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Mega Man 5 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 5 (NES) review

"You know what the majority of Mega Man 5 feels like? It feels like a chore to complete before being allowed to play the real game. That game is to be found in the walls of the castle stages, where the challenge finally picks up and presents us with some of the best-designed death traps in Mega Man history. It might fall apart a little bit with the final bosses, but by the time you get there youíll be ready to see the credit screen anyway, so you might not mind."

A lot of people say that the Mega Man series started to cash in at Mega Man 3. I am more forgiving. In my recent playthroughs, I saw definite additions made to both Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 4 that were affective enough to become synonymous with the character (the Mega Buster springs to mind) and effective enough to expand on the strategies of the game (the slide move added an entirely new dimension).

For me, the first cash in is Mega Man 5. The earliest sign of the falter is the music. Instantly it is less recognizable and catchy than the previous four games. It failed to pump its way into my head and start an adrenaline Mambo party that would soon invite my fingers and skills to tag along. Instead, this was the first Mega Man game where I found the music to be occasionally irritating and distracting. In a way, this was helpful. I no longer had to fear dying because I was trying to jump and shoot in time with the beats. It was a hard price to pay, though, for improved concentration.

Still, this is a video game, not a rock concert. Show us something more substantial to complain about! Ah, but the music was only the first sign of danger. The next halting moment came with the introduction of the bad-guy lineup. My reviews of the Mega Man series have been based off of the Robot Masters and their stages. I excitedly unearthed new ways to beat Fire Man. I wistfully revisited the power of the Metal Blades. I mentioned how much I thought Hard Man looked like a submarine and then discovered Dive Man looks exactly like him. Then I turned to Mega Man 5 andÖ

Ouch. I wasnít interested in a single one of these guys. Wave Man? Gyro Man? Crystal Man? It sounds more like a dance group than a lineup of villains. Iíll admit that Mega Man Robots canít usually be judged off their names. As far back as Guts Man, some of them simply werenít compelling. Weíve seen the likes of Dust Man, Hard Man, and Ring Man, for godís sake. But something about this particular lineup set off warning bells in my mind. Was it the music whispering warnings in my ears? Or was it Star Man beaming out at me from the roster, a starfish plastered to his face? Maybe it was just paranoia. Letís find out.

Wave Man 2/5
This stage annoys me (and nicely sets the tone for the rest of the game). It annoys me on a number of levels. For one, itís a water stage that only hints at water. The water in this stage is safely contained. The majority of the time sees you running along a giant series of pipes, through which you can imagine a more interesting stage is flowing. At only three points do you interact with water: when walking over pipes, sometimes the water bursts through and hurts you; you ride bubbles up a particularly slow section of the level; and thereís a jet-ski portion. But thereís no underwater segment and the Lord Trident-inspired boss is almost a parody of a water-themed Robot Master. Even Bubble Man laughs at this guy. He reminds me of a child who puts on six water wings before he tests the temperature of the water with one toe. If this guy has anything to do with water, it is very much from afar. If you had pictured a fight involving fighting to move against waves of powerful water blasts while the Robot Master laughed at your vain attempts from the other side of the room, then you shall be disappointed. There is no water in his room. His ďwavesĒ are actually tiny water spouts. Fear the rage of ďLeaky Faucet Man!Ē

If, like me, you live in the Pacific Northwest, you may have found yourself at some point taking a trip to the coast and finding--instead of sand and sun--high cliffs and dark forests. The question you may rightly utter at such a moment is ďwhereís the beach?Ē I ask the same question here. Whereís the beach? You would totally expect Wave Manís stage to have actual sand and waves. The jet skiing is fun, and saves this stage from an abysmal score. But it comes too late and thereís no beach in sight.

Star Man 1/5
If youíve read my Mega Man 4 review, youíll know that one of my favorite things about the series are the themed levels. At first glance, Mega Man 5 seems to take this higherÖ literally. Youíve got a guy named Star Man? Then his level will definitely take place in space. There will be rockets and meteors and Metallís wearing rocket packs. But you know, the whole thing feels too easy to me, like they didnít have to stretch very far to make this happen. Space seems like it could have been the starting point for all sorts of interesting tricks and design curiosities. Instead, it steals the low gravity gimmick that would have gone with the missing underwater stage. In fact, itís designed like an underwater stage, too, using death spikes on the ceiling to make your low-gravity jumps harder to pull off. Weíve seen this before and I liked it better when it was wet! Hold all puns.

It might seem odd that Iím complaining about the inclusion of mechanics whose absence I bemoaned in Wave Manís stage, but it all has to do with the theme. With Wave Man I want water. In space I wanted something new. That doesnít happen, so it is a surprisingly forgettable level. The final stage of Mega Man 2, which takes about thirty seconds to navigate but features an actual alien at the end, was a more memorable space level.

I feel bad giving Star Man such a low score, because it really feels too expected. My creative side wants to give him a 5/5 just to psyche you out. Yet, as boring as my score is, Star Man is more boring. Star Man is as weak as his stage. He has no weapon; he just has to get lucky and hit you with his star shield. Sometimes, out of sheer frustration, heíll launch the shield at you and it moves across the screen about as quickly as a glacier. Not one of my favorite Robot Masters.

Stone Man 2/5
I will say this for Stone Man: of the brutes of the series, heís the most interesting looking, basically being a Golem with a great ďfalling apart into bricksĒ animation. But for being a giant bruiser, heís also the least effective of his brothers, doing this animation any time he jumps too high and having no attack aside from trying to land on you (I hardly count that easily dodgeable and incredibly slow circle-thing as a genuine attack). Heís also another one whose stage has been given literal treatment without much thought. Yes, thereís a lot of stone. That makes it about as original as Guts Manís stage and you know that any time I mention Guts Man Iím about to dish out a low score.

The real reason I dish it out here is because of the monotonous marathon you have to pass in order to reach Stone Man. Stone Man has the longest stage of any Robot Master in the series to this point and it is the best definition of ďenemy gauntlet.Ē Thereís about ten seconds of platforming that seems to hint at more comingÖ but no, itís just some spinning discs tossed randomly onto a couple of screens. Iím not against an enemy gauntlet, if the enemies are interesting to look at or fun to fight. Only one enemy in the entire stage has anything to do with rocks, though, and he goes down pretty quick. The rest of the time you are fighting indistinct floating shapes, some of which shoot, some which donít, and all of which die in one shot. The Metalls also show up in abundance, and the little guys are a standby of the series, but they just canít carry such a long stage on their own.

Charge Man 4/5
Nevermind, this is the definition of enemy gauntlet. This has to be the only Mega Man level in history without a single platforming challenge. Itís ridiculous. Thereís one screen with death spikes, and the spikes are in the opposite direction of where youíre going. Itís like the programmers put them there to be pasted elsewhere in the level and then forgot. Or maybe Charge Man is transporting them for the other Robot Masters. Yes, Charge Manís theme is a freight train, and itís actually a pretty pleasing idea. This, Gravity Man, and Napalm Manís stages, are the only ones that get clever with their themes. In Stone Manís review, I surmised it might happen and it turns out I was right: the theme and its corresponding enemies (like Metallís riding miniature locomotives) do a lot to distract me from the enemy gauntlet and kept me interested throughout the run. Gyro Manís chickens and Crystal Manís mice are also back, but here they make sense! Hey, you do see those things on trains!

Charge Man himself is a train and the animations for him are pretty enjoyable. He shoots steam out of his smoke stack, he ďchuuuuusĒ like a train whistle, and when he rushes after you he kind of hunkers down and goes for it--chest out, head down. Itís like fighting an action figure, and that makes the whole thing enjoyable.

His power up is pretty forgettable, on the other hand. Thereís a reason the Top Spin, of Mega Man 3, wasnít used by most players. It made you slam yourself into the enemy in order to damage them. Thatís idiotic and completely antithetical in a game where you have a powerful gun with infinite ammo. It worked for Samus Aran, but she could run at Mach 5 and turn into a spinning ball of death. The Top Spin was no Screw Attack. Want to know why? Because the screw attack was effective when you pressed the jump button. The Top Spin requires expert timing and an innate knowledge of an enemyís pattern to be effective.

The Charge Kick isnít quite that bad: in fact, it helps immensely against one or two of the castle bosses, but itís still an extremely limiting move. You can only perform it while sliding. So you can only hit enemies on the floor. Of course, like the Top Spin, a few crazed gamers have gone online and posted videos of them beating all eight Robot stages with just the Charge Kick to prove its worth, but it still fails to impress me because I can do the same thing a lot easier with the regular Mega Buster.

Crystal Man 1/5
I mentioned in Star Manís review that the stages here donít seem to have worked very hard for their theme. Crystal Manís stage is where this finally pushed me over the edge. Okay, sure, the stage is made of crystal. And there is one enemy who shoots them. But it is a literal interpretation of the Robot Masterís first name with little effort made at imagination. The rest of the enemies are almost completely random. We get balls floating on springs, mice, and street sweepers that shoot at you. Even Crystal Manís weapon looks more like a grey bouncy-ball than a crystal. If Capcom was able to come up with consistently and cleverly themed enemies for Ring Manís stage (I still chuckle about the Saturn enemies), then why canít they do it in Mega Man 5? If youíre going to be this lazy with the themes, why not just have Blue Man and Red Man and Yellow Man? At least in Mega Man 4, Yellow Manís stage would have had evil suns and a Big Bird mini-boss. Also, the crystals all over this stage shimmer with neon colors. Oh god my eyes they shimmer constantly.

Gyro Man 3/5
I was seriously hoping for a nice lamb-filled Pita to make an appearance in this level. Unfortunately for my stomach, gyro in this case doesnít refer to food but instead to helicopters. Oooooh! So thatís why there arenít any helicopters in the entire stage. Right. Instead you get evil chickens. Thatís right. CHICKENS. Itís another ďwhereís the beachĒ moment. Perfect example: this stage begins with an elevator ride. There are no enemies, no death spikes, nothing to do except stand there and enjoy the music and the fluffy white 8-bit clouds. If this werenít an NES game, I would say it was there to load the next part of the level. Itís that innocuous. Why is this here?

I actually do dig the Robot Masterís design. Itís cool to see a flying Robot Master. I like how he whips his propeller off of his back to chuck it at you and I enjoy that the top of his boss room is covered in clouds that prevent you from seeing where heíll drop down from. It doesnít have nearly the tension of Drill Manís fight, though. Maybe because Gyro Manís strategy is incredibly easy and Drill Man was an effiní psychopath with rotating blades for hands. I do applaud Gyro Manís weapon, which lets you change its direction after you shoot it. I applaud the developerís striving to add a new mechanic to the series after having already designed thirty weapons for Mega Man to use. Uniqueness becomes tricky on the thirty-first try.

Napalm Man 3/5
Wow. Napalm Man has the first stage in Mega Man history that makes me feel a little socially uncomfortable. Set first in the forests of what is undoubtedly Vietnam (complete with roving robot tigers), and then in desert caves which seem to be ominous reminders of the Middle East, this Robot Master might as well be called ďUS Foreign Policy Man.Ē Itís an easy stage, though, and Napalm Manís not all that impressive, especially for being named after a particularly nasty form of explosive ordinance. Heís part tank and part jet plane. The best way to describe him is as a transformer that doesnít transform. He is cool looking, for all that, and I like that this stage actually put some thought into delivering an interesting theme, despite the political, uh, incorrectness. I wonder if a Nuclear Man stage would be based off of Hiroshima. Maybe thatís why there isnít a Nuclear Man.

Gravity Man 5/5
Every lineup needs its star hitter and even Mega Man 5 has one: Gravity Man. Gravity Manís stage is incredibly fun and the only one in the game to use a mechanic entirely unseen before. Gravity changes throughout the stage at set points, so that sometimes you have to plan to jump over a set of spikes on the floor and then land past another set of spikes on the ceiling. Itís a clever concept that got me truly disoriented, immersing me for the first time in the game. The fun ends too soon, though Gravity Man keeps up appearances by switching the gravity constantly during his fight. Youíll never be on the same gravity pull as him, meaning that heíll be on the ceilings while youíre on the floor and vice versa. With most weapons, youíll have to lead the shot, hitting him mid-fall, which just makes you feel awesome no matter how many times you pull it off.

* * *

Proto Man Castle 5/5
The first stage of Proto Manís castle sets you up for another run through an enemy gauntlet. There isnít a lot of platforming and (being a Castle level) no theme, but you wonít notice because youíll be focusing all your energy on staying alive. This is a stage where the toughest enemies have been lifted from each stage, paired together with the tigers from the Vietnam jungle, and sent after you from higher ground. The second stage adds in the platforming elements and flying enemies. Now youíre dodging stuff on both the ground and in the sky, and youíre starting to think that it would be much simpler to just let a tiger eat your face. The third stage makes all the flying enemies harder and throws in two very tense sections where you have to ride a snake of blocks in an unpredictable pattern across long stretches of bottomless pits. And thereís mid-air death spikes. Might as well give up.

But you wonít! Youíll keep playing. And youíll get better. Because thatís exactly what a Mega Man Castle should be. Each level should step up the difficulty just enough so that by the time you reach the last stage, your fingers are twitching across the controller and your eyes start zigzagging all across the screen to pick up all the potential threats. Itís that great adrenaline rush that is only achieved when a game has consistently asked you to do more without asking you to do too much. If a careful balance isnít struck with this, youíll find things either numbingly tedious or deprecatingly unbeatable. The balance is struck here, though, and made better by the fact that the right use of your robot weapons can get you through even the hardest areas much easier. You just have to be clever in what you use and when. Itís a nice touch of strategy.

I cock an eyebrow at the last stage, though itís not bad enough for me to dock it a point. Itís an empty, quick level that pretends like itís being tricky, with a puzzle where you have to drop the ceiling down in order to advance, butÖ well, itís a puzzle in the same sense that counting from one to ten is a puzzle. Thereís not only one right way to do this puzzle, thereís only one way to do the puzzle. Youíll die the first time because you wonít know that youíre dropping a ceiling of death spikes on yourself, and thatís the closest the Castle comes to being cheap. After that, itís just a tedious repeat every time you die at the boss.

The bosses of Proto Manís castle are a bizarre step sideways in the castle tradition. Ever since Mega Man 1 the castle bosses have been known for their huge size. Here, though, they look more like Robot Masters. Itís potentially a little disappointing in a game that already lacks the oversized mid-bosses, but boredom is averted by the fact that these guys are frigginí challenging. And, like their levels, each one is a step up in difficulty. The first one comes at you shootiní; the second has a shield; the third jumps all over the place and freezes you in place; and the last one jumps all over the place, has a shield, and shoots at you. Each of these guys has just enough of a tell that you can predict and dodge their attacks, but you have to be fast on the draw. And thatís how it should be.

Wilyís Castle 4/5
Spoiler alert! Wily is behind everything and Proto Man is innocent! Alarmed gasp from anyone who hasnít been paying attention for five games. Anyway, Wilyís Castle holds up much better here than it did in Mega Man 4. The difficulty level stays on the right curve, being just a step up from Proto Manís challenging stages. Itís full of all the things youíve come to associate with the crazed doctor by this point: spikes on the floor, spikes on the ceiling, spikes on the walls, spikes, spikes, spikes, spikes, spikes. And platforms that donít sit still for you while you are jumping around spikes.

Ö and then another set of Wily forms that are completely laughable. Sigh. Itís strange to me that the developers never seem to get the balance right with Wily. Either they make him almost entirely undodgeable or they castrate him of all weaponry. The first Wily form is the oddest one yet; he flies back and forth and then pauses for a very long time before the floor rises up to meet him. The answer? Move right or left. Then jump and shoot him. Itís a long, boring fight because heís out of your reach most of the time. The last form is similarly invincible for far too long. Itís another invisible Wily boss that likes to appear in spots where you canít reach him. Well, unless you have some Gyro blades left. I didnít at this point, so it was a long fight. Not a hard fight, but very long. A tedious end to the game, but it did little to remove the fun building up to it.

* * *

You know what the majority of Mega Man 5 feels like? It feels like a chore to complete before being allowed to play the real game. That game is to be found in the walls of the castle stages, where the challenge finally picks up and presents us with some of the best-designed death traps in Mega Man history. It might fall apart a little bit with the final bosses, but by the time you get there youíll be ready to see the credit screen anyway, so you might not mind.

I didnít talk about Beat the Bird at all, because I didnít get him in my playthrough. Iíve seen videos of players using him to make the Castle levels much easier, which is a big plus in favor of the game design, despite all my complaints. Take your time to go back to each level and find all the secret letters which summon Beat and the last stages will be much easier to beat, or blaze through the game and expect a higher difficulty. Itís a classic video game decision: faster but harder, or slower but surer? I didnít like the Robot stages and I did love the Castle, so I avoided finding all the secrets and instead just focused on playing my balls off in the last moments of the game. Being able to tailor your gaming experience puts Mega Man 5 ahead of the curve in an important way, even as it demonstrates some significant laziness. It figures that my favorite endgame falls in an otherwise unremarkable experience. Oh well. The best nights end with a bang, as they say.


zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (August 21, 2012)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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snowdragon posted August 21, 2012:

I recently played through all the NES Mega Men in an effort to both revisit some old favorites and give a fair shake to ones I hadn't played much of or at all, and I was surprised to find I rather enjoyed 5óin fact, I'd rank it my third favorite after 3 and 2. I think this was the first game where the formula started showing cracks, but it's still solid. It's one of the better entry points for newcomers to the series because it hands out extra lives like Halloween candy and is comparatively easy aside from a few choice segments (Charge Man's battle is frustrating, as well as the dropping crystals in Crystal Man's stage if you don't have Star Man's shield). Maintaining difficulty balance from game to game was always a bit of a struggle for the Mega Man series, and 5 erred farthest on the side of accommodating the player. Also, while this game relied on individual level gimmicks more than past entries, I didn't have a problem with that because I felt most of them were successful (though they could have done more with the gravity shifting).

Decent review, though I often wonder just what exactly you were expecting from the game at times, and I'm not sure a level-by-level breakdown is the most effective approach, since the game as a whole is, I feel, a little better than the sum of its parts.

Also, Power Stone is by far the worst weapon in the entire mainline series.
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dagoss posted August 21, 2012:

This game, more so than any other in the series, was very carefully planned out. There are vast stretches where you can just jump and shoot and run to the right and, if you time your jumps and shots the way some programmer intended, enemies magically seem to line up in your path like ducks waiting for a hunter. Once you recognize these patterns, MM5 because a lot of fun to run through, if that's your thing. I can't think of a single cheap part where you can't avoid being hit.

In that respect, I think this is one of the tightest designs in the series. The same goes with the theming. Yes, Wave Man's level has no water section--good them for not taking the easiest way out. The 1st half of the level has some great, meticulous spaces and jumps (and no enemies) before the on-rails jet ski part shifts completing to shooting. Likewise with Star Man's level, which is built around enemies with tall vertical movements.

I think some of Robot Masters have lazy AI; I'll agree with you there. Their patterns are too easy to extrapolate and exploit. The Dark Moon robots are also pretty uninspired too.

Overall though, I think this is a strong, well-designed NES game. It's not my favourite, but there's nothing remotely bad about it. I mean, to criticize is music seems a little ridiculous compared to many games on the NES. I love the intro and Protoman's stages; Wave Man also gets me humming. I think if it wasn't part of the Mega Man series, it wouldn't get the flack that it does.
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zippdementia posted August 21, 2012:

After playing and reviewing five mega mans and seeing various feedback and commentsóagreements and disagreementsóon the reviews, I've come to figure out that what I seem to look for in a Mega Man title are two things: challenge and spectacle. My favorite games in the series have been those which had captivating stage design and were pretty difficult. Mega Man five took this a step backwards, I felt, especially in the difficulty. I didn't feel like I was working hard at any point in the Robot Stages. I missed the challenge of Mega Man 1 and 2, and the cleverness of 3 and 4. The castle stages were brilliant and that's where I see the design sentiments that Snow mentions.

I was always a fan of the early Castlevania series, even though they completely murdered me, because I enjoyed the immersion and I enjoyed the difficulty. Mega Man I've come to like more because its challenge is often more realistic and I feel I have more control over it. Castlevania I felt like I died many times because I was stuck on a staircase and couldn't attack or because I was knocked backwards by an enemy mid jump. Though I liked Dagoss' (was it Dagoss?) point about it in the recent castlevania review: that it's a game where you have to go slow, despite the pumping music and action vibe. Definitely true for the first game. I disagree with that for the third game, which was balls hard and made you go fast, but I digress.

To get back to the original point, one of the cool things about Mega Man games is that it's hard to ever rate them lower than a 5 or 6 because there's something there for everyone. With the exception of Mega Man 1, they are designed such that people can approach them from multiple angles. The Robots of each game are going to appeal to some... and then not to others. The lineup changes drastically enough each time to recapture an audience, even if they were turned off by the last game's selection. There are easy parts and hard parts. There's ways to beat the games using expert timing and ways to beat them by spamming robot weapons. It's a fun mix. It's also why sometimes my reviews of the series get a lot of agreement and other times not so much. I've enjoyed the disparity.
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bbbmoney posted August 21, 2012:

Do you write these level at a time? Go out for a cigarette after each one? Call your buddy and be all like, "fucking megaman, dude." I'm curious to know the process!

I'm not a Megaman player but this has been a pretty epic volume, you should get it published somehow. Or find some kind of way to put it on a shelf.
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zippdementia posted August 21, 2012:

Thanks, holdthephone! It'd be fun to get it featured in print, somewhere. Maybe as a retro feature, who knows? For my design class next winter's term we have to publish a book, so I think I'll use these and gather them, redesign and layout them with new features, and publish 'em that way.

The process is me by myself, usually very late at night, kicking back and enjoying some classic gaming. I play through the entire game, usually stopping after each level to jot down my gut level reactions to a level and Robot Master and maybe even a preliminary score and a few comments. The hardest part of doing all this is finding the right night to take on the castles, since they can take three or four hours if they are very hard and I die a lot or if they come in two sets.

When I've beaten the game, I tend to go online and watch Roahym Mythril and other players play through each level. As I watch, I'm reminded of my thoughts on each stage and I'll pause after each video to write out the review of that Robot Master and his stage. Sometimes when I watch the video I discover something I didn't know or hadn't thought about. This is really fun, especially with the perfect runs, because I get to see how they beat bosses which totally kicked my butt. I've gotten pretty good at Mega Man by this point and can do a couple perfect runs myself, but it's always cool seeing the strategies laid out right in front of you. These videos are also where I get my screenshots.

I'd say each review takes me between four and five hours to write, start to finish. Usually I break this up into two or three sessions, especially now that the games are getting longer and having more stages.

One of the best things about all this is that I had never played all of the Mega Man games and only beaten one or two of them. This has been a great revisiting of nostalgia for me without the usual strings of memory attached. Mega Man still represents my childhood, even if much of this is new to me.

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