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Mega Man 3 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 3 (NES) review

"From playgrounds to the internet, from the 80s to today, the battle has quietly been fought. Just what was the best Mega Man game? Although the struggle for dominance between FF6 and FF7 or the Zelda games are legendary, the lesser stature of the Blue Bomber causes most to blissfully ignore the question. But some do care about which game best represents the series, and they are sure to let their opinions be known. This always boils down to a fight between the dominant MM2 and its jealous underst..."

From playgrounds to the internet, from the 80s to today, the battle has quietly been fought. Just what was the best Mega Man game? Although the struggle for dominance between FF6 and FF7 or the Zelda games are legendary, the lesser stature of the Blue Bomber causes most to blissfully ignore the question. But some do care about which game best represents the series, and they are sure to let their opinions be known. This always boils down to a fight between the dominant MM2 and its jealous understudy MM3. Sadly, though, we rarely see a direct comparison between these games, and the individual strengths of each game are seldomly discussed. Well I shall throw my hat into the ring and give my full support for this underdog. Yes, Mega Man 3 is the best MM game on the NES.

To begin, it should be noted that this game makes quite a few leaps over its predecessor. Yes, we all know that "innovation" and Mega Man do not go hand in hand, but there are some slight improvements made in the basic setup. For one, MM can now slide a short distance, providing some extra mobility and adding a new twist to levels. Rather than simple tech upgrades like MM2, our hero can now call upon Rush, a robotic dog that can turn into a springboard, submarine, or hovercraft. Once again, there is added mobility and added options over its predecessor. Not only are these better options, but they're cleaner too. You get to see the name, they have better animations, there's actually a point to them, and, let's face it, they're far more polished. In fact, the entire game feels quite polished compared to part 2. The backgrounds are sharper, less obtrusive, and all around cleaner. The weapon screen no longer appears tagged on and bare, but rather looks functional and works well. Heck, the whole game just seems to be more thought out, and Capcom obviously went into it trying to improve on MM2. When it comes to these basics, they most certainly succeeded.

And hey, what about those boss fights? Shadow Man's ultra-quick movements and devastating blades make for a frantic, harrowing experience - unless you have Top Man's skill. With the skill, you have the choice of either defeating him in seconds or facing one of the toughest fights you will ever find in a Mega Man game. Snake Man and Top Man may be easy, but their moves and actions are unique enough to make them interesting. Magnet Man's moves fit his name, and you must be constantly moving to avoid his attractive powers. Granted, Spark, Needle, and Hard Man aren't all that exciting, but at least they're original and not dependant on yet another fire type or something of that ilk. And finally, we have Gemini Man, potentially the coolest boss in any MM game. You must not only dodge two bosses running around, but you must also avoid lasers that reflect off the wall. He may not be the toughest boss, but his unique style and cool weapon make him one of the most fun to play. And he helps to strengthen MM3's lineup of bosses, a lineup that admittedly falls behind it's predecessor. The robot lineup for MM2 was perhaps the best, but the third installment is not too far behind.

However, whereas MM2 succeeded in creating amazing boss fights, it's level designs weren't quite up to par. Such is not the problem with MM3, as every single stage is stuffed full of crazy jumps, unique challenges and enemies, a stylistic flair, and a unifying theme. Magnetic enemies lift you through the air in Magnet's stage, and Snake's entire level is composed of a mass of entertwined snakes. Dive under the surface of a crystalline planet to face Gemini Man, firing at frog eggs in order to form a path through the level. Or dodge sparks and electric arcs while winding your way through an industrial plant. Naturally, each stage has its own unique enemies, from pesky toy cats in Top's stage to giant snakes to machines that turn out the lights. These seem more prevalent than in previous games, and help to make each stage more memorable. The stretches of empty space (ie, areas with no challenge that are simply put in for aesthetic effect), the repeating challenges, and the well placed platforms and pits enhance the effect. I can clearly picture many of the levels in my mind, seeing just how the distinct areas and enemies within provide separate challenges, yet still unified within a common theme. I can't do that with any of the other MM games, even the ones I've played as often as this. Here's one area that MM3 reigns supreme in.

Besides, Mega Man 3 introduced Protoman! Now that was a nifty idea - allow a repeated theme throughout the entire game. This theme appears as a miniboss fight against another robot, seemingly equally matched with you. He looked cool, was mysterious, and even had a nifty whistle to announce his presence. Yes, the fights were incredibly easy once you learned the system, but that didn't matter. It connected the game, made the levels more than just random attachments. On every other level, you saw him (once not even fighting him, how cool is that?), and it gave some extra cohesion to the game. It was actually a simplistic side story, all told without any words. And when you met him at the very end of the game, it seemed to fit right. Yes, it's a minor issue, but it's really the only NES MM game to even have anything like this. It's unique and was cool, and one of the reasons why I prefer this game over the rest.

Of course, no review of MM3 should ignore Doc Robot. Besides significantly increasing the length of the game, it was executed in a very ingenious way. We got to replay four of the best levels in the game, only much harder than before. I love replaying levels, I love the feeling of a room being similar yet different, and MM3 took this to the extreme. Gemini's stage was cool the first time, but wow does it change. Areas that were passable at first become nerve racking, spikes and bottomless pits become rampant, and enemies end up just a little bit harder. And it's fun to see how the levels become warped, how Capcom kept some of the same basic architecture yet changed the way you had to deal with it. And then there's Doc Robot himself. Remember when I said bosses were the best part of MM2? Reliving those battles in a new way was a welcome treat. Of all the ways Capcom has tried to increase the length of their NES Mega Man games, surely this was the best. Rather than another castle or some fake villain, we get to replay great levels and have twice as many thrilling boss fights.

But when it all comes down to it, there's one intangible element that really makes this game stand out, that makes it the prime choice in this field of six MM games. I refer to the challenge level of this game, which somehow seems to strike an almost absurdly delicate balance between easy, easy after some practice, and difficult. As surprising as it sounds, there are aspects of all three throughout the game, and all three are intertwined and used perfectly. Naturally, you will face plenty of simple obstacles, allowing you to advance throughout the game easily. You will find numerous enemies or areas that may prove harrowing at first (Protoman and Snake Man are excellent examples of this), but will soon become almost automatic as you learn their patterns and learn to adapt to them. And then there are the pits and spikes and moveable platforms and enemies - all in the same areas, of course - that will cause you to break out in sweat even after facing it dozens of times before. But whereas these swings in difficulty are normally annoying and disruptive, here they seem to complement each other. The simple aspects provide cool down time, a chance to restock supplies, or stretches where you can just relax or experiment. The intermediate parts give you the satisfaction of solving a problem, allowing you to breeze through areas once you learn the tricks, and hence providing memorable moments within the game. And the extreme challenges insures that there's always a purpose to playing again, that there's always a challenge no matter what your skill.

Did Capcom plan it like this, did they realize just how special their challenge level was? I never noticed it in any other MM game - MM2 for instance had relatively stagnant challenges that spiked and ebbed at odd intervals, and was almost completely devoid of that second category I mentioned. MM1 was too dependant on the right weapons, MM5 too hard, and MM6 too easy. And not only does the shifting challenge of the game work perfectly, but we still have a generally rising difficulty setting throughout the game. Capcom managed to make extremely similar areas twice as hard during the Doc Robot stages, even while relying on the same strategies. Heck, even the stages you are most likely to start at - Top Man, Magnet Man, or Snake Man, are relatively devoid of the complex jumps and fights of the other levels. Somehow, it just all seems to work here, better than it ever did before or ever did since. This is the only MM game that completely feels right to me, and I believe the shifting challenge level is the most relevant aspect of this.

The Mega Man 2 crowd makes a compelling case, I'll grant them that. But to me, such a game is an obvious precursor to one bigger, more intricately designed, cooler, cleaner, and, well, better. The game did not become overstuffed with new features, instead taking a few significant improvements and integrating them faithfully into an already proven design. With it, Capcom brought unique and memorable level designs and bosses, the heart of the game, that stack up well against the dozens of other stages we saw on the NES. Throw in Doc Robot and Protoman for a one-two punch of new ideas that serve to make this game stand out from the rest, and top it all off with a challenge level that seems right at practically every occasion. How can any other MM game stand up to that? And how can one resist playing one of Capcom's finest moments? If there's one MM game worth going back to again and again, I can think of no other one that can top this.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (November 22, 2004)

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