A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Dr. Wily Stage 1 - The Last Look?

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I know these games love to hand out E-Tanks like candy in the final stages, but they really should have gone easier on the M-Tanks. It's not necessary to have weapon refills here like it was for stuff like Boobeam, and they could have taken the opportunity to make the player work for them. Instead, we get this.

The following spike drop gives us a choice of two routes, one of which leads to certain death. To nip a lengthy rant in the bud, I'll just say that this was disappointing to see. The only bit of praise I can find for it is that it at least followed the convention of making the slightly more difficult path the correct one.

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The rest of the drop is handled well, with the wall giving us a nudge toward the middle where we'd be able to survive the spikes at the bottom on reaction. The immediate appearance of Giree was a good move, making the end of the spike drop dangerous even after we've landed. They also mix well with Toss Machine by slowing the player down or blocking shots, though the third Toss Machine is left to fend for itself. The following room does a fine job of making the most of B Bitter, as one is waiting for us as we enter and the Taban immediately above encourages us to move forward and jump into the range of the others, though Gyro can also take care of him easily.

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In this segment the player has to carefully control their jumps, staying below the spikes and avoiding the urge to jump when shot at. Meanwhile, the round parts of the floor are spinning to push us back, giving Toss Machine more time to shoot at us. The highlight here is the Toss Machine in the third image which has to be destroyed before jumping up or taken out with weapons.

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Pukapelly is always a great enemy, but this arrangement also gives us one of the rare moments where breaking a crystal against the wall is useful, and their numbers make them fun to screen wipe. Also, we're reminded that Rush still exists.

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Look at this mess. We've got a bunch of single platforms covered with Girees moving at different speeds and directions, with the platforms themselves also moving. We can jump to the upper path to avoid the worst of it, but there's a Foojeen aiming for us at the critical moment and a Giree making it difficult to simply wait for the shot to pass. When the paths converge, we have to carefully time jumps across two platforms with Girees.

The final upper platforms just seem to be there for bragging rights, as the ceiling makes it very difficult to reach the last one. I love moments like this, but for those that don't it's easy enough to Jet or Arrow over the whole area.

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Oh hey, it's the crushers from Dust Man's stage, and this time it looks like they put some effort into it. The Metall Cannons are all easier than normal Metalls would be, but the crushers themselves are more varied and reach the floor much more often.

In the second and third image, we need to shoot through a group of blocks while the ceiling above leaves us just enough room to slide away as it comes down. Later on we see a very similar area, but this one gives us enough headroom. However, there's a cannon waiting to fire at us if we panic and slide away. There's plenty of tight spaces in between, and at the end we have to race by a long low ceiling to reach the edge of the screen. It's good to see this idea revisited well.

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Cucco gets a good height advantage and we meet some more Pukapellys, but the main thing I want to call attention to here is that third image. If we don't rush the first Lyric immediately, we'll be left with very little headroom for dodging Tattepakkan's shots. The ladder gives us a place to hide, but waiting too long can give the Lyrics enough time to close in. It's not difficult, but it creates a good claustrophobic feeling.

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Big Pets cannot be damaged until we shoot his lower segments. Doing so causes them to fly forward, after which we can use them as platforms to shoot at the eyes. Meanwhile Big Pets is constantly firing smaller robots out of his head that float down in a wavy pattern, getting in our way while we climb the platforms and potentially distracting players into shooting the segments at the wrong time. Big Pets otherwise leaves us alone, so this fight is all about picking the right moments to fire. We get enough time for one charge shot and a normal shot each time we reach the top segment, and he's weak to Crystal Eye.

This stage keeps up the quality we've had from Proto Man's stage with a mix of good ideas and new challenges. Naturally, the tiny spinning platforms and return of Dust's Crushers were the highlights, but there was a lot of good placement for normal enemies here as well, and Big Pets is a welcome change from the mostly awful Dark Man fights.

I also couldn't resist playing around with the Super Arrow again since I've had so much fun with it on this run.

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And with that, as of this writing, we've come to the regretful point where "A Critical Look at Mega Man Stages" goes on an indefinite hiatus. This was the last piece written by Glass Knuckle, who had hoped to at least get through all the NES games. Unfortunately, we have not heard anything back from him since earlier this year, despite attempts to reach him, and so the future of this feature remains uncertain for now.

Suffice to say, we hope that everything is okay with Glass Knuckle, wherever he is, and if you'd like to say something to show your support for him or his feature, you may do so in the comments below (and hopefully, maybe he'll see them). In the meantime, Glass Knuckle, you know where to reach me if you ever decide to pop in again. Until then, thanks for everything! --LBD

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Proto Man 3

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5: Weapons & Items

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Before we get into special weapons, I need to talk about the standard ones a bit. Intentionally or not, enemies in this game get a small degree of invulnerability between shots. This can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the buster depending on how fast the player normally shoots, as large enemies now take longer to kill, and when firing three shots in a row at one target the second will usually miss. There's still enough enemies that die in one hit to give the player a reason to use normal shots often.

However, in the case of the Charge Shot, the increased size, the number of enemies killed outright by it, the two ground enemies that move under normal shots, usefulness in boss fights, and what I think is a faster charge time all make it far more powerful than it was in the previous game. The only downside is that Mega Man loses the charge when hit, which balances it a little in boss fights but has little effect in the stages. Combined with the fact that few enemies appear outside of Mega Man's reach and the overall ease of this game, this means that the player has less need for special weapons than ever before.

Power Stone

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This uses one energy point and creates three stones that swirl around Mega Man while moving outward. Only one can be used at a time, it's very difficult to hit with, and the only enemy weak to it is the moving spiked walls in Napalm Man's stage, which are also weak to half the other weapons. It was a stretch to find any screenshots where the multiple hits were at all helpful, and I wouldn't recommend using this anywhere except maybe against Charge Man.

Gravity Hold

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As screen wipes go, this is a pretty good one. It costs four points, usually deals one damage, flipping over any enemy it kills and sending it off the top of the screen, presumably into space. It works instantly and enemies killed by it can't hurt Mega Man on contact, so it's great for clearing out groups of weak enemies, and can also kill Pukapelly in one shot. It also works on any projectiles that Mega Man can destroy, so it's not bad for wiping Yudon out either if you don't mind wasting it all on him.

Crystal Eye

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There are many enemies that Crystal can kill in fewer hits than the buster, but none that it particularly stands out against. The best use you'll get from this is the speed and extra size, such as for killing the small ground enemies. It breaks apart on contact with a wall, but this is more likely to result in a situation shown by the gif than to be helpful. Still, at a one-point cost it's not a bad weapon to use often.

Charge Kick

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This changes Mega Man's slide into an attack. It also removes his ability to shoot, so its usefulness is limited. It can take out Metall Mommy, Tatepakkan, and Twin Cannon, but it also allows Mega Man to move through most enemies and traps. This allows another strategy for avoiding Power Muscler and Jet Bomb (which isn't destroyed by it) among others, and makes it the only weapon that's helpful for Wave Man's stage.

However, Shield Attacker can't be dodged this way and will damage Mega Man if he tries it. It uses one energy point per slide even when you don't hit anything, which further discourages the player from leaving it equipped. It also doesn't work very well against Mousubeil, as they take two hits and the kick only connects once if they're moving toward Mega Man.

Napalm Bomb

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These fall to the ground and slowly bounce forward until they hit something. They cost one point, but their explosion is pretty small and they don't explode unless they kill something or hit a surface they can't damage (anything that a shot would normally bounce off of). The advantages to using these things are that three can be shot at once, and they will quickly kill three of the strongest enemies in the game: Power Muscler, Cocco, and Yudon.

I love how this changes fighting Yudon, as it kills him in one shot but you'll need to shoot or dodge through the homing missiles to get close enough to drop one on his head. Unfortunately two of the three Yudons we've seen are in Napalm Man's stage.

Water Wave

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This creates a moving wall of water that blocks enemy shots and moves through anything it kills. Unfortunately it can only be fired from the ground, there's almost nothing it the game to use that last property against, and even less use for its defensive potential. It does better than a Charge Shot against Metall Mommy (though it still leaves one baby), works well against Subeils when you have room for it, and can kill Mousubeil in two hits in a pinch. That's right, both ground-only weapons are weak against Mousubeil; Crystal, Napalm, and Gyro all take them out in one hit.

Star Crash

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This creates the usual shield around Mega Man for two energy points, and can be fired forward. They only enemies with more than one hit point that it kills outright are Pukapelly and Napalm Man's spiked walls. However, it's reasonably useful against some of the weak flying enemies and protects the player from the falling crystals in Crystal Man's stage. Just don't try using it against Rembakun or Jet Bomb, as it can't defend against their projectiles. Otherwise it doesn't stand out, but blocking the crystals is reason enough for a player to consider grabbing it early.

Gyro Attack

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Gyros move forward slowly, then move up or down if the direction is pressed. This is one of the best weapons to have equipped frequently, as it costs one point and is useful against a variety of enemies. It can kill Power Muscler in four hits, Apache Joe in two, and hits anything on the screen if aimed well. It's the closest thing this game has to a Metal or Shadow Blade.

Rush Jet

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Rush Jet is earned from Gyro Man and is unchanged from Mega Man 4. I don't think I need to explain what he's good for again, so here's a fun thing you can do with him in Gravity Man's stage.

Super Arrow

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Super Arrow is earned from Star Man, and it's a great new item. It can stick to walls for use as platforms or acting as a trap for enemies, but the best thing is that Mega Man can ride it, and it's fast. It only moves horizontally, but if the player knows or anticipates that there's a straight path ahead it can skip areas in a flash.

It has few uses as a weapon, but can kill Power Muscler in five hits. Its energy use is weird, as it costs two points to fire but drains very quickly if Mega Man is standing on it. This means it can only be used once for skipping long areas without recharging it, but the upshot is that Mega Man can fire three at once and use them to gain extra height before riding one. We haven't seen much use for it as a wall platform yet though.

Super Arrow also has the odd property of affecting Mega Man after it bounces from a protected enemy, potentially screwing up a ride.

Beat

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Beat is our reward for finding the hidden letters in each stage. Once summoned, he dives toward enemies and returns to Mega Man, or hangs out over Mega Man's shoulder if there's nothing to attack. He uses two points of energy each time he hits something and can score multiple hits quickly on large enemies. He usually deals about two damage per hit, but can drain energy fast. Mega Man can shoot normally while Beat is in use, though only two shots can be on the screen at once and he loses access to the Charge Shot.

Beat is a fantastic weapon to have out at all times as Mega Man can still attack, and by carefully picking off weak targets that Beat is going after you can keep him in use for a long time. If he runs out and leaves Mega Man will be able to fire three shots at once again, making it easy to pick up more energy. Beat is useful just about everywhere, but since having him means we got all the letters there's not much reason to revisit the main stages, so we'll have to see how helpful he is in the final half of the game.

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This is one of the weaker weapon setups of the series. The gimmicks of Stone, Wave, Crystal, and Napalm are mostly useless, though Crystal and Napalm at least provide extra damage. The upsides are that Gravity is good for its type, Gyro is a decent all-purpose weapon, Star protects against the most difficult platforming area of the main stages, and Charge at least gives us a new way to avoid some enemies without stopping to kill them.

Overall it's a handful of neat ideas that mostly don't work out in practice, but with enough uses that players can at least find something to do with them if they want to. Super Arrow and Beat are great additions though, and I like the new Rush Coil even though there's only been a couple opportunities to use it thus far.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Gravity Man

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Conveniently, all of Gravity Man's new enemies appear right away. Suzy G sits on the ground and fires shots forward and back occasionally, Graviton drips red liquid that splashes on the floor which hurts us if we walk over it, and Nobita walks back and forth while stretching itself upward (relatively) when it turns around. Suzy can be easily killed in three hits or a charge shot before it fires and the first Graviton appears within our range, so the first area serves as a simple introduction to them.

The main attraction for this stage occurs after the drop. Stepping across the flashing line with arrows on either side flips the stage's gravity, and we now have to hold up when sliding on the ceiling. Nobita sticks to whatever surface it appears on, but Suzy will fall to the new floor. This screen handles the new enemies well, allowing Suzy a chance to surprise us and leaving enough room for us to slide past a fully-extended Nobita instead of killing it. The second Nobita also acts as a shield, taking four hits before we can attack the other Suzy.

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The next screen introduces the concept of jumping with reversed gravity, and while I can understand the decision to go easy on the player for a bit, the following area is extremely tame.

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Things pick up again on the next screen, with the player needing to jump to a small platform and switch gravity again to fall down. I thought Rush Coil might be useful here to skip the platform and go straight down, but unfortunately, Rush does not understand gravity shenanigans and won't land when it's reversed.

You'd have to be holding left for the entire fall to hit the spikes here, but they're not completely harmless, as these games have previously encouraged moving to the opposite side you fall from in these situations. Falling straight down leaves us in front of a B Bitter, giving it a good shot at hitting us.

Unfortunately, the long string of Bitters afterward get no such advantage, and players should blast through these without a care. Even the Power Muscler (whose legs have fallen victim to sprite limitations) can't save this section as we've got plenty of room to slide under him, and a slide won't bring us close enough to the final Bitter to run into it.

The best thing in this area is that large health item, which acts as a trap for players who think they can jump there (a thought encouraged by the preceding energy refill, which can be jumped to). Rush can get us there, but a slide from the top also moves us forward just enough to make it.

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The gravity mechanic finally shows its teeth, making us jump over pits to switch in midair. If we don't kill Graviton before jumping, it'll have a chance to surprise us by dripping upwards, and it's easy to misjudge how fast Mega Man will fall and smack into it. There isn't enough time to slide through, so we'll have to kill it regardless.

The next Bitter gets better placement than most, as it won't appear if we don't make a full jump to the area above it, and a careless player could jump into it while shooting the Graviton.

The "M" item here looks like it would require a tricky jump to grab, but practically any jump arc will work as long as the player doesn't move a few pixels off the edge and make a full jump. Naturally, this is exactly what players should have been learning to do for the whole series, so it's a neat trap for experienced players. Of course, Rush Coil can get it for us from the other side just fine, or we could just jump back and try again.

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The remaining part of this section simply gives us a bunch of switch spots in a row. The Bitter in the first shot has decent placement, as the messy background serves as a good hiding spot. We could use Rush to get on top of the last platform, but all this does is skip a Bitter and put us at Graviton's mercy if we haven't killed it yet.

The next screen is quite good, as the action of climbing up into the room can make players forget for a moment that they'll fall upward when they leave it. The spikes serve to punish those who blindly hold forward when entering, and act as a barrier to let the Pukapellys catch up with us. The last fall brings us to more dangerous spikes and one final, sad Bitter who can't even get up in time to fire at us before we walk through the boss door.

Parts of this stage work well, particularly those that mess with players' expectations, but the Teckyuns once again get nothing to do beyond their introduction and B Bitter is not an appropriate enemy to use in long stretches by itself. Bitter's only advantage is that it can surprise someone who isn't expecting it, so once players see the first they'll have no trouble spotting the rest. A few of them are placed well, but those would have been more effective if the stage wasn't littered with them.

Another problem is that all of the new enemies along with Bitter are either stationary or remain in a small area, allowing us to take out each in turn. There's no pressure to react to anything for most of the stage, and given how long Suzy takes to get a shot off, a few more distractions like Pukapelly would have gone a long way toward making them effective enemies. The stage also missed the opportunity to put a Graviton out of our reach to make us move through the drips.

It's not quite as bad as I'm making it out to be, and the gimmick is at least a memorable one, but it's a shame that the overuse of Bitter wasted so much of an already short stage. The color scheme is messy, but the animation in the background is some of the most complex we've seen so far.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Wave Man

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The first section of Wave Man's stage is a trap room, with jets of steam that shoot from the pipes as we approach and a swinging ball and chain called Teckyun. There are three of each, with the first two pairs being nearly identical. We can walk through Teckyun's chain, and neither trap is affected by our weapons. While there's nothing wrong with the traps themselves, this setup is very lazy, with each pair in nearly the same relative position. Even as an introduction, this could have been given more effort.

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These pipes will suck Mega Man into them if he stands too close to the opening, so grabbing the large health is a little harder than it looks. We're also given an extra life for making it into the second pipe. Not much to it, but it's visually fun.

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This area is also tame, as Giree moves very slowly, so the only danger here is if the player lets the second Giree onto the top platform. Even then, there's enough time to move back through the steam if a player screws up.

Speaking of the steam, I appreciate that they activate when the player approaches and reset when they back off, avoiding the potential for their timing to sync badly with something like Teckyun and prevent the player from progressing unharmed. The downside to this is that Mega Man has to stop and wait for each one if there's no room to jump over them. The two jets next to each other here accentuate that downside without adding anything of interest to the gameplay.

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Here's a neat stage gimmick. Bubbles appear from below, and Mega Man can ride them upward. The small ones break after a moment, so the player has to wait for an opportunity to jump across to each large bubble. I particularly like the last screen. If players know when the small bubble will come they'll have enough time to jump onto it as it appears without worrying about hitting the spikes, but if the player needs to react to it they'll be running short on headroom. However, a slide will get the player to the next bubble without risking the jump. For such a small moment, it does a good job of rewarding both knowledge of the game and strategic thinking.

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This area kicks off one of the more controversial gimmicks in Mega Man, but in this image I just wanted to point out that the area leading up to it is entirely empty. That sort of thing can work for building suspense or giving the player a breather, but Mega Man does not have enough room in its stages to be doing this.

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This vehicle section scrolls automatically. We retain the ability to jump and shoot, but sliding and charge shots are out. We also lose the ability to pause, which I can only imagine is a lazy fix to avoid weapon switching. The water also messes with our movement, with Mega Man going faster forward and slower backwards. This seems opposite of what would be expected for this setup, as going faster is usually harder than slowing down.

The new enemies are a floating mine known simply as V, a dolphin named Irucan, and Rider Joe. V takes three hits, giving us enough time to kill it by the time it gets 2/3rds of the way across the screen. Rider Joe takes two hits and can appear from either side of the screen. While the ones from behind will shoot now and then, the ones in front don't. I see no reason why they wouldn't unless it was a programming oversight. Irucan is the best of the group, jumping across the screen and landing roughly where the player wants to be sitting. They die in one shot, but can jump at a variety of heights to make reacting to them difficult.

This area mixes up the enemy order well, which is about the most we can expect given the limitations of this mechanic.

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The screen darkens, and we meet Octoper OA. It moves in an M shape, emerging from the water twice each time it moves across the screen, and fires a large projectile towards Mega Man at its highest point. It has 20 health and can only be damaged in the green gem, but offers little challenge despite our limitations and can be easily killed before it finishes a movement cycle. Considering that previous minibosses often had multiple attacks or at least some randomization, this is a major disappointment.

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The next section drops V to put more focus on Irucan. This was a good move, as they're more fun to avoid and their jump arcs are more erratic now. By the end they're appearing in pairs, with the last giving us an opening to jump between them if we don't kill them. The "E" item is placed in the air along the way, making it by far the most annoying hiding spot for these things.

Unfortunately the level ends abruptly after this area, with only a lone Twin Cannon to guard the door. I feel sorry for this one, as it was somehow given the one placement worse than directly in front of us, as both of its shots move under our feet but it's within range of our charge shots.

While I'm willing to give the vehicle segment credit for being reasonably fun on its own, this was not the proper way to introduce it. We only get about 10 screens worth of normal gameplay (ignoring the empty screens), and the Teckyuns and bubbles taunt us with the possibilities they had for use in a normal stage before it throws us in a jet ski all the way up to the boss door. A third segment with more complex traps would have helped round it out and justified the lackluster use of them in the first section, but I think this gimmick would have worked out better in a Wily stage, which already have a habit of being short and doing odd things now and then.

The stage looks nice enough overall, but some things feel lacking, like the fact that the teal fluid is animated but the water behind the washing machine doors is not, and that Octoper has no animation whatsoever.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Star Man

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Finally, a new stage mechanic... sort of. This entire stage takes place in space, which is functionally the same as being underwater. It begins with a mess of meteors falling on us as we run toward the hole. Dodging randomized falling objects is a simple concept, but fun nonetheless, and it's a shame this only lasts for two screens.

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This section introduces Bounder and B Bitter, the former of which bounces from the floor and ceiling while firing two shots at once, while the latter hides in the floor and pops up to fire when we get close. This combo is already pretty tame, but the larger charge shots wipe everything out effortlessly.

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Tondeall fires two shots like Bounder and dies in one hit. It's nice to see flyers with more firepower, but they're a big, slow target, and we've just dealt with the same shot pattern from a more active enemy. At least the last one here has a chance of attracting the player's attention before they notice the spikes. We can also snag an "M" item here.

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Next up is Space Metall, which dropped the trademark defense for the ability to fly around quickly, though they can only move diagonally. We've seen better spike corridors before, but Space Metall is distracting and numerous enough to make it dangerous.

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Jet Bombs are fast and explode into pieces that move in four directions when we shoot them, but the pieces move toward Mega Man in a spread if we let them hit the wall. This is one of the best new enemies we've seen so far, as players have to shoot or dodge quickly but also think about where the pieces are going, and even pay attention to those that have been avoided.

I like the option to jump over the group, and the spikes in the middle are nice as they can catch a player moving too far forward on the way down. The following Bitters are another obvious test of whether the player remembers that shooting through walls is an option, but we could still make it through by landing on the edges of the platforms.

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Dachone walks back and forth slowly while firing lasers at four angles, three of which aren't likely to hit since the spike pit encourages us to stay away from it. It only takes five hits, but only the area above the gun can be damaged. We could also just jump over it, which is immensely satisfying after how much trouble Big Eye and the like have given us in the past.

Space Metalls surround us on the next screen. I'm really starting to love these guys, as their speed and numbers can seem unfair at first, but their movement limitations make it possible to lure them out of the way, unlike previous enemies such as Telly that just move toward us.

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The platforms in this area move up and down as a group, while Toss Machine tosses grey things at us. This setup might have been dangerous in normal gravity, but here we can spend most of our time off the top of the screen. Toss Machine often can't aim that high, and the projectiles pass through us if we're off-screen anyway. Mizzile can mostly be ignored here, as all but the first don't come high enough to hit us unless we deliberately cross when the platforms are at their lowest. One more Dachone guards the door, and the terrain makes it more difficult to jump over this time.

This stage has some interesting new enemies, but the design mostly falls flat. Bounder can be difficult to hit, but charge shots kill it outright. B Bitter takes too long to fire, so we're more likely to run into it than get shot by it. Since neither can move horizontally, the combination gives us all the time we need to deal with them. The meteors and Tondeall barely get any screen time, while placing Dachone on level with us prevents it from making good use of its attack.

The Toss Machine section looks like the sort of thing that would work in this stage, but in practice there's no bite to it. Space Metall and Jet Bomb are good additions, but the latter only gets one screen. On top of all that, the tight corridors in the first half keep the low gravity from coming into play much. It really needed a design closer to Air Man, with more open space and moving platforms. As it is, it feels like a simple underwater stage with a new coat of paint.

The visuals are disappointing given the other stages we've seen so far, and the radar dishes in the first screen look like flat MSPaint jobs next to the shine most other surfaces in Mega Man seem to have. The teal background was a terrible choice for the spike corridor, as it just makes the comparison with water stages that much more obvious.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Crystal Man

Crystal Man's Stage and Music mm5crystal_01

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Pukapucker is our first new enemy of the stage. Shooting the feet causes the head to bounce away in the direction it was facing, but taking out the head destroys both. The head is constantly moving and is thus more difficult to hit, which should put pressure on players to destroy it quickly. However, it's confined to a tight walking range so players can take their time with it, and the larger charge shot makes the point moot anyway.

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Camon simply moves forward and turns around when it hits something, and dies it one shot. It's essentially a faster and weaker Peterchy, and their placement here works fine as a wake-up call for the inattentive player.

The falling crystals are unique in gaming as far as I know, and seem deliberately designed to mess with players' expectations. In every other situation like this I've seen, the idea is to figure out what pattern the objects fall in and jump during the longer intervals. In this case, players have to jump immediately after a crystal falls, as there's enough time to make it during the short intervals. The occasional pause serves only to confuse those looking for a pattern, since to my knowledge there is none, or at least not one that could be memorized easily.

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Crystal Joe is just a slower and weaker Hammer Joe. They take a long time to charge, and not a single one can hit Mega Man unless the player jumps into their shots. After the mess of crystals and small platforms we just went through, this area has nothing to offer.

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Foojeen moves back and forth while shooting spreads of three rocks upward. This would be a problem to avoid while we ride the platform to the ladder, if we couldn't kill it from the ladder or charge shot it. We also meet New Shield Attacker here, but the only difference is two additional hit points and a new sprite.

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Bombier flies horizontally and drops a bomb once it's overhead. This is an odd choice for an area where we are falling, and there's an excellent chance for players to smack into one on the way down through no fault of their own. The next section includes a bafflingly easy to snag M Tank, and none of the enemies here can even reach us on the lower path.

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Following is a relatively simple spike drop, but we'll need to press against the left wall on the way down to get the "V" item. The Subiels here aren't too bad, as their numbers can catch a player off-guard and they're fun to dodge if you don't immediately charge shot them all.

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Lastly we have our new giant stompy guy, Power Muscler. At 13 hits he's pretty weak for this type, but he gives us little time to get those hits in and will move straight down once he's overhead, requiring a slide to dodge under. I much prefer this to the randomized jumps the others had, and this one can also be killed by staying on the upper platform.

I usually leave this as a passing comment at the end but... this stage is beautiful. Nearly every surface is animated, including ladders and boss doors, yet is done in a way that's less distracting than Flash or Gemini. The walls include areas that look like caves we can't access, there's a variety of colors to the background (the floor even gets some pink in it during the Joe area), and the large glass tubes in the distance make one wonder what the purpose of this place is.

Unfortunately, the other reason I bring the visuals up first is that there's very little to this stage worth mentioning. Pukapucker's movement mostly negates his gimmick, two of the three Mousubeils can't touch us, Bombier's placement is awful, and Crystal Joe serves only to waste our time. Camon and Shield Attacker are acceptable, but do nothing noteworthy.

The one thing I like is the falling crystals, simply because they're so maddening to figure out at first but can be moved through quickly afterward. However, it's weird that they'd put a bunch in the beginning with tiny platforms between them, then put only three more in the next area before they're never seen again.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 5 Stages: Stone Man

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Mega Man 5 gives us a somewhat lackluster intro compared to the last one, this time using Proto Man as Wily's new scapegoat. The Robot Master selection is as ridiculous as always, and Mega Man gets a spot on the screen again. Unfortunately his eyes don't follow the cursor this time, which saddens me far more than it should. We do get someone named Napalm Man and what looks like an angry Thomas the Tank Engine, while two other Robot Masters are giving us big goofy grins, so I suppose I can't complain too much. Anyway, let's dive in.

Stone Man's Stage and Music

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The Metall Mommy stands still while firing and gives us a new hassle to deal with, exploding into three Baby Metalls when shot. These slowly hop away and explode on their own after a while. The new flying enemy is Taban, which acts like a Batton but dies in one hit and gains the ability to shoot at us. This is a great redesign for this enemy type, as we now have to pay attention to those that appear far above us instead of just running past or waiting for them to come down. This area makes good use of that; putting some of them out of reach and giving those in the last image a Metall for backup.

The new ground enemy in the second-to-last image is Subeil. These flatten themselves and charge at us when we get near, turning around when they hit a wall. This room is set up very well for introducing them, as the first will trap itself on the right side, and the second can be lured into the same pit or attacked while jumping toward the ladder, but players can also just fire through the wall from the left side. The Metall is also in a good position to bother us on both sides of the room.

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Rock Thrown throws rocks. They're painful at six damage, but the first will toss them into the corner of the ceiling until we approach, giving us a chance to take it out in safety. The next is more difficult, as we need to jump onto the platform it's pelting with rocks to hit it. The charge shot is helpful for this and for taking out Metall Babies, as the new hitbox is much bigger. The downside is that Mega Man will now lose the charge when hit.

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Hirarian 427 drops from the ceiling when we approach, quickly runs towards Mega Man, and explodes. One of them drops as soon as we enter the room and explodes harmlessly on the left wall, giving us a heads up on what it does. Mousubeil is another new ground enemy, charging back and forth across whatever platform it's on.

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All the Tabans on the ceiling mesh well with the occasional mouse, and the setup at the Metall is great. There are three Tabans nearby that are out of reach, which the player will likely ignore while running forward. Then they get stopped by the Metall, and suddenly they're surrounded with shots flying everywhere.

We didn't need a second suicidal Hirarian in this stage though, and it might have helped to shorten the range they trigger at vertically so a setup like this could work. The new flying enemy we see as we leave the cave, Lyric, is roughly identical to Telly from Mega Man 2, though slightly faster.

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Tatepakkan guards itself with a shield between taking shots at us, but we can kill it while it's defending by shoving our buster right through the shield. Strangely, this tactic fails if we've already bounced a shot off the shield, but after it takes a shot and moves the shield back down it'll work again.

There's also a new platform here, which moves to a set point when we step on it, falls after a moment, and spins us around in the process. Each Tatepakkan gets backup from multiple Lyrics, and jumping backward to buy time tends to spawn the previous group of them. This puts some pressure on the player to kill Tatepakkan quickly while giving them more chances to shoot once the Lyrics become a distraction.

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The last Tatepakkan appears by itself, which is a shame as the ceiling here would make a good opportunity to throw some Tabans. The next screen includes a seemingly impossible to reach extra life, and gives us a reason to bring out Rush Coil. He looks a bit different this time.

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The new Rush Coil jumps up along with us, giving us a chance to jump again once he's in the air. This may seem awkward, but I like it. It gives the player more control over Mega Man's height, allowing us to avoid smacking into the ceiling and more easily avoid enemies while using it. Whether or not that will be useful in this game remains to be seen, as in this case we just want to jump as high as possible to reach a hidden path to the extra life.

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The new platforms justify their inclusion here, making the player jump from one to another while they move horizontally. We can also snag an E Tank by making a quick jump from the last platform. Eddie makes another appearance in this game, and I seem to be getting unusually lucky with him in these playthroughs.

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The final area serves up a little more classic platforming before the boss door. Nothing new to see here, but the choice of paths is always nice. We're not quite done here though.

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If we take a moment to look around Eddie's room, we can find two blocks on the right that look different from the rest, and shooting them creates an opening to a hidden room. There's another of these earlier in the stage that leads to an M Tank. We can only carry one of these, but it refills all of our health and weapon energy.

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Another of these rooms appears near the start of the stage, leading to another new type of item. The pause screen includes the game's title, and the "G" item we picked up fills in one of the letters. Each stage has a letter hidden in it, so we'll find out what this does when we collect them all.

This stage handles its enemies well, giving us a good variety in both enemy types and positioning. However, aside from the one room with three moving platforms, it lacks the dangerous platforming and flashy gimmicks we've come to expect from the series. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but given how long this stage is it could have benefited from putting something more attention-grabbing in the middle.

Still, as a basic combat stage it works well enough, and I'd take a stage full of simple enemies done well over a gimmicky stage done poorly any day. This was a very safe design, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as the rest of the game can provide some stronger highlights. The visual design is excellent though, switching up the scenery and color scheme frequently, with the mountain range getting larger and more imposing as we progress.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Afterword

Mega Man 4 is not a bad game, despite how often I may seem to be calling it such. The main stages flow nicely, the end game stages keep their quality up much longer than previous games, and there were a lot of great new stage mechanics thrown in. mm4afterword_01

We got a full water stage, plenty of new platforms to mess with, hidden items, split paths, and a variety of environmental effects. Some of these worked out great; others, not so much.

The problem is that the longer you stop to think about it, the more disappointing the failures become. Dust Man's stage had huge pistons moving around, but they only lasted for a few screens and only one was at all threatening. Bright Man added two types of platforms that move in an arc. Unfortunately, the player never had much reason to move backward with the green version and their movement wasn't used to do things that horizontally-moving platforms couldn't. The mechanics behind Drill Man's falling rocks were awkward and the switches were pretty weak as a stage gimmick. Ring Man was almost fantastic, but the inclusion of four annoying mini-bosses made it infamous instead. Cossack introduced timed spike platforms that didn't make use of their staggered timing and were never seen again. And so on.

While none of these get in the way of enjoying the game directly, their cumulative effect causes greater harm than a few individual bad portions would, as the game lacks the highs and lows that a player can latch onto in memory. Mega Man 2 had some nasty bosses, Quick Man's lasers, and the dragon. Mega Man 3 had, well, all of this:

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Mega Man 4 got a lot of the small stuff right (Taketento is far more interesting than many previous flying enemies, for instance), but it lacked these big moments; the platforming difficulty spikes and the dangerous enemies. The hippo is probably the first enemy to spring to mind, and it's remembered mostly for wasting the player's time.

The worst aspect of this game is the boss fights. Mega Man 3 had two easy fights (Magnet Man, Top Man), two that took a moment to figure out but weren't that hard (Snake Man, Spark Man), and four fairly brutal bosses (Hard Man, Gemini Man, Needle Man, Shadow Man) with the last taking things a little too far.

Mega Man 4, on the other hand, has two pointlessly trivial fights (Toad Man, Dust Man), and two fairly good ones (Pharaoh Man, Ring Man). The rest were mildly difficult but terribly boring to fight, with Drill Man spending too much time underground and the rest relying more on contact damage than neat attack patterns.

The main bosses are the true stars of any Mega Man game, and 3/4ths of them failed to impress this time around. Even Wily himself was a serious let-down, reverting from the walking robot to the old type of flying machine spitting simple projectiles. The Wily Capsule was a fine idea, but it was also too simple in this form.

The weapons are a tossup. They're more useful than Mega Man 3's (especially since the Flash Stopper and Rain Flush can trivialize almost anything), but are also more boring. I had little reason to use the Gemini Laser, and the Spark Shock was often detrimental to Mega Man's health, but they at least offered ways to attack enemies that the Buster doesn't. Most of 4's weapons fire forward or hit the whole screen, with the Pharaoh Shot being the only one to stand out as both helpful and fun. I can also give the Skull Barrier credit for its usefulness despite how weak it looks at first.

On the other hand, I seem to be one of the few who doesn't consider the charge shot a bad idea (awful noise aside). The only time it felt forced was when fighting Whopper, and it's an excellent crutch for players who can't or don't wish to shoot as fast as the game sometimes wants them to. It does make boss fights easier, but I blame the design of those bosses more than the shot, as more agile enemies would make it riskier to use. The other items were also handled better here, as Rush Jet now asks a little thought from the player when using it, Rush Marine gets a full water stage, and the optional items were surprisingly useful throughout the end stages.

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Though there's no getting around the drop in quality of the main boss fights, the rest of the game is still absolutely worth playing. It looks nice, has plenty of good moments to balance the bad, and it threw enough new ideas into the mix that its failure to follow through on many of them can be forgiven if you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Wily Stages 3 & 4

Wily Stage 3 and Music mm4drw34_01

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This is the path leading to the teleporter room. As you can see, there's not much to it. This is fine, given that we'll be taking on all the bosses with one set of lives, and rewarding us for pressing against the wall on the third screen but setting up Garyoby as a trap for players who miss the first hole is a nice touch.

However, the first Shield Attacker is a serious mistake. It moves toward the player no matter which hole they take, and players going right will fall on top of it. It can be avoided by going left, but the player has to dodge it immediately by jumping to the right, as going for the hole will just get them hit by the other one. It's a choice between instant damage or making a split-second dodge and not taking the obvious choice of going down. I wouldn't make such a big deal of one mistake like this in a normal stage, (Bubble Man was worse about that unless you know where the Tanishis are already) but since there's nothing else remarkable about this place, falling on the Shield Attacker is the only thing that sticks in my memory.

The boss rematches themselves are identical, save for Pharaoh Man, who's room is now completely flat like the others. It's an interesting change to the fight, as it makes his jumping attacks easier to avoid since we have room to slide, but we'll have to dodge all of the charged projectiles.

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Wily's first form is a breeze. It moves up and down while firing huge projectiles in groups of three, but it can't hit Mega Man if he's standing under it. It's weak to the Ring Boomerang (like practically everything else), but if you want to get more mileage out of the Wire, it works fine too.

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The second form now moves horizontally and is much more aggressive, but not necessarily more fun. It simply pelts Mega Man with an unending stream of the same projectiles, and with better aim. Mega Man can walk under it without taking damage, and while it can fire straight down it won't shoot backwards, so we can use this to catch a break if needed.

The flashing thing on the front is now the only part that takes damage. Normal shots can't hit it without help from Rush/Items, and charge shots barely reach. It's weak to Drill Bombs, but we can't reach it with those either. What we need to do is explode them before they touch the main body and bounce off, which is pretty awesome as we've barely had any reason to use them that way until now.

The downside is that players may not be aware that they can do this at all and Wily isn't giving us much time to figure it out. We also don't have a good alternative option, though the Skull Barrier can at least block the shots, and we can still get away with using Wire at times.

Wily 4

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Wily escapes again, and we're left with one last area to walk through before the end. This first room is either unfinished or a brilliant troll, as it looks like the usual goodie room but there's nothing here. Imorm is the only thing we meet in the tunnel, and since the ceiling is so low they'll drop well before we get to them, meaning one could just walk forward while mashing B and make it through just fine. Attempting to stop them with the Flash Stopper won't prevent them from appearing, so this just makes it harder as we'll have to slide under them.

Wily Capsule Music

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Though this setup becomes notoriously difficult in later games, the original version is quite simple. Four balls of energy start swirling together, and when they meet they create a larger ball that moves towards us. This also causes a brief flash, allowing us to see where Wily is in the darkness. He only appears for a frame, but he'll remain in that spot for roughly as long as the projectile is on screen.

This repeats, with Wily in a different spot each time. It's possible for him to appear on Mega Man's level as well, but it seems to be extremely rare as he prefers to stay closer to the height of the life bars or occasionally under the floor. He only takes damage from the Ring Boomerang or Pharaoh Shot, so without those you'll have to run out of lives or grind on the worms outside. Ring only deals one damage, but a charged Pharaoh deals six and can hit him anywhere on the screen, and he often appears above Mega Man, allowing the player to hit him with the floating ball easily.

Though Mega Man takes eight damage from the projectiles, they're fairly easy to dodge and with full weapon energy it won't take long to win this. It's a good fight, and keeps the player on their toes without simply dumping damage at them like the last form. It's also nice that the weakness is also the weapon you'll most want to use, so players can figure it out quickly.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Wily Stage 1

mm4drw1_01 Wily Stage 1 and Music

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Right away, we can see the gimmick for this stage. It is filled with Mets, and only Mets. Despite this restriction, the first few screens offer a good mix of interactions with them. The first two we meet are jumpers. The first one on the next screen walks forward, giving Mega Man little room to dodge if the player doesn't kill it immediately.

The next is a spinner, and the increased health and low ceiling makes it easy for this one to catch the player off guard. The one above that is a jumper, with another spinner guarding the ladder. The platform on the next screen allows us to slide under it, but we'll need to get the attention of the Met on the bottom and kill it first. Going up seems easier, but the Mets on top are jumpers, and hitting the one on the right is difficult since we're above it.

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The platform we're sliding on contains a large health refill, but getting out is trickier than it looks. The following Mets walk and jump respectively, and we can either land where the first was standing and deal with the second's shots, or fall between them and give it a chance to jump on us.

The last two spinners also have good placement, with the former being avoidable but dangerous if we land next to it, and the latter punishing us for blindly grabbing the energy refill, though it's not quite close enough to do so unless we move much farther to the right than necessary. The defending Met in the third image is a jumper.

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This is a good room, but there's little to say about it. It's a short underwater section filled with spikes and swimming Mets, but there's plenty of variety in the design and the player's attempts to avoid incoming shots could cause them to hit spikes that wouldn't otherwise be a problem.

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This take on the vanishing blocks is also a good one. The first is a simple introduction/refresher on the concept, while the next gives us a choice between a vertical jump over spikes or jumping from the first to the third. Missing the last jump won't kill us, and there's even an extra block to lead us back.

Rush Jet can easily get us through the first room, and it works for the second if we call it at the right height. It can also get us back from the right side safely, or we can just use Wire or Balloon to escape. Again, it's nice to see moments where taking the detour to get those is worthwhile.

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The last room is the least interesting, with only a couple spinners directly in our path. The little tanks with swimmers in them are a fun idea, but there needs to be more happening in here. It's a shame we didn't see a return of the flying Mets from the third game, as an open area like this would have been a good place for them.

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The boss of this area is, of course, a giant Met. Metall Daddy jumps to Mega Man's current position, shaking the screen in the process and stunning Mega Man if he's on the ground, similar to the Guts Man fight. This also causes four Mets to fall from the ceiling, which then walk off the nearest side of the screen without shooting. Metall Daddy hides for a moment before repeating this.

Simple as the pattern is, sliding under Metall Daddy without taking damage can be difficult, as he seems to prefer certain landing spots instead of aiming for you directly, which makes it hard to judge whether there's enough time to slide or not. Since he deals seven damage on contact, this leaves little room for error. However, encouraging him to take shorter hops (thus cutting down the number of times you'll need to cross under him) is also difficult, as he's even harder to avoid once he has you cornered.

He's weak to the Ring Boomerang and Dust Crusher, and at two damage per hit, it's a tossup between these and charge shots. Ring beats out Dust here since if two Mets land in front of you, it can hit both.

I've seen this one brought up a few times in discussions of Mega Man 4's flaws (an entire stage of Mets! How easy is that?) but I don't think this is one of them. Mets may not deal much damage, but given the roster this time around they're far from the easiest enemies to fill a stage with.

The first third puts them in various positions where they have an advantage, the occasional spinner can surprise players expecting each to die immediately, and the underwater room of spikes and vanishing blocks help fill it out. The last section certainly needed something more in it, but frankly, a good portion of the endgame stages throughout the series have been at least this easy, and the boss can hold its own against the harder Cossack bosses in difficulty, though not for the best of reasons.

Weapons aren't that helpful here, though. Rain Flush can clear out some of the more annoying Mets, but it won't kill spinners in one shot. Nothing does except the Pharoah Shot, actually, so we're better off with charge shots there. The Flash Stopper holds them in place but they still get in the way, and Skull Barrier can't block their shots.

The color scheme here is nice, but I have no idea what's supposed to be outside the windows at the end.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Cossack Stage 4

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The path to Cossack starts off with some refills, an E-Tank, and a nice view of the night sky. Pakatto and Jumbig are easily dealt with by now, and we've already met both in worse situations.

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Biree makes another appearance here. This time we'll have to slide past it, and since they're moving counter-clockwise the bottom path is safer. The large health shouldn't be necessary this early in the stage, but it and the platform leading to it at least help fill the room out. It's a shame the Dust Crusher won't kill the Battontons in the next room with one hit, as the bottom two are one of the very few cases where another enemy would be hit by the pieces. This screen also presents us with a new design feature; the stage splits into two paths for multiple screens before meeting up again later.

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Taking the ladder brings us outside, where we run into Up'N'Down again, with a couple Helipons as support. This is a great place to use the Flash Stopper of course, but a fun thing about this area is that Up'N'Down won't hit us if we jump across without stopping. Unfortunately, Helipon sticks to the first and last screen instead of attacking us when it might count.

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The first Shield Attacker comes all the way to the wall, so we'll need to react fast. The second one doesn't, which is a real shame since if it did, a player jumping over the first would get to the wall just as the second is turning around. The next two can both be slid under, and the left side of the screen is the exit from the other path.

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Had we gone through the breakable wall earlier, we'd end up here. This one is much shorter, leading only to an E-Tank and a couple Tom Boys.

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The choice of which path to slide through is more even this time given how short the upper path is. The large health is well defended, as the Shield Attacker will chase us all the way off the platform. It can be killed with a Ring Boomerang or a well-timed Rain Flush, but it's really not worth the trouble.

The next screen contains absolutely nothing, and the stage ends with a couple Docron makers. They're not going to put up a fight, but the energy refill at least gives us a reason to stop and deal with them rather than blasting through without a second thought.

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At the end we meet Cossack himself, piloting a giant UFO catcher. He'll move around the room shooting at us, and can slam downward anytime we're under him. If this happens on the lower platform, he'll grab Mega Man and drop him for six damage. Oddly enough, Mega Man takes eight damage from a normal collision, so it's actually safer to stay down here. Of course, we'll need to use the upper platform to deal damage, as Cossack rarely comes low enough for us to reach him otherwise. The only trick to this fight is figuring out that collision is the main threat, and sliding whenever moving underneath him.

Though he takes two damage from the Dust Crusher, the Wire is surprisingly effective here. Cossack is constantly adjusting his position based on Mega Man's, and Wire seems to confuse this as he won't move while it's active, possibly for the same reasons that make us invincible for the duration. Whatever the case, we can spam it to keep him twitching in place, and though it only deals one damage it can hit twice if he's low enough. Though it's unlikely this was intentional, it's awesome to see the Wire get some use in combat.

I've been saying this a lot in Wily stages, but they really shouldn't be this easy at this point in the game. The Up'N'Down section is great, but the rest of it isn't trying that hard to kill or even hurt us. It's not terrible, but it's lacking any kind of identity to help it stand out aside from the split path.

Speaking of which, this wasn't the greatest way to implement that. Previous games have had the same idea but confined the paths to the same screens, and this worked in their favor as we could see the items we missed or the nasty stuff we skipped when taking one or the other. This one offers a shortcut and an E-Tank, but at the cost of skipping most of what little substance the stage has. This can and has been done well, but this first attempt highlights one of the pitfalls of the idea.

The fight with Cossack is fine though. His collision deals enough damage to be intimidating at first but can be avoided easily with a little practice, while the three-shot spread gives him something to catch more experienced players with. Though the stage art doesn't do much to help it stand out, the color choices are easy on the eyes and the sky is nice to look at.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Cossack Stage 3

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This stage... is an autoscroller. I'm going to be honest here; no matter what I say about the design, I'm always going to hate this stage because I can't stand this mechanic in platformers. It does raise tension for newcomers by adding a time limit, but for experienced players or anyone who isn't having trouble with the stage, it just prevents them from getting through faster by playing well. It also means this update is going to be a short one, as the stage isn't very long when we're not taking the screen's fixed speed into account.

That said, the layout here is quite good. There are two paths, with more difficult enemies at first and a couple rewards on the upper one. The upper path also allows the player to skip the last couple enemies, and both paths converge at a group of smaller platforms. Mega Man can get back to the upper path, but this can be awkward with only Rush, so finding the Balloon item is useful here.

The enemies in this section are Pakatto and Biree, the latter of which moves around the platforms and can't be destroyed. Flash Stopper stops them, but it doesn't prevent the scrolling and players can't pause and change weapons while it's active, so using it here may put players in an even worse situation. Pakatto is dangerous here given how easily a player can get held up trying to shoot it, but the first one on the bottom path can be jumped over (technically the first two can as well, but this takes pixel-perfect precision) and the second can be avoided with Rush if necessary. Rain Flush also wipes them out, of course.

One feature of the autoscroll working in the player's favor is that the less room Mega Man has between a Pakatto and the left edge of the screen, the more shots he can pump into them to get a hit in. Jumbig shows up at the end, and the next screen includes two Garyobys that would be very difficult to pass if we didn't have so many options for destroying or bypassing them. It's nice to see the game so heavily encourage the player to use a weapon without dictating which one it should be.

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The last autoscroll section consists of a few normal platforms separated by a new gimmicky one. These appear when Mega Man gets close and slowly move downward when stood upon. Once Mega Man jumps off of it, it'll move upward quickly, allowing the player to control its height. This also means that you'll lose the platform once you leave it.

Ring Ring is the only enemy here, so there's not much to it once the player grasps how the platforms work. The last one is a trap for players lagging behind, as we'll need to stand on it for a while to reach the hole at the bottom. If there isn't enough time left, the player can also bring the platform past the top of the screen, allowing them to fall through it and press against the wall to land in the hole.

I really dislike this kind of trap, as they'll be deadly to a player who isn't ready for it yet completely uninteresting on a replay, though this one is pretty forgiving. However, the E-Tank here is neat. The player has to have found the Balloon, and must place one at the small entrance and slide in as it presses Mega Man against the ceiling.

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The side platforms drop as we walk in, and a Cockroach Twin enters from the upper door on the right. This one walks around on the ceiling, and can fire either two shots to the sides or one straight down. These don't have a strong weakness, but the Ring Boomerang and Drill Bomb deal two damage, and Pharaoh Shot works pretty well since you can touch it with the charged shot for extra hits. Taking the health bar halfway down is enough to kill it.

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As soon as the first is destroyed, the second appears from below. It moves around the room clockwise, and can fire a spread of four shots or one larger and faster shot aimed at the player. The latter is dangerous, as it deals six damage instead of the usual four. Contact with either enemy deals eight damage, with a good chance of being knocked into the spike pit.

Wire comes in handy here, since the player is invulnerable after starting the animation, making it a faster escape than Rush or Balloon. It's fairly easy despite the small platforms and spikes, but the pattern change halfway through keeps it interesting, and the lack of a protected weakpoint allows players to take it down fast with riskier play. All told, this is a good fight.

Not much else to say about this one. The first platforming section is decent, but the game has a lot of enemies more interesting than Pakatto that deserved a spot in the end stages, and of course autoscroll makes it a chore on replays. The latter half doesn't do much beyond introduce the new platforms, which was a waste as we won't see those again either. I do, however, appreciate that this stage continues to give us a sense of being a real place with the buildings in the background.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Cossack Stage 2

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After warping in, we find ourselves presented with a choice of two ladders. It's unfortunate that nothing else of note was done with this room, but the following room is neat. The Minoans will both drop immediately if we take the left path, but Mega Man will be safe on the ladder since they treat it as ground. If the player doesn't know this, they can try to shoot through the lower one before the other falls, or retreat down the ladder.

The upper Minoan won't drop if the player takes the right path until Mega Man slides through the gap, but shooting the thing it's hanging from will bring it down, giving us another case which rewards the player for thinking to fire through a wall. The large refill on the next screen is in an interesting spot, and useful if you know what's coming next.

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That light-blue thing on the ceiling drops a Docon periodically, which rolls along the floor and takes one hit. Their placement works well, as they both act as a grind spot for the Rush Jet energy we'll need here and can get in the way when summoning Rush, though weapons can destroy the generator if you need to.

At only four screens, the Rush Jet section doesn't even require using half of its energy, though the refills are harder to reach now that Rush is always moving forward. A bigger disappointment is the enemies chosen for this, consisting only of Togehero. This game had a few other flying enemies that would have made this challenging, and they could even have included a ceiling with falling Puyoyons, or put one of the turrent-like enemies on some of the platforms, or...anything.

I wouldn't normally mind a short and sweet Jet section so much, but this is the only time it's required in the game, so this was their one chance to do something neat with it.

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These platforms are a new hazard. The arrow on the side flashes four times, after which it switches which sides the spikes are on. The arrow can flash at two different speeds, which determines how fast it switches. That would be a cool idea that makes the player pay attention to what the block is doing rather than learning one time interval. However, I have never noticed that until this playthrough because it doesn't matter in the slightest on either screen.

In both cases, the blocks change once on a delay from each other, then again at the same time, then repeat. Every moment that the player needs to jump is the one where they change together, making the fact that they're delayed on the reset moot. It's sad to see that idea utterly wasted in the implementation.

Also, since the player likely entered these screens with Rush Jet still equipped, they're already set to skip it. The second screen is one of the few cases where Balloon does something Coil can't, as Rush won't land on the ladder or platforms.

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The next area is a fairly standard room full of enemies, and contains another obligatory high wall we need to Rush/Item our way over (twice, if we want the refill). The spike pit works well with Mono Roader, as a player can easily get flustered if they're not used to handling them yet. The last bat is in a good spot, knocking players who jump before they spot it into the spikes.

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I like this screen. The first Minoan isn't likely to hit us as the player can just keep climbing to avoid it, but the second will drop on the heads of anyone who slides after the refill without thinking. The only way to avoid damage in that case would be to quickly select Bright and stop it on the upper platform. It's neat having both the trap and a way to negate it if the player falls for it. Skull Barrier can work too, but you'd have to hit twice while it's falling.

The next room is a standard refill room with a breakable barrier (use Drill), but we have a Ladder Press to contend with. Since the way in is at the bottom, we'll have to lure the press upward so we can get enough height to drop in, though it's possible to get in immediately by climbing up and dropping just before Mega Man touches the press.

The last room offers a life, and this is another case where the secret items help us out. Rush Jet and Coil can only reach the spiked platforms, but Balloon and Wire can lift us right to the top.

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The Square Machine moves across the screen in three sections at three different speeds, and at the slowest speed it'll snap together and start shooting at us. We need to jump inside, then use the moving platforms to attack the glowing weak point. It's weak to Dust, and doesn't take damage from anything else but Drill and Wire, so we can't use Pharaoh or Dive to avoid the platforms.

An entire hostile room is a fun idea for a boss, and once inside it presents a good challenge in trying to hit it as much as possible without getting shot. However, the rest of the fight doesn't seem to have been thought through very well. It seems to have been inspired by the Yellow Devil, with players having to dodge bits of it flying around before attacking it. It will crush the player (for four damage) if they're pushed against the side, but in this case "dodge" consists of just sliding back and forth in the middle of the room until it slows down. Again, fighting the weak point itself works well, but players have nothing to do when it splits besides wait.

Despite my griping here, the stage isn't that bad. It has a good flow to it, doesn't stick with any one thing for too long, and we get plenty of opportunities to make use of our arsenal. My complaints with it lie only in the missed opportunities of the boss pattern, spike blocks, and toothless Jet section. If I was seeing this for the first time I'd expect to see the latter two later in the game, but neither appear again after this.

The visuals are fairly bland, but the windows showing the snow outside are a nice touch and help remind players of the world they're in.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dr. Cossack Stage 1

mm4DrC1_01mm4DrC1_02 Cossack Stage 1 map and Music

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Mega Man starts this one waist-deep in snow. The snow decreases his walking speed, but won't affect sliding. We'll soon come to a series of platforms covered in ice, which does exactly what you'd expect it to by now.

The contrast between the two surfaces makes movement awkward, but the only thing we have to worry about here is Tom Boy. It moves like a slinky, and will stretch to a lower platform if it can or turn around if it's too low. The second and fourth images show its limit for this. They take and deal six damage, so despite appearing alone here they can badly injure a player who isn't expecting the ice or their toughness. Any weapon aside from Skull and Toad will be helpful against them.

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We've seen Roaders before, but now we have to deal with them on platforms above us. They enter their attack state as soon as we enter the screen, leaving only a small window for weapon attacks. The first gives us a choice of sliding to the other side at the right time and killing it before it sees us again, or luring it to the bottom. The second is more difficult, as we need to lure it to the side and get up the ladder quickly. However, Toad wipes out the room in one shot.

I like this screen, as it encourages the player learn how their pattern works and find a way around their invulnerability, or figure out their weapon weakness.

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I was pretty harsh on Skeleton Joe in Skull Man's stage, but this area uses them very well. They're paired with Up'N'Down, and stopping by the holes gives Joe some time to toss a bone out. Also, most are positioned to hit the player near a hole or while they're jumping over one. I particularly like the setup in the third screenshot. The bone follows an arc that would give the player trouble if they jump, but the next ledge is low enough that we can slide under the Up'N'Down instead. Rush Jet and Bright can trivialize this area, and there's a convenient energy refill toward the end.

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There always seems to be a few screens in the Wily stages devoted to making the player use Rush or Items. That's all well and good when it makes the player think about them a bit, or do something new. This is not one of those areas. Togehero always appears at the bottom (or top, if you're falling down) so he'll never pose a threat, and this area just wastes your energy if you fall from the next area.

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This is neat. Ladder Press climbs around and stops now and then to close, knocking Mega Man off. Climbing the first ladder leads brings us to the next, while giving us some refills and a peek at what we'll have to fight at the top. This would be a great opportunity to put something really imposing up there, but Jumbig just doesn't fill that role despite how much the designers seemed to want him to.

After climbing down, players will need to drop from the top of the second ladder and catch the third, timing it so that they don't hit Ladder Press in the process. Repeat once more to proceed.

Ladders have been in need of new ideas, and this is a good attempt at making them more interesting. It can be bypassed with Rush Jet or some well-placed Balloons, but the player still has to time them well to avoid being knocked down by the last press, and they'll miss out on one of the refills (the first can be grabbed from the first ladder before doing this).

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Mothraya hovers slowly across the room, and has three attacks. It can break a section of the floor, move downward to crush us, or shoot a slow projectile from the blinking light in the middle. That light is also the weak point, and Mothraya's slight up and down movement brings it out of our jump range at times. The small target works well for it as the extra time gives it a chance to break through the floor, and the holes will make dodging much more difficult. Ring deals four damage to it.

This is a solid start to the endgame stages. Aside from a couple of screens at the end, everything here presents a new challenge or old enemies rearranged in unique ways, and we get opportunities to use our weapon collection intelligently. The difficulty also hasn't taken a dive compared to the main stages as it did in the previous two games. The graphics also have a nice momentum to them, taking us from forest to city to a high tower in a relatively small space. Overall, I'd call this one a success.

As an aside, though it's obvious after looking at it for a moment that Ladder Press is just two pieces of metal with spikes in it, I've always seen its open state as two little block guys with the spikes as eyes and the parts attaching it to the ladder as feet, like so:

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I also see that Mothraya is supposed to be an insect form, with a distinct head and body and the spike as a tail, but it's always looked like a face to me with the tube in front as a nose, the side tubes as ears, the weak point as a mouth, and the spike as some crazy Egyptian-like chin decoration (Same here-- at least until I learned it's name. Funny what a difference that can make. --Ed.).

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Misinterpreted sprites are always a fun topic for me.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Bright Man

Bright Man's Stage and Music mm4bright_01 mm4bright_02

Dompan and 100 Watton here have an interesting dynamic. Shooting Watton makes the room dark, but Dompan lets out a burst of fireworks when shot, lighting it again. Both can be destroyed in one hit, and Watton occasionally fires a bomb upward that falls and explodes at a random height, sending out a spread of five projectiles.

The enemy order is great here. Dompan appears first, showing the player what he does without revealing his connection to Watton just yet. Then Watton flies in at just the right spot to get in the player's way, encouraging them to shoot it, and is immediately followed by another Dompan. The lights will come back just as the player reaches a pit, revealing the true danger of this area.

Players should be wary of Watton now, so when the two appear together they'll likely try to walk under Watton, giving it a chance to attack. The next Watton appears at ground level, so the player has to either shoot it and be left in the dark or jump and risk getting hit with a bomb. Players who shot Watton will have had enough time to notice the lower ledge, and dropping down reveals a Dompan across the gap. It'll fall if it isn't shot right away, but the player can inch back and forth to make another appear (and possibly another Watton from the left).

The gap itself is fairly difficult as the ceiling prevents Rush Coil from assisting, and there's one last Dompan on the other side in case we missed the first and jumped anyway. With only three screens to work with (the starting screen is empty), this is an impressive use of space.

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Totem Polen and Battan are our next enemy pair. Totem Polen fires shots at random from one of his mouths and takes eight hits. We have to ride the Battans as they hop across the spikes, and they'll turn around when they reach the end of their paths, so we have to beat Totem on a time limit. Totem also hops if we try to jump over him, but it's still possible to make it if he's in the shooting animation at the time. A Gachappon guards the next room, and the ladder to the right leads to a health refill.

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Minoan hangs from the ceiling and falls when we get close, after which he'll slowly move across the floor. He takes two hits and can't be damaged when closed on the ceiling, though shooting the thing he's hanging from causes him to fall early. This only comes into play on the first one in the second image, as we can't reach the others. They're a pretty minor threat, but they're at least a little interesting and this is a good spot for a break anyway.

The next room gives us the choice of moving forward or climbing down a ladder. Going down leads to a side path full of platforms that move along a half-circle track when jumped on.

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Red platforms fall when they reach the end, while green platforms continue moving back and forth. There are four of these, and only the last is green, so we'll have to jump (or Rush Coil) across the gaps and Coil our way back up.

Unlike the rest of the stage, everything about this room seems like it wasn't thought through very well. There wasn't any reason to put four identical platforms in a row, we're stuck with awkward jumps on the way back, and they lost their one chance to make the green platforms worth anything since we'll be moving forward next time we see them. The large holes don't serve any purpose either, as they all appear in the middle of the platforms' paths instead of between them, so there's little chance of falling into one from above.

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The following Battan section builds on the last, with more gaps and platform switching. Things can get messy in the middle since two Battans can be active in the same space, but the player won't have to worry much as their collision is surprisingly forgiving, teleporting Mega Man on top whenever he clips into one. The Minoan waiting to drop on us in the next room is also a nice touch.

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In the last section we have to make a series of jumps with Wattons flying around. I like that they don't get in the way much, since it helps encourage players to avoid shooting them and gives them a chance to throw a few projectiles on the screen. There's little downside to attacking them here though, as everything we need to see remains visible and the room lights itself again just as we come back to solid ground.

This stage holds up remarkably well considering the number of gimmicks it includes. The first area is a fantastic introduction to the starting enemies and related stage mechanic, the Battans and moving platforms are fun and their arcing motions complement each other, Totem Polen could have been another button-mashing test but the designers showed restraint with his health, and the remaining enemies break up the main sections without overstaying their welcome. I also like that the placement of the Wattons in the last area make it seem more difficult than it is.

It's a shame the side path seems so sloppy in comparison, but we aren't forced to take it. Pink seems like an odd choice for an electricity stage (and boss, for that matter), but I like the flashing lights and machinery. I can't stop seeing those spikes as upside down teeth though.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Ring Man

Ring Man's Stage and Music mm4ring_01

Our new enemy is Wall Blaster, who fires three shots at a time towards Mega Man and can take five hits. We also get introduced to the stage gimmick the moment we teleport in, as the floor starts to vanish underneath us. It moves from left to right when Mega Man is standing or running on it, then refills again after it's gone.

The easiest way across is to jump or slide (if it hasn't been triggered, it won't start moving until Mega Man stands up again), but we can also trigger it early and start running as it refills. On the next screen we have two Wall Blasters to deal with, but since they're limited to certain angles, we can find a safe spot near the ladder to shoot from. The following room gives us smaller platforms and is the first appearance of Ring Ring, who behaves just like Telly (the floating tin can things from the second game).

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I love this room. Two more Wall Blasters guard the path up, but this time we don't have an easy way to kill one. We can make our way to the left side and attack the one on the right while hopping over its shots, or quickly run through between volleys. Most options we can choose leave us open to enemy fire at some point, and it's a great example of making a lot happen in a small space.

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After one more platform with no enemies on it, we meet Kabatoncue. Most would probably call this the point where mini-bosses got too annoying, and I can agree with that. He takes sixteen hits, and before we can start shooting him we have to bring down his platform, which is made of five segments that take two hits each. Meanwhile, he can keep up to two homing missiles in the air and restores his platform almost instantly when left alone for a second.

The missiles don't deal much damage, so the trick is to dodge or ignore the missiles and keep firing to prevent him from getting out of reach again. Even so, the time it takes to kill him is mostly dependent on your firing speed. Though his platform regenerates too fast, I actually think he's pretty fun. Unfortunately this game sticks to the convention of fighting every mini-boss twice, which worked fine when we were blasting robot dogs and cats out of the way in seconds, but isn't necessary at all for fights like this. It gets worse though.

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Now we get a horizontal section involving these platforms. The game is going out of its way to give us lots of practice with these before making them dangerous, as falling in the last area just lead to the previous screen, and the first half of this one only drops us onto some Garyobys. We're also offered a health refill if we jump down there willingly. The Garyoby at the end isn't difficult to avoid, but its placement might have been an attempt to trick players into hesitating and falling off, as it appears just as a player is likely to jump.

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This, in my opinion, is the worst mini-boss in the series. Whopper here wiggles back and forth a set number of times before throwing his rings in six directions. He can only be hit while the rings are out, and the distance they're thrown is random. Mega Man can't be hit while standing against the wall, so it's just a toothless roadblock that holds up the action until the player learns its timing. Worse yet, it often won't leave itself vulnerable long enough to get a full volley in. While Escaroo could be fought easily enough with normal shots (and was actually fun), this one is a blatant attempt to make the player use charge shots, just like Rush Coil and the too-high walls in the last game. Whopper only takes nine hits, but it'll feel like a lot more.

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We're then immediately dumped into another hippo fight. Again, this would have been acceptable once, but two in one stage plus another mini-boss is crossing a few lines somewhere. Speaking of Rush Coil, he and Eddie get a chance to show up again, but thankfully we can just walk past it if we're not interested. I do like that Eddie's room gives us our first glimpse of the planets in the background though.

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As we saw in Drill Man's stage, stairs are a good environment for Mono Roader. This time we get more headroom at the cost of having more stairs and thus less stable footing. The brown platforms move in the opposite direction, and are much faster. Since we're still moving to the right, this means we'll have a gap in front of us if we try to run across. We can't follow it as it refills either, though jumping on as it comes forward does give us more time. Dropping from the ladder leads to a nasty surprise, as we have to cross one last brown platform from right to left. Mega Man can make it across if we start moving as soon as we land, but waiting on the right for it to cycle won't hurt.

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Our last obstacle is another Whopper. This one can hit Mega Man in the corner, so we'll need to jump when he attacks. This makes the fight even worse, as now we'll take damage if we time our jumps to the moment he opens, but if we wait for the ring to pass under us we won't get a shot in unless he fires at maximum range. What used to be a boring timing game is now an even longer timing game or a gamble.

I'll admit that long slide at the end is more fun than is should be though.

There's no way around it; the mini-bosses just kill this stage. It's a shame, as this is otherwise a good example of a stage gimmick done well. It's introduced in relative safety, we deal with a few different enemies while crossing it, and the mechanics switch themselves up halfway through. Even with all the boss fights, this one developed its gimmick as far as it needed to, and still had enough screens left over to give us a break between platforming sections.

Unfortunately, those breaks consisted of four annoying mini-bosses. Had they simply used one hippo fight and filled the rest with normal enemies, we'd have another great stage on our hands. As it is, it stands as one of the better arguments for why the series started going downhill at this point.

I have to give them credit for the background though. All the diagonal lines on the floor and walls just makes it look like the game glitched, but the background has a great transition from daylight to a starry sky that slowly adds brighter stars and planets, ending with a cloud of multicolored stars at the slide.

A Critical Look at Mega Man 4 Stages: Dive Man

Dive Man's Stage and Music mm4dive_01

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Lots of new enemies here! Garyoby is the buzzsaw thing at the bottom, and it moves faster when you land near it like every other enemy of its type. Metall Swim comes with an adorable snorkel and flippers. He'll fire after moving upward, and can sometimes move and shoot twice or move forward before landing. M-422A is the green thing with a claw, which moves downward when you get near it and can't be damaged.

This stage starts off strong, with an upper and lower path that merge into a few jumps over a spike pit. The first fish won't reach Mega Man, but the three following it are all placed to get in the way if we keep moving forward. We can lure them away by inching to the edge of the gap or jumping partway over it, but more impatient players have the option of fighting them directly on the lower path and shooting the last, since it appears sooner and jumps into Mega Man's range.

One more Gyotot appears as we enter the water. The following Metall and M-422As give the player some more minor obstacles to deal with. All the while, the shallow water is messing with Mega Man's jump height as he moves in and out of it. This makes good use of the water physics, gives the player comparatively difficult enemies to avoid, and allows multiple ways to do so.

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The next M-422A is placed to give us a scare after exiting the hole, though there's enough room to avoid it by standing still after the hole. Though the deep water makes avoiding the rest of the M-422As easier, big floaty jumps also give Metalls more time to attack, and they now have room for a second shot. The spikes also help make the area seem more dangerous, even if it's unlikely for a player to touch these.

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Next up is Moby. He can toss little spiked balls into the water while pulling the player forward, or shoot two missiles from his mouth. The first is easy to avoid as long as we're not standing near the edge of his spike pit. However, his missiles are fast and accurate, and the edge of the spike pit is the only spot safe from these. I always like it when an enemy has a counter for players using what seems to be an easy exploit, though staying near the pit is still safer than trying to dodge the missiles. He takes 14 hits, so he can be destroyed quickly once he leaves an opening.

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The next area contain yet more Metalls and M-422As, but the larger spike pits combined with the Met waiting to take advantage of the big jump players will be tempted to make keep this combo interesting for a couple more screens. Players will likely be worn down a bit by now, so Eddie's appearance is welcome.

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The brief escape from the water only leads to one Jumbig. Seems like they could have done something more with that. Back in the water, we meet Mantan, who takes two shots and is difficult to hit given his small sprite. He'll move up or down a little based on our position, making himself more vulnerable in the process. The water level also rises and falls at this point, making avoiding all this stuff that much more difficult.

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After another Moby and a suspicious hole, we come to the last area of the stage. The water level is changing again, there are spikes floating in it, and Sea Mines are now blocking our path. They drift up and down slowly and explode after we've been near them for a few seconds. This is another good combo, as the Mantans and the movement of the mines can keep a player busy just long enough for one to explode, and a couple near the floor leave just enough space to slide under at times.

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That hole leads to a new feature of this game. That is, some levels have a side path leading to a few extra screens. In this case, we get a classic spike drop leading to a new item. I'll cover those later along with the weapons. Collecting the weapon brings us back to the stage's midpoint, which in this case is just after entering the water again.

This one's pretty good. The water is the only real stage gimmick here, but almost every screen presents a new arrangement of obstacles, and the gradual change in enemy pairings gives it a nice flowing momentum. Jumbig once again gets far more space to himself than he deserves, and Moby's missiles are too difficult to dodge without standing under them, but he goes down fast and the two fights with him have some distance between them. While it doesn't do anything drastic to stand out, it's a fun level to run through and provides just enough danger to keep the player alert. The graphics and upbeat music suit it well.

Looking Back on 25 Years of Mega Man: Lucas M. Thomas

lucasmthomasmiiNext up on this merry-go-round of fun we're having for the 25th anniversary of Mega Man is Lucas M. Thomas, who you may recognize from IGN's family of Nintendo-based sub-sites. Furthermore, he's just announced Nintendo Force magazine, a spiritual successor to Nintendo Power. Go check it out-- you'll probably spot some familiar names and/or faces among the contributors... or at least the affiliated website of one individual. As with the others we sent the mini-questionnaire requests out to, we are happy to present to you the reflections on the impact Mega Man has had on the life and career of Mr. Thomas.

What are some notable memories you've had getting into, and otherwise playing Mega Man? Alternatively, what ways has Mega Man factored into your work?

Mega Man's bad box art has been discussed to death, but my first memory of the series actually is seeing that first game's abomination of a package and having it catch my eye among a whole array of other NES titles. I remember the moment distinctly – I and my family had just left a movie theater after catching an afternoon matinee, and because this particular theater was in another town a fair distance away from our house, my mom decided we needed to take full advantage of being in "the big city" before making the drive home. That amounted to a trip right across the street from the cinemaplex, to a Hills department store.

Hills isn't even active any more– the company folded years ago. But I still remember exactly how that one was laid out, how I walked myself straight to the electronics section and how I first locked eyes with the decrepit old cyborg gunslinger who was supposed to be Mega Man. I didn't buy the game that day– I was only about seven years old– but that box and name stuck in my mind. Roughly another year later, then, Captain N: The Game Master debuted and I and my brothers fell in love with it– so when my mom asked what a good present would be for my little brother's upcoming birthday, I suggested a game starring his favorite character from the show (which, of course, was really more of a present for me). We made a return trip to that very same store, I carved a path straight to that same shelf of games and I came home with...

Mega Man 2. It was out by then, so Bad Box Mega Man 1 got ignored in favor of its slightly better packaged sequel (turns out that was the right choice, too, as if I'd given the brutal first Mega Man to my little brother, just turning five, we might all have been turned off from the series). Yes, it was only years later that a much older version of myself finally came to own that first game in the franchise, as I came to love the entire Mega Man series. But, though it's been joked about, parodied profusely and discussed to death, that first game's terrible box art really was my first step into the Mega Man series.

What is your sentiment on the current standing of Mega Man, and what do you want to see for the future?

Speaking as a Nintendo fan first and foremost, I'd love to see Nintendo step up and come alongside Capcom to guide Mega Man into his next chapter. We've got some historical precedent for it, as Mega Man 6 never would have seen release in the States without NOA's intervention, and today we're getting all kinds of interesting announcements like Bayonetta 2 becoming a Wii U exclusive. Why? Because the project was in trouble, and Nintendo stepped in to help, so Bayonetta has now become Nintendo-only.

I'd love to see the same thing happen with Mega Man. He's been multiplatform for years, but he's one of those characters who's still associated with Nintendo systems more strongly than any other. If Nintendo and Capcom could partner together– again, not unprecedented, just look at Flagship's Zelda games– then the Blue Bomber could make his way out of the recent rut he's been stuck in to be reborn on 3DS, Wii U, or both.

(Now, full disclaimer on everything I just said: All of that happening is really just my master plan for making Mega Man becoming a playable fighter in "Super Smash Bros. 4" more of a possibility. Because that is truly what I want to see in the future.)

What is your all time favorite Mega Man game (don't worry if you can't narrow it down to just one!).

I could tell you another story of how I came to own it, but I'll cut straight to it– Mega Man 5. I'm not entirely sure why. Something about 5 just flows right to me– it's still the Classic series game I'll go back to more than any other. Flipping upside-down and walking on the ceiling in Gravity Man's level is still ingrained in my mind as one of the "Oh my gosh! This is so cool!" moments of my childhood.

Also, Mega Man II on Game Boy. That game gets a bad rap, but it was the one GB Mega Man cartridge I owned and I played the heck out of it on long road trips. Shout-out to the Sakugarne.

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And a shout-out to Lucas for taking part in our celebration! Stay tuned, we'll have more to come soon!