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Mega Man 6 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 6 (NES) review

"If we must call this the franchise's NES swan song, then we ought also to say that the singer had a frog in his throat."

When I started working on my recent Mega Man 6 guide, I suddenly realized that I haven't played through the game especially often over the years. It had actually been over a decade since the last time I bothered to defeat the boss. And it's not like I've ignored the franchise completely, either. I've run through Mega Man 2 more often during that same decade than I would care to count.

Upon reflection, the reason I kept passing over Mega Man 6 became clear: it's a decent game, but it's also far from the most enjoyable experience a gamer can have with the heroic blue bomber. Although the title is worth playing through once or twice, it doesn't have much to offer after that point.

Mega Man 6 (NES) image

Like most of its predecessors, Mega Man 6 begins by pitting you against a roster of eight robot masters that you can defeat in whatever order you like, provided you have the skill. Each of those robots has a weakness, so there's a recommended order, but the developers leave you the freedom to experiment. Then, when you're done thrashing those initial adversaries, you can face off against Mr. X (a mysterious madman who proudly states up front that he is pulling the strings).

Mega Man 6, like each of its predecessors, adds a few wrinkles to what had by 1994 become quite the complicated tapestry. Ever since Mega Man 3, the blue bomber had been able to count on his canine companion, Rush, to briefly fight by his side when summoned. Now, for reasons that I don't quite grasp, Rush functions instead serves as a compact jetpack, or a power suit. It doesn't make sense, but it's actually kind of cool. You can fly for a brief period, or you can destroy cracked bricks that you find sprinkled around the stages. Neither upgrade requires special weapon energy, either, so you can abuse the heck out of them.

Another adjustment to the classic formula is that stages often have multiple available routes. You can fly up to a high ladder, if you have the jet suit, or you can trot off to the right and miss out on an easy energy tank but reach the boss sooner. Or in another case, you can smash a block and find hidden passages or even meet briefly with an old friend. The brief attempt at non-linearity is cool and had the potential to give the experience some replay value, but it doesn't go as far as it could have.

Mega Man 6 (NES) image

Alternate paths also play a role as you attempt to find Beat, Mega Man's winged friend who can fly onto the screen and take down even mini-bosses with a single hit. In Mega Man 5, players had to collect eight letters, one in each stage. This time around, there are only four of them. You gain them automatically when clearing stages, but only if you defeat the "real" robot master. There are a few clones running around, as well, so you have to make sure that you head along the proper path. Again, that's something that had the potential to be cool but ultimately falls flat. It also means that you can't really attempt the stages in any order you like, not if you want to obtain Beat without potentially playing through some of the areas twice.

Then there are the stages themselves, which can best be summed up with a single word: annoying. Enemies are deviously placed so that the first time you head into a new room, you're likely to find yourself directly in the line of fire (or rapidly falling toward fatal spikes). Some stages are worse about this than others. Wind Man's level is quite easy to clear, for example, but you have to play through it rather slowly unless you want to risk taking a lot of damage. Then if you fall in a bottomless pit or something, you might have to cautiously move past a bunch of enemies a second time, due to stingy checkpoint placement.

In one of the final levels, the checkpoint issue becomes downright awful. You have to run through a fairly long area that is at times all but covered in spikes, and then you reach a room with a ledge positioned above a sea of the prickly things. The goal there is to hop out, then use your jet suit at precisely the right moment, so that you can fly back left and drop safely through a hole without dipping too low or emptying your gauge. Failure means you get kicked back to the start of the stage and have to run through most of it just to try again, which feels punitive. What's worse, though, is finally making it through that first room and finding that it is immediately followed by a second chamber that offers the same challenge in a more difficult form, still without a checkpoint. It's maddening, to say the least.

Mega Man 6 (NES) image

Difficulty seems to have been adjusted in a bunch of other small ways, as well, and generally not in ways that improve the experience. In most of the previous titles, you could run back and forth, killing week enemies and rather quickly gathering energy drops and such. Here, the drop rate seems to have been scaled back immensely, so that you might have to kill 10 or 20 enemies in order to snag the restorative items that at one time would have appeared after dispatching 2 or 3. And yet as you run through the final stages, E-tanks are so plentiful that sometimes I would simply run past them, because I didn't need them.

One might suppose that since this is the sixth installment in the series on the same platform, the developers would have perfected the Mega Man experience. But really, they hadn't (unless you count the virtually flawless Mega Man 2, released years prior). They took some risks and some of them made things feel fresh for a moment, but the stages--though beautiful--just don't feel special. There's no exciting gimmick, like when Gravity Man flipped things on their head in Mega Man 5, or when you got to crawl along the back of giant robotic snakes in Mega Man 3, or fight against torrential downpour and raid a pyramid in Mega Man 4.

I don't want to give the impression that Mega Man 6 is a poor game. What it managed to be instead, despite admirable efforts to improve the formula, is decent. That just doesn't feel good enough for the final installment that the treasured series would see on the platform that birthed it. Certainly, I recommend playing through it once if you can obtain it easily and you want to try your hand at another Mega Man adventure. But if you're looking for the finest installment, you're better off with virtually any of the other available options.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 22, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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