Apache Joe is waiting for us as soon as we move forward, and the following Subeil's placement is perfect for tripping up a player that might be hoping to slide past him. This is a fun area for experienced players to try to move through quickly, particularly since the last Joe will move to block our path over the pit if we slide toward him, and it offers new players some good targets for the special weapons. It's also a good spot to use Beat, and the Super Arrow can get us past the last two Joes, but we'll want to save those for later.
These rooms are all standard fare, but handled well. The Hirarian near the life refill only drops if we try to go up there, the Tabans on the next screen can get in the way if we try to attack Tatepakkan first, and the extra spikes in the last room make it look more dangerous even though riding a platform for too long is just as deadly in the previous room.
This is a very interesting combination of enemies and terrain. Metall Cannon hasn't been very dangerous so far, but trying to attack it from the small ledge in front of it leaves us open to Bombier. It's not actually necessary to use these ledges, but the terrain seems to encourage players to do so. The last Bombier also hides behind Metall, making it harder to attack.
Blasting through one more Metall Cannon and a Bounder brings us to a very Super Mario World-like platform that snakes through the air. Luckily these platforms can support Rush Coil, so getting the items here isn't that difficult.
The platform moves through some spikes as Pukapellys begin to appear, then leaves us to jump over some small platforms before carrying us to the end. Pukapelly's habit of stopping right where we need to move can make this difficult, though special weapons handle them easily enough. Though much of this can be skipped with Arrow, the item platforms from the start get in the way and there's a Pukapelly waiting for us if we try to go along the top. The platform blocks our path to the stairs if we let it reach the edge of the screen, which can leave players in a bad spot if there are Pukapellys following them.
Power Muscler shouldn't be much of a problem by this point, but I love having the option of dumping bombs on the first one from above. The Tattepakkans on the stairs can be dealt with normally, but there's just enough room to jump up by standing on the platform edges.
The last Power Muscler also leaves us the very neat option of Rush Jetting under him. The final section of this stage is another snake platform, this time with Koukers dropping on us. This is a bit easier than the previous one, but it's a good end to the stage. Kouker gets in the way of most Arrow paths, but it's a straight shot to the door if we launch from the bottom, and we can also take the opportunity to play around with Arrow's potential.
Dark Man 3 uses two attacks based on distance. At range, he'll either take a step forward or jump into the air to fire his machine gun. The latter move has a limited number of angles in which it can fire, so while the player can walk forward to avoid this, it's also easy to find a safe spot and stay there. When close, he'll fire three rings that can freeze Mega Man, which also prevent pausing. If they connect, he'll continually use the gun until the effect wears off, which happens when Mega Man is hit or a certain amount of time passes. Since the freeze lasts long enough for Dark Man to get at least two full gun attacks in, the latter case is extremely unlikely.
Dark Man can also aim the rings upward, making them difficult to avoid when close. This makes getting backed into a corner dangerous since he'll keep doing it until they hit, but the upside is that players can trick Dark Man into a loop by deliberately moving close when they have room to dodge, avoiding the gun attack entirely and, more importantly, keeping him in one spot. Gyro deals two damage but Beat is particularly useful here, dealing three damage and attacking even when Mega Man is frozen.
This stage has a lot going for it. Most areas were memorable, and the rest were filled with standard enemies used reasonably well, the only exception being that lone Bounder in front of the Obligatory Rush Area. Apache Joe's return served as a fine "look how far you've come" moment, Metall Cannon finally got a chance to be a threat, the new mechanic was fully explored without overtaking the rest of the stage, and there were a ton of opportunities to play with our weapon collection.
We also got a proper boss fight this time, and fans of the X series should recognize him as a prototype for Vile. Once again, Proto man's Castle gives us an excellent stage.