Several people have complained in the comments of this series (and elsewhere) about the repetitive nature of the Wily stages in Mega Man 2. Specifically, the fact that the levels are constructed of the same bulkhead panel tile, repeated over and over again in different color schemes.
Interestingly, I never hear those criticisms voiced for the original Mega Man, even though that was the case there as well.
I think we can attribute this to a couple of factors. One, The first Mega Man just isn’t as visually interesting as its sequel — a smaller, more limited game. Some shortcuts seem inevitable in an older game like that, really. Also, the one different Wily stage came in the middle (stage three) in the first game instead of at the beginning (Mega Man 2‘s Wily 1, the fortress exterior, with its multiple mixed surfaces). Secondly, though, despite the smaller ROM size of the older game, the Wily stages do more to mix up the look of the scenery. Mega Man 2‘s final three levels consist of nothing but walls and walls of these same background tiles, with no other machinery or imagery to break things up. The effect does pair nicely with the background music to create a kind of suffocating atmosphere… but a little variety never hurt anyone.
That being said, for all the Wily stages’ visual monotony, each one incorporates its own unique mechanics. We’ve seen hints of Metal Man’s stage, Bubble Man’s, Flash Man’s, and more. For the final leg of the journey, we thankfully don’t have to deal with Quick Man redux. Instead, it’s more a reprise of Crash Man’s level, with some mechanics that have appeared nowhere else in the game.
Despite its dense, claustrophobic feel, Wily 4 revisits the ascent element of Crash Man’s stage. You’re navigating a series of ladders here, with strategically placed Metools eager to knock you back down to the previous screen. Those jerks. What makes this area different, however, is the presence of….
…false, holographic floors. Certain panels of floor simply don’t exist, despite the visuals telling you otherwise. Nasty.
But not unfair. The spike trap here isn’t the first you’ll see of the fall-through flooring. The initial ascent with the bulkheads populated by Metools ease you into this new mechanic in a relatively safe environment. You can’t reach this spike pit without first traversing a series of holographic bulkheads, and the game actively entices you to learn more about them by strategically placing a 1UP in a corner that can only be reached by correctly navigating these takeout pits. The worst that can happen here is to fall and hit a Metool — no big deal. So by the time you get to the spikes, you’ve just spent a few minutes plummeting in unexpected places and riding Item-3 past surprise pitfalls. You should expect a trick here.
The solution to this bit of environmental nastiness is right in your arsenal: The Bubble Lead, which clings to the ground and tenacious keeps on clinging even when the ground takes a downward dip, has the ability to roll along safe ground and drop where the pits appear. You still can’t see the pits, but you can deduce their location by watching the behavior of the Bubble Lead.
And when you do reach pits, you can either jump over them or, when the ceiling is too low for you to clear that much horizontal space without bumping your head and taking a fall, using Item-3 to stick to the inner lip of one of the pits and create a makeshift platform for you. Alternately, you could ride Item-1 from below the pit. Mega Man 2 revels in its wealth of strategic options.
Once you make your way to the top of the pitfall zone, you double back down again for another Crash Man reprise. This time, it’s the on-rails platforms from his stage surrounded by endless swarms of Tellies. In their first appearance, the challenge of these platforms came from the fact that you had to ride them upward to reach ladders at the top of the screen; here, you’re advancing downward. No sweat, right? Gravity’s working in your favor. Alas, it’s not that simple.
For four solid screens, you’re riding the platforms over floors consisting of nothing but spikes. There is very little safe ground here, and many of the rails are surrounded by narrow walls that create far too small a space for Mega Man to ride through. While you can still employ the tactic of riding about while the Leaf Shield protects you, this sequence doesn’t offer any slam dunks like in Crash Man’s stage. You’re forced repeatedly to jump to small stable outcroppings as you wait for the platform to trundle its way through the narrow gaps, and of course every time you jump you’re forced to send the Leaf Shield flying, wasting some of its ammo. There’s a distinct possibility of running out of ammo here, which means you’ll be zipping around the room at high speeds and approaching Tellies from oblique angles, increasingly the likelihood of being knocked into spikes. And no one wants that.
The final stretch of the stage consists of two Returning Sniper Joes on foot and two in mechs. It’s a pretty annoying final gauntlet, since those enemy types tend to be woefully parsimonious with weapon power-up drops… and god knows you’ll probably need them for the boss ahead.
I suppose every Mega Man has to have at least one boss you utterly and completely hate, and the Boobeams here are Mega Man 2‘s universally loathed showdown. It’s an interesting battle, because it was designed explicitly to screw you over.
The wall-mounted cannons here are a mostly passive threat. They sit on the wall, doing nothing, and every 10 seconds or so they change up and all fire an energy bullet simultaneously that zeroes in on Mega Man’s current position. It’s difficult to dodge the converging shots initially, since they move quickly and from almost every angle. Once you start picking off the cannons, however, you can more easily dodge the shots with a well-timed jump.
The problem is that the only way to destroy the cannons is to hit them with a Crash Bomber. Fully energized, you have seven shots with the Crash Bomber, and there are five cannons. Easy, right? Hold on, there, bucko. Two of the cannons are housed behind destructible walls that, again, can only be destroyed with Crash Bombers. Five plus two is seven, which means you need to pull this encounter off without a wasted shot. Well, you can be clever and put a well-placed Crash Bomber on the tile shown here, which will destroy a turret and a key wall in a single shot, but it’s tricky and not intuitive.
Also not intuitive is the fact that you need to conserve your ammo for the essential targets. Your first instinct in entering this room is almost certainly to blow out the destructible wall immediately to the right of the starting area… but once you open fire on the turret in the bottom right corner, you’ll discover it can only be destroyed with the ammo you just wasted. Rather than blow out the wall to the right, the proper approach is to use Item-1 to ride up to the platform above… which isn’t exactly intuitive, either, since taking that ride is likely to leave you vulnerable in the center of the room where the energy beams converge. This encounter appears to be consciously designed to screw over a first-time player by putting them into a situation where they almost invariably won’t be able to finish the fight.
This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that when you die and start again, you’ll be completely drained of Crash Bomber ammo and will have only the churlish Sniper Joe gauntlet with which to recharge your reserves — a scenario almost guaranteed to cost you a ton of health or other weapon reserves in a slow, grindy attempt to top off your Crash Bomber ammo.
The one saving grace of this battle is that walls destroyed with Crash Bomber don’t regenerate until you run out of lives and hit Continue, so as long as you have some Mega Mans in reserve you won’t have to clear out any of the barriers you’ve taken down. One possible strategy here is to blast out all the walls in the room, die, grind for ammo, and quickly take out the Boobeams. But that’s a graceless tactic, and the fact that Mega Man 2 railroads you into it makes this final fortress boss a black mark in an otherwise beautifully designed game.