New console, new artwork, new mechanics. Let's see what the original series' jump to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System brought to the table.
The first change we'll notice after pressing start is that this one doesn't dump us at the stage select screen, instead beginning with a lengthy (for the time, and for being unskippable) intro cutscene...
...leading to another showing Wily's escape after we automatically move to the next screen.
Why am I showing these in a project about level design? Because this is frequently the first complaint I see raised in discussions about the game, but also because there is so little else going on here, as we'll soon see.
Having gained control of Mega Man, let's have a look at how the new sprites affect the screen area. I've always been put off by the push for bigger and more detailed sprites in games from this time, as increasing the size of everything reduces the player's effective view distance. Measuring by character length, we can see that our horizontal view distance is no better than the Game Boy series.
It takes more than a sprite change to cause this, though. It's not just that the character is bigger, his actions are scaled to his new size as well (shown here with jump height and slide distance from the edge of the screen), making the camera feel more zoomed in.
Once we get started, we encounter Bunby Tank as the first enemy. This is a new splitting enemy, leaving the head behind after four shots. Unlike the first game's version, this one cannot shoot, despite the cannons on its arms.
The top slowly rises into the air, then swoops down in a set angle if we're close enough. If we run away, it dives at roughly twice the normal distance to keep up. Disappointingly, while the head alone only takes two hits, it requires four to destroy it while attached, keeping us from wiping it out with a charge shot.
Mets are more active this time, walking forward immediately after shooting. This makes things tougher when attempting to dodge their shots, but also gives us the opportunity to jump over them as soon as we reach them. The second one appears higher, though this really just makes jumping over the shot easier, and the area ends with a second Bunby Tank.
Mad Grinder kicks off the SNES tradition of using a large, easy boss as a relatively safe fight to catch the player's interest. He crushes some Mets to show how cool he is, then jumps into the air and slams the floor, causing the screen to shake and screwing with our ability to jump.
He follows this by tossing his mohawk at us, which falls in an arc, moves forward along the ground, then returns. After that he'll roll forward to squash us, throw the mohawk again, move back, and repeat with the jump.
He only takes 16 hits, but his roller is animated and he takes cosmetic damage throughout the fight, and overall does a good job of showing off the visuals on the new system. He doesn't deal enough damage to be a threat as long as we keep shooting, but if a player gets in trouble, we can safely sit at the left side of the area and avoid all but the second mohawk toss.
This is the entire next area: Two pits.
Bass shows up, and starts taking shots at us with no fanfare. I have to wonder how many people were hit by this because they were expecting more dialogue.
Bass is far more simplistic. If we leave him alone, he stays on the ground and shoots. If we shoot, he jumps and shoots. Simply firing constantly will cause most of his shots to miss, and dealing enough damage kicks off the next cutscene.
This scene is also timed, so if we simply dodge everything he throws at us, he'll eventually give up and start the cutscene without going into his damaged state.
If we manage to take serious damage in this fight, Bass's dialogue changes to reflect how bad we are.
That's it. The game moves on to the stage select screen from here, so this whole intro consists of four enemies, two pits, a neat-looking but simple boss fight, and another scripted boss fight.
Mad Grinder serves his purpose adequately, but I think some of the dislike for this area might have been avoided if it had used at least half a stage's worth of content. As it is, the platforming segments are so short that they don't teach the player anything that their first encounter in a regular stage wouldn't. Bass's inclusion also does little for a new player, as the Robot Masters are so much tougher than this, and the Mad Grinder's projectile does more to show players what to expect than Bass's simple shots.
With a boss that ends the fight before it kills you (unless you walk in with enough damage to die on the first hit), they could have taken the opportunity to show us what a real boss looks like. This area is slightly too long for an intro to the story, and much too short to show off the gameplay.