- August 22nd, 18:03
I recently did a cram session on the six classic Mega Man games for the NES (school is starting soon, yo). My prior knowledge of the classic series consisted mainly of brief stints with 1, 2, and 6 so I thought fleshing out that experience would be rewarding. I'm not sure plowing through is the best way to learn what each game has to offer, but the process did clarify some things for me and help me to decide which to keep and which to sell.
Mega Man 2 is indeed great, but Mega Man 3 (to me) is actually under-rated given all of the polish and character it brought to the table. There are some things that MM2 does weakly that MM3 does better, and vice versa. Both have some great stage designs mixed with iffy ones. The insta-kill lasers in Quick Man's stage in MM2 are bullshit requiring complete foreknowledge to beat, and don't get me started on that damn trap room that requires full Crash Bomb energy to beat. If your Crash Bomb meter isn't full, you're simply done. MM3 is more fair with regards to the tools you need, but its stages can be absolutely murderous if you don't tackle them in one or two specific sequences. By contrast, MM2 is rather easygoing apart from some "holy crap, I hate you for designing this Akira Kitamura" moments. MM2 wins on music and gets a pass on visuals, while MM3 wins on visual detail and gets a pass on music.
Where MM3 truly shines is in its character. The no-name tools from MM2 became Rush, Mega Man's friendly robot dog. Mega Man's "older brother," Protoman is introduced and turns up as a mid-boss at times. After you complete the eight main stages, instead of trudging through two fortresses (a series staple) your first trial consists of four revised Doc Robot stages that incorporate the bosses from MM2. What could have been a throw-in rehash somehow feels new again thanks to the change in scenery and different weapon load-out. And, let's not forget that MM3 introduced the slide maneuver, which finally made it possible to squeak underneath bullets and low-flying enemies.
I honestly can't pick a favorite between MM2 and MM3. I know that both exemplify the best the classic series has to offer, but I can think of an equal number of reasons why one should be held above the other.
Hot on the heels of the second and third entries, I consider MM5 and MM6 to be very-very-good entries (whereas MM2 and MM3 are legitimately great). The stage designs are more intricate, there are visual upgrades galore, and each has its own claim to fame. MM5 is a much longer game than its later cousin and has the coolest stage of any I've played: Gravity Man's level often has you walking on the ceiling. However, there isn't exactly much freedom to explore, so that fatigue feeling sets in by the time you reach the first fortress. MM6 gives you a reason to re-visit completed levels in search of alternate boss forms that reward you with Rush Suit tools. I liked the artistic style of MM5's levels a little more than MM6's, but that's mostly because MM6 often hides the best looking spots deep within a stage.
MM5 goes overboard with dropping extra lives and energy items, which you'd think would make the game easier, and yet my experience was that was true up until the fortresses after which good drops became infrequent. However, for as difficult as MM6 felt, I actually completed the game fairly quick. If put to the question, I would say I like MM5 slightly more than MM6. I really, really loved the alternate boss paths in MM6, but MM5 just felt a little more polished, if that makes sense.
A sad thought occurred to me while pondering MM5 and MM6. If the best bits of the two games could somehow be mashed up, you'd have a game that would rival the second and third installments.
Most people seem to loathe Mega Man 4. For some time, I did too. However, I've softened lately. There are some great level designs all throughout and I actually rather enjoyed the Cossack and Wily fortress battles. As I think back, I liked a fair number of the bosses too, both in terms of visual theme and fight strategy.
The biggest problem with Mega Man 4 is the designers nerfed the acquired boss weapons, meaning any so-called "weakness" is hardly useful, while at the same time they added a charge capability to Mega Man's buster cannon. Without a doubt, it's the most powerful weapon in the game and it sucks out the majority of strategy that should've been present during boss fights. Thanks to those two unfortunate design decisions, Mega Man 4 went from being perhaps the third-best NES installment to being just above the baseline. Oh, I guess I should mention the music is annoying too.
At the "bottom" of my list, I have to reserve a spot for the very first game.
There's nothing terrible about it; it's OK on its own, especially compared to other action games that were out at the time; but it loses big time in the comparison to all of its progeny. Stages are short, there's nothing in the way of exploration, and the six robot bosses are, eh, with the exception of Guts Man. The game is also overly difficult, not because of the sheer swarms you face at every turn, but because Mega Man slides all over the place like his feet are coated in oil. And despite all that, I still somewhat enjoyed playing it thanks to what I'd consider some genius platforming sections.
For the classic NES series of Mega Man games, this is how my personal ranking breaks down:
Mega Man 2 - A
Mega Man 3 - A
Mega Man 5 - B+
Mega Man 6 - B
Mega Man 4 - B-
Mega Man 1 - C
I may revisit this topic when I get time to truly savor MM2 and MM3. I am not an expert at them by any stretch and I'm curious as to whether one will move ahead of the other once I've developed some mastery.
Interesting postscript: the two best games in the series are the most affordable to acquire. Used copies go on eBay all day long for between $15 and $20. MM4 and MM6 go for about $30-$35, while MM1 and MM5 change hands for $50 a pop. These prices are clearly based on perceived rarity, a facet that I am dubious over. I know the fourth and fifth games both shipped in 1992 when the SNES was out, but Mega Man was still bankable then, and MM5 shipped for Christmas. Rare my foot. MM6 shipped in 1994, so you have to assume the print run was lower since the NES was nearly defunct by then, but it was also published by Nintendo and promoted with the new top-load NES model, so maybe that tempers the issue. On the whole, I can generally stomach the elevated values knowing the demand that exists, with the exception of MM5. If you pay $50 for that game, you're ridiculous.