, Mega Man sure was a game, now let's hear about 2 already!" To be honest, so was I. Let's dive in and see where all that love came from. Like last time, I'll avoid talking about the boss fights until we fight them all again later. I will also be saving special weapon discussion for its own post after the first 8 stages are done, since the rest of these games are more complex.

Mega Man 2 Intro and Stage Select

Right away, we get some actual text explaining what's going on, some rockin' music, and a helmetless Mega Man standing on a huge tower being all cool-like with his hair blowing in the wind.

And look at this: actual portraits for the bosses, and a nicer background! Things are looking better already, but we still need to see how it plays. As before, this gives a quick overview of the weapons if you need it. As much as I'd like to go after those Metal Blades first, I'll once again be leaving it up to chance.

...

Uh oh.

Heat Man's Stage and music.

Any Mega Man 2 fan knows how much easier this gets if we take out Air Man first, but until someone DOES kill Air Man, they won't even know that there's a way to cheat through this stage. The laws of chance are telling me to see how this works as someone's first stage, so here we go.

I avoided commenting on the graphics until the end on the last game because there really wasn't a whole lot to say about them, but I want to point out what a good first impression this is. The background itself looks like a curved tunnel, the foreground bricks and pipe are a lighter color and thus easily distinguishable from the background, and the molten... whatever flowing through the pipe is animated. The gap in the ceiling, while pointless from a gameplay perspective, seems to imply that we've come in from above, as though the place is underground. There's a strong sense of being in a real place and we haven't taken our first step yet.

This is Fly Boy (once again, I'm using the Japanese names from the Complete Works artbook). He's a pullstring-powered flying robot that has to pull his own string. Adorable. These drop from the ceiling, give the string a couple tugs, and rise into the air slowly. When they reach a certain height, they'll quickly jump forward and try to land on you, then repeat the process. They take five hits, and another will drop just as the first is about to leap forward.

What really caught my attention is that if a player walks up to the edge of the pit here and stops, the Fly Boys will jump over him. However, if a more aggressive player jumps over it right away, they'll be in a perfect position to gun them down or just run under the first one. For the NEXT jump, the player has to move right away because the first set of Fly Boys are above them. These first few screens can teach a new player how Fly Boys work AND forces them into a good rhythm for beating them all with a couple of good gap placements.

Now Telly, who appears from those holes in the wall and slowly flies toward the player, gets involved. Note that the game didn't give us a break between enemies, it just threw Tellys in right between the Fly Boys and some tricky jumps. That's how you use an enemy that isn't dangerous by itself. A player who's moving quickly can kill or run under the Fly Boy and continue jumping without even touching a Telly until that last shot, so there's plenty of time to get used to them before interacting with one. Now, look at this:

There can only be two Fly Boys on the screen at once. If the player is having trouble killing them and is being followed, the last one won't appear, giving them more time to deal with the Tellys. Awesome.

The next few jumps are just a matter of moving fast or carefully killing any Tellys in the way. Falling into the lava by missing a jump is instant death, but if the player is crowded by Tellys and knocked in, the invincibility will give them enough time to get out.

There's a bunch of pointless identical jumps here, a few more over a pit, then the introduction of Springers, which are just Gabyoalls with a cute animation if they hit you.

As with Ice Man, this is another good vanishing block room to teach players exactly how they work in a relatively safe environment. I wanted to point out that despite there being only four blocks, there are three possible ways to get through it, or four if someone wants to jump on every block. Very nice.

Now we see a different use for those blocks. Instead of getting across a screen full of them, we have to use them to get over these pillars with Tellys flying around. The ones that force you to jump up to the next before it appears are the hardest, but the only one with a gap directly under it is a single block. This isn't bad as long as you keep the Tellys away. At the end is a Springer waiting to hit you if you don't jump right away.

Here we are, the part everyone hates. I'm not going to go over the whole thing, but the general problem here is that nothing is timed consistently, so there's no way to know when the next block appears without memorizing it. That said, the most difficult part is the first section, which can be retried since it won't kill you. The blocks over the lava all appear in sequence and don't do anything crazy, so it's safe to wait for the next and jump to it.

The only one that's a real nightmare to deal with is that last shot. As with the first section, you'll have to jump quick before the next one appears over your head. However, the timing is different from the first ones and even if you suspect this is coming, there's no way to know when. Learn how to get past this one jump, and the rest can be dealt with. The extra life here can only be grabbed safely with the use of a certain item, or can be jumped to if the player is getting nervous and wants to restart without penalty. It's a shame, because they could have made it an optional reward to go for during this that would make the dirty trick at the end a little easier to deal with.

As soon as we head down the ladder, a Sniper Armor jumps toward us. These take TWENTY HITS to kill, and can kill us in four hits through collision damage. After jumping, they're stop for a while and fire a series of shots (that deal minimal damage) at downward angles, moving upward. This encourages players to move up, both allowing them to leave and restart if they have trouble, and showing them the best way to win.

What you want to do is drop down the ladder and shoot a few times, then jump up and continue firing from the ladder (or just catch the ladder in the right place on the way down). It'll be close, but even if you can't shoot that fast, it'll go down just in time. Scary, but in this case better than the Big Eyes from before, I think. After taking out the armor, Joe falls to the ground and does his usual thing, though he can't jump this time and his shots are very slow.

There's nothing dangerous in the last screen, and the boss hallways are now just a single screen before the fight.

What a difference. The graphics and music are great, each segment of the stage does something different, very few screens are wasted, and each enemy is placed in a way that complements the danger offered by the stage instead of just appearing by itself. The Sniper Armor is an exception, but it's difficult enough on its own and is more intimidating than Big Eyes while being more fun to fight. The vanishing block bridge at the end is certainly a roadblock for some players, but the game does offer an easy way to bypass it later. Even if a new player can't get through it, it does a good job of teaching them to play better for the next stage.