Review by Ryan Harrison
Reviewed: 05/22/18 | Updated: 07/18/18
He's gotta be strong...
Mega Man 4 (Capcom, 1991) on the NES is certainly an interesting game for a few reasons, and perhaps along with the very first Mega Man game on the same system, could be the most polarising entry in the NES lineup. Some love it, some hate it, some think it's just...'meh, more of the same'. I've heard some people label it as their favourite game in the entire series, and I've also heard others say it's the worst, so as a gamer who did not grow up on the Mega Man games, I went into Mega Man 4 with no clear indication of what it was going to be like, or if it was going to be an improvement on Mega Man 3, which was my favourite of the first three in the NES Mega Man series.
As it turns out, I wasn't disappointed with this game – in fact, it was still rather fun and challenging – but just not enough to knock MM3 off its perch.
Mega Man 4 is a good example of a sequel that was simply made because of the popularity of its predecessors. Any time you've got a major hit on your hands, demand for sequels are always bound to be high. Though when the number of entries in a video game series starts to build, especially when you've got half a dozen all on the same console, you'd expect that at some point the makers Capcom would begin to run low on ideas and innovations for each new game that was made.
Anyone familiar with the Mega Man series on the NES will know that the gameplay between all six games has remained nearly unchanged; you control the Blue Bomber and run-and-gun your way through several variously-themed stages to fight enemy robot masters; successfully defeating each letting you gain a new weapon from them. These new weapons can prove advantageous in later boss battles against other robot masters with a weakness to them, an at times can be necessary to help you overcome some obstacles in other stages. The basic plot of the game up until now has remained essentially the same, too; Mega Man is created by the good scientist Dr. Light, and is sent to foil the plans of the evil Dr. Wily and the many robots he has built to do his bidding as he plans to take over the world (of course!).
However, in Mega Man 4, there are a couple of different plot elements; your robot master foes this time are not the creations of Dr. Wily; but rather of a mysterious Russian scientist known as Dr. Cossack, the main antagonist first introduced in this game. Cossack's robots have seized and wreaked havoc in many major cities around the world in the year '20XX', and it's up to Mega Man yet again to save the day. In addition to the previous running, climbing, jumping and sliding techniques and his trusty standard arm cannon weapon, Dr. Light has now also built a new Mega Buster weapon that Mega Man can use from the off, which is more powerful than the standard arm cannon (though takes a few seconds to charge between rounds).
Graphics of the game keep the same high levels of colour and detail from the last Mega Man game. The Stage Select screen again shows off some nicely-drawn portraits of the robot master characters, and their respective stages incorporate certain themes. For example, Toad Man's stage starts out above ground in the middle of a rainstorm, with the wind affecting Mega Man's running and jumping physics, before you delve your way down into a grimy sewer. Pharaoh Man's stage starts you out in a desert area in which you have to cross quicksand-filled pits and then wind your way through an ancient-Egyptian-like tomb with hieroglyphic-patterned rock walls and flaming torches lighting the dark passages; and Drill Man's stage takes you through an underground lair filled with drill spikes, ladders and falling rocks.
Plenty of intricate details, background movement and varied textures like rocks, machinery, star-filled skies and even platforms comprised of giant bones in the Skull Man stage, make for more splendid graphics the 8-bit Mega Man games were renowned for. Enemy designs aren't too much to take note of, though the stronger mid-level 'mini-bosses' (if that's what you'd call them) come with some standout looks, as do some of the new robot masters brought into this game.
Mega Man games are likewise also renowned for their soundtracks, and Mega Man 4 does feature some all-round pleasant and well-composed music, but no particular theme – at least for me – really stood out. This game's boss music was really not near as memorable as that of the earlier games, and the main level themes had some fitting accompanying music. Capcom often tend to get it right with background music in most of their old-school games, and the Mega Man games have some of the best in the 8-bit era. It's the same usual blend of chip tune and MIDI-based music that plays at a generally high pace and has a mostly energetic feel to it, that works well for a quick-paced game with lots of action and moments where quick thinking and reflexes play a big part.
The control of the game works well enough for the most part, though there's the occasional moment I've seen Mega Man fail to make a quick turn in the opposite direction with a quick tap of the Left/Right buttons in the middle of boss battles or when there are enemies attacking on both sides. Otherwise, the control scheme is practically identical to other NES Mega Mans; D-Pad gets you running, A and B make you jump and fire your weapon, and Down + A together gets Mega Man to slide to evade enemy attacks or slip through narrow gaps. With the Start button you can view your inventory and equip any weapons you've obtained from robot masters you have previously defeated. I really liked the layout of the inventory menu in this game; in earlier games they only took up a small portion of the screen and were only labelled by a single letter or two, and weren't the easiest to navigate. Mega Man 4 gives you an inventory screen in which you will have no trouble in selecting and choosing your weapon/item of choice, acquired weapons have their full name and a small thumbnail picture to help you identify them more easily.
There is also the aforementioned new addition of the Mega Buster; holding the B button for a few seconds makes Mega Man flash while he gathers energy for a powerful shot. It also works for some other weapons, too. While there is the obvious advantage of it being more powerful and effective against tougher enemies than the standard arm cannon shot, though of course it could also possibly mean you're left open to enemy fire while charging it, and if you take a hit during the charge, you'll lose it and will have to tap and hold the button again to charge it; so in many boss battles it can be very difficult to make good use of this weapon.
The format of the gameplay is what you get from any other major Mega Man game. When you begin, you can select whichever of a possible eight stages to play first, and work your way through in any particular order you would like. This means you can possibly have more of a challenge if you reach certain boss battles and do not possess the weapon that particular boss has a weakness to. So, of course you'll have an easier time of it if you progress in a particular order, and know who to beat for an effective weapon for the next stage you plan on visiting. When all 8 robot master stages are defeated, your skills are then put to the ultimate test in the end-game levels. The non-linear stage select has always been a unique feature of the Mega Man games, and for this game, you're in for one of the more challenging adventures in the series.
The robot master lineup of Mega Man 4 is a pretty good one, though a couple do appear to be practically carbon copies of other bosses from earlier Mega Man games – Ring Man is more or less the same as Mega Man 3's Shadow Man (only using quickly-retracting rings rather than throwing-stars), and Bright Man has a weapon to momentarily freeze time in much the same manner as Flash Man from Mega Man 2. At a glance it can also be tough for a beginner player to figure out who will have a weakness to whose weapon, or even what you might be in for when you start up their stage!
Level designs of Mega Man 4 are overall pretty good, though nothing that drastically changes things up. Combining a mixture of both side-scrolling and screen-scrolling with a mostly left-to-right nature but also with parts involving climbing or descending from one area to the next, you'll fight most basic enemies with the arm cannon, but also keep yourself alive by making careful leaps over bottomless pits, or avoiding spikes or crushing ceilings. There are other such obstacles like darkened rooms that don't let you clearly see where you can go, one stage with light beam ledges that you can only stand on for a second before they open up and drop you to your death if your footing isn't quick enough, or jumping between mechanical crickets that carry you over long stretches of spikes while having to shoot down other enemies. There are quite the number of areas where you may suffer a few cheap deaths because of something conveniently placed to catch you out, like something leaping from a pit you're jumping over to knock Mega Man into it.
Mega Man 4 does get the gameplay right, though there's no really evident improvements to be found from the earlier Mega Man games. The whole thing to me just felt like a case of 'more of the same' (not a bad thing); the level designs are solid but not the most inspired that I've ever played my way through. I did find that this was the most challenging Mega Man game since the near-unforgiving original. Some bosses are too quick and overpowered to make it a fair fight, especially since you don't get many opportunities to heal up beforehand, nor the time to study their attack pattern and develop a strategy. A lot of times it can be a case of going in and hoping for the best unless you know which weapon is best to use, have an energy tank or two handy, or are playing a digital version with restore points.
If you enjoy your Mega Man, then chances are you'll have a good time playing Mega Man 4, though it suffers the usual drawback of having little else to offer on a second-time playthrough, unless you had a fun enough time the first time round to want to come back again. The levels were enjoyable though the challenge just didn't feel quite so satisfying to overcome, and I also didn't find the boss battles to be quite so fun, either. The new Mega Buster is a decent enough added feature, though one that hardly does anything to actually enhance the experience.
My final recommendation, for any NES collector or classic Mega Man fan, is not to pass up on Mega Man 4. Despite the minor drop in quality from its two predecessors and taking a more 'routine' approach with less creativity than the last two games in the series on the NES, Mega Man 4 still offers solid level design, a high but satisfying challenge, splendid background and cut-scene graphics and nice music; the usual hallmarks of many great Nintendo games. As a sequel, this is your standard case of 'continuing-on-from-where-the-last-one-left-off', with that same old gameplay style you know and love.
Just don't expect anything quite so epic, by means of plot or creativity, as Mega Man 3.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Mega Man 4 (EU, 01/21/93)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.