If the Dr. Wily stages exist to recompile elements of the Robot Master stages into more devious configurations, Mega Man 2‘s second Wily sequence consists primarily of Flash Man and Metal Man’s levels. Taste them again, for the first time, and all that.
Aesthetically, the interior of Wily’s fortress has a much more austere, utilitarian look than the outside did. Where the run-up to the fortress involved an interesting transition between wasteland and man-made construct, now that you’re inside it’s far bleaker and more oppressive. Wily evidently blew his decorating budget on the big skull out front, because all you’ll find within is dull grey metal paneling and massive industrial fans — all in a gloomy greenish color scheme.
The initial leg of this stage sends you slowly stair-stepping downward — a theme for the remainder of the game. You made your climb up the fortress wall in the previous stage, but here you’re constantly descending further into his lair, further away from things like reinforcements, an escape route, the earth’s surface, sunlight, etc. etc. The majestic theme music from the previous stage continues playing here, so the game hasn’t totally given itself over to total misery just yet… but it’s getting there.
As you drop down the stairs, those propeller-headed robots (Fly Boys) from Crash Man and Heat Man’s stages drop onto you from three different hatches in the ceiling. As before, they continue to drop infinitely, which makes them somewhat convenient if you need to farm weapon energy but otherwise a nuisance.
In this case, what makes them troubling is the fact that you need to cruise past a massive expanse of spikes immediately after passing the Fly Boy hatches. Item-2 is absolutely mandatory here — the spikes extend so far that your flight burns through very nearly the entirety of Item-2’s energy, so there’s no way Item-1 can get you to the other side — but of course switching over to Item-2 leaves you momentarily defenseless from the Fly Boy that drops from the rightmost hatch, which remains on-screen as you reach the lip of the floor adjacent to the spikes. The transitional moment where you switch from whatever weapon you’re using against the Fly Boys to Item-2 can be touchy, because dropping the tool and leaping onto it to launch forward takes a couple of seconds. Poorly timed, these seconds can leave you open to being struck by a Fly Boy, potentially fouling your flight and wasting precious energy.
At the end of the Item-2 trip, you need to make a split-second jump onto a ladder as you pass beneath it. Or rather, you need to make a split-second decision as to which ladder you’re going to jump up to. The first ladder appears far enough from the second that you may not realize there even is another route — and in any case, the second ladder doesn’t come down as far as the first, so reaching it requires greater precision and better timing if you decide to go for it.
As in Flash Man’s stage, though, beyond this split decision you’ll find a divided path heading down, and the easier to select of the two routes is by far the more dangerous of the two. The first ladder forces you to burn through three precious Crash Bomber shots and face off against two Shotmen (those rotating cannon guys who fire the arcing shots) with no pick-ups to collect for your trouble. The second ladder, however, rewards you amply with two E-Tanks, two 1UPs, and a ton of weapon energy capsules. It also puts you on better footing against the Shotmen. And to top it all off, it deposits you over a tiny row of spikes that you can easily avoid as you fall, whereas the other path drops you atop a wide patch of spikes with only a tiny safe foothold to aim for.
In other words, don’t take the first ladder.
Once you drop down into the second half of the stage, it becomes less Flash Man and more Metal Man. You’re immediately confronted with a hallway full of Moles, drilling through the ceiling and floor to pass from one to the other. This is a much more narrow space than the Mole sequence in Metal Man’s level, and you don’t have the benefit of a conveyor belt to allow you to glide through the Moles without any real effort. Because the gap here between floor and ceiling is so narrow, you have a much smaller window of time in which to shoot the Moles if you hope to farm power-ups from them. This isn’t a challenging sequence, per se, but it proves to be slow going and makes reaping the benefits of the swarming bad guys into a bit of a task.
Once you clear the Moles, it’s up a narrow shaft (using either Item-1 or, ideally, Item-3) to a series of those plunging crusher things that also appeared in Metal Man’s stage. While you don’t have to navigate them while contending with a moving floor as you did there, the plungers appear in more difficult configurations, leaving very little space between them; it’s difficult to get past them without taking some damage.
There’s a large health capsule in the chamber directly before the boss… but to reach it, you have to land on the lip of a narrow platform next to a bunch of spikes and use Item-1 to climb to the capsule. Yes, we’re at the point of the game where you have to work for the slightest advantage.
The boss of this stage establishes a sort of pattern in Wily stages: Big, elaborate bosses alternating with smaller, almost environmental challenges. In this case, you face off against Picopico-kun, which is basically a living room. Different sections of the room you’re standing in separate from the wall, ceiling, or floor; they converge; and, once united, they home in on Mega Man’s position. While they initially seem quite easy to fight off, given how slowly they move, the more you pick off the faster the remainder move.
There’s an element of unfairness to this battle for a first-timer; the boss gives no indication of which portion of the walls or floor will be activating next. If you happen to be standing on a chunk of the floor when that tile kicks into motion, you’ll take an unavoidable, untelegraphed hit. Making this doubly irritating is the fact that most of the Picopico-kuns embedded in the floor come to life only toward the end of the battle, when they move more rapidly and you’re already quite likely hurting. It’s pretty tough not to take a few hits here until you can memorize the patterns — not exactly standout game design.
While Metal Blade isn’t the most powerful weapon against this boss, it’s by far the most effective tool here since so many of the Picopico-kuns join up above you and make a beeline toward your position. The Metal Blade lets you pour fire into them, and for once you don’t have to feel like you’re getting an unfair advantage. The game kind of plays cheaply here; why shouldn’t you?