The path to Cossack starts off with some refills, an E-Tank, and a nice view of the night sky. Pakatto and Jumbig are easily dealt with by now, and we've already met both in worse situations.
Biree makes another appearance here. This time we'll have to slide past it, and since they're moving counter-clockwise the bottom path is safer. The large health shouldn't be necessary this early in the stage, but it and the platform leading to it at least help fill the room out. It's a shame the Dust Crusher won't kill the Battontons in the next room with one hit, as the bottom two are one of the very few cases where another enemy would be hit by the pieces. This screen also presents us with a new design feature; the stage splits into two paths for multiple screens before meeting up again later.
Taking the ladder brings us outside, where we run into Up'N'Down again, with a couple Helipons as support. This is a great place to use the Flash Stopper of course, but a fun thing about this area is that Up'N'Down won't hit us if we jump across without stopping. Unfortunately, Helipon sticks to the first and last screen instead of attacking us when it might count.
The first Shield Attacker comes all the way to the wall, so we'll need to react fast. The second one doesn't, which is a real shame since if it did, a player jumping over the first would get to the wall just as the second is turning around. The next two can both be slid under, and the left side of the screen is the exit from the other path.
Had we gone through the breakable wall earlier, we'd end up here. This one is much shorter, leading only to an E-Tank and a couple Tom Boys.
The choice of which path to slide through is more even this time given how short the upper path is. The large health is well defended, as the Shield Attacker will chase us all the way off the platform. It can be killed with a Ring Boomerang or a well-timed Rain Flush, but it's really not worth the trouble.
The next screen contains absolutely nothing, and the stage ends with a couple Docron makers. They're not going to put up a fight, but the energy refill at least gives us a reason to stop and deal with them rather than blasting through without a second thought.
At the end we meet Cossack himself, piloting a giant UFO catcher. He'll move around the room shooting at us, and can slam downward anytime we're under him. If this happens on the lower platform, he'll grab Mega Man and drop him for six damage. Oddly enough, Mega Man takes eight damage from a normal collision, so it's actually safer to stay down here. Of course, we'll need to use the upper platform to deal damage, as Cossack rarely comes low enough for us to reach him otherwise. The only trick to this fight is figuring out that collision is the main threat, and sliding whenever moving underneath him.
Though he takes two damage from the Dust Crusher, the Wire is surprisingly effective here. Cossack is constantly adjusting his position based on Mega Man's, and Wire seems to confuse this as he won't move while it's active, possibly for the same reasons that make us invincible for the duration. Whatever the case, we can spam it to keep him twitching in place, and though it only deals one damage it can hit twice if he's low enough. Though it's unlikely this was intentional, it's awesome to see the Wire get some use in combat.
I've been saying this a lot in Wily stages, but they really shouldn't be this easy at this point in the game. The Up'N'Down section is great, but the rest of it isn't trying that hard to kill or even hurt us. It's not terrible, but it's lacking any kind of identity to help it stand out aside from the split path.
Speaking of which, this wasn't the greatest way to implement that. Previous games have had the same idea but confined the paths to the same screens, and this worked in their favor as we could see the items we missed or the nasty stuff we skipped when taking one or the other. This one offers a shortcut and an E-Tank, but at the cost of skipping most of what little substance the stage has. This can and has been done well, but this first attempt highlights one of the pitfalls of the idea.
The fight with Cossack is fine though. His collision deals enough damage to be intimidating at first but can be avoided easily with a little practice, while the three-shot spread gives him something to catch more experienced players with. Though the stage art doesn't do much to help it stand out, the color choices are easy on the eyes and the sky is nice to look at.