Review by Tom Clark
Reviewed: 01/27/02 | Updated: 01/27/02
Blue Bomber Battles Rampaging Russian Robots!!!! In other news, alliteration fever continues to spread....
Mega Man has been a part of gaming for longer than some of the younger gamers have been alive. For over a decade and a half the little blue guy has been running around 2D levels blasting evil robots and making pixel perfect jumps. It's a formula that, save a few exceptions such as Battle Network and Legends, has stayed pretty much unchanged for all of his gaming career. Most series would have lost all their fans years ago if this happened (step forward Ms. Croft), but not Mega Man, he just stays as popular as ever. You see, there's something about Capcom's classic creation that just screams quality and playability. In a round about and meandering way, that brings us to Mega Man 4 on the NES. As the preceding paragraph suggests, this game sticks to the tried and tested Mega Man formula. And does so very well.
Although the gameplay is nearly identical to it's predecessors (and to the games that will come after), this game does have an almost original plot. While Mega Mans one to three all feature the evil Einstein-a-like Doctor Wily having some dastardly scheme to take over the world using his robots, the old gimmer is seemingly absent from this game - in his place is Doctor Cossack, a Russian with.... well, with a dastardly scheme to take over the world using his robots. While it may look like a case of different bad guy, same plot, the plot actually progresses - these people have motives for what they're doing. Not impressive by today's standards (this is no Metal Gear Solid), but compared to the other Mega Man games out at the time this was an incredibly deep plot.
Thankfully, though the robots belong to Dr. Cossack rather than Dr. Wily, they still behave as other Mega Man bad guys do - each of the eight robots has taken over a certain area and flooded it with evil mini-robots (the ever-popular hard-hat bad guy makes an appearance, don't worry), great big pits, and hordes of spikes. But it isn't just level design that these guys have taken from Dr. Wily, it seems. The design of the robots seems to be wearing a little thin, as some of them are clearly... 'inspired' by previous bad guys - the most notable case being Dive Man, whose mug shot on the level select screen looks nearly identical to that of Hard Man from the previous game. Although this is the most obvious, it is not the only case of robots being separated at birth. Don't worry though, there are still some unique and outlandish bosses out there, such as Pharaoh Man and Skull Man (remember the good old days when the bad guys had simple names - Fire Man, Ice Man....), and it has to be said that though some of the bad guys resemble previous bosses, only one of the levels feels familiar - again Dive Man is the culprit, his level being reminiscent of Bubble Man's from Mega Man 2.
So the design is showing it's roots, but Mega Man 4 still manages to stand up as a game in it's own rights, and does so very well indeed, thank you. It's classic Mega Man stuff - you start by selecting which of the eight Robot Masters you will tackle first. After playing through a level that involves a mixture of standard platform action (there's a lot of jumping in this game) and top shooting action (there's a pleasingly large number of things to kill here, too) you reach the 'bot himself. Successfully turn this guy into scrap metal and you get to keep his weapon. Lather, rinse, and repeat with the other seven metal meanies, and you get to travel to Cossack's castle for the (seemingly) final showdown. It sounds like desperately simplistic stuff, and to an extent it is, but there is also a tactical element here - most bosses have a weakness against anothers special weapon, with only one being particularly susceptible to your standard gun. This means that there is a set order through the bosses that makes things much easier, and while defeating the bosses in this order is not essential, it is recommended. As with other Mega Man games, discovering this order is half the fun, and gives the game fantastic replay value - just try completing the levels in reverse order - not an easy trick to pull off at all!
The level design in this game is as superb as ever - all the jumps are possible, no matter how it may seem at first, and the fact that you are aware of this, and only end up blaming yourself rather than the game, the controls, the weather outside, the TV, or anything else that may be close at hand, shows the way that the game sucks you in - although this game is difficult (not outright hard, but challenging nonetheless), it never gets frustrating. The sign of a true classic. The levels seem slightly larger here than in some of the previous games, with only a few exceptions (I found Toad Man's stage to be one of the shortest out of the first four NES Mega Mans). There are a few examples of very clever programming on display here, too. For example, the opening section to Toad Man's stage features a moving foreground (water pouring out of pipes), a moving background (driving rain), and still has loads of enemies wandering about. Aware that this would cause crippling slowdown, Capcom included gusting wind into the equation, which slows Mega Man's progress, meaning that any slowdown caused in this section is by design rather than by the system's limitations. This game also encourages you to explore the levels more fully than in the previous games, due to the two hidden items located somewhere across the game. The first of these is the Balloon Adapter, which allows Mega Man to launch small floating platforms in order to reach the more out-of-the-way sections. The second hidden item is the Wire Adapter, which allows Mega Man to launch a wire (but you'd guessed that, hadn't you.....) at a ledge or at the ceiling, pulling Mega Man straight up.
These two adapters are not the only special abilities Mega Man has - as in the game immediately prior to this, Mega Man is joined in his travels by his faithful canine, Rush. At first only Rush's Coil move is available - a move that allows Rush to turn into a springboard helpful in reaching the higher ledges, but upon defeating certain bosses another two moves are unlocked - the Marine and the Jet. The former allows undersea travel, the latter allows aerial travel. Also on hand to help Mega Man is a brand new character: Flip-Top. Although Flip-Top isn't available to command, he is still a useful addition to the game, popping up in various parts of the game to give you a random power-up. Although these two characters don't sound like they add much to the game, the impact they have is subtle but important - without these characters the game would be in danger of being repetitive - however, Rush ups the number of moves that Mega Man is able to perform, and finding Flip-Top is an exciting moment. Of course, after your first time through the game you'll know exactly where to find him, but that doesn't make the little guy any less likeable.
There is a, fairly minor, complaint about the gameplay, though. Another of the new additions for this instalment of the series is the Mega Buster. The Mega Buster is an 'improved' version of Mega Man's standard arm cannon, whereby holding down the B button allows you to charge up a more powerful attack. While this seems handy at first, it becomes too easy to be tempted to just use charged up shots to breeze through the levels - the Mega Buster really can take some of the challenge out of the game if you use it too much. Still, you could elect to play the game without using the Mega Buster at all, adding yet another way to replay the game, so it's not all bad.
The Mega Man games have always been known to have great controls, and this game is certainly no exception. Despite the fact that, as the games have progressed, Mega Man has learned an array of moves, everything is very responsive, and you never feel like you're losing control over the character. All in all, the controls present absolutely no problems while playing the game.
Presentation-wise, this game really is first class. Although the game still does suffer from slowdown on occasion, it isn't as noticeable as in previous Mega Man games, and the fact that it is a problem commonplace amongst NES games means that people who play the NES regularly will hardly notice at all, and those who haven't played on the NES for a few months will soon get used to it anyway. It's still an annoyance, but only a minor one. Slowdown aside, though, everything in this game moves fantastically smoothly. The levels look beautiful by NES standards, too. The backgrounds vary considerably within each individual level, and everything is bright and vibrant - if you're a fan of eye candy then this game will certainly indulge your sweet tooth! There are several nice little graphical touches, too - for example, in the Dive Man stage, during the underwater sections the hard hat enemies that are synonymous with Mega Man are wearing little snorkels. These details are hardly important to the gameplay, but they do make the whole product feel more polished.
Aurally this game is truly stunning. The Mega Man games have always been among the best sounding on the NES, and this game really is no exception. All but a few of the music tracks are instantly memorable, and the sound effects (which haven't noticeably changed since last time) are all spot on - the sound Mega Man makes upon his death is one of my favourite 'death sounds' in the whole of gaming, second only to Shadax from Solstice. You will be cranking up the volume on your TV set when you play this game, believe me.
Ultimately this is really rather similar to other Mega Man games, and it just doesn't quite reach the dizzying level of quality set out by Mega Man 2 and 3, but it still manages to be better than a very large portion of games available on the NES. If you have Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3, but are still craving for more Mega Man action, then this should be the place that you look. Utterly superb.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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