10/02/2016

ALL ABOUT AMERICA (AMIGA)

Last time out I wrote about Mega Man 3, which was great and all but because I've played it so much I didn't learn anything new. I'm always looking to expand my horizons and fill my head with pointless knowledge, though, so to counterbalance Mega Man 3 not teaching me anything except an even deeper love for the Rush Jet I'm going to play an educational game. By happy coincidence, this will also let me write an article that isn't almost 8,000 words long. So, Unicorn Software, teach me everything you know about my cousins across the pond in your 1987 Amiga eduventure All About America!


Yes, America: a land of freedom and prosperity where the nation's twin flags fly proudly against the purple sky! A land of revolution, of the struggle against oppression, where Lady Liberty welcomes all with open arms and the dancing frogs wear natty waistcoats and star-spangled top hats!


What, you're telling me that your strongest mental association with the country, nay, the concept of America isn't a disturbing humanoid frog doing a soft-shoe routine? Don't you remember the surprise referendum of 1995, when the America public voted to replace the Bald Eagle as America's national animal with the noble frog? It was a tumultuous time indeed, what with all the coins and presidential seals having to be redrawn so they had a cheerful cartoon frog on them. Once the French ambassador had been assured that the new designs weren't mocking him, thing went pretty smoothly, though.


Before I get into the game itself, I'd like to quickly go back to Unicorn Software's splash page. No, wait, no I wouldn't. Having seen this picture, why would I want to look at it again? What is wrong with me? It's simultaneously extremely boring and punishingly unpleasant to look at, like a manual for vacuum cleaner with a nude David Cameron centrefold.


To help you learn all about America, the game offers two modes: History Lessons and Map Reading Skills. Quite how the developers managed to cram the whole sweep of US history onto two Amiga floppies is something I have to see, so I'll be starting with History Lessons and praying that I'm not doomed to repeat them.


What a magnificent tapestry, woven from the lives and dreams of those who made America what it is today. There's the man who first pointed at America! Thomas Edison's famous Very Excited Sewing Machine! George Washington's legendary "I am vexed by all this god-damned snow" speech is covered, as is the early US's desperate need of an influx of competent barbers. I'm not sure who the cowboy in the middle of the bottom row is supposed to be, but I'm sure he's on his way to take bloody vengeance on the man who made his hat so wonky.
Each picture represents a portion of American history, and clicking on a picture will give you some text and yet more pictures about the events in question, the information pitched towards very young readers. I'll be starting with the top-left, because as we all know time flows from the top-left to the bottom-right.


Things are off to a bad start, and not just because the picture is very boring. It is not true that everyone thought the world was flat - humans have known it's spherical for a very long time - so there's a glaring factual error on the very first screen of All About America's history section. That does not bode well for little Timmy's grades.


"Sail over there," says Columbus. "I'm pretty sure that's Asia."
I hope you're paying attention to this text, because once you've read it you knowledge of the subject is put to the test.


The quizmaster is no less than Abraham Lincoln, or at least a mannequin of Lincoln from a struggling waxwork museum that has been possessed by the spirit of the great man himself, because he'll be damned if he's going to let Timmy get a worse grade than that snot-nosed punk who said the Lincoln Memorial was "lame" on their class field trip. Take a good look at Honest Abe, because he's quite a sight to behold. His blue suit and shirt looks frilly even though I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to, and his iconic stovepipe hat has been replaced by something I'm almost certain I made as a kid when I was trying to construct a wizard's hat from construction paper and double-sided sticky tape. Still, he knows how to run a quiz, does ol' Abraham. Make sure you don't get any questions wrong. You wouldn't want to upset Abraham Lincoln, would you?


See? Heartbreaking. He's so disappointed in you, in your refusal to learn about America, in your contempt for his beloved country. Once this article is done, I look forward to pulling out the Big Book of Things I've Done (Thanks to Videogames) and adding an entry for "made Abraham Lincoln pull a face like a drunken divorcee listening to his wife's favourite song."


Your reward for reaching the end of the quiz is this macabre image of the sun setting against a jet-black sky. I don't really understand what mood you were going for here, Unicorn Software. Existential dread? The realisation that all of human history is utterly meaningless in the face of the grinding aeons of the universe's span? A nice "Congratulations" banner might have been better, maybe Benjamin Franklin dancing a jig.
That's about it for the history lessons. Once you've finished the quiz you can go for another round of questions, although they start repeating almost immediately and many of them are simple transpositions like "What Day is Columbus Day?" and "October 12th is what day?"


Other than that, you can try a different style of questions, which are literacy-based: what word rhymes with this one, put the right word in the sentence, that kind of thing. They're easy enough for a seven-year-old kind of age range, I suppose, although they're hardly likely to keep a kid hooked for long unless they're weirdly into making sure Lincoln approves of them. We've only looked at one tiny segment of American history, though, so I suppose we'd better experience some of the others.


Aww, isn't that sweet, the pilgrims and the Indians have made friends with each other, having bonded over a mutual love of corn. As All About America was released in 1987 the native peoples are referred to throughout as "Indians" and not Native Americans, and everything is presented in a sanitised manner that suggests the entire history of America has been a jolly jamboree where nothing bad ever happened. All About America is probably okay for learning a few dates, but not how events actually took place, which is predictably shitty.


Also shitty is the logo on this crate of furs. How are you going to see that in a busy shipping yard? Oh well, at least I learned that the Dutch were bang into furs. Furs and flowers, that's the Dutch.


"Oh maaan, I thought we were friends, Mr Indian! I thought we were Corn Buddies! This is not cool. My vest is ruined."
Here you can see what I mean about the historical truth being made more palatable for younger minds: "Sometimes the Indians and the colonists fought and people died" is quite the understatement. It's such an understatement it's practically subterranean.


Redcoats, huh? Not, I dunno, salmon-coats? "The rose-coats are coming!" does not have quite the same ring of urgency to it, I agree. I'm not saying America would have remained under British control had the soldiers of the crown worn fuchsia rather than red, but if you're an alternate-universe fiction writer then a world where the British army's uniforms were accidentally bleached might be a good jumping-off point for you. Of course, I've played so many retro RPGs that I can't look at this picture and not see it as the king of a fantasy kingdom sending a party of adventurers off to find the magical crystals / kidnapped princess / fortress of the Dread Lord.


Oh hey, I know the answer to this one without even reading the text, because I've been playing Fallout 4 recently. And they say videogames make you stupid! Well, this one might. It's not going to make you any smarter, that's for sure.


"General Washington was a very brave man. Year after year, he kept fighting the redcoats. The loneliness of his leadership position eventually took its toll on Washington's mental state, so he built himself a friend from old blankets, a log and a clown's hat. Logfriend Blanketon was immediately field-promoted to the rank of sergeant and later served as Washington's vice-president."


Here's a fact I did learn from All About America: legendary pioneer Daniel Boone founded a town and named it Boonesboro, the egotistical weirdo. Also, if we're to assume he's meant to be shooting at the Native American in the picture then I've also learned that Daniel Boone might not be the great hunter he is portrayed as.


There's a section about Lewis and Clark's expedition to map the western territories. One of them looks much less thrilled by the prospect than the other, although I couldn't tell you which one was Lewis and which one was Clark. Maybe he's upset because he graduated from a university that hands out giant novelty diplomas.
As I was reading this section, I thought "hey, I already know this" and I couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me: as with possibly every other facet of American culture and history, The Simpsons did an episode about it. I realise this article is implying that I get all my knowledge from cartoons and videogames. You will just have to take my word for it that I have read a book and I do intend to do so again in the future.


Apparently Lewis or Clark later invented the sewing machine. Prior to this, each American had to make all their own clothes by hand, which explains his horrible grey suit but not his weird, stumpy arms.


Some men found gold and others didn't. This man found gold. You can tell by the way he's shouting "GOLD!" and holding a big chunk of gold. Yes indeed, there can be no doubt that this is a man who has found gold. The great thing about this man is that I'm sure that when you look at him, you can hear what his voice would sound like. I know I can. We may differ in whether we think the next word out of his toothless mouth will be "dagnabbit" or "goldurnit," but in essence we all share the same mental voice for this man. Thank you for bringing us all together, grizzled prospector.


Yikes. Obviously anything that purports to cover American history is going to have to include slavery, but I'm not sure this was the best way to go about illustrating this grim facet of the past. Did the slave owner have to be smiling? The game also never comes out and says slavery is bad, just that "the southerners really wanted to keep their slaves," proving again that All About America is a repository of breathtaking understatement if nothing else. You'd think people would already know that slavery is a terrible thing and shouldn't need to be told, but having seen certain comments on the internet there are still definitely people out there who need to be firmly reminded of this fact.


Then things get all rushed together to bring us up to the modern age, with talk of spaceships and one of the worst pixel representations of the Statue of Liberty that I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. Do you know how many videogames take place in New York? Even games that aren't set in the Big Apple feature the Statue of Liberty, like the NES Superman game where the statue has relocated to Metropolis. It's the face that's the real issue here. I'm going to guess that it was the last thing the game's artist drew, possibly late on a Friday night as they muttered to themselves "why does no-one take pictures of the Statue of Liberty? Then I'd have something I could use as a reference!"


All About America poses a dilemma for moon landing deniers: do they stick to their ludicrous beliefs and answer "no," forfeiting the point, or do they answer "yes," secure in the knowledge that they know the real truth despite what the man is trying to indoctrinate them with via the medium of an Amiga quiz game? A difficult decision indeed, unless you're not an idiot.


Then there's the map reading lessons, split into three categories: The Thirteen Colonies, America Before the Civil War and The United State. This is the Thirteen Colonies, where it tells you the names and locations of the thirteen colonies and then points to the colonies on the map and asks you to name them. It's as exciting as it sounds and considerably browner than than you might imagine.


This is the Before the Civil War map, and I think something has gone awry because this is a quiz to test your knowledge of state postal codes. Did those even exist before the Civil War? My only explanation is that Unicorn Software were trying to warn us that a Second American Civil War is coming soon.


And finally, there's the modern US, with such captivating quizzes as naming state capitals and describing the relative positions of two states using compass directions. Look, I never bothered to learn the counties of England, why would you think I'd spend time doing the same for America? Geography is a skill that I, being essentially a hermit, do not require. I'd have much rather learned about each state's representational symbols. For example, Georgia's state shell is the knobbled whelk. I feel happier knowing that. I'll feel even happier next time I tell someone this fact in real life, but that's mostly because I will have said aloud the wonderful phrase "knobbled whelk."


Now I'm done with All About America, but did I learn all about America? No, I did not. It might provide a quick overview suitable for younger kids, but then the difficulty would be in keeping kids interested in what is a pretty dull experience all around. I mean, you saw those maps, right? No, I think I'll stick with getting my historical facts from reputable sources like the aforementioned cartoons and videogames. On a related note, please do not ask me to join your pub quiz team. You will regret it.

04/02/2016

MEGA MAN 3 (NES)

According to the counter on my stats page, this is the 500th article to appear on VGJunk. That... that is a lot of articles, considering I'm doing all this on my lonesome. I'm not sure whether to celebrate my dedication or weep for my wasted time, but in either case I feel like the occasion should be marked. So, today I'm going to write about a videogame that is not only a personal favourite from a beloved franchise, but which was something of a revelatory experience for the young me. It's Capcom's 1990 NES classic Mega Man 3!


This is a very underwhelming title screen for what is definitely my favourite game in the Mega Man series, and there's no intro to go along with it, not even something like Mega Man 2's pan up to our hero posing on a rooftop. Still, I have a great fondness for it, probably because I've seen it more than almost any other videogame title screen. I even have a story about how I came to own Mega Man 3: it wasn't released in Europe until 1992, so it was probably for my eighth birthday that I'd asked for a NES game. I don't remember which one, but before my birthday rolled around I saw Mega Man 3 in a magazine (almost certainly Total!) and realised that no, this was the game I really wanted. Back then there was no chance of getting more than one videogame for my birthday, but as if by magic my grandmother called and said "I can't find that game you asked for, but they have this one called Mega Man 3 instead, is that okay?" It was most definitely okay, and almost enough to get me believing in some kind of cosmic wish-ordering miracle-type Noel Edmonds bullshit.


With no intro to fill us in, we must look to the manual for Mega Man 3's story, although I'm certain most if not all of you are familiar with the core concepts of the Mega Man universe, i.e. stunningly incompetent roboticists and each villain being vulnerable to the weapon of one of his confrères. After trying to take over the world in the previous two games, the evil Dr. Wily has reformed and is helping Mega Man's creator Dr. Light build a new and powerful peacekeeping robot called Gamma. They've also created eight new Robot Masters, which have been sent into the world to find power sources for Gamma. Then the robots go evil, and Mega Man has to shoot them until they reconsider their uprising against humanity. Spoiler alert: it turns out Dr. Wily was behind everything and was not, in fact, reformed. You may have already realised this given that Dr. Wily is still the villain in Mega Man 10, the entirety of mankind screaming out for Mega Man to put a bullet between his eyes and save the Earth from its regularly-scheduled robotic onslaught.
As usual in a Mega Man game, once you hit start you're given the choice of eight different stages to tackle, each of them with a themed Robot Master waiting at the end. Beat all the Robot Masters and you can head to Dr. Wily's fortress for the final showdown. We'll be meeting them all eventually, but let's start with Hard Man.


Admit it, you chuckled at his name, possibly in the manner of Beavis and / or Butt-Head. Just look at Hard Man's face, that's the face of someone who is intimately acquainted with the feeling of people laughing when he tells them his name. I once had a teacher called Richard Head, he often wore the same expression. Also, it was not until fairly recently that I realised Hard Man is based on a cement mixer. Only three world domination plots in, and already Dr. Wily is struggling for inspiration.


As Mega Man strides through the rocky landscape that makes up Hard Man's stage, beset from above by robot bees that can be dealt with by scrolling the screen back a little so they travel off the edge and de-spawn, I can give you a brief description of Mega Man 3's gameplay. You shoot robots, jump over holes and try not to touch spikes because they are Mega Man's most dangerous weakness aside from showing Dr. Wily mercy. Again, I'm sure you all already know this. Mega Man is such a huge franchise, with many of its games sharing the same formula and mechanics, that you're bound to have played at least one of them. There also Mega Man's most famous power to master - when he beats a boss, he gets to claim that boss' weapon for himself. Obviously that doesn't mean anything to us right now, and for the first stage we're stuck with Mega Man's three-shot arm cannon. There are a couple of other things that were introduced to the series in this instalment, and part of the reason I began with Hard Man's stage is that it give me a chance to show most of them off. The other reason is that I always start with Hard Man, because he was the first boss I learned to beat without a special weapon as a kid and that knowledge is deeply and indelibly etched into my brain.


The first new thing is that Mega Man can now slide by pressing down and jump. Useful for traversing narrow passageways, useful for getting underneath jumping enemies and also, once you get over the fear of receiving a bullet in the face, useful for sliding under enemy projectiles. That last one is a difficult skill to master, but you do feel like a badass fighting robot when you pull it off, rather than the hastily-upgraded metal Pinocchio that Mega Man really is.


Another innovation is the ability to call in Mega Man's best friend Rush, the robot Swiss-army dog. He has several useful applications, or at rather he will once I wrest them from the bosses that currently hold them, so for now he's limited to being the Rush Coil. The Rush Coil turns Rush into a springboard, allowing you to propel Mega Man to higher platforms when he jumps on Rush's back. Rush bears this abuse with quiet dignity because he is a good dog, oh yes he is.


Some familiar faces make a return, too, like the Mets, or Metools or Mettaurs or whatever you like to call them, robots designed solely to make you wonder why Wily didn't give all his robots hard-harts that Mega Man's blaster fire cannot penetrate. If Wily had started the original game with Spiky-Hard-Hat Man he'd be Emperor of the Earth by now.


Then, towards the end of the stage, Mega Man falls into a hole and is confronted with a real surprise: a miniboss that isn't a Robot Master but looks strangely similar to the Blue Bomber himself, their arrival heralded by as close to a melancholy whistle as the NES's sound hardware could produce. He's a series staple now, but this is the first appearance of Mega Man's older brother Proto Man - although at this point you don't know who this is or what's going on. You only find out about Proto Man at the end of the game, and it took me a long time to reach the end of the game so I spent a lot of my childhood thinking that Proto Man was, in fact, a woman. I blame this on the European cover art.


Ignore for now the strange juxtaposition of the cartoonish robots and the photorealistic and rather worried-looking Dr. Wily and check out Proto Man on the left there. His trademark yellow scarf is positioned in such a way that it looks like a blonde ponytail, his open mouth looks a lot like lipstick and that armour is closer to pink than red: thus, young VGJunk assumed that Mega Man had a female rival. Sadly, this is not the case and the Mega Man series had to wait until 2008 and Mega Man 9 before a female robot was introduced that wasn't a domestic slave. Whether the artist of the box art also though Proto Man was female is up for debate.


Then there's Hard Man himself, and he wants to smash Mega Man up good and proper. He has two means to accomplish this goal at his disposal: either by colliding with Mega Man or by shooting him. This is true of all the Robot Masters in Mega Man 3, (and the whole Mega Man series and most videogames, really,) but they all have another gimmick to go along with it. For example, Hard Man can fire rocket fists at you, and those fists can change direction in mid air. He can also jump and slam down, and if you're on the floor when he lands then Mega Man is briefly paralysed by the impact. See? Gimmicks! Compare this to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Back From the Sewers, where the bosses also tried to kill you with projectiles and collisions but most of them didn't do anything besides that.
The key to beating Hard Man is learning to avoid his rocket fists and remaining patient, concentrating on staying alive and seizing your chances to harm the boss when you can. If you can't concentrate for that long... well, the other reason I always started with Hard Man's stage is that there's an easily-accessible, health-restoring E-Tank waiting to be collected, which gives you a bit of a safety net. You might well need it, because defeating Hard Man isn't as easy as I'm making it sound.


I got there in the end, though - no E-Tank required, thank you very much - and the reward for my hard work was the acquisition of Hard Man's weapon, the Hard Knuckle. Mega Man's expression suggests he is not convinced by the power of this new weapon, but I'm glad to have it: not only is it more powerful than your basic blaster but you can move the Hard Knuckles up or down slightly as they're flying. And Metal Gear Solid V thinks it's sooo innovative.
As with almost every game in the series, each Robot Master in Mega Man 3 has a weakness to one specific weapon, and part of the challenge of the game is figuring out the best order to tackle the game's stages. You might think I'd be heading for whichever Robot Master is weak against flying robot punches next (I know, I'm amazed it's not all of them) but I'll instead be taking a detour to Needle Man's stage, because he's got something that I want. No, not needles.


Needle Man's stage isn't even particularly needle-centric. There are some some moving needles that you have to slide past and these mechanical hedgehogs, but mostly the stage has an unidentifiable theme of green metal sheets and gun-turrets that fire tomatoes. I suppose this is understandable, given that Mega Man dies instantly should he so much as brush against a spike. A whole stage made of needles would make an already difficult game wildly unfair.


This is one of the few actual needles in Needle Man's stage. Fortunately Mega Man can slide forever so long as he's crammed into a small space, so you can just keep moving left and right until the needle retracts rather than smashing straight into it. It's a skill that comes in useful at a few points in the game, even if it does look like it'd play havoc with Mega Man's backside.


After I said all the bosses in Mega Man 3 have their own little twist, Needle Man arrives to prove me wrong. All he does is jump around and shoot needles at you, which to be fair is more than enough to eliminate the casual player. I suppose his gimmick would be that he's the most Glaswegian Robot Master, and he can headbutt Mega Man from a distance by extending the top of his head. Oh, and he's completely immune to the Hard Knuckles I just collected. Makes sense to me, have you ever tried punching a needle? What I don't understand is that little red lump on Needle Man's face / torso. The artwork seems to suggest it's a nose, but on his sprite I can only see it as a single buck tooth.


Beating Needle Man gets you the Needle Cannon and, much more importantly, the Rush Jet. This allows Rush to transform into a flying surfboard, which is as useful as it sounds even if it does make the case that Dr. Light would do better just giving Rush a gun and sending him out on his own to stop Wily.


Snake Man's stage next, and where Needle Man's level had nothing to do with the theme of its boss the same cannot be said of Snake Man's lair: it's all snakes all the time, aside from a brief section spent jumping over platforms so high up they're covered in clouds. The walls are snakes, the floor is snakes, there are little snakes in tangled metal piles...


...and huge snakes that wriggle their metal snake bodies and have, on closer inspection, faces that look more like frogs than snakes. Hmm. Here you can also see my preferred strategy for dealing with the big snakes, which is to fire a Hard Knuckle and then guide it upwards ever-so-gently until it smashes the snake in the chin. As with every Mega Man game, (although maybe less so after Mega Man 4 introduced the ability to charge up Mega Man's basic blaster,) the special weapons are useful for more than just defeating the boss that is weak against them, and many of them come in helpful at certain points because they possess properties that your regular gun does not, such as homing capabilities or being a massive metal fist. This is something that it took me a long time to wrap my head around as a kid. I never really used the special weapons outside of the boss battles, and I'm not sure why. I think it's partly because to switch weapons you have to pause the game and select it, sometimes having to go to an extra screen, and while this only takes a few seconds for an eight-year-old playing an action videogame eight seconds may as well be eight years. It's still a little annoying now. God bless the SNES Mega Man games giving you the ability to quickly switch special weapons using the shoulder buttons.



I can't talk about Mega Man 3 without mentioning Yasuaki Fujita's soundtrack, and I can't mention Mega Man 3's soundtrack without simply saying it's great and you should listen to it. Mega Man 2's soundtrack gets all the attention, but personally I think MM3's is just as good and I'd struggle to pick a favourite track from it. Snake Man's theme is very good, though.


Just to ensure you don't get bored of huge mechanical snakes (as though that were something that could happen) Capcom threw in a section where you guide Mega Man over a chasm using these platform-generating pillars and the odd single floating block. I've played enough retro videogames that the presence of hovering masonry does not usually cause me to raise an eyebrow, but there's something extra-weird about there just being one solitary cube in the middle of the sky. On the plus side, I love these torpedo enemies that have disguised themselves as clouds. If you shoot them they lose their fluffy coating and charge at Mega Man. I generally try not to shoot them. Not because they're difficult to avoid, but because their sleepy expressions are adorable as they drift aimlessly through the sky. Just because Dr. Wily press-ganged them into being part of his plans for conquest doesn't mean I have to break them out of their reverie.


Snake Man: part man, part snake, all robot. Snake Man attacks by throwing snakes at anyone who enters his lair, which is probably why he's been banished to this inaccessible tower high up in the clouds. The snakes work differently than other projectiles because they travel along the floor and up walls, which makes avoiding them a little different that usual. Not that I had to avoid them at this point, because the notion of boss weaknesses has come into play. Snake Man and Mega Man are perhaps more alike than most robots, because they both have a hard time dealing with spikes, and with the Needle Cannon equipped you can tear through Snake Man's health before he's got enough time to throw a lethal amount of snakes at our hero. At least Snake Man fights with a smile on his face. A grinning, isolated, snake-chucking evil weirdo robot, like an android Deep South mountain preacher. And Dr. Wily wonders why he's having trouble conquering the world.


Back to a less coherent stage design now, although it's more understandable here because the boss is Gemini Man and how exactly would you build a stage around the theme of "Gemini"? Have two of everything? I suppose you could have decorated everything with constellations, but Capcom went with a bleak, dark crystal landscape populated by flying eyeballs that cry tears of fire and, erm, penguins. Without the penguins you could argue it's almost horrific in its barren, alien appearance, with the penguins it's just strange.


Then you travel underground and things get even stranger, with pulsating, colour-changing walls that look like gargantuan biological cells and areas packed with frogspawn which, when shot, releases what are either tadpoles or the ghosts of Dragon Quest slimes. The frogspawn is a fun feature that rewards planning, because if you pay attention there are some areas where you can carve through the frogspawn in a way that provides you with a platform to reach items.


Gemini Man can split himself into two, as well as firing a large laser which, ironically, is one of the slowest projectiles in the game. Fighting two Robot Masters at once is a daunting prospect, but Snake Man's weapon isn't called the Search Snake for nothing and it will hunt down the real Gemini Man while you try to stay out of the way.
It has nothing to do with the fight, but every time I see Mega Man in a costume with a white body, the limitations of the NES palette make me think he's wearing tiny y-fronts and knee-high boots. If there's one thing I want you to take away from this article, it's that image.


Top Man's stage is next. Yes, Top Man like a spinning top, because Bubble Man was apparently not an easy enough target for mockery by his fellow robots. Much like with Gemini Man there's not much to work with if you want to make a stage based around tops, unless Mega Man had to fight his way through a Victorian toy shop. Hang on, that would have been much more interesting than Top Man's actual stage, which is some kind of greenhouse. There are a few spinning-top-shaped platforms near the end, but this area would definitely have been better suited to Horticulture Man.
I said at the start of this article that Mega Man 3 was a revelatory experience for me, and the area pictured above explains what I mean by that. I've mentioned this before, but to get to the bottom of the screen Mega Man doesn't have to jump: he can just walk off those platforms and be gone before the enemies ever get near him. When I figured this out it was as though a veil was lifted and I suddenly started thinking about what I was doing.


I wouldn't go so far as to say that every screen in Mega Man 3 is a puzzle, but there are often better ways to deal with the situation than you might first expect. Here, for example, if you hang from the very bottom of the ladder you can shoot the enemy in the head without having to put Mega Man in harm's way, and this approach to playing a game - planning, strategic, manipulating the quirks of the game engine - was a revelation to a young VGJunk. Previous to this the videogames I'd played were one of either two basic kinds. There were Nintendo classics like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, which were simple-to-understand, "quick to learn and difficult to master" types - indeed, part of the genius of SMB is how simple it appears to be. Then there were games like Ironsword and Low-G-Man that just felt too difficult and chaotic for me to ever have much chance of beating them. Then there was Mega Man 3, where I could learn the best paths and tactics, getting a little further each time thanks to the password system, so that even though it was (and still is) a pretty hard game I always knew I could get to the end. Mega Man 3 made me think more deeply about videogames, and that's one of the reasons I love it so much.


I also love it because you get to fight a big robot cat that attacks by throwing what are either balls of yarn or hairballs at Mega Man. When these balls prove insufficient, it releases a swarm of robot fleas. Robot fleas. How amazing is that! Although we should probably shop Dr. Wily to the RSPCA. That's the Robot Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of course.


Now that I've caught up with Top Man I can put the Hard Knuckles to their proper use. Top Man spends a lot of time spinning around like a ballerina, and I have to wonder whether Capcom made the knuckles his weakness as a tacit endorsement of bullying. Not cool, Capcom, not cool. Also not cool is Top Man's special weapon, which makes Mega Man spin around extremely fast and damage anything he comes into contact with. It's not cool, but it is often very effective, especially against ninjas, which means I'd better go and fight Shadow Man.


I think I've described Shadow Man's stage as a "lava factory" in the past and I think that's a description that still works well. Other possibilities include the facility where they make Cherry Tango or a deeply unhygienic blood bank. As well as struggling not to fall into the vats of whatever this liquid is as parachuting robots try to smash into him, Mega Man also has to deal with the lights occasionally being turned off, leaving him to inch forward in the pitch blackness. These sections would be extremely difficult if the enemies weren't perfectly visible in the dark, but they are so you can eliminate the suicide-bombing living grenades before they run into you and make you wonder about how appropriate they are in an age dominated by fears of global terrorism.


You also have to fight the as-yet-unnamed Proto Man again, although this time it's much easier because the floor is flat and Proto Man only shoots when he jumps, leaving you with the simple task of sliding underneath him and shooting him in the back when he lands. Here's a little trick for you: if you pause the game just as Proto Man is about to appear, the game plays a slightly longer version of his whistle theme.


Shadow Man is supposed to be a ninja, and like all videogame ninjas he's not good at being a ninja. If Dr. Wily had paid him to sneak into Dr. Light's lab, poison his food supply and steal his secrets then sure, that's very ninja-y, but instead Shadow Man waits at the back of a factory, jumping around and throwing the largest shuriken he could carry at Mega Man. Those shuriken could be the size of the hubcaps on Godzilla's car and they wouldn't help Shadow Man, because he cannot stand against the power of the Top Spin. Having the weapon that the boss is weak against can make any fight in Mega Man 3 very short, but this one literally lasts less then ten seconds as Mega Man and Shadow Man jump at each other. Mega Man is spinning around. Shadow Man is not. Shadow Man explodes and I get his weapon: the Shadow Blade, which can be fired at a variety of different angles and is this game's equivalent of Mega Man 2's Metal Blade. You also get the Rush Marine, which lets Rush transform into a submarine. I'm going to start a petition to rename him Rush the Wonder Dog.


You know who hates having sharped chunks of metal thrown into his face? Well, yes, everyone, but specifically I meant Spark Man so I'm off to introduce him to the Shadow Blade. Spark Man has an appropriately electricity-themed stage, with lots of flashing lights and flying plug-monsters that would give a qualified electrician a heart attack, as well as intermittent lightning barriers and, oddly, machines that make cubes of compressed garbage. Junk Man will be disappointed that his gimmick has already been used, once Dr. Wily gets around to building him. It's just occurred to me that Mega Man 3 is one of the few games in the series not to feature an ice, water or fire-themed robot master, and this variety might be another reason why I like it so much.


Spark Man's stage also has a section filled with platforms that lift you upward towards a deadly spiked ceiling as soon as you step on them. It is here that the Rush Jet really shines, and as you casually float past this elaborate death-trap your heart will sing with joy at offering a hearty "fuck you" to those who would stand in your way.


Spark Man is shaped like a spark plug. Whether he was designed this way because his electrical powers demanded it, or if it was just so Dr. Wily could keep track of which Robot Master was which at a glance, I will leave up to you to decide.


The final Robot Master is Magnet Man, and magnetism must be a pretty good power to have if you're fighting robots, although I suppose it could lead to some fairly awkward social situations depending on how much the other Robot Masters value their personal space. Unsurprisingly, magnetism plays a big part in this stage, from these flying magnets that pick Mega Man up can carry him back towards the start of the stage (and which can sometimes be baited into carrying him to the right, which is a boon to any supremely lazy Mega Man player,) and large electromagnets than make life difficult for Mega Man by pulling him towards enemies. Nothing too outlandish - nothing to match, say, the gravity-flipping sections in Mega Man 5 - but fun additions none-the-less.


Most assuredly not fun are these platforming sections. I am fine with platforming sections in Mega Man games, because they always have very precise and responsive controls, and Mega Man 3 is no different. I'm fine with platforming over yawning, bottomless pits where even one wrong move means sudden death because, again, good controls. What I'm not a fan of are these sections where the platforms disappear and reappear in a set pattern, usually in such a manner that you have to jump before the next platform appears or you won't have time to land on them. Yes, yes, I know they're a staple of the series and my dislike of them is probably just down to me being bad at videogames but that doesn't stop me from hating them and wishing I could rename the game to Super Rush Jet in honour of my robodog pal and his magical bullshit-cancelling powers.


It's Magnet Man! He's the one in the air. The one with the big magnet on his head, the one shooting magnets out of his arm. Yeah, him. As well as firing magnets that track Mega Man's movements somewhat, Magnet Man can also generate a magnetic field that pulls Mega Man towards him. Unfortunately for Magnet Man, while this power does have valid combat applications when he's using it he looks as though he's trying to pass an enormous robo-turd. I have not captured a screenshot of this to spare Magnet Man's blushes, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
Once Magnet Man is defeated, that's all eight of the Robot Master consigned to the great scrapheap in the sky and Mega Man is positively bursting with all the powers he has harvested from the bodies of his fallen enemies. He's not just made of heavy metal, he is heavy metal. So, time to go and deal with Dr. Wily in his skull-shaped castle, right?


Wrong! You're taken back to the stage select screen, where four of the stages have been occupied by a mysterious shadowy figure. What could possibly be going on in these four new levels?


Not even the game knows! Or The Riddler has joined forces with Dr. Wily, that's also a possibility.


What you actually get is four totally new stages based on the levels they occupied before. Here is Needle Man's second stage, and time has moved from day to night. It's not just a graphical reskin, either, it's a whole different stage that's longer than the original and will test your Mega Man skills to the limit. For example, a big chunk of Needle Man II: The Revenge is a mandatory Rush Jet section with no floor at all and only the occasional platform holding power-ups that allow you to replenish your special weapon energy / electric dog juice. It's pretty intense.


Less intense but much more likely to make me plan a future tattoo are these giant Mets that vomit forth a stream of regular-sized Mets. I don't even really have anything to say about them, I just wanted more people in the world to know that they exist.
The giant Met isn't a boss, although naturally these new stages do have bosses. But who could these bosses be? Probably not Needle Man again, not now that I've stolen his weapon.


The first boss in this new stage is the ghost of Air Man from Mega Man 2. That is amazing, and a twist that was mind-blowing to me once I'd figured out what was going on - Mega Man 3 was the first game in the series that I owned, so when I played Mega Man 2 years later I had an exciting moment of dawning realisation as to why that game's bosses looked so familiar.
So here we are, fighting a boss from the previous Mega Man game. What happens is that the figure of the old Robot Master appears in the air - with a heavy heart I admit this is probably supposed to represent Air Man's programming and not his spectral soul-essence left behind on this mortal plane of existence after the last time Mega Man killed him - and takes over this generic android called a "Doc Robot." The Doc Robot then moves and fights exactly like the Robot Master of yore that has possessed him.


There are two of these old Robot Master in each stage, as well. Here's "Bubble Man," trying to defeat Mega Man at the end of Gemini Man's second stage through the deadly power of, well, bubbles. When combined with the increased length of these mystery stages, these eight further Robot Master fights mean there's almost an entire second game's worth of content that comes after the first eight Robot Masters, so if you're picking which Mega Man game to buy on a strictly value-for-money basis then Mega Man 3 is your best bet. That'd be a really weird metric to decide what videogames to buy, though.
Having to fight even more Robot Masters is a stern test and facing two in one stage makes things even rougher, but generously Capcom did give each of the MM2 bosses a weakness to one of this game's special weapons. Some of these weaknesses are easy enough to figure out - Metal Man doesn't like the Magnet Missile, Bubble Man's general sogginess means he takes extra damage from the Spark Shot - while others are a bit more abstract. I can put Heat Man's aversion to the Top Spin down to that power being weaponised stop-drop-and-roll, but why does Wood Man fear the Needle Cannon when there a weapon that's basically a circular saw blade?


Let's have a quick look at the other extra stages starting with Shadow Man's, where I'm about to send Mega Man to an early grave in the lake of raspberry jam that fuels all this machinery. If those platforms look suspicious, that's because they open up half a second after you land on them, leading to rushing, missed jumps and a terrifying death by drowning in fruit preserve. Yes, the difficulty level takes a brisk hike up Screw You Mountain once you reach this point of the game, although while it's hard it never feels unfair, thanks to a combination of the game's precise controls and the majestic angel that is Rush Jet.


The Rush Marine is less useful but still has its moments, like when Gemini Man's stage suffers some severe basement flooding. That robot fish is looking up, shocked, at the Rush Marine, knowing that the damage caused by letting a robot dog swim past him is going to come out of his pay packet.


Then there's Spark Man Redux, where the difficulty is increased not through anything fancy like mandatory flying sections but by good old fashioned videogame deathtraps like small rotating platforms placed above spike pits. Well, you can't beat the classics, can you? Unless by "classics" you mean the old Robot Masters, because yes, I can beat them. Even Quick Man, who I defeated by throwing snakes at. The return of the Mega Man 2 bosses is a twist that I do like a lot, but you could definitely argue that their appearance is an admission by Capcom, as early as the third game in the series, that all Mega Man games are the same and new ones are made by simply slotting in a different batch of Robot Masters.


Bloody hell, Mega Man is really putting in a shift today, isn't he? As soon as he clears the four extra stages, Break Man arrives and challenges him to yet another boss battle. I think he's called Break Man because this fight is a break from the otherwise rather difficult gameplay.


It's a very simple battle, because Break Man is just Proto Man in a mask and Proto Man has already shown that he's not difficult to beat. It's a climactic encounter that pitches brother against brother, although of course Mega Man doesn't know that. As far as he's concerned this is a run-of-the-mill duel against a Mega Man wannabe who hides behind a shield instead of honourably absorbing enemy projectiles with his face.


Wily ran off with Gamma! This is the least surprising plot twist since... no, I think this is the least surprising plot twist ever. I will be more shocked when Weyland-Yutani turn out to be evil in the next iteration of the Alien franchise. I like the wording, though. "Ran off with Gamma" makes it sound like Wily has eloped with a enormous military robot. They're probably halfway to Gretna Green by now.


At long last, it's time to breach Wily's castle and save the world. Maybe a clue that he hadn't reformed could have been found in the fact he still owns a castle shaped like a skull. No good guy operates out of a castle shaped like skull. Erm, except He-Man. Shit, there goes that theory.


You can tell Dr. Wily is taking security seriously by the way he's hired vicious, bloodthirsty penguins to guard his lair.
As always, Wily's fortress is made up of a series of short stages, each with a unique, non-Robot Master boss waiting at the end. The theme of this first stage appears to be aquatic animals.


This carries over to the boss battle, against a machine that fires turtles at Mega Man. Each turtle you destroy reduces the boss' health, with each subsequent turtle being faster than the one before until you're desperately trying to avoid a rocket-power shelled projectile with enough momentum to smash through the walls of Fort Knox. It's a lot of fun, and a welcome change of pace from the usual style of boss fight.


The next stage is all about sharp things: spikes, snapping bear traps, the arses of robot bees. I don't think I need to tell you that Rush Jet is worth his weight in whatever Mega Man feeds him on (I'm guessing metal bolts shaped like cartoon bones) during this stage.


Now, the punishing struggle against the Yellow Devil. He's appeared in a ton of Mega Man games, and his gimmick is that he's formed of cubes that fly across the screen, damaging Mega Man if they smash into him, before reforming into a pudgy cyclops and giving you a few precious moments in which you can damage the Devil by shooting him in the eye. Then he does it again, travelling to the other side of the screen. I will confess that I am spectacularly bad at fighting the Yellow Devil in all his incarnations. I can just never get the hang of it, and if do then I end up taking a hit and losing my rhythm. My solution to this, now as it was when I was young, is to stand between the Devil's legs and fire the Shadow Blade straight upwards, chugging the E-Tanks I've saved for this specific moment when my health gets low. It's not pretty, but it works.


The third part of Wily's castle, presented to you for completeness' sake. Spikes, moving platforms, you get the idea. It's frankly amazing that Capcom are still managing to keep this interesting and on a gradual difficulty curve.


The boss: Mega Man. Mega Men, even! Three evil doppelgängers that are superior to the original because they can fire their basic weapon at angles other than along the horizontal. Also, two of them are impervious to your attacks, and every now and then they disappear and reappear with a different one being vulnerable like a deadly three-card monte routine. My advice would be to keep moving and hope for the best, but then my advice is generally terrible. I'm sure there's a proper strategy out there but I'm too old, too set in my ways, to change now.


The next stage is, to my eternal disappointment, a boss rush. Each of these teleporters leads to one of the game's Robot Masters, and you have to beat them all again to proceed. This is definitely Mega Man 3's weakest point, and I would be perfectly happy if it was excised from the game completely because it adds absolutely nothing except time on the clock. By this point you've already beaten sixteen Robot Masters, seventeen if you count Break Man, and because you already have all the special weapons you can beat the Robot Masters easily enough. The only real challenge generated by this section is finding the bit of paper on which you wrote down each boss' weakness.


By now you will have fully had enough of Wily's shit, so when he waddles onto the screen in his mecha-crab you will have no hesitation in riding Rush Jet up to head-height and shooting Wily from a position of relative safety. Before you can do this you have to get Wily to lower his shield by destroying the gun that dangles between his robot legs. The best weapon to accomplish this is the Hard Knuckles, so a huge thank-you to whoever at Capcom designed this fight in such a way that it starts with you punching Wily in his metaphorical dick.


Turns out it was a decoy Wily. Mega Man leaps back, startles, as the fake Wily's head bounces about on a spring. The old bastard thought of everything this time!


Including attaching insta-death spikes to the fist of the giant robot he stole. In a case of cruel irony, that fist turns out to be Wily's undoing because Mega Man can use it as a platform to climb up to Wily's command bubble in Gamma's head. How can Mega Man defeat Wily once he's up there? What weapon will bring down this megalomaniacal madman and his rampaging kill-bot? The Top Spin, of course. The best way to beat Wily is to pirouette him to death. How perfect is that? Up in Robot Master Heaven, Top Man turns to his fallen brothers and says "See? I told you, you pricks!"


Plans foiled and robots destroyed, Dr. Wily is seemingly killed when a big chunk of the ceiling lands right on top of him, conveniently getting Mega Man past that awkward "Asimov's laws" thing. Mega Man is also knocked out, but is saved at the last by the shadowy figure of Proto Man, who has finally realised that Dr. Wily is evil. Proto Man is not the most energetic plasma bolt in the cannon, after all.


And so, after a long and arduous journey, Mega Man 3 is over. Wily will return in time, once he's recovered from being crushed into a bloody paste, but for now Mega Man can take a pleasant jog through the verdant fields of Capcomland while information about the various Robot Masters scrolls past beneath him. I'm still not entirely sure whether he's realised that Proto Man is his brother yet. Probably not. As a series Mega Man is anime as hell, and Mega Man not figuring out his family tree despite it being very obvious to everyone else would be a very anime thing to happen.


Dr. Wily got better quicker than I expected - there goes his UFO, flying past the top of the tree. God speed, evil Einstein.
If you've stuck with this article all the way to the end, then thank you for your persistence. I think this the longest VGJunk article yet, but it didn't feel long while I was writing it because I really do love Mega Man 3. Others will disagree but for me it's the best of the "classic" Mega Man games, and while nostalgia is admittedly a large factor in that I think it would be my favourite even if I'd never played it before this week. The Robot Masters are a fun mix, there are twists and turns with extra stages and bosses and overall the soundtrack is my favourite of the series. Apart from the slightly (but unavoidably) clunky method of switching your special weapons, the controls and gameplay are excellent and fall at my favourite point in the Mega Man timeline in terms of abilities: the slide and Rush's new modes add some very welcome mobility options and keep the action flowing, but it's before the chargeable Mega Buster was introduced in Mega Man 4. That's great for me, because I've never liked having to hold the fire button down while playing: it's awkward, it makes an annoying noise and it reduces the number of occasions when you might want to use your special weapons. Even outside of the Mega Man series this is one of the finest action games on the NES, densely packed with tightly designed, fun-filled levels, and it'll be readily available for purchase soon when the Mega Man Legacy Collection is released. Am I demanding that you play it? You know, I think I am.
There you go, then. Article number 500. Only 166 to go before my blood-oath with the Dark Ones is complete and I can return to my grave for an eternity of restful slumber. The next one won't be so long.

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