Welcome back to my retrospective look at the MegaMan franchise, particularly at the “Classic” branch of the series that started it all. My previous articles looking back at long-running franchises ran a little too long for their own good, so I decided to break this one up into multiple parts. Last time, I looked at the first 3 MegaMan games, as well as their remake, The Wily Wars. I also discussed the first two MegaMan games Capcom licensed out to another company, the infamous Mega Man and Mega Man 3, released on IBM-compatible PCs by Hi Tech Expressions, Inc. and developed by Rozner Labs. This time around, I’ll be finishing up MegaMan’s stint on the Nintendo Entertainment System, looking at MegaMan 4, 5 and 6. After a few quick words on the Japanese-exclusive Rockman Complete Works, I’ll also be looking at what are perhaps the most recognizable spinoffs in the entire series: the five games that were released on the Game Boy.
While the first three MegaMan games are generally pretty well-regarded as being among the best games that the NES had to offer, the exact opposite can be said for the other games that appeared on the 8-bit institution. Having said that, MegaMan 4 definitely gets the most love of the remaining titles on the NES. Personally, I think it’s unwarranted. MM4’s flaws are significantly more minor when compared to other lesser games in the series, but they were pretty fundamental to the game’s design in a way that they’re difficult to isolate without completely reinventing the game from scratch. Likewise, 4 managed to introduce a gameplay mechanic that would both become synonymous with later games in the series and even future iterations in the franchise, but brought it about in such a haphazard way that it ultimately gutted one of the franchise’s trademark mechanics for years to come. MegaMan 4 is certainly not one of the worst games in the entire series, but it would definitely cripple its future – something I’d argue is far more damaging to this beloved franchise’s legacy than lame robot masters or mediocre one-offs ever could be.
Considering the previous game’s developmental woes, it’s almost reassuring to hear Keiji Inafune recount that there were relatively few problems during MegaMan 4’s development. In fact, one of the major issues the game had was trying to sift through the sheer amount of fan submissions this game had for boss designs – with over 70,000 submissions in total! In fact, during development, designer Hayato Kaji – the man who would go on to design the characters for MegaMan X – stated that they were so impressed with Skullman’s design that they ended up scrapping a completed stage so they could create an entirely new one, based on his gimmick. MegaMan 4 also introduced a brand-new villain character: Russian roboticist Dr. Mikhail Cossack, but originally the character concept was significantly different. Originally named “Dr. Vice”, he was originally intended to be much younger than Dr. Light and Dr. Wily and they even toyed with the idea of making the character American instead. The Cold War’s approaching conclusion likely led to Capcom favoring Russian influences, something that would also likely affect the design of similarly Russian Street Fighter character Zangief. Likewise, the new support character Eddie was designed with the concept of a lottery in mind, rewarding the player with an item that would either be a pleasant surprise or disappointing.
In Japan, MegaMan 4 had the subtitle, “A New Evil Ambition!” and given the game’s storyline, it’s a fitting name. One year has passed since Dr. Wily’s latest scheme. After stealing the giant peace-keeping robot Gamma and using it to exact his revenge upon MegaMan, Wily was thought to have perished in the ensuing collapse of his base after Gamma was defeated by MegaMan. Since then, the world has been at peace. This fragile peace is short-lived, however – a Russian scientist by the name of Dr. Cossack issues a message to Dr. Light. Claiming that Light has overshadowed his own scientific genius, he has sent eight of his most powerful robots to challenge and destroy MegaMan in order to prove that he is the superior roboticist. Cossack’s army of robots begin to make their move, seizing control of eight cities in the process. Armed with his new and improved Mega Buster – developed by Dr. Light in secret – MegaMan sets off to stop this new threat.
Don’t know why, but this always looked so cool to me.
While the first three games in the series attempted to experiment with their mechanics to at least some degree, MegaMan 4 was clearly the point where the franchise’s game design began to solidify, while at the same time providing swansongs to various gameplay mechanics. I think it’s easiest to summarize MegaMan 4 like so: it was clearly built as a reaction to MegaMan 3, possibly in an effort to recreate the magic of the second game – which is still the most successful game in the franchise to this day. Having said that, this game borrows elements from all three of the previous games: while the various Rush-based support items return and are still acquired by defeating specific bosses, there are also a couple of other support items that are completely optional, hidden in various robot master stages, much like the Magnet Beam was in the first game. That’s not to say that there aren’t any new elements added to the game. For starters, bosses now have hit-invincibility after taking damage, which definitely adds to the game’s challenge and would become the standard for future titles. As I mentioned earlier, Eddie is a brand-new support robot, built to assist MegaMan on his mission, doling out a random power-up at a specific point in a stage – similar in function to the “? Cans” from the previous game, but much less common, only appearing on select stages. Eddie often gives out a large weapon energy power-up, but occasionally he’ll give out a large health, an extra life or even an E-Tank.
Of course, all those changes are minor compared to the biggest change that MegaMan 4 had to offer: the “New Mega Buster”. MegaMan’s standard arm cannon can still fire its usual three shots at a time, but if the button is held down, it can be charged for a short amount of time and unleashed as a large, powerful shot. The charge has two separate levels: while the first only produces a larger shot that deals the same amount of damage as a standard one, a fully-charged shot is larger still and deals three times the damage of a standard shot. While this sounds like a great improvement, it had an unfortunate side effect: the charge shot absolutely destroys the efficiency of the various boss weaknesses. For most bosses in MM4, their weaknesses do roughly 4 points of damage per hit. Therefore, the charged Mega Buster shot is generally considered to be a secondary weakness for just about everything in the game. Balance that with the fact that the Mega Buster has infinite ammo and it becomes a much more attractive option compared to any of the boss weapons. I remember seeing that Super Castlevania IV episode of Sequelitis from Egoraptor a long time ago – the one where he opined that because the whip could be aimed, it effectively made the traditional sub-weapons useless and therefore, the game was technically a bad sequel to the previous Castlevanias – and I think MM4 should’ve been that video’s subject. The worst part about all of this is that while Capcom would eventually find inventive solutions to this problem, it still took time to do so, and other games suffered as a result.
In retrospect, the water stage was the worst choice to showcase a charge shot.
Then there’s MegaMan 4’s other major flaw: its level design. That’s not to say that the stage layouts in MM4 are bad, more that they’re boring – which I would argue is much worse. Personally, I could barely remember many of the levels from the game, to the extent where I actually decided to watch a quick playthrough on YouTube just to refresh my memory on them. I followed that up with the boneheaded mistake of doing the same for another game in the series – its direct sequel, MegaMan 5 – for comparison’s sake right after, which certainly dulled my memory. While previous (and future) MegaMan games would often employ gimmicks to reflect either the abilities of the boss for each stage or the setting itself, MM4 takes this to a whole new level …and then proceeds to do nothing meaningful with their gimmicks. Most stages employ two gimmicks, but that generally seems to be it: the gimmicks are the level design. In most games in the series, gimmicks would be introduced, in situations that teach the player about how to overcome them. Then they would later be expanded upon with new, more difficult variations – bringing out their inherent potential, and by extension, leading to a fun game design. Most of the stages in MegaMan 4 don’t appear to leave that first phase, at least not in my experience. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the gimmicks are generally utilized separately from one another: a big mistake, given the fact that cross-pollinating them would often lead to more difficult and varied stage designs. It’s a shame, there are actually some interesting concepts present in a few of the stages: it would’ve been fun to see a more complex use of Ringman’s disappearing platforms or the rising and falling water levels in Diveman’s stage.
MegaMan 4 also relies upon one new gimmick in a number of stages: mini-bosses that block Rock’s progress. While Protoman was arguably the first mini-boss in MegaMan history, and previous games had large enemies that took several hits to defeat, the mini-bosses in MM4 combine both aspects to create something that would become a recurring element in future titles. The problem is that, while the Protoman fights were short and the large enemies could be bypassed simply by taking a hit and using the post-damage invincibility frames to walk past them, neither is the case with MM4’s mini-bosses. They aren’t particularly engaging to fight – they’re usually either bullet-sponges or just remain invincible most of the time with brief windows of vulnerability – and they slow the game’s pace to a crawl. They’re more annoying than difficult, essentially just feeling like a waste of time.
I love how this boss fight is literally just a claw machine.
Apparently, the developers on MegaMan 4 were at least somewhat inspired by its direct predecessor: the game has two entire boss fortresses, bringing the grand total of stages to a lofty 16. After fighting through Dr. Cossack’s armored Citadel, MegaMan ends up in a climactic clash with his new opponent. Just as he’s about to deal the final blow on Cossack’s weaponized claw machine, Protoman comes in – with a young girl, donning an ushanka and a heavy red jacket. She’s Kalinka, Cossack’s daughter. As it would turn out, Dr. Wily is alive and well and kidnapped her to blackmail Cossack into working for him, but now that the jig is up, Wily reveals his own fortress. All things considered, it was a nice twist – even inventive for the time – and there’s just something quaint about the game pretending like Wily isn’t the final boss after all. MM4 also introduces the Wily Capsule, a boss fight format that would inspire the final bosses of several future games in the Classic series. Passwords return, but they no longer save the number of Energy Tanks MegaMan has collected. Fortunately, players can revisit cleared stages – likely due in part to the return of collectable items – and as such, it’s easy to grind for E-Tanks prior to tackling the game’s fortresses.
Let’s move onto the items. I’ve already described the Mega Buster in detail, so we’ll just skip that for now. MegaMan 4 may very well have the most support items of any game in the entire series, I certainly can’t think of one that exceeds or even matches it off the top of my head. Rush Coil and Rush Marine return from MegaMan 3, exactly as they were in the previous game. Rush Jet also returns, but I’m afraid it’s been – excuse the pun – neutered. While the previous game gave players a full range of motion, the Rush Jet now better resembles a slower moving Item-2, only affording user input on the rocket sled’s height. This was probably what was originally intended for the Rush Jet all along, but it still hurts to see it lose its original overpowered nature. Rush Coil is, once again, available from the start. Rush Marine is obtained from beating Toadman, while defeating Drillman nets players the Rush Jet. As I said earlier, there were two other support items completely unrelated to Rush. They’re optional and don’t really afford MegaMan with any truly significant abilities, but there are fun little things to hunt for. The Balloon Adapter, found in Pharoahman’s stage, is essentially the Item-1 from MM2, only redrawn to better resemble a hot air balloon. The Wire Adapter is a grappling hook which can only fire upward, found in Diveman’s stage. Both of the Adapter support items are significantly harder to find than the Magnet Beam from the first game – completely out of view, unless you know exactly where to get them – but still, just neat little challenges that spice up the level design a little bit.
My favorite part of the Wire Adapter is the “looking up” sprite they made for MegaMan.
With those out of the way, let’s get onto the weapons. Five of the eight weapons from MM4 are essentially inspired by weapons from MegaMan 2, while one is similar to a weapon from the third game. As with the previous list, I’ll be ranking these in my own personal order of preference, from best to worst. My top choice in this game is easily the Pharaoh Shot. Another chargeable weapon like the Mega Buster, I consider it an improvement on MM2’s Atomic Fire: it has better ammo consumption, the ability to aim it in six directions – forward, back and all diagonals, but not straight up or down – and better still, a second charged shot appears above MegaMan’s head while charging, not only signifying the weapon’s charge level, but also entirely capable of damaging any enemy unlucky enough to collide with it. That’s right, you get two charge shots for the price of one! Next up would have to be the Dive Missile, one of MegaMan 4’s two completely original weapons. It’s essentially a homing missile that seeks out the nearest enemy and rams right into it. I suppose one could make a comparison to MM3’s Magnet Missile, but the tracking abilities on this weapon are much more robust, to the extent where it feels entirely new. Third on my list would have to be the Drill Bomb, which is essentially a vastly improved Crash Bomb. It deals the same payload, but not only does it detonate immediately on impact, the explosion can also be triggered at will by hitting the fire button a second time. After that, the other completely original weapon, Toadman’s Rain Flush. MegaMan fires off a pod that flies into the sky, generating a short but heavy torrent of acid rain, dealing damage over time. I’d rank Brightman’s Flash Stopper at a solid #5. Remember how the MM2’s Time Stopper rendered you completely defenseless while time was frozen until the weapon’s energy ran out? Well, Flash Stopper works in shorter bursts, but offers MegaMan a standard arm cannon – perhaps the most improved of the returning weapons. The sixth best weapon would probably have to be Dust Crusher, a shot comprised of scrap metal that explodes on impact into four pieces of shrapnel that fire off diagonally. Then there’s the Ring Boomerang, which is essentially like MegaMan 3’s Shadow Blade, only without the ability to aim. It does make up for this by gaining some slight range and the ability to do multiple hits if aimed properly, but honestly, I preferred its direct ancestors. Finally, the worst weapon in the game would have to be the Skull Barrier by far. Imagine Woodman’s Leaf Shield with the added benefit of being allowed to move without losing it, coming at the cost of its durability and ability to be thrown at enemies. The Skull Barrier also has the dubious honor of being the first shield knockoff in a long line that would last beyond even the NES games. And yet, none of its imitators could come even close to matching its sheer impotence.
The evolution of the graphics in the MegaMan games that began in MM2 and continued in 3 essentially reaches its apex in the fourth game. While the character sprites are still pretty much on par with the first game’s, the backgrounds and the large bosses in the fortress levels have reached the highest levels the MegaMan series would achieve during the NES’s lifespan. Much like the gameplay, MegaMan 4 would also cement the series’ presentation for the rest of the franchise’s third-generation tenure in a multitude of ways. For starters, the game starts with a relatively ornate introduction sequence, utilizing full-sized still graphics with (albeit limited) animation. Likewise, compared to the earlier games, there are more in-game cutscenes compared to previous games. This allowed for a much more complex storyline: indeed, it would’ve been difficult to reveal the twist that Dr. Cossack had been blackmailed into working for Wily without them. It’s nothing compared to the complex methods used to build narratives in modern games, but it was a definitive step in the evolution of the MegaMan series’ ability to tell stories and led to further involvement of story in-game in later releases. One seemingly insignificant change would be the pause menu, which goes full-screen this time around: a trend that future MegaMan games would also follow, though each game would have their own take on the design and layout. On the plus side, this does give the user interface more room to breathe, especially given the multitude of weapons and support items MegaMan has access to in this game. Still, it just doesn’t match the coolness factor of MegaMan 3’s pop-up menu in my opinion, regardless of how impractical it was.
It’s also cool that the Ring Boomerang can go through the Skull Barrier.
The game’s soundtrack was composed by Minae “Ojalin” Saito (née Fujii) and the sound programming was handled by Yasuaki “Bun Bun” Fujita, the main composer for MegaMan 3. The soundtrack definitely lives up to its predecessors, with many memorable themes and effectively continues the evolution that began with MegaMan 3’s soundtrack, utilizing the full potential of the NES’s built-in sound chip. I wouldn’t place it among my favorite soundtracks in the entire series, but it’s still definitely lives up to the “Rockman” name. The composition played on the Password screen is an interesting change of pace: while the songs played in the previous two games were relaxed and playful, MM4’s take has a clear urgency behind it. My personal favorite robot master themes from this game would have to be Brightman, Diveman, Ringman and Pharoahman’s. Most people seem to like Skullman’s, but I never really got the appeal. The best music in the whole game would definitely have to be the Fortress themes, particularly the songs that play during the second batch of Dr. Cossack stages and Dr. Wily stages respectively. While MM4 uses a single boss theme for most of the game, it also set a precedent by including a unique song for the game’s final boss fight with the Wily Capsule. This would become a series staple, with final bosses in most future titles – including all future mainline games – getting the same treatment.
As much as I’ve torn into it, I wouldn’t say that MegaMan 4 is a bad game. I’d probably say it’s more of a disappointment after the previous two games. MM4 plays it too safe with many aspects: it tries to ape MegaMan 2 to a degree often reserved for remakes, the Mega Buster essentially deconstructs the entire concept of boss weapons and the stage design stays far too paint-by-numbers for its own good. These problems would certainly be easy enough to swallow on their own, but given the game’s widespread reputation of being the best game of the second trilogy, I suppose my expectations were too high for their own good. In the previous article, I discussed how a remake could have potentially fixed MegaMan 3 – I didn’t bother with MM2, simply because it’s good enough as-is and MM1 already has a fantastic, if not obscure reimagining (more on that later). I wouldn’t recommend remaking MegaMan 4 simply because as its flaws are minute but many, it would take some seriously retooling to fix the game. Indeed, the game is a perfect example of the death by many cuts and in order to improve upon the existing package, it would take far more extensive retooling than any other game I can think of in the series, which generally suffer from surface level flaws. The base gameplay’s too solid to allow for a total overhaul, so in the end, the best way I could think of fixing MM4 would be changes on par with a ROM hack – and that’s just not a viable course of action.
MegaMan 5 has led a pretty strange life, at least as far as its criticism with regards to the rest of the series goes. I’ve seen it go from the most maligned of the second NES trilogy to the most beloved, yet there’s always that qualifier: “of the second MegaMan trilogy”. All the same, seeing the fifth entry in the series get the love it so rightly deserves warms the very cockles of my admittedly bleak heart. The odd part about the whole reversal is that I completely understand the arguments for considering the game the best and worst of its “trilogy”. While I obviously subscribe to the former, it took me quite some time to fully grasp at the reason why so many hated this game only a scant few years ago. Granted, the answer I found was actually really obvious when I think back to all of the complaints people made about the game in the first place – though, honestly, I still think what I’ve seen is still fairly shallow, all things considered.
By the time MegaMan 5 entered development, Keiji Inafune was generally considered a senior staff member with regards to the franchise. He used his experience to guide the product leader, who was new to MegaMan. As such, looking back, Inafune felt that MM5 was too easy, which was the logical conclusion of his attempts at avoiding making what could be considered “an unreasonable game”. Inafune also felt that the gameplay had reached its logical conclusion in the previous game and decided to instead “introduce powered up versions of everything”. Capcom received over 130,000 fan submissions for MegaMan 5, as the contests continued to grow in popularity among Japanese children and other fans of the series. Compared to previous games, Inafune had difficulty getting approval on the redesigns he made on the chosen bosses, forcing him to re-illustrate them multiple times. Conversely, Beat – MegaMan’s new partner – was apparently easy to design, as Inafune’s superiors accepted his first draft. As it turns out, Inafune had been planning to use the concept of a robotic bird as MegaMan’s partner since MegaMan 3. In the end, development was troubled – though not to the same extent as MegaMan 3. The aforementioned Hayato Kaji was even pulled off another project to assist with the game’s development.
MM5 has some of my favorite level designs in the series, both mechanically and aesthetically.
MegaMan 5 takes place two months after the events of the previous game and was the first game in the franchise to officially take place in the franchise’s signature “year” 20XX – previous games seemed to take place in “200X”. After his daughter Kalinka was rescued from the clutches of the evil Dr. Wily, Dr. Cossack has begun to collaborate with Dr. Light in the creation of a new support robot “Beat”. MegaMan, on the other hand, tries to remain vigilant for any other attempts at world domination at the hands of Wily, but ends up beginning to enjoy a vacation as life returned to normal. There was still one question that bothered him: who was the mysterious Protoman, the robot who had assisted him in his previous two adventures? As he’s about to ask Dr. Light about it, Dr. Cossack sends word that the new robot is completed. The Blue Bomber sets off to Cossack’s laboratory to meet his new feathery friend. While MegaMan is away, a new army of robots go on a rampage, attacking MegaMan’s hometown. MegaMan leaps into action, returning home only to discover that Dr. Light has been kidnapped by the robots’ leader – Protoman? To make up for his previous actions, Dr. Cossack offers his support to MegaMan, upgrading his buster in the process. With only Protoman’s signature yellow scarf left behind as evidence of his wrongdoing, MegaMan wonders just why the mysterious red robot has turned evil. But is everything as it appears? The Japanese subtitle “Blues’ Trap” – Blues being Protoman’s Japanese name – seems to imply that there’s more to this whole situation than meets the eye.
Compared to the other games in the MegaMan franchise, relatively little is known about MegaMan 5’s development. Most of what we know comes directly from Keiji Inafune’s reflections on the project. He wasn’t exaggerating when he claimed that the main changes made to MegaMan 5’s base engine compared to its predecessor were simple balance issues. The thing is, they were changes that were all too necessary. The most major change would have to be the Mega Buster – dubbed the “Neo Rock Buster” in Japan – which would finally be modified into its most recognizable form. The charge shot still has two levels and its first form is pretty much identical to the one from MM4. The fully charged shot, on the other hand, works completely differently. Taking on an appearance not unlike a bright yellow Hadouken from Capcom’s more popular Street Fighter II, the newly adjusted charge shot is more likely to blast through multiple enemies at a time. This is balanced by the fact that taking damage negates a charge, forcing players to start charging again from scratch. The game would also introduce a new variant of the E-Tank: the Mystery Tank (sometimes called the “Mega Tank”) restores not only MegaMan’s health, but also the weapon energy for every weapon. They’re fairly rare and only one can be held at a time, but they’re definitely worth finding.
Of course, where the game truly shines is in its level design – a fact that was often forgotten in early reactions to the game itself. Admittedly, this brings us to Capcom’s first attempt at fixing the weapons problem that came about in the fourth game: outright ignoring it. In that sense, MegaMan 5 feels a bit less like a MegaMan game compared to the previous entries in the series, simply due to the fact that it puts much less of an emphasis on the weapons the Blue Bomber takes from his downed opponents. Instead, development seemed to focus on creating a good run-and-gun game in general, as opposed to making “the best MegaMan game possible”. The level design in MM5 is top-notch, with many of the stages incorporating several gimmicks. In fact, a few of the gimmicks from the previous game – such as Toadman’s cascading water and Dustman’s trash compactors – reappear in the fifth game and are used to a much greater effect, essentially bringing out each concept’s full potential. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what MM5 brings to the table: there are hidden collectables in each of the eight initial stages that unlock a new power-up; WaveMan’s stage transitions from a precision platforming across delicate bubbles to an auto-scrolling segment on a jet ski; and don’t even get me started on Gravityman’s stage gimmick, constantly flipping MegaMan upside-down and right-side up. The game provides a great amount of challenge, particularly in the fortress stages, but the sheer prevalence of 1-Ups in the game does make things feel a little easy at times.
This jet ski segment was so good, the X games stole its gimmick 3 times.
The game does manage to experiment a little bit with its various support items. Of course, the Rush Jet, obtained after defeating Gyroman, is essentially unchanged from the previous game. However, the Neo Rush Coil works very differently compared to its previous incarnations: instead of simply sending MegaMan upward, Rush bounces into the air, acting as a platform, allowing MegaMan to get just a little more height. Personally, I preferred this iteration of the Coil, but considering that it was exclusive to MegaMan 5, I’m sure I was in the minority. The Rush Marine was unceremoniously retired after the fourth game – not too many water stages that relied upon it, I’m afraid – but it was replaced by a different item. Defeating Starman grants players the use of the Super Arrow, which is generally considered one of the most useful items in the entire game. MegaMan shoots off an arrow, which he can jump on top of and ride, almost like the Item-2 from MM2. Upon coming in contact with a wall, the Arrow sticks to the wall, providing the Blue Bomber with a foothold. It can also be used as an attack on enemies, but clearly the mobility functions are the real appeal. Then, there’s Beat, MegaMan’s new robotic avian partner. Beat can only be obtained if players collect items that are hidden in the 8 robot master stages: letters that spell out “MEGAMAN V” (or “ROCKMAN 5” in the original Japanese version). Beat is an interesting partner: he locks onto nearby enemies and swoops into them, causing massive damage. Quite frankly, he makes beating the final boss a snap. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Like I said earlier, Capcom didn’t seem to care too much about the utility of most of the weapons in MegaMan 5, which one of the game’s most criticized shortcomings. Quite frankly, it’s probably most efficient to stick to the Mega Buster for the majority of the game, occasionally switching to the Super Arrow, Rush Jet or Beat when necessary. However, I personally feel like this freed up the development team to go more inventive with the weapons, effectively going with concepts that would be considered too unorthodox for standard MegaMan games, bringing about some really unique concepts that may not have otherwise seen the light of day. As such, I’m going to be ranking the weapons again, but this time, I’ll be focusing more on fun factor over utility: after all, if I was going for the latter, I’d stick with the Mega Buster. First off, we’ve got Gravityman’s Gravity Hold, a unique little power that fills the entire screen with a flash. Weaker enemies turn upside down and fly into the sky. It’s generally only useful in specific situations, but I love watching those little robots shoot into the sky. Next comes the Charge Kick, courtesy of Chargeman. It’s a simple move that effectively weaponized MegaMan’s slide. It doesn’t exactly work out that well in practice, but I wish more games had played with this concept – weaponizing MegaMan’s mobility options. Third is Waveman’s Water Wave, which sends a surging torrent of water across the floor, almost like MM2’s Bubble Lead on steroids. After that, there’s the unoriginally named Gyro Attack, obtained after defeating (who else?) Gyroman. It’s a propeller blade that can be fired off horizontally, but if players hit up or down on the D-Pad any time it’s onscreen, it shoots up in a straight line in that direction. Number five is the Crystal Eye. Crystalman’s weapon fires off a large crystal orb, which upon collision with a wall, splits off into three smaller crystals that bounce around at random trajectories. I’m going to be honest: from here on out, the weapons become pretty useless. Napalmman’s Napalm Bomb manages to reach the number six spot, by default. It fires off a large egg-shaped explosive which rolls around on the floor for a short period, before exploding into a huge, highly damaging explosion. Essentially, it’s almost like a slightly improved Hyper Bomb. The seventh best weapon is the Star Crash, obtained by the Blue Bomber after defeating Starman. In any other game, it would be the worst weapon by far – it’s essentially the same as the Skull Barrier, except MegaMan gains the ability to fire it off at enemies by pressing the button a second time. Finally, we come to the weapon that isn’t just the worst in the game, but the worst in the entire franchise: Stoneman’s Power Stone. It’s hard to even describe it. Essentially, by activating this weapon, two moderately-sized stones begin spinning around MegaMan temporarily in random (and, quite frankly, awkward) arcs for a few seconds. It’s difficult to even think of a way that the attack could be adjusted into something more useful without just outright turning it into a shield.
This was the letter I always had trouble finding. Don’t ask me why.
As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 4 pretty much set the graphical standard for the remainder of the NES era. The fifth game’s art style matches its predecessor pretty well, to the extent where it can be difficult to differentiate graphics between the two games. MM5 uses all of the graphical tricks found in the previous game, including various cutscenes. One unique difference is that instead of using a large static image to represent MegaMan after defeating one of the robot masters to showcase his new ability, the game elected to use a new animation of the standard in-game MegaMan sprite rotating in a full 360° motion while standing perfectly still, before shifting his color palette to represent his new weapon. Oddly, the pause menu did receive a significant graphical overhaul, though aside from adding an area to keep track of which “MEGAMAN V” letters have been collected, the layout pretty much remains the same. All the same, the graphics are still fairly impressive for an NES game, showcasing the console’s full capabilities near the end of its lifespan.
I’d have to say that of all the soundtracks in the series, MegaMan 5’s ranks among my favorites. Composed by Mari Yamaguchi – who was only credited with her first name – MM5 manages to incorporate multiple styles, while pushing the NES’s sound chip to its limits. Most of the stage themes manage to match both their settings, as well as the stage designs themselves. For example, Crystalman’s stage theme has both a cavernous sound and takes a slow pace, representing the deliberate and methodical pace of the stage itself. Likewise, songs like those from Gyroman’s and Chargeman’s levels are relatively fast-paced, but vary significantly in terms of their tone: Gyroman’s is more light-hearted, signifying the relative calm of the stage’s clear skies, while the music from Chargeman’s level is more energetic, providing a perfect depiction of the numerous speeding trains MegaMan runs through. Best of all, the theme that plays during the Protoman Fortress stages have gained something of a cult following, managing to become popular enough to rival the first Wily Castle theme from MM2 – and I definitely can’t fault a game for forcing more musical diversity in MegaMan-themed remix albums. The fifth game’s soundtrack does try to distance itself from some of the recurring themes found in previous games in the series, though unlike MM3, it does manage to keep the traditional stage clear jingle. It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite tracks from MM5’s soundtrack, so I’ll just name a few: the themes from Gravityman, Napalmman and Stoneman’s stages are all great, as well as the songs from both fortresses – of course Dr. Wily was behind everything, as usual. I also can’t help but love the standard boss theme from MegaMan 5. It manages to maintain the standard frantic pace and tone commonly associated with boss themes in the series, while still managing to sound completely unlike any of its predecessors.
One of my favorite boss fights in the entire series, with or without his weakness.
It’s encouraging to see MegaMan 5 finally begin to get its due. These days, it’s essentially considered the crown jewel of the Classic MegaMan series’ “second trilogy”, a solid step forward over the game’s reception upon its initial release: as nothing more than a lazy, outdated rehash. In terms of being a pure MegaMan game, it’s hard to compete with the second or third games in the series, but aside from falling down on some of the signature gimmicks associated with the franchise, MM5 offers a solid action-platformer. In fact, in a lot of ways, the sheer regularity of extra lives in the game almost makes it feel like a modern game in a sense, focusing more on providing a challenge based strictly on level design, as opposed to resource scarcity. Still, the game’s bad rap with regards to weapon design is well deserved. I’ve seen quite a few ROM hacks based around the fifth game, and none of them has really been able to rebalance the weapons in a way that feels both useful and fun. All the same, I am glad that that MM5 took a far more experimental approach to weapon designs: compared to MegaMan 4’s retreads of older weapons, it was definitely a breath of fresh air, with some of MM5’s unique weapon concepts managing to be refined much later down the line. That’s probably the best summary of MegaMan 5 – it’s a game that failed to live up to specific series conventions, but delivered an excellent game nonetheless.
I’ll be honest, I never really liked MegaMan 6. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the game always seemed to bother me, which has always made it among my least favorites in the entire series. As the final MegaMan game to be released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was truly the end of an era: the final truly 8-bit MegaMan platformer out of the mainline series. Compared to later iterations of the MegaMan franchise, the original “Classic” franchise was perhaps the most difficult to separate from the stylistics choices made in this era. Future titles would initially try to distance themselves from it, but the last two games in the series (as of right now) dove headlong into retro-themed nostalgia. While many spinoff sub-series did maintain a single artistic style for their entire run, it was due to remaining on a single platform for their entire runs, as opposed to any thematic choices. …See? That’s how little I care for MM6: I ended up spending a significant part of the introductory paragraph talking about other games in the series! In the end, I can’t really call MegaMan 6 a bad game, but it’s definitely my least favorite in the entire franchise. It’s a mechanically sound game, it plays well and it’s certainly a proper example of a MegaMan game, but there just seems to be something I can’t quite articulate that underwhelms me about it, as unfair as that sounds.
MegaMan 6 was developed late in the NES’s lifespan, to the extent where development was parallel with MegaMan X, Capcom’s first game in the series for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As such, Capcom themselves only decided to release the game in their home territory of Japan. The game was the only NES game in the franchise not to be released in Europe and Nintendo of America published the game themselves in North America, releasing the game in March of 1994. Nintendo decided to use MegaMan 6 as a key title to advertise the NES-101 – affectionately referred to as the “NES2” – a new top-loading variant of the classic 8-bit console, sold at a cheap price point alongside the new SNES. Other late-era titles used to advertise the NES-101 include Zoda’s Revenge: Startropics II and Wario’s Woods, which was the last NES game to be released officially in North America.
Here’s that new Charge Shot I was talking about in MM5, it’s back in 6 too.
Keiji Inafune’s take on MegaMan 6 seemed to be substantially more laid back when compared to earlier games, opining that video game franchises reaching six titles were very rare and one such advantage to such long-runners was that players would expect certain aspects from previous games to be repeated in future titles. The concept of Rush and MegaMan combining was something Inafune considered inevitable, though he had difficulty coming up with the designs due to the sheer lack of realism in the concept itself. The game saw over 200,000 entries for the boss design contest this time around, and to make matters even more interesting, for the first (and only) time, the contest was open to non-Japanese participants. In fact, Nintendo Power held a similar contest in America and two of the robot masters chosen from the final game were designed by North American fans: Windman and Knightman. To pay homage to their “foreign” origins, Nintendo of America featured these two robot masters on the North American box art. The game’s subtitle in the original Japanese release was “The Greatest Battle of All Time!!” and this went with the game’s overall theming: described by Inafune as “the world is our stage”. Of course, like earlier games in the franchise, MM6’s development saw its fair share of hardships – likely due to the fact that both MegaMan X and MegaMan Soccer were in development around the same time – but Inafune was pleased with the final product.
After five attempts at world domination, governments all over the globe are finally taking steps to safeguard against the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. While MegaMan has consistently thwarted the mad doctor’s schemes, the world feels that relying solely upon the Blue Bomber may not be for the best. In response, the World Robot Alliance was organized soon after Wily’s fifth assault. One year later, thanks in large part to both the cooperation of the scientists all over the world and the financial backing of the X Foundation, robotics has made fantastic progress, with many scientists becoming capable of creating robots on par with MegaMan himself. To determine the world’s strongest peacekeeping robot, the “First Annual Robot Tournament” is held. While Dr. Light decides not to enter the competition, he sends MegaMan to supervise it. Before the contest can begin, the mysterious head of the X Foundation and the tournament’s host, known only as “Mr. X”, declares his own ambitions for world domination. Furthermore, he declares that he had been manipulating Dr. Wily all along, but now that he has reprogrammed the eight strongest contestants from the tournament, he no longer needs him. MegaMan springs into action, alongside Rush, his canine companion, to stop the evil ambitions of this new threat.
Inafune’s statements about long-running series repeating various aspects proves particularly true, with regards to MM6: the game plays pretty much identically to the fifth game. In fact, much of the graphics data, information and level layouts of MM6 are extremely similar to MM5’s, leading some fans to speculate that it was essentially a heavy edit of the previous game. MegaMan 6’s level design was fairly decent, though this time around, they would focus heavily on splitting paths. Personally, I like design choices like that, simply because it adds replay value to most games, but in MegaMan 6’s case, it feels almost hollow. Most of the alternate paths require specific weapons or power-ups to get to, and many times they simply result in shortcuts, as opposed to alternate layouts. Most importantly, in many cases, alternate hidden paths are used to gate off specific power-ups – this gets particularly confusing with stages that have two separate boss doors, where only one contains the parts necessary to unlock Beat – so for the most part, there’s no reason to go any other way. In fact, to be honest, the most major change to the game comes through the form of MegaMan’s new powers, especially the new assortment of support items.
A ‘roided-out MegaMan worthy of the Ruby-Spears cartoon.
The support items go through a significant shake-up in MegaMan 6. In fact, the only item that returns from previous games is Beat. This time, players need only to spell out “B-E-A-T” to unlock the assault aviary, though this time around, the parts are a little more cryptic. You can only get them by reaching four of the bosses through specific routes: they have two separate sets of boss doors, with the more hidden one or the one that’s more difficult to reach generally being the one that contains the part. The only way to know for sure if the right door was chosen is by looking at the stage select afterwards: if the correct door was chosen, the corresponding letter will show up on the stage select in place of the robot master’s portrait. The major attraction would have to be the two new Rush armors: referred to in-game as Jet MegaMan and Power MegaMan. Unlocked by defeating Plantman and Flameman respectively, these two transformations give MegaMan access to entirely new powers. The Jet Adaptor allows MegaMan to fly for brief periods – with a smaller gauge depicting how much lift remains – but MegaMan is unable to charge his Mega Buster in this form. The Power Adaptor, on the other hand, replaces the buster with a shorter-ranged but more powerful shot that can break through certain obstacles and bypass shields when fully charged. The bulkiness of both armors removes MegaMan’s ability to slide, so it’s crucial switch between these all three of MegaMan’s forms. There is also the Energy Balancer, hidden in the depths of Tomahawkman’s stage. It recovers energy for the weapon with the lowest energy remaining whenever MegaMan collects a weapon energy power-up without having a weapon equipped, as opposed to just wasting it.
This brings us to what I perceive as Capcom’s second idea to redeem the loss of importance faced by the Special Weapons in the face of the almighty Mega Buster: give players entirely new toys to play with instead. The Rush armors are, by far, the most interesting parts of the game, but they only seem to break the game’s difficulty balance in entirely new ways, especially Jet MegaMan. One of the trademarks of MegaMan’s level design has been challenging platforming segments, but with the additional of what is essentially an unlimited flight ability – the only real limitation being a limited meter which can be recharged by standing on the ground – entire segments of stages can be bypassed. Sure, later areas line their ceilings with spikes to avoid that kind of abuse, but it’s only a half-measure with regards to just how much this breaks the game, as skilled players can easily navigate even those aerial obstacles.
Fighting flowers with frostbite.
Which brings us to the weapons themselves. Of the entire series, I’d have to say that I consider MegaMan 6’s assortment of special weapons to be the most forgettable of the bunch, but apparently, some fans consider them to be among the most practical in the entire series: most weapons can deal big damage on at least four bosses. It’s difficult for me to rank this game’s weapons for those reasons, but I’ll try regardless. My favorite weapon would probably have to be Knightman’s Knight Crusher. It shoots out a spiked mace in a circular boomerang pattern. Simple, but it deals decent damage and for some reason, it’s the first weapon I’d always instinctively try to grab while playing the game. Next comes the Blizzard Attack – obtained by beating Blizzardman (who else?) – which fires off 4 snowflake-shaped projectiles from behind MegaMan at different trajectories: the middle two snowflakes fly straight forward, while the highest and lowest projectiles move diagonally. I like that one less for its practicality and more for its originality: it almost seems like it was an unused weapon from MegaMan 5. The third best weapon would have to be the Yamato Spear, courtesy of Yamatoman. It’s not unlike the Needle Cannon from MegaMan 3, with shots alternating between two different heights. Yamato Spear lacks the rapid-fire capabilities of its ancestor, but is able to pierce enemy shields. Number four would have to be Tomahawkman’s Silver Tomahawk – which honestly, looks more bronze to me. It fires at a weird arc, dropping low briefly before rising quickly until it flies offscreen, but it deals a great deal of damage and its strange trajectory allows it to bypass shields when aimed properly. Best of all, it acts as the primary weakness for a whopping 4 bosses in this game. Fifth would have to be the Plant Barrier, taken by defeating Plantman. It’s essentially the standard shield weapon, much like the Leaf Shield, Skull Barrier and Star Crash before it. It once again loses its ability to be fired off as a projectile, and will usually dissipate after making contact with one enemy. However, if used on a shielded enemy, it will be unaffected and deal massive damage through the shield. Then there’s Flameman’s Flame Blast, which I’d best describe as being the MegaMan equivalent of the holy water from Castlevania. Megaman fires a fireball at a very low arc and once it hits the ground, it spawns a pillar of fire, which can do massive damage if aimed properly. Next, there’s the Wind Storm, which is Windman’s take on the Bubble Lead. It can’t climb walls, instead disappearing whenever it hits a wall or any other obstacle. The weapon does send enemies weak enough for it to defeat flying in the air, but in return, they’ll never drop any power-ups. Last and most certainly least, is Centaurman’s Centaur Flash: a weapon so lame that, much like the Power Stone before it, it was replaced with something much less useless in future appearances. It claims to be a time manipulation power, but instead comes across as a bargain basement version of MM5’s Gravity Hold. It damages all enemies on screen, even hitting destroyable projectiles, but the only boss that’s actually weak to it is Windman, and even then, it takes a full stock to take him out completely. No other boss even takes damage from it, it’s pathetic.
Once again, the graphics don’t go through any particular major evolutions from the previous two games. The game has cutscenes, both using in-game graphics and more detailed static shots. The pause screen is slightly reworked once again, this time to allow for MegaMan’s new transformations. I think that the most impressive graphic in the entire game is the animation of MegaMan readying his buster and firing off a shot during the now-standard screen showcasing the new weapons and abilities he’s unlocked at the end of each Robot Master stage. My personal favorite touch would have to be the screens that show up after deciding on one of the Robot Masters. Showing off a variety of statistics about each robot master – things like their attack strength, weight, “defence”, power source and even their abilities and current location – it’s kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it does show how much love Capcom put into their swan song for the system that got them headlong into console development in the first place. By this point, the NES was on its way out and its hardware had long since been pushed to its limits. In fact, Tony Ponce of Destructoid once opined that the game was essentially the first retro throwback, due to the fact that it was made for the NES well into the lifecycles of the fourth-generation of consoles.
Seriously, this game is gorgeous.
The game’s soundtrack was composed by Yuko Takehara (née Kadota), who like her predecessor, was credited with only her first name. MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is about on par with the rest of the series up to this point, particularly sticking towards the more refined sound of the previous two games. As with MM5’s soundtrack, most of the Robot Master songs tend to match the locales in which they take place. This is perhaps most evident in what fans have dubbed the “warriors”: Centaurman’s music definitely matches the psychedelic and mystical nature of his stage, Knightman and Yamatoman’s themes both evoke the medieval and Feudal Japan-era castles they inhabit, but best of all would be Tomahawkman’s theme, which evokes the American Wild West perfectly. That’s not to say that the “elemental” masters’ themes fall flat, but it’s difficult to evoke musical leitmotifs with things like fire and snow compared to mythology and various points in history. Honestly, back in the day, I would’ve said that Windman’s theme was probably my favorite robot master theme out of this game. These days, I think I lean more towards Plantman. MM6 also shies away from the same conventional jingles that its predecessor did, though again, the traditional victory tune returns in full form. Perhaps the oddest quirk about MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is that there were two different themes for the introductory cutscene – the North American release had a completely different track used for reasons I don’t entirely know. People are generally divided on which version is better – personally, I prefer the original Japanese track. Typically, when I look back at these soundtracks, I have difficulty choosing a singular track that I would consider “the best”. Not so with MegaMan 6 and truth be told, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My favorite song in the entire game would have to be the theme that plays during the Mr. X Fortress stages. There’s just something so fitting about the theme: it comes across as almost melancholic, like the perfect musical piece for the MegaMan game that has to say goodbye to the very platform that birthed it in the first place.
MegaMan 6 is not a bad game by any means. I thought that by reflecting on the game, I could finally discover what the inherent flaw that gave me my admittedly irrational hatred for it in the first place. In retrospect, I’m only left with the reason I had before I began writing this piece – quite frankly, I thought the game was the easiest in the franchise. That’s not exactly a fair reason to heap the scornful title of “worst my least favorite mainline MegaMan game” onto the franchise’s last truly 8-bit iteration. After all, let’s be honest – regardless of my opinions, it’s still objectively a mechanically superior game to the original 1987 classic. Then again, perhaps that says it all. Classic MegaMan is one of the few series that I would claim has been consistently good since its origin point. If I can acknowledge that the game is not only a quality title on its own merits but also the game I personally consider the weakest entry in the series, doesn’t that just mean that the series entails a certain level of quality, matched by a scant few in the grand scheme of video games?
Interlude: Rockman Complete Works
The Rockman Complete Works always felt like a missed opportunity for me. Back when I was reading video game magazines, I remember that publications like PlayStation Magazine and Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine – yeah, how times have changed, right? – would do pieces about various big-name import games. One recurring feature throughout the second half of 1999 were the Rockman Complete Works games. Effectively, all six of the NES MegaMan games were being re-released for the very first time – like I said, times have changed – on the PlayStation with additional bonus features. I’d always hoped they would come Westward, but alas, SCEA had grudges against both 2D games in general and especially direct ports of older titles – some things never change. I considered importing them for a while, but considering that this was both before the days of online import shops and back before I was even in high school, it just didn’t work out for me.
‘Cause nothing’s more challenging like a blue bird over a flashing arrow, telling you, “Go here, stupid!”
There were three basic features in each entry in the Complete Works series. First, “Original Mode”, which is exactly what it sounds like: a direct copy of the original NES (or in this case, Famicom) game. Next, there was what was called “Navi Mode”, which I’ll explain in greater detail in a bit. Both of these modes can use save files or the original NES passwords, which is a nice touch. Finally, there were the “PokeRoku” which were special bonus mini-games for people who owned a PocketStation – a Japan-only peripheral that plugged into the PS1’s memory card slot and acted not unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU. Each Complete Works game had its own unique mini-game, ranging from things like a Whac-A-Mole style game where players are forced to bash multiple Cutmans to popping balloons with Beat. Every game in the series also included a Janken (that’s Rock-Paper-Scissors for us Gaijins) game where players can choose any robot master from each corresponding game to compete with a Met. These mini-games can be used to boost both MegaMan and the various robot masters’ stats in the various remixed game modes.
Still, I’d be lying if I said the new UI wasn’t helpful.
Which segues back nicely into Navi Mode. For the most part, Navi Mode is mechanically similar to the 8-bit originals, but there are some additional tweaks and bonus features. For example, the standard pause menus have been redesigned and there’s a new secondary pause menu, accessible from the Select button. This new menu offers a number of new features, most importantly a specific character that varies from game to game acting as a “navigator” for MegaMan – hence “Navi Mode” – providing various hints for how to progress through both stages and boss fights whenever an exclamation point flashes onscreen. The UI for the energy bars are also slightly different, showcasing both MegaMan’s remaining lives and the remaining shots for whatever special weapon he has equipped at that moment in time. In fact, the redesigns resemble those of MegaMan 8. MegaMan can also switch weapons on the fly by using the shoulder buttons, which is a great addition. Finally, there’s the addition of the remixed soundtracks. For the first three Complete Works releases, a selection of songs were taken from both the MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters soundtracks, generally remixes of the songs they replaced. This wasn’t always the case: MegaMan 3 used Cloudman’s theme and MegaMan 7’s intro stage tracks to replace Magnetman and Topman’s songs respectively.
The game hints, on the other hand…
By the time the fourth game came along, Capcom put a lot more effort into these soundtracks. They still used the arcade game’s remixes whenever possible, but otherwise, they completely rearranged them from scratch. I personally consider the days of the original PlayStation to be among the best times for Capcom’s sound design, the results are amazing. In fact, I’d consider the Complete Works soundtracks for MegaMans 4 through 6 to be the quintessential way to experience them in general. The second half of the Complete Works also added some additional features. For starters, while the first three games merely had a boss rush mode as an unlockable feature after beating the game, 4-6 replace it with Mission Mode, which has multiple challenges, including the aforementioned boss challenges. The later games also add new power-ups that can be equipped to MegaMan in both Navi and Mission Mode. These include things like an auto charge, faster normal and charge shots and even halving the amount of energy Special Weapons use. Rockman 4 through 6 also adds the ability to remove MegaMan’s helmet at any time by hitting the R2 button, in both Original and Navi Mode.
Fortunately, these games did see multiple re-releases. First, they were re-released as PSone Books – yet another Japanese imprint for Greatest Hits titles – back in 2003. They were also re-released alongside Rockman X7 in the Rockman Collection Special Box in the same year. They even eventually saw release in North America, albeit in an altered form. The MegaMan Anniversary Collection, released on the PS2, GameCube and Xbox, used the Complete Works ports as their basis, even including and translating the hints from Navi Mode. Of course, only MegaMans 4-6 retained their arranged soundtrack – which may have been for the best – and all the other bonus features were patched out of the game. Finally, Sony would eventually release the games as PS1 Classics on the PlayStation Network. While Japan would receive all six games, North America would only receive the first four. As the service has been discontinued, it seems unlikely that the set will ever be complete in the West. As such, if you really want to track these games down, I’d suggest looking for the Anniversary Collection, but if I’m going to be honest, they really don’t add enough to make them worth more than any other re-release.
MegaMan on the Game Boy
MegaMan, specifically Classic MegaMan, is generally considered a Nintendo property by most fans. Of course, that makes sense: all but one mainline game in the franchise were released on a Nintendo platform proper upon its initial release – to the extent where even the latest two games debuted on the Wii before they released on the other major platforms – but more appropriately, one must consider the whole host of spinoffs that the Blue Bomber received on the Big N’s hardware. Perhaps the most recognizable of these spinoffs would be the pentalogy – perhaps quintology would be more appropriate? – of games released on the Game Boy. Categorizing these games was difficult for quite some time. It’s easy enough in Japan, where they’re referred to as the “Rockman World” games. Elsewhere, they were simply referred to by number, like the NES games that served as their inspiration, aside from the first game which was given a subtitle. Eventually, a consensus was reached: Roman numerals would be used to refer to the Game Boy games, allowing fans to discern between the two sets of games easily. I’d argue that the Game Boy games are among the most important games in the entire franchise, particularly the later ones.
MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge
First, there’s the aptly titled “MegaMan: Dr Wily’s Revenge”. Released in 1991, it was the first game in the MegaMan series that Capcom published directly that was farmed out to an outside developer. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was Minakuchi Engineering’s first MegaMan-related project. Fortunately, the project leader was “a huge MegaMan fan” who, according to Keiji Inafune, understood the games better than some of Capcom’s own internal staff. As such, rather than being an original project, it recycles content from the first two NES games with some original content to create a game that is both familiar and new – a trend that most of the Game Boy games would follow. In fact, the game’s unique boss character Enker – named for the Japanese musical genre enka – was the first boss character Inafune was able to design completely from scratch.
Sometime after stopping Dr. Wily’s plans for world domination, the mad doctor has once again decided to take over the world by using 4 of Dr. Light’s old robots to wreak havoc in a city. However, Wily also has four more robots of his own, lying in wait at his new fortress, the Wily Station. However, this new Wily Castle boasts an additional surprise: a robot designed specifically to destroy the Blue Bomber, the very first MegaMan Killer (or Hunter, as it was known back in the day), Enker. Armed with the Mirror Buster, a lance that is able to absorb MegaMan’s attacks and fire them back at him threefold, Enker seems like Dr. Wily’s last line of defense, but could the evil genius have any more tricks left up his sleeve? To be honest, the first game’s story is a bit sparse, but honestly, I think that having a new MegaMan adventure available on the go was more impressive than any plot could’ve been.
Dr. Wily’s Revenge seems to take a lot of its gameplay cues from the second game in the series, which makes sense as this was the later of the two games it used as inspiration. The game has the same password save system as most of the NES games in the series. The first four Robot Masters – Cutman, Iceman, Fireman and Elecman – all have new remixed stage layouts that take elements from their stages from the original MegaMan while throwing in new elements. The boss difficulty has also been somewhat adjusted: would you believe me if I told you most people told you to start with Elecman over Cutman? The four bosses taken from MM2 – Bubbleman, Heatman, Flashman and Quickman – however, get demoted to mere boss fights in the standard teleporter hatches found in Dr. Wily’s Castle. It always felt kind of weird to me that they decided to put two fire-based robots in the same game, but what are you gonna do? Revenge was unique among MegaMan games in the way that it handled its stage select: it split the eight robot masters into two groups of four, generally corresponding with which game they originated from. This would become a hallmark of the Game Boy games and would even manage to find its way into the mainline series for a short time.
Would you believe this is Elecman’s stage?
The eight weapons taken from the Robot Masters in this game are functionally identical to their NES counterparts. However, that’s not to say that Dr. Wily’s Revenge doesn’t have any surprises of its own. Upon defeating the fourth Robot Master from MM1 – doesn’t matter which one it is – MegaMan is granted a brand-new support item, known simply as “Carry”. Carry generates a platform right below MegaMan which can be used as a stepping stone or to avoid falling into spikes. It’s a unique concept that doesn’t work exactly perfectly, but it feels at home when compared to some of the quirkier pre-Rush items, like Item-3 or the Magnet Beam. Of course, the main attraction is Enker’s Mirror Buster. It generates a shield directly in front of MegaMan that reflects plasma shots. Pretty simplistic, but at least it’s a unique concept.
The graphics and music owe a lot to the NES games they were based on. The graphics generally retain their classic 8-bit look, albeit with less color behind them. Inafune was displeased with how some of the standard enemy graphics from the original MegaMan had aged, so he redrew many of his old illustrations to create new sprite designs. The stage themes for the first four bosses are essentially recomposed versions of the original songs from the MM1 soundtrack, while the boss music appears to be a highly modified version of the MegaMan 2 boss theme. The rest of the music, on the other hand, is entirely original – the game even omits both the established stage select and victory jingles, long considered trademarks of the series. This was composer Makoto Tomozawa’s first composition for the MegaMan series, though he went uncredited along with the rest of the game’s staff. Fortunately, he would go on to compose such games as the original Resident Evil, both MegaMan Legends games and even contributed to the original MegaMan X’s soundtrack.
Much like the original MegaMan from 1987, Dr. Wily’s Revenge is a good first effort. It was not only the first game in the series to be released on the Game Boy, but also the first developed by the game’s developer. Having said that, the game’s fatal flaw is generally considered to be its difficulty. At times, the game’s obstacles become unfair to the point where the game’s layout has to be essentially memorized in order to progress through the game. To make matters worse, there’s definitely a lack of checkpoints compared to other games in the series. In the end, it’s definitely a unique experiment and while it’s not my first choice among the Game Boy MegaMans, it’s also definitely not the last.
Dr. Wily’s Revenge did well upon its initial release, eventually earning a spot on Nintendo’s Player’s Choice label. So, it only made sense to make a proper sequel. Unlike the other Game Boy games, this game’s development was handled by a company known as “Japan System House”, but more commonly known by its later name, Biox. Keiji Inafune considers this game to be the weakest of the Game Boy spinoffs, as the developer had very little knowledge of the series prior.
Admittedly, MegaMan II was the only Game Boy game I owned on cart as a child and to this day, I definitely consider it the weakest of the bunch by a wide margin. Which is a shame, given how interesting the game’s storyline is. After his latest setback, Dr. Wily ransacks the Chronos Institute, a research laboratory focusing on time-space research. While there, he obtains the Time Skimmer, a device that allows for time travel. Wily’s original plan was to travel back to the past to prevent MegaMan’s creation, but when he discovers the Time Skimmer is only capable of moving forward through time, he changes his plans. Travelling roughly 37.426 years (thanks Capcom USA) into the future, Dr. Wily finds that the future is peaceful and even Wily himself has reformed into a model citizen. MegaMan has given up his weapons and has gone back to his civilian life as Rock, Dr. Light’s assistant. Dr Wily convinces his future self to help him abduct the now defenseless Rock and the two modify him into Quint, a fighting robot with one goal in mind: destroying the MegaMan of the present. Meanwhile, Dr. Light has been dispatched to the time-space laboratory to investigate the recent break-in. Using Rush’s super-sense of smell, Light was able to deduce that Dr. Wily was behind the theft and called in MegaMan to search for Dr. Wily’s whereabouts.
As with the previous game, MegaMan II takes content from the second and third NES games to create something original. MegaMan has access to both his slide maneuver and Rush as a support item in MMII, but there are some odd quirks to the gameplay as well. For example, MegaMan immediately dies upon touching spikes even during his standard hit-invincibility period, much like in the original NES MegaMan. The game’s layout matches that of Dr. Wily’s Revenge: players can choose to tackle the four remaining Robot Masters from MM2 – Metalman, Airman, Woodman and Clashman – before moving onto Wily’s latest fortress. There, teleport hatches leading to four robot bosses taken from MegaMan 3 – Hardman, Topman, Magnetman and Needleman. However, MegaMan has to clear unique stages before facing off with the MM3 bosses, as opposed to just being teleported directly into a boss fight like in the previous game. The various stages have unique layouts like in Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though this time around, they seem to more directly inspired by the stages found in the NES games compared to the other Game Boy games.
Once again, most of the weapons have been recycled from previous games. This time around, Rush Coil, Rush Jet and Rush Marine also return, resembling their MM3 incarnations. Rush Jet is obtained by beating Airman, defeating Metalman unlocks the Rush Marine and surprisingly, the Rush Coil is unlocked by defeating Crashman. That’s right, for the first time, Rush Coil isn’t a standard item, it has to be unlocked by defeating a boss. The only original weapon found in MMII is Quint’s Sakugarne. Essentially a cross between a jackhammer and a pogo stick, the Sakugarne allows MegaMan to jump on enemies and even safely traverse spikes. The weapon is kind of useless in most situations and comes across like a joke all things considered, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.
Seriously, the Sakugarne is so dumb, it’s funny.
Japan System House redrew a lot of the sprite work from scratch for MMII and it shows. Sadly, that’s not a compliment: several enemy sprites just end up looking weird and completely out of proportion at times. Of course, these little quibbles pale in comparison to the game’s take on the Wily Machine, which is scaled at roughly the same height as MegaMan, meaning that either MegaMan has grown to Godzilla-esque proportions or Dr. Wily shrank to the size of a doll. Then you’ve got the graphic of MegaMan riding the Sakugarne which appears to give him the body proportions of a rotisserie chicken, for some reason. I will admit, I did like the use of melting clocks in the Wily Castle backgrounds. A clear reference to the work of Salvador Dali, so they fit with the game’s theming. That along with the Wily Fortress establishing shots are really the only things that turned out well in this game with regards to graphics. Even worse than the game’s graphics would have to be the music. Even when I was a child and I’d often pop in headphones to play video games at any opportunity, I kept this game muted, simply because the music is so irritating. Looking back, I have to wonder if Japan System House just assigned the parts to each song to the wrong instruments or if they just chose terrible instruments in general. It’s a shame because aside from the Got Weapon theme – which was clearly inspired the one from MM3 – the entire soundtrack is entirely original compositions. While many enterprising musicians have tried to rearrange the audio into something worthwhile, it still doesn’t fix the ruptured eardrums the original likely caused. While MegaMan II wasn’t the first game composer Kenji Yamazaki worked on, it was the first time he worked on the Game Boy, which may account for the wonky instrumentation. It’s also more than likely his most well-known work, and not for good reason.
If MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge was too difficult, then MegaMan II was more than certainly far too easy. Even with its odd quirks, including a multitude of glitches, the game offers little reason to play it in the first place. The boss fights are far too easy, the stage designs are bland and the whole thing just feels off in general. I’ve gotten into arguments over whether Revenge or II was the worst Game Boy MegaMan game, but I feel so confident in my stance, I’m almost inclined to believe that MegaMan II is, in fact, the lost game between the PC versions of Mega Man and Mega Man 3 from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. After all, it’s got the right name and even managed to release in Japan in 1991, between Mega Man’s 1990 debut and MM3’s 1992 release.
Despite MMII’s lack of quality, the game managed to sell well enough to also be re-released as a Player’s Choice title and thus, the Game Boy spinoffs earned a third entry. Considering the sheer lack of knowledge regarding the franchise as a whole, Japan System House was not brought back. Instead, Capcom went back to Minakuchi Engineering – the same company that developed Dr. Wily’s Revenge – and hired them to create the aptly named MegaMan III. Likewise, the game’s unique boss character Punk, is among Keiji Inafune’s favorite boss characters. Inafune even used his position as producer to get Punk added to the Battle Network series.
After his most recent defeat, Dr. Wily goes into hiding. Eventually, he is found having modified an oil platform in the middle of the ocean to drill to the Earth’s core, to use the thermal energy to build his most powerful robot yet. Using eight of his most powerful Robot Masters – well, technically four of them belong to Dr. Cossack – to defend various offshore locations, Dr. Wily has clearly prepared himself for any interference from the Blue Bomber. Just to be sure, he’s built a second robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Punk. Living up to his name, Punk is a delinquent robot boasting a buzzsaw mohawk, spiked shoulders and the ability to roll into a buzzsaw and slice through anything. Can MegaMan stop Wily’s energy stealing scheme and bring the megalomaniacal doctor to justice?
The base gameplay is fairly similar to Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though there have been some modifications. For starters, MegaMan has both his slide and New Mega Buster this time around. The charge shot is exactly like the one found in MM4 on the NES, both in appearance and mechanically. As such, it doesn’t lose its charge when MegaMan takes damage. As usual, the game starts by giving players a choice between 4 bosses from MegaMan 3 – Sparkman, Shadowman, Geminiman and Snakeman. This time, however, there is a short stage that acts as an interlude between both sets of Robot Masters, with a unique boss: a giant version of the Adhering Suzy enemy from the original MegaMan. After that, a second stage select appears, consisting of the four robots taken from MM4 – Diveman, Drillman, Skullman and Dustman. All of the bosses’ stages have been revamped, taking minor inspiration from the original levels in the NES version. After that, it’s onto the Wily Station, an underwater base this time, instead of the space stations in the two previous games. All-in-all, not that different from the two previous games, but definitely the most refined Game Boy game thus far.
A weapon from the third game being used on an enemy from the fourth? Zany!
As expected, most of the weapons are again identical to their NES counterparts. Rush Coil and Rush Jet are both similar to their MM4 iterations and are unlocked by defeating Snakeman and Dustman respectively. And once again, the only original weapon from this game comes from the game’s MegaMan Killer, Punk. The Screw Crusher – don’t look at me, I didn’t name it – fires a spinning blade into the air, which quickly arcs down and falls through the ground and walls. Not particularly the best weapon, but it beats Sakugarne.
Minakuchi’s attempts at recreating the NES games’ graphics on the Game Boy shine through, even better than in Dr. Wily’s Revenge. Indeed, their attempts at recreating the backgrounds, enemy graphics and even boss sprites from MegaMan 3 and 4 are significantly more accurate than the two previous games. Better still, the graphics original to III also manage to blend in with the existing artwork seamlessly. That’s really all that can be said about the graphics though: they do their job, but they aren’t exactly impressive. The same could be said for the music. Of all the Game Boy games, I think MegaMan III’s soundtrack recycled the most music from existing games. The game’s composer was Kouji Murata, who I mentioned previously for his work on The Wily Wars. The rearrangements of existing songs work out fairly well, but given the fact that this was the first MegaMan game Murata ever worked on, it’s completely understandable that his original compositions often fall a little flat. MMIII’s unique music isn’t bad, but it does little more than get the job done in most cases. This is also the only Game Boy game that recycles the trademark MegaMan stage chosen and victory jingles. Heck, even the song from the title screen of MM2 makes an appearance in the game’s soundtrack.
I think that the best way to describe MegaMan III is it’s the most stereotypical of the Game Boy games. That is to say, it best fits the mold of what people would expect from the portable spinoffs of video game series that began on console. It’s not a bad game by any means, and it definitely improves upon the first two by leaps and bounds. In fact, the game itself is both challenging and fair, fixing the major concerns from Dr. Wily’s Revenge and MMII. Having said all that, there is no way that anyone would choose to play MMIII over any of the NES games in any circumstance. The game’s main problem is that it comes across as sort of ordinary. It’s major selling point is its portability. While this is far less of a major selling point in a day where one can literally break out the first 6 NES games onto a device that fits in your pocket – I’m talking about the 3DS, of course – it was probably the best thing MegaMan III had going for it upon release. Of the Game Boy games, III is generally considered the rarest, as it was the oldest game in the series to not receive a Player’s Choice re-release. Somehow, for a title that’s best described as “average”, that seems like an ironic fate.
When all of the MegaMan games made from the Game Boy are lined up, side-by-side, it tells a story. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was the first experiment, generally considered a failure. II was an even bigger experiment, going with an entirely new developer and ended up being a failure. III was where things tipped over the edge and Minakuchi Engineering managed to achieve what most Game Boy iterations of popular series always shoot for: competence. Not excellence, not brilliance, but mere competence. On their second game, the team at Minakuchi managed to achieve that goal and got their foot in the door for the remainder of Classic MegaMan’s portable adventures. In the end, that seemed to be their plan all along: allow Capcom to become happy with their work, which sold games but didn’t outshine the “real” MegaMan games. Little did they realize that the very next game, MegaMan IV, would end up redefining the expectations of any and all future spin-off games for portable systems.
To put things into perspective, IV was the first Game Boy MegaMan game that had introductory cutscenes depicting the game’s story. Scientists from all over the world have gathered at the first annual Robot Master Expo, to showcase the latest advances in the field of robotics. Suddenly, Dr. Wily arrives on the scene in his trademark flying saucer and sends out a radio transmission which sends all of the robots at the Expo go berserk. He then activates eight of his old robots – again, four of them actually belong to Cossack – and sets off to take over the world yet again. Fortunately, MegaMan is at the expo and tries to stop Wily’s latest scheme, but first he must find a way to deactivate the reprogrammed robots. He also has to contend with the latest robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Ballade. Far more powerful than his predecessors, Ballade views MegaMan as the greatest challenge of his life and eagerly awaits fighting the Blue Bomber in one-on-one combat. Can MegaMan defeat this new threat and stop the mad doctor’s latest scheme?
MegaMan IV is unique from its predecessors, in the sense that it experiments with brand-new gameplay mechanics, while still feeling exactly like a true MegaMan game in its own right. Perhaps the simplest example of this comes in the game’s take on the Mega Buster. It essentially combines elements from both the MM4 and MM5/6 versions: MegaMan doesn’t lose his charge after taking damage, but the charged shot itself more closely resembles the more compact design from 5 and 6, as opposed to the longer “comet” design from 4 (and by extension, III). However, IV also adds a new mechanic all its own, whenever a fully-charged shot is fired, MegaMan takes a little bit of kickback. Now, there are times where this can be detrimental, but they’re very few and far between – MegaMan would have to be standing at the very edge of a ledge to be knocked off by the recoil of a charged shot. Perhaps the most significant change would be the addition of the Shop mechanic. A new power-up, referred to as “P Chips”, can be found throughout stages and can even be dropped by defeated enemies. They come in two sizes: small ones are worth 2 units, while the larger ones are worth 5. There are also miniature E-Tanks that can be found in stages, collect 4 and they become a full E-Tank, but otherwise they’re as useful as individual pieces of heart from Zelda. MegaMan can hold up to 999 of them at any time. By hitting the Select button on the Stage Select screen or pressing the B button after completing a stage, players can enter Dr. Light’s Laboratory. There, P Chips can be exchanged for several items, including various Energy Tanks, extra lives, and even the Energy Balancer.
As usual, the game retains the formula as established in the previous game. Players are allowed to choose reimagined stages, each capped off with one of 4 Robot Masters from MM4 – specifically, Toadman, Pharoahman, Ringman and Brightman – before taking on a short intermission stage. After that, the cycle is repeated, only with an assortment of 4 bosses from MegaMan 5 – Chargeman, Stoneman, Napalmman and Crystalman, followed by the Wily Station stages. There are a few interesting caveats this time around. For starters, there are letters hidden in all eight of the Robot Master stages. In the MM4 bosses’ stages, the letters B-E-A-T are hidden and collecting all four of them unlocks Beat, much like in MM6. However, the bosses from MM5 have the letters W-I-L-Y hidden in their stages and these are necessary to complete the game. They act as keys to Wily’s Fortress and players cannot progress without them. That’s right: a MegaMan game that expects more than the bare minimum from its players to proceed, something that hasn’t happened since 1987. What an age we lived in. Best of all, MMIV brings back the boss rematches in this Wily Station, teleporter hatches and all. This definitely adds to the game’s length. One odd point is that the password system gets a lot more complex in this game compared to previous titles – more than likely due to the amount of information each passcode needs to remember. By this point, Capcom probably should’ve considered investing in a battery back-up instead.
I love how his second form just consists of raising his horns and putting on sunglasses.
Obviously, the weapons are once again the same exact ones from the NES games for the most part. Beat is identical to its MM5 and 6 version, and is unlocked by collecting the BEAT letters. Rush Coil is obtained by defeating Toadman and beating Chargeman grants MegaMan the use of the Rush Jet. As usual, the only original weapon comes from the MegaMan Killer, Ballade. The somehow simultaneously aptly and incoherently named Ballade Cracker is an explosive that can be aimed in 7 directions – all but straight down – that deals massive damage. Of all the unique weapons exclusive to the Game Boy MegaMans, the Ballade Cracker is the best by far. It’s a shame that it’s only accessible near the end of the game.
There’s little that hasn’t already been said with regards to the graphics. By this point, the artstyle has gotten as close to that of the NES as possible, given the Game Boy’s lack of colors and small screen. A nice touch would have to be the redesign for the stage select: instead of having four portraits onscreen at the same time, bosses are selected by cycling through full body shots of each Robot Master’s in-game sprite, with the bottom portion of the screen showcasing each boss posing in front of their stage’s setting. It’s a really interesting concept that I wish more games in the series had used. Inafune was a big fan of Ballade’s design – as was the case with Enker and Punk – and he had fun devising what Ballade’s second form would look like. The game’s music is also top-notch. Kouji Murata returns as the game’s composer, though by this point, he had left Minakuchi and begun working as a freelancer full-time. He returned for this game at the request of his former employer. Much like how the soundtrack for MMIII perfectly mirrored the safe approach Minakuchi Engineering took with that game’s development, the same could be said for the more experimental nature of IV overall. Aside from the Robot Master stage themes and the boss themes from both MM4 and MM5 – which have been rearranged to varying degrees – the entire soundtrack is original, including the stage selected and victory jingles. In fact, there are quite a few catchy tunes in MMIV: I love both variants of the stage select theme, the password music and Ballade’s theme. My personal favorite is probably the Wily Stage theme.
It’s really a shame that MegaMan IV doesn’t get more love. Despite falling into the same basic mold as the first three MegaMan Game Boy games, it ended up making a lot of changes to the existing formula. It’s safe to say that IV probably had much more of a lasting impact on the series than most people would likely give it credit for. The shop system that was established in this game would appear in every mainline game moving forward, not to mention a few spin-offs. IV’s emphasis on storyline told in-game would have an impact on the series moving forward, particularly during the 16-bit and 32-bit eras. If this was the last game released on Game Boy, it would’ve been a suitable end – the game surpassed the expectation of most portable tie-ins to popular series by a wide margin and provided a more than suitable adventure for handhelds that deserves its place among the “real” MegaMan games on the NES. Alas, it’s generally lumped in with its predecessors as little more than a pale imitation of the console games, due to recycling bosses. However, it’s completely understandable why people could easily forget about MMIV. After all, the best was still yet to come.
While portable spinoffs for video game series, popular and niche, are generally considered average at best, there are games that somehow manage to far exceed these simple expectations. Link’s Awakening, Super Mario Land 2 and the Shinobi games for Game Gear come to mind, but perhaps the greatest of all was the fifth MegaMan game released on the Game Boy. While the first four portable games recycled boss characters and stage elements from the NES games, the final game was completely original. Considering what I’ve seen of Minakuchi Engineering’s development history, this game is clearly their magnum opus. I’ve even seen some claim that this is the best MegaMan game in the entire franchise. Frankly, I’m not inclined to disagree.
A few months have passed since Dr. Wily’s latest attempt at world domination and the world is at peace. Rock and Roll are walking through a field on a peaceful day when a mysterious robot suddenly appears. “So, you are the famous MegaMan! I am Terra – and you will soon be my slave!” Rock transforms into MegaMan while Roll runs to safety. The Blue Bomber puts up a valiant effort, but his attacks have absolutely no effect on this new threat. MegaMan is quickly defeated by Terra and awakes hours later in Dr. Light’s lab. Several robots from outer space have begun an assault on the Earth. Referring to themselves as the “Stardroids”, these intergalactic warriors have conquered most major cities. To make matters worse, they are constructed of alien materials, which render most weapons useless. Fortunately, the good doctor managed to study the Stardroids’ powers and devised a new weapon to replace MegaMan’s Super Mega Buster: the Mega Arm. He also created a brand-new robotic assistant for MegaMan: a mechanical feline named Tango, capable of transforming into a buzzsaw to attack enemies. Armed with these new abilities, MegaMan sets forth to stop the aspirations of the mysterious Stardroids. But could there be more to this threat than it appears?
This intro is pretty amazing for a handheld game.
In the previous entries, I neglected to mention how the Game Boy games handled gameplay compared to their original NES counterparts. The games themselves, for the most part, play similarly, but there is one key difference that has been a constant criticism since Dr. Wily’s Revenge. The Game Boy’s screen size is significantly smaller than standard-sized televisions – even back in the 1990s – and as such, the games’ aspect ratio had to be adjusted to account for the handheld’s tiny display. As such, most of the stage is left obscured compared to the full console releases, which can often allow obstacles and enemies to seemingly come out of nowhere. For the most part, the stages are designed to prevent this from becoming a problem, but it’s not an exact science. There are examples in all five games where the limited screen size can become a problem, but MegaMan V avoids it for the most part. Fortunately, MegaMan retains his fluid controls – even in MegaMan II – a surprising feat given the compressed level designs present in the Game Boy spinoffs.
MegaMan V introduces a host of new elements. First and foremost is the Mega Arm. While the various incarnations of the Mega Buster allowed MegaMan to charge up a larger and more damaging shot, the Mega Arm elects instead to deliver a powerful punch. MegaMan still has his standard shots, but a fully-charged Mega Arm shot fires off MegaMan’s fist across most of the screen before it returns to MegaMan (not unlike the Ring Boomerang). A partially-charged shot only goes half the distance, but maintains the same damage as the charged shot. Of course, this comes at a cost: the arm must return to MegaMan before he’s able to attack again. Otherwise, the Blue Bomber is left completely defenseless. The shop mechanic from the previous game also returns, but adds some new items, specifically two add-ons for the Mega Arm: Magnet Hand allows MegaMan to grab items with the Mega Arm, while the Clobber Hand allows MegaMan to hit enemies multiple times with a single Mega Arm charge shot. This extra damage is achieved by hitting the Fire button multiple times with proper timing. It can be difficult to perfect the technique, but it’s always worth attempting, since failure just means the Arm moves back into position as usual. Aside from those, the items from the previous game are also available for sale: various energy tanks and the Energy Balancer. The game also retains MMIV’s unique password system – though they swap out Beat for Tango this time around.
I love the Mega Arm. It’s so bad.
As per usual, the Stardroids are split into two sets of four. The first four Stardroids – Mercury, Mars, Neptune and Venus – are found in various locations on Earth. After a short intermission pitting MegaMan against a familiar foe, the Blue Bomber sets off to fight four more Stardroids – Uranus, Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn – who have all taken refuge on the planets bearing their names. Yes, even Pluto: it was 1994, so we still considered Pluto a planet, deal with it. Hidden in each of the second wave of stages are four Energy Crystals. If all of them are collected, Dr. Light can use them to build the Power Generator – a device that halves the amount of energy it takes to use all of the Special Weapons. After defeating the eight Stardroids, MegaMan is finally able to have his final showdown with their leader, Terra – or Earth, as he was known in Japan. After defeating him, it turns out that Dr. Wily had a hand in the Stardroid’s conquest and MegaMan must fly to Wily’s latest base – the aptly-named“Wily Star” – using a modified version of the Rush Marine as a spaceship, leading to a shoot-’em-up sequence culminating with a boss fight against the base’s defenses. After fighting through the MegaMan Killers and Quint from the previous Game Boy games, as well as rematches with the first eight Stardroids, MegaMan finally comes face-to-face with the mad doctor in another climactic battle. After being defeated, Wily still has one trick up his sleeve: the ultimate weapon, Sunstar – a Stardroid boasting the power of the sun itself. That’s right, there was a Classic MegaMan game where Wily isn’t the final boss – I didn’t believe it either the first time I heard about it.
As usual, the game has a few support items. The Rush Coil and Rush Jet are unlockable once again, beat Venus and Saturn respectively to unlock them. The Coil is its usual self, but the Rush Jet acts differently: MegaMan needs to run while using it and it can no longer move up or down while in use, much like Item-2 in MegaMan 2. However, MMV decided to try something entirely unique with the latest addition to MegaMan’s mechanical menagerie. Tango is a frisky feline who can be used from the very beginning of the game. Like Beat before him, Tango attacks enemies, but goes about it in a very unique way. Summoned with a fully-charged shot, Tango teleports on the scene, meows – I must admit, it’s a pretty cute sound – and rolls into a buzzsaw, bouncing around the stage, staying close to MegaMan. Not particularly the most useful support item in the series, but certainly an interesting concept. Tango sticks around until his energy is depleted, he falls into a pit or when MegaMan leaves the room he was activated in. Keiji Inafune would later state that Tango was designed because the development team for MMV wanted to introduce a supporting character that didn’t appear in the NES games.
Of course, with completely original bosses come some new weapons. As usual, I’m going to be ranking all nine of them, from best to worst. MegaMan V’s arsenal is actually pretty unique, particularly in comparison to those found in its NES contemporaries. The Mega Arm essentially balances the Mega Buster’s power with some minor disadvantages, allowing the Special Weapons a rare chance to shine. First off, the obvious choice is Terra’s Spark Chaser: a laser shot that locks onto the nearest enemy, striking them multiple times. The only downside is that it’s obtained so late in the game, but given Terra’s position as leader of the Stardroids, it only makes sense that he would have the best weapon. Next would have to be the Photon Missile, obtained by defeating Mars. It’s similar to the Drill Bomb from MM4, but it lacks the remote detonation feature. It hangs in place for a second before shooting forward at incredible speeds, allowing it to be used as a trap. Considering each shot only takes half a unit of energy per shot, it’s also probably the most efficient missile weapon in MegaMan history. My choice for the third best weapon would be Pluto’s Break Dash. After charging the weapon, MegaMan lets loose with a powerful dash, able to crush enemies and specific blocks. Best of all, unlike similar weapons like the Top Spin and Charge Kick, MegaMan is rendered completely invincible while dashing. The Bubble Bomb, taken from Venus, takes the number four spot. MegaMan fires off a bubble that floats upward in an erratic, wavy pattern. Once it reaches the ceiling, it drags along it – not unlike the Bubble Lead from MM2 – and if it makes impact with an enemy, it explodes in spectacular fashion.
MegaMan V’s original bosses were truly amazing.
Number 5 (Number V?) on the list would have to be the Salt Water, unlocked after beating Neptune. MegaMan throws a large orb of water in a downward arc, splashing into three smaller balls on impact with a wall or the ground. It’s almost like a modified version of the Crystal Eye, but with a much higher damage output. My choice for the sixth best weapon would have to be Jupiter’s Electric Shock. Similar to MMX’s Fire Wave, MegaMan fires a short-range stream of electricity for a single second. Unfortunately, he’s unable to move forward or back for the duration of the attack, but he can still jump and the Electric Shock makes up for its shortcomings with high damage. Next, there’s the Grab Buster, taken from Mercury. The weapon is a standard shot, but the cool thing is that when it hits standard enemies, it can pull power-ups – generally small health and weapon energy pick-ups or the occasional small P chip – off of them and send them straight to MegaMan. Aside from that, the weapon isn’t too special, most bosses are actually completely immune to it. Trailing at number eight is Uranus’s Deep Digger – there’s no way that name wasn’t intended as a joke. It’s essentially the Super Arm 2.0: MegaMan can lift specific blocks by standing on top of them and fling them at enemies as a solid piece. If they hit a wall, they ricochet back in four smaller pieces. Fortunately, this time around, more areas have the blocks in question. In fact, some hidden paths are covered by those specific blocks, so it’s definitely got more of a utility than the original Super Arm. Still, it relies entirely on those blocks, but at least it allows MegaMan a standard arm cannon attack whenever there’s nothing around to grab. Finally, there’s Black Hole, the prize for defeating Saturn. It essentially sucks in enemies and one of them makes contact with the black hole, it causes a massive explosion that damages every enemy onscreen. It’s one of those weapons that’s really only useful in specific situations. To make matters worse, the only boss weak to it is Mercury and it can only be used on him during the rematch on the Wily Star.
Like the gameplay itself, MegaMan V’s graphics push Nintendo’s plucky handheld to its limits, while still maintaining the look of the classic NES games. Aside from some reused graphics from previous Game Boy titles, all of the in-game sprites are completely original, leading to some fairly unique enemy designs. Keiji Inafune even recounted that having a specific theme made it easier and harder to design the Stardroids, especially given the vagueness of theming the game around outer space. As such, Inafune had several reservations when designing the game’s original bosses. The fact that the game doesn’t have to follow any preconceived theming for the Stardroids compared to the recycled Robot Masters of previous games, also allowed Minakuchi Engineering to get inventive with some of the game’s environments. Neptune’s stage starts atop a battleship on the sea, constantly rising and falling, before moving to the inside, where there are several water-based hazards to navigate. Uranus’s stage is a cavern themed after Egypt for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Most of the other stages utilize a more common “space station” theme, but still manage to incorporate their own unique elements over the underlying theme. The game also uses the Game Boy’s small scale for some interesting effects during the initial push to the Wily Star. While MegaMan and Rush start out at full-size on the journey to Wily’s space station, once they fight with it to gain entrance, they shrink to miniature versions of themselves to bring the massive Wily Star into proper scale. The way that the shift in scale is handled by the game is actually really impressive for a Game Boy game, even this late into the system’s lifespan. The real star of the show would have to be the cinematic cutscenes that play throughout the game. Even compared to MMIV, the sheer amount of story cutscenes is amazing and the expressions that were captured in the in-game sprites is impressive. This game is essentially a masterclass in terms of showing game designers how to do more with less. MegaMan V was also the first and only game in the series to be fully-compatible with the Super Game Boy peripheral for the SNES. Plugging the game in caused the game to display special color palettes for each stage and cutscene and surrounded the gameplay with a nice little border featuring the Metools
The game’s soundtrack is completely original, even keeping with the Game Boy’s theme of original jingles for both the stage select and boss victories. Like the other Game Boy games, the entire staff goes uncredited, but this time, there’s really no concrete evidence as to who actually composed for this game. Most people assume that Kouji Murata returned to bring the series to its conclusion, but given the fact that he didn’t list the game among his works on his own website, it seems this might not be the case. Still, there is evidence that implies that he could have been behind MMV’s soundtrack: some music from MMIV is found among the game’s data and the musical style does seem to match up with III and IV. Regardless of who composed the game, the game’s tone seems to simultaneously match up with the mainline games, while having its own unique tone. Many of the stage themes have this weird tone to them that is both playful, yet sinister. I’d say the soundtrack’s highlights are the stage themes for Venus, Uranus and Jupiter; the theme that plays while MegaMan makes his way to the Wily Star and the final battle with Sunstar. I also found the stage select theme catchy, not to mention the theme that plays in Dr. Light’s lab at the beginning of the game and the password theme.
Perhaps it’s fitting that MegaMan V was the last game in the Game Boy series, as it finally managed to achieve something its predecessors could only dream of. While the first four portable games relied heavily on their “big brothers” from the NES, V not only stood independently of everything that came before it, but also seemed to provide a look at how the Classic series could have continued in tandem with the new MegaMan X series, which had started on the SNES the previous year and was heralded as the first proper evolution of the series since the second NES game. After MMX debuted, many assumed that the original series may be done for good – despite MegaMan 6’s ending hinting at a sequel – but MMV managed to find a way to keep the series relevant. More importantly, it was the last game for a long time that used the classic 8-bit MegaMan art style – retro throwbacks hadn’t come into vogue just yet – so in a sense, it was also closing a chapter on the MegaMan legacy itself. In the end, Minakuchi Engineering managed to create a game that not only completely surpassed the concept of the portable spin-off, they created a game that can stand proudly among the best of one of the greatest video game franchises of all time.
Thus concludes the Game Boy line of MegaMan games. While the game carts are rare in the West, especially the last 3 games which didn’t receive any budget re-releases, the entire set has been re-released on the Nintendo 3DS via the Virtual Console. As such, it’s easy enough to fire these up in a fashion both cheap and legal. However, this wasn’t the only time Capcom considered re-releases for the portable spinoffs. Back when the Game Boy Color first debuted, three major titles from the original Game Boy – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Tetris – were re-released, with brand new content and capable of using the GBC’s full color palette. Wario Land 2 would receive similar treatment, but was a simple coloration of the original game with no added features. At one point, Nintendo apparently considered doing more deluxe re-releases, but eventually decided against it. The only two games that are known to have been considered to receive the DX treatment are Metroid II: Return of Samus and MegaMan V. Alas, the worst was yet to come. Back in 2004, Capcom considered making two collections to celebrate the Blue Bomber’s long tenure. The first was the MegaMan Anniversary Collection, which I touched on earlier. The second was a title meant exclusively for the Game Boy Advance. At one point referred to as “MegaMan Anniversary Collection” but more commonly known as “MegaMan Mania”, the game was set to include all 5 Game Boy games on a single cartridge. Best of all, the games were going to be fully colorized in this new re-release, though players would also have the option to play in the original black-and-white. There was also talk of an art gallery, as well as a “complete history of MegaMan”. Unfortunately, Mania never materialized, with the commonly accepted reason being that Capcom had lost access to the source code. To add insult to injury, some have speculated that it was only MegaMan II that had kept this collection from coming to fruition. While it’s good to see the games available in the present, just thinking about how we almost had enhanced re-releases several years before makes the whole situation bittersweet. I’d love to see Capcom revisit the MegaMan Mania concept one more time with a third Legacy Collection, but at this point, I’m pretty much sure I’d accept straight ports again.
This brings us to the end of MegaMan’s tenure during the 8-bit era. While MegaMan would continue to thrive in future generations – mainly by way of various spinoffs – the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System is definitely the period most people look back on most fondly with regards to the original Blue Bomber. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at how Classic MegaMan fared during the next two generations, as well as several of the weirder spin-offs Capcom either made themselves or licensed to other companies.