So here we are at the last game for the NES. This time, Wily puts on a fake beard and sunglasses to hold a robot tournament and steal the contestants, so our newest batch of Robot Masters is meant to be from various places around the world, leading to somewhat flashier designs than we're used to.
Before we get started, I need to talk about a new mechanic. The previous Rush items have been dropped in favor of two new suits, Jet and Power, which are acquired from Plant Man and Flame Man, respectively. With unlimited use and new controls, these are more of a game changer than the weapons, and since I don't want to do a second stage review just for these, I'm going to have them on hand whenever possible and explore their uses as we go. Since I can't have Jet in Plant Man's stage (for the first play anyway) nor Power in Flame Man's, I'll start with these to introduce the armors individually.
Plant Man's Stage and Music
Our first enemy of the game is Heli Buton, which bursts from the beautiful background in a spray of leaves and flies slowly toward us. It's timed to appear pretty close to a player moving at normal walking speed, but will not wait for a player moving slower once its spawn point is visible. While their height would normally allow us to slide under them, the small ledge in the middle prevents that, making their ambush a little more dangerous for impatient players.
At two hits, it's easy enough for Mega Man to dispatch normally or with a charge shot (same mechanics as before), but it also provides a good target for the Power suit, which deals two damage per shot at the cost of range, fire rate, and a slight delay for the punch animation. Mega Man is also unable to slide while wearing either suit, making it more vulnerable as well.
Next up is Batabattan, a grasshopper-like enemy very similar to the hopping enemies in Mega Man 3. The first gets the advantage of foreground grass to hide in, while the next two just appear at different heights. We also see a new destroyable wall, which are now meant for the Power suit's charge attack instead of a weapon.
The charge only hits at melee range, but has a few new effects aside from breaking walls and a very short charge time. Like the normal charge shot, it deals three damage and can hit a wider area, allowing it to kill Batabattans on the ground. Though it looks wider, Power's normal and intermediate shots have the same hitbox as the standard pellet.
Our new stomper, Power Slam, lifts itself diagonally into the air and drops when it reaches Mega Man or its horizontal movement limit. It can be tough to take out quickly given its height advantage and the 12 hits needed to kill it, but enemies in this game no longer have invincibility frames, and the Power shot can save our thumbs some work.
Tadahou, the new ground turret, fires a slow projectile now and then and takes three hits, which is pretty standard as these go. The Propeller Eye acts like the Pukapelly from Mega Man 5, is vulnerable only when moving or shortly before, and also takes three hits, which is a massive upgrade for a small flyer. While two can be avoided by moving through Tadahou quickly, one sits directly in our way and the other blocks the hole.
Another property of Power's charge can be shown off here, as it will ignore Propeller Eye's armor and kill them directly. Also, Eddie is back, doing his thing.
Gorilla Tank is the first mini boss of the game, and comes with a new game mechanic. He constantly crawls forward, and while he can be hit anywhere in the head or torso, shooting his lower fist will cause Mega Man's shots to bounce away but will also push him back. This introduces a choice of trying to defeat him quickly or keeping him away and taking it slow.
He attacks by throwing his fist at Mega Man or firing a spread of shots in front, which will become undodgable if he makes it all the way to Mega Man's side of the screen. I find Power less helpful here, as it requires being too close for comfort.
The next section mixes up enemies from the first area with a new stage object. Mega Man constantly bounces to around normal jump height while touching the springs, and the player can hold the jump button to double that height. We're given a few items to collect to get used to this, after which spikes are added as a trap for anyone getting too jump-happy. We're then offered another reward for bringing the Power armor, another Gorilla Tank, and finally the real meat of this stage.
Buton now comes in a Jet version, flying straight across the screen, and our new hole jumper is Gabgyo, which bases its jump height on Mega Man's vertical position. We also have a new platform that can only be stood on reliably after the blinking light is shot, and there are small health power-ups cleverly centered on the background flowers.
This area looks nasty, but almost everything here can be handled in turn if approached slowly and carefully. However, shots from the Tadahou in the first image will hit Mega Man at the height of a normal spring bounce, so the player will need to maneuver around them or jump the next hole quickly, which isn't guarded by a Gabgyo. The final Buton is timed to pass under Mega Man as he reaches the springs, but its arrival acts as a warning for what is to come.
Tadahou is now using the springs too, and its shots are much harder to avoid with our movement restricted. The last Jet Buton appears in our path, so now we have to contend with it and Gabgyo while trying to attack bouncing turrets and bouncing perpetually ourselves. The last Tadahou is on solid ground, but its position puts its shots right in the middle of our jump arc, making it more predictable but harder to avoid.
Meanwhile, moving backward at any point risks bringing a Jet Buton in from the other direction, and most of the flowers are now tantalizingly out of reach. The Power armor is usable here, but normal Mega Man has a clear advantage with full-range charge shots.
This stage does just about everything right. Each enemy type is introduced well, and their positioning is varied enough to make each screen feel unique. Propeller Eye is a great new enemy and was one of the best reasons to use the Power armor here. The new platforms get one low-risk screen before they become mandatory, and the springs have two easy screens, once before the spikes and again at the final area. The mini-boss is complex, and while he shows up twice, he doesn't have any special defense like the ones from Mega Man 4 and can be dealt with quickly.
Gabgyo and his place in this stage is a great improvement over older pit enemies, as the springs allow us to jump over him or lure him higher and duck under, giving us options and freeing us from having to stop and shoot or wait for each one in turn. The final area is also fair to the player despite all the pits, with the two-block-wide platforms allowing space to fall back on after taking a hit. I also love the twist of giving an otherwise unremarkable turret access to the springs to make it more threatening. The only downside is that it's a little short as Mega Man stages go, but the space is all used well, so I can't complain.