VS Ice Man!
Hell... Er, That Cold Place
The first of Rock's brothers we are going after is Ice Man, who is of course hiding out in an arctic area. After choosing a target, we are teleported near their location, but we have to fight through hoards of Wily's less sophisticated robots and myriad traps in order to find the exact location of the missing bot we are searching for.
When we select a stage, the boss we select hops out of their little stage select box to the center of the screen. A cool little fanfare plays and the name of the boss as well as how many "points" they are worth to defeat is displayed on the screen for a bit.
For some reason, the original ROCKMAN has a scoring system. Well, I guess I can't say "for some reason;" it was just the common thing in the early home console days, because games were still transitioning from video arcades to home entertainment systems, and arcade games were all about the scores. The idea of a game without any kind of scoring system seemed almost unthinkable for a while. It wasn't really until more story-driven or exploration-driven games like Metroid, The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest became hits that developers really started to move away from the whole score-based system thing. And even then, Zelda had a scoring system in the form of a retry counter, but it was definitely a background feature more than anything. And even after the release of a lot of these games, a lot of action-focused games (like ROCKMAN) still had score systems because it just "felt right."
The problem with score in this game is that it's completely backward -- a thing I often tell new players to the series is that "there are no experience points in Mega Man." By this, I'm referring to the fact that new players tend to want to try to destroy every enemy they see, even if it is much, much easier to simply dodge the enemy. The goal is to reach the end of the stage, not to defeat enemies. But with a scoring system, you're rewarded not only for defeating enemies, but for random score drops that pop out of them sometimes.
It's not that I don't think you should be rewarded for defeating enemies, of course; the powerups that sometimes drop from enemies are a good reward. It's that this means if you die and return to a checkpoint, you're going to end up defeating more enemies than if you had played through the stage flawlessly. Similarly, if you accidentally fall or scroll backward in stages (like in Elec Man's stage where this is part of the obstacle), you'll end up defeating more enemies. If you take longer to get through areas where enemies continue to respawn until you leave, you'll undoubtedly defeat more enemies...
If you can see where this pattern is going, in the end, you're rewarded with score for your failures, which defeats the entire purpose of having a scoring system.
... Actually, I never really thought of this until just now, but if you treat score as a 'failure counter,' that could be quite interesting. It might be fun to try to go for the absolute lowest score possible. Actually, that sounds very fun. The biggest problem, though, is that getting a Game Over resets your score to 0, I think, so the first six stages would be rendered pointless, even though I feel like that's where most of the fun in trying to avoid score would come from.
Anyway, enough babbling about that. After our nifty little introduction to the boss we're approaching, we enter our first stage!
We are teleported to an icy place near where Ice Man should be hiding. I am not really sure why we don't just teleport straight to Ice Man himself, but I guess there is probably some kind of signal barrier or something around his little fortress, so we have to just teleport nearby and travel the rest of the way on foot.
Only a few steps forward and we encounter our first enemy robot, Crazy Razy.
Crazy Razy is an interesting design. Its body is actually composed of two separate parts: the legs and the head. The legs are larger and stand at a normal firing range, whe the head is higher up and a little more difficult to reach. When the legs are destroyed, the head detaches (along with the arms) and goes into a sort of berserk mode, flying quickly while rapidly dive-bombing at Rock while flailing its arms ti attack him. The wild movement of the head makes it even harder to aim at once this happens.
The weakness of Crazy Razy is that its head is the central processing unit of both machines, so if the head is destroyed first, the legs fall with it.
After the first Crazy Razy, there are two more, each on a platform elevated above the previous. I actually find the second two Razys easier to take out, as their heads align with the peak of Rock's jump if he jumps from the platform below where they stand. The first one is harder to hit because its head is only slightly above Rock's standing firing height. To hit it, you must either shoot immediately after beginning a jump or try to time your shot just before landing. I lost many runs to the first Crazy Razy simply because I shot just a moment too late and the bullet flew right over his head (and I subsequently walked right into the thing, bashing my face into its wacky arms).
After climbing the ledges guarded by Crazy Razy, we run into a large pool of water, and we have no choice but to jump in to proceed. The pool area is infested with two new enemies, which combined make quite an effective defensive force. I hate to admit it, but I lost a lot of runs to this segment of the stage before buckling down and coming up with a surefire strategy to get through.
The first type of enemy we encounter here is Gabyoall, a small ground-roving robot with spikes on it. Gabyoall will patrol the platform it is on slowly from side to side, but when a threat lands on its platform, it increases its speed to attempt to knock the threat down or force it to trip into its spikes. Because they are small and low to the ground, Rock cannot shoot them with his Rock Buster, as the bullets simply fly right over them. Even if he manages to shoot one from a lower platform, his Buster cannot destroy them; it only immobilizes them for a short time.
Gabyoalls can be a huge pain, because they are often positioned in areas that make them quite dangerous, such as small ledges that give Rock little time to get away. or on ledges where you need to stand or walk for a while, giving them plenty of time to rush at Rock even if he is far away from them. In the case of this stage, they are positioned between small platforms on the pool's floor, giving them only a small area to patrol. While it is possible to jump from one platform to the next, it requires pixel-perfect precision, and often Rock will fall into the little pits where the Gabyoall will quickly rush him. And it is not just the length of the jump that makes it hard to avoid the Gabyoall pits here -- we also have to deal with our other enemy robot, Pepe.
Pepe is a penguin-shaped robot that can fly across the entire screen, swooping up and down as it travels. Pepe is also one of a few enemies that spawn based on a "spawn zone" rather than having an exact spawn point. As long as Rock is within the spawn zone, Pepes will continue to spawn at the right edge of the screen and travel to the right at regular intervals.
The Pepe spawn zone here fills the entire pool and a little beyond it, so Rock cannot simply wait them out for a safe moment to jump over the Gabyoall pits, but rather must try to time the jumps to jump over both the pit and Pepe at once (which is not always possible based on Pepe's vertical positioning when it reaches the pit), or shoot one and jump across quickly before another Pepe spawns and reaches the pit.
To make things even worse, the Pepes will drop items when they are defeated. While that sounds like a good thing, it is actually quite the opposite. The more sprites on the screen, the more the game lags, so each trip through the pool has unpredictable game speed, making the timing require attention instead of simple memorization. Furthermore, in this game, whenever Rock grabs an Energy Capsule, the game pauses for a bit to play the restoration sound and fill his Energy back up, stopping everything on the screen and ignoring input from the player. If you happen to land on an Energy Capsule and intend to jump immediately after landing, you have to account for this short freeze, or else you could press the jump button during the freeze, causing you not to jump at all. The freeze effect continues throughout the series, but in future games, it at least only occurs if you actually have Energy to be refilled. In this first game, though, it happens even if your Energy is full.
So this area can be quite difficult to navigate without taking damage. I lost tons of runs to the pool; it may have been the place where I took the most damage throughout the entire game. The end is especially annoying because you must jump up to a higher ledge with a Gabyoall on it, then reach an even higher platform beyond that to exit the pool. All the while, Pepes are entering the area, and their entry height is based on Rock's vertical position at the moment they spawn. Once I got the hang of a safe method of getting out of the pool, it became a lot less frustrating, but it will still common for me to make a lot of little mistakes throughout the pool section. Sometimes I would actually make the jump over one of the Gabyoall pits, throwing off the timing and positioning of the Pepes from what I was used to.
The solution I used for the end of the pool was to hop and shoot the Gabyoall to stop it near the middle of its platform, then hop up to the platform and shoot the next Pepe that appeared when it had swooped to the standing height of Rock. As soon as the Pepe was destroyed, I jumped over the Gabyoall and continued to head right. From there on out, the last two Pepes would swoop under Rock as he jumped to each higher platform at the end of the area.
After reaching the top of the hill past the pool, there is a small alcove with two Suzys protecting a Large Energy Capsule, but since we aren't taking any damage, we don't need to bother with this part. Instead, we pass right over them and jump into a large tube thing at the end of the area.
Down the pipe, we fall into a giant pit with a Gabyoall patrolling the bottom. Unlike the tiny pits we encountered in the pool area, this one is almost as tall as the entire screen, so we can't simply jump out. At first it seems like there is no escape, since we can't reach the other pipe on the left side of this area. But while hopping around to avoid Gabyoall, the solution becomes clear as we are introduced to one of the most infamously frustrating obstacles in the series: Disappearing Blocks.
Throughout the area is a series of small, square platforms (the Blocks) that can allow Rock to hop to the place he needs to be, but the problem is that each platform only exists for a short period of time. They're not simply hidden, either; Rock can only stand on one of the platforms while it is shown on the screen. Fortunately, at least, the Blocks appear rhythmically and always with the same order and timing. There's even a famous "dvwoop!" sound to help you recognize the timing. The goal to overcome this obstacle is to watch the Blocks carefully and memorize their patterns so you can jump from one to the next successfully.
The first area of Blocks is fairly easy to navigate. Mostly, the next Block you need to jump to will appear while the Block you're standing on is still on the screen. There is one point during the pattern where the next Block will appear shortly after the one you are standing on disappears, so you have to know where and when it will appear and jump toward it before your current Block disappears. There is even a "decoy" Block that appears with the normal timing of the other blocks so before you make this mistake, you can safely stand upon that Block while noticing the pattern, instead of having to try to pay attention to the Blocks while simultaneously trying to avoid being struck by the speeding Gabyoall at the bottom of the pit.
After reaching the pipe on the left, we arrive in a second area with a more complex series of Disappearing Blocks. This time we land on a safe platform to the left where we can watch the Blocks' pattern as much as we want without having to worry about the Gabyoall in the nearby pit that we must climb the Blocks to overcome.
Not only is this pattern much longer with many more Blocks and plenty of decoys to throw you off, but this time, near the end of the pattern, the next Block you must jump to appears directly above the current Block. This means you must be quite precise in timing your jump, as jumping a bit too early or too late will cause the Block to appear while Rock is in the space where the Block appears, which will push him out of the way, sending him into the pit below, having to start the entire thing over and being in danger of falling into the Gabyoall below.
Personally, I actually enjoy Disappearing Block segments quite a bit in ROCKMAN games. But I definitely understand why some people would get sick of them quickly. These two segments hardly ever messed up any of my runs; in fact, if I started making mistakes on them, I took that as an indicator of mental fatigue and knew it was time to take a break.
After clearing the Disappearing Blocks, we come to the main reason no-damaging Ice Man's stage took me hundreds of attempts...
The god-damned Foot Holders.
Foot Holder is an enemy robot that functions more like a stage obstacle than a traditional enemy. There is no way to defeat it, and Rock can actually stand on its platform-like head. Foot Holder does have one offensive ability -- at regular but slow intervals, it will shoot one small bullet directly to each its left and right.
There is a huge gap until you can reach safe land again, and to pass this area, Rock must jump from one Foot Holder to the next, dodging their bullets and using them as transportation to clear the whole gap.
From that description, this segment sounds like something I would normally think is a ton of fun, but there are two major problems that make this segment completely broken and painfully frustrating.
The first problem is that the Foot Holders' movement is completely random. They will always move left, right, or at a 45-degree angle (never straight up and down) and will change direction at set intervals. But because the direction is random, you can get "stuck" riding a Foot Holder that decides to keep going left and right far at the bottom of the screen, while the next one you need to jump on seems to enjoy bouncing around the top of the screen, far outside of your jumping range.
You can try to stand on the far left of your current Foot Holder so that the next one goes off the screen and despawns, causing it to respawn when you get back to its horizontal position. The spawning points for every Foot Holder are on the lower half of the screen, so at least you can get it to start around there. But there is still a chance you could be way down low and the new one decides to start going up and left, making it impossible to reach from the start. It is possible to end up taking multiple minutes to clear this section in a worst-case scenario. Theoretically, it would be possible to be here for days or years if you got that terrible of RNG.
But the random movement is only a matter of frustration and testing your patience -- Foot Holder has one more critical flaw that completely ruins the design of this stage.
If Rock jumps into a Foot Holder from below, naturally, he will take damage just like running into any other enemy robot. The only safe way to ride on them, is of course to jump on them from above. But the game doesn't seem to compare Rock and the Foot Holders' vertical position very well, because somewhat frequently, when landing on one from above, Rock takes damage and falls through the Foot Holder and into the pit below. Instant death completely at random with no control.
As far as I know, there is no way to predict, control, or avoid this glitch. You will just have to hope you don't randomly die each time you jump on a Foot Holder. And you must ride on a total of eight Foot Holders to cross the gap. From my experience, you seem to encounter this glitch about one in every ten times you land on a Foot Holder, so dying here is quite likely.
It is also quite likely that you'll have to chance more than eight landings. While waiting for the random paths of the Foot Holders to reach a pattern that actually allows you to jump to the next, one Foot Holder may fire its shots so that you are forced to jump over them to avoid getting hit by them.
To make this problem exponentially worse, the last four Foot Holders also travel through a Pepe spawn zone. This means you are not only dodging bullets, but wildly swooping penguins, too. And Pepe's spawn position is based on Mega Man's position, which is being randomized by Foot Holder, so you will be encountering different patterns every time. You can't just memorize this section.
For a normal playthrough, dying in this segment takes you back to the checkpoint (each stage has two checkpoints -- one about halfway through and one within the boss shutter) which is on the safe platform before the second wave of Disappearing Blocks, so you only have to clear those again to try to get past the Foot Holders again.
But since I decided to do the masochistic thing and try to record no-damage runs of each stage for these diaries, dying here of course means going back to the very beginning of the stage so Crazy Razy can laugh at me. You can imagine how sick I was of Foot Holder after hundreds of failures...
It is possible to clear this segment without having to land on any Foot Holders at all, and we will actually clear another Foot Holder section later in the game that way. But this method requires the use of an item we have yet to obtain. Because of the non-linear stage order, you can easily acquire the item before now, but I wanted to be able to make use of the item we obtain here sooner, so we have to take this terrible route of glitch and RNG hell. Or maybe this was just an extension of aforementioned masochism.
After passing the Foot Holder segment, we are almost caught up to Ice Man. We fall through a couple more of these pipe things, and we are left to a final stretch of icy terrain before the boss shutter with only one more enemy standing in our way.
But this enemy packs quite a wallop.
Meet Big Eye, a terrifyingly large and powerful enemy. Other than the final boss, this is the largest enemy we will encounter throughout the game. It is also the most deadly, taking off ten Pixels of Energy off of Rock's Energy Meter in one bump -- enough to destroy Rock in just three hits starting from maximum Energy!
Big Eye's only offense is to jump toward Rock, with a bit of a pause between each jump. It can jump low or high, with only the high jump being an opportunity for Rock to run under. And offenses are not too helpful, as it is very likely that Big Eye will crash into Rock long before he can destroy it, with its massive twenty Energy.
Most of the "big stomper" enemies in the series can be manipulated somewhat, as they choose their actions based on Rock's position. For example, Sniper Armor from ROCKMAN2 will stand still and fire bullets if Rock's vertical position is the same of its own, or jump if the positions differ. My problem is that I don't actually know how Big Eye works and if there is actually a way to manipulate his jump height at all.
What I do know, at least, is that if I begin the area hugging the left wall when entering from the top and never let go of the right directional button once entering, Big Eye will almost always jump high and Rock will reach Big Eye at the perfect time to run under that high jump. I also like to jump around the time Big Eye hits the ground, thinking it might encourage him to do a high jump next, but I don't know if that actually helps or not.
There were a few times that I didn't follow that exact pattern and ended up getting bumped by Big Eye here. It was especially frustrating since reaching this segment meant that I had finally managed to get past the Foot Holder segment in that run.
At the end of each of the six stages we encounter a shutter. Touching it causes it to rise, and within we find a narrow hallway with a few enemies. In this case, the shutter hall is a spawn zone for Pepe. Because we can just run forward without changing our vertical positioning, it is easy for Rock to just hop over each Pepe as it gets close.
At the end of these small hallways in each stage, we find another shutter. This time, opening the shutter leads to the boss chamber where we will meet one of Rock's brothers that has been reprogrammed by Wily. When you reach a boss room, the boss appears and strikes a pose while the boss music amps up and their Energy Gauge appears on the screen and fills up. It has a pretty epic feel to it, honestly, especially for an early Famicom game, and is another iconic charm point of the series.
Ice Man (DRN-005) was originally created to investigate and explore areas that were normally too dangerous or difficult for humans to travel due to their harsh arctic conditions. When Wily kidnapped and reprogrammed him, however, he gave him the ability to fire pointed shards of ice called Ice Slasher.
I have mixed feelings about Ice Man's design. He is indeed very cute and for the first game, a pretty decent design for an enemy. I like how Right designs his robots to have human-like features and designs, giving Ice Man a lined coat look despite the fact that it is completely unnecessary. It says a bit about how Right feels about his Robots, truly seeing them as "people," and wanting them to be viewed as such (which I'm guessing is also why he didn't mass-produce any of his robots, making each one unique).
But of course, I also am disgusting and stupid and must also judge every robot based on their sex appeal, and Ice Man is too silly-looking to even be taken seriously, much less lusted over. Well, to me, anyway.
Though he really deserves to be taken seriously, because he puts up quite a fight. Ice Man's pattern is easy to recognize, but depite this, his fight requires a lot of precision and a bit of endurance.
Ice Man will jump into the air and fire three Ice Slashers as he falls, so they fly at Rock at three different heights. He will then jump again, this time firing three Ice Slashers on his way up, at the same three heights as the first ones he shot, just now, of course, in reverse order. After doing this, he will run to another point in the room and repeat the process; and he cycles between the same points in the room, so his movements are completely predictable. He also doesn't change patterns or respond to Rock's actions in any way, so you can easily learn the entire pattern of the entire fight pretty quickly.
The difficulty here, however, is in dodging the Ice Slashers. The upper two Slashers will travel safely over Rock's head, but the lowest one requires him to jump over to clear it. This seems simple, but the Ice Slashers move slowly and are fairly close together, so you have a very small timing window to hop over the first low one without bumping your head on the second highest one or waiting too long and getting shot from the front. The second jump is even harder to time, because you must hop over the low Slasher and then fall into the space between it and the second Slasher without getting hit, so you must have a very good feeling for the timing of Rock's jumps.
The difficulty of this is increased greatly because of the Famicom and NES's hardware limitations. The more sprites there are on the screen at once, the more the game will slow down. Some of the Ice Slashers will be disappearing off the edge of the screen while you're still trying to make your second jump. Because Ice Man runs back and forth, changing his horizontal positioning between jumps, the amount of time Rock's bullets are on the screen changes as well, as you have to fire at Ice Man while dodging Ice Slashers. Missed shots will continue past Ice Man and off the edge of the screen, ending up on the screen longer than if they would have hit him.
This means that the number of sprites on the screen is constantly fluctuating, causing the magnitude of game lag to fluctuate as well. This means the speed of the Ice Slahsers flying toward you as well as the speed of Rock's jumps are constantly changing throughout the fight, making the pixel-perfect precision required incredibly difficult to master.
The PlayStation port of the game fixes the lag issue, emulating the game but removing the hardware limitations. The Legacy Collection that I used to record these no-damage runs, however, also emulates the hardware limitations to preserve the original experience of the game, so I was not able to take advantage of modern technological advancements such as allowing more than four things to be on the screen at once without breaking the game. The precision required is actually quite fun to master with the lag removed, though.
Oh, and as an additional minor frustration, when you defeat a boss in this game, your controls may lock up for a bit, but enemy projectiles are still able to damage you. So you can win the fight and then get damaged by a stray Ice Slasher as you watch Ice Man's destruction sequence, without any control over Rock.
Taking damage here was less frustrating but more disheartening than losing a run to Big Eye, probably because I was so excited to be that close to the end. I also failed a lot here because of the aforementioned difficulty combined with the fact that I always get extremely nervous when I am getting close to finishing a perfect run.
Eventually, I got so incredibly sick of having to go through tons of Foot Holder failures (especially since they can take so long and are near the end of the stage) before finally getting to rematch Ice Man again, trying to readjust to the wonky speed all over again. I decided to end up splitting the run into two segments, editing together a decent run of the stage with a separate fight with Ice Man, so I could save just before his shutter. I don't really like having to do two segments for a single stage, as it takes away from the accomplishment of the whole thing, but since I was already buried in hundreds of failures, more than half of which were due to a glitch I have no control over, I decided getting on with the project was worth more than the satisfaction of knowing I did it in one segment.
After defeating Ice Man, we're able to reclaim his Integrated Circuit (IC), which Rock made a point not to damage during the fight. (For some reason it falls from the ceiling even though it should have been inside Ice Man's body...) The IC Right installed into his robots contains their cognitive circuit, which is essentially that robot's personality. It is with the cognitive circuit that Right's robots are able to be human-like, showing emotions and such. As long as the IC is not destroyed, the robot can be fully repaired or rebuilt. With the IC in hand, we have successfully rescued Ice Man.
Collecting Ice Man's circular innards, we are now able return them to Dr Right so that he can rebuild Ice Man and remove Dr Wily's malicious programming from his cognitive circuit. But Rock is also able to use the data stored within to make a new adaptation for himself; we are now able to use the special weapon Ice Slasher!
And now that you have an idea how the stage plays and how I went about it, watch it in action with my no-damage video here:
(There's also an outtakes video if you wanna see the first couple hundred failures...)
And with that, we are returned to the stage selection screen to choose which of Rock's brothers we want to pursue next. We are actually able to return to Ice Man's stage if we want, which will allow us to play the stage again, but upon going through the final shutter, we will just find the boss chamber empty and teleport back to the lab to select another stage. This allows you to try out newly obtained items and weapons in a familiar setting, collect additional 1ups if you want some insurance, or just enjoy stages that you like again.
But for now, we will continuing rescuing our brothers and try to stop Dr Wily's nefarious schemes by choosing another new stage to conquer. And we will get to make use of our new Ice Slasher, too! And from here on out, each stage should only take a handful of attempts, not anything near the mountain of failures that was Ice Man's stage...