OPINION: Mega Man 4 — Retro Masterpiece or Beginning of the End?

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

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Mega Man 4 | Characters

There are perhaps few writers at oprainfall who love all things Mega Man as much as me. This series defined a huge block of my childhood, and I grew up not only enjoying Mega Man’s adventures, but spending much of my free time doodling my very own Robot Masters, something I do to this day. To say I’m biased is a bit of an understatement, as there are very few Mega Man games I don’t like.

With that in mind, I want to touch on the upcoming release of Mega Man 4 for the 3DS Virtual Console. Slated to hit the eShop Thursday, April 25th, this particular Mega Man title is one steeped in controversy. Many feel it is a mere shadow of such classics as Mega Man 2 and 3, attesting that it is merely a watered-down rehash. I have also heard people make fun of the Robot Masters in this game, mocking the admittedly silly bosses, such as Dust Man, Bright Man and Toad Man. While I can respect the place these complaints are coming from, since Mega Man 2 and 3 definitely are classics, I have to disagree with this assessment.

For me, the upcoming release of Mega Man 4 brings with it many fond memories. This is the first title in the Mega Man series to introduce something that, to me, has become a true staple of the franchise: the Mega Buster. Finally, you could shoot more than little pellets at your enemies! In Mega Man 4, for the first time, players could charge their shots to much greater effect, launching massive energy balls at enemies. I can’t emphasize enough how key this advance in gameplay has become. Hell, it’s even used in the most recent entries in the Mega Man X series.

Mega Man 4 | Mega Man firing Mega Buster at Toad Man

Mega Man 4 was also one of the first Mega Man titles, in my opinion, that attempted to do something original and creative with the plot. Instead of Dr. Wily as the antagonist, we were introduced to the diabolical Dr. Cossack! The reason this was significant is that after the ending of Mega Man 3, I was genuinely uncertain about the fate of Dr. Wily. Upon defeating Gamma at the end of the game, you see Dr. Wily and Mega Man get crushed by a block, with only Mega Man getting saved by the timely intervention of Proto Man. Wily’s fate at the beginning of the game is completely unknown.

Furthermore, it had some of my all-time favorite bosses, such as Skull Man, Pharaoh Man and Dive Man. You can’t tell me that Skull Man and Pharaoh Man weren’t as badass as such Robot Masters as Crash Man or Quick Man. They were hardcore, challenging and creative, as were many of the other Robot Masters in the game. Hell, even Ring Man could be a challenge, and he has a freaking hula hoop attached to his head! I also appreciated that the level design was taken up a notch from previous entries. Levels were now much larger, with hidden paths and unique obstacles, adding to the replay value immensely. Plus, Mega Man 4 introduced another lovable sidekick, the bizarre yet adorable Flip-Top (better known today as Eddie).

Mega Man 4 | Skull Man Mega Man 4 | Pharaoh Man
Mega Man 4 | Eddie
Mega Man 4 | Dive Man Mega Man 4 | Ring Man

I know many of you are probably thinking I am just viewing Mega Man 4 through the smoky lens of nostalgia, ignoring any of its faults. While it is true that I am a very nostalgic gamer, and I originally played this game in my formative years, I would have to disagree with that. I would instead attest that those who say Mega Man 2 is the best of the series are actually the ones looking at that game through nostalgia glasses. I won’t dispute it was a fun and challenging game, but it lacked much of the polish found in 4, not to mention I often found Mega Man 2 unnecessarily difficult, even cruelly so. While legitimate challenge is something to be praised and sought after in video games, there is such a thing as cheap challenge, and I found Mega Man 2 employed far too much of the latter.

Who here fondly remembers the insta-death lasers in Quick Man’s stage, or the lovely disappearing blocks in Heat Man’s? How about those infinitely irritating spinning blue robots that constantly appear from holes in the wall, drifting towards you to trip Mega Man into a pit? Can any of you honestly tell me that you actually enjoyed those sadistic traps? Because I sure didn’t.

Mega Man 2 | Quick Man lasers
Mega Man 2 | Heat Man blocks Mega Man 2 | Spinning robots

Not because I’m bad at gaming, mind you. I’m a stubborn old hand who revels in old school, but I feel that most people look to those examples for the wrong reason: they want Mega Man to be something other than what it is. Mega Man is a series based around simple, fun gameplay and beautiful sprite design, but challenge has never been a trademark of the series. Not to say that Mega Man can’t be a challenge, just that it shouldn’t be such a challenge that you no longer enjoy what you’re doing. While Capcom may have lost this delicate balance in later entries, I feel it was skillfully balanced in Mega Man 4.

Ultimately, you’ll have to judge for yourself where this title lines up among the other great entries in the series. In the meantime, enjoy the pretty retro pictures from Mega Man 4 for the 3DS Virtual Console and count the seconds till Thursday, when you can download this retro gem. I know I will.

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About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Review Manager he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his spare time he counts the days until Mega Man 11, TWEWY Final Remix and Wargroove release.