Mega Man knows no bounds.
The fourth Mega Man still released for the NES/Famicon is once again one step forward in technical terms from the previous three. It’s both its best and its worst. After a trilogy of successful titles it was bound to show some wear and tear of the overall gameplay mechanics. Again, the additions are rarer and rarer as time goes by and the gameplay reaches a level of perfection that defies even the original Nintendo’s lifespan logic.
By the time this game hit shelves, in December 1991 for Japan and January 1992 for North America, the original Nintendo (NES) and the Famicon were a thing of the past. Sega’s Genesis/Mega Drive was in full effect and the Super Nintendo had already hit the stores in Japan and North America. As it happens with any console, the newer ones had limited install base so Capcom insisted with the original Mega Man’s mechanics.
The first thing that should be noted about this is that it features the best HUD yet, and possibly the best HUD ever for a Mega Man game. Even Mega Man 9, in the revival of the original series, had a HUD similar to the one used here. It features all the necessary information about lives, health, number of energy replenishers at your disposal and all your weapons as well as the energy left for all of them. They finally realized that freezing the whole screen or just a part of it wasn’t really all that different, so having the whole screen to deal with such an important part of item management is certainly the best option.
The other great news is that now Mega man can charge beams. By holding the shooting button you’ll save up energy to liberate as your disposal at any time you want. The primary weapon that should benefit from this should be your always loyal Mega Buster, which suddenly gets so much more potential, but in fact, other weapons can also be charged, like the Pharaoh Shot.
The story unfolds in a less methodical way. A new enemy is presented, named Dr. Cossack. You’re informed that he’s created 8 new robots to take over the world. After infiltrating and beating Dr. Cossack you’re told who’s really behind all of it. The fact is that a similar strategy to prolong gameplay while you already have your whole arsenal complete is made in this iteration as well. What happens with Dr. Cossack’s Castle is pretty similar to what the extra 4 stages were to Mega Man 3.
The stages are also pretty imaginative. For the first time in all of the series’ history you’re allowed to replay a stage you have already beaten, and this is pretty nice because you can still get items like the Energy Tanks, which would be deemed unattainable after its stage was beaten in the past. If you somehow are having problems with the bosses castles you can more easily catch them in one of the stages, since now all of them feature at least one mid-way through. The Robot Masters can’t be re-fought, you’re just teleported back once you reach their rooms.
In the graphical aspect it pretty much already reached the best of NES/Famicon’s capabilities so what catches the eye are the art directions. The stages range from space to a whole stage made of skeleton parts. It’s also significantly more accessible than Mega Man 3 while still retaining a pretty nice challenge. It might be because Mega Man’s movements are pretty more fluid now with a both the charge beam and the slide technique. I found that this game’s slide for Mega Man retained a bit better the momentum you get from doing it when you fall of ledges, but if anything, the difference is minimal.
Once again the soundtrack is a whole new show. It’s incredible how much they’ve gotten better at using the limited sound pallet of the original Nintendo’s hardware to create better music, comparing later games with the first one yields the best results when it comes to music. Maybe both Mega Man 2 and 3 have more memorable tracks here and there, but the overall quality remains there, and it’s pretty consistent all around.
There’s a reason this first hexalogy of Mega Man titles is called the classic lineup, it broke even the console’s lifespan because apparently fans couldn’t get enough of the Blue Bomber’s adventures. The gameplay reaches a theoretical climax here once the charge beam is implemented. Along with the slide it offers the best you could possibly want from controlling Mega Man.
Once again the formula is followed in a religious fashion here, whatever you might have experience with previous games you’ll find lots of the same here, for the best or worst. Again, the only question you need to ask yourself is: “Have I ever found Mega Man games remotely fun?” If the answer to that question is yes, then look no further, if no, then look somewhere else. It’s that simple.