Mega Man 3 did a fantastic job on building on what everyone loved about Mega Man 2. The series as a whole was starting to grow. Capcom wasn’t sitting on its butt this time; they wanted a sequel out quickly. Mega Man 4 ended up coming out a little over a year after Mega Man 3. No longer was Mega Man going after Dr. Wily, but a new evil scientist by the name of Dr. Cossack. Mega Man’s allies were expanding as well, as now Mega Man had a little item dispenser of a buddy named Eddie.
What did this expanded universe do for Mega Man? Honestly… not much. Eddie might show up in a level to leave you a single, randomized item. But it was hardly a game-changing feature. Dr. Cossack might have allowed for a new villain. But he was still a dastardly scientist who rode around in a giant flying death machine after you had taken out his 8 robot masters. The only real change to the game was perhaps the last major addition to Mega Man’s iconic moveset! The charge shot. With this, you could hold down the B Button to shoot a bigger, stronger shot than usual.
Mega Man 4 showed the first signs of growing pains for the Mega Man franchise. This was the first time Capcom experimented with Mega Man’s basic attack strategy. In past games, the weapons you acquired from the various Robot Masters would compensate for Mega Man’s limitations. They’d also at the very least give you a fighting chance against bosses you were struggling with. The charge shot negated any real need to use acquired weapons. As generally, the charge shot would hurt enemies much as any weapon weakness. There was no real downside to using it either. The time spent charging your shot was minimal. Plus you’d generally have nothing else to do while waiting for an opening. Charging shots would turn out to be a good idea in later Mega Man games. Unfortunately, it’s clear that Capcom struggled to figure out what to do with it in MM4.
That’s not to say that Mega Man 4 is no fun. Everything here otherwise is classic Mega Man run-and-gun platforming. It’s just that barring the charge shot, there was very little to differentiate 4 from its predecessors. What was once fresh in MM2 and MM3 became mundane by MM4. Sure, it was neat to dodge the eyes of a giant robot snail as you fought against the current of falling water in a sewer. But it wasn’t escalating the series anymore the way Mega Man 3 had done. The only notable feature was the addition of a bit of exploration. Which would reward players with interesting but ultimately non-useful upgrades. With only 2 levels with these secrets, these parts feel more like an afterthought than anything.
Art and Level Design
We haven’t quite talked about this in past Mega Man reviews. But one of the strengths of Mega Man comes from the blending of the overall theme of the level to the boss. The level theme and its mechanics intertwine with each other. Occasionally they might be a bit less fitting, like Quick Man’s stage. But even there you had scenes like the infamous death lasers that fit into the theme.
Mega Man 4, on the other hand, starts losing the plot a bit here. The character designs and use of color are just as attractive as ever. However, the level themes themselves started to get a little weird. Skull Man’s stage mostly consists of bone platforms, but there aren’t any mechanics introduced here that reflect that. Ring Man’s stage is even stranger. The main hook of the level is platforms that begin to dissolve from different directions. It’s a fun bit of platforming, but not really one that ties into rings in any way.
If you’re a diehard Mega Man nut, Mega Man 4 is still worth a play. It’s still a really solid platformer with some fun bits of platforming and action. But it’s also hard to deny that Mega Man 4 is the weakest of the classic Mega Man games. However, don’t let you get that down; many developers would be envious to say that they had such a long-running franchise with a game as fun as Mega Man 4 as their weakest. It’s just that, compared to the other games, it’s probably the one you’ll find yourself returning to the least.