Mega Man 3 (NES) Review

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Mega Man 3 Review by tankMage (July 2016)

Score: A-

    With it’s third installment, the Mega Man series had fully made the transition from a rough novelty to a firmly established franchise. While Mega Man 3 made many strides forward technically, it failed to capture the spirit of it’s famed predecessor. Superior graphics, more stages, better difficulty balance and Rush the robo-dog (the animorphic incarnation of the utility items found in MM1&2) make this title more fine tuned than the others, but the gameplay felt less frenetic and intuitive than earlier titles. On top of that, Team Rockman had the opportunity to build upon MM2’s narrative, but chose not to exhibit much of MM3’s story within the game and the plot development that happened to be present was incoherent. Still, Mega Man 3 turned out to be a highly polished title that is worth playing if you happen to be a fan of the series or enjoy NES games in general.

Story

    According to the poorly written paragraph found in the MM3 manual that supposedly qualifies as a story, Dr. Wiley reformed after the events of Mega Man 2 and decided to help Dr. Light build a peace keeping robot which the doctors dubbed “Gamma”. Eight robots were sent to uncharted planets to gather special energy crystals needed to power Gamma; not surprisingly these robots went berserk and Mega Man must sort things out. While this might seem like a decent plot, there’s almost no exhibition within the game, which is a major step backwards from Mega Man 2 and it’s iconic opening scene that told the player what was going on in a clear and concise manner.

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What? Dr. Light just happens to casually mention Dr. Wiley is present and reformed. The person who wrote this mustn’t have been paid very well.

   MM3’s story only unravels as the game progresses with the appearance of characters like Break Man and Doc Robot, who are either poorly explained or not even mentioned in the few scenes devoted to dialogue. While the first two games may have had simple plots or no real ingame narrative aside from a few simple visual scenes, the series’ lore seemed to be slowly developing into something more complex and Mega Man 3 was an excellent opportunity to expand upon it: especially thanks to the addition of Break Man. All in all, the downfall of Mega Man 3’s story is in it’s poor execution, rather than its concept.

Graphics

    While the second Mega Man game presented itself as a massive improvement over MM1 in terms of graphics, Mega Man 3 made modest, but noticeable improvements to the series’ visual style. For the most part, the enemy designs (with a few exceptions) are bigger and more original than those of earlier games. Many of the robot masters seem to be inspired more by movie and comic book characters: Snake Man looks almost like a Xenomorph from Alien and Hard Man is vaguely reminiscent of The Thing from Fantastic Four, to name a few. The visual style of the UI got a major upgrade in MM3 that would carry over into later games: special weapons were given their own icons and the menu was enlarged as well,which was a nice touch.

   While the stages looked pretty, they lacked the thematic cohesion of earlier titles. In MM1&2 most of the stages were clearly related to the boss in some way and looked like an appropriate place for each robot master to preside over (with a few minor exceptions). In Mega Man 3 it is often hard to tell what each stage is supposed to be, especially Top and Gemini Man’s domains. Overall, each stage looked good, but it would have been nice to see some more care given to their visual premise.

Music

    Most players will probably notice that Mega Man 3’s OST is a touch dark and more blues inspired than the first two games. Consequently this title tends to stand out musically from the other two and while the soundtrack isn’t quite as memorable, it’s still well composed. Overall I appreciated the fact that Capcom was willing to take a risk and try something different with the soundtrack. The brooding, yet rhythmic pieces found in this game left me with the impression that the series was slowly, but surely maturing.  The OST also tied the two games together musically since it seemed inspired by some of the more melancholy aspects of MM2. The bottom line is that, while this isn’t the best OST in the series, it holds its own ground and lends the game a wonderful sense of atmosphere that often lies in stark contrast to the game’s whimsical visual themes.

User Interface

    Once again we see the simple yet flawless UI and play control that helped make the series great. MM3 even adds a new element to gameplay: the Blue Bomber can now slide if the player presses down while jumping. The sliding mechanic not only adds a new dimension to the title that will be discussed in the gameplay section, but also affects the control scheme. In my personal experience the choice of the down and jump buttons to initiate sliding makes sense from a technical standpoint, but in practice clashes with learned behaviors from other games; that is to say, in games like Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. one often pushes down to duck and must often jump or attack from a crouching position. The consequence is I often find myself sliding off of ledges or into enemies when I pick up a Mega Man title that features sliding after playing another platformer, because in just about every other game the down button and jump buttons do not result in a sudden jolt forward.

Gameplay

    In terms of gameplay, MM3 took two steps forward and one step back. Many bosses were better balanced in terms of weaknesses, there were more levels to play through, and new mechanics like the ability to slide that added new layers of depth to the experience; all of these points are evidence of a healthy and evolving franchise. On the other hand, overuse of obstacles that required careful timing to pass, slightly overpowered bosses (Doc Robot), and sneaky enemy placement sapped momentum from the usual fast paced gameplay that made Mega Man famous.

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What a drag.

    First of all, Mega Man games have always featured drop away platforms, spikes and disappearing blocks that players had to negotiate carefully in order to progress, but these were often used rather sparingly. In this title, the devs went a bit overboard and nearly every stage has vanishing platforms or other obstacles that slow down the pace of the game. In Gemini Man’s stage the problem is especially severe due to the inclusion of clusters of eggs which form barriers that the player must shoot through in order to clear a path. Very often the process of creating a path through these eggs becomes tedious and is exasperated by the fact that shooting an eggs also releases a creature that tracks Mega Man, which also must be shot or evaded. On the bright side, many obstacles can be bypassed with Rush Jet much like in other titles.

   Another factor that slows down gameplay is enemy placement. The player could often see enemies coming and react while pushing forward, only stopping to fight a tougher enemy in earlier titles. In MM3 there are a number of instances where robots appear suddenly or drop from the ceiling without warning, which often forces the player to scroll the screen forward a bit and fall back in order to bait the enemy out. Of course going through this process only made certain areas drag, and while I’m sure a player who is familiar with the game could easily run through such areas without a scratch, people who are new to MM3 would find themselves getting knocked into pits unless they proceed carefully.

   Fortunately the robot masters were better balanced and took more skill and/or the proper weapon to defeat than in previous games. Strangely, Mega Man 3 boss design seemed even more inconsistent than in previous games once one gets to the final stages. Some bosses like Doc Robot were fairly tough and could not only dish out considerable damage, but absorb quite a bit of punishment as well. Others, like the clone bots seemed to hearken back to older games where one or two shots with the right weapon would quickly end the battle. Overall Mega Man 3 feels more balanced than its predecessors despite its quirks thanks to the more carefully planned weaknesses of the 8 robot masters.

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   The special weapons in this one leave something to be desired as they are often rehashed versions of those from earlier games that tend to be nerfed, require copious amounts of energy to use, and often fail to penetrate the defenses of even common enemies. Having said that, the rebalance ultimately made special weapons feel more…well…special, because they had to be used with restraint in cases where they consumed large amounts of weapon energy or had to be strategically deployed against even regular enemies (unlike MM2 in which the Metal Blade was highly effective against nearly everything and had a huge energy pool, making it the weapon you would use throughout much of the game). Rush was also a welcomed change and was better implemented than the tools from previous games, with the exception of Rush Marine which was almost totally useless due to the scarcity of water in Mega Man 3. At any rate, it was necessary to use Rush coil or Jet in several areas and the game even required players to use them carefully at times.

  The ability to slide also added some much needed oomph to this title. Sliding under attacks and through corridors is often a necessity to progress. It also added depth to boss fights since you now have an option aside from run/jump/shoot. Skilled players can even get creative with the sliding mechanic and pull of some impressive stunts.

   While the placement of foes and obstacles slowed down gameplay and this title lacked cohesive level themes from an artistic standpoint, the overall level design managed to be interesting. There were plenty of robots to fight in each area that often required a bit of strategy to deal with. Some of the obstacles like the rotating platforms in Top Man’s stage were rather novel…at least for a Mega Man game. The Doc Robot stages also added content to the game and offers players the opportunity to experiment with weapons. Of course no Mega man game is complete without a set of fortress stages, which are not the best in the series in the case of MM3, but at least manage to be passable and even feature some climatic (if not challenging) boss fights.

Final Thoughts

    I played Mega Man 3 a few months after finishing 4 & 6 and took a hiatus from the series until I was a teenager. Looking back, I can see why I lost interest in the series and consequently missed out on two of my favorite titles in the franchise until I was a teen; Mega Man 3 is by no means a bad game, but like Mega Man 8, it happens to be a rather mediocre Mega Man game. Team Rockman would have done well to preserve the pace of the older titles while rebalancing the weapons and bosses in the third entry in the series. Telling the story more clearly would have helped as well.

Recommendations

    While this certainly isn’t my favorite game in the series, it still has plenty of merit of its own. MM3 is different from the first two in some subtle, but meaningful ways, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the end this one is worth looking at if you happen to be a fan of the series; you may even see something in Mega Man 3 that I did not.

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