Maze of Death
| 9th : Maze of Death|
|My head hurts just looking at this.|
- "Quick warning - the level to the right of me is very, very long."
- ―Flash Man, NPC near Maze of Death
Maze of Death is the 9th place entry in Make a Good Mega Man Level. The player must navigate several branches of a large maze in order to destroy a series of barriers blocking the exit. Despite a screen count that is only slightly above average (34 screens, some of which are skippable), Maze of Death is widely considered to be the longest submission in the contest due to the amount of backtracking required to destroy every barrier. Maze of Death is also noteworthy for its high level of difficulty (hence the three extra lives next to the level's entrance in the Tier 3 hub), puzzle-oriented challenges, use of player-created shortcuts in lieu of checkpoints, and divisiveness among judges and players alike as a "love it or hate it" level.
Inspired by the movie Cube, Maze of Death was originally intended to be a large, square-shaped grid of interconnected single-screen rooms featuring a wide variety of challenges, with two Energy Elements hidden at different points in the maze. However, it became difficult to maintain a sense of fairness and challenge when the player could enter every room from multiple angles. Additionally, the nature of the maze meant that players could stumble on the exit after just a few screens, resulting in a potentially anticlimactic experience. Roughly halfway though development, the barrier gimmick was introduced to add an element of structure to the level design.
The level was restructured to feature a small "cube" (the nine-screen starting area that had already been designed), a connecting hallway, and a large "cube" where players had to destroy a series of barriers from different angles to reach the exit. When it became apparent that the level no longer resembled a maze, additional paths and shortcuts were added. Checkpoints were deliberately omitted, with the rationale that an ever-growing network of shortcuts would be more useful and satisfying to discover than random respawn points that could somehow backfire in such a nonlinear level.
Maze of Death was constructed specifically with experienced Mega Man players in mind, under the false assumption that players would be able to sample the submitted levels without necessarily needing to beat any of them to reach the end of the game. Flashman85 playtested the finished level extensively, but only one external playtester playtested the level (at a much earlier stage of development).
The three keys to surviving Maze of Death are to (1) come prepared with as many extra lives, E-Tanks, W-Tanks, and shop upgrades as possible; (2) approach each challenge like a puzzle to be solved; and (3) use special weapons frequently and creatively. It is not uncommon for a playthrough of this stage to take 15 minutes or more, especially on a first attempt.
Rushing ahead is likely to result in disaster; it is possible and indeed advisable to pause for a moment when entering any new screen, sizing up the situation before proceeding. If the action picks up before you are ready to proceed, it's often possible to retreat to the previous room and then return with a better idea of what to expect. Destroy every barrier you come across (except the ones with spikes directly below them), and try taking different paths around the level to reach barriers you're unable to hit from your current position. Destroying barriers clears a path to the exit, but it also opens shortcuts that will significantly reduce the amount of time and risk required to return to an area you've been before...which is especially important because the only checkpoint in the level is on the other side of the boss door.
Many challenges were designed with a specific special weapon in mind. Metal Blade works well in the underwater corridor with the Sea Mines; Gemini Laser can quickly clear the Big Snakey and Cannon Joe rooms if fired in the right places; Top Spin is ideal for the bouncy room with spawning Dadas; Black Hole Bomb absorbs the randomly scattered bullets in the room with the Quick Man background and is devastating on the screen with the Tellys and Pole Eggs (making that screen an excellent spot to quickly farm for power-ups); and Magic Card is strangely effective against the Power Muscler and Rolling Drills, plus it can be used to collect pre-placed power-ups that are out of reach.
One particular trouble spot is the second half of the underwater corridor, where death spikes are hidden behind Sea Mines. One strategy is to proceed slowly, waiting for the Sea Mines to detonate before pushing forward, and relying on very precise jumping or careful use of Rush Jet to reach the end. Another strategy is to deliberately get hit by the Sea Mines and use the ensuing invincibility frames to race past the spikes. Sliding underneath the last two pairs of spikes is preferable to attempting to jump over them. Be sure to destroy the Magic Card barrier at the end of the corridor, and then slide all the way left to destroy the Magic Card barriers at the start of the corridor, to open a shortcut that will allow you to bypass this challenge if you die and restart at the beginning.
Another trouble spot is the room with the Rolling Drills and the spiked floor. Rush Jet can be used to cross the gap if you're fast and keep moving toward the ceiling. Another option is to use the Rolling Drills as platforms: jump on top of the first three, drop down onto the fourth, and then land on the ground and destroy the next Rolling Drill as it emerges from the wall before sliding to the next screen.
Players have discovered a few ways to "break" the level and bypass major challenges. For example, on the screen with the Guts Man platforms, Rush Coil can be summoned onto the ladder at the bottom of the screen to propel you to the ladder at the top of the screen. Most notably, it is possible to reach the boss door without destroying the Solar Blaze, Metal Blade, or Magic Card barriers that block the tunnel the player is intended to slide through. After destroying the Sheep Man blocks in front of the boss door, the player may climb up to the previous screen, take damage from the Pole or the fire jets, and drop down the ladder and past the spikes while momentarily invincible. Flashman85 swears you weren't able to do that in the devkit.
Flashman85 has a well-documented dislike of Sniper Joes, particularly after playing numerous fangames that reuse the same few types of Joes in the same few ways. To that end, the Sniper Joe on the screen with the laser emitters can be unceremoniously disposed of by using Thunder Wool to destroy the platform underneath it. A similar approach may be used at the end of the level, where Returning Sniper Joes are being mass-produced: using Solar Blaze to destroy the ice blocks will drop the Joes into the junk heap below, where they belong. Flashman85's utter disdain for enemies popping out of pits is also well documented, so it is only fitting that some Up'n'Downs have made a home in the junk pile...just far enough out of range to not be a nuisance.
There is one additional screen to the right of the Energy Element, which players are unlikely to discover due to programming changes between the devkit and the release version of the game. After collecting an Energy Element in the release version, Mega Man stands still for a moment before teleporting away; in the devkit, Mega Man automatically walks right for a few moments before teleporting away, similar to how Mario continues walking after crossing a finish line in Super Mario World. The end of Maze of Death is designed so that Mega Man can collect the Energy Element, proceed to the next screen, and march off the edge of a platform into apparent oblivion. Just as the player starts to panic, Mega Man teleports away, with a celebratory Victory Fish appearing to simultaneously panic the player further and pat the player on the back for a job well done.
|Make a Good Mega Man Level - Tier 3|
|Wily Combo • Napalm Forest and Caves • Hard to See Land • Maze of Death|