Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 12/05/08

Needs to spend a little more time in the blender; it's not quite smooth enough.

Mega Man III is clearly the work of a group of lazy sadists with occasional fits of devious creativity. The game is often like one of those dreams you have of a familiar place where everything’s just a little bit different… and other times it’s like one of those nightmares where you can’t find your way around your own house, and the couch is trying to eat you.

On the surface, Mega Man III is little different from its two Game Boy predecessors. (Pro Tip: Roman numerals indicate that I’m talking about the Game Boy game.) It’s a side-scrolling platformer in which you play as super fighting robot Mega Man, shooting up robots and stealing their weapons. Mega Man III borrows bosses, enemies, and stage hazards from Mega Man 3 and 4 for the NES and slightly alters or outright overhauls all of the stages, adding a few entirely new stages and bosses to the mix.

Also like its Game Boy predecessors, the plot is completely inconsequential. Does it matter that mad scientist Dr. Wily has some crazy scheme involving drilling in the middle of the ocean for--no, it doesn’t. You’re Mega Man. You blow up the bad robots. End of story. Having a plot that matters even a tiny bit would be a nice change, but, as the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't waste money on it."

Or something like that.

The first major difference is that Mega Man can now charge up his arm cannon for more damage, but that’s only the beginning. Where Mega Man III really starts to stand apart from its portable forerunners is in the quality of its graphics. Stage objects such as hovering platforms and pointy spikes of pointy doom are about as detailed as you can get on the Game Boy; the backgrounds show far more effort than just dropping in a couple of clouds or bending clocks; and there are blinking and flashing lights galore.

And, as we all know, Blinking Lights = Science. This makes every stage look cooler, including even Drill Man’s underground dirt tunnel stage where blinking lights don’t even make sense.

Of course, there’s a drawback in flashing lights and complex backgrounds and detailed stages and enemies: Sloooowdoooown. MMIII seems to push the technological limits of the Game Boy, causing sprite flicker to be a bit more prevalent than in other Game Boy games, and occasionally reducing Mega Man to Molasses Man when there’s too much happening on the screen at one time.

Even when the game is moving at normal speed, Mega Man fanatics such as myself may notice that our hero the Blue Bomber runs just a hair more slowly and spends just a tad more time recoiling from being hit than in other games. For most people this shouldn’t make a difference, but it could be enough to throw off your game ever so slightly and give you an almost-legitimate reason to whine when you can’t jump out of Snake Man’s way for the umpteenth time.

Of course, it’s most often the game itself that will throw off your game.

For starters, I give the designers credit for making vertical areas unusually challenging. Classic Mega Man stages are virtually always designed horizontally (Elec Man stage in MM1 being one of the most notable exceptions), with any vertical movement usually being limited to a screen or two at a time. Even then, those screens often consist of empty rooms or challenges that primarily require little vertical movement except to climb or fall to the next screen. Most of MMIII’s vertical sections are more than just filler, requiring the player to “think vertically” and use his or her weapons and jumping skills in ways not normally required in Mega Man games.

In numerous instances, MMIII beefs up, combines, or puts a new spin on the kinds of challenges found in the NES games. Have you mastered the art of dodging the pistons in Dust Man stage that crush you from above? Great. Now try dodging them when spikes start popping up out of the floor.

In fact, the game frequently feels as though it's a ROM hack of Mega Man 3 and 4, as if the designers started with the same enemies and stage designs and tweaked or completely redid different sections. On the one hand, this is exciting because it's like discovering the "lost levels" of the NES games; on the other hand, the parts of each stage that were left mostly or completely untouched really stick out by comparison (for those who have played the NES games), giving the impression that the designers had used up all their creativity or time on the especially clever portions of the game, or else they had just gotten lazy.

The music gives the same impression. There are about four new songs for this game that were decent (though the end credits music was exceptionally bland); all of the other melodies in the game are directly ported from the NES games and left practically untouched. They’re good songs, to be sure, and they sound just fine, but MMI and MMII have totally new soundtracks that only sometimes sound like the original songs, even if the sound quality is inferior to MMIII's. This reuse of the old songs isn’t so much a bad thing as it is another contributor to the feeling that the designers started to slack off somewhere.

Even though the game isn’t entirely original, there are still a lot of little touches that give the game more of a unique character. The background in the last leg of Skull Man’s stage, for example, consists of glowing bones on a black backdrop--this is abnormally cool for a Mega Man background. (I might add that these bones flash and blink, because they are filled with science.)

I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s also a fun and subtle tip-of-the-hat to MM1 and MM2 in the final Dr. Wily stage, plus a simple sight gag (almost unheard of!) in the ending cutscene that made me chuckle.

What perhaps characterizes this game the most is how thoughtful and creative some of the challenges are. (Whether I like them or not, they're still thoughtful and creative.) It’s obvious to me that the people responsible for this game had a firm grasp of how Mega Man players think and play.

Example: I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a habit of jumping off of ladders rather than carefully climbing down them to the next screen, and there's one spot in particular where I jumped off, landed in the corner, and watched in horror as a wall of enemies who cannot be harmed from the front came charging at me, and I just had to sit in the corner (weeping) and take it like a (Mega) man when they smashed into me, for I should have waited on the ladder until they passed by.

I could just hear the distant laughter of the designers. "Ha ha!" they said. "We got you good!" they said.

Moreover, the designers had an apparent awareness of how to maximize the obnoxiousness of already-obnoxious enemies. Those enemies that came at me aren't the only ones partially invulnerable to your weapons. Many more can only be hit at a certain time or at a certain angle (if they can be damaged at all), meaning that the player needs to be frequently patient to defeat them or get past them. While waiting for an opening, it is customary for other enemies to appear to distract the player, requiring him or her to constantly dodge and cycle through special weapons to figure out a way to stay alive and still hit the armored enemy when the opportunity arises.

This is not always so easy because of the profusion of deadly traps. I swear I'm not imagining that MMIII seems to have more spikes and bottomless pits than most Mega Man games, and enemies are inevitably located in the place where they are most likely to shoot you and knock you to your doom, ram into you and knock you to your doom, or just make you flinch, causing you to hesitate or botch a jump and somehow collide with your doom.

The game requires a good deal of precision jumping with little or no room for error, and it has a knack for surprising the player with the sudden appearance of an enemy (some of whom do an unreasonably high amount of damage). There aren’t many places where you can “cheat” by calling on your robotic Swiss Army Dog, Rush, to turn into a jet sled or springboard to get you past a tricky area. And though some of the weapons you pick up from beating bosses do come in handy (Dive Missile, Drill Bomb, and especially Search Snake, at least for me), several of them are generally ineffective or unnecessary against the enemies you might use them against.

To make matters worse, extra lives are scarcer than meat products in a Vegan kitchen. I played MMIII from start to finish and picked up--I kid you not--two (count ‘em!) extra lives over the course of the entire game. Furthermore, though the frequency of minor energy refills was perfectly acceptable, the number of large energy refills I collected was only marginally higher than the number of extra lives. Other Mega Man games are liable to give you at least one extra life and major energy refill in every other stage. The only saving grace here is that you get infinite continues, but that's probably to reduce the chance that you will hurl your Game Boy (or GameCube with the Game Boy Player attachment) across the room in frustration.

Compounding the matter is that the password system used to preserve your game progress does not keep track of the number of energy-replenishing E-Tanks you have, which means that every time you begin playing again you’ll either need to backtrack through previous stages to restock or just get better about not getting hit, because without finding any extra lives you can’t afford to die a few times on a boss as you try to figure out how to beat him, assuming you can even get to the boss at all.

And on the subject of bosses, the new bosses in this game are all worthy challenges. Sure, they’re somewhat similar to other Mega Man bosses (and I even had flashbacks of Sonic 2 once or twice), but they can certainly hold their own. After all I had to go through to get there, I was surprised that the final final boss is as reasonably challenging as he is, instead of being the absurdly evil boss I had expected him to be.

But, that sorta goes along with my biggest issue with the game: its inconsistent feel.

For starters, I can't ignore the discrepancy between the new music and the melodies recycled from the NES games; not only are the new songs distinctly unfamiliar for NES veterans, but they also don’t have quite the verve that the NES songs do, which makes them feel more out of place.

The familiar and usually easier sections unchanged from the NES Mega Man games disrupt the flow of the game and make it even more jarring when something deadly appears where it never was before. And, as I said before, the designers knew how to anticipate and exploit the way gamers would play the game, so it’s a common occurrence to fight not just the enemies on screen but also one’s own established playing style, in many cases suddenly forcing the player into switching from run-and-gun tactics to cautious advancement to quick puzzle-solving to having excessive patience, all in short succession, without much of a chance to change gears.

I appreciate a good challenge and I’m more forgiving about the difficulty of Mega Man games than other people might be (Mega Man fanatic, remember?), but while I respect and appreciate the crafty traps, the amount of effort put into triumphing over many of the challenges is not proportionate to the reward you receive for doing so.

Other Mega Man games say, "You just got through a really difficult section. Here's an extra life, a continue point, and a cookie." This game says, "You just got through a really difficult section. We're going to suddenly drop a robot worm on your head and start you on another tough area!" The scarcity of extra lives and major energy refills, on top of the overabundance of pits and spikes, makes the game unforgiving, and thus surviving each challenge feels more like an arduous task because the punishment for even minor slipups is often instant death, and you rarely get rewarded for your efforts.

The ending of the game is the epitome of this last sentiment. A brief cutscene with a quick laugh followed by a protracted and lackluster credits sequence is hardly a fitting reward for completing this game.

These aren’t the only things that hold me back from enjoying the game more. The fact that the password system doesn’t keep track of E-Tanks is a bit disheartening, and the frequent slowdown and overall slower-than-usual movement of Mega Man is detrimental to the overall playing experience, though other people may not mind these things as much.

I confess that this game already had marks against it from the get-go because Mega Man 3 is one of my least favorite games in the Classic series. This is due in part to the fact that I find several of the enemies to be inherently irritating (stupid mechanical dragonflies and Hammer Joes and platforms that open up under you), and that I find many of the special weapons to be limited in their usefulness or outright worthless (*cough*sparkshock*cough*). I do give this game credit for using some of the enemies and weapons better than its one progenitor did, but the fact remains that the things that annoy me in Mega Man 3 continue to annoy me in Mega Man III.

In the final analysis, Mega Man III is a challenging platformer that features better-quality graphics and sound than its Game Boy predecessors and is a worthwhile addition to the Mega Man series. The game is one of the more difficult games in the Classic series, but unfortunately it is also one of the least rewarding and forgiving. Some creative challenges and nice little touches mark the high points of the game, but an inconsistent feel and certain issues that are more likely to affect just me than the majority of people detract from the enjoyment.

Bottom line: Mega Man III is worth playing if you've only played the Game Boy games, if you're a diehard Mega Man fan, or if you like tougher platformers, but it might involve more effort and stress than it's worth.

Rating: 6

Product Release: Mega Man III (US, 12/31/92)

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