Part 11: Proto II
A good stage, very much what I like to see from a fortress stage. The first three Proto Man stages (fourth barely qualifies as one) actually are a fantastic buildup, and in my opinion they far outclass any other castle setup we've seen so far. Stages only, though. Don't worry, though, I'll bash the boss enough in a sec. For now, let it be said, the best level design of this game lies in these here. Clever and devious enemy placement, tough platforming, difficult but all in all very fair. I always like playing through here because unlike some of the later stages of previous games (especially 2) it never feels like a chore, but it's tough enough to keep you on your toes.
On to specific praise. The choice at the start is...okay-ish, though you'll most of the time be pretty damn baffled on why the hell the right path is a dead end. Fucking invisible passages (forgot that one!) nonwithstanding, the M-Tank in Crystal Man's stage is so obvious most players will get it, then never use it. And find a whole load of nothing here. Whatever, though. If you need one, this is of fair difficulty to get, what with the lack of dodging in the cramped room; actually, you might just get goaded into discovering the secret passage through jumping like a madman trying to avoid the shot; if they actually planned it that way, big props.
The next corridor is another perfect example of a simple design working marvelously. Combination of two enemies we haven't seen tag-teaming before makes for some pretty tough situations. Add in thoughtfully placed terrain and you've got a nice gauntlet. It's not like this is rocket science, but I much prefer it to some elaborate gimmick that makes you want to hate yourself for playing the game (like the Bright Man platforms or something).
And they start it off by forced item usage...you know what? In this case, it actually makes sense for a change. If you pull out Rush immediately after realizing that the jump is too high for Mega, they the enemies homing in will be so dangerously close that after getting rid of Rush, you're in a suddenly dangerous spot. Waiting for them is obviously safer, but it's a nice trap for the impatient! Or a challenge to your efficiency, whichever you prefer.
Also very subtly clever: Invincible enemies to shield ones that you really want to get rid of fast. The trains can get taken out in a single shot once they deploy...but single shots get blocked by the homers. Now that's certainly a step up from "challenging enemy gauntlet...well I guess a corridor of walkers...a Joe or two, too...yeah that's cool."
Following is old-school dickery. From a not so gentle introduction to conveyor platforms - slip up, discover there's not a pit under you, rejoice for a split second, then eat spikes sucka! - it's off into full-on hate made from the game. Unstable terrain is one thing. Getting hit on it being an almost sure road to oblivion is another. Having enemies that are quite fast and therefor prone to make you run into them even if you're not getting bombs rained on your skull...bends the line. What crosses it that getting a power-up, as always, pauses your game for a little while you get refilled, which seriously breaks flow. Getting through here without serious weapon aid (whoever says that Star Crash is bad can do this room Buster-only until the end of days if he wants) is no easy feat. Requires platforming, dodging and shooting skills the game definitely never asked you to have before. The room would be perfectly at home in any older game, here it's...a bit jarring. Even though Proto 1 already told you the gloves were off now. Fortunately, the game won't ever get as brutal again, and it's not like it's fucking impossible or something. And, after all, Star Crash makes it easy so whatevs.
Joe room is retarded. Joes are stupid enemies. Waste of my time ughhhh.
Then, another enemy combination that's all about blocking your shots while letting theirs through. Sadly the ball dispensers are worthless in the offensive department, though they do limit your dodging place. Not as disgustingly clever as the first time in this level so eh.
The choose where you want to slide to thing is nice, as said, I always like those. Sliding challenges are suspiciously rare, probably because they'd require actual effort to design, so I take every one I can get because sliding rocks. Very clever here: Contrary to before, where the game stopping while refilling you might just kill you, here the downtime gives you all the opportunity you need to press left like your life depended on it (because it does). The E-Tank is logically far harder to get, so great job working in game mechanics into the challenge without it being obnoxious!
Nothing much to comment on the next few screens, but the stretch before the boss doors - man. It's another enemy tag team, two of the most annoying and difficult to deal with types at that, coupled with pits for that perfect "you're fucked" feeling.
You really want to get rid fast of both types, and the sheer number of them means you can't. By conventional means, that is. When you enter the screen the first time, you see two of those things hot on your trail and a tiger that will start to maul the fuck out of you the moment you twitch, that's excitement right there. I take the absolute pussy's route out; manly men do it with the Buster of course, and it being broken matters jackshit in this kinda situation. Men that worry more about energy conservation, by the way, hang low on the ladder, Grav Hold the two annoyances out of the way and then Power Stone the tiger. He's above you, which might seem like the perfect application for Gyro Attack...but adjusting the blade upward would mean climbing the ladder. Oops. So the Stone is the only weapon hitting above you.
This is just for you fuckers who hate past me, by the way! (you're cool I was bad)
Or you get Beat out early. Your call.
Next two tigers aren't even remotely as threatening...wait, let me rephrase that. They seem threatening alright, and if you don't know that pressing B will get them into a suicidal rage, it's still extremely hard to avoid them. However, find your sweet spot and they jump into the next pit without too much hassle. You still got the homing assholes to deal with then, but that you should be used to (I love you Star Crash). Last two of them are an afterthought, I don't really get them. A gentle goodbye from the toughest thing in MM5, maybe? To make sure you remember?
And then it's off to the boss and you're fucking pumped from having mastered this challenge and you're READY and
you're all like what the fuck is this shit are you kidding me.
Okay so let me elaborate a bit on fortress bosses. Those guys are important for atmosphere like nobody's business. Take the very first Mega Man. You've went through this hard stage with the fucking impossible jumps at the start and the worst platforms ever conceived and figured out that you did indeed need the Magnet Beam to even progress, and then it's an empty room at the end but the music is going crazy. So what's up and SUDDENLY BLOCKS FROM THE LEFT SHIT FUCK WHY DOES MY EIGHT-YEAR-OLD MIND KNOW THESE CURSES. The Yellow Devil is ready to kick your ass into puberty, that fucker will haunt your dreams for years to come, most especially because Capcom thinks that he's genius design for some reason but that's another matter.
Point is, that's something called iconic. You will always remember this boss because he made you work hours to beat him, and because his entrance made you shit your pants, and you will remember the stage because...hours? Days!
So Mega Man 2 rolls around and you get into Wily 1 and there's this sick track playing and you're like awwwww yeaaaaaah, sadly the stage is shit. Oh well got over the stupid, stupid item-usage segments, climb this giant tower, now what? Inside? Okay platforms I can deal wi DRAGON OUT OF NOWHERE. Your mind invents new curses you didn't even know existed. When it starts chasing you being invincible and you fuck up because your heart beats somewhere around your cranium it's like duuuuuude it's a dragon how do I deal with dragon?
Then the fight and it's also kinda shitty but DRAGON and you beat it, yesss awesomeness. Wily 1 in MM2 is iconic because Mecha Dragon is a fantastic moment, nevermind the dross surrounding it. Hell, even Buebeam Trap gets remembered because you'll make up curses that your war veteran grandpa never thought possible for it. The first two Wily castles were extremely rough around the edges, and the details get smudged at lot, but between their sometimes absurd difficulty, the music, the sweet as hell boss designs (I get to fight MYSELF???), they were definitely something for the ages, so to speak.
Then Mega Man 3 comes and it's awesome and I love it, suddenly is ball-bustingly hard when Doc Robot does his thing but it's okay, you pull through, Wily steals Gamma and you're ready for some serious shit
then fight a turtle making machine
What the FUCK?
The drop from Dragon to turtles couldn't be any more jarring, and as a whole the fortress stages are such an extreme disappointment it's not even funny. The bosses play a huge role in that - and they're complete shit as a whole. Fuck, I'm just now trying to remember the second and can't.
...shit, it's the Devil. So much for being iconic, eh? Copy-pasting shit from before just doesn't feel the same.
Mega Man 4 tries. The moth is giving off the right vibes at the start: Giant sprite, pitch-black background, dangerous-looking floor which you just know will play a role...then you realize it's a fucking moth. And a minute later you'll have noticed that you got hit maybe once because it's such a pushover. Swing and a miss, but at least they tried. Stage still sucked.
And then we get to this game. For once, the first fortress stage is awesome. Gushed enough already. Then comes the boss...and it's smaller than Mega.
That dinky little tank manages to look even less threatening than a robot making turtles. It also manages to have a pattern that's more basic than that of most normal enemies. It's such an incredibly disappointing letdown after that stage - but completely in line for the rest of the game. It's really good and fun at points, but where it could excel, where it could stand out, it's so bland and uninteresting and unmemorable that they couldn't have done it worse if they tried. The level design is great! Someone knew what they were doing! Buildup! Eeeh a boss that's like driving from one side of the screen of the next and shooting. That'll work as an epic introduction to the shit is now real zone.
So why am I ranting on it after the second level, and not where the guy first cropped up? Well, because I'm willing to accept blunders. And, because I can't get enough of defending the few original ideas of this game, I completely see what they were going for. We've seen now that the second boss has the same basic design as the first, and it's going to continue. They wanted to start with something basic, which would then get upgraded more and more, making you possibly dread its next incarnation. Could have been very cool.
Point is, it doesn't work. And falls flat on its face because of that. Now we've got two completely boring bosses in a row and no matter how great the stages are, you will always remember levels by "oh yeah that one with the DUDE at the end". Take a look at this dude.
Two legs, no tank treads. A shield that doesn't even shield it properly. It's gun metal grey. And it walks.
All it does is walk.
It's the opposite of threatening. It's the epitome of lazy. It's the worst boss design. Not the worst design we've yet seen in a boss - that was Buebeam Trap - but as a boss, this guy is such a fucking failure, it hurts fighting him.
It's a perfect example of Mega Man 5 being the game people remember least, oftentimes dislike most, find bland, unappealing, boring, useless. Every time the game could make an impression, any at all, it works hardest at hiding in a corner.
Fortress bosses are iconic. Mega Man 5 doesn't have any icons. Whatsoever. It's not the only issue, far from it. But it's a big symptom of the underlying problem. Which is the complete lack of effort in so many areas shining through completely blatantly and unashamed.
Should be ashamed, though. At least for whoever did the level design. The one person to apparently care.
And no, I'm not going to elaborate on the fucking strategy for this retard.
Nothing new either!