A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Ring Man

Ring Man's Stage and Music mm4ring_01

Our new enemy is Wall Blaster, who fires three shots at a time towards Mega Man and can take five hits. We also get introduced to the stage gimmick the moment we teleport in, as the floor starts to vanish underneath us. It moves from left to right when Mega Man is standing or running on it, then refills again after it's gone.

The easiest way across is to jump or slide (if it hasn't been triggered, it won't start moving until Mega Man stands up again), but we can also trigger it early and start running as it refills. On the next screen we have two Wall Blasters to deal with, but since they're limited to certain angles, we can find a safe spot near the ladder to shoot from. The following room gives us smaller platforms and is the first appearance of Ring Ring, who behaves just like Telly (the floating tin can things from the second game).

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I love this room. Two more Wall Blasters guard the path up, but this time we don't have an easy way to kill one. We can make our way to the left side and attack the one on the right while hopping over its shots, or quickly run through between volleys. Most options we can choose leave us open to enemy fire at some point, and it's a great example of making a lot happen in a small space.

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After one more platform with no enemies on it, we meet Kabatoncue. Most would probably call this the point where mini-bosses got too annoying, and I can agree with that. He takes sixteen hits, and before we can start shooting him we have to bring down his platform, which is made of five segments that take two hits each. Meanwhile, he can keep up to two homing missiles in the air and restores his platform almost instantly when left alone for a second.

The missiles don't deal much damage, so the trick is to dodge or ignore the missiles and keep firing to prevent him from getting out of reach again. Even so, the time it takes to kill him is mostly dependent on your firing speed. Though his platform regenerates too fast, I actually think he's pretty fun. Unfortunately this game sticks to the convention of fighting every mini-boss twice, which worked fine when we were blasting robot dogs and cats out of the way in seconds, but isn't necessary at all for fights like this. It gets worse though.

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Now we get a horizontal section involving these platforms. The game is going out of its way to give us lots of practice with these before making them dangerous, as falling in the last area just lead to the previous screen, and the first half of this one only drops us onto some Garyobys. We're also offered a health refill if we jump down there willingly. The Garyoby at the end isn't difficult to avoid, but its placement might have been an attempt to trick players into hesitating and falling off, as it appears just as a player is likely to jump.

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This, in my opinion, is the worst mini-boss in the series. Whopper here wiggles back and forth a set number of times before throwing his rings in six directions. He can only be hit while the rings are out, and the distance they're thrown is random. Mega Man can't be hit while standing against the wall, so it's just a toothless roadblock that holds up the action until the player learns its timing. Worse yet, it often won't leave itself vulnerable long enough to get a full volley in. While Escaroo could be fought easily enough with normal shots (and was actually fun), this one is a blatant attempt to make the player use charge shots, just like Rush Coil and the too-high walls in the last game. Whopper only takes nine hits, but it'll feel like a lot more.

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We're then immediately dumped into another hippo fight. Again, this would have been acceptable once, but two in one stage plus another mini-boss is crossing a few lines somewhere. Speaking of Rush Coil, he and Eddie get a chance to show up again, but thankfully we can just walk past it if we're not interested. I do like that Eddie's room gives us our first glimpse of the planets in the background though.

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As we saw in Drill Man's stage, stairs are a good environment for Mono Roader. This time we get more headroom at the cost of having more stairs and thus less stable footing. The brown platforms move in the opposite direction, and are much faster. Since we're still moving to the right, this means we'll have a gap in front of us if we try to run across. We can't follow it as it refills either, though jumping on as it comes forward does give us more time. Dropping from the ladder leads to a nasty surprise, as we have to cross one last brown platform from right to left. Mega Man can make it across if we start moving as soon as we land, but waiting on the right for it to cycle won't hurt.

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Our last obstacle is another Whopper. This one can hit Mega Man in the corner, so we'll need to jump when he attacks. This makes the fight even worse, as now we'll take damage if we time our jumps to the moment he opens, but if we wait for the ring to pass under us we won't get a shot in unless he fires at maximum range. What used to be a boring timing game is now an even longer timing game or a gamble.

I'll admit that long slide at the end is more fun than is should be though.

There's no way around it; the mini-bosses just kill this stage. It's a shame, as this is otherwise a good example of a stage gimmick done well. It's introduced in relative safety, we deal with a few different enemies while crossing it, and the mechanics switch themselves up halfway through. Even with all the boss fights, this one developed its gimmick as far as it needed to, and still had enough screens left over to give us a break between platforming sections.

Unfortunately, those breaks consisted of four annoying mini-bosses. Had they simply used one hippo fight and filled the rest with normal enemies, we'd have another great stage on our hands. As it is, it stands as one of the better arguments for why the series started going downhill at this point.

I have to give them credit for the background though. All the diagonal lines on the floor and walls just makes it look like the game glitched, but the background has a great transition from daylight to a starry sky that slowly adds brighter stars and planets, ending with a cloud of multicolored stars at the slide.