29/11/2017

MEGA MAN 4 (NES)

It’s time for the return of a legend. Not a Mega Man Legends legend, mind you. Just regular old Mega Man action here today - with his oversized head, oversized feet and oversized sense of justice, it’s yet another slice of robot-bashing, weapons-stealing, weakness-exploiting adventure with Capcom’s 1991 NES game Mega Man 4!


This should be interesting, because I’ve written before about how Mega Man 3 was a very important and formative game for the young VGJunk but Mega Man 4… isn’t. I don’t think I even played it until the early 2000s, probably because Mega Man 4 didn’t receive a European release until 1993, well after the SNES was on store shelves and taking attention away from the NES. So, we’ve got Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 4 – two extremely similar games, one of which I have a large amount of nostalgia for and one that I don’t. I’m looking forward to seeing how much that nostalgia colours my impressions of Mega Man 4.


If you don’t know the story of the Mega Man games – very unlikely, I know – then MM4 is kind enough to provide a quick recap. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily build robots, Dr. Wily turns out to be evil and uses the robots in an attempt to conquer the planet, Dr. Light converts the human-shaped boy-bot Rock into Mega Man, the super fighting robot. That’s Rock pictured above, moments before his transformation into Mega Man. He’s wearing boxer shorts, presumably to hide his robo-shame. The mechanical slippers, on the other hand, are merely for comfort.


That’s the original Mega Man in a nutshell. In Mega Man 2, Dr. Wily creates eight more evil robots and tries to take over the world. In Mega Man 3, Dr. Wily creates eight more evil robots and tries to take over the world, spicing up his formula by pretending to be reformed for a while before stealing another, larger robot. I think people who criticise the Mega Man games for relying too much on a specific formula might have a point, but hold your horses: in Mega Man 4, a scientist has created eight more evil robots and is trying to take over the world… and that mad scientist isn’t Dr. Wily! Of course it isn’t, what kind of supposed genius would try the same plan for a fourth time? Instead, Mega Man’s newest foe is the mysterious Dr. Cossack. I’m going to guess that Dr. Cossack is from Russia.


When you start the game, you’re presented with the traditional Mega Man level select screen. There are eight robot masters to be defeated, and you can tackle them in any order you like. Looking at the new batch of mechanical menaces, I think it’s fair to say that by this point Capcom were moving away from the conceit that each robot master was built to perform a specific real-world job. Dive Man could be an underwater rescue robot, sure. Dust Man? It might not be glamorous but someone has to clean up the wreckage created by Mega Man’s other world-saving battles… and then there’s Pharaoh Man, robo-Egyptologist? Oh, hang on, according to later Mega Man games that’s exactly what Pharaoh Man is. He was created to explore pyramids. When they say robots are going to replace human jobs I thought they meant delivery drivers or factory workers, not Indiana Jones.
I’m going to be starting with Toad Man, the irrigation robot. Yes, really.


Oh, the irony. This torrential rain has rendered irrigation and therefore Toad Man himself unnecessary. No wonder he’s turned to evil.
Mega Man 4 is, you’ll be shocked to learn, a Mega Man game. I think the vast majority of VGJunk’s readership will understand what that entails. You run through the stages, shooting enemies like these kamikaze birds with Mega Man’s arm-cannon, jumping across platforms and avoiding bottomless pits and insta-death spikes. It’s an action-platformer, and the Mega Man games are perhaps the quintessential NES-era action-platformers. They’re always solidly-crafted games with interesting level design, sharp and responsive controls and really nice presentation. If you’ll forgive me for skipping straight to my conclusions, Mega Man 4 is a good game, because the basic Mega Man template combined with Capcom’s artists and composers almost always makes for a good game. But is it a great game, as some of the Mega Man series are, or is it merely a solid entry in a perhaps over-familiar style? I suppose we shall see.


Toad Man’s stage is off to a pretty good start, at least. The gimmick here is “restrictions placed on Mega Man’s movements.” In the first half, the driving rain slows down Mega Man’s left-to-right momentum, and it really does feel as though you’re battling against the weather, especially when you forget how strong the wind is and it pushes you back just enough that you don’t make the jump over a bottomless pit.
Once you’ve dropped down into the wonderfully dingy – and I mean “Capcom NES game” dingy, where everything’s still cartoonish and colourful – you have to deal with the pouring water that pushes Mega Man around if he stands in its flow. It’s not enough of an interference to change the gameplay into an almost on-rails slip-n-slide, but it gives you just enough of something extra to think about to make the stage interesting. It all bodes well for Capcom’s approach to balancing the game, and MM4 does seem to have more emphasis on in-stage gimmicks than its predecessors.


You also get to fight a giant mechanical snail, which is nice. The snail can attack by launching its eyes at you. Well, what else is it going to do? Chase you around the screen very slowly on its four snail feet? Hang on a minute... Hey, Dr. Cossack, do they not have snails in Russia?


Once you’ve battled through the stage, you’re thrown into a boss fight against the robot master that rules said stage. Here’s Toad Man and yes, I’d say he’s fifty percent man-shaped and fifty percent toad-shaped. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before in another article but take a look at Toad Man’s eyes and you’ll realise they’re actually situated into the toad’s “mouth,” with the toad’s eyes being the two lights at the top. I do rather like Toad Man’s design, even if he’s destined to be MM4’s equivalent of MM2’s Bubble Man: the soggy, water-themed robot master who comes across as a bit of a joke.
This isn’t helped by Toad Man’s fighting style. His special attack is the Rain Flush. When using it, Toad Man makes it rain (not in a “dollar bills at a strip club” style, although what Toad Man gets up to at night is his own business) and hey, rain’s a deadly attack because where can Mega Man hide? It’s not like I’ve fought Umbrella Man and stolen his special power yet. However, there’s one flaw with the Rain Flush, and that’s Toad Man’s inability to use it while being shot in the face. So, Mega Man shoots Toad Man and Toad Man can’t attack. Instead, Toad Man jumps back and forth in an easily-avoidable manner while Mega Man shoots him some more. It’s a very, very simple battle, and probably the easiest boss fight in any “classic” Mega Man game. That’s why I started with Toad Man, it’s always good to get in some practise by picking on the weak.


This being a Mega Man game, defeating Toad Man means that Mega Man can now use the fallen robot master’s power. All the other robot masters are weak against a specific weapon, so part of the challenge of any Mega Man game is figuring out which order to defeat the bosses in. So, which of the robot masters are likely to quake in fear at the prospect of mild precipitation? Probably not Dive Man, he’s a submarine. I can’t imagine Drill Man worrying about rain, and who knows what the hell Ring Man is scared of. Pythagorean mathematics, possibly. No, my bet is that the rain will work best against the electrically-themed Bright Man, so away we go.


An appropriately electrical stage for Bright Man, with lots of zapping sparks and background elements that look like bits of a substation. Bright Man’s lighbulb motif also becomes part of the stage itself via two different kinds of enemies. One is shaped like a lightbulb. You can see one of them above. If Mega Man destroys these enemies, then all the lights go out and you’re left to play the stage in darkness until you come across the other type of enemy: a green waddling robot that launches fireworks when you shoot it, re-illuminating the screen. Mega Man 3 has a stage with a similar twist, although it’s handled better here because there’s a balance to consider between leaving the lightbulb robots alone so you can see where you’re going and the fact that the lightbulb robots are shooting at Mega Man while they’re on the screen.


Admittedly, the electrical theme gets put on the back burner later in the stage when Mega Man is riding a robotic grasshopper across a field of scissors while totem poles get in the way. The totem poles could have at least been batteries or something, right?
Anyway, this section provides a good opportunity to mention the big new upgrade to his powers that Mega Man received in MM4 – the chargeable Mega Buster cannon. In the previous Mega Man games, you could fire three small energy pellets at a time from your arm cannon. In MM4, you can hold down the fire button to charge up Mega Man’s cannon, resulting in a more powerful shot when you release the button. It’s not an innovation that I’m entirely on board with, I’ll be honest. I’ve seen people criticise the charge buster for gameplay reasons, namely that it reduces the point of using the special boss weapons, something that was a big part of the previous Mega Man games’ appeal. I agree with that. However, my two biggest issues are that a) you end up trying to play with one thumb permanently clamped down on the fire button and that’s not very comfortable and b) the gun makes an irritating whining noise when it’s being charged up. I also feel (and this might be just me misremembering things) like the charge buster lead to a gradual “bullet-spongey” feel creeping into Mega Man enemies because you were always expected to have a shot charged up. The charge buster isn’t awful or game-breaking or anything, and aside from a few instance like here where you need it to get the totem poles out of the way quickly enough to not fall into the spikes it’s hardly mandatory… but I’m still not that keen on it. At least Mega Man has retained his sliding move from MM3, a fun little technique that’s good for both sliding through narrow passageways and avoiding enemy projectiles.


Also returning from Mega Man 3 is Rush, Mega Man’s faithful robo-hound of a million uses. Okay, three uses, and you have to unlock two of them. I got the dog-to-submarine conversion kit for beating Toad Man, and Rush comes with the Rush Coil – which turns Rush into a springboard for high-altitude bouncing – equipped as standard. I seem to recall using Rush more in MM3 than I did in MM4, but he’s still useful to have around and he’s still, of course, a very good boy.


Giving Bright Man a massive glass bulb for a head seems like a design oversight on Dr. Cossack’s part, and if I had Half-Brick Man’s special power I could breeze through this fight. Fragile as he may appear, Bright Man does have the rather powerful ability to freeze Mega Man in place, and even if he couldn’t I'd find myself struggling when collisions hurt the player and Bright Man is bouncing around the screen like an over-caffeinated kangaroo. Fortunately Bright Man can’t avoid rain, and with a few applications of the Rain Flush he is defeated. Because the water, like, fries his electrics, you see. Look, I’m not a roboticist, I don’t know how any of this works.


Onward to Pharaoh Man’s stage, which takes place inside a thematically appropriate pyramid so I assume we’re harassing Pharaoh Man at his place of work. It’s a fairly standard Mega Man stage, with lots of spikes to avoid and robot mummies to shoot. Robot mummies are a fun enemy to fight in most situations, but in MM4 they throw their own heads at you and that really moves them up to the higher echelons of the robot mummy spectrum. Also, they kinda remind me of Decap Attack.


As well as the regular platforming and some areas where Mega Man is slowed down by loose sand, Pharaoh Man’s stage also has another twist: by ignoring the hole that leads into the pyramid proper, Mega Man can continue moving right into a hidden area. Waiting at the end is a special “balloon” power-up, a permanent upgrade that can be switched to in the same manner as the boss’ weapons and allows Mega Man to summon floating platforms. You can see them in the screenshot above, and very useful they are too, especially in the game’s later stages.
Mega Man 4 does flirt with the idea of giving players multiple routes through each stage, but they don’t go quite far enough to feel like true branching paths. Mostly they’re optional, tougher-than-usual segments that reward you with something useful like a health-restoring E-Tank, and on reflection I think I’d have liked it if the NES Mega Man games had leant more heavily on the “multiple routes” angle.


It’s Pharaoh Man himself, the robot master who loves pyramids so much he’s built a small one in the middle of his chambers. Like the mighty god-kings of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Man is a powerful enemy, and if you come into this fight with the wrong tools you’ll probably get your arse kicked. Pharaoh Man’s fast, athletic, strong and can charge up a big energy beam to launch at Mega Man, so it’s a good job I’ve got Bright Man’s Flash Stopper. It says a lot about how tough Pharaoh Man is that he’s not really "weak" to any of the special weapons, and the only way to safely deal with him is to freeze him in place and blast away at him like he’s a very specifically-themed novelty piñata.


Onward to Ring Man’s stage, and it’s not the most exciting of Mega Man stages from a conceptual perspective. There’s just not much you can do with the vague notion of “rings” as a starting point, is there? I came up with “spiral staircases” and “deadly robotic jewellery store mascots,” neither of which make an appearance in this stage. You get these floating Saturn things, which are both thematically appropriate and adorable, so that’s something. However, the rest of the stage is mostly comprised of platforms between two blocks and the platforms retract when you step on them. Some are rainbows, but later ones are kinda coil-shaped and you could argue they’re supposed to be slinkies which would be at least a little ring-themed.


Don’t get me wrong, though. The gameplay’s still fun. Sharp, exciting platforming action throughout, interspersed with the occasional fight against a hippo. The hippo does not attack with rings. The hippo does attack with homing missiles, so the trivia fact that hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa is looking pretty accurate. Oh, and I like the way Ring Man’s stage implies that Mega Man has climbed his way to space, that’s cool.


Ring Man himself is… not so cool. Being lumbered with the name “Ring Man” is a bad start, and I’m sure he can commiserate with Hard Man about their respective names once all this is over. Then there’s Ring Man’s design, which is a bit bland and definitely doesn’t live up to the standard set by toadroids and cyber pharaohs. When your most interesting feature is the bubble wand sticking out of the top of your head, you’re going to struggle to attract fans.
The Pharaoh Shot works well against Ring Man, and it's the first boss weapon in the series that Mega Man can charge up like his regular arm cannon. Doing so causes a ball of energy to be held over Mega Man’s head until you release the button to throw it. Don’t throw it. Hold it over your head and let Ring Man repeatedly jump into the energy ball, because he is dumb and he’ll keep doing that. Apparently, Ring Man was one of the first robot masters specifically designed for fighting, so not being great at fighting definitely shuffles him over to the ironic side of the scale.


Dust Man next, and his stage is (unsurprisingly) based around trash. There are piles of garbage everywhere, and a section where you have to carve a path through the rubbish with your gun while avoiding the trash compactors that always appear in videogames stages featuring lots of junk. Thinking about it now, I have to wonder how much influence the compactor scene from Star Wars had on this concept, in that I’m not sure whether they’re all inspired by Star Wars or just most of them.


Again, it’s another fun stage, but then it’s rare that any stage in a classic Mega Man game isn’t fun. Sure, some of them definitely have their moments that’ll inspire you to join an internet forum and rant about Dr. Light’s refusal to teleport Mega Man directly to Wily’s lair – any area where platforms appear and disappear in a set pattern tends to have that effect on me - but they almost never dip below “good” in a general sense. The problem I have with Dust Man’s stage is that I feel like I saw it all before in Mega Man 3. In that game, Spark Man’s stage had a (less pronounced, but still) garbage theme, and Gemini Man’s level had you carving through destructible landscapes with your arm cannon.


I do like Dust Man himself, though. Granting a vacuum cleaner sentience seems unnecessarily cruel and I’m sure it violates some kind of robot welfare law, but Dust Man does his job with admirable stoicism. Dust Man sucks, but purely in a literal sense, dragging Mega Man towards him with his vacuum forehead, and while Ring Man’s Ring Boomerang weapons will put him down fairly quickly the battle with Dust Man is a fun, classic, pattern-based Mega Man boss fight. Trivia time: Dust Man was designed by Yusuke Murata, the manga artist famous for his work on Eyeshield 21 and One Punch Man. He wasn’t a famous manga artist at the time, I hasten to add. That’d be a bit unfair on the other young entrants. Murata also won the design contest for Mega Man 5 with his Crystal Man submission. Geez, man, leave some robot masters for the rest of us.


This is Skull Man’s stage, and it’s the complete opposite of Ring Man’s in that it’s very tied in to the theme of its robot master. It’s bones galore, spines all the time, more ribs than Texas in barbecue season! Even the robots are skeletons. They have no need to be skeletons, but just because you’re trying to enslave the world doesn’t mean you can employ a little pizazz every now and then.
Naturally, Skull Man’s stage is my favourite, at least from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Of course it is, and you won’t be surprised to hear me say it if you’ve ever read one of the Halloween Spooktaculars here at VGJunk. Gameplay-wise, the stage is… well, it’s like a lot of the other robot master stages in MM4. Good, clean fun, if a little too straightforward at times. If this was the lair of a less “me” robot master – imagine a stage for Plumber Man where all the bones are replaced with PVC piping -  I’d think of it in an “it’s fun, but what else have you got?” kind of way. But it’s Skull Man, and the stage plays out like Halloweentown if Jack Skellington was the one who found the left-behind technology from Terminator, so of course I love it.


Skull Man is great, too. The spookiest robot master, Skull Man is so goth that he can create small skulls that swarm around him, protecting him from harm. Physical harm, I mean. I didn’t try calling Skull Man a pasty weirdo and inviting him to go home and cry over his Cure records, but I imagine that his Skull Barrier would do little to protect him from such barbs.
As another robot master designed solely for combat and not, as you might have hoped, as an animatronic for a Halloween funhouse – that’s Shade Man’s deal – this is a tough fight for Mega Man. Even though Skull Man is weak against the Dust Crusher, he’s still a dangerous opponent with a lot of tricks up his sleeves. He’s such a powerful warrior, in fact, that I feel a bit bad that I won the battle by throwing lumps of trash at him.


It’s into the briny deep for Dive Man’s stage. That’s right, Dive Man is a submarine robot and not a Premier League footballer, and most of this level involves delicate jumping to counteract Mega Man’s increased underwater buoyancy.
There are robot whales to fight, too, and one thing Mega Man 4 does rather well are these miniboss encounters. They all feature impressively large sprites and best of all they’re usually fun to fight, especially once you’ve got a few special weapons under your belt. For instance, the Dust Crusher splits into fragments when it hits an enemy, and because the whales are so big you can land multiple blows with one shot. It’s this kind of experimentation that’s chipped away at by having your default weapon be chargeable.


Dive Man’s stage also offers a rare chance to take the Rush Marine out for a spin. Rush may have been made less useful in this game that he was in MM3, but I still reckon he could do a better job at saving the world than Mega Man if you gave him a chance. I bet Rush wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate Dr. Wily once and for all.


This is an unusual fight, because Dive Man’s lair is underwater and the boss has two distinct advantages: he’s basically a submarine with a face, and he can fire homing torpedoes. The Skull Barrier weapon is a lifesaver here, because not only can it negate Dive Man’s missiles – nothing’s stronger than a skull, after all – but if you float into the boss with the barrier active then Dive Man will take a significant amount of damage. After all these years spent playing videogames where enemies can harm me just by touching me the shoe is on the other foot, and that shoe is huge and skull-encrusted like something out of Warhammer 40,000.


The final robot master to face Mega Man’s wrath is Drill Man, and his stage is exactly what you’d expect for a robot master named Drill Man. Lots of drills, mostly, and a series of rooms that have been carved out of what is either solid rock or a colossal pile of pink wafer biscuits. There are also plenty of robot bats to shoot, and that’s fine by me, I’ve always liked these robot bats. There just such a versatile enemy, ready to slot into any number of different stages. Horror-themed level? Caves? Forest? Chuck a few robot bats in there, job’s a good ‘un.
However, I’ve already fought these bats in some of the game's other stages, and here’s an odd little wrinkle with the Mega Man games: the stages you do last are generally going to feel a little less interesting than the rest thanks to enemies being reused. You’ve seen them before, but that’s not Drill Man’s fault. If I’d started with this level, maybe I’d be complaining about Skull Man’s stage. Okay, not Skull Man, but you get my point.


One new addition to Mega Man’s arsenal is this grappling wire. You can pick it up in a secret area of Dive Man’s stage, and much like the balloon platforms it’s a special “weapon” to help Mega Man get around – in this case, by grappling on to the ceiling and pulling him upwards. I feel I should mention that Tokuro Fujiwara, designer of Bionic Commando, was the producer on Mega Man 4.


Drill Man’s got drills for hands and a drill on his head, so he’s good in a headbutting contest but he struggles to tie his shoelaces. He can also drill underground to avoid your attacks, although half the time that feels like a nice break for the player. When Drill Man is visible, using the homing missiles you got from Dive Man is the best way to take him down, and once you do the first section of Mega Man 4 is finished. You get a password after every robot master stage, but in this instance I’d make sure you write the password down several times and keep it safe. You’re going to need it.


With his plans seemingly in tatters, Dr. Cossack makes an appearance. He looks kinda smug for someone who’s just seen all this soldiers handily defeated by a small metal child, but maybe that’s because he knows Mega Man must now fight through the multiple stages that make up Dr. Cossack’s castle. Just like the other games in the Mega Man series, there’s a fair chunk of content that appears after you defeat the robot masters, so I suppose we’d better get on with it.


The castle stages are interesting, because they’re both more and less engaging than the “regular” stage, or at least that how I always felt about them. On the one hand they’re a real test of your Mega Man skills, with ever-more fiendish traps and battles designed to test the skills you’ve learned in the earlier stages to their limits. On the other hand, the lack of focus found within the castles, especially when compared to the themed robot master stages, makes the task of storming the castle feel a little samey and, sometimes, a bit of a slog. There are new bosses to fight, too: the first stage of Cossack’s castle – which does have the mandatory onion dome on top because Dr. Cossack is Russian – is home to a large mechanical butterfly that smashes the floor up while you fight. It feels more like something from a Sonic the Hedgehog game than a Mega Man boss, honestly.


There are also plenty of spike pits to navigate, in various styles: long uninterrupted stretches of spikes, falling down pits lined with spikes, blocks with spikes on certain sides that rotate as you jump between them. It’s nothing that didn’t appear in the earlier MM games, but it’s always nice to have an excuse for using Rush Jet. He’s a bit more difficult to control than in MM3, but as you sail across the now-impotent spikes it’s a reminder that it’s nice when videogames let you feel powerful for a little while.


I definitely felt that Dr. Cossack’s castle had a touch of been-there-done-that about it, but that’s not to say there wasn’t anything interesting about it. There’s this boss, for instance: a metal cube that flies onto the screen in segments, and you have to make sure Mega Man is inside the cube when it assembles itself so you can shoot the vulnerable core. It makes a nice change of pace from most of the other boss fights in the castle stages, especially because you’re not really punished for messing up the cube-entering bit. It feels something like Mega Man 4’s answer to that series staple, the infamous Yellow Devil fight – only less frustrating because it’s not nearly so difficult.


After much running, jumping, shooting, swearing at disappearing platforms, swearing at the knock-back Mega Man experiences when he’s damaged and checking the amount of E-Tanks I’d collected like a paranoiac survivalist hoarding canned goods for their fallout bunker, I finally reached Dr. Cossack himself. He’s piloting a giant robot shaped like one of those crane grabber arcade machines. Personally I’d have picked something with more guns and spikes, but you do you, Cossack. Unlike a real arcade grabber, this thing has the grip strength to actually pick Mega Man up like a cheaply-made Minion plush and hold on securely enough for Cossack to slam our hero into the ground. A dangerous attack, to be sure, but Dr. Cossack’s attacks are easy enough to avoid by sliding around like a greased eel and after a few well-placed Dust Crusher attacks the mad scientist will be defeated.


But wait, what’s this?! Dr. Cossack’s daughter Kalinka arrives, teleported into the room by Mega Man’s elder brother, the mysterious / dumb as a bag of rocks (I haven’t decided which yet) Protoman. Kalinka explains that she was kidnapped and used as a tool to blackmail Dr. Cossack into being evil. Gasp! But what villain could be so cruel, so bereft of humanity, to use a daughter’s suffering to bend a father to his will?


It’s Dr. Wily! Yes, Dr. Wily was behind the plan to defeat Mega Man and take over the world using eight robot masters. Act surprised, god damn it! This is a big reveal and even though we all know that un-reformable psychopath and bad plan maker Dr. Wily was the true villain, Capcom seem to be presenting this as a genuinely shocking twist so we should all be nice enough to play along. I wouldn’t want to hurt Capcom’s feelings, if they feel under-appreciated they might stop making new Mega Man games.
The upshot of Dr. Wily’s arrival is that Mega Man must now fight though another castle to get to the real “master”mind. I’m not looking forward to it, truthfully. Mega Man 3 handled the second-half content much better, with the twists on the existing robot master stages and the appearance of the robot masters from Mega Man 2. That was a real surprise, and a fun one too, but I don’t have much enthusiasm for more Dr. Wily stages. This feeling is compounded by the player not receiving a password at this point. That’s right, if you get a game over your latest restart point is the entrance to Cossack’s castle and it feels lazy – churlish, even – to not give the player a password at this point.


On the plus side, the first stage of Wily’s castle raised my spirits a little by being dedicated to the Mets, the little hard-hard robots and Mega Man series mascots. They’re everywhere, scurrying around the place and looking a little better animated than some of the other enemies in the game. I get the impression that whoever made this stage had a genuine affection for the Mets, and while there was also a giant Met boss in Mega Man 3 in this case I’m happy that they recycled essentially the same boss for this game. I know it’s fickle, but I just like Mets.


Unfortunately the rest of Wily’s castle isn’t nearly so interesting. It’s average Mega Man gameplay in a series of rooms that aren’t especially interesting to look at, and while it is difficult a lot of the challenge comes from your weapon energy not being restored between stages and also the pressure of knowing that too many mistakes means you’ll have to go back to the beginning of Dr. Cossack’s castle.


The quality might dip here and there, but the only time Mega Man 4 gets “bad” is right at the end, with the now-traditional section where you have to fight all the robot masters again by entering these teleporters. It’s boring, lazy padding in a game that doesn’t need it. Toad Man was ridiculously easy to beat when I didn’t have access to the weapon he’s weak against, there was no need to make me embarrass him further.


Now it’s Mega Man versus Dr. Wily. Again. Dr. Wily has a spaceship, right? Fly to a different planet and conquer that one, you Einstein-looking dope. I know you have a personal vendetta against Mega Man, but did you ever hear the saying that the best revenge is to live well? It’d certainly involve less prison time.
Anyway, for this boss battle Dr. Wily has one of his trademark flying machines. It used to have a skull on the front, but now it spits plasma balls, which is a fair trade-off… or at least it would be if Mega Man couldn’t avoid those plasma balls entirely by standing underneath Wily’s ship. Personally, when I’m finding a Mega Man game difficult it’s usually because it’s too hectic or intense, and I cannot be relied upon to perform quick, accurate movements in those kinds of situations. Here, though, I can get a breather by hiding below the ship, popping out every now and then to launch drill missiles into Wily’s face. If there’s ever a Mega Man game featuring Zen Man and you can learn a calming meditation move by defeating him, I’ll be well away.


Dr. Wily usually has more than one form in these final battles. That’s the case in MM4, and here is Wily’s second form! No, I haven’t uploaded the wrong screenshot, that’s really what the climactic clash of good versus evil looks like. Not exactly the thrilling spectacle I was hoping for, more a recreation of trying to go to the toilet in the middle of the night while you’re staying in an unfamiliar house. It’s dark, you can’t find the lightswitch and you (metaphorically) end up pissing on the floor. There’s a flash of light and for a split-second – a period of time so short I couldn’t get a bloody screenshot of it – Dr. Wily’s ship is visible. That’s your cue to attack, except you’ve got to be really quick and also Dr. Wily is shooting at you and the whole encounter feels like a tug-of-war between “boring” and “a right pain in the arse.” The Pharaoh Shot is the best – and possibly only – way to beat Wily, because holding the charged attack over your head means you can “simply” jump into the mad scientist when he’s momentarily on-screen. Somehow this final battle manages to be even worse than having to fight the robot masters again. At least I could see what the hell I was doing there.


You know, I don’t think Dr. Wily expected to beat Mega Man. The amount of effort and planning required to ensure his fortress explodes into a mushroom cloud shaped exactly like a skull certainly implies defeat was on his mind, and why wouldn’t it be? Mega Man has emerged triumphant four times now, and as fun as it is to joke about the wall-headbutting insanity of Dr. Wily repeated efforts I’m glad, truly glad, there are plenty of other Mega Man games in the same mould.


As Mega Man rides home atop a train – must be a British train, even saving the world four times wouldn’t be enough for First Transpennine to give you a complimentary ticket – I’m left to reflect on Mega Man 4, a game that is not my beloved childhood favourite Mega Man 3 despite their many similarities. I didn’t enjoy MM4 as much as MM3, and it’s hard to separate the legitimate reasons why from my nostalgia. I can start by saying this: Mega Man 4 is a good game, a really good game, and one that occupies a spot in the upper echelons of the NES’ library. It’s got mostly solid level design, lovely graphics, excellent enemy designs and an overall feeling of quality, from the solidity of the core gameplay to the still-enjoyable concept of collecting the bosses’ weapons. However, some cracks are beginning to show, as you might expect after four conceptually identical games: the castle stages can be a bit bland and the final boss is terrible, I find the chargeable buster to be kind of annoying and the music, while good, isn’t at the same top-tier level as Mega Man 2 and 3. In conclusion, Mega Man 4 is a land of contrasts. Look, I’m not exactly sure how to end this article, and part of me is realising that writing six thousand words about how Mega Man 4 is definitely a Mega Man game might have been a waste of time, so I’ll just say I’m glad I played Mega Man 4 again and I’m extra glad I played it in a way that allowed me to save between the two castle stages because not being given a password there is bullshit.

18 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of the charge shot, either, due to the bullet-sponge problem and the weird positions your fingers have to take to keep a charged shot at the ready and do standard platformer jumping stuff. I mentioned this in response to a Mega Man 4 LP video, and I was told, quite dubiously, that you're expected to keep your thumb on B and hit A with the inner joint of your thumb. Does anyone do this?

    there’s just not much you can do with the vague notion of “rings” as a starting point, is there?

    Robotic Sadakos?

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    1. That hand position is kinda how I play MM games with the charge shot... for a while, until it gets too uncomfortable and I start pretending the charge shot doesn't exist.
      Hmm, the original Ring novel and MM4 were released in the same year, it would have been nice if there was a crossover there...

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  2. Pharoh Shot isn't the first chargeable Robot Master weapon; Heat Man's Aromic Fire is.

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  3. its true that the fourth game is just a far more accessible experience and not as punishing as the others?

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    1. It is more polished than the previous outings, mostly. Megaman 1 is a very rough game, and Megaman 3 was forced out blatantly incomplete. 4 is where they hit their stride and starting turning out very polished iterations on a regular basis(as Capcom would rapidly became known for).

      I have little in the way of unkind words for Megaman 2, however. It was a labor of love by the dev team, and it shows in almost every facet.

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    2. I'd say MM4 is much gentler, difficulty wise, thean the first two games in the series, so it'd probably be a decent place to start.

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  4. Ahhh Mega Man 4, my favorite of the classic series! Time to chime in with a bunch of useless information/opinions!
    Hitoshi Ariga actually managed to make Ring Man into kind of a bad-ass in his absolutely stellar "Rockman" manga by giving his nonsensical design a purpose: his rings are supposed to be hand-cuffs; he's a policeman robot designed to use non-lethal force to catch human criminals! He even gets to wear a trench coat and fedora (before those things became associated with douchebags)! He's nowhere near as powerful or cool as Mega Man or Bass, but he gets his own time in the spotlight once or twice, and that's pretty neat if you ask me.
    I'm glad you pointed out the bit about Yusuke Murata designing Dust Man and Crystal Man, it's one of my favorite bits of Mega-trivia.
    We all give Dr. Wily shit for his transparent attempts to hide behind other villains (especially after his astonishingly stupid "disguise" in MM6), but consider if you were a Japanese kid playing this game for the first time in nineteen eighty-whatever; the pattern hadn't quite been established yet, Dr. Wily is seemingly squished to death at the end of 3, and even the subtitle, "A New Evil Ambition!" seem to suggest this is a new villain for realsies. I can see kids being surprised by the reveal after the Cossack Catcher fight, thereby making it the first and last time a Mega Man plot twist fooled anyone.
    I'm surprised to hear you don't like the music, as MM4's soundtrack is by far my favorite in the series, and a huge part of why I love the game so much. In fact, the game's lead composer, Minae Saito (then Minae Fujii, and most commonly known by her moniker "Ojalin") also did my favorite VG soundtrack of all time, DuckTales 2, a fantastic OST that's sadly overshadowed by it's more popular predecessor.
    In fact, DuckTales 2 also had an ancient Egyptian-themed stage, and when they brought back a bunch of previous series composers for MM10, Mrs. Saito did Commando Man's stage theme. I guess when you need a good desert-y feeling song, Ojalin's the one to call!

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    1. Oh, I do like the MM4 soundtrack, especially Skull Man and Ring Man's themes, I just don't think its *quite* as good as MM2 and MM3. I'm talking an 8/10 rather than a 9/10.
      I've never read the manga, but that take on Ring Man does spund interesting! That's the same manga series that altered Skull Man's design so he looks a bit like Jack Skellington, right? I'll have to get around to reading it, one day.

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  5. I just thought I'd add the coolest thing about Pharoahman's stage: you can use Toadman's weapon in the outside area and the sand will "harden". Scorpions stop climbing out of it and Megaman stops sinking into it. It was a nice touch.

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    1. Whoa, I didn't know that, nice. Every day's a school day...

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    2. I didn't know this, either. That's like freezing the stream in Castlevania III; that's awesome.

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  6. There's an even easier way to beat the Wily phase with the plasma balls...and it involves the Wire adapter of all things. Just stand under him and keep firing the wire upward. It'll actually damage him. You don't need to move an inch once you're in position, and it looks incredibly silly to boot.

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  7. This was actually the first Megaman game I played (It came out in 1991, which was about the time I was old enough to understand how to play Mega Man at all,) so it has a special place in my heart.

    The charged shot would be a lot better if it was always charging, I think. There's never exactly a time you want your shot to be LESS powerful...

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  8. I'm not sure why Dr. Cossack would build a pyramid-exploring robot with a pharaoh headdress, but maybe he was hoping Pharaoh Man could avoid curses that way.

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    1. I think that is actually the canon explanation, the design protects him from curses.
      Megaman lives in a weird world.

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  9. I really love MegaMan 4, But my all-time favorite is MM3. After failing badly to complete MM and MM2, I finally could end Mega Man 3, then I go back to MM2 and complete him, and later complete MM. MegaMan was really hard to me, because you dont have passwords or E tanks...
    Then I play MM4 and found it very smooth and polished... I really love it
    As far as today, I dont know you can charge the HeatMan weapon, or use the rain (ToadMan Weapon) to get quiksands harder...
    I hope to you get all the MM Reviews, at least to MM8

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