If GIGADEEP serves as the perfect example of what can be done with the Mega Man formula when balanced design is thrown out the window in favor of fast, chaotic gameplay, then Mahou Warrior serves as an example of what happens when you focus on specific parts of that formula and push them to their limits. Though the gameplay and many of the mechanics may be familiar, the ways in which the obstacles you encounter are used and combined are frequently innovative and surprising.
Mahou Warrior has a habit of putting slight twists on familiar elements and, for the most part, these work out well. Your basic attack is, unsurprisingly, the ability to shoot up to three bullets at a time across the screen and you don’t have a charged shot, but you do possess the ability to slide and to attack while doing so. Sliding in games is rarely used for more than for dodging a handful of attacks and for entering a few narrow corridors, yet here you are constantly required to utilize this ability to avoid various traps and hazards and even to defeat several small enemies, which are short enough that they can only be hit if you shoot at them while sliding. You have some control over the order in which you complete stages, but these stages come in sets of two or three at a time, with significant boosts in difficulty between sets. Lives and continues are also not present here as the increasingly-lengthy stages are designed to focus on short, tricky segments divided up by a healthy number of checkpoints.
Not all of the changes to the generic Mega Man formula are good, however. Of particular note is the complete lack of any sort of weapon variety; you’re stuck with your basic attack from start to finish. On the one hand the lack of alternate weapons, or even much in the way of upgrades to your current weapon, means every challenge the game throws at you is hand-crafted with your exact abilities and limitations in mind. However, the combat ultimately does start getting stale near the end and finding new ways to break or bypass challenges with an array of abilities is an aspect of this formula which Mahou Warrior should not have done without. It does not at all help that most bosses only have two or three attacks which they use in predictable patterns while taking nearly thirty hits to defeat.
The shop system is the other area where things don’t quite work out for this game. Throughout stages you can collect gems as a form of currency and, though you have infinite lives, you will lose half of your current gems upon death. Gems are recovered when you reach a new checkpoint, but only the ones from your most recent death, so dying twice in a single section will still only leave you with half the gems you started with once you reach a checkpoint. As gems are also not banked between stages, there is a good sense of risk versus reward when it comes to saving up gems. Unfortunately, this whole system falls apart once you realize that there are only four items available in the shop and only one of them, a permanent passive ability which trivializes many of the more challenging sections of the game by granting knockback immunity, even comes close to requiring you to save up. You only have two inventory slots in which to carry any of the other three items, but these aren’t particularly exciting choices; there’s a health refill item, a shield which prevents all non-lethal damage for twenty seconds, and a damage boost which doubles your attack power until you either die or clear a stage and that’s it. The gem system itself is interesting enough, but it’s simply wasted with how affordable and bland the actual items available for purchase are.
So boss fights are tedious, combat gets dull, and the shop system is painfully underutilized. Why am I recommending this game? That would be because the stage design goes a long way towards making up for everything else. Every single stage introduces several new mechanics and constantly changes up how those mechanics are used. In the power plant stage alone you have enemies you need to shoot to keep rooms lit, red and blue blocks which can be toggled with a switch, and dangerous laser cannons to avoid. Even the sewer stage is entertaining and filled to the brim with sewer-based gimmicks while the ‘Gravity Ship’ stage has some of the most creative uses of flip-flopping gravity that I’ve ever seen in a platformer. As each stage is divided into many parts by the checkpoints, these segments usually each focus on using a mechanic or a combination of mechanics in a specific way, leading each stage to feel like it is made up of multiple distinctive sets of challenges. Gimmicks are rarely used in the same way twice between segments and often are used both to help and hinder you; reflective barriers might be used one minute to help you set off a chain reaction of bombs and then used the next minute to shield an enemy from your attacks and warp portals can serve to either lead you to an exit or to drop you directly onto spikes (with clear warning, of course).
The final set of stages are the most impressive of all as they take nearly all of the gimmicks from previous stages and mash them together to create some ridiculous challenges, such as navigating a warp maze in a gradually-darkening room while underwater with reversed gravity or rushing across fragile, bouncy clouds with changing wind conditions. Taking old mechanics and using them in significantly more challenging ways for the grand finale is certainly a common practice amongst platformers, and even amongst video games in general, but I don’t think I have ever seen such a diverse set of mechanics smashed together in so many strange ways as they are here, let alone in ways which actually work to create compelling challenges.
Even with its faults and shortcomings, Mahou Warrior is a worthwhile game and one which teaches a simple, compelling lesson. The lesson is this: though video games have come a long way over last few decades, we have still only just begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with the concepts and mechanics we have created.