With Mega Man 11 having released on October 2nd, the Blue Bomber is starring in his first core series game since 2010. Despite the countless spinoffs, nothing holds the hearts and minds of fans quite like the good old original series. To celebrate its return, I’m taking a gif-laden trip down memory lane to break down games 1-10 and enduring the hardships so you don’t have to (unless you want to).
With Mega Man 3, the Blue Bomber entered the 90s riding quite the wave of popularity following the, to this day, highest-selling title in the Mega Man series: Mega Man 2. Pressure, therefore, was on for Capcom to create a sequel that could fulfill the expectations of fans and critics alike. The pressure, it seems, was quite telling. In the interim of the release of Mega Man 2 and the development of Mega Man 3, director Akira Kitamura – the man who pushed so hard for the sequel to be made – quit Capcom.
The development team, including now-infamous Keiji Inafune, were not exactly bowled over by their new superior, as Inafune has gone on record saying that new director Masayoshi Kurokawa “didn’t really understand Mega Man the way his predecessor did.” Are his outspoken words reflected in the final game, or was he throwing toys out the pram after a serious crunch kicked in and forced Mega Man 3 to be released before the team felt it was ready? Certainly, review scores were incredibly high – it cracked 9/10 scores in many media publications – but does it really not get Mega Man? It’s time to dive deep and see for ourselves.
One thing Mega Man 3 absolutely does better than its predecessors is telling a story. The third game in the series finally gave some – not a lot, but some – background to the robot-murdering antics we were about to undertake. Most notably, Dr. Wily is a reformed man whose arse can’t take another kicking and has decided to work with Dr. Light to develop a peace-keeping robot named Gamma. Historically, building robots for peace-keeping always work out well in entertainment media, so I’m sure everything will be fine.
While not immediately obvious – after so many years and having played so many of these games, I admittedly forgot for a good amount of playtime – Mega Man comes into his third outing with a slick new move at his disposal. That’s right, folks, you might not be able to crouch (you can NEVER crouch), you can now slide. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do!
Magnet Man’s stage follows its prequel’s ideas that a Robot Master’s stage should embody his physical traits. As such, your first enemy here is a magnet. The Mag Flies put up a measly attempt to thwart your jumping in the early stage of the level, but they are merely serving as the hors-d’oeuvre to a brand-new main dish for the series: Break Man. He can appear to be quite a challenge, as his movement abilities match that of your own, but this first battle (oh, there are a lot more to come) is on a level surface, meaning he’s at his ripest for the picking with some tactical jumping and sliding under him.
A more familiar site awaits you after Break Man has been sent packing – the timer-based disappearing platforms! Ah lads, I missed you so I did. This segment feels pretty long, and is made harder thanks to the twist that giant magnets are attempting to pull you to your death as you’re jumping. They can, however, mostly be avoided as the optimum route of traversal is usually above their effective range.
Magnet Man is a really tough introduction to the bosses in this game, which are significantly harder than the previous games. He has a pretty standard pattern, but the fight will take time considering you have no special weapons and his jump pattern requires some swift sliding, especially due to his magnet attacks and jump landings both having plenty of speed behind them. It’s all about patience here. Patience and sliding; lots of sliding.
What a bugger the start to this level is! The opening section will make you go all Nic Cage screaming about bees, as they are a real pain to land your shots on. Just like trying to swat one of the bastards away from your cider, they just won’t stay still and die. Staying still is something you yourself will not want to do as you subsequently try to traverse across seemingly innocuous flooring that actually houses the clamps from Futurama (named Wanaans), and are pretty hard to avoid unless you’re skilled at quickly sliding.
Hard Man’s stage is easily one of the most awkward levels I’ve ever played. Everything in it is so fiddly. As if the Chibees weren’t squirmy enough, the bloody Returning Monking are arguably worse. They leap to the ceiling (maybe they’re spider monkeys) to avoid your fire, landing again purely to hound you and chase you into madness. That’s right, I’m mad now.
Now, I’m not accusing this level of sadistic laziness, but it definitely doesn’t take a genius to work out that Chibees That Suck + Wanaans That Suck = The Suckiest Suck That Ever Sucked. It’s cool, though, because it’s not like getting through that slog is all just a precursor to another Break Man fight or anything. Oh, wait. Piss off, mate, I’m having a bad day! He’s really difficult for a guy who spends half the fight shooting the wrong way. I get that he could be retreating, but what’s he shooting at?
Much like his bastard of a level, Hard Man lives up to his name. He puts up a real fight with a hard-to-avoid weapon and too much HP for your Magnet Missile to finish him off, meaning you’ll have to switch back to the Mega Buster for a bum-clenching end to the fight. Finally, mercifully, the level is over.
Top Man’s stage is filled with fiddly enemies. Alongside the Bolton and Nutton – enemies that require you wait for both halves to screw together before you can attack them – are Mechakkero – frog-likes that bounce around almost everywhere but in your direct firing range. Oh, and a fat dude chucking spinning tops at you down some stairs. Sometimes I just wish I could have been in the design meetings and hear these enemies described out loud.
I mentioned in the first article that, although I’ve beaten most of these games, I am far from a pro-level Mega Man player. As such, it was only at this point that I realized you can shoot from the Mega Buster when equipped with the RC power once Rush is out. Handy, that. Probably could’ve used that before, but it’s helpful to grab an extra life guarded by a Picketman on a high platform.
The level features an ironically friendlier version of the Friender from MM2. The fire-spewing dog is replaced by Tama – a fat cat who spits balls of yarn at you. And they hurt, apparently. To add a final dash of thematic flavour before the end of the level, there are some actual spinning top platforms to jump over. They are trickier than they look – you have to not only time the jump so that there’s another platform waiting, but that you’re spun on the right edge as you take the leap.
Top Man at least has a genuine weakness to the weapon you’re using, and his attacks aren’t too bad to avoid. They fly very quickly, but the necessity for only 4 hits from the Hard Knuckle to finish him off means mistakes aren’t the end of the world, and Top Man’s stage ends as the easiest one so far.
Unfortunately, this is not the dude from the N64 game. Damn, I love Shadow Man. Again, the N64 Shadow Man. Not this guy. Anyway…
Nothing much happens of note at the beginning of this level until Break Man shows up for another bout of robotic fisticuffs. The arena is another flat ground so he’s in his easiest form; if you don’t jump, you don’t get shot. You need only avoid Break Man’s jumping arc, which begs the question: if he has comparable abilities to Mega Man and hurts him with a mere touch, then why can’t Mega Man hurt him the same way? Because video games, obviously.
Mega Man 3 definitely doesn’t have the musical chops that its predecessor did. I hated the music in this stage at first, but it grew on me, and it gets better as it goes along. The melodies of this soundtrack certainly aren’t as catchy as we’re used to, but the songs themselves are more layered with longer structures, feeling more like full songs – for better or worse.
Although they don’t quite fit the theme of the stage – despite appearing in a section where the lights are continually going out – the Walking Bombs are one of my favourite enemy designs in the game. They’re just madness. They attack from both angles and will seriously hurt you if you don’t kill them from a distance as they explode upon death.
I often wonder if I make these games harder for myself by sticking to the Mega Buster throughout the levels and only switch over at the bosses. Exhibit A: There’s a section with Parasyu trying to ruin your platforming fun, but the magnet gun’s ability to shoot upwards will take them out in one shot. That’s not working hard, it’s working smart.
The Tazmanian Devil-esque chaos that the Top Spin weapon produces means it’s quite easy to simply hurl yourself at the Shadow Man and do the damage necessary without even knowing you’ve done anything. It’s a little fiddly to use as it only works in the air, and I had no idea Shadow Man was even getting hurt, which means he’s probably a bit easy.
Watch out epileptics, here comes Spark Man’s crazy stage!
Massive middle fingers can be pointed at the Elec’n enemies at the start of this level. These ‘Kings of the Frame Drop’ are absolutely maddening and, unlike the Parasyu in the last level, they are immune to the Magnet Missile, so it’s a lot harder to hit them from the ground. I guess a plug being immune to a magnet makes some degree of scientific sense.
I love how the Mega Man games can completely mess with an experienced gamer’s expectations of standard conventions. Whereas even a cautious player would expect platforms to drop to the floor, you’d rarely be prepared for them to slam you straight into a ceiling full of spikes instead. Mega Man games often have spikes on the ceiling to discourage reckless jumping, but these launching platforms took me totally by surprise…even if they do have an upward facing arrow painted on them. Shut up. Combine them later on in the level with the Bolton and Nutton from Top Man’s stage and I’m severely close to an aneurysm.
I truly hate the Electric Gabyoall in this level. I find them really difficult to avoid and I always seem hopelessly incapable of figuring out their timing and frequently get zapped. Naturally, all my playthroughs for these articles will be from memory or, in the cases of 7 and 8, completely blind, and it’s only afterwards that I watch videos of how you’re supposed to play the level. Turns out if you use the Tornado Gun all the way through then you’re laughing. I was not laughing.
In a throwback to my favourite weapon from MM2, the Shadow Blade is awesome and works like my old MM2 favorite – the Metal Blade. You can basically stand still and fling them at Spark Man, who is nowhere near the challenge his level was. His projectiles are slow and easy to avoid, and he’ll be condemned to the shadows of robot hell in no time at all.
Even though I’m not totally into the intro, Snake Man’s stage has the best music in the game for me. The main hook (the verse, I guess) is so addictive and memorable, and the way the song loops back to the start is expertly composed.
MM3 and MM2 both adopt a very similar mantra on the basic design of a level. Either the level has tons of crazy platforming in it, or it’s relatively easy to navigate but features recurring mini-bosses. Snake Man’s stage is the latter. Most of the level seems to be a series of intertwined Snakeys, whose heads will pop up occasionally to shoot at you, including the aforementioned mini-bosses. These giant serpent heads are easiest, or at least quickest, to kill if you run right up to them and pepper their chin from below with the Shadow Blade.
The crazy Bubukan in this level are hilarious. They look like a chubby Mr. Game & Watch. After taking a few goes to figure out, it’ll eventually become clear that they’re easy enough to slide under and completely avoid. It’s even better when you’ve slid underneath them and climbed a ladder, as they usually run straight off the edge of the level as you climb away.
The end of the level sees Mega Man climbing to the clouds to face the boss, and it proves to be the trickiest part of the stage. Platforming across slow swirling clouds acts like the spinning tops from earlier, and the Bomb Fliers hiding in clouds aren’t too difficult, but they can cause issues at the end where they gang up on you. It’s best to shoot when you’re safe and let them bugger off the screen before you make any plans for jumping across gaps.
Snake Man himself isn’t really weak to anything, can soak up hits, causes masses of slowdown with his attacks, and is basically an all-around jerk. I’d say, after Hard Man, he’s the second toughest Robot Master in the game.
I’d put this stage’s theme into the ‘Spook Funk’ genre of music, which is a brilliant genre I just made up.
I’m not entirely sure where the Gemini of Gemini Man’s stage is personified, but I’m going to say that it isn’t in the PenPen penguin enemies. There are just loads of penguins in this level. The majority of the opening section can be done with the tried and tested method of shooting into the distance just in case you hit something as it comes onto the screen from the right. It’s a pretty long run of enemies, and you’re bound to hit a fair few and save a lot of aggravation, so just keep shooting. Always be shooting.
Break Man returns once again and…does nothing but open a hole in the floor for you. Phew! Maybe he’s not a total dick, eh?
Perhaps Break Man didn’t bother to attack you because he knew what was coming up next. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the dullest part of the game – tadpole shooting. There’s no real challenge to this part, it’s just time-consuming. Like shooting fish in a barrel, this is shooting baby fish in a block.
I don’t care that it’s keeping up the bizarre penguin theme of this level, the PenPen Makers are brilliant. They look like one of those slush ice machines you could buy for kids back in the ‘90s, and yet they produce an army of mini PenPen. Useful for farming if you didn’t get a billion items from the tadpole section.
The level culminates in a water section where you can use the Rush Marine and power through, occasionally jumping out to top up the submarine’s ammo and grab the lovely goodies on the surface. It reminds me of the water level in Mario Land, and is a nice use of a nifty gadget.
Gemini Man and his invulnerable mate can be taken down without too much fuss, so long as you maintain a focus on which one is which. Keep your eye on the destructible prize and Search Snake his ass into oblivion. I wonder what happens to his copy – does he have to take care of Gemini Man’s affairs after his death?
Another great piece of enemy design starts off this level as you face off against these weird, angry hedgehog/porcupine enemies called Hari Harry. They’re pretty versatile in that they have projectile attacks as they blast needles in all directions, and if you get too close they’ll just ball up and spin dash (I assume that’s what all needle mice call it) straight at you. Of course, you can jump over that nonsense and move on to what we’re led to believe are needles coming out of the ceiling, but they really don’t look that sharp.
Mega Man is the epitome of old-school game design. Case in point: you can change direction while sliding under a low ceiling, and this will stop you getting absolutely annihilated by the Needle Presses as I did. That’s not in the manual, it’s not an on-screen prompt, you just have to realize it’s possible by sheer luck or trial and error. I fall into the former category. Honestly, though, you try sliding on the ground and then see if you can completely change direction. See?
Needle Man’s stage is actually a really short level with little of interest to offer. I will, however, give a quick shout out to the Bikky enemies that sometimes follow the tradition of being the last line of defense before the boss door. They are, by far, the least annoying of all the stompy-end-of-level-bastards in the series to this point.
Needle Man is an enigmatic old soul. He doesn’t seem to want to move over to you for a good long while unless you equip the Gemini Laser and then he’s almost impossible to hit! What’s worse, if you miss a shot with said gun you have to wait a long time before you can shoot again while an errant laser beam bounces around the walls before eventually dissipating. Needle Man takes a lot of damage from the gun if you can land shots, but he is a slippery bugger.
Spark Man (Revisited)
Thus begins Boss Rush Part 1.1! After a few relatively simple enemies (the worst being the return of the plugs), your first run at the returning Mega Man 2 bosses – known here as Doc Robots – enters in the form of Metal Man. The MM2 bosses have new weaknesses (thankfully) to match your new weapon set, so Metal Man goes down with the magnet gun this time around. He also offers very little resistance other than jumping on the spot and shooting. I am very much fine with that.
What I’m very much not fine with is the subsequent Bolton/Gabyoall combo. There are not enough words that accurately describe my distaste for this gauntlet of pain plucked straight from the devil’s backside, but let’s all agree it’s horrific and speak no more of it.
The bad times don’t end there, as Doc Robot’s Quick Man fight is excruciating. It’s another round of the Gemini Laser, this time with the worst slowdown since Arkham Knight’s PC port. It renders the fight an absolute ordeal – not one of difficulty, just one of grotesque endurance.
Needle Man (Revisited)
Air Man is the next victim and Mega Man now has an extra string to his bow – an extra slide to his playground, you might say – to make things that little bit easier. Those tornados should pose absolutely no threat now you can simply slide under them and go for the win with the Spark Shock.
The route to the next boss is effectively Mega Man: The Shmup. A long stretch of death pit needs to be traversed on top of the Rush Jet while shooting or avoiding parachutes and dragonflies galore. It’s a really neat way to effectively force use of the new items in the latter stages of the game and helps keep things fresh in between boss fights that are the polar opposite.
A series of mini-bosses provide some light entertainment thanks to their incredible sex doll facial expressions. Just look at them! If you’re trying to conserve Rush Jet ammo then the fights can take a little time to complete, but if you’re not then you can just hover in front of the boss’ weak point (the cross on its hard hat) and spam the shoot button to destroy it in less than 2 seconds. Crash Man isn’t too difficult in terms of damage dealt, but the nature of the Hard Knuckle’s slow firing speed means he can avoid your shots just as easily as you can avoid his. Patience is key if you have any left at this point.
Gemini Man (Revisited)
Bizarrely, the beginning of Gemini Man Revisited is probably easier than the original Gemini Man stage. The same eye dropping fire enemies return, but they’re backed up by some weaksauce little bugs that are much easier to take out than the Pepe penguins from earlier. Unfortunately, the beginning of the stage isn’t the only thing repurposed here, because OH BOY, more tadpoles.
I don’t know how you’re meant to avoid getting hit against Doc Robot Flash Man. It seems impossible to me – his jumps are too low to slide under and conversely too high to jump over, as you’re always going to be below him. It’s fine to tell me I’m terrible in the comments section, I accept it at this point.
It’s pleasing to see another item usage section after the first boss, this time including a fun underwater jaunt with the Rush Marine. It’s quite rare that you can really describe a Mega Man game as pure fun because the enjoyment is typically derived from success against the relentless difficulty, but I find the Item sections to be just a good ol’ time. Finishing up the level is the Doc Robot of Bubble Man, who is still a slow swimmer and will just hate it if you use the Shadow Blade. So…use it.
Shadow Man (Revisited)
It’s been a while since we had a massive leap of faith with some spikes isn’t it? Welcome back, old friend. Shadow Man Revisited is a stage that is all about being resourceful. Firstly, there’s a platforming section in the dark with collapsing platforms and a death pit that can be avoided using the jet. After the mid-boss, there’s an onslaught of parachutes and frogs that would be a royal pain if it weren’t for the Magnet Gun. Yeah, bitch. Magnets!
Your final two bosses are Wood Man and Heat Man. Wood Man proves he’s still about as fun as a splinter in the foot, and I cannot find a way to jump over his Leaf Shield this time – it just caught me every time I tried. He goes down to his new-found weakness to needles, which come from trees if I’m not mistaken. Heat Man, in contrast, is a lot easier than he was in Mega Man 2, as his aversion to the Shadow Blade is a lot more serious than that of the Bubble Lead in MM2. How the mighty have fallen.
The level doesn’t end with Heat Man’s demise, as Break Man shows up for another, thankfully simple, fight. Wily (or Wiley according to the game’s text) then does his Macaulay Culkin Home Alone eyebrows and it’s onto the actual final stages of the game.
Wily Fortress 1
With how long the game has gone on now, the Wily levels are largely over with pretty quickly. Wily 1 features an underwater section you can breeze through in the Rush Marine, or alternatively save the ammo and enjoy the moon jump physics – either way, it’s relatively easy. Items, this time the Rush Jet can again be used to avoid the challenge of the subsequent disappearing platform section. We’ve come too far for that kind of nonsense at this point.
The Kamegoro Maker boss is the guardian of this level, and is far and away the easiest boss in the game. It’s similar to Picopico-kun from the MM2 – just watch where you stand and destroy the projectiles before they hit you with the shadow blade. Done-diddly-un.
Wily Fortress 2
Oh, wonderful – the Chibees and Wanaan are back. Isn’t life just peachy? After besting the bee stings, the reward is less of a challenge than a conveyor belt of prizes. You can just Rush Jet through the whole section, picking up countless refills of ammo and E-tanks/lives. It’s barely a level at all, and you all know the reason why. The fucking Yellow Devil is back.
MM3’s version is probably easier than his MM1 counterpart (if you didn’t cheat in MM1 like me). His hits take off a ton of health, as always, but his attacks are easier to avoid, especially once he’s formed and you can see exactly where they’re coming from. Shooting him is the bigger issue in this fight because the projectile he’s weak to – the Hard Knuckle – is the slowest in the game, meaning he shoots a lot quicker than you do once his weak point is actually exposed and you can actually attack him. Thankfully, you should have so many E-Tanks at this point you needn’t worry.
Wily Fortress 3
A rather short Stage 3 leads to another clone fight, and it turns out that Mega Man enjoys snakes about as much as Indiana Jones. The three clones will all shoot at once, and only one is vulnerable in return, but the Search Snake will wreck him/them hard.
Wily Fortress 4
Stage 4 is simply another cavalcade of collectibles to prepare you – rather generously, might I add – for the second boss rush mode of the game. It’s a little disconcerting how easy it is to obtain the items at this late stage of the game, maybe even a little lazy. The main game has easily been the hardest so far, but it seems the end game is what Inafune was referring to when complaining that the developers were forced to complete the game before they felt it was complete.
Wily Machine Boss
This is a pretty simple fight, all things considered. It’s a two-phase fight, but a few hard punches to the turret will make quick work of the first part. Provided you picked up the correct ammo, you can then ride Rush Jet up to Wily’s face and say hello to it with some bullets. In Mega Man 2, I noted that the penultimate boss fight against Wily was harder than the end boss of the game, but that’s definitely not the case here.
GAMMA – Final Boss
The game’s final challenge actually starts off pretty simply, as Shadow Blades can be hurled right into Gamma’s face while you just stand underneath. Of course, that isn’t his final form, and once his face has taken enough of a beating, Gamma gets all punchy. You have to jump on the hand that tries to crush you, make your way up to a higher platform and dump Search Snakes on Wily’s head (or use the Top Spin, but that’s less fun). The angle needed to successfully land a hit is more than a little fiddly, and no other weapon will hurt the Doc. It’s a tricky fight, but what a brilliant way to kill the main boss – lob reptiles at him. Just glorious.
Wily gets his crusty old arse beaten down by some snakes, and then gets crushed by a boulder. Savage. But, our hero also gets crushed by a bloke chucking a cube at you! A shadowy figure saves you, and at this point Break Man’s true identity is revealed: he’s your brother, Proto Man. Cheers for the save, bruh! He winks at you in the sky, Mufasa-style while that lovely little theme song plays. Credits.
That’s it for Mega Man 3, a game that I’d probably rank as the second best at this point. The new items and moves are a very welcome addition to the formula, and will be the blueprint for all games going forward (for better or worse). See you in another 5000 words for Mega Man 4. Oof, why did I do this to myself?