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Review by tankMage (July 2017)
Mega Man V was a step backwards from its predecessor, despite the developer’s efforts to improve upon the recipe. Such “improvements” generally consisted of easier beginning stages, an auto scrolling sequence (which would be a major feature of Mega Man 8), and new gizmos. While Mega Man 4 introduced the chargeable Mega Buster and implemented it in a fairly clever manner, Mega Man 5 failed to bring the ideas it fiddled with into fruition. In fact, even the fourth game’s interesting Mega Buster mechanics were abandoned in Mega Man 5. What we’re left with is a Mega Man game that feels generic and soulless. Much of Mega Man 5’s issues stem from Capcom’s penchant for running popular series into the ground with release upon release. With Mega Man titles being cranked out on a yearly basis, the development team must have been hard pressed for ideas, let alone the time it takes to create a high quality title. As troubled as Mega Man V may be, it is still a good game, especially when compared to some of the more mediocre platformers found on the NES.
If you played MM3 or 4 you will pretty much be able to guess what’s going on right off the bat, but I won’t spoil the plot for those who are not familiar with the series. According to the opening cutscene, Proto Man has kidnapped Dr. Light and sent the usual eight robots to attack the planet. Mega Man once again suits up and sets out to free his creator. The intro scene managed to capture my interest, since I’ve always had a slew of questions about Proto Man. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t deliver and nothing of substance is added to the series’ lore. There’s no narrative or dialogue after the intro and what story elements exist are told through simplistic animations. I can’t really comment much further on the game’s narrative, because it’s so minimal. In some sense, this may be a good thing, because Proto Man continues to remain something of an enigma and a little mystery is never a bad thing.
Well, for better or worse, Mega Man 5 looks like a Mega Man game, though Capcom actually stripped away some of the nice visual touches from previous releases, perhaps to save money or conserve cartridge space, but this title falls short of its predecessors in this regard. To be fair Mega Man 5 did have some impressive moments. An autoscrolling segment that attempted mimic a scrolling foreground was a nice surprise in Wave Man’s stage. Crystal Man’s level also looked great and many of the basic enemies were entertaining, especially some of the new metool variants; my favorite being the train riding metools in Charge Man’s stage.
The Robot Master designs failed to impress me and they generally lacked the flare of those of previous games. Gravity Man looked like a toaster, Wave Man looked more like a fat middle-aged Scuba diver than an aquatic killing machine, and Stone Man was strikingly similar to Thing from Fantastic Four (and not in a good way). Not all of the Robot Masters were aesthetic failures, however: Napalm Man really looked like a war machine, Charge Man had a goofy train motif that was amusing (and more like what you’d expect from the series), and… well those were actually the only halfway decent looking bosses in the game.
The Proto Man stage bosses are utterly boring in both terms of graphics and gameplay, which we’ll get to later. In fact they were an echo of what was perhaps Mega Man III’s weakest feature: Doc Robot. Except this time it’s Dark Man and not the movie/comicbook character of the same who was actually kind of interesting. Dark Man is the boss of four stages and the devs kept trotting out the same recycled sprite for each fight (Ok,Ok, a few changes were made to Dark Man here and there, like a cannon arm or tank treads). What’s worse, you’d think he’d be menacing in appearance with a name like Dark Man, but instead he looks more like a reject from a bad 1970’s science fiction flick. The final fortress bosses are also disappointing and generally lack in imagination as well, but I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoiling the game.
Mega Man games generally have good play control and easy to use menus; Mega Man V lives up to the series’ reputation in this regard for the most part. In fact the weapon select screen is one of the best out of all the original NES games, because it’s just one easily navigable menu. There are some bugs associated with some of the weapons and items that can put a damper on your day, however.
For some reason, the dev team saw fit to make alterations to the way Rush Coil works, which functioned perfectly well in earlier games. Of course, messing with something that works almost exactly as intended often leads to failure and the Rush Coil in MM5 is a miserable failure. Rather than acting as a springboard that propels Mega Man high into the air the moment he lands on it, the Rush Coil in this title doesn’t bounce until you jump. This means you you have to use the item to call Rush, jump on his back, then jump a second time to get him to bounce, and then jump off his back to get where you want to be. I can’t imagine how they thought this was an improvement, especially since Rush’s spring often fails to synchronize with your jumps and you have to repeat the process sometimes to get to whatever it may be that you are trying to reach.
Then there’s the Charge Kick, a special slide attack, which seemed to be buggy and unresponsive at times. While the Charge Kick is actually a cool idea, sometimes the move did not activate upon pressing the buttons, leading to some bad situations. The Power Stone was also a problem in the play control department, but mainly due to the fact that it was difficult to aim.
Mega Man 5 has a lot of problems, but it at least manages to be fun to play for the most part. All the familiar Mega Man gameplay mechanics are alive and well in this release and the devs even tried to add some new ideas to the series, which turned out ok. As I stated in the beginning of this review, the series was really beginning to become over stretched from release after release at this point and the gameplay feels stale as a result, so a few new ideas certainly did not hurt this game.
One interesting feature of this title is that special weapons are not the boss killers they were in Mega Man 1, 2, and 4. In fact weapon damage is balanced more like that of Mega Man 3, which featured what ultimately summed up to a lineup of nerfed Mega Man 2 weapon variants (with a few exceptions). Consequently, I often found myself simply using the Mega Buster on many of the bosses, because it did nearly as much damage as the boss’s actual “weakness” and was generally easier to use (especially in comparison to the Power Stone weapon I mentioned earlier). However, even the Mega Buster was rebalanced in this game; getting hit while charging the Mega Buster will cancel the charge and you’ll have to start over again. The arsenal of weapons the player has access to is a major part of the allure of the Mega Man series as far as I am concerned and I was not impressed by the largely mediocre lineup this game offered, nor did I appreciate the nerfed Mega Buster mechanics.
The stage layouts were decent for the most part, but they often felt generic aside from a few gimmicks the devs threw in. Gravity, Star, and Wave Man’s stages were imaginative at times, however. Unfortunately, they failed to really bring the more captivating elements of these levels to life. Gravity Man’s stage used a cool reverse gravity mechanic that allowed Mega Man to walk on the ceiling (an idea explored more thoroughly in Shatterhand and Metal Storm) and even the boss fight used gravity mechanics, but the devs failed to do much more with it other than implement a few jumps that require you to use the reverse gravity to clear. Star Man’s stage used a low gravity mechanic that allowed for super high jumps, but once again the dev team failed to capitalize on it by scaling the height of platforms or width of pits to Mega Man’s jump ability aside from one or two instances. Then there’s the famous Wave Man jetski vignette, which was fun, but could have used a few ramps to jump from to spice it up a bit. It is unfortunate that these cool ideas were underdeveloped and underutilized, because Mega Man 5 could have stood out as one of the high points of the series had Capcom invested more time into the game.
As for the bosses, they may not have looked great, but were at least designed to fight fairly well without being too difficult, which makes Mega Man 5 one of the more flexible games in the series as far as boss order goes. Nearly any boss can be beaten with the Mega Buster by a reasonably skilled player without immense amounts of practice, though some bosses, like Napalm Man may prove to be more difficult than someone like Star Man or Stone Man. Some boss designs, like Gravity Man, who just flips from floor to ceiling, came off as a bit lazy, however, and bosses like Charge Man could have given slightly better tells before some of their attacks. The end game bosses (even the final boss) were all disappointing and robbed this title of much of its potential value. While many of the other Mega Man games had famous and imaginative end game bosses, like the notorious Yellow Devil or the Robo-Dragon from Mega Man 2, this installment in the franchise had Dark Man, a lazy and boring opponent. In fact Dark Man seemed like a rehash of Doc Robot from Mega Man 3 in many ways, but without the mildly entertaining gimmick of being able to use the abilities of previous Robot Masters. The final boss was also just a rather dull reproduction of Mega Man 4’s last boss that failed to present a real challenge.
I’ve been quite harsh on Mega Man 5, but it has high standards to live up to and really didn’t deliver in terms of quality. That said, while Mega Man 5 isn’t all that great, it’s a decent game in itself and is a safe bet if you are looking for a good NES game to play. Personally, I found this game to be disappointing and it’s especially unfortunate that it was the only classic Mega Man title that I had not played until recently.
Usually, I would consider suggesting that those new to the series play this game, because it tends to be easier than its predecessors, but it’s also one of the weakest titles in the NES series. Ultimately, I can only really recommend this title to more hardened fans of the series, so if you played every other Mega Man game on the Nintendo Entertainment System and want more, Mega Man 5 is worth checking out.