And so we enter the standard sky level.
Or so you think. Alongside the unintentional religious imagery, Round 5 seems to take place... Well, considering all those clouds, I want to say it's in the sky, but there's loads of bubbles, too, and the enemies seem to be those you'd find under the sea. I consider this very confusing. What's as plain as day is the fact that this is a pretty brutal area. The awkward layout of the platforms notwithstanding, we have the second most irritating enemy in the game; the Flat Fish. It doesn't believe in these 'platforms' it's heard so much about, and so floats across the screen in an erratic manner. When it touches you (and it will) then it'll drag you off the platform to your death. You can shoot it to shake it off if it grabs you, but in all likeliness, you'll be near a platform edge anyway, so kiss your life goodbye. The fact that this early section comprises almost entirely of small moving crosses doesn't help.
In addition to the horrible Flat Fish, there's also the seemingly harmless Dragonflies. You're pretty lucky to even get a screenshot of these guys, because they move in massive circles blazingly fast, and if they catch you, they'll drag you off the stage. Because of the isometric perspective, it's really hard to tell when they're going to hit you. You rarely see it coming, you'll be totally blindsided, and you'll fall to your death. Again.
However, the Dragonflies aren't as cheap as you might think, they just require a different approach- they're really easy to take out if you stay back a bit when you see them, and pick them off when they're in your sights. If I were really tearing this game a new one, I'd bitch and moan about the 'cheapness' of it all, but the truth is that this is one of the 'take it slow' levels. This is one of the interesting things about Märchen Maze- it demands that you change your strategy every now and then, and moving as fast as possible will get you killed here. Fortunately, the opening segment with these enemies is relatively short, leading the way for less enemy-based nonsense, more platform-based nonsense.
I'd point out that none of these enemies were in the books, but it's far too late for that.
Survivng this section grants you with the pleasure of facing the gauntlet of orange walls that show their pretty faces once again, just to mock you. It's a lucky thing that, by this point, the Flat Fish have stopped appearing as frequently, so you're given plenty of time to get the jumps right. The collision detection is still dodgy on these bloomin' things, so you can expect one or two cheap deaths. Fortunately, the orange menace doesn't last too long, and you're soon back to negotiating bullet chains, like the good ol' days.
Ah, finally, the chequered platform. Just gotta hop on here, and we're done.
I'm gonna make it, you guys! I'm gonna make it! I'm gonna...
... Fall short of the mark and drop several thousand feet to my death.
I got there eventually. For some reason, this jump is really difficult to make. Let's fight the boss already.
Whoops, whoa, hold up a second. That's clearly a reject from Taito's Darius series, and he should be introduced as such.
Pinecone Rumbler is one of those bosses that decides to mix things up. Naturally, he continues to deliver the tried-and-true Bullet Hell we're accustomed to by this point, but instead of moving around the platform erratically, Pinecone Rumbler takes a more direct approach- he slides across the top of the platform, moving from left to right swiftly. The very second that you get into his sights, Pinecone Rumbler will ram into you, then slowly get back into position and repeat. If he slams into you, it's very unlikely you'll recover in time, so make sure that doesn't happen, and stay out of his way, taking pot-shots with charged shots when you can.
Eventually, Pinecone Rumbler will give up, and so this zone is over. Alice is now rushing into the next level. Be on your guard!
Alright, this must be a bonus level filled with ? block goodies!
Well now, this round seems rather gentle compared to the last one. Why, there's even lots of ? blocks like I thought, an-
Despite impressions to the contrary, within five seconds the round kicks it up a notch, and decides to show you who's the boss. Tweedledum and Tweedledee clones march from the top of the screen in relentless droves, firing bullets with wanton abandon, but worse than this is the most annoying enemy in the game... An enemy I can only refer to as The Shades Snake. It's that little blue snake-like thing with the huge head, and you will learn to despise this enemy before this level is over. The majority of the ? blocks in this round are filled not with goodies, but with these guys, and their sole attack is to home in on Alice and push her off the platform. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't do so with such blazing efficiency, and if your shots did more damage to them. As it stands, they're tough cookies, and the only way you even stand a chance is to keep as far back as possible, destroy the ? blocks so they're released, and pick them off with charged shots from afar.
You'd think I'd whine about it being cheap like the Flat Fish. Strangely enough, the Shades Snake is annoying, but only if you try to treat it like the enemies you've fought before. You need to take these guys out, and they must be your top priority at all times on this level. Stay vigilant!
Fortunately, in the next section, you're given a little respite, with a bit of easy-going jumping, and a much-needed White Rabbit item. Sadly, it really isn't that useful useful, because this section's pretty bereft of enemies. Sod's law, I guess.
Now, though, Alice must make a decision. To the left, or to the right? This almost reminds me of the bit in Alice in Wonderland where Alice takes a bit of mushroom from the left side, and then the right, and can't remember which makes her grow, and which makes her shrink, but my inner Literature Student is currently hitting me on the head with a stick- even he knows that's a desperate stretch, and the chance of anything more from the books appearing is close to zero, so in a desperate bid to make it so, the remaining part of this section shall be written in poetry form.
So little Alice found herself in a pickle
The path was now becoming rather fickle
Should she go left, or should she go right?
She considered her options, then shouted in fright:
"My goodness, my gracious! It's very clear to see
(though I'm only seven and a half, and not as smart as thee)
That it makes no difference, which path I should take
They're the same, and mincemeat of me both shall make!"
What Alice tried to say (as it's not terribly clear)
Is that on both sides, there was danger to fear!
On the left were the Shades Snakes, and Red Orbs too,
But on the right also, the same, boo hoo!
Sorry about that, but we had to get something like the books in here.
After taking whichever path you desire (Alice is right, they're pretty much the same) there is still more to this horrifying ordeal. First, you must brave the Tweedledum and Tweedledee army across a big platform with many holes! The next threat is the return of the roller launchers from Round 1, with yet more Shades Snakes to vanquish! Finally, a narrow catwalk populated by bullet chains, ready to cast you aside, to tumble into the unending, unforgiving void!... Well, I've got to make this exciting somehow. Don't blame me if I resort to B-movie-trailer-esque dramatics.
Aha, the end is near! But this final box... What's in there?
Gasp! A final Shades Snake, ready to pounce!
BACK TO HELL FROM WHENCE YOU CAME, FOUL DEMON!
So, after taking out the last of those little annoyances (well, for this round, anyway...) we get to tussle with the boss. While not quite as amazing as Pinecone Rumbler (but then again, what is?) the boss of Round 6 is not, as you'd expect, a gigantic Shades Snake. No, it's a giant turtle with a moustache and what appears to be a straw hat, while wearing sunglasses and sticking its tongue out.
Just to make sure we're on the same page, I'm pretty sure this one wasn't in the books.
Anyway, Mr. Straw Hat Turtle is just as unimaginative as the Witch and the Giant Chicken Thing, I'm afraid. Nothing terribly clever about this fight at all, it'll jump around a bit so you can't fire at it, throw lots of bullets around, and move about here and there. So there's very little for me to comment on. Just keep shooting it until it dies. Sigh.
There's three more rounds of this. Just so you know.
At this rate, the only stuff from the books will be the quotes used for the page titles...