VS Yellow Devil!
Tracking Down Dr Wily
Now that we've rescued all six of Rock and Roll's brothers, it's time to track down the nefarious villain behind this whole mess! I'm not really sure how we found out the location of Wily's Pacific laboratory, since it was supposed to be a secret. Maybe there was also some data storage device inside the Integrated Circuits along with the cognitive circuits that contained information on the whereabouts, and after some data mining and decryption, Right was able to figure out a general enough location of the laboratory to teleport Rock there.
Sounds good enough to me!
Once the first six stages are cleared, a new Dr Wily square appears in the middle of the stage selection screen.
Just like the robot bosses of the other six stages, upon selecting the Dr Wily stage, Wily himself hops out of the square and we get a little preview of how many points he is worth or whatever. But this time, afterward, instead of being directly taken to the stage, we get a little animation of Dr Wily doing a fist pump, then this like... weird floating disc thing comes over and picks him up (I guess this is the first incarnation of what will eventually be known as Wily Capsule). After climbing in, before the hatch closes back up on him and whisks him away somewhere (oh, wait, maybe we just followed the capsule thing after Wily appeared to taunt us and found the lab that way??), we get to see Wily do his signature Sexy Waggling Eyebrow Animation Thingy (SWEAT). It's not particularly sexy with the goofy little NES sprite, but just imagine a real life dude who looks like Wily raising and lowering his eyebrows at you with a devilish grin. Hot, right?
C'mon now. You just have bad taste. (Unless, of course, you actually agreed. ONE OF US, ONE OF US~)
After our cute little animation, we're taken outside of the laboratory. Since this lab was built "in the Pacific Ocean," I just assume it wasn't on any existing land and it was just like a big floating building thing. So it's nice that Wily took the time to put some grass or shrubbery or whatever outside so his destruction robots could look at it while they stood guard.
The front of the laboratory is indeed heavily guarded, at least in the sense that the guards are very heavy. There's a whole slew of Big Eyes here. Of course, at this point, we have collected all of the items in the game, so no matter what, we will have Ice Slasher available for these big guys. After the first couple appear on flat ground, there's a more hilly area where they're a bit more difficult to avoid. In fact, I make a very narrow clear behind the back of one of them in the video!
After getting past the Big Eyes, we get to enter the lab. Yeah, it wasn't a very far walk. The entrance is actually a wall of those destructible blocks that we can pick up with the Super Arm or zap with the Thunder Beam. I'm guessing they were placed here specifically to show that we're breaking into the wall of the laboratory instead of walking through the front door or something, which is kind of cool. I'm surprised how clever NES stage design can be with all of its limitations sometimes.
And Wily was insightful enough to install traps right in front of this random portion of wall that we decided to wreck. Well, I guess it probably wasn't planned for us to wreck here, because he seems to just have his entire lab filled with traps. I know it's a tired "joke" or whatever to wonder why settings in games are built the way they are when it's obviously for gameplay purposes, but like, I legit like to wonder about the thought process the characters would have had.
Like, did Wily realize Rock was coming soon and suddenly through up a bunch of traps? Considering that Wily didn't kidnap Rock, he probably didn't assume that Rock was going to come after him, but I guess he could have figured that there'd be at least someone after him, and probably some robots built by Right or whatever. Well, actually, thinking about it now, with the kinds of traps in store here, I would assume that Wily did expect to have to defend his fortress at some point. Though thinking a bit more, I guess it's possible that since he's using this place as a weapons production facility, it wouldn't be that hard to just throw a bunch of it everywhere as soon as he learned of oncoming danger.
Anyway, once we break in, there's some fire pillars, and we can freeze them with the Ice Slasher, as well. Because of the shape of the corridor, it's actually quite difficult to jump from one ledge up to the next, and it's very likely you'll fall in the little slots where the fire comes out, so having the pillars frozen is very helpful. But there's also the problem that if the fire pillars are at any of their movement points other than the exact one you see in the screenshot, they'll either be too low to jump to the next platform from, or they'll be too high so they block the way forward and you have to wait for them to thaw.
I just kind of memorized a time to shoot an Ice Slasher while walking forward that would always freeze them in this pattern as soon as they spawned. Otherwise, this area is a huge pain for me. Trying to do it without the Ice Slasher, I can even die here. That's how obnoxious those jumps are. You pretty much have to jump at the furthest to the right Rock can walk on the ledge or else you'll bump your head on the ceiling above and end your jump prematurely.
The same jump-inhibiting-ceiling problem is present in the next room, but hopefully by now you've learned your lesson. The easier thing to do here is to climb all the way up the ladder and then walk off the left side of the platform to progress, rather than trying to jump from the lower platform at the bottom of the ladder. There's a Large Energy Capsule in a little alcove at the top of the screen, but it's got that same jump precision required that getting over the fire pillars in the previous room did, so it's kind of hard to get. Fortunately, we're not taking any damage, so we can just ignore it and continue safely through the room.
The next room is a bit obnoxious. We climb up the ladder into a room with three Kamadomas, who all jump as soon as they spawn from the screen transition. The problem with this is that their jump type is still randomized, and there's a chance that one can do the long jump and land on top of Rock's head before he's able to climb up the ladder, knocking you into the screen below again. The safest thing to do is just to stop pressing the up button while the screen is transitioning and then watch for the Kamadomas' jump trajectory. If one is jumping toward the ladder, immediately press the down button to descend into the previous room and re-enter to re-spawn the Kamadomas and try again.
It's possible to fire off the Fire Storm and allow its shield feature to protect Rock's head, but the Fire Storm actually damaging enemies coming from straight above is very unreliable, and you're actually more likely to just get hit even with the shield activated. You can also shoot a Thunder Beam to the right so that the upward part of the shot will hit a Kamadoma that is jumping toward the ladder, but you'd have to memorize the exact timing to fire. I've never actually tried to bother with that, so it may actually be really easy. And you actually do need to switch over to either the Thunder Beam or Super Arm next anyway, so that may be a pretty good idea. I'll have to play with it a bit next time I play this game.
After passing the Kamadomas, there's a split path and a bunch of breakable blocks. Taking the upward path will take you to a dead end that rewards you with a Large Energy Capsule, but there are a bunch of Kamadomas wedged between the breakable blocks that will start jumping at you once you zap the blocks or pick them up, and it's not really worth the effort to get up there. Not to mention you also have to spend all of the weapon energy of either the Thunder Beam or Super Arm to get rid of all the blocks in the way.
And since we're not taking damage, this is even more pointless for us, so we just take the lower path, which is just a few blocks in the way, and continue down a ladder at the end of the hallway.
After climbing down the ladder, there's a small room where Killer Bombs fly from one side to the other and you have to go down a couple corridors and hop over some spike pits. I forgot to get a screencap of it, but it's pretty uneventful so I wouldn't be able to say much about it anyway. This takes us to another ladder which takes us into a scary spike pit of doom. And the only way to get across is with... Foot Holders. Yeah, those Foot Holders from Ice Man's stage.
Or, well, of course, we could just use the Magnet Beam. But even then, it's tricky, because the Foot Holders are roaming all over the place and firing bullets, and the sprite flickering makes the platforms you're creating with the Magnet Beam pretty much invisible. If you want to know how bad the sprite flickering is, in the screenshot above, the two platforms should extend off each edge of the screen, not just be two little blue sticks.
Because you're required to have the Magnet Beam at this point (well, kinda -- you'll see what I mean in the next room) you at least aren't forced to try to take the Foot Holder route like you have to in Ice Man's stage if you don't have the Magnet Beam before entering. Nonetheless, this is one of the most obnoxious segments in the game, even if it's significantly shorter than the Ice Man Foot Holder segment (which was like, a third of the entire stage).
After clearing the big pit, we get to yet another ladder (seriously, though, I can kinda get the traps everywhere, but the actual structure of this building is bizarre!) that takes us into a well-known room of doom. The room isn't particularly difficult to get through. It's just a high ledge and a high ladder that require the Magnet Beam to scale. And if you run out of weapon energy, the previous room has some small Weapon Energy Capsules at the base of the ladder that you can easily respawn infinitely by climbing the ladder and falling back down, so you're not able to be stuck here without access to the energy you need.
The problem is that it's possible to reach this room without ever having picked up the Magnet Beam in the first place. The item itself is a completely optional part of Elec Man's stage, so if you bypassed it because you got there before getting the Super Arm or you just didn't realize it was something you were supposed to pick up or you just forgot to go back and get it if you passed it the first time or whatever... you now have to completely reset the game and play again from the very beginning, losing all of your progress thus far. Yup! Have fun with them Foot Holders again, sucker! And this game had no password feature or battery backup memory or anything, so you had no other choice but the reset button. Or the power button, ejecting your game cartridge, and snapping it in half.
I don't know if this was one of those "Nintendo Hard" design choices that was intended to elongate the life of the game, or if this was some kind of design oversight, since the developers themselves knew about the Magnet Beam and wouldn't think to avoid it. Either way, this was a big shock to a lot of players back in the 1980's, if people were even able to make it that far in the game. This wasn't something that ever happened to me, so I can only imagine the frustration you'd have to feel in that situation.
After the Magnet Beam Room of Potential Sadness, we climb another ladder which just takes us to a short corridor leading to the boss shutter. Although the stage was labeled as "Dr Wily" on the stage select screen, when we arrive behind the larger-than-normal shutter, we find nothing but a large, dark, empty room. And then the enemy life meter starts filling up, even though there's still no enemy in sight!
And just after passing one, we run into another cruel developer surprise. After a short moment of nothing at all happening, suddenly these big yellow spherical things start shooting out of the left side of the screen! If you didn't know these were going to appear, you'd just start getting pummeled with them -- there's no time to react to them at that point. If you've seen this before, though, you'll know to start running to the right side of the area immediately during that little pause at the beginning of the boss battle.
After the yellow balls fly across the screen, they start to amass into a big blobby creature. Let me introduce to you one of the most infamous bosses in the series, the Yellow Devil!
Yellow Devil is indeed a devil. His gelatinous body has no definite shape, and he's even able to separate himself into segments which seem to be able to move on their own. His only weakness is his one eye, which most of the time is lost somewhere in the blob. Of course, I'm familiar with it because I play these games heavily, but I feel like this is one of the more recognizable video game bosses from the NES era. Or maybe it's just because of how involved I am with Mega Man that I feel this way...
After all of the blobs have congregated and Yellow Devil's "body" has fully formed, his eye will appear for just a brief moment and shoot a single bullet directly at Rock's position. This is the only opportunity to damage him at all, so you must anticipate the eye appearing and jump at a time so that the shot will go under Rock and you are still able to fire in time for your shot to hit the eye before it disappears. This is complicated even further by the fact that the eye will appear in different places on the body (though always in the large yellow... torso? and never on the limbs) so the height at which you actually need to fire will be different and unpredictable with each attack cycle, making you have to react mid-jump while you're also making sure to position yourself on the opposite side of the chamber far enough away to dodge the blobs when they break apart again and timing your positioning to avoid the shot that is being fired at you.
While it sounds terribly difficult, it's pretty easy to get the hang of the timing, so you basically just run the opposite direction and jump at the same interval every time. The only thing you really have to pay attention to is the height at which you shoot, and this is made less of an issue if you use the wide-reaching Thunder Beam, which also happens to deal extra damage to Yellow Devil. Convenient!
The real difficulty in this battle comes not from trying to damage the eye, but from avoiding damage from the blobs as they fly across the screen. After the brief moment the eye appears, fires, and disappears, the body starts breaking down into blob pieces again, which fly to the opposite side of the corridor. They move very fast, and all of the bottom two "rows" of blobs must be jumped over to avoid damage, while the upper rows will hit Rock if he's not safely planted on the ground. Basically this amounts to only jumping when you need to clear one of the lower blobs.
The "front" blobs shoot first and form the "back" of the new body, so as you're hopping over these things, it's better to start toward the back-center of the room and inch toward the center of the room as more of the body forms, too.
Fortunately, the blobs always appear and slide across the screen in the same pattern, just mirrored when going the opposite direction. So you can memorize when and where the blobs will appear, and when you need to jump. The hardest part of the pattern comes when two low blobs shoot in a row, causing you to either do a very short hop between the two and then perform a higher jump, trying to wind your way around the second, higher blob; or you have to make one long jump, anticipating both of them coming, jump as high as you can while jumping toward the oncoming blobs so that you're able to clear both of them and land back on the ground, making sure to quickly move back a bit to position yourself to clear later blobs.
And after the first wave, the body will never leave the screen, so you can easily tell which blob is the last in the pattern, and use the timing of its movement to judge when you need to jump to hit the eye. If you're fighting Yellow Devil with only the Rock Buster, you can afford to get hit once per wave as long as you hit the eye at the end. But if you miss the eye, you must also perform a round of perfect blob-dodging to survive. With the Thunder Beam, you're allowed plenty more room for error.
I've done this enough that even after coming back to this game after having not played for a long time, I can clear this with minimal trouble.
After enough damage to the eye, the big guy explodes, leaving behind this weird outline of his form. I don't think this is actually supposed to happen, because another boss does this later and it doesn't really make sense. I think it's just the 'shading' sprite that was overlayed onto the main body from before that didn't get destroyed when the main sprite did, a bit of a programming oversight.
And with that, we've defeated one of the toughest bosses in the game. The stage itself really isn't that bad, especially if you know what's coming. We still have a bit of danger ahead of us yet, and it seems we still haven't found Dr Wily...
EDIT: Oops, I forgot to actually put the video. There ya go! Watch the whole thing in action, including the Yellow Devil fight and my narrow squeeze behind one of those Big Eyes. For your viewing pleasure, I did the "double hop" version of that one blob dodge, too, at one point. I actually used to always do it that way because I didn't realize you could clear it in one jump. But I also took a lot of damage back then, hahaha.