Mega Man 6 ReviewJonathan Stark
ME: Six was the one with the equal opportunity robot masters, right?
FRIEND: What I remember about 6 was that Capcom didn't even try. The "plot" this time was that a mysterious Mr. X took over. Beat the 8 robots and beat Mr. X's castle and you find out that he was really Wily all along. Surprise.
I always made fun of Mega Man 6. It was easy pickings. Released in 1993, it was one of the truly tail-end releases for the NES, the second half of a dual advertising campaign that partnered it with Zoda's Revenge: Startropics II-a game so overlooked that even many fans of the original have never heard of it.
Keep in mind that 1993 was the same year as the following releases: Secret of Mana; Doom; Myst; The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening; and Day of the Tentacle. These were games that helped shape the modern-day gaming craze, featuring innovations that took advantage not only of new technology, but which built upon predecessors in order to redefine their genres for a broader audience. Against their ranks marched Mega Man 6, which featured the same design that had been around for five previous games.
Even worse, it seemed that even Capcom wasn't taking the games seriously anymore. Asking fans to design the robots for Mega Man 6 resulted in such Robot Masters as Plant Man, Yamato Man, Centaur Man, and Tomahawk Man. Each was supposed to represent a different nation around the world. For instance, Centaur Man was standing in for Greece, Plant Man for Brazil (inexplicably), and Tomahawk Man represented the United States... because of course all Americans define themselves by their wonderful treatment of the Native Americans. The whole concept sounded bad enough that I felt I didn't even need to play it in order to make fun of it.
So the biggest surprise of my entire Mega Man run has been the fact that I enjoyed Mega Man 6.
A quick note before I leap in: the last couple of reviews I spent a lot of time talking about stage design. In Mega Man 6, the stages have become much larger than ever before, featuring branching paths and secret items. To go over them in depth would be more like a walkthrough than a review. So this time I want to do things a little differently and get back to strictly covering the Robot Masters. Each stage did have at least one thing that stood out for me, so I'll mention that, but I'm going to get right to talking about the Robot design.
Centaur Man 6/10
The Greek representative, Centaur Man, supposedly worked in a museum prior to being made into a killer death robot, which begs a few questions. One, what the heck did the museum need a centaur for? To me, it seems like the last thing you'd want to have around priceless, fragile objects is a horse's hoof. Two, why did a museum robot need an arm cannon? Maybe that was part of his reprogramming. Or maybe he doubled as a night guard. In any case, Centaur Man has the most diverse attacks of any of his brothers, including the ability to teleport, freeze time, and fire a shot which explodes into a spread shot upon hitting a far wall. Of those, you get the freeze shot when you beat him, though it's the most incongruous one in the series. It's pretty much an "instant damage" attack that doesn't freeze anyone except Mega Man. Yay. It's actually more useful than I'm making it sound, as it destroys projectiles and bypasses shields. But it's also one of those cases of misnaming an attack that makes you wonder if Mega Man picked up the wrong weapon by mistake.
Centaur Man is notable for having the coolest water stage in the NES series. There's this mechanic where you jump up into water that's magically rising and falling above you and it elongates your leaps, as the time you spend in mid-air is affected by the water's gravity. You have to use it to clear some tricky gaps. There are some hopping enemies that use it, too, to try and cut you off and, well, it doesn't see a lot of use, but I give credit for the innovation. It's paired alongside the usual underwater spikes (about twice the normal amount) so you get a large helping of the old alongside a bit of the new-this mentality will be one of the things that makes me end up liking this game. I will admit that water is a bit odd here because, as a theme, it doesn't make sense with a centaur at all. Furthermore, I don't know what pelicans have to do with anything.
Yamato Man 7/10
Yamato is a word which was created by the Japanese in order to talk about something which was otherwise indefinable: the very essence of their culture. Like trying to capture what it is that makes something alive, Yamato simply means "Japanese Spirit" and defies being anything more concrete. In case you haven't guessed by now, Yamato Man represents Japan.
Yamato Man himself was designed like a spear-carrying Ronin and I'd like to say he attacks like one, too-but I've never been attacked by a Ronin, so that would be hearsay gained from reading Blade of the Immortal. I can say that he jumps around a lot and launches multiple spear tips at you from many different angles. You have to be precise to dodge this, so the fight does carry the frenetic energy I've come to associate with Samurai fights in animated material. I would have liked to have seen Yamato man whip out another weapon, like a Katana or a Nodachi, for his close quarters attacks. Giving him a spear and then making him a long-range opponent who only throws the tips of the spears is a little disappointing.
His stage is notable because it defines the branching paths of Mega Man 6. No other stage has as many, nor do they lead to the same variety of enemies and obstacles. There is a mini boss, for instance, that you will only encounter if you take a side path. It's a giant, laser-breathing demon frog, and any world where that's not worth a side trip to see is a world I don't wish to live in.
Wind Man 6/10
Air is a big theme in the Mega Man series. We had Gyro Man, we'll end up getting Tornado Man, Tengu Man, and Cloud Man, and we had, uh, Air Man. Wind Man fits into the theme with less pizazz and is the only Robot Master I found truly boring in his design (he's a fat dude with shoulder fans). It's also the only Robot Master that I can ever remember not using the weapon you get from him: the Wind Storm. The weapon sucks: it's basically Bubble Man's tracking-bubbles, but in the form of a really comical looking mini-twister. I would have preferred to get Wind Man's scything blades or even his ability to pull enemies into himself and damage them. That would have been a unique Mega Man power!
As unfascinating as Wind Man is, his level presents an enjoyable challenge. I give credit here to the Cannopeller's. Screw these things. They don't so much fly up and down as casually drift up and down while launching cannon balls at you whenever they feel like it. You have to fight them while drifting up and down yourself on some giant fans. Those fans might actually be more of a nuisance than the enemy. Later on, you have to cross a room of them with spikes on the ceilings. If you stay too long on the fan, it shoves you straight into the instant death spikes, but if you hop off too soon, you don't have enough momentum to make the jump and you fall into a bottomless pit. It's infuriating, but it's also the kind of timing challenge I associate with a classic Mega Man game.
Plant Man 9/10
Springs suck. Not the "Springs" with flowers, occasional light rain showers, and baby bunnies, but the kind of bouncy springs that liter Plant Man's stage, giving me a heart attack each time I try to get my bearings before making a jump. They also throw me into bullets that I'd dodge if I was on more stable ground. Again, it's that timing thing that I love to hate. There are a lot of cool themed features about Plant Man's stage. There's a Gorilla tank mini-boss that's fun to fight, because you have to keep pushing it back to safely damage it, and the stage has the absolute best placement of mini-powerups: masquerading as flower petals in the trees. It feels like Mega Man is grabbing fruit off the branches as he springs past-usually right into a pit.
The only reason I take off a point for this stage is because of the Robot Master. Plant Man is, I think, the number one reason people so readily make fun of Mega Man 6. His design is ridiculous. He's a giant flower and, according to his extended bio, is "very sensitive and can get depressed easily." It's totally incongruous with what you face in combat, which is a psychopathic death-plant with an unpredictable jump. Yeah, he shoots a flowery little petal shield at you, but then he chases you around like a madman. If there were voice acting on the NES, he'd be screeching. In short, Plant Man scares the crap out of me. But he made a poor ambassador for the game.
Tomahawk Man 8/10
The Cowboy and Indian theme got a little literal here but, despite myself, I like it. It does feel distinctly American, at least in the vein of old-timey Western films and Clint Eastwood (before he took to talking to chairs). I think if there was an American equivalent of the word "Yamato" it would be "Yeeehaw."
Tomahawk Man is damn tough to fight, and will actively work on getting you stuck in a corner where he can strike the hell out of you at his will. He also looks really cool. The headdress that fans out behind him; the silver Tomahawk that flies at your face in a spinning arc; it's easy to see why Hollywood directors focused on the stereotypical Native Americans as great set pieces in so many early films. As glad as I am that those days and films are long over, the whole outfit makes for an impressive display. It was an intelligent, if not very political, choice for a Robot design.
Flame Man 10/10:
Flame Man wears a turban, which makes him stand out in a crowd (and probably costs him at airport security). He also has a flame thrower on his back, which I like because it's one of the rare times since Bomb Man where you can actually make sense of a Robot Master's power. He isn't creating fire from some unexplained chemical process going on inside his body (or by virtue of being a giant, walking Zippo lighter). A flamethrower shooting fire is something anyone can understand and something everyone runs away from. This was a fight I won by the slimmest margin. It's one of those great fights where it's easy to figure out how to respond to the attacks but which moves fast enough that it's tough to know what's coming next. I've talked in the past about how I like these fights because they keep you on your toes without feeling unfair. After six games, it's still true. I liked it when Ice Man did it with patterned but tough to dodge shots back in Mega Man 1, when Shadow Man did it by briefly advertising his moves in Mega Man 3, and I like it here, where Flame Man has patterned fireball attacks, but doesn't advertise which he'll use next (leaving you only a split second to dodge appropriately).
Like air, fire has been a common theme in Mega Man and has seen its fair share of levels. Here was the most intriguing use of fire I've seen, because it acts almost as a secondary element of the stage. The primary element is oil. Harmless, if somewhat sludgeish, oil. You give it a sort of wary look the first time you pass it, waiting to see if something's going to happen. The next pit you give a more confused look, because nothing did happen. Then you fail to kill a fire-dropping enemy fast enough. Boom. Oil ignites while you're standing in it. It becomes a towering inferno. You're dead. Soon you'll come to an area where you simply can't shoot down the fire droppers fast enough to avoid turning a long stretch of oil into instant death. This is where another enemy comes into play. Meet the Pooker: a little pillbox that launches pellets at you. Shoot the Pooker with a charged mega shot and it flips head over heels. If it lands on the fire, its underbelly becomes a rideable platform. This sort of complex interaction with a level is unique in the early series to Mega Man 6 and makes Flame Man's stage stand out.
Blizzard Man 10/10
Fire and Ice. This brings back fond memories of starting this series of reviews, back when I did Fire Man and Ice Man back-to-back. That was the last time I gave a 10/10 pairing and I repeat that now. Blizzard Man exemplifies what I love about the best of the themed stages. This stage is a full-on progression of environments, starting in the frozen outdoors with slim signs of humanity; then through an icy cave to an underground submarine docking station; then a climb up the mountains to the final encounter with the Robot Master. Jesus, and I thought the fire stage was hard. The blizzard stage is a constant fight against icy floors trying to slide you into spikes, and platforms that explode seconds after you step on them, to drop you down bottomless pits. The submarine section is interesting because it rises up and down and changes, as it does, the trajectory of your shots. You can use this to your advantage to hit the Gunner Joes manning the submarine, but you also have to pay more attention to their shots, because dodging is a lot trickier. I found it to be the hardest of this game's stages and getting to the end carries with it a real sense that you've climbed a mountain; that you've accomplished something.
Blizzard Man is a nice little cherry to find at the top of this sundae. Making him bulky was a good choice: the skis and little bauble cap he's wearing combine with his size to give him a sense of personality. He doesn't actually ski towards you, instead rolling into a ball and launching himself at you. That's a little strange and a sad ignoring of his skis, but it doesn't hurt the fight. It's an inversion of the Fireman principle: it's easy to see what he's going to do, and you have plenty of time to react, but it's really tough to dodge it. Overall, the level is fun, the fight is fun, and the design is fun, even if we don't get to dodge a madman wearing two planks of fiberglass on his feet. I guess if I want that, I can go to an actual mountain.
Knight Man 5/10
Knight Man is the other robot to be designed by an American. He was designated to represent the United Kingdoms. Makes sense, considering that's where all the knights came from. For a simple idea, Knight Man's design is quite pleasing. I find it aesthetically interesting to see a robot (which is a very modern idea) combined with a knight (which is a fairly ancient idea). Supposedly he has defeated over 1000 robots in duels... which strikes me as improbable, because he's probably the easiest Robot Master in the game. His weapon of choice is called the Knight Crush. It's really a mace, whose range ends wherever you're standing when he uses it. So, if you jump away from it as it comes at you, then he's left open to attack. That leads to a lot of exploitation of his pattern. So, though he has cool design, he doesn't hold up well in the fight. I keep feeling that he should have been a brute character and taken up much more room on the screen. He moves slow, his attack is easily dodged, so the only thing he could have had going for him is size and pure intimidation.
His stage is one of the more simplistic ones and actually the only stage in the game that didn't have a stand out element for me. So... sorry, Knight Man (and by extension, the United Kingdoms), but you're kind've forgettable, for all that I enjoy your design.
Mr. X's castle 10/10
It's time for me to talk about the new Rush powers. In previous games, Mega Man could summon Rush the Robotic Dog for a small variety of powers. Most useful of these was always the Rush Jet-it was so useful in Mega Man 2 that each future title found a way to make it less and less useful. Here, instead of calling him, Mega Man merges with his cybernetic pup to become a new version of himself. If you become Power Mega Man, then you can charge a short range punch that can kill otherwise indestructible enemies and break blocks to reveal hidden paths and items. It's also, potentially, the most powerful attack in the game, depending on how close you get to an enemy. If you've heard me rant about the Top Spin and Crash Kick, you know my thoughts on that, though.
The other mode is Mega Man Jet, in which you lose the ability to fire the Mega Buster but gain an effin' rocket pack. The mechanic adds more challenge than just letting you fly. The pack activates after a jump, like a double jump, and then takes a moment to reach full power. This means there is a period where you drop and then slowly begin to rise before you are really flying. You can't hover, so you have to keep letting go of the power and reinitiating this drop-and-rise period with good timing in order to stay on a horizontal level with an enemy you're tracking. This leads to what I can only describe as dogfights between Mega Man and airborne enemies, where you're falling past them, rising behind them, dropping to avoid shots, and firing your own gun the whole time. It's sweet.
I bring up these powers now because they are put to great use in the castles. Some sections require it; other sections can be made easier if you are good at using these powers. Best of all, because it doesn't cost energy, you don't have to worry about screwing up and losing your ability halfway over a death spike jump. After five games, Mega Man finally found a way to avoid the annoying need to energy-grind just in order to traverse a castle stage. Capcom doesn't sacrifice the need for skill to achieve this, though. Especially with the Jet form, you have to get the timing down to a science in order to proceed. Even with the Power form, there's one spot in the first level where you can reveal an alternate path (filled with extra lives) if you're DAMN good. It's the hardest secret in the entire NES series, involving a tight jump underneath spikes onto a temporary platform and then an instantaneous use of your power ability in the exact right spot before the platform drops you. The game is making you work for your powerups: something I've been asking to see in the series as long ago as Mega Man 3.
The praise doesn't end there, but the rest you've heard whenever I've been excited by past castles in past titles. There's a great ramping up of difficulty, the stages are long and exhilarating, bosses are huge and intimidating, there's amazing timing required of you; my favorite section is one with tiny platforms that move with your weight while you're being bombarded by fire droppers-spikes line the ceiling here, too, to limit your use of the Jet pack. I mean, look at Mega Man here... he's clearly thinking that he's getting too old for this shit.
Wily's Castle 10/10
Finally we get a Wily Castle that lives up to the one that precedes it. Everything here is perfect. The stages are not long, but that's okay, because it's a nice break from the first castle. Also, they don't need to be long: you're going to be redoing them a few times. We open with a full on fall-past-spikes section that requires the use of the Jet form at the perfect moments to avoid being impaled. Again, I love that they didn't just throw these new powers in the game because they seemed cool; they took them into account for these castle levels and really put them to use. I've actually never seen the end of this section, because I found a secret branching path and bailed as soon as I was able, taking a totally different route to the boss-a mechanical dinosaur that spits fire. So right away, we get difficulty, branching paths, use of cool powers, and a huge badass boss. It is, by far, the best Dr. Wily castle in the series. And, at last, Wily himself is a fun fight. He incorporates those aspects of good fights I've been talking about, but hits harder. For instance, in his first form, he has two attacks. He'll either launch large balls of energy at you, which are tricky to dodge but easy to see coming, or he'll jump and try to crush you, which is both easy to see coming and easy to dodge but devastating if you get hit. For added fun, the level scrolls to the left during the whole fight. The final form reuses his by-now standard invisibility trick, but he's much faster and less predictable now and, best of all, the fight was designed with the Jet form in mind, making this a potentially epic aerial fight.
... and then the screen fades to the final cinematic of Mega Man's NES adventures. I want to reflect for a moment on how much Mega Man 6 represented the end of an era. The first Mega Man was released in 1987, only two years after the Nintendo Entertainment System came to Western shores. It appeared in the same year as Contra, Castlevania, and Metal Gear. It was the year that saw the American release of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, and, in Japan, Final Fantasy. There is no year of gaming that is as nostalgic or carries with it such weighty titles. Amongst these many beginnings, Mega Man stands tall as its own legend. The glory days of Nintendo's first system would last for six years (the system itself would be produced until 2003, for an astonishing twenty year lifespan), and for nearly each one of those six years we would see a new Mega Man game. More than any other title, Mega Man was the constant companion of the NES and, thus, of my childhood. In this review series, I may have come to many of the games for the first time, but they were always there in the background of my formative years. Whether resting on the shelves at the local blockbuster or hiding within the pages of my Nintendo Power, the Blue Bomber defined what it meant to be a hardcore gamer.
At some point, anyone who plays through each NES Mega Man will begin to feel like they are covering old ground. Everyone has their "cash in" game in the series. For many, Mega Man 6 fit this bill, and it's easy to understand why. It is the same basic game, being released for the sixth time. But I think the worst you can say about it is that Mega Man 6 continues to get the formula right. And if you're willing to look further than that, you may see how this isn't a bad thing. While its 1987 birth brothers would continue to change and find new innovations with their series (to differing reactions), Mega Man was content to keep delivering a familiar experience; as if to say, "hey, this is still the Nintendo you remember and love."
And then it ended. In 1995, Nintendo officially discontinued American support for its first system. By then, Mega Man X had come out-for the Super Nintendo-and we all knew that the series had changed. Mega Man wouldn't return to its 8-bit roots until 2008, two and a half decades after Mega Man 6 was released. And even though it's taken me even longer than that to get to the sixth game, and this is my first playthrough of it, I still felt the weight of what it represented as the final credits rolled.
It still marks the end of an era. And I think it did it justice.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.