Having fought through Sniper Joes, Big Eyes, two vanishing platform areas, and a variety of basic enemies, we left Mega Man at the beginning of a nasty Cutting Wheel segment.
The Wheels here are fast, with the exception of the first one shown above. It just sits there, keeping us close to the Cutter behind, with another Cutter blocking us from jumping over it. Reaching this without a weapon ready can be dangerous, but between standing next to it, staying within the first Cutter's circle, or activating the second Cutter so we have room to jump it, this setup offers a lot of options.
The following enemies are a good place to use Flash or Ice, but the Wheels fall fast enough that we can jump over them and keep moving before the Cutters reach us. Doing so is fun and tense, as the Wheels will be right at our feet as we jump the gaps. This winds down with one last Cutter at head height, which is a shame, as I'd like to see that momentum kept up a bit longer. While it can be jumped at a run initially, that placement allows it to wrap around in front of us before we can escape.
The last Wheel guards an energy refill, and will hit players attempting to rush up the ladder. Luckily, its speed makes it easy to lure offscreen before it reaches the floor. I don't like that small platform, as the jump required to get on top from there is too pixel specific to be fun, even in a safe area, but the alternative is wasting a Carry that players are likely low on by now.
As we climb up the right side, it's important to remember these threats...
...as they'll all be in our way on the next pass. At least, that looks to be the intended plan.
What actually happens is that Pipi will assault players seemingly at random, because the direction it appears from is based on the last left or right direction pressed by the player. My normal play leads to the results above, but others may find Pipi attacking them from the closest wall right away. This behavior never had much purpose in this game, and Pipi would have been better off having its direction set by individual rooms.
Here we have the true purpose for Atomic Fire. A changed blast destroys these walls, but a normal shot isn't wasted, as they have multiple stages of damage. Beyond is a simple Joe fight and a choice of paths. I like that the upper path is close enough to reach with Carry without touching the ground. It's the sort of thing that just feels good to do even with no danger nearby. The forced Carry use to get through the room at all is less impressive.
The upper path naturally leads to some goodies, though since Mega Man lands on top of one of the small refills, it'll be wasted if the player hasn't equipped something previously or is very quick on the Start button. Changkey Maker's placement here is really good, as it's a threat to both paths and can scare the player into dodging forward, wasting some refills.
Surprisingly, the fall here is a fair one, giving players room to dodge each set of spikes as long as they center themselves in the available area. The danger is about even here, with spikes split across both sides, and an electric trap on the right along with an opportunity to escape the next Changkey Maker without fighting.
A very simple enemy corridor. The only thing of note here is that the fan is pushing us toward the electricity this time, which is actually much easier to deal with than the opposite.
This is also easy to avoid, but it's a decent sendoff for the stage, as the Cutters will squeeze us right up against the wall as we pass, and trying to overthink this one by freezing some will make it much harder. It's visually interesting, if nothing else. With a final chance at an extra life, we're ready to take on Dr. Wily.
His machine can only be damaged in the chin and spits Wheels at us, alternating between high and low shots, but at varying angles. This gets dangerous if we stay near the back, as they tend to group together unpredictably.
The better option is to stay near the face and focus on avoiding the lower Wheels. While the Wheels can be destroyed, it requires more effort than would be helpful, and Ice Slasher doesn't work on them, preventing us from interrupting his fire or breaking the sprite limit depending on how the game would have handled that.
Atomic Fire is our only strength against him, and while it can deal two damage with normal shots, two fully charged shots are enough to win this phase. Getting a charge off can be tough, as taking damage forces Mega Man to fire it, often hitting one of the Wheels or missing the target.
In the second phase, Wily alternates firing a fast shot high or low, while occasionally sending the claw to Mega Man's position. This phase can only be damaged by reflecting the shots with Enker's shield, and half of it is used up in the process. This isn't difficult as long as the player moves up to bait the claw instead of sitting in the corner, but there's enough going on to give new players a hard time, especially after the first phase.
While I enjoyed the Wheel/Cutter and split path areas, this stage went on for entirely too long. The unique Joe encounters and Wheel setups were the best ideas it had, and much could have been cut to make this fit the usual stage length. The five new weapons needed time to be played with, but a lot of this stage was taken up by vanishing platforms and falling, so if that was the purpose, the stage failed at that too.
Carry was handled very poorly after the previous stage introduced it, and the final spike drop seemed to give up on it and revert to a more traditional design, though that design itself was done well. Worst of all, Wily requires a weapon that we could easily use up in a couple attempts, or even before the fight, forcing a continue and starting the whole stage over.
That said, aside from the problems related to the stage it's attached to, the Wily battle is a good one. The varied movement of the Wheels is fun to avoid and makes the wait to charge Atomic Fire a tough choice, but the fight can be won quickly even without a full charge, and the second half focuses more on patience and paying attention to the claw than on reflexes.