The Palace of Nightmares is aptly named as it is filled with all sorts of challenges designed to seriously put your skills to the test. This is the most difficult Mega Man Maker level that I’ve completed, or at least the hardest one that remains (mostly) fair throughout, and some people may very well find it to be less fun and more frustrating. It begins with a makeshift elevator descending through groups of spikes while Killer Bullets (those Bullet Bill ripoffs from the original Mega Man) fly in from the sides and it only gets crazier from there. What separates this level from so many which feel too unreasonable is the fact that its creator has bothered to supply players with the tools they need for overcoming its challenges.
In addition to the default Mega Buster, you have the Skull Barrier, Magnet Missile, and Rolling Cutter at your disposal. I didn’t find much use for the Rolling Cutter outside of the boss fight, but many of the challenges here are crafted with the Magnet Missile and Skull Barrier in mind. For example, that initially elevator segment is much easier when you can just walk on the spikes with Skull Barrier, though getting hit by a Killer Bullet while on a spike would still be deadly. As for Magnet Missile, it’s invaluable against the many enemies placed on platforms above or below you which relentless lob projectiles. Of the two, Skull Barrier is slightly more useful. In addition to a mandatory spike-walking section, Skull Barrier can be used as a safety net in a room with disappearing blocks and its low energy cost means it can be employed to block projectiles if you want to save Magnet Missile energy.
The variety on display here is impressive and much of it shows a thorough understanding of Mega Man Maker’s mechanics. Pixel-perfect jumps between ladders, three rooms with disappearing blocks, and some Skull Barrier spike walking while dealing with projectiles and flying enemies are just some of the challenges that await. Perhaps the most mechanically interesting one of all is an enemy gauntlet near the end where you face off against some of the more defensive enemies. What’s special about this gauntlet is just how carefully all of the enemies seem to be chosen and placed; you need to constantly be careful about how you dodge around because walking backwards even slightly is often enough to result in a previously defeated foe respawning.
Checkpoints and, to a slightly lesser degree, weapon energy refills are spread about liberally so you’re never losing much progress if you die, which goes a long way towards cutting down any sense of frustration. This level’s appearance is also as varied as its challenges with the main ‘palace’ mainly being a combination of Pharaoh Man’s and Snake Man’s tiles while warps take you to places with distinctly different tilesets.
As for negatives, there are two places where the level design could be brushed up. The biggest issue is this level’s tendency to place Big Eyes right before checkpoints. These stomping behemoths are always a nightmare, but they are especially difficult to dodge around or defeat here because you are rarely given much room to fight them in. Getting hit even once is enough to take off at least half of Mega Man’s health and there’s little enjoyment to be had in getting crushed to death by a Big Eye after completing a difficult challenge.
The other issue involves the boss fight against Pharaoh Man and it’s far less concerning, though it is an issue all the same. Pharaoh Man’s arena is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t really work out in execution. To begin with, you’re given plenty of weapon energy before the fight because Pharaoh Man is immune to the Mega Buster; this is the one point in the level where Rolling Cutter can be rather useful. The arena in question is three screens wide and Pharaoh Man starts on a platform above Mega Man’s head. Other than the center of the arena, there are springs everywhere, spikes on the ceiling, Skeleton Joe’s ready to toss bones down at you, and some weapon energy refills on the far sides (right next to some Big Eyes, of course).
The enemies feel like overkill in what would already, presumably, be a tough arena for fighting Pharaoh Man, but that’s a potential issue which is negated by the more pressing issue. Basically, there is no real reason to use most of this elaborate arena unless you are in desperate need of weapon energy. You can just stay on the nice, flat floor near the start without worrying about enemies, spikes, and springs and still kill Pharaoh Man without much trouble. Custom boss arenas that go the extra mile are usually nice, but in this case a more standard single-screen arena would have worked better.
Aside from the slightly excessive number of Big Eyes, Palace of Nightmares is a great level which provides some very tough challenges while remaining entertaining.