There’s been a lot of surprising news about Mega Man lately, not the least of which being that Capcom remembered he exists. With the sneaky announcement of the Mega Man Legacy Collection for current-gen consoles and PC, as well as the even more shocking revelation that the Blue Bomber is getting a second crack at hosting a cartoon (see above for a stunning argument both for and against this idea), I’ve seen a lot of discussion about classic Mega Man titles, which has warmed my withered little heart.
Well…sort of. I have noticed a disturbing trend lately in people’s memories of the original NES Mega Man titles, in that they tend to either openly dislike or completely disregard any of them after Mega Man 3 (which, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t actually very good). So in the interest of fairness, I’ve decided to delve deep into my own back catalog (having logged more hours into basically every single one of these games than I really needed to) and review some of the classic games! Now, to keep everything fair, I didn’t include the recent pseudo-retro Mega Man 9 or 10 since those are sort of…new games (technically), and it is fair to mention that not all of these games are actually IN the Legacy Collection, but I’m trying level the playing field here! Now, without further ado, here is MY TOTALLY OFFICIAL AND AUTHORIZED RANKING OF THE MEGA MAN GAMES POST-3 AND PRE-9:
5. MEGA MAN 7 (SNES, 1995)
Now, I want to preface this by saying that a bad Mega Man game is still better than a ton of other games, particularly from the 8- or 16-bit eras. But it can’t really be ignored that Mega Man 7 is just…sad and bland. Launching after the Mega Man X series took the franchise into the dark cybernetic future, and this game feels like a throwback in a bad way. The bosses are all pretty goofy (even if the fights are kinda fun), the level design feels uninspired and desperate, and the graphics can’t actually hold up against the X series, which had begun some two years prior. It also doesn’t appear to have the involvement of series majordomo Keiji Inafune aside from the art direction, which will be a recurring trend in this article…
4. MEGA MAN 4 (1991, NES)
Mega Man 4 stands as one of the most divisive games in the series. It introduced the concept of the Mega Buster, the chargeable weapon that anyone who started with the games after this one (myself included) can’t imagine the series lacking. While the Mega Buster would later provide a fun dynamic to the combat and give you another tool in a series with a focus on combat options, the designers (again lacking Inafune’s deft touch) seemed to forget to take this new power into account. The bosses in this game are all super easy and can basically be handled with nothing but the Buster if you’re careful, the level designs, save a few exceptions, are pretty bland and/or inappropriate to the boss at hand, and it really feels like a step back after 2 and 3. A common complaint about the later Mega Man games is that they feel “phoned in” – if that complaint can be leveled against any of them, it’s most appropriate for 4.
3. MEGA MAN 6 (1994, NES)
Mega Man 6, perhaps better known as “the sort of racist one that rips off G-Gundam“, corrects a lot of the issues with the previous few: much better weapon balance, interesting level design with inventive traps and hazards, and fun (if not occasionally awkward) boss fights. Still, one can’t help but shake the feeling the developers had considered the series over already; Inafune is again missing, Mega Man X was in full swing by this time, and the game’s threadbare plot (and boisterous Japanese subtitle of “The Greatest Battle Ever!!”) really gave the impression that everyone involved felt like the series was either ending or over by now. Heck, Capcom was so blase about it they wouldn’t even release it themselves in America, leaving those duties to Nintendo. Still, there’s much worse games.
2. MEGA MAN 8 (1997, PlayStation/SATURN)
Believe me, I’m just as surprised by this as you are, but it turns out Mega Man 8 is actually pretty damn good. The art is gorgeous, using all of the PS1’s power to look like nothing less than a Neo Geo game at times. The bosses, while ludicrous, are at least fun to fight and beautifully animated. The weapons are better balanced, the level design is awesome and pack in a lot of fun gimmicks and one-off areas (Mega Man can SWIM, for god’s sake!), and the game feels much more thought-out than several of the others on the list. Sure, Inafune was only slightly involved, and yes the voice acting is just as bad as you remember (which is especially shameful when compared to the Mega Man Legends series), but this one actually shines a lot brighter than you may remember. For a good long while, it looked like this was the actual last classic-series Mega Man game, and it would have been a pretty fine way to go out.
1. MEGA MAN 5 (1992, NES)
Like a dark horse storming up the track, here is my beloved mega-favorite Mega Man game other than 2, Mega Man 5. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am extremely biased towards this game as it is the second video game I ever played in my damn life. That said, Mega Man 5 corrects nearly all of the issues with the others in the series. Inafune was actually back, and it shows in the adorable and cohesive art style as the entire game crackles with personality. The bosses all kind of make sense in an “industrial robots run amok” kind of way (well…less so than before, but more so than in any other game on this list), and they actually require each other’s weapons to defeat. The levels offer a ton of variety and challenge, with varying gravity and inertia to contend with at times, and it even has a vehicle section, people. Mega Man 5 is, to me, the most unfairly maligned Mega Man game and easily one of the most underrated NES games overall.
Honestly, though, there’s no such thing as a truly bad Mega Man game. Track them down on eBay, buy them on an online service (each one of the games on this list are available on either PlayStation Network, Virtual Console, or both), or just wait for the Legacy Collection. Either way, you owe it to yourself to enjoy every single Mega Man game there is, not just the ones the guys on your forum tell you are good.