VS Fire Man!
Death From Above
There are only two more of Rock's brothers left to rescue, which also means we've built up quite the arsenal of special items and weapons, especially after nabbing the platform-creating Magnet Beam from Elec Man's tower in the previous entry. It's not time to go after Fire Man, where we'll be making use of our other new item, the Thunder Beam, right away.
The Thunder Beam is by far the most powerful weapon we have found so far, and arguably the most powerful in the entire game. Upon firing it, Rock releases three large beams of electricity that fire forward, up, and down from his position. The beams destroy almost every enemy in the game in a single hit, and they even travel through enemies after hitting them instead of dissipating, so they can take out many enemies at once.
As you can imagine, such a weapon would have usefulness pretty much anywhere.
Our first example of this comes right at the beginning of the stage. Fire Man is hiding out in some kind of factory with lots of fire and lava in it, fittingly. When we start, there are many Screw Drivers above us on platforms that we must climb to. Approaching Screw Drivers is usually dangerous, but they only shoot to their sides and away from where they are positioned. Since these ones are only positioned on the ground, they will all shoot upward.
Since the Thunder Beam shoots upward and the beams are quite wide, we're able to easily take out all the Screw Drivers before even beginning to approach them -- even the ones that are nowhere near Rock's normal weapon reach.
When we get to the next section, we have to climb down through more platforms with Screw Drivers. Now that we're above them, we're actually in their firing range, able to get hit by their upward bullets. The Thunder Beam makes this a moot point, however, as we can safely stand in a safe spot and take out Screw Drivers without having to move into danger. We do get to see a tiny flaw in the Thunder Beam here -- because it quickly wiggles as it moves, it's possible that it might happen to curve right over a small enemy on the ground like a Gabyoall or an unextended Screw Driver.
It's not often that this is an issue, but it is something to watch out for.
After climbing up and down the platforms of Screw Drivers, we get past a single Gabyoall to continue to the next section of the stage. This Gabyoall is tricky because the low ceiling makes it impossible to jump over it, and the Thunder Beam can potentially miss it. Timing it so the Thunder Beam hits it just as it appears on the screen guarantees we defeat it, though, and we move on to meet a new enemy.
Changkeys are little fireballs that jump out of pits in threes. They fly out of the pit well before Rock reaches it, though, so it's not their sudden jumping that is dangerous, but rather the way they fall. After leaving the top of the screen, they will slowly trickle down the screen, each of the three going randomly diagonally left or right. The Changkeys are actually spawn-zone-type enemies, and will continue to spawn repeatedly as long as Rock is near enough to their 'hole.' And they'll always start falling from the top of the screen after shooting upward, even if Rock moves away from the hole.
The difficulty comes in their sharp and slow trajectory. Realizing exactly where they will be when they reach Rock's vertical position takes quite a bit of path recognition, and it's possible you may end up standing in what you thought was a safe space, but it's actually right in the line of fire. Pun intended. Changkeys often appear in areas where there are lots of pits and other hazards, so changing your position at the last moment when you realize you're about to get hit can result in disaster.
Also, they remind me of Fry Guy from Super Mario Bros 2.
And speaking of hazards where Changkeys appear, our first encounter with them also introduces a new type of stage hazard, the fire pillar. Basically there are flamethrowers mounted on the floors or walls, and they will extend a stick of fire out for a while and then retract it. What's fun about them is that we can actually freeze the beam with the Ice Slasher, and if done with good timing, we can use the frozen beam as a platform to jump on. If we freeze it too low, we won't be able to reach the ledge we want to jump to, and if we shoot it too late, the frozen pillar will be too tall for Rock to jump upon.
Freezing the pillar here removes an obstacle that can disturb us while we avoid the Changkeys, and jumping quickly to the higher platform instead of taking the ladder allows us to progress through the room faster. As long as we run right and stand at the bottom of the top ladder, it seems we always avoid the falling Changkeys when they appear here.
Above the ladder, we find a room with two fire pillars each guarding a Small Energy Capsule each. We don't need to restore any energy, so risking jumping after these is pointless. If you don't want to collect them, you can just climb the ladders safely away from them to reach the next screen.
The next area is filled with fire pillars and a similar hazard that creates a quick beam of fire across a vertical gap, though the edges of it are always 'lit,' making it a bit more dangerous. But using the Ice Slasher to freeze the first pillar in the area, we can hop up to the top and use the Magnet Beam to safely avoid everything in this area. There are also two Large Weapon Energy Capsules up here if you need to restore your Weapon Energy. We could have fully restored the Thunder Beam and Ice Slasher to full energy both, but it wasn't necessary, so we didn't bother wasting time with switching our weapon out.
After that, we travel through a series of areas that are nothing more than a bunch of uneven platforms with ladders where Changkeys and fire pillars attempt to knock us into the pit of lava below. Avoiding Changkeys is the biggest point here, and there are no ledges we can reach only with the Ice Slasher, so we concentrate on trying to finish the area quickly to minimize the amount of Changkey spawns and the amount of risks we have to take, using the Magnet Beam to get over a few gaps more quickly than following the normal platforming route.
The next room is a unique one. The entire room is dedicated to some kind of weird mechanism that consists of winding tunnels that have regularly pulsing waves of fire shooting through them. There are small areas between the tunnels that Rock can walk through, but the waves of fire will constantly be jumping between them. It is indeed possible to walk through one just between two waves of fire, but for me it feels almost impossible. I think you have to be positioned at the exact closest pixel you can get to the fire without getting damage, then start pressing the directional button on the exact frame your path is clear, and then you will just make it through without getting hit. Anything else and you will take damage.
So instead, I climb the first ladder, make a little platform in the corner with the Magnet Beam, and use it to hop to the top of the machine, bypassing the fire ways all together.
The next section has a similar shape to the opening of the stage, but now we dodge incoming Killer Bombs and avoid Gabyoalls patrolling the ground. It's actually possible to manipulate the Gabyoalls here so that they despawn off the edges of the screen at points where they won't respawn again so we can walk safely past them, but it takes a bit of waiting for the right moment, and we still have to deal with the onslaught of Killer Bombs. So we just take everything out with the Thunder Beam and walk through.
The last area is just a few small pits that shoot Changkeys, and then the shutter leading to the boss corridor. There are two fire pillars blocking the shutter, but if we take the first opportunity we have to walk past them, the Changkeys won't even have time to fall down toward us, making this section very easy. There is a Large Energy Capsule atop a high ladder at the beginning of this segment, which makes you risk oncoming Changkeys to grab it, but we don't need it, so we get to move on without trouble. The inside of the shutter corridor just houses a few Screw Drivers attached to the ceiling, which are easily dispatched with the Thunder Beam.
Fire Man (DRN-007) was originally created, as you could have guessed, as an incinerator robot. He is equipped with fire cannons capable of shooting fires that can reach ridiculous temperature heights. Another easy-to-weaponize robot, when reprogrammed by Wily, Fire Man's fire cannons didn't even need to be changed.
Fire Man can be difficult at first. He responds to Rock's movements, but it's difficult to realize he is doing so. His only offense is to shoot waves of fire at Rock, which leave behind little residual flames on the ground that can also damage Rock if he bumps into them. As long as Rock isn't doing anything, Fire Man will approach him until he's at his preferred distance and then begin shooting fire waves at regular intervals. During the moment when he is firing, he won't respond to the player's button input, so it's safe to fire and jump during this time without having him react to Rock's movements.
If you do try to act by moving toward him or shooting when he's not in the middle of shooting, he'll shoot extra fire waves at Rock, leaving more residual fires, making them nearly impossible to avoid. But as long as you shoot once and jump shortly after each time he shoots a fire wave from his starting shot position, you can safely hop over each wave, landing back on the ground after the residual fire has petered out. This makes the battle very easy, as you don't have to do anything but stand in one place and rhythmically shoot and jump until you've won.
After defeating Fire Man, we grab his IC and take it back to Right, gaining a new weapon, and leaving only one of Rock's brothers left to rescue...