Our first steps into this stage put us in the path of a particularly aggressive enemy, Sumatran. These quickly jump toward us when we or even one of our shots approaches, dealing six damage on contact, and have little delay between attacks.
I love this guy, and his behavior is perfect for a robot tiger. Seeing it and stopping before alerting it gives players the opportunity to kill it with a charge shot (which it can jump over), and failure results in a panicked attempt to dodge and kill it before it mauls them. The terrain is also appropriate and changes for each, with the last asking us to take the shot while falling.
Metall Cannon works like a normal Metall, except it fires one shot instead of the spread and takes four hits. It's not very dangerous since the projectile is destroyable, but the second one is low enough to negate that advantage, and the first at least gets Tabans as backup. Not a bad setup for these guys.
Next up is a series of moving spiked walls. They're a one-hit kill, but only take three shots and we can stand on them if we need to. The ability to stand on them could have made for some neat platforming, but here it only serves to disguise the fact that there's nothing to do with these but run forward and shoot. We get another hidden path at the end of this section.
It's been a while since the game's made a genuine attempt to kill us, but Apache Joe isn't here to mess around. At four health he can survive a charge shot, and constantly attempts to ram into us while shooting fireballs. He can only ascend by moving straight up, and alternates between this and diving toward our position. He seems to have a set height that he likes to fly to before diving, so we're safer on the lower platforms.
Aside from him, we have a ton of Subeils and water pushing us off the platforms to deal with. The first Apache Joe picks the worst possible place to attack us, so we're caught between trying to get hits in while getting rammed on unreliable footing or dodging a few Subeils to get to flat ground. The second is much easier, but there are more Subeils in the way.
The platform following the ladder has a Subeil on the edge that we can't lure away without falling, so the natural choice is to go down. This lets us clear out the enemies on the floor, but the two Subeils on the next platform will be waiting to attack as we jump to attack Apache Joe. We can get across the top by jumping on the very edge of the platforms, but this leaves the two on the floor when we reach Joe. The best options are to clear all the Subeils before reaching Joe, or inch to the edge of the last platform to make him appear without jumping to the floor.
Both enemies are also a lot of fun to dodge if we ignore strategy and just power through. This is by far the best stage design we've seen in a long time. Following is a well-earned refill from Eddie.
Yudon also gets a chance to shine here, with the second one appearing behind a series of small jumps over spikes. This will get messy fast if we let his missiles get away. The "N" item is hidden at the end.
The stage isn't done beating us up yet. We fall into the path of a Metall Cannon and get an easy extra life, then run into some well-placed Jet Bombs and a Power Muscler. He's fairly easy to take out since he'll jump into the wall in front of him and turn around, but if we make the mistake of trying to dodge him we'll be backed against a swarm of Jet Bombs over a spike pit. The first three fly overhead, but there's another just after to catch us mid-jump, and if we try to run backwards we'll trigger the two that appeared before Power Muscler. Another great area.
The stage winds down with some Mizziles and Bomb Throwns. The small platform we begin on gives Bomb Thrown a good shot at us, but otherwise it's a straightforward series of jumps to the end. The last gap doesn't have a Mizzile in it, just to mess with the player one last time before the boss.
This is a fantastic combat stage with each section containing a completely different set of powerful enemies and just the right amount of calmer rooms in between. The only complaint I can make is that it doesn't get any use out of the fact that the nameless moving spike walls can be stood upon, and they're boring otherwise, but that's a very minor issue next to the rest of the stage.
The jungle and military base settings don't stand out much, but I love the look of the waterfall cave and the variety of backgrounds gives the stage a good sense of progression.