Looking Back: Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3As part of our celebration of the Mega Man series hitting its 25th anniversary, we are featuring a look back at many of the games of the Classic series. For this entry, I’ll be looking Mega Man 3, a game that gets nearly as much love as its predecessor. Mega Man 3 builds upon the base built by its two predecessors, introducing several new elements like the slide and the Rush adapters. It also introduced ?-Boxes, which would come to be replaced by various other means as the series continued. The number of E-Tanks was raised from four to nine, Proto Man made his first appearance, and the series had its very first bit of dialogue. 

Mega Man 3 is also unique in its pacing, as while the game carried over Mega Man 2's model of eight Robot Masters, these levels are followed by four Doc Robot levels that featured radical redesigns of several levels and rematches against modified versions of the Mega Man 2 Robot Masters. These levels are then followed by a brief fight against Proto Man (or is it Break Man?), then it's off to Skull Castle for the final six levels. In terms of number of levels, Mega Man 3 is still the longest Classic Mega Man game in the series.

By now, most fans are aware that Mega Man 2's development was an after-hours labor of love while Mega Man 3 was a high-profile, fully funded and supported effort. While MM3 enjoyed unprecedented resources in development, it was still a troubled process to get the game out the door. Not only did the veteran supervisor for the Mega Man games leave before development began, but the lead planner, Akira Kitamura, also departed the project. As such, Keiji Inafune was left to fill that role on top of his other duties. This chaos with personnel combined with corporate pressure for timely release meant that many elements of Mega Man 3 were rushed.

There are a few signs that the final release could have utilized more polish. The Top Spin's hit detection versus energy consumption is a sign, and the weird reset you can do while fighting Gamma is another. I'm also guessing that although they made for a fun time in the early 90s, the second controller debug codes and glitches–- including most notably the "zombie mode" and the early Rush Adapter glitches–- were never meant to make it to the final release. While it is pure guessing on my part, I suspect there was for a time an idea that each of the Robot Master levels could host a Doc Robot and more cut-scenes intended, at least to explain Doc Robot and/or the transition from those levels to the Break Man level and Skull Castle.

Mockup of the cut junk pileCut version of Dr. Wily retreating to Skull Castle

While the final product is still a solid installment, there are so many elements that seemed ready to go but were nixed for the final release. A turning sprite for the Magnet Missile, full piles of junk for Spark Man's level, a more detailed cut-scene for Dr. Wily's take-off to Skull Castle, and of course, the large ringed planet in Gemini Man's level (now used in many MM3 romhacks). Graphics also exist for Rush Marine shooting from the mouth, for Proto Man to shoot on the ground (even with his Break Man mask on) and even for an animation that shows Proto Man putting on the Break Man mask (or vice versa). The sheer amount of often superior material that went unused gives the impression that Inafune meant it when he confessed that the game could have used more time and more polish, but in the end Capcom demanded adherence to their timetable, and we are left with what we have.

Using the Rush JetUsing the Rush Marine

While all these glitches and deleted elements are interesting, the game as we know it is nothing to scoff at, either. While the slide and Rush added some complexity to the game, the general feel and pacing of the gameplay remains mostly the same as its predecessors. The Rush Adapters add more mobility to the aerial and underwater sections of the game, while the slide allows for more variability in the level designs.

Since more than half the game is after the player has accumulated all the weapons and items in the game, the level designers have more flexibility for much of the game. The Needle Man Doc Robot level features a long section requiring the use of Rush Jet and the Gemini Man Doc Robot level similarly features a lengthy section requiring the Rush Marine. Beyond utilizing the new adapters, these later levels are some of the most challenging of the NES installments, with the maddening jumps between pillars in the Spark Man Doc Robot level and the combination of numerous flying enemies and bottomless pits in the Shadow Man Doc Robot level.

Platforming funMore platforming fun

The slide's added agility also comes in handy in facing off against a particularly fast set of bosses. Compared to their predecessors, the Robot Masters in MM3 are both fiercer and quicker. Magnet Man, Needle Man, Gemini Man, Shadow Man are all quick and their projectiles come flying for the duration of their fights. Spark Man and Snake Man are a bit slower, but benefit from an uneven arena, and while Top Man and Hard Man are predictable, their projectiles are quick and their quick movements bring the heat. Beyond the Robot Masters, the Doc Robots are much faster and larger than the bosses they emulate, and the Skull Castle bosses (even the rehashed Yellow Devil and Copy Mega Man) are more melee fights than the slower-paced fights in previous games.

The weapon selection is an interesting mix. Avoiding an unbalanced weapon like the Metal Blade and eschewing concepts that would come to be mainstays like the full-screen flash weapon and shield-type weapon, MM3 has a unique roster of useful weapons. The Shadow Blade is a kind of compromise between the Rolling Cutter and the Metal Blade; the Search Snake is a faster, all-surface version of the Bubble Lead; the Shock Spark is a useful weapon in avoiding enemy fights; the Gemini Laser bounces off of any surface; the Magnet Missile seeks out enemies; and the Hard Knuckle destroys barriers but is balanced against its time-delay. The Needle Cannon is sort of redundant, and while the Top Spin is buggy, it's certainly one of the more unique weapons and can be (hilariously) useful in the hands of an expert.

Magnet ManAgainst Shadow Man

All in all, Mega Man 3 brought a lot of new elements to the series. It introduced new elements that brought a level of complexity that was not present in its predecessors, but it allowed for new challenges both in the level design and ferocity of the bosses. While rushed and rough around the edges, Mega Man 3 set the standard for sequels, a standard that following games would struggle to match.

Screenshot credits: VGMuseum (for final version), TCRF (for cut elements)

James is TMMN's Features Contributor and world traveler. He is currently in a faraway land, but he occasionally sends messages in a bottle. If you require more of his love, he left behind a sentient Tumblr account that updates all on its own.

The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.