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Mega Man 5 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 5 (NES) review

"A shocking omission"

Wait, Mega Man 5 has no minibosses?

I know, I know, I'm supposed to start with an anecdote or funny comment or something, but seriously, my gast has been sufficiently flabbered. I never owned this one as a kid and thus don't know it as well as others, but I was playing it recently and this just stuck out. Mega Man always has minibosses in the middle of levels, like giant robot cats or wolves or metools that you have to stop and fight before you can continue on. It's a longstanding tradition. But other than one fight on your jet ski in this game, there are none.

Can this even be called a Mega Man game?

Haha! That's obviously a stretch. Before Capcom kept rereleasing Street Fighter II with random words tacked onto it, Mega Man was the posterboy for sequelitis (there's a "5" in the title here, after all). All the NES games share the same basic feature: an action platformer starring the blue bomber who must battle multiple robot bosses, but where you can choose to fight them in any order. You then gain their weapon after winning, and each boss is weak to one of the other weapons, before finally facing off against Dr Wily in his castle. Like the previous 3 games, there's 8 bosses to fight. Like the previous 2, Mega Man can slide for extra maneuverability or call upon his pet dog Rush to spring him upwards or act like a jet. Like the previous game, he can also charge up his main weapon to emit a giant blast, as well as the fact that (spoiler alert!) there are two castles to complete after the 8 robot bosses. And debuting in this game is Beat, a bird companion (that requires grabbing an extra item in each level before unlocking it) who can seek out and destroy many pesky enemies in your path. So no, it's not exactly like each game reinvents the series, but hey, at least there's something new each time!

But part of the reason the changes are only minor is that these games (save for the first one) are easily among the best NES games out there, and certainly have aged better than 99% of their comrades. Maybe it's the bright, clean visuals (Mega Man himself is one of the most well designed sprites on the system), giving it a timeless look that does not feel constrained by the NES' limitations and is even today copied and homaged by many retro indie games. Also, great, memorable music. Maybe it's the crisp control, with a natural-feeling jump that allows you to have excellent control before jumping and even some control while in the air. Shooting is satisfying; there's a max of 3 bullets on the screen which means you can't just perpetually spam attacks, but it's not so limited to make attacking boring. It's just visually and mechanically pleasing while also having the cool hook of playing the first 8 levels in any order and stealing the boss weapons. There aren't many games from that era that have the full package, so is it really that much of a surprise that one of the few franchises owning that complete package got so many sequels?

So there's two diametrically opposing factors at play here when judging Mega Man 5. Yes, Mega Man is awesome. But is it 5 games worth of awesome? Thankfully, this fifth encounter still contains unique boss fights and, just as importantly, a solid selection of boss weapons. Crystal Man's weapon is a giant ball of awesome, but if you miss your shot it turns into 3 smaller balls of mostly awesome that bounce around. Fun! The gyro attack simply shoots forward, but you can change its direction at any time. Could be useful, right? Stone's flying out in a spiral pattern definitely looks cool, even if I had trouble timing it correctly. And, in an homage to Top Man, the Charge Kick gives your slide some offensive power. It's just fun to do even if not the most practical! This is by no means the best robot gang in the series, but there's still creativity here, and certainly a lot more than its successor. And given how important the boss designs themselves in a Mega Man game, this creativity gives the player enough incentive to want to make it through the game (or at least the first 8 levels) and see them all.

But there's still a problem here, and it relates back to that miniboss thing.

The individual robot boss levels in MM have rarely been super challenging, and individual enemies almost never are. The challenge comes from a few tricky platforming around instadeath pits or spikes, the one or two tanky enemies you probably just want to run past, and, you guessed it, minibosses. These bosses were designed to suck out a huge chunk of your life bar if you weren't experienced, such that you needed to play conservatively and hope for life refills afterwards (and perhaps even switch to more powerful weapons in order to get used to them rather than just relying on your mega buster). They also serve as lessons, for you will often face the same miniboss twice in one level, with the first fight being with the level's geometry aiding you and the second fight with an added twist in the geometry to make it more difficult. But they don't exist here! Which means I NEVER found myself in danger of my health depleting throughout all eight levels. Sure, I fell in pits a few times, but even those were less dangerous than some of the MM hazards I'm used to.

That's a problem. I don't expect the robot boss levels to be stressful, but they should at least pose the illusion of danger. That's what you get in Mega Man 2-4. Yes, by the time you hit the castle levels, the density of enemies and pitfalls increases such that it becomes a challenge again (as it should). But I think MM NEEDS the minibosses to make you sweat a little during those introductory levels. You can't rely solely on pits to create a challenge; this is a "shoot and jump" game rather than just jump. The minibosses break up the platforming section and allow you to hone your combat skills. That's why their omission is so shocking. Not only are they a staple of the series, but they're a GOOD staple, one that makes the levels more memorable. It's not that the levels are a terrible design or anything here, they just feel too easy and with something missing.

The end result is that Mega Man 5 feels like a weaker game than Mega Man 4. But even with the lack of challenge in the robot boss levels, this is still a better game than Mega Man 6 due to more interesting bosses and weapons. Basically, it's just part of the slow decline in NES Mega Man games, just another contribution to its well-known sequelitis problem. I don't know if minibosses would have made the game better than it's predecessor, but it almost certainly would have improved overall. And yet, to judge it against the rest of the NES library, hey, it's still pretty solid. Should it be the first Mega Man game you try? Absolutely not. But if you've already played through 2-4 and want something new, this one won't hurt.


mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (December 04, 2019)

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honestgamer posted December 04, 2019:

This was an interesting angle for your review. I don't like mini-boss encounters in Mega Man games as much as you do, despite the purpose they serve, so I found the more environmental challenges in Mega Man 5 interesting (and they definitely give it a feeling of uniqueness compared to the other titles in the series up to that point). Anyway, good review!
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mariner posted December 05, 2019:

A few weeks ago I probably wouldn't have thought they were that important either. It just seemed odd to me while playing the game that it seemed easier than I'm used to, and I wasn't sure why until I realized this oddity. It just seemed really weird design decision for a franchise that isn't known for making changes.

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