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Mega Man 4 (NES) artwork

Mega Man 4 (NES) review


The best Mega Man games all have one thing in common: harmony. Some installments excel in action, others emphasize platforming, various ones push exploration elements, and a few underscore problem solving above all else. All of those facets are fine on their own, but the best games this franchise has to offer find ways to balance all of those factors while also delivering fantastic music and an all around tight campaign. From the NES era, no entry exudes this marriage of strengths better than Mega Man 4.

Weird, right? As a kid, I was raised to believe that sequels of any kind never surpassed their predecessors, third entries were often the last good ones, and fourth outings were practically parodies of the previous pieces. Yet, Mega 4 hits all the notes its older brothers missed. It sticks hard to themes, boasts stronger production values, and packs a fair and balanced punch.

Hell, it even starts things off with a fresh premise, wherein Dr. Wily is nowhere to be seen (presumably dead, since we last saw him crushed by a massive block during Mega 3's conclusion), but another brilliantly evil scientist has taken his place: Dr. Mikhail Cossack. As with the previously named sinister genius, Cossack has developed eight new robot masters for our hero to challenge, each one packing a weapon that's effective against one of his cohorts. Sure, we ultimately get the same setup, but the fact that Capcom at least seemed to pivot away from a familiar antagonist showed they were willing to consider other narratives for Mega Man's struggles.

Unlike some of the ensemble from Mega 3, this title's bosses almost entirely possess digs that befit their attributes. Remember when Capcom put a ninja-themed boss in a smelting facility or decided hopping monkeys and robotic bees were the best fit for someone named Hard Man? Well, they've learned their lesson. Now, you enter Skull Man's stage and breathe a sigh of relief that you aren't battling through an opera hall, as the robot's level transpires in what looks like an archaeological dig site, complete with massive bones that form the environment. Dust Man takes his fight to a scrap heap, Drill Man dwells underground, and Pharaoh Man makes his home in the tombs under sandy dunes. These are all logical choices for stage motifs, of course, but it only takes one look at Mega 3's head-scratching choices to appreciate predictable and sensible locales.

Meanwhile, everything snaps firmly into place like pieces of a puzzle. You battle foes that come at you from all directions, via ground or air, demanding the most of your aim and speedy button pressing. And they do it with minimal cheap shots or sneak attacks. With the right rhythm, you can escape almost any situation unscathed, so long as you maneuver yourself carefully and make use of your new chargeable buster.

Platforms sit in just the right places, testing your timing, observation, and intellect without overwhelming you. You don't come across many situations that aren't easily fixable, but they can still break your jaw if you're careless. For instance, Skull Man's home throws multiple corridors at you with tight spaces. Some pathways lead to dead ends, and others take you to goodies. At the same time, you get cramped in with enemies that aim to punish you at a time when you can't hop over them so easily. You learn to be a fast draw really quickly at that point.

Dive Man's stage represents another great set of trials, where you gauge how hard you need to press the jump button while underwater so you can easily weave around networks of killing spikes or avoid adversaries that sail at you. In between these gauntlets, mechanized whales serve as mini-bosses, firing huge torpedoes and drawing you towards their frames with powerful suction.

All the while, the music bangs along in rhythm with your quest. Each tune fits its stage's theme perfectly, from Toad Man's watery-sounding ditty to Ring Man's almost desperate BGM that threatens punishment, all the way down to Skull Man's breezy battle track that works wonderfully with the change of color in the area's background, where sundown highlights Mega Man's long journey.

Eventually, you challenge Dr. Cossack's stages, which offer just the right level of difficulty without overdoing it. The man hits you with unexpected special bosses, like a tremendous butterfly that breaks the floor beneath you or a security system contained within a box that moves in three separate segments. After a few levels, a nice twist presents itself, sending you through more madness in a second fortress of doom to explore.

By that point, you might copy down your password and shut the NES off so you can make a sandwich, take a nap, fight crime, pay taxes, or do whatever the hell it is you humans do. Upon returning, you might input the password to find yourself right back at Dr. Cossack stage one. You see, you must complete all of the final stages in one sitting unless you're playing an emulated version or one of the newer re-releases that allows you to save scum like you're playing Doom or something. As a kid, this wasn't much of an issue. I'd boot the game up after dinner on Friday night and be done by about 1 AM at the latest. Nowadays, I have to go out and act like a functioning adult, which means I need my beauty sleep.

Honestly, this is only a small snag in an otherwise brilliant game. Mega Man 4 brought the noise like never before, only to be surpassed in the SNES era when X2 would eventually steal the crown. As with that 16-bit epic, this one succeeds because it arranged all of its elements generously, not placing one above another. It's action-packed, fast-paced, brimming with platforming goodness, thematically satisfying, and certainly not a pushover. Sadly, we all know it's somewhat downhill from here. No, I'm not taking a dump on the next two titles. They're good in their own way, but they're certainly no Mega Man 4.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 25, 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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