Part 12: Proto III
As said, I love this stage. It's got great atmosphere, the nighttime setting, the cool background with all those satellite dishes, still fantastic music, and the colours aren't atrocious for once. You weave in and out of the fortress proper, scaling the ramparts, crossing great pits, probably from tower to tower, it feels and flows just perfectly.
Apart from that one stupid forced item usage room but let's not get into that again. Minor gripe, but still...why?
To start with, we're introduced to a big theme of the level, enemies and pits combined to make your life miserable. Dodging the flying Joes is pretty tricky on its own, then with the added danger of plummeting to your doom if you fuck up...yeesh. The homing mines are nothing to write home about, but are a very logical enemy choice: If you get caught up in fighting a Joe, you might well be distracted enough to get hurt by one of those. It's the only way they're ever going to be relevant as an enemy, so great move in making it so. If you take your time and deal either with them from a distance or swiftly take out the Joes without closing in, it's not too big of a deal. Rewards quick thought and a calm trigger finger, though. Great difficulty, challenging but not unfair.
Also, very nice of the game to give you a refill after that.
The following room looks deceptively evil...until you realize that there is noone forcing you to kill those bastards. Even with the Buster, it's no problem to just run.
Two quick platforming rooms - those remind me a lot of the ones in MM3's Wily 3, which I've gushed on before; simple, but it feels nice to pull it off without a hitch, dangerous-seeming with all the spikes but there's no real danger of you getting killed. I like those a lot, because platforming in Mega Man always is no hassle at all, in a Sonic game, a room like that would be hell. Here, it's also good that there are a few easy enemies; if you flub the jumps, you'll have to reset, the enemies too; making the whole process less boring, because you've got something to do besides just jumping onto the platforms again. As they are so quickly dealt with, it's not even tedious.
Following is quite the hard segment. The bombers are used sparingly, thankfully so else they'd be bordering on unfair, but the Met guns are placed perfectly to make you think of good options besides bustering them away. You have to tease them out, else they'll never fire, and they can survive more than one buster shot...so Crystal Eye is simply perfect. I don't pull if off too well, but you can breeze through here with it, rarely stopping, it's very efficient. Perfect use for an otherwise really bad weapon. Also makes you feel like a badass if you can do it, that's always a big plus. It's not mandatory or anything, take your time if you don't feel lucky, that's cool; the many ways in which you can approach challenges like that are always what draw me to a Mega Man game, and in many older ones or ones with weapons that are more powerful, I feel like it doesn't occur too often. It's Metal Blades or hate your life, and I don't like that!
Aaand the snake part. Yeah, I love it. Again, it's platforming, pure and simple, and that's what Mega excels at. The enemies and spikes spice it up, just enough to keep you on your toes, but they're not obnoxious about it. You can't dawdle, but why would you want to? The temporary ground adds tension and excitement, it's the exact opposite of a block puzzle or elevator segment. You have to be constantly moving, jumping, dodging, but the way forward is always clear, you've got plenty of time to react, it never tries to trap you in a way which requires foreknowledge. I compare it to the moving block snake in Super Mario World, and favourably; there, you only have the snake to worry about (and a lava pit below), whereas here, just the snake would be boring as hell, so the enemies spice it up in all the right ways. I'm pretty sure they simply stole the idea, but doing it better was certainly no mean feat, so who cares.
Of course, this gimmick being so great means that we'll see it never again outside of this level. Sigh...
After two big guys, the third instance of "pit + enemy = tough situation" crops up. Now timing is necessary to deal with cannons which could be easily out-tricked before, with Charge Kick or the strange properties of the overpowered buster. The group on the stairs again is a great example of how to do enemy placement right; they'll only ever hit you if you jump into them, so it's entirely dependant on what you do. Shooting the buster through their shield is one option, pretty safe. Coming from below with two Gyro Attacks each is even safer. Skipping it with a series of Super Arrows is pretty fast and if you can pull it off, it's awesome. However, they are put such that you can just hit the edge and ninja your way upwards. Which is the coolest solution, but hard to actually do. Tons of possibilities, and the fastest is the hardest. Very well done.
The next big guy is colossaly in the way, but again not in an obnoxious manner. He'll never hit you, after all. Experimentation is encouraged and rewarded.
Next snake, trickier, different enemies that fit the concept perfectly, more focused on tracking the blocks' movement, a good expansion of the gimmick. Farewell, we'll never see you again.
This guy can give you a headache, especially after his less than impressive previous incarnations. His main attack, the jump followed by a stream of big bullets looks intimidating as hell and can be tough to dodge even if you know what you're doing. They're aimed at Mega, roughly as can be seen by his inability to actually hit me when I'm frozen, and if you move too early, they'll corner you. Often, you'll find that his landing spot and your position after dodging coincide, so try to avoid that. That means that sometimes, finding a sweet spot between him and bullet rain is a necessity. Somewhat tough.
His second attack, freezing you, is plenty dodgeable, two things provided: Either you can get away quite a distance, to jump it; the standard way you deal with a Met's fire, except you can't slide under. Or you make him fire it over your head. The attack is telegraphed as all hell, so figuring out the timing is all. Not too easy, but your only option when he corners you.
All in all, it's a very fair fight, but plenty hectic, devoid of any pattern, requiring quick reflexes, calmness on your end, timing, many basic Mega Man skills. After left 'n right tank and the walking menace, this is a very welcome breath of fresh air, and indeed, one of the best bossfights in the game. Also one of the (maybe THE) hardest, because you don't have much room for errors. He deals lots of damage. Still, love it. Don't forget that Gyro Attack is his weakness, though it doesn't gel too well with you having to slide away often. Will turn the blade downwards at inopportune moments.
No new enemies or music, again!