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Mega Man 3 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 3 (NES) review

"You have Top Man, Hard Man, and Snake Man in a game that isn't X-rated..."

In hindsight, we can make better judgments regarding older Mega Man games. During their relevant days, though, many of us celebrated even the jankiest of these titles and propped up different installments as our undisputed favorites. Now, we're all too willing to die on the hill that Mega Man Whatever Number is the cream of the crop, and we'll have no one slandering it! For me, that originally was Mega Man 3, my introduction to the franchise...

And why not? Mega Man 3 brought the noise for its time. It was bigger, bolder, showed off more impressive production values, and boasted a killer soundtrack. To this day, I still listen to Spark Man's BGM on a busy afternoon when I'm trying to get work done, or bump Snake Man's theme on a lonely night (that sounds awfully suggestive, sorry). Basically, Mega 3 represented everything the brand needed at the time, expanding upon its premise while working out smaller kinks.

But as we all know, time isn't always kind to the rulers of the roost...

Once again, Dr. Wily is up to his old tricks of building eight robot masters that somehow each possess each other's weaknesses, like an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors. This time, though, he's got some really weird choices for attributes, like Top Man, Hard Man, and Gemini Man, not to mention a mysterious other robot named Break Man who dogs our blue hero throughout his quest.

On the surface, little has changed this time around. You still select from eight stages, use a password to maintain campaign progress, earn new weapons, and eventually battle Wily. However, two new features stand out in this otherwise formulaic odyssey. For one thing, Mega Man can now slide along the ground, allowing him to fit underneath tight spaces or quickly dodge overhead attacks. This is key, as some enemies and bosses attempt to crush you. A well-placed slide lets you to slip underneath them with ease, quickly putting you out of harm's way.

Also, Mega Man's canine companion, Rush, joins him in the battle. Rush initially comes with a coil adapter that allows you to use his back as a trampoline so you can nab lofty goodies. Later stages allow you to secure submarine and aircraft enhancements as well, allowing you to get through watery areas or over vast crevices with relative ease.

This all sounds like the recipe for a killer Mega Man adventure, and at the time of its inception, it was. You entered levels with imaginative environs, like Gemini Man's stage, which appeared to be situated on another planet. You battled on a crystalline surface, eventually voyaged into a subterranean network of colorful rocks filled with eggs that contained monstrous tadpoles, then fought the boss at the conclusion. And it worked. The word “Gemini” called to mind constellations, which in turn reminded us of space. Whoever designed the stage picked a relevant theme and ran with it as much as they could. Just ignore the giant penguins, which have nothing to do with space or Gemini...

Other levels stuck to solid concepts, too, like Spark Man's and Snake Man's regions. The former of these exuded electricity-based ideas, from traps that created shocking bolts to an environment that appeared to be a massive power plant. The latter proved a bit ridiculous, albeit thematically strong, as massive serpents comprised the floor and walls of his fortress.

Unfortunately, the rest of the campaign didn't utilize motifs so cleverly. For instance, you had Shadow Man, a ninja-based villain. You'd think he'd have dwelt in a dark, shadowy realm or a dense forest surrounded by Japanese trappings. Instead, his level showed us a fiery smelting facility, which had nothing to do with shadows or ninjas. Sure, there were a whole two scenes where an enemy caused the floors to disappear, but that's about as close to the shadow idea as the stage got. You then had Top Man's home, which sported almost nothing top-related until you reach the end of the affair, in which top-shaped platforms guided you over a large pit.

Inconsistency represented one of Mega 3's smaller issues, really. It seemed weird that you would create a robot decked out with a particular attribute, but not play to that attribute's strength in any meaningful or inventive way. Imagine battling through a graveyard, then taking on a robot master called Vacuum Man, realizing the developers could have crafted a whole gauntlet inspired by vacuums and suction. More than anything, level themes served as many missed opportunities.

If we ignore themes, we get levels that more or less work as they are. You fight your way past a lot of neat challenges, like platforms that automatically open as you leap on them, or grounds covered in bear traps that clamp shut as you walk on them. However, you also get hit with either a lot of nonsense or emptiness. Hard Man's stage offers a bit of both. A couple of segments hit you with practically unavoidable mechanical bees, but then later chambers offer sprawling spaces filled with almost nothing.

After you finish off the initial eight robot masters, four of the stages reopen and bring on “Doc Robots,” which are bosses that act like ones from Mega Man 2. Most people seem to be of two minds about this part of the campaign, where it seems to drag the experience out further than it needs to. Others feel that it's no different than the next three games throwing you into two different late-game castles, except that this time you earn new passwords between levels. With 4 through 6's password system, you pretty much have to do both final fortresses in a single sitting, which is beyond exhausting.

Nonetheless, the Doc Robot stages are mostly a bore. Sure, Shadow Man's and Spark Man's repurposed areas are fine, but Needle Man's showcases a lengthy segment that a requires Rush Jet. The level provides some restorative power-ups to ensure the jet doesn't run out of fuel, but these items disappear after you obtain them. If you don't conserve some of them, you might put yourself in a position where restarting the stage is your only option to advance.

Where I initially saw Mega Man 3 as the pinnacle of the franchise, I now see it as a fair, albeit somewhat clumsy experience. It just would've been an all-around superior experience with tighter planning, more adherence to theme, and segments that didn't feel so underhanded. You have to remember that Capcom was still just getting away from the coin-op mindset, and that still sadly shows in this outing.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 17, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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honestgamer posted February 19, 2024:

I agree with your review, and it's the slander I've been throwing at MM3 almost since I first played it way back when... but I don't remember a Vacuum Man being part of the robot roster. Otherwise, we're in complete agreement. I like the game, but I prefer both 2 and 4 to it. In particular, 4 really latched onto its level themes. And I liked some of the boss stages quite a lot.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 19, 2024:

Thank you. Vacuum Man was a robot I invented for the sake of argument, and how putting him in a graveyard-type level makes about as much sense as the levels in Mega 3 (Top Man inhabiting a level with giant cats, strangely high-tech backgrounds, and almost no tops or spinning objects).

4 is my favorite of the NES line, and 2 and 5 are both good as well.

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