Review by UltimaterializerX

Reviewed: 08/13/04

The first three games left me in awe, but this one left me disappointed.

Thank God for Mega Man Anniversary Collection. I was far too young to appreciate all of the old school Mega Man games when they were first released, but thanks to that absolute stroke of genius from Capcom, it has been an absolute pleasure watching the early progression in the Mega Man series from a more critical perspective. Anyone who got into Mega Man when they were young remembers liking the games, but it's another animal altogether to see the various improvements and add-ons made from one game to the next. I don't know where I would be without the Anniversary Collection, to be honest. I recently beat Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3, but considering how amazing those two games were, I went into Mega Man 4 with a few doubts as to how Capcom could have possibly topped themselves.

Mega Man 4 starts out like its three predecessors, with the sole exception of more time being put into a backstory than in any of the three previous games in the series. Dr. Light created two household robots, Rock and Roll, to aid him. They enjoyed a peaceful life under Dr. Light, until one day when all of the robots of the world went berserk and chaos engulfed the entire world. Rock, a robot with a strong sense of justice, volunteers himself to be made into a fighter robot and soon thereafter, Mega Man is born. He goes out to save the world from all of the robots which have turned destructive, but almost as if this move were expected from Dr. Light's enemies, a robot designer named Dr. Cossack sends eight of his finest creations after Mega Man to fulfill his own twisted desires of taking down Dr. Light and becoming known the world over. Thus, the events of Mega Man 4 are set into motion. The problem is that while this backstory makes sense if Mega Man 4 is the first game you play in the series, veterans will notice that Mega Man 4's story goes against everything said through the first three games.

According to Mega Man 1, Dr. Light and Dr. Wily started out as partners and created eight robots to help serve environmental purposes. Dr. Wily turns on Dr. Light after this and tries to steal all of the robots that the duo had worked on together. Dr. Wily manages to take control of six of the robots to do his bidding, but one of the robots who resisted, Mega Man, was sent out by Dr. Light in order to put an end to Dr. Wily and his evil robot masters. But if Mega Man was originally created in Mega Man 1 by Light and Wily, then how could Dr. Light create Mega Man on his own by converting a household robot in Mega Man 4? It doesn't make any sense, and Mega Man 4 doesn't explain this unrealistic parallel at all throughout the game. But despite all of this, the original Mega Man titles are predominantly about the action within the game, but the story that comes before it.

After watching the story and looking at the latest title screen, you are thrust onto the traditional screen where you must choose between one of eight bosses. It's the same formula seen in every Mega Man title, and it happens to work wonders. After clearing the original eight levels, the game is just beginning as you are then thrust into a series of harder levels afterwards with no real clue as to when it all ends.

The major addition to Mega Man 4 that was never before seen in the series was the Mega Buster, which allows Mega Man to charge his default weapon so that it may deal a ton of extra damage to the enemies. At first, I thought that this was an absolutely wonderful add-on to Mega Man's arsenal. Right off the bat, Mega Man becomes a lethal weapon capable of taking down virtually any of the normal enemies in the game with one shot, two if they're powerful. But after playing the game for a little while, it didn't feel like the Mega Man games of the past. The level designs were excellent, and the graphics were some of the best I had ever seen from an NES title, but despite all of this the game did not feel as magical as those played before it in the series. It took a little while of thinking about why, but it finally dawned on me: the Mega Buster itself was the problem.

Changes were made so that the enemies were harder than in past games, but because of the Mega Buster, Mega Man 4 winds up becoming even easier than past games in the series, which winds up being the tragic flaw of Mega Man 4. With virtually every normal enemy through the various levels, all you need to do to maintain an edge over the competition is to keep the Mega Buster charged. This is a shame, because a lot of new and old enemies alike would have provided a good challenge otherwise. Take the Hopper, for example. Any Mega Man players knows about the hopping enemy who can easily kill Mega Man in three hits unless Mega Man can somehow kill him in advance. Even worse is that when Mega Man goes too far backwards in retreat of the Hopper to kill it, he would have to fight it all over again due to respawning. In Mega Man 4, such is not the case. All you need to do to take on a Hopper is to blast it with a fully-charged Mega Buster from the start, and it falls with ease after a couple more shots. Another amazing example is the Hardhat. He's another wonderful little enemy who has made a good progression through the Mega Man series, but literally takes a huge hit in Mega Man 4. One Mega Buster can take down any form of the Hardhat, which is a damn shame considering that it may take until very late in the game to figure out that there are two different types of Hardhats. One uses a traditional attacking method, while the other pops out from under its helmet, fires three shots, then hides again. This is nice, but how would you be able to notice if all the normal enemies can be ripped to shreds with the Mega Buster? There are a few enemies every now and then that come along and give Mega Man a good fight before biting the dust, but Mega Man 4 is all about raw power instead of the finesse seen in previous titles. I didn't find this unbalance of power in Mega Man's favor welcome at all, and it's all over the eight original levels.

The new enemies suffer the most from this problem. Instead of the usual method of learning the pattern of new enemies before finding just the right way to defeat them, you can instead mow over a good deal of them with the minimum of effort. There are some new enemies that can eat a Mega Buster and live to still give Mega Man some problems, but they are so weak that you can kill them before seeing their full potential unleashed half the time. Case and point, look at the gun turrets in the Skull Man and Ring Man stages. These levels had the potential of being pure hell (extremely fun, in other words), but these turrets are instead ripped to shreds by one shot from the Mega Buster, followed by a few basic rounds afterwards. Without the Mega Buster, both versions of the Turrets would have been an absolute chore to take down. Ring Man's stage suffers from this especially, considering that the Turrets show up in a part of the level design where Mega Man is climbing. One wrong move, and you are set back a few screens to do it all again; however, the abilities presented to Mega Man's default form alone take care of this with few problems. This is good for gamers who like to be spoonfed, but not gamers who like a good challenge even with the normal resources provided to them. A good challenge would be to go through the game without using the Mega Buster at all, but on normal, intended play of the game, the Mega Buster causes much of the balance to shift in Mega Man's favor against most of the enemies. Veteran players especially will notice this after having such a difficult time with the first three games.

As if the Mega Buster tipping the balance in Mega Man's favor tremendously against normal enemies weren't bad enough, there is also the matter of how horrendous Mega Man 4's cast of bosses is. In terms of hit points, Capcom finally decided to give the bosses a much-needed boost. If you stand and hit a boss ten times, ten life bars will not come off of the overall hit point total of the boss. This addition to the series was very welcome in my eyes, and I personally feel that it should have been there right from the start. The problem here is that the boost in hit points doesn't matter all that much when the Mega Buster is factored in. In the first three Mega Man games, the bosses were difficult to beat without the proper weapon equipped. In Mega Man 4, a good number of the bosses in the entire game can be defeated with ease without ever having to worry about upgrades for Mega Man at all. Not only does this take a lot of attention away from the weapons themselves, but it also takes attention away from having to figure the the weaknesses of the bosses and makes the hit point boosts look like it's there solely to offset the power of the Mega Buster. The odd part about this is that despite the bosses being stronger, Mega Buster still rips into them so badly that even the weaknesses can be rendered obsolete half the time. Add in how bad the AI of some of these bosses are, and you get a very disappointing experience.

This isn't true of all the bosses, but I found many of them to be a letdown considering the standard set in previous Mega Man titles. The ultimate example of this would be Toad Man. His AI is so bad that not only don't you need to worry about his weakness, but you don't even have to worry about the Mega Buster at all. His weapon, when fires, creates a rain storm that covers the whole screen and damages Mega Man no matter where he is. Of course, this only matters if he actually fires the thing. When you fire at Toad Man, he jumps over your head and pauses before letting loose his main attack again. If you manage to shoot him before he does, he jump over your head again. This creates one of the easiest patterns ever made, as all you need to do is constantly fire at Toad Man. It keeps him airborne for virtually the entire fight, and he never even attempts to hit you, let alone actually hitting you in the first place.

Another good example is Dust Man. A fully-charged Mega Buster does almost as much damage to him as hitting him with the Ring Boomerang, and forgetting that the Ring Boomerang even exists doesn't make the battle any harder. If you have a fully charged Mega Buster going into the battle, you can let it fly right at the start of the battle to give yourself an early advantage, then jump over Dust Man's attacks as everything passes harmlessly under you. If Dust Man turns on the giant vacuum sitting on his head, all you need to do is run the other way and begin charging the Mega Buster for when this easy-to-avoid attack is over, then nail him with it afterwards. And Dust Man jumping to the other side of Mega Man is no big deal either, considering that a, it is no challenge whatsoever to pass under him, and b, Dust Man doesn't start attacking again upon landing until well after you have enough time to react to things. Such examples of boss battles being too easy, whether you use the weapon that the boss is weak against or not, appear all through the game and only serve to make Mega Man 4 a sort of outcast compared to the main series.

Even Pharaoh Man was a letdown. Conversations about Mega Man games come up all the time, and whenever a discussion about the hardest bosses in the series come up, Pharaoh Man's name is always mentioned. After a string of disappointing bosses, I was really looking forward to fighting Pharaoh Man. His level was even filled with enemies that ate the Mega Buster with ease and kept on ticking for awhile, so things were looking up for the inevitable boss battle at the end. Unfortunately, Pharaoh Man was far easier than his reputation. After the initial struggle of figuring out his pattern, the Mega Buster put him to rest. His Pharaoh Shots takes forever to charge and is easy to dodge, so all you need to do is spend that time charging the Mega Buster before nailing Pharaoh Man with it. The Mega Buster turns the battle with Pharaoh Man into one of the more overrated battles I've seen in my gaming experience, and though I wish I could say that the rest of the game's battles make up for this, they don't. Even the bosses that you have to fight after clearing the eight original levels are all easy. Their patterns are easy to read right off the bat, and you only need to stray from using the Mega Buster in one of them, two if you want to make a certain battle late in the game easier.

To somewhat make up for this lack of balance between Mega Man and the enemy, whether intentional or not, the level design in Mega Man 4 is nothing short of superb. Graphically, Mega Man 4 is the best game I have ever seen in a Nintendo game, and it's all accompanies by music that fits the various environments very nicely. The level designs themselves are the most difficult in the series to this point by far, and despite the enemies all being mere ants in the face of the Mega Buster, there are many points in the levels where they pop out at just the right times and cause Mega Man to fall prey to instant death. These death traps are all over the place, be them in the form of bottomless pits or spikes, and it will give you the player a good challenge in a game where it is otherwise nonexistent everywhere else. There are even levels where environmental hazards, including ice, wind, and sand, all come into play. This game may have a lot of difficulty issues, but you can at least look at the game's level design in awe, and deservingly so. A lot of work was put into making the levels in this game challenging, balanced, fun, and good-looking, and it obviously shows.

The best part of any Mega Man level are mid-bosses. To that extent, Toad Man and Ring Man's stages are my two favorites in the game. Mega Man is prodding along on his journey, when all of a sudden, BAM, he is forced into a battle to the death with a mid-boss that he cannot simply run past. Kill or be killed are the only two choices facing Mega Man in such situations, and these mid-boss fights do not disappoint. Toad Man's level features multiple mid-boss battles against a giant robotic snail that shoots its eyes out at Mega Man, and one of such battles takes place with Mega Man standing in the middle of a raging waterfall that will suck him to his own death if he is not on top of his game. If that is not absolutely badassed, then I don't know what is.

Ring Man's level is even better. Not only are there mid-boss battles, but there are four mid-boss battles, and against two entirely different monsters. One of them is a pair of eyeballs that is surrounded by an impenetrable stack of rings, and the only way to hit it is by somehow managing to fire shots through the rings as the mid-boss fires them out in multiple directions. If that is not absolutely badassed, then I don't know what is. The other mid-boss is a gigantic hippopotamus that sits on top of a gigantic saucer supported by a stack of rings. The only way to get the mid-boss down to your level is to shoot the rings out from under him while at the same time dealing with repetitive homing missiles that he fires at you. On top of all of that, the rings that you worked so hard to shoot out from underneath him regenerate quickly, and you are forced to go through the entire process against until you either kill the mid-boss, or die yourself. If this is not one of the most badassed experiences ever to grace mankind, then I'll be damned if I know what is. I'll be damned if I know what is. The true genius in the mid-bosses is that they don;t suffer from the same symptom that the rest of the game does in that the Mega Buster makes them horrifically easy to deal with. Mega Buster or not, there is a certain finesse that goes into dealing with the mid-bosses, unlike the raw power that can get you through everything else.

Finally, there is the issue of the weapons received after defeating the bosses in the game. The Mega Buster renders a good number of them irrelevant when dealing with future bosses due to the Mega Buster doing about as much damage, but the weapons themselves are very subpar in and of themselves. This comes as no shock, considering the bosses are among the worst in the series to this point. Very few of these weapons are things that we haven't seen before. For example, we've already seen the Ring Boomerang in three first games of the series. In all three Mega Man games, there was a sharp boomerang-type weapon. We've also seen alternate forms of the Drill Bomb, Skull Shield, Pharaoh Shot, Dive Bomb, and Flash Stopper before. The weapons received from Toad Man and Dust man were new, but it wasn't enough compared to all of the other weapons being nothing more than old weapons with new names. It's almost as if the entire game was based around the Mega Buster being overpowered, and the upgrades suffered as a result. The weapons, as well as the bosses they all come from, seemed very rushed to me. Even Rush suffers the burden of being victim to a bad rehash. In Mega Man 3, the Rush Jet was one of the most useful tools in the game for reaching tough places, but in Mega Man 4, the Rush Jet can only go in one direction, and the speed with which it moves is limited when going up or down. The Rush Jet does not stop, either. All you control is its ascent and descent, rather than the pure freedom you had with it in Mega Man 3.

Overall, the game is decent, but that is all I can say about it: it's decent. You can get through the game without ever using a good deal of the weapons, and the game takes a huge hit from this. Why bother taking the risk of using the Skull Shield against Dive Man when you can go the safer route and Mega Buster him into oblivion from a safe distance? These decisions appear all throughout the game, and rather than having to adjust to the bosses and their patterns like in the games prior to this one, most of the bosses in the game can be conquered with nothing but the Mega Buster. Even if you know the weaknesses of the bosses, they do around as much damage as the Mega Buster and oftentimes aren't as versatile, so what is the point in using the weapons in the first place? It's sad how the entire balance of a game can be thrown off-balance by one weapon, but that's the case in Mega Man 4. Thank God for Ring Man's difficulty, for he gives some notice to an otherwise pathetic cast of bosses that may not get it otherwise. The game should also thank how brilliant the music, graphics, and level design all are, because they are the only reasons I'm recommending anyone play this game. Take in the beauty of the above good points well, because there isn't much else to look forward to outside of them.

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

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