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.



Hey, did you all see that trailer for the Rampage movie? That’s something that’s definitely happening, huh? Congratulations to the one Rampage superfan who’s been waiting since 1986 for this big screen adaptation. I assume such a person exists, anyway, because surely there must be someone out there who was clamouring for a movie version of a thirty-year-old arcade game with no plot. I look forward to hearing that Andy Serkis has been hired to perform the motion capture for a Q*Bert film. Anyway, it is completely by accident that today’s game is also themed around movies and giant monsters smashing up buildings, but I’ll take the synergy: it’s Epyx’s 1986 Commodore 64 demolition-em-up The Movie Monster Game!

On the title screen, the specific movie monster in question is Godzilla himself. The actual, fully licensed Godzilla, if that credit to Toho at the bottom is any indication. Scoring the King of the Monsters for your game is quite the get, and it hints that Epyx had quite a lot of faith in The Movie Monster Game. That said, I feel like 1986 was around Godzilla’s lowest point as a famous monster of filmland – I mean, the Big G was still world-famous and instantly recognisable, but it was after his heyday and before any attempts at “modernising” the character by pairing him with Matthew Broderick were made. I’m sure there are Godzilla aficionados out there ready to tell me that I’m wrong, but I suspect Epyx got the rights for less than you might expect.

Here we are at the game’s menu screen, which is designed to look like the front of a cinema, as well it might be. The Movie Monster Game doesn’t feature a “story” mode or even set levels: instead you create your own scenario by altering the three options shown above. You pick the monster you wish to play as, which major city will be facing a large clean-up bill and the type of mission you’ll be engaging in. We’ll get to each variation as we go, but let’s begin by trying to escape from San Francisco while playing as Godzilla. Sorry, Godzilla (c). I do like the way it says “starring” Godzilla, because really, isn’t that what every movie that features Godzilla should say? Like, Bryan Cranston may be a fine actor but he’s not the thing that’s drawing people to a Godzilla movie, right?

Before the action can get started, we’re treated to a scene that reveals just how hard Epyx are leaning into this whole “you’re starring in a monster movie” conceit. Pretty damn hard, that’s how, and it’s a really nice touch to have trailers that run before the feature presentation, some of them advertising other Epyx titles like Winter Games. It’s an even nicer touch that you can skip all this at the press of a button because when you’ve seen it once you don’t need to see it again. I do appreciate the effort, though.

Something you might want to sit through, however, are the text descriptions / mission briefings that fill you in on what you’re supposed to be doing. They are completely unnecessary, of course – each game type is fairly self-explanatory, and there’s not much nuance to kaiju-ing your way downtown. However, by slotting various pre-written possibilities together, the game creates a specific backstory for each possible combination of monster, place and game mode and it gives MMG an awful lot of charm. “Charm” is a word I seem to use a lot here at VGJunk, and in this case (as well as others) I mostly mean it in the “the people who made this game seemed to have a strong, genuine affection for both the product they were making and the sources they were taking inspiration from.” A little harsh to pass comment on Godzilla’s walnut-sized brain, though. I’ve never thought of Godzilla as an especially dense monster.

We’re into the action, and what’s the first thing that you notice? Why, it’s Godzilla, of course. Even after all this build-up I was still a little wary that MMG wasn’t actually going to let me play as Godzilla, but here he is in all his browner-than-usual glory. If you’re playing the game rather than just looking at it, the next thing you’ll notice is that Godzilla is incredibly slow. Glacially, ponderously, exposition-in-a-Metal-Gear-Solid-cutscene slow. In a way, this is to be expected. It’s difficult to sell the bulk and power of Godzilla if he runs around like a scaly Usain Bolt. However, Epyx seem to have gone a bit too far in dialling back Godzilla’ speed. This is especially problematic because I chose the “Escape” scenario, the victory condition for which is to reach the edge of the map without dying. I hope Godzilla packed a lunch and maybe some anti-blister cream, because we’re in for a long walk.

The authorities aren’t just going to let Godzilla run away, of course. Tanks, military jeeps and attack planes will swarm around our big lizard friend, shooting him and causing damage that’s light but almost constant. Humanity's plan is to annoy Godzilla to death, basically. Godzilla can fight back against the human threat in a number of ways, the most expedient being to trample over the vehicles on the ground. The problem with that is, as mentioned, Godzilla walks like an arthritic pensioner and he definitely doesn’t move as fast as a jeep, so catching your prey can be a problem. That’s where the special powers come in. You’ve got three at your disposal, which can be cycled through using the space bar: Scream, Atomise (Up) and Fire Breath. Fire Breath, that iconic Godzilla attack, is fairly self-explanatory: pulverise things in front of you with your atomic breath. It’s much more useful for destroying buildings than hitting vehicles, though, because Godzilla even breathes slowly. Atomise (Up) is specifically for destroying aeroplanes, causing them to disintegrate as they fly above you. The most interesting power is Scream, which paralyses the human forces on the ground for a few seconds, allowing you to lumber over to them and introduce them to your size ten thousand feet. Each attack can be useful, but perhaps the most powerful skill that (most of) the monsters possess is the ability to slowly regain their “endurance” if they stand around without being attacked for long enough. If you do manage to get a calm moment where you’re not being bombarded with ground-to-air missiles, I suggest you take advantage of it.

The humans are a mere distraction, however. The real point of any game where you play as a giant monster is destruction, and destroying things is definitely something you can do in The Movie Monster Game. For example, here Godzilla is about to destroy Epyx’s headquarters, the ungrateful swine. While trashing the city is an exciting prospect, I’m sad to say that the carnage itself is rather underwhelming. Buildings don’t crumble or explode but rather gently sink into the ground in a not-particularly-satisfying way. Vehicles simply disappear when you step on them, and you can’t even punt them down the street like a football. Outside of your special moves, the only way to destroy buildings is to walk face-first into them a couple of times, and with no tail-swipes or rending claws at his disposal knocking down skyscrapers makes Godzilla look like a drunkard repeatedly trying and failing to get his keys in the door after a night on the lash.  All in all, you’d think a game about playing as a giant monster would be all about spectacle, but MMG offers disappointingly little on that front.

While I was repeatedly bashing my enormous nuclear dinosaur against the Golden Gate Bridge, I forgot to pay attention to my health bar and sadly Godzilla was slain… for now. As the “movie’s” epilogue reminds us, Godzilla can never be truly defeated and will one day rise again, which reminds me that I should get around to watching Shin Godzilla at some point.

Oh, and I also tried out the “Find Landmark” scenario while I was playing as Godzilla. In this game mode, you have to find a radio transmitter that’s annoying Godzilla. It’s hidden in one of the city’s buildings, and the closer you are the more the “Proximity” bar will be filled for all the fun of a citywide, monster-based version of “Hot or Cold.” Honestly, most of the fun I got from this game mode came from imagining the small print on the radio transmitter. “1,000 mile range, wide frequency spectrum, warning: may annoy Godzilla.”

Okay, that’s enough Godzilla for now. It’s time for a new movie monster, one that isn’t officially licensed but who does have the extra mobility that comes from having eight legs. It’s Tarantus, the Hideous Giant Spider! Colossal insect – yes, yes, I know spiders aren’t insects – is a classic movie monster category, so it’s only natural that at least one would appear in this game. I spent a long time looking at Tarantus’ face before I realised it reminded me of Modulok from He-Man – it probably took me so long to figure this out because they don’t really look all that similar.

Here’s Tarantus terrorising beautiful downtown Moscow. You’ll notice Moscow looks a lot like San Francisco and, spoilers, it also looks a lot like New York and London and all the other cities in the game. Each city does contain four or five “real” landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Tower of London, but apart from those they’re all very similar-looking. Flat and grey, mostly.
At least Tarantus is cool. Enormous spiders usually are, especially when they’re destroying cities, although I’ll admit that seeing Tarantus spitting webs at the tower bocks is making me rather upset that Earth Defense Force 5 isn’t out yet. And while Tarantus might not have the same star power as Godzilla it’s a damn sight faster, making Tarantus a much better choice for the “Escape” game mode. Each monster does have their own set of stats, but don’t let that get you too excited because they’re still all very similar. They might move faster or recover health at a different rate, but they all have essentially the same special attacks and they all destroy buildings by ramming into them.

Speaking of destroying buildings, there’s a game mode called “Berserk” (special guest appearance from the Incredible Hulk’s fist) where the entire goal is to smash up as much property as possible. This seems like a good opportunity to take the giant robot Mechatron out for a spin, although seeing a picture of New York that prominently features the World Trade Center as I set out to destroy buildings has a rather different feel now than it did in 1986.

I really like Mechatron’s intro, because it makes him sound like a wild party dude who just happens to also be a fifty-foot robot. I’m imagining the Iron Giant, if the Iron Giant took inspiration from Motley Crue rather than Superman.

I must say, the game’s artists did a good job of making Mechatron look like a giant robot without having him look like any specific giant robot. There’s a little Transformers influence in there, and the red-white-and-blue colour scheme provides a soupçon of Gundam, yet Mechatron is its own thing. He mostly reminds me of the Zords from early series of Power Rangers, so maybe that’s where Epyx took their inspiration from, or perhaps Mechatron is meant to resemble an old tin toy robot. Yeah, that’s probably a more likely starting point than Kagaku Sentai Dynaman or whatever.

Next up is a thinly-veiled Mothra clone with surprisingly adorable eyes – it’s Sphectra, the enormous flying… well, the game calls Sphectra a “wasp” so I guess it’s Mothra but far angrier and more terrifying. A moth the size of cruise liner is still just a moth, after all. A giant wasp, though, now that’s a much more menacing prospect. Hopefully mankind has a colossal jam jar that they can half-fill with gallons and gallons of sugar water, luring the helpless Sphectra to a watery grave. Until then, Sphectra can fly around the city, destroying the Tokyo Tower because that’s what giant monsters do. It’s like posing for a jokey photo where you’re propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you’re on an Italian holiday. You can fly, as well. Sphectra’s got a special command that makes him take off or land. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what flying really accomplished. In fact, half the time I couldn’t even tell if I was flying, because the lack of shadows make it nigh-impossible to determine your altitude.

Okay, Sphectra’s definitely not flying here. Paddling, maybe, but not flying. Is this the massive jam jar weapon? Ye gods, I never expected them to get it up and running so quickly.Never mind, it’s just a river. Water’s another thing you’ll have to worry about when trying to rack up the points. Some monsters move through water much more quickly than others, and apparently Mechatron can’t go into the water at all (although I don’t think I actually tested that) so if you’re playing a mode like Escape on a map with lots of water then maybe take the big wasp rather than the robot.
This isn’t Escape mode, though. It’s “Hunger,” in which the insatiable desires of the monsters are… not insatiable? No, they’re definitely satiable. It’s weird, I’m just so used to monsters being insatiable. Anyway, you have to fill your hunger meter by eating things, and by “things” I mean “innocent humans.” Each monster has their own tastes and will be filled up more quickly by eating certain vehicles or people. Sphectra seemed especially partial to boats, which is why I’m splashing around in this river. It’s like a sushi restaurant conveyor belt, only wet.

The penultimate monster is The Glog, and isn’t it a charming lump of congealed phlegm? Just look at that fantastic expression of contempt on The Glog’s face as it turns away, disgusted, from Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe he was expecting the gargoyles to sing him a song about how someone out there could love The Glog even though he looks like a cabbage that’s been repeatedly trodden on.
So clearly The Glog is MMG’s equivalent of The Blob, and do you have any idea how hard it is to not type his name as The Glob? Very hard, that’s how. It’s because “glob” is a real word and “glog” isn’t, unless it’s the onomatopoeia for the swallowing sound you make when you realise you left your child at the supermarket.

I had more success than usual when playing as The Glog, because while he doesn’t have a special power like fire breath or spider webs, he does regain his health faster than the other monsters and that’s a godsend. The Movie Monster Game has a very strange relationship between the visible enemies that you can see trying to kill you and the things that actually cause you damage, in that there doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two. Perhaps even more than the slow movement and general repetitiveness of walking into the buildings, the thing that drags MMG’s gameplay down is that you’re almost always taking damage no matter what you're doing, and often it comes from off the screen. There are no visible projectiles, either, so it’s not like you could dodge attacks even if you were fast enough. Damage happens whether enemies are around or not, and there’s nothing much you can do about it, giving The Movie Monster Game an unsatisfying, prickly feeling, the sensation that the game doesn’t really want you to be playing it.

And yet I am extremely glad that I played MMG, because the final monster is a sweet guy with a sweet bow tie and sailor hat. His name is Mister Meringue and you’re goddamn right he’s a knock-off of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.

I’ll be honest, this means a lot to me. As a kid I was obsessed with Ghostbusters and especially the cartoon and toy line, as my poor mother will attest after being forced to watch the “good versus evil baseball match” episode roughly seventy thousand times by a young VGJunk. I had the action figures, the comics, the VHS releases, the lot. True story, when I was first diagnosed with short-sightedness I asked my mum for red glasses so I could be like Egon from the cartoon. Sadly, that style was not available on the NHS at the turn of the nineties – it was huge tortoiseshell monstrosities for me – and it’s sad but also very fortunate that I didn’t know what hairspray was at that age because you can bet your ass I’d have tried to go to school after giving myself cartoon Egon’s bizarre tubular hairstyle. I loved Ghostbusters, is my point, and if I’d have known back then that there was a computer game that let me play as a barely-altered Stay-Puft clone I would have moved heaven and Earth to get a copy. It’s still giving me a warm, happy feeling even today as I watch Mr. Meringue clobber his way through the city as Gozer intended, without Bill Murray’s interference.

In truth there’s almost no difference between Mr. Meringue and Godzilla bar the visuals, but that doesn’t matter to me. I found a cheat for infinite health and spent a very enjoyable ten minutes destroying London’s most famous landmarks with the powerful and sticky hands of Mr. Meringue. If I’m ever thrust into a situation where my thoughts determine the form of mankind’s destructor, don’t be surprised in Mr. Meringue shows up. I feel a kinship with these giant marshmallow monsters: after all, we’re both tubby, pallid creatures that never asked to be created and who have an unhealthy relationship with sugar.
But wait, there’s more. This is the “search” mission type. It works much like the “find the radio transmitter” mode, with two major differences. One is that the locator only pings occasionally and isn’t visible all the time, and the other is that your monster is looking for their lost child.

That’s right, to finish this stage you have to find your tiny baby Stay-Puft analogue, and it is as adorable and precious as you would imagine. “Come along, my child. Let us leave this human world, and I will tell you tales of the time I was a parade float and how I totally kicked that Pillsbury jerk’s arse one time.”

The end-of-stage screen even shows that the humans forgave Mr. Meringue because they realised his actions were motivated by a love for his child. Awww.

That’s about it for The Movie Monster Game, and even if there was more I can't not end this article on the “Stay-Puft Is World’s Greatest Dad” angle.
MMG is a game that has a lot of really interesting, fun ideas… but sadly none of those ideas are related to the gameplay. The setting of the game, the ambience, the framework: those are all great, from the monster designs to the Madlibs-style texts for each “movie.” The developers also tried hard to squeeze as much gameplay as possible out of a very limited “walk around the city and smash buildings” set-up with the various game modes. The monsters are all nicely animated and full of character. I might start a cult devoted to Mr. Meringue.

It is a real shame, then, that the gameplay simply isn’t much cop. The extreme slowness of the “action” is the most obvious problem. It’s lethargic to the point where it becomes almost impossible to pay attention to for more than a few minutes, a feel that’s exacerbated by the constant draining of your health bar by enemies that aren’t even on the screen half the bloody time. The stages all look very similar and the gameplay modes are not as different as they’d like you to think, so The Movie Monster Game quickly becomes repetitive. Ironically, this is the only thing MMG does quickly. The Movie Monster Game is fine for ten minutes spent Godzilla-ing your way through some major global landmarks and Mr. Meringue is worth the price of admission alone but honestly, it's 2017, you should just play an EDF game instead.

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