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 5.
With the help of his enigmatic brother Proto Man, Mega Man defeated Dr. Wily for the fourth time – redeeming Dr. Cossack in the process. With Wily still on the loose, the world wait for his return with bated breath. Out of the blue, Proto Man, aided by eight Robot Masters, attacks the city causing untold devastation. In the confusion, Dr. Light is abducted and it is down the Mega Man to uncover the truth about his brother, and save Dr. Light before it’s too late.
Whilst Mega Man has largely remained the same over the course of the previous four titles, the small tweaks and additions over the years have helped define what a Mega Man game should be, or shouldn’t be. One year after the fourth installment, Capcom released Mega Man 5. Can this new title keep the series momentum going, or is this where it all goes horribly wrong?
Finally becoming series tradition, Mega Man 5 starts with a plot dump backed by a sparkly new cutscene. Explosions, static images of shadowy figures and even a spattering of in-game graphics. With Proto Man once again taking centre stage, and Proto Man being awesome, I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder as to what’s going on, and why it’s happening. This being the fifth game, we all know Dr. Wily is inevitably behind it, but pondering on what exactly he has done, is all part of the fun.
With this still being an NES era Mega Man game, the story is not exactly fleshed out. Once the introduction is over, you are not going to see anything relating to the story until the last stretch. It’s a bit disappointing that the series has never managed to recapture the subtle character development and intrigue found in Mega Man 3, but this is certainly passable when compared to the series as a whole.
Fluff aside, this is a Mega Man game through and through. You have eight Robot Masters, all of whom must sate your endless thirst for woobly orbs via the ancient art of death. Unlike in Mega Man 4, we actually get some creativity in terms of boss designs. No longer must we fight literal bins, we instead get to go toe-to-toe with steam-powered trains, a humanoid gyrocopter, DC’s Aquaman and even David Bowie – just to name a few. From the mug shots alone, you can clearly tell a lot more effort went into designing this ragtag gaggle of Robots, even if once again, their weaknesses are galaxy-brain levels of convoluted at times.
Not that you even need to adhere to the games logic to begin with, of course. Mega Man 5 carries over just about all the trimmings found in 4 – including the charge shot. As with that game, your initial boss encounter is much easier thanks to your naturally high damage output. No wrong choices. No trial and error. Pick whoever you think looks coolest and go from there. Now there has been some changes to how the charge shot functions. Instead of being a narrow sploot of blue plasma, you now have a humongous, pulsating wave of destruction. I am not joking when I say this thing is as large as your character sprite. If you get booped on the snoot whilst charging however, you completely lose your charge which helps balance the mechanic – sort of.
Charge shot aside, Mega Man 5 makes some other adjustments to the formula. Rush Coil been reworked. You can jump higher thanks to Rush leaping into the air with you, but it is a little bit harder to execute and the added height doesn’t seem to be of any benefit. Rush Marine is completely gone, but thankfully Rush Jet remains unchanged. Balloon and Wire are both absent this time round, instead being replaced by the Super Arrow – a plunger like weapon that kind of acts like Item 2 from Mega Man 2. You plop it out, jump on it and away you go. E-Tanks of course make a return, but alongside them are the significantly more powerful M-Tanks. These bad boys don’t just refill your health, but every single weapon on your person. Very nifty indeed, if potentially ear grating. The final change is the inclusion of Beat, a robot bird gifted to Mega Man by Dr. Cossack (of Mega Man 4 fame) as way of thanks. This questionably aviatory blue bird flies around the screen inflicting grievous bodily harm to everything in sight. Unlocking Beat is easier said than done, as you have to collect eight hidden letters strewn throughout each Robot Masters stage.
Thematic stages have been a staple of the Mega Man series for quite some time now, and with Mega Man 5 having such a dapper selection of Robot Masters, you can certainly expect to receive an overdose of theming. Star Man’s is set in space with astronaut variants of the classic ‘Met’ enemy. Napalm Man is set in a jungle infested with tigers. Charge Man has you fighting through a locomotive storage facility, before battling across a moving train, that is covered in ‘Mets’ riding smaller trains. The main thing that is missing from the majority of the stages is unique gimmicks. Out of the eight stages, only three add something new to the mix, with the rest pulling from previous entries. This kind of thing is to be expected five games into a series about jumping and shooting, but that doesn’t entirely excuse the feelings of ‘been there, done that’ that crop up from time to time.
Now when the stages do decide to push boundaries, they are pretty damn awesome. Stone Man’s level is jam packed with secret rooms, hidden pathways and fake walls, making it an absolute blast to explore. The second half Wave Man’s stage has you riding a jetbike across the ocean blasting dolphins, weird triangles, fellow jetbikers and even a ginormous plasma spewing octopus. Then there is Gravity Man, whose stage is the stuff of legend. Gravity is switching constantly opening up some whacky platforming. Enemies can zip to the ceiling to chase you down. Your controls are slightly warped, forcing you to take extra care when performing slides. The cherry on the cake is Gravity Man himself, who uses those exact same mechanics, making the whole stage feel like a tutorial for a crazy fun boss battle. A masterpiece.
Mega Man 5 winds back the difficulty a tad both in terms of combat and platforming. As always, this not an inherently bad thing (Mega Man 2). Platforming is generally rather easy, with smatterings of reflex-testing combat for good measure. The charge shot being the size of the sun makes aiming less of a science, and more of a force of nature. Most enemies are destroyed in a single blast, its size can easily hit multiple enemies and it pierces. So long as you are aiming in roughly the right direction, you are likely to blow most threats away before they get a chance to react. As satisfying as it is to be this powerful in your base form, it can take away some of the games variety as there is less need to experiment with other weapons.
Thankfully the Robot Masters themselves are incredibly fun to fight. Wave Man creates walls of water and throws tridents, requiring careful timing to avoid his follow up leap. Charge Man relentlessly hunts you down and packs a hefty amount of invulnerability, forcing you to dodge and find your openings. Stone Man has a predictable attack pattern, but collapses into rubble making him impervious to damage. None of the bosses are particularly difficult, especially if you have experience with the series, but they all put up a decent fight and are tanky enough that you won’t murder them in a couple pot shots.
Arguably the most contentious aspect of Mega Man 5 is its secondary weapons. At first, second or even third glance, these weapons seem canny crappy – or situational if you want to be generous. However there are some standout weapons that have some incredible versatility – if you are willing to put down your Mega Buster and experiment. Charge Kick not only ignores shielded enemies, but it also makes you impervious to damage. Water Wave is a ground projectile that absorbs enemy attacks, traverses any descending terrain and hits multiple times, allowing for the quick dispatch of smaller enemies. Gravity Hold is a thematically wonderful screen nuke etc. Whilst not all weapons are viable without a hefty amount of experience, a lot of fun can be found by messing with them. Considering the game is fairly easy, it is a perfect sandbox to play around in.
As with Mega Man 4, defeating all the Robot Masters unlocks the dreaded ‘endgame’. Two fully functional battle stations, eighteen bosses and a whole host of platforming stands between you, and Dr. Light. It is at this point that Mega Man 5 really shows us its teeth, as these stages are significantly more challenging than the stages that preceded it. Half the series has suffered from having overly punishing fortresses, whilst the other half more or less hand you the win. Mega Man 5 perfectly balances those two extremes and finally gives us a satisfyingly challenging gauntlet. Providing you have stocked up on E-Tanks, have your M-Tank ready for the boss rush, and you’re willing to suck up a few deaths, then you’ll whoop the games metallic booty and feel great doing so.
As always, Capcom manage to pull some kind of 8-bit rabbit out of its hat, somehow fine tuning Mega Man’s visuals once again. Stages are brimming with tiny details that make you feel like you’re exploring a real location, the new enemies and bosses look fantastic, the amount of animation in the environments has increased substantially, as well as the inclusion of more auto-scrolling segments. Characters clearly express emotions during in-game cutscenes, making their personalities pop. Heck even the rapid throbbing of the charge shot looks awesome. I will never not be amazed how much detail Capcom manage to squeeze out of the NES.
Mega Man 5 is an anomaly in terms of music. A true mixed bag. Some tracks are just not interesting to listen to, or in the case of Star Man, just painful (ironically). However there are others that are easily the best the series has ever produced. Considering how divisive this game is as a whole, it is fitting the soundtrack is the way it is. You will either love it, or find it adequately acceptable. There is no inbetween.
For a game that ultimately decides not to innovate in any real way, it narrowly avoids being bonked on the head with the stale bat. With a great selection of bosses, visually, and occasionally mechanically, impressive stages bundled with a severely underrated selection of weapons, Mega Man 5 is an undeniably fun 2D Action Platformer. It just so happens to be pretty darn fun Mega Man game surrounded by masterpieces.
This is certainly the dark horse of the original hexology. What are your thoughts on this often overlooked gem? Let me know in the comments below!
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