Mega Man 3 ReviewJonathan Stark
My Mega Man days started with the fourth title in the series. Enjoying that game had a nice perk: the entire time I played, I knew that there were three other games I could visit when I was done. And, being a somewhat obsessive child, I decided that I would start my new Mega Man craze from the beginning, as was only proper. The next game I bought was the very first one and, if you've read my review for it, you might have a good idea how that panned out. The colors were bland, the controls ornery, and I found the first Wily Castle boss to be impossible.
Because of my failure with Mega Man (and being a somewhat obsessive child), I never felt quite comfortable playing the second or third games. Four was safe-it was grandfathered in; but two and three were relegated to the rental list as a form of self punishment. Of course, being obscenely popular with every child who was a little more forgiving with themselves, it was usually rented out.
So for me, playing Mega Man 3 today was like playing it for the first time. I had no familiarity with any of the stages or bosses. My knowledge of the music is admittedly intimate, but that's because Mega Man 3 had one of the catchiest and most diverse soundtracks for its time; a mixture of electronica, 80's pop, and heavy rock that seems like it could only have been born from a joint invitation to a slumber party for Bruce Springstein and Steven Tyler, crashed at the last minute by all the members of Dead or Alive (the band, not the game). My friends used to try and repeat their favorite tunes on guitar and piano.
Aside from the music, the graphics instantly stand out to the Mega Man 3 newcomer. Mega Man 2 brought vibrancy to the world of killer robots. Mega Man 3 brings size. Enemies seem bigger here than ever before, even ones that really aren't any bigger. the Hammer Joes, for instance, who swing a ball and chain above their head a few times before releasing it at Mega Man. These guys aren't any bigger than their classic cousins, the Sniper Joes, but they are designed to look larger. They have bulky upper bodies and a bit of a bulge around their gut that makes them seem like they are ready to get in the ring and make things personal. As for enemies that really are bigger, the developers went all out to give them a lot of articulation and moving parts. One of my favorite examples is the hopper robots. You can see their pistons slide up and down, propelling their legs out for their tough-to-dodge jumps, and their eyes register surprise at the shock of each landing.
Of course, with new music and new moves we also have all new Masters to consider. Since Robot Masters and their stages are not only the heart but the entire digestive system of any Mega Man experience, the burden is going to be on them, and not a well-timed slide, to carry this new game across home plate.
Magnet Man 4/5
Magnet Man's stage features a return of the disappearing blocks, though I was pleasantly surprised to see that the game wasn't going to be cheap with them. They are approached much more like puzzles here, giving you the chance to observe their full and complete pattern before attempting the actual jumps. Not to say they aren't hard. They've been paired up with, appropriately, magnet beams that try to pull you off the blocks. Again, though, it's not cheap. You have all the time in the world to plan before you make the jumps; it's all about coming up with the right plan and executing the proper timing.
Unfortunately, the stage also features the return of the boring gray color that permeated Mega Man 1. I instantly take a point off of any Robot Master who dares to home-decorate in that tint. It lends an industrial feel to the stage that is irritating when juxtaposed with the cheery, bright red of Magnet Man's headgear. Magnet Man is actually a pretty cool Robot. His magnets function as homing missiles and his secondary ability to pull you toward him makes perfect sense. The Mega's have also done a cover of his stage music where he's in love with Mega Man's sister, but I think that's more depth than Capcom ever intended him to have.
Hard Man 2/5
What? What's that whistle? A flash of red and a new enemy appears halfway through the level, looking suspiciously like Mega Man. That would be Proto Man, one of the first video game characters whom I remember having a fan base. As I said, I sort've missed Mega Man 3, but one of my friends told me everything there was to know about this guy. He even bought a yellow scarf and painted an old bike helmet red and... well, we thought it looked cool as kids.
Someone we never thought looked cool as kids was Hard Man. I feel like Keiji Inafune wanted to recreate the dubious success of Guts Man and Hard Man was going to be his ticket to that ride. Hard Man even has a mining-themed stage, like Guts Man. But he looks more like a submarine than a construction device and his stage is filled with incongruous enemies like monkeys and bees... and Proto Man. Oh well, he's still better than Guts Man. At least his power is occasionally useful.
Shadow Man 5/5
What I like about fighting Shadow Man is that he consistently wipes the floor with me. He's not easy to fight. But he is fun to fight, because he follows a pattern of sorts. He jumps three times and then does something. The trick is that he'll either slide across the room at you or he'll get ready to throw a couple of giant shurikens. I love the way Capcom set this up. They gave you enough information to be prepared to deal with an upcoming threat (you know something is going to happen after those three jumps), but not enough information that you can fall into a dry, repetitive, pattern (you don't know what that something is). You have to pay attention during this fight: there's no getting around it. But it isn't a completely random slog fest, either. You won't win by tackling Shadow Man head-on.
His stage is cool enough, in a Die Hard, homage to action films, sort of way. He's another of those Robots cursed with a name that doesn't easily lend itself to a theme. So we get walking grenades and parachuting enemies over lakes of lava. Because lava... casts light... which casts shadows...? I'm grasping for relevance, here. I will give credit to the sections of the stage where all the lights go out. Now, that makes sense!
Top Man 3/5
In the first Mega Man, one of the neat concepts behind the creation of the Robot Masters is that all of them were created for a feasible service they could provide to the human race. Ice Man, for instance, was built to do work in sub-zero climates; Cut Man was meant to work in the lumber industry; Elec Man was designed to advance the power industry as a walking conduit. Even Guts Man had his uses, as he was meant to work in dangerous mining conditions (it takes guts!).
That said, what the heck was Top Man designed for? Supposedly he was meant to be able to work in different gravities. By spinning really fast. Yeah, the concept of applicable robot skills has been stretched to its thinnest point in Mega Man 3 and gets pretty much abandoned in Mega Man 4. Still, Top Man is forgiven some of these distractions by having a well-themed stage. Someone really stretched their imagination to find somewhere that "tops" could make sense and kind've pulled it off-it's set inside an abandoned toy factory. I have to give the cat miniboss credit, too. It's not much related to the theme, but I love the little robotic fleas that jump off its back to attack you.
Needle Man 3/5
I was really nervous going into this stage. I expected to see death spikes all over the place. When I reached a section where needles came down from the ceiling in one pattern while other needles came up from the floor in another, I thought I was about to become well acquainted with the game over screen. Like all Mega Man 3 puzzles, this one was kind enough to give me a safe spot to observe the death trap before rushing in. I sat. I waited. I practiced Pranayama breathing. I learned the pattern. I rushed in, slid past the first spike, mistimed my jump over the next one, and plowed directly into the third.
And survived with a couple bars of health taken off.
I'm not sure whether to give credit to Needle Man's stage for avoiding what could have been an incredibly frustrating area, or to chastise it for removing any sense of challenge. At least until the boss. You cannot deny that Needle Man is challenging. He most resembles Quick Man, in that he doesn't have a clear pattern and his needle shots are very hard to avoid. He's slightly slower than Quick Man but he makes up for it by firing more often and by having a secondary attack where he rams his spiky head at you for a lot of damage. Again, though, I don't know if I should give him credit for being hard, or berate him for being almost completely unpredictable and thus one of those Robots who pretty much requires the use of his weakness to win against. I definitely give him credit for his design. It's one of the more interesting Robot Master designs, and the telescopic head-mount is a great example of those detailed moving parts I mentioned earlier.
Snake Man 5/5
"Remember that stage, in Mega Man 3, with all the snakes?"
"Remember that one part where you are actually fighting on a giant snake?"
"And how about that part where dudes launch at you on pole vaults and you climb into the sky?"
Snake Man proves that the most memorable stages in Mega Man are those that stick to their themes. Everyone remembers the giant snakes. Heck, even with my limited history with the title, I remembered those. Yet, even fans sometimes forget the sky part of the level. If you asked me what the least likely place to find snakes is, I'd say anywhere in the sky (Samuel Jackson films notwithstanding). Aside from this, the level features great "upping the ante" sensibilities. In the first few screens you are introduced to the occasional lonely snake head, which shoots at you when approached. Then you meet three of them at once in a tight space and test your dodging skills. Then you fight a huge one. The progression of difficulty, when done in this visual way with the enemies literally getting bigger, is extremely rewarding. It's a tactic that is still repeated in games today, like God of War. Sadly, Snake Man himself is normal-sized and, while cool looking, his attack pattern is pretty simple and not very snake-like. Still, I'll take what I can get. And what I get here is good Robot design, an enjoyable and extremely memorable stage, and a final fight that keeps me on my toes even if I don't have to think as much as when fighting, say, Shadow Man.
Gemini Man 4/5
I love the concept of Gemini Man. I really like the idea of fighting mirror-image twins and I believe he's the only Robot Master in the series that you do fight two of at the same time. The pattern is kind've cool, too, with the Geminis running and jumping around you, freezing in place to shoot only when you shoot. It's an interesting choice of pattern that puts the player in charge of the action and makes any damage incurred truly a fault of poor timing. It's tricky, because you have to fire and then immediately jump over the retaliatory shot, then time your landing so the now-moving Gemini has time to pass underneath you. The fight changes again when you kill one of them and it becomes a tactical assault, where you want to kill the remaining twin as fast as possible before he gets off too many of his deadly, rebounding lasers.
In all, it's a great concept for a fight that overshadows the bizarre stage full of tadpoles, ice blocks, salsa music, giant penguins, and mosquitos. I really don't know what to say about it. It is so chaotic that it avoids being memorable. My recollections of it even now are hazy, like it was all one bad neon-colored dream that took place when I fell asleep at a Latino dance club.
Spark Man 4/5
After failing to do anything interesting with the stage of their first electric Master, Spark Man's stage has been set in what looks to be some kind of generator plant full of circuit boards. It's not a bad design decision and definitely screams electricity, at least if you can hear it over your own screams of rage. The stage is pretty vicious. Each section seems to get harder than the last, culminating in a room where you have to jump on tiny platforms to make it across a stretch of bottomless pit. To complicate things, enemies very accurately called "nuts and bolts" float above the pit, trying to get in the way of your jumps. To further complicate things (and then tie them up with a bow and present them to you on a platter along with a suicide note), the blocks rise in the air as soon as you jump on them. And there are deadly one-hit-kill spikes up there. And the blocks rise very fast. Getting past this section involves keeping your heart somewhere around the vicinity of your larynx.
The big, bad Spark Man is tough to dodge, but pretty easy to figure out. He's not near as hard as Elec Man and not as enjoyable a fight as Shadow Man, simply because there are times where it doesn't make a lot of sense to dodge him. Shadow Man would hit you and then jump away before you could use the invincibility to your benefit. But Spark Man has the unfortunate habit of shooting out little sparks and then following them with a huge, highly damaging spark. His big miscalculation is that, if you get hit by the little sparks, you'll be invincible for the big spark. And the whole time he's doing this move, he stands perfectly still, allowing you to get off ten or twelve shots each time. There, I just told you how to beat Spark Man.
Doc Robot 4/5
This was a huge surprise to me. I don't believe that there can really be spoilers for a game this old, but this one hit me like a big twist nonetheless: all the Robots from Mega Man 2 are back, and feature two-apiece in four of the main stages: Shadow Man, Needle Man, Spark Man, and Gemini Man. The stages have been put on steroids for this second run and are much harder than the previous versions, mixing together the toughest combination of enemies from the original level, and pairing them over bottomless pits or in rooms full of spikes and other death traps. In fact, I would call these four stages and their Doc Robot bosses the hardest part of Mega Man 3.
The stage redesigns are hectic and fun, and even a little clever at times. For instance, when you first do Needle Man's stage, if you pay attention, you will notice that you pass over these platforms which cover what seem to be the yellow hills from Mario 3, except that a little blue line peeks up from their bottom. You won't have any idea what this is until you revisit the stage for the nighttime, Doc Robot version and watch these hills rise out of the ground near the end to attack as Helmet Head minibosses (the blue line was part of their classic "plus" symbol). I didn't realize this until my second time through the game but I thought it was a nice touch; obviously some thought had gone into this revisitation.
The Robots themselves highlight both the best and worst aspects of Mega Man 2. . Air Man reminds us how much luck was a factor in the fights, as one of his attack patterns is nigh-undodgeable and there's no telling how many times he'll launch it. Quick Man highlights the grimace-inducing slogfest, as he has no attack pattern at all but just jumps around the stage like a madman. Metal Man, on the other hand, feels a bit like fighting Shadow Man, bringing back the nice combination of a predictable pattern mixed with a touch of randomness that requires you to stay on your toes.
Overall, I found these levels to be the most enjoyable part of the game. They asked me to take everything I'd learned up to this point and apply it with little room for error. The bosses were deadly hard, even knowing their weaknesses, and the stages didn't provide me with a lot of energy tanks or extra lives to get through them. They were also short enough that I didn't mind starting over when I'd died and I never lost my groove from being forced to make a long slog back to the boss room. Still, it took me a couple of sittings to clear all four stages. By this time, I was beginning to sweat. If this was the difficulty level of the Doc Robot stages, then what was Wily's Castle going to have in store for me? I tentatively decided to try just the first stage, to get an idea of what would be coming...
Wily's Castle 3/5
... and barely forty minutes later, had beaten the game. The Wily's Castle of Mega Man 3, and all of the guardians within it, is the easiest in the series up to this point. Each room seemed to promise that it was going to get hard. I was tense all throughout the first stage. When I only met a couple of enemies on my approach to the castle, I thought "they're just buttering me up." An energy tank placed conveniently in my path only raised my anxiety, making me think that what was coming had to be truly terrifying, requiring the use of this extra energy to beat. Then I fell into a water segment and my terror almost burst. "What were the fiends going to do with gravity and spikes here?" I wondered.
It turns out, they weren't going to do anything with them. I was in the water for less time than a tanning mother at a swimming pool. Then I climbed some ladders, gained more energy tanks and extra lives, bypassed a disappearing blocks section with the Rush Jet, and fought the weakest Mega Man boss I'd ever faced (it's a series of slow moving turtles that die in one hit from the shadow blade). And the first stage I've just described is the longest of the stages in Wily's Castle.
I do really appreciate that the developers were not stingy about their powerups. They were also very sensible about checkpoints, never making you face more than one boss in a row (unless you count the mandatory revisiting of the eight Robot Masters). There is even a checkpoint between Wily's second and third forms.
Now if only these checkpoints and pick-me-ups came after a harder challenge, or required some skill to get to, the whole thing would feel a little more worth it. Oftentimes, an energy tank would be placed right within my direct path-or removed from it by a single suspended block that I had to use the Rush Coil to reach. Oooo, tricky. Having an energy tank is a great boon when you're feeling fatigued by a long boss pattern and slip up a few times. Similarly, a checkpoint right before a boss is nice when the boss has a difficult pattern and you have to spend a lot of lives learning it. But these things weren't usually present in Wily's Castle, so I ended up with enough energy tanks to take on God and checkpoints I never needed.
I still enjoyed working my way through things. Getting a rematch against the Yellow Devil was a nice nostalgic touch and Wily himself has never been more fun to fight. All of the huge graphics are in full play here, especially when it comes time to face the final boss. He even has an instant kill attack that sweeps across a quarter of the screen and will leave you shaky each time you manage to dodge it. Still, it can't be denied that Mega Man 3 lets you get sloppy in Wily's Castle, and that feels odd after the challenge of the Doc Robot stages. Going straight from those to the Castle felt like powering down rather than ramping up. I kept waiting for the real challenge to appear, all the way up to the closing credits, and it left me feeling a little underwhelmed, whereas most of the game I'd been riding on a tidal wave of adrenaline.
There seemed to be a general consensus, after my Mega Man 2 review, that I would hate Mega Man 3. I don't know what to say to this, except that, against all expectations, I loved the time I spent with Mega Man 3. Aside from a lackaluster endgame, whatever flaws it may have had were hidden by a crescendo of action that left me no little time to find things to critique. When I beat a level, my memories of it were awash with a blurred sensation of balls-to-the-wall running and sliding, and jumping across tiny platforms while dodging enemies from behind and shooting the enemies ahead. This reached its height with the Doc Robot levels. There was a real sense of achievement in beating those, because I knew I'd been able to achieve victory only by paying attention and using the tools that were given to me to their utmost. Usually I squeezed through with only a couple of health bars left and felt the better for it.
This isn't meant to be a comparison review, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what exactly one game set off in me that the other didn't. Mega Man 3 felt fast paced and fun to me; Mega Man 2 didn't. I will say that many of the things I love here-the visual show of conquering bigger and better enemies, the inclusion of the sliding move, a greater diversity of patterns that are easy to comprehend but tough to master-weren't present for the last title and help to explain the difference in my reaction. And the absence of "one true path" design in Mega Man 3 made me realize all the more how much I disliked it in the last adventure.
And perhaps I come to the game with a different perspective on history than others. The most common complaint I've heard about Mega Man 3 is that it didn't change things up enough from its predecessor. I'm not sure I agree, as the slide move and different design sensibility seems a massive change to me. And even if I did agree, it's a strange complaint coming from people who loved Mega Man 2. Many of these reviewers have hailed the return to sameness with Mega Man 9 and 10, calling it one of the more brilliant moves for the series and one that they've waited a long time to see. I'm not saying this is necessarily an unfair dichotomy. What people wanted as a sequel to Mega Man 2 and as a sequel to Mega Man 8 could understandably be very different things.
Regardless, I would call Mega Man 3 a game that was far ahead of its time, as I still find it enjoyable as a modern gamer. Whether my retro-self would have enjoyed it, I will never know. Were the final stages a better conclusion to the experience, I would consider it my favorite of the series.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.