Mega Man 3 – Retro Games Review

Disclaimer – This review is part of a 7 part series of reviews for the the Mega Man Legacy Collection for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. Due to a full review of the collection coming soon, I will not be mentioning everything the collection brings – only mentioning those that pertain to Mega Man 3.

Despite his numerous crimes against humanity, the once maniacal Dr. Wily teams up with the ever righteous Dr. Light to create a robot designed to ensure world peace – ‘Gamma’. Just as Gamma nears completion, eight Robot Masters go rogue, stealing the power cores required to activate the bipedal behemoth. With mankind in peril once more, Mega Man takes it upon himself to save the day. Along the way, he will encounter the mysterious Break Man and discover the truth behind the rebellion. This is the wonderful world of Mega Man 3.

The third installment to the Mega Man series has an near insurmountable challenge before it. It’s predecessor – Mega Man 2 – was a critical and commercial success, quickly being elevated to NES royalty. Can Mega Man 3 surpass it’s legendary forebear, or does it’s notoriously tumultuous development hold it back from attaining greatness?

From the the word go, Mega Man 3 valiantly leaps onto your TV screen before gracefully falling flat on its face. Instead of a plot, cutscene or interesting introduction, we are given a reskinned Mega Man 1 title screen. Mega Man 2 made an immediate impression, one that cemented itself in gaming’s collective consciousness. Mega Man 3 just begins. No fanfare. No nothing. Let’s just chalk this up to a rushed development, pick up our stumbling comrade, and move on.

Or not, as the case may be. Despite having absolutely no introduction, Mega Man 3 somehow manages to have a much bigger emphasis on story when compared to any previous entry. Not only do we have our first instance of in-game cutscenes in the form of interactions between Rock and Dr. Light, but throughout the game you will encounter the mysterious Break Man whose allegiances are as blurred as his motives. When you eventually reach the climax, you get a bunch of world building lore-y stuff that ties the whole narrative together. As far as NES stories go, Mega Man 3 succeeds in expanding the universe, whilst opening the series up for possible expansion.

Jumping back into the traditional Mega Man formula, you will quickly be introduced to the Stage Select screen. Once more you will greeted with eight vacant stares, each one representing a specific theme. Previous entries focused heavily on elemental weaknesses like fire, water, wood etc. Instead you are blessed with magnets, ninjas, snakes and the mighty dreidel. This change helps keep the game feeling fresh, even if it is at the expense of logical weaknesses. For example, in which universe is a spinning top the bane of a ninja? Our universe apparently – this revelation deeply disturbed me.

Once you make the gut wrenching decision of which stage you will tackle first, you will be granted an audience with some of the most thematically appropriate stages the series has ever seen. Each stage is incredibly varied, bombarding you with interesting enemies and designs that perfectly tie in with their respective boss. Snake Man has you climbing a gigantic, multi-headed robot snake. Magnet Man forces you to deal with platforms and enemies that can drag you out of position. Shadow Man has enemies that can turn out the lights, enveloping the stage in darkness. As unusual as these bosses may be, they really managed to nail the ‘feel’ of each Robot Master. The exception to this is rule is, of course, the lord of dreidels himself – Top Man. This twirly bugger’s stage has nothing to do with anything. You are seemingly running through a cannabis farm, fighting giant cats, diggers and flying nuts and bolts – I wish I was making that up.

Theming aside, actually playing these stages is a joy – even Top Man’s plantation. This is in part thanks to the enhancements made to Rock’s movement. Mega Man no longer skids across the floor when he stops running. This tiny change instantly grants a whole new level of control over where you want to go, and how you execute it. Sliding into death pits, colliding with enemies, gently caressing the side of a spike – all gone (unless you bugger it up). If it wasn’t for the next change, I would say this was the greatest thing to ever grace Mega Man.

The change I am eluding to is the slide. With a simple button press, Mega Man will fling himself across the floor, arms flailing, mouth ajar. This one manuever opens up the level design, allowing for alternate paths and hidden consumables. Greasing up your thighs doesn’t just allow for navigational expansion however, as Mega Man can also use it as an incredibly useful evasive manuever, adding a new layer to combat. Needless to say, Mega Man has never felt this good to control, and the game benefits immensely from its inclusion.

You’d think with all of additions, Mega Man 3 would be ready to ‘Rock and Roll’ (pun intended), but surprisingly, there is more. Mega Man 2 introduced the ‘Items’. These were a collection of utility weapons that allowed Mega Man to traverse stages by generating various platforms. These are now gone. In their place we have been given a robotic doggo called Rush. Your new companion can be summoned at any point and can used as a spring board to reach new heights. As you progress through the game, Rush will gain new powers further expanding your tool belt. These include a submarine that greatly enhances your underwater controls, and a super sexy hoverboard that can be used to bypass all kinds of enemies, hazzards and challenges – providing you have the ammunition to spare.

Exploring each stage to its fullest will often reward you with E-Tanks. Unlike in Mega Man 2, where you could only hold four at a time, Rock can now pocket a whopping 9. With the increased difficulty, the extra E-Tanks are more than welcome and go a long way to help smooth out the gauntlet-esque endgame. Their frequency also means you can use them during regular gameplay without fear of slashing your chances of beating the game.

Running around is only half the battle of course, you still need to be able to deal with your enemies and Mega Man 3 grabs the difficulty knob, and cranks it up all the way to an acceptable level of challenge. Your foes are placed in purposefully awkward positions, enemies will assault you from angles you cannot hit, and all the while you are staring at your Mega Buster with unfathomable disappointment. This is entirely by design as Mega Man 3 wants you to experiment with your ever expanding arsenal. Upon doing so, situations that originally seem unfair, become a cake walk. The vast majority of encounters have a very clear weapon in mind, so combat morphs into an intricate puzzle that gets easier the better you get at recognising the solution.

Speaking of weapons, Mega Man 3 boasts an impressively varied line up of murder blasters. These range from the ever useful, multi-directional Shadow Blade, to the homing Magnet Missile. Not all weapons are quite so useful of course, although the most baffling of the bunch is the ever confusing Top Spin. This thing has almost no use, outside of exploiting one Robot Master’s weakness. You basically twirl in the air like a doofus, do no damage, get hit, fall down a pit and question your life decisions. Duds aside, there are plenty of useful weapons to dig into and experiment with.

In order to acquire said weapons, you need to fight and defeat a Robot Master. Unlike Mega Man 2, these guys are made of stern stuff and hit like a truck. Defeating them will require knowledge of their attack pattern, mastery of your movement as well as their their weakness. Of course each Robot Master can be felled with your handy, dandy Mega Buster should the need arise. Whilst certainly more difficult than those found in previous titles, they never feel unfair since Mega Man himself has become far more efficient at avoiding imminent death.

Complementing the Robot Masters is the inclusion of Mini-Bosses. These guys help break up each stage by providing you with a challenging foe that takes more than a few well placed lemons to defeat. The aforementioned Break Man is one such Mini-Boss, and he will appear numerous times to test your mettle. There are also plenty of stage specific baddies standing in your way, such as giant cats and monolithic snakes. Previous games included beefy enemies, but it took until Mega Man 3 to really nail the concept.

Once you have Mega Busted your last Robot Master and absorbed their soul, Mega Man 3 reveals its greatest secret – Doc Robots. Eight additional Robot Master-esque enemies that invade four previously cleared stages. These mechanical monstrosities take on the attack pattern of the eight Robot Masters from Mega Man 2 – their weaknesses being altered to account for your new collection of weapons.

Instead of extending the game in a meaningful way, the Doc Robots completely murder the games pacing. Navigating the same stages again, with worse checkpoints and twice as many bosses just isn’t fun. Learning a whole new set of weaknesses on the fly isn’t satisfying. The concept of additional stages is not an inherently bad idea, Mega Man 3 just fails to properly implement them. A shame considering the game ramps up in quality when you get to the endgame. Easily the best fortress gauntlet yet.

Graphically Mega Man 3 is a retro feast for the eyes. The inclusion of cutscenes, no matter how short they may be, are brilliant. There is a significantly increased number of large, detailed enemy sprites. Bosses sport incredibly memorable designs, complemented by stages that have, for the most part, been masterfully crafted. Needless to say, thanks to some techno-wizardry, Mega Man manages to defy the NES limited hardware once again.

Most people would agree that Mega Man 2 has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Heck, I would agree with that statement. Mega Man 3, against all odds, manages to leapfrog over it and land several miles ahead. The fantastic opening track, catchy stage music, revamped Boss intros, and even Break Man’s whistle, are musical masterpieces. I have no idea how they managed to pull it off, but golly gosh, they did it. A seriously underrated collection of retro jams.

Overall Mega Man 3 is a phenomenal game. The inclusion of a story, cutscenes, Rush, Break Man and sliding all come together to form a game that all other Mega Man games should strive to be like. If they had just a little bit more time to refine the Doc Robots, this would be pretty darn close to perfection. Heck, just google the password to skip them, and you’ll be golden.

Let me know in the comments below if you think Mega Man 3’s sound track is better than Mega Man 2’s!

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