Whatever crimes of redundant visual representations the interior of Wily’s castle may have committed, you can levy no such complaints against this final chamber, in which you face off one last time against the game’s bosses. I mean, check this out.
Those screens! In case you ever doubted Mega Man’s anime influence, here are some straight-up Macross computer aesthetics for you to enjoy. I almost expect to see a fusillade of Crash Bombers flying along windy paths or something.
This, of course, is the end game: A showdown with rebuilt versions of Wily’s eight Robot Masters. Mega Man 2 handles this boss rush very differently than the first game did, establishing a fairly permanent standard for the franchise. Rather than spread out the bosses across multiple levels and put the rush at the end of a fairly tricky stage, you fight all eight bosses at once (or rather, one at a time, in rapid succession) in a stage designed specifically to contain the fights.
The basic premise of the rematches remains the same — you warp into a room housing a single boss, defeat it, then exit again to take on the next — but it’s much friendlier this time. The warp chambers are no longer consecutive, so instead of jumping immediately to the next battle you return here to the hub. Even better, each defeated boss drops a large health capsule, so it’s no longer quite such a matter of endurance as in the original. If you die in the process, any bosses you’ve defeated — denoted by the absence of blinking lights on that Robot Master’s telepod — remained destroyed until you hit continue. And, if you’ve made it this far while toting E-Tanks, you’ll still have those going for you until you continue, too. On the other hand, without continuing you also won’t be able to refill your weapons, meaning you won’t be able to use any Crash Bombers here. Not after that Boobeam fight.
And finally, each boss redux battle happens in a plain ol’ empty chamber. No conveyor belt in Metal Man’s room, no uneven flooring in Quick Man and Flash Man’s level. The one exception is that Bubble Man’s room is still flooded, but even then you no longer have to worry about mines lining the ceiling. Unlike in Mega Man, where the lack of Super Arm-compatible boxes in the reduxes could work against you, here the even flooring works more or less universally in your favor. You can stand and pour fire into Flash Man and Quick Man without having to fuss over their unpredictable responses to the varied terrain, and Metal Man… well, now that you have your complete arsenal in hand, you can destroy him in a hilarious two shots of his own weapon. (Or one shot, if you’re playing easy mode.)
There’s a bit of potluck to the enemy order here; the teleporters don’t use the same layout they did in the stage select screen. Heat Man occupies the upper-left corner, not Bubble Man, and there seems to be no correlation between the stage select arrangement and the order of these warp pads. But given how incredibly powerful you’ve become by this point, the fights are enough of a cake walk that it shouldn’t matter; until you learn the layout, you’ll always be on your toes just a bit.
Once the eight Robot Masters are once again reduced to a burst of pulsating circles, a final pad appears.
This, of course, takes you directly to Dr. Wily’s latest personal war machine. This time it’s less like some bizarre upright human torso and more like, I dunno. Slave-1. Wily Machine 2 feels like a deliberate inversion of the previous game’s final machine; its first phase fires beams of energy that travel downward and then curve upward in a parabolic motion, a mirror image of the first machine’s bullets that followed a decaying upward path before plunging down, off-screen.
The second phase, once you take down the outer armor and expose Wily’s inner capsule, is much trickier. It fires beams of energy that travel in a tightly arcing sine wave and can be very difficult to evade. It becomes a battle of attrition, most likely, and if you die against either form of the machine you’re sent back to the first phase on your next attempt.
Wily Machine 2 has two weaknesses, and they seem specifically tailored as a sort of “screw you” from the developers. Atomic Fire, fully charged, will destroy the outer armor in two shots. And both phases are weak to Crash Bomber, with the second form susceptible to taking multiple hits from the sustained explosion. The problem, of course, is that you only really get one chance with these weapons; since the teleportation chamber doesn’t offer you any energy refills when you respawn and the Atomic Fire can only discharge two full-force blasts without needing a refill, the pressure is on not to screw up the second round. And of course you almost certainly have zero Crash Bombers after the Boobeam trap, so the only way to breeze through the battle is to accept a game over and the subsequent energy refill.
But when you do at last destroy Wily Machine 2, the game… isn’t over?
Instead, the floor explodes beneath Mega Man and he plunges into an entirely new stage.
In contrast to the rest of the game, there’s an eerie feel to this sequence. No music plays in the background, and you run through a tunnel bored through pure rock. There are no signs of technology here; no man-made structures, no robots, only silence punctuated by the rhythmic dripping of some sort of caustic fluid.
Finally, you reach a darkened room that appears to be a portal to an alternate dimension, or something. The surreality of this post-Wily sequence reaches its peak as you step into outer space and Wily flies into the room via flying saucer, leaps into the air, and levitates in place as he morphs into his true form…
The instant he transforms, Wily immediately presses the attack, swooping around the room and firing at Mega Man with single powerful projectiles targeting his location. This fight can only be survived if you keep on the move, avoiding the alien’s flight path and leaping its bullets. You also need to experiment with your weapons, because everything you throw at the alien seems to bounce right off. The only power capable of putting a dent in the alien’s life bar is, almost certainly by design, the last one you’d think to use here: The Bubble Lead.
After all, the alien constantly flies above you, and while the Bubble Lead follows a small upward arc its upward movement is extremely small and ends at about arm’s length before plummeting to the ground. So this introduces an element of risk and space management to an already tense fight; not only do you have to dodge the creature and its deadly fire, you have to do so while daredeviling your way up close to it to fire a Bubble Lead as it reaches one of the low points of its figure-8 movement.
Once you shake off the shock of discovering the truth of Wily’s extraterrestrial origins, the battle turns into an exercise in learning the alien’s pattern and sorting out exactly how you can damage it. Thankfully it follows a consistent pattern of movements and attacks — that Wily, always stuck in the same old patterns and habits — so eventually it just comes down to developing a rhythm and sticking to it long enough to whittle down the alien’s health meter. Naturally, its attacks hit you much harder than yours hit it. On the other hand, you’ll always continue at the beginning of the acid run, so you don’t have to weather the Robot Master/Wily Machine gauntlet again.
And, once the alien is defeated, you discover that you’ve actually been in a sort of planetarium with a projector in the ceiling, and that the “alien” was just a holographic device Wily was directing from a control panel in the corner. Evidently he fully expected all his Robot Masters and his war machines to be defeated and created this weird ruse as a last-ditch measure. Evil geniuses, man. Who even knows.
Cornered, he surrenders, and the game ends for reals as the planetarium projector closes up. Love the way it reflects (refracts?) the pattern on the walls.
And Mega Man goes for a walk, cycling through his powers as he marches forward.
I love the fascinating ambiguity of this sequence. It lacks the sort of triumphant fanfare you’d expect in a game ending, a melancholy tune playing as Mega Man cycles through his powers and the seasons change to reflect his current color scheme. Finally, he reverts to his usual form, and the scene returns to fair weather as well.
He warps out, and the scene expands to reveal that he’s left his helmet behind.
At the time, I took this to represent the end of the series — Mega Man realized he didn’t belong in this world or something and vanished forever. Of course, dozens upon dozens of sequels followed, so I suppose the point was that he realized his newly acquired skills made him too powerful, too dangerous, and this sequence is meant to explain why he always abandons the powers he copies before each new adventure.
It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it’s a marvelously unique conclusion to a brilliant game, one that improved on its predecessor in every way imaginable and set a new standard for NES software design.
Next in Anatomy of Games: Super Mario Bros. 2! Ah, but which one…?