With Mega Man 2 a huge success for Capcom, they naturally wanted to follow it up with a sequel. Contrary to later development cycles for Mega Man, Capcom ended up taking a while to follow it up. Taking a year break to restructure their development team after Mega Man 2. And then spent almost another full year on development. This development time span almost unheard of for NES development. But this wasn’t a smooth process. The team struggled a lot with implementing several of the features they wanted to include. This meant there wasn’t time to polish everything they wanted to.
But the leap from Mega Man 2 to Mega Man 3 was almost as big as the previous one. Mega Man’s moveset now included a slide, which gave players some much-needed mobility. You could also summon Mega Man’s robo dog Rush, who could transform into vehicles for Mega Man to ride. Levels featured segments where Mega Man would have to battle against the mysterious Proto Man, adding to the level progression. You never quite knew when Proto Man would show up. Even the length of the game was pumped up from the original, as beating all 8 Robot Masters would add 4 remixed past levels where you’d have to fight 2 new bosses apiece. The amount added of content added to Mega Man 3 was insane.
The concerns the development team had about Mega Man 3’s lack of polish weren’t entirely unfounded. Some of the jumps can require you to be about as close to the edge of a pit as possible in order to clear it. Such as this one particularly notorious pit right after the checkpoint in Snake Man’s stage.
Top Man’s has a funky hitbox, and will drain weapon energy at seemingly inconsistent rates; sometimes you’ll kill a boss in one hit and use barely any of its power while other times you’ll nick them and instantly drain it. Your second run through Needle Man’s stage requires you to use Rush Jet to clear a portion of the level, but if you die and run out of weapon energy refills placed along the way then you have to kill yourself until you can retry the entire level since items don’t respawn. These can be frustrating.
But if you can look past the lack of polish here and there you’ll find one of the most engaging Mega Man games out there. The sliding mechanic opened up Mega Man’s combat mechanics to allow for more varied encounters. In Mega Man 2, if the Robot Masters moved, they’d have to leave very wide jumps for Mega Man to safely run under or, in the case of Heat Man, narrow their bodies so Mega Man could safely clear over them. Bosses in Mega Man 3, on the other hand, are much more varied. Magnet Man, for example, has very low jumps to traverse the stage, so you’ll need to properly time your slide and then quickly change your direction to dodge his magnet shots. It adds a lot to the fluidity of the combat.
Art and Stage Design
Mega Man 3 follows the same philosophy as its predecessor. You’ll move briskly from gameplay idea to gameplay idea! Never lingering on one for too long! While still having just enough time to absorb and master it. Gemini Man’s stage has you blasting through walls of tadpole eggs! Avoiding robot fish jumping out of the water to bite at you! Even fighting off giant penguins that shoot their mechanical young at you! Hard Man has you dodging boulders dropping from pipes and breaking through his defensive wall of construction workers. And so forth. It’s just new ideas wrapped in the pacing from Mega Man 2.
What really helps is the sense of scale. As you play through certain stages, you’ll find elements that are only there to build up the remix version of the level. Your first time through Needle Man’s stage, for example, you’ll see giant Metaur helmets hidden blocked off by platforms. You’re not really sure what they’re there for. However, when you come back to Needle Man’s stage to chase down the new bosses, there are added encounters with these giant Metaurs. It’s small details like this that build up your sense of the world, even if mechanically they don’t add anything. Sure, later games have similar length, but they don’t feel quite as satisfying as returning to these past levels in Mega Man 3 thanks to those small details.
If you can look past some of the little-unpolished edges, Mega Man 3 is a fantastic 2D action game. It was a pivotal game in the Mega Man series, proving that the series could sustain itself as a long-running franchise. Mega Man 3 expanded on everything people loved about the prior and kicked it up a notch. Keiji Inafune might regard it as his least favorite, but Mega Man 3 stands with the best that the franchise has to offer.