The second part of GeekPiphany’s trip down Mega Man memory lane will take a look at the back half of the NES Mega Man games. While not as lauded as the first three games in the series, Mega Man 4, Mega Man 5, and Mega Man 6 are still a solid series of sequels. Playing this next set of games, one gets the feeling that the developers were beginning to struggle with the challenge of keeping Mega Man fresh. Only Mega Man 4 truly offered any innovations that would stick with the series for the long run—for better or for worse, depending on your opinion. But what of Mega Man 5 and Mega Man 6?
Read on, dear readers, and see for yourselves.
Mega Man 4 (NES, 1992)
Alrighty, things are going to get a bit contentious now that we’re discussing Mega Man 4. For many folks, Mega Man peaked with Mega Man 3. That’s not to say that everyone considers the later installments bad, mind you—just that the essence of Mega Man was never really improved upon after that point. Do I agree with this sentiment? Yes and no. “Yes” in that Mega Man 3 was a tight package, thematically consistent and tightly executed in a way that many of its successors are not. “No” in that as Mega Man moved on, its iterations and experiments were always interesting to behold, even as its classic foundations held fast.
With that said, let’s discuss the Mega Buster.
I am in the camp that enjoys the Mega Buster—there’s something viscerally enjoyable about unleashing Mega Man 4’s newly-introduced charged blasts (as an aside, I wish it hadn’t taken until Mega Man X to apply the concept to Mega Man’s acquired arsenal). However, I do understand the counter argument that the Mega Buster diminishes the usefulness of the robot masters’ weapons. Why bother switching weapons when your free, go-to arm cannon gets the job done all on its own?
But here’s the thing. The robot master weapons in Mega Man 4, well…they kinda suck. The first three games each share a spread of weapons that range from generally useful (hello, Metal Blade) to situationally fantastic—with largely reasonable energy consumption to boot! In Mega Man 4, however, there’s not one single weapon that challenges the Mega Buster for general utility, especially given the game’s increased weapon energy cost. Even the situational weapons underwhelm. It’s understandable, really, why folks can be salty over the Mega Buster.
Still though, as a whole package, Mega Man 4 holds up well. Dr. Cossack and Kalinka are welcome additions to Mega Man canon, providing excellent fodder for unofficial works such as Hitoshi Ariga’s excellent Mega Man Megamix manga and the superb Archie Mega Man comics. The inclusion of Dr. Cossack also introduces the tradition of the Wily fake-out, and Dr. Wily’s infamous Wily Capsule makes its debut as the game’s final boss. Making it through the Cossack and Wily levels is a bit of a slog, but otherwise, I largely enjoyed Mega Man 4.
The robot masters of Mega Man 4 are another charmingly varied bunch, with the series at this point having yet to reach the introduction of its sixth ice-themed ‘bot, for example. My personal favorite happens to be the well-dressed Pharaoh Man. Does a robot designed to explore ancient tombs really need to wear an Egyptian headdress and have the ability to generate Spirit Bomb-like fireballs? No, but the incongruity of it all is wonderful and exactly my jam.
Mega Man 5 (NES, 1992)
Here is, to my mind, the only entry in the classic franchise that is truly treading water. Sure, Dr. Cossack juiced up the Mega Buster (to a ridiculous degree, actually, the improved tool obviating much of the game’s difficulty), and Mega Man’s second animal companion, Beat, is introduced. Not to mention the odd yet forgettable Super Arrow, which was not only redundant to Rush but inferior to both Mega Man‘s Magnet Beam and the Mega Man 2 special item trio. But these are minor changes compared to those introduced in the previous games, and none would stick going forward—Beat notwithstanding, though the robotic bird’s function would change from game to game.
Mega Man 5 feels meandering. Outside of the easy (“normal”) mode added to Mega Man 2 in America, Mega Man 5 is the least difficult game of the classic series. The two biggest factors driving this change are the overpowered Mega Buster and the game’s more simplistic level design, compared to its predecessors. Also contributing to Mega Man 5‘s lackadaisical feeling is the game’s music, which, aside from the Dark Man castle stages and the odd robot master stage, doesn’t have the catchiness so prevalent in previous entries. The plot of Mega Man 5 is odd, with Proto Man taking an abrupt, supposed heel turn and kidnapping Dr. Light. To be fair, it’s not like Proto Man’s face turn in Mega Man 3 makes much more sense within the context of the game alone. Still, the old Frame-Up trope feels hackneyed for the series’ fifth entry.
I don’t mean to be down on this game. Mega Man 5 is still, at its core, a Mega Man game, with all that entails. Running and gunning. Whimsical robots. A determined robot boy fighting for what is right. As a kid, another Mega Man was nothing to scoff at, and getting my secondhand copy of Mega Man 5 was a momentous day. But as an adult, I didn’t have that feeling of newness to buoy my opinion of the game. Twenty-something years later, it’s clear that Mega Man 5 was a retread, rather than an evolution.
Anyway, best robot master. Look, I know a lot of folks are down on the Mega Man 5 robot masters, but those people are no fun: one of them is part helicopter for goodness’ sake, and this is simply delightful. Gyro Man’s unsung coolness aside, my favorite of the bunch is probably Gravity Man. Gravity reversal is a fun ability, which is put to good use both by the robot master and their stage, which because of this unique feature is one of the highlights of Mega Man 5. Plus, the dude’s rocking his capital G as part of his look—that’s confidence right there, especially since a robot master’s gotta know by now that the odds really aren’t in their favor.
Mega Man 6 (NES, 1994)
Time to be divisive: Mega Man 6 is one of my favorite of the NES Mega Man games.
Is Mega Man 6, as a whole, better than Mega Man 2 or 3, our previously established high water marks? No. There are some ways in which Mega Man 6 feels like another retread, similarly to Mega Man 5. Mr. X? There’s no possible way Wily’s behind this one again. Wait, what? He is? Ah. Well, he’s certainly thought of another final strategy for…oh, another vanishing capsule? OK, fine. Beyond recycled tropes, Mega Man 6 also has some odd rough edges that stand out from its predecessors. An example: every special weapon in the game is fired using the standard arm cannon pose, using the same Mega Buster “pew pew pew” sound effect. This is not the sound, say, a blizzard makes. A flying axe is thrown, not shot. Hell, Mega Man 2 got this right in the early days, why be lazy now?
OK, so after all that, I imagine you’re probably asking yourself why on earth I’ve got a soft spot for Mega Man 6, underwhelming as it seems. The answer? The Rush Adapters.
Mega Man 6 completely upended the evolution that started with the Magnet Beam and seemingly ended with the Rush Coil, Jet, and (RIP) Marine. With the Rush Adapters, rather than offer a brief moment of assistance, Rush could now combine with Mega Man and alter the very fundamentals of the game. Do you want more mobility at the expense of offensive power? The Jet Adapter is for you. Do you want increased attack power at the cost of range? Use the Power Adapter. Both changed how Mega Man‘s long-standard running and gunning worked, which was a welcome breath of fresh air for the series. Plus, of course, it’s simply common knowledge that combining robots are cool as hell.
The Rush Adapters actually played into a new aspect of the series introduced in Mega Man 6, which was branching paths. Yes, the reward wasn’t much—the BEAT plates used to summon Mega Man 5’s robotic bird helper—but it still offered a bit of non-linearity for a heretofore straightforward series. And really, after six games, the series needed to mix it up if it was to continue. I think the team behind Mega Man 6 knew that. Playing the game again, it was evident that they wanted to do something to move the series forward.
So, the Mega Man 6 robot masters are a…mixed bag. As the game’s story established, each robot master was designed by different scientists from around the world. So one would expect some variety. Perhaps a showcase of world cultures, even. However, said showcase ended up less a well-intentioned celebration of world culture, a la It’s a Small World, and more…err, let’s say G Gundam, to be polite. Which, while I am a fan of said show—what’s more American than a boxing, surfing football robot with six shooters, after all—in 2018, let’s just say the standards for cultural representation are (rightfully!) higher. Both Mega Man 6 and G Gundam are products of their time. But still, it’s hard not to cringe when seeing a tribal-looking robot named Tomahawk Man attack using the feathers from his headdress. Oof.
That said, some of the whimsicality works well—Blizzard Man’s built in cozy winter cap, for example. All in all, though, my favorite is Knight Man. Sure, he’s a pushover in the game, but I love the character design. Knight Man’s visual design is a great blend of medieval arms and armor with Tetsuya-influenced science fiction cartoons. Fun fact: there’s actually debate about whether Knight Man hails from Great Britain or Germany in Mega Man 6. But in a post-Overwatch world, I prefer to think it’s the latter—if only because the thought of Knight Man proclaiming that “Justice will be done!” makes me realize that this is a crossover I never knew I needed until now.
The Omnic uprising really is just another spin on the Maverick Wars, after all…