Part 13: Simon gets HIGH and takes Gate Stage 2 to the MAX and my jokes suckGate's Lab 2
I've been waiting for this. Not because I want to riff on this level unendingly, but because Gate 2 is my favourite stage in X6. At least, the first part is, then it falls apart, but bear with me.
The beginning is pretty inconsequential (and has the most handholding checkpoint placement ever, curiously), so let's skip to the main attraction, the giant room full of totem poles. On Xtreme, those fire out their middle part immediately upon you entering their vicinity, so you'll get many of those coming from the poles above you pretty much out of nowhere. The lightning orbs running along the ground will at certain points deploy themselves into a vulnerable state, but also shoot at you after having done so. The poles themselves are also firing, of course. Oh, and Xtreme adds Nightmares.
Overall, this is true bullet hell, there's shit flying at you from everywhere. And you know what? I'm okay with that. In contrast to Gate 1, you don't have lasers, the poles are stationary, the background doesn't have random statues everywhere, and the terrain is kept simple and logical, like with elevations before the poles so you can't snipe the bottom part yet are able to get up to the top. It makes sense. The placement is thought out well. It's an unending assault of STUFF from everywhere (as you can't well focus on killing the lightning orbs in the short window they leave you and respawn is an issue anyway) while you're trying to manage killing the totem poles without getting tagged from every direction imaginable, and it's incredibly fun.
The whole experience is an exhilarating action-fest, made far more intense by going in unarmored as you can't tank through everything, with a sensible checkpoint right before (the first one was silly, the second is a godsend) so you respawn right where it starts, and don't have to wait more than a second between deaths. Being killed here is completely your fault, and I think it also feels that way. It walks the fine line between heavily challenging and unreasonably difficult. Sometimes it crosses that, but never far. I love it. If the whole game had this level of tough, but fair, then this game would have been great. Fuck them for ruining it, but Gate 2 and similar stages is why I still play X6 and curse throughout most of the rest of the game.
My biggest gripe with Gate 2's first part is the crazy jump through spikes at the end with the moving X2 callback poles. I'm really not a fan of instant death based difficulty, and it's at the end of a very, very hard stretch of level, so failing there is felt doubly hard. Oh, and it's after an insanely tough totem pole, the one where you have to jump around another moving thing. Don't stay on top, or you'll get crushed (but not killed! Fair!). Even falling down isn't lethal here.
Then comes High Max, and the absolute suck begins. He's every bit as shitty, boring, unintuitive to damage and horribly designed as before, but now has more life. God damn it. On Xtreme, he'll always use his desperation attack which can crush you in seconds, obliterating the progress of like 3 solid minutes whittling his life down beforehand. It's really fucking bad.
Oh, and we're not done yet!
The second part (or Gate 3?) for X starts out with a stretch so boring and easy and inconsequential it could well have been any normal stage, and is of a non-quality that's also bog-standard, complete with the requisite surprise spike dick move that's been in too many Wily stages. Courtesy of the screen scrolling, you could see those coming at least in the old games! Now, you've got the walljump, that's a little saving grace.
Then, with the acid rain, the worst part begins. The stage design here completely falls apart and is amongst the most egregious examples of absolute lack of playtesting (no wonder, with the Beta crapping out on the Gate stages) for the whole game. No one ever went through this part without X having the Ultimate or Blade Armor, else I couldn't fathom why they kept in a jump so ludicrously impossible to make that it requires two parts and insane precision to do with unarmored X or Shadow Armor X. It's not even "hard" per se, it's just bullshit. That you have to redo the entirety of Gate 2 and High Max if you happened to not know ahead of time which movement upgrades X6 wanted you to take with you is such a giant fuck you to the player, it's incredible. This jump isn't even tailored for Zero like so many others in the game because Zero doesn't enter this stage!
It's not even the end of horrible ideas. The one transmitter for the rain between walls is almost impossible to hit without getting hit yourself, well done. The purple fuckers on the platforms take ages to kill and are just boring and bad.
For Zero, it manages to not be fucking impossible, but is retarded in an entirely different way. I've seen the rolling wheels part before (because X also has to go through them in some kind of sick joke on the developer's part), and it blows because the birds are nearly unavoidable in the non-space you're given to dodge them.
Then comes the trash compactor which I've never seen before as I don't usually play as Zero. It's...bad. Manages to shit all over the faint praise I've given MSP's stage with gusto, as it's completely inconsistent as to how low it'll go at any point, you have to duck in front of enemies that are free to take potshots at you (which will kill you because standing up, like when getting hit for example, is instant death)...bleh. Then there's a solid two minutes of doing the same thing over and over again with completely, utterly unavoidable damage from the birds. I'd ask "what were they thinking" if the answer wasn't obviously "they weren't".
I can't hate Gate completely. He's got a very interesting idea to him, and it's almost, almost implemented sensibly. But as always, numerous problems drag it down. Getting pulled in by the blue balls is a death sentence if you're not careful with what you're doing beforehand. The green's tailing you makes it almost impossible to destroy it without getting hit afterwards. Gate's direct damage attack just prolongs the attack needlessly and gives you more opportunity to fall into the pit, erasing your entire progress. Fun! It can be a frantic, hectic and actiony dance, but stuff like that drag it down too much. Still, Nightmare Mother is by far the worst boss of the game for me.