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Mega Man 4 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 4 (NES) review

"Itís completely understandable if Dr. Wily was feeling just a bit of frustration by the time that Mega Man 4 rolled around. After all, as a three-time loser in his battles with the Blue Bomber, the not-so-good doctor was on the verge of becoming a joke like the infamous adversaries of the Harlem Globetrotters ó the Washington Generals. "

Itís completely understandable if Dr. Wily was feeling just a bit of frustration by the time that Mega Man 4 rolled around. After all, as a three-time loser in his battles with the Blue Bomber, the not-so-good doctor was on the verge of becoming a joke like the infamous adversaries of the Harlem Globetrotters ó the Washington Generals.

And letís face it ó if there is one thing the average maniacal mad scientist fears, it is becoming insignificant. Odds are that Wilyís nightmares were full of visions of Mega Man sitting back, feet propped up on his desk and telling Dr. Light, ďWilyís on the loose again? Iíd love to help and all, but I just ordered this pizza....why donít you just send someone who needs a confidence boost?Ē

Fortunately for the forces of evil, Wilyís cognitive powers stretched beyond building robots and twitching his eyebrows. The evil little fellow proved he also was adept in the arts of hostage-taking and blackmail. Next thing you know, Wilyís sitting back in his easy chair working on his third snifter of brandy while someone else has to sweat over the mission of removing Mega Man from existence.

That someone is a Russian scientist named Dr. Cossack and, unfortunately for Mega Man, he seems to be somewhat more skilled than Wily when it comes to throwing a challenge in Mega Manís face.

Thatís right. Maybe itís just me, but this game seemed to have a few more tough areas than the last couple entries in this series. The eight preliminary levels are stuffed with nasty surprises for Mega Man and tend to really take some effort to get through.

Pharaoh Manís Egyptian-style stage opens with a particularly rough scene where you must take Mega Man through a quicksand desert while dodging a seemingly never-ending array of mechanical scorpions. Toad Manís level opens with you attempting to make a number of jumps into a particularly strong headwind. Dive Manís stage brings back bad memories of Bubble Manís stage in the second Mega Man with you attempting to dodge lethal spikes while contending with your robot's dramatically enhanced underwater jumping ability.

And thatís not all. The stages belonging to Skull Man, Bright Man, Dust Man, Drill Man and Ring Man also offer up a slew of challenges that can test the reflexes, skill and patience of most gamers.

Make it through those eight levels and you get to go through your first fortress ó a Russian citadel created by Cossack. Anyone who read my review of Mega Man 3 might remember that one of my main complaints was that the designers simply recycled four of the original levels as a bridge between the robot masters and Dr. Wilyís fortress. Well, Capcom got it right in this game. Adding a new character, making him a sub-boss and giving him his own multi-stage castle was a brilliant touch.

While the Russian scientist does have a few challenging sections to his lair, inevitably he will fall and the true villain (Wily) will be exposed. Keeping true to the pattern established by earlier games, Mega Man 4 climaxes with a trek through Wilyís fortress and an epic multi-part confrontation with the Blue Bomberís arch-nemesis.

Now, from reading that summary of the game, one might offer the hypothesis that this game is essentially identical to previous efforts in the series with only a few changes (such as the second fortress). Well, for the most part that is a correct assessment ó but there are a few new concepts that do need to be addressed.

As is the norm for this series, each new game does give Mega Man a couple of new abilities. Here, for the first time, youíll be able to charge up your normal pellet gun to emit a more powerful burst of energy. Obviously, this is extremely useful, assuming you are skilled enough to avoid taking hits while waiting for your gun to power up. Mega Manís gun approaches the power of the average robot master weapon when powered up ó and does not have limited uses like they do.

Eddie is a much more limited accessory. At a few points, this walking treasure chest will amble up to you and deliver a goodie of some sort. Obviously, if youíre low on life or desperately need to recharge a weapon and he drops the corresponding item, youíre in luck. However, the odds are pretty high that his random drop will be something you donít need.

There also are a couple of hidden accessories that you can find by going off the linear path in two of the stages. While the Balloon and Wire can make things easier (and help you get hard-to-reach items), they arenít necessary to the completion of the game.

Another new factor of this game is that until you enter Cossackís castle, you can re-enter conquered robot master stages. Why would you want to do this? Well, there is one very important reason. Remember how I said this game was tough? Well, by going through certain stages repeatedly (like, say ó Skull Manís), you can pick up additional energy tanks. The more tanks you have, the more likely it is that youíll survive Wilyís final gauntlet of bosses. Harvesting energy tanks in this manner is quite an effective way of overcoming some of this gameís inherent challenge.

To keep the positivity flowing, Iíd be remiss if I didnít mention three things that Capcom always excelled in with their NES Mega Man games: graphics, sound and play control. The music and play control are on the same high level as the previous games in the series, but the graphics are a bit improved.

The outdoor sections of Cossackís castle, with the evergreen forest in the background, was particularly striking. The desert in Pharaoh Manís stage, the bone platforms in Skull Manís level and the large and colorful bosses in both Cossackís and Wilyís fortresses also illustrate the beauty of this game.

But all is not rosy in the world of Mega Man. If youíve never played a game in this series or are not overly familiar with the first three, then ignore what lies ahead because it wonít apply to you ó but if you are intimately familiar with the first three games, then beware.

You see, as I progressed farther in this game, the experience just started to feel stale. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that so many things about this game were unbelievably similar to past games.

No, Iím not simply talking about things like the general plot or the skeleton of the game (beat robot masters, take their weapons, use them to beat Wily) ó Iím talking about far more specific instances.

Just look at some of these robot masters, their weapons and (in some cases) their actual stage. Bright Man is eerily similar to MM2ís Flash Man. Drill Manís weapon has a function that resembles MM2ís Crash Bomb. Take Skull Manís shield and replace the skulls with leaves and you have MM2ís weapon of choice for Wood Man. Like I mentioned above, Dive Manís stage bears more than a passing resemblance to Bubble Manís stage in MM2.

Notice a trend? While I realize that many fans of the series look at Mega Man 2 as the most fun to play out of the bunch, was it necessary to lift so many elements from it?

Dr. Wilyís personal two-part ship also is very reminiscent of his vessel in the first two games. Shoot its first form until part of it breaks off (revealing Wily) and then battle its second form ó while dodging shots all the while. At least Cossackís ship was a new and innovative contraption for the series ó not a rehash of a piece of machinery used in earlier games.

For the veteran player of this series, this lack of originality could be the most depressing thing about this game. Think about it ó Capcom finally puts everything together and comes up with a very large game (19 or 20 stages) thatís beautifully illustrated and is truly fun and challenging to progress through....and then cops out by choosing tried-and-true concepts over completely original creations. The fact that this game follows the same general format as its predecessors isnít a problem in itself, but when so many of the ďlittle thingsĒ also fall into that pattern, the overall enjoyment generated by the game can become diminished.

But I donít want you to think I have negative feelings about this game. Newcomers to the series will eat Mega Man 4 up and veterans will have to appreciate all the improvements this game adds to the MM Formula. If you stand this game up on its own, it would be an instant classic ó and for that reason alone, it deserves a high rating.

Itís only when you look at this game from the standpoint of it being the place where the NES Mega Man series began to show signs of age that flaws begin to pop up. The redundancy on display throughout the game prevents it from being rated a ďperfect 10Ē, but rest assured that Mega Man 4 is one of the best platformers that can be found for the NES.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (March 10, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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