Mega Man 4 – 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 4.

Upon the defeat of Gamma, and the presumed death of Dr. Wily, peace returned to the world and Mega Man returned to his life as a simple lab assistant. History has a knack of repeating itself however. Eight deadly Robot Masters emerge, lead by the mysterious Dr. Cossack. Their goal – to destroy Mega Man. Rock suits up once again and strides into the chaos, Rush at his side, to save the world.

After three phenomenal games back-to-back, Mega Man 4 ‘Mega Strutted’ onto the scene in 1991 hoping to capture a whole host of new fans, all the while satisfying long-time fans with a host of new mechanics. Out of the gate Mega Man 4 is standing next to a trilogy of titans, so the question is – will it be crushed under the weight of expectation?

Before you even get a chance to ponder on that conundrum, Mega Man 4 blasts a Mega Buster bolt of plot straight into your cranium. You are given a quick run down of the last three games story, the birth of Rock and the driving force behind Mega Man’s current strife – Dr. Cossack. This all pales in comparison to the cutscene that accompanies it though. Incredibly detailed cityscapes, large character models, intricate animations and an impressive amount of lighting really set the tone of the game. Whilst not as punchy as Mega Man 2’s introduction, it is in a different ball park all together in terms of production quality. After Mega Man 3’s absent introduction, this feels like a love letter to the fans – one that gets newbies up to speed to boot.

All of this tasty story telling is unfortunately dropped once you get into the game, which is a real shame considering the previous titles increased emphasis on in-game character development. Outside of a brief appearance of Proto Man, an obvious reveal and a hilariously predictable conclusion, you get nothing. Dr. Cossack is barely mentioned again, there are not rivals – you do your thing, the game ends. This is all fine when compared to 1 and 2, but with Mega Man 3 being in existence it does feel like the series has regressed slightly.

As disappointing as this may be for die-hard Mega Man lore fans, we are not exactly here for the sprinkles, we are here for the ice cream. Like all the games before it, Mega Man 4 gives you eight Robot Masters and eight stages to choose between. Once again you will stare blankly at the selection trying to figure out the twisted logic behind the weaknesses. Between toads, light bulbs, skeletons, a bin and one of those weird blowy-bubble-ring-thingies, you will either have to wing it and hope for the best, or just do a sneaky google search. No sane person can discern the pattern here, so pick one at random (Toad Man…) and go from there.

Once you finally get over ‘Complex Selection Bafflement’, you can start to hit buttons and see what tweaks have been made to Mega Man. The Mega Buster is as limited as ever, jumps are buttery smooth, your Mega Thighs have been greased and Rush occupies your Inventory like a good doggo. In short, Mega Man 4 is tighter than a sailors favourite knot. Slide your thumb over the lemon button however, and you will quickly be in awe at Rock’s sudden technicolor body. Let go and a super-charged bolt of plasma will blaze a trail through space and time, causing triple damage to anything that gets in its way. As far as additions they could make after blessing us the slide in 3, this is a pretty damn good one.

The addition of the charge shot completely changes how you approach any given situation. Do you engage with a fully primed buster to try and nab that sick piercing multi-kill alpha strike? Do you instead opt to spray your lemons to avoid the potential backlash of missing a charge bolt? The choice is yours, and both options are viable at different parts of each level. Due to the Mega Buster dealing a whopping 3x damage on impact, you suddenly have a very powerful tool when taking on Robot Masters. No longer will you feel under-powered on your first encounter. Instead you will feel like you are a battle-hardened bringer of death – just how I like it. There is no “wrong” choice in starting level as a result, all bosses become viable Stage 1’s.

Charge shot aside, Mega Man 4 makes some pretty drastic changes to Rush – specifically Rush Jet. Previously, Jet gave you free reign to fly over every obstacle that dared impede your progress. Now Jet can only move in 1 direction and changing altitude takes several life times to accomplish. It is a shame that Jet get hit with the ‘nerf bat’, but these changes do help balance out Mega Man’s mobility a bit, and it is far from useless.

To make up for Rush being neutered you are given the opportunity to gain two optional, secret items that give you some interesting mobility options. Balloon acts very much like ‘Item 1’ in Mega Man 2, whilst Wire is a hookshot that lets you cling to ceiling. Whilst neither are required to complete the game, there are a few instances of consumables only being attainable with these adaptors. Balloon in particular is excellent at avoiding tricky platforming sections and is a godsend when you reach the Fortress stages. Fun little extras that are worth hunting down.

With all of these changes out of the way, we can finally get into the meat and potatoes. Each Robot Master comes with a themed stage that ties in with their “interesting” ‘element’. Toad Man starts in a rainstorm that effects your jump trajectory before slapping you with running water that hampers your ground movement. Pharaoh man has quick sand and is set in an underground tomb. Bright Man is full of light-altering enemies forcing you to aim carefully. Not all stages manage to maintain this level of quality however, with nothing particularly interesting in Skull, Drill or Dust Man’s respective stages. What they all manage to do however, is provide a satisfyingly challenging platforming experience with enemies and mini-bosses strewn throughout to keep you on your toes.

Once you make it to a Robot Master you will find that there has been a noticeable decrease in difficulty, even taking a slight hit in quality as a result. Each boss can be easily dispatched with the Mega Buster alone, whilst also falling incredibly quickly when you use their weakness against them. Whilst not as laughable as Mega Man 2, it is a shame to see the challenge take a dip after 3’s satisfying balance. The balance is skewed even further in your favour with an increase in health drops, E-Tank, ammo and a seemingly endless supply of lives. You will be hard pressed to get a ‘Game Over’ once you find your footing in Mega Man 4.

Once you get your hands on a few weapons it is clear that this is one of the best selections yet. When you have access to a chargeable Metal Blade, a boomerang that can collect items, a homing missile launcher, a missile launcher that can be remotely detonated, a garbage/grenade launcher, an incredibly useful screen nuke and even the ability to stop time, you can’t help but experiment and burn through your ammo with joyous abandon. Yeah, we have a crap shield, but when everything else is so fun to use, you can’t exactly be too sad that Skull Man sucks.

What you will notice shortly after defeating all eight Robot Masters is that Mega Man 4 is surprisingly lengthy compared to its dinky brethren. You fight through not one, but two fortresses battling an insane number of incredibly interesting bosses – either mechanically or visually. To help keep you alive and kicking during this extended gauntlet, there are consumables at regular intervals. Providing you managed to keep a healthy supply of readily available E-Tanks, you should be able to conquer both fortresses and complete the game with little issue. Again, a bit on the easy side, but at this point we have more Mega Man games on this side of the spectrum, so perhaps Mega Man’s reputation for infuriating difficulty is myth? Who knows.

The most striking aspect of every Mega Man sequel is how they manage to squeeze more, and more out of the NES. Surely they would have killed the poor thing by the second entry – apparently not because Mega Man 4 is seriously impressive. Animated backgrounds, larger than life enemies, splash animations when Mega Man walks through the rain – it all looks so darn good. The occasional room still has a solid black background, but when everything else is of such high quality, this can be forgiven. The only negative is the hit-and-miss nature of the Robot Master designs. Skull, Toad and Pharaoh Man look great and are comparable to the best the series has to offer. The rest though? They are average at best, bottom of the barrel at worst. Ring Man is…something(?), and Dust Man is a walking bin. They are legitimately embarrassing. Kill them early so you don’t have to look at them for longer than you have too.

It had to happen eventually, and unfortunately Mega Man 4 is where the ball had to be dropped – Mega Man 4 doesn’t have the best soundtrack in the series. Luckily for us it is still bloody great for the most part. Most tracks are catchy jingles that are worthy of the Mega Man title, there are just a few duds this time around that prevent me from elevating it to the same level as 2 or 3. Oh, and the Mega Buster charging sound can perferate eardrums, so be aware of that and always wear protection.

As is always the case with Mega Man, Mega Man 4 is a fantastic game. Just because it is easier than some entries in the series does not mean it is a bad game – I mean Mega Man 2 exists after all. At the end of the day, this game is incredibly fun to play thanks to a selection of great levels, hidden goodies, the charge shot and a cracking set of weapons. I have no idea how Capcom managed to pump these out so regularly, whilst maintaining such a high quality – well, if you ignore Dust Man. That guy sucks.

The series is so close to perfection it hurts. Perhaps Mega Man 5 will finally make that leap? Oh, that one is divisive? Oh dear… Let me know in the comments below where Mega Man 4 is on your Mega Scale. Apparently all of mine are clumped together as one giant, mutated mass of plastic.

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