As 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 at Mega Man 4, a game that receives much criticism for both trying new things and for making the Mega Man formula feel tired and dated. There’s a fair argument that can be made regarding the difference between the first and second sets of three NES installments. In terms of pacing, all three of the second set of games follow the same formula-- eight Robot Masters followed by a fake bad guy’s castle, followed by Skull Castle. The pacing of gameplay itself was also forever changed by the Mega Buster. Additionally, the level of graphical detail is noticeably improved in the second half of the NES installments. But as mentioned before, the real legacy among many critics is a negative one. For a lot of people, Mega Man 4 is when the series started to tank.
A lot of criticism is leveled at the supposed lack of innovation with Mega Man 4, and while there is some truth to that, there is also an incredible amount of new material introduced with this game. The big innovation, as any fan knows, was the Mega Buster. To compare this to Mega Man 3’s slide is an understatement; due to its nature as a high-powered but time-delayed attack, it was perhaps the single most radical change introduced in any sequel to the original game. It alone changed how a player experienced the games in a major way.
While many critics denounce the Mega Buster and Capcom has banned the Blue Bomber from using it in recent installments, it’s hard to make a cogent argument that Mega Man 4 was not pushing the series in a new direction. Unfortunately, it's also hard to argue that the developers had a good sense of how to balance out the Mega Buster with the other mechanics in the game–- it stays the most powerful and practical weapon in the weapons arsenal from beginning to end. Later games would address the balance issue in various ways, and while the fandom is divided about the Mega Buster, everyone can agree that it was one of the more substantial innovations in the series.
Beyond the introduction of the Mega Buster, Mega Man 4 brought about a number of other innovations that have gone mostly unnoticed. There was, of course, Eddie and his random item drops, the aforementioned fake bad guy and his fortress, a much more fleshed out story, the introduction of secret paths and optional items, the introduction of the skull facade for the Wily Machine, and in lieu of a floating alien or giant robot that forced the use of the least utilitarian weapons, the Wily Saucer was the final boss for the first time, complete with unique music befitting a final showdown.
Despite enacting all those innovations and introducing a number of now-staples to the series, there are some grounds for disdain of this game. Something that has gone under-reported is how many elements of Mega Man 4 are improved or tweaked elements of fan favorite Mega Man 2. Not only are the final levels strikingly similar, but many of the weapons and even Robot Masters are fairly similar. Pharaoh Man fights like Quick Man while his weapon resembles the Atomic Fire and Metal Blade. The Ring Boomerang is a slightly improved version of the Quick Boomerang, the Skull Barrier is a mobile version of the Leaf Shield, Drill Man resembles Crash Man both in looks and weapons, and Bright Man is essentially a rehashed (and more difficult) Flash Man. Even the reconfigured Rush Jet is a maneuverable version of Item-2 while the Balloon Adapter is Item-1 with more animation. While Mega Man 4 made strides in other areas, the weapons and enemies took perhaps too much from everyone’s 1988 favorite.
By itself, Mega Man 4 is a solid installment that successfully pushed the series in a new direction, though maybe not with the right kind of recalibration needed to make room for the change in gameplay brought about by the Mega Buster. And while this recalibration would take time, and some aspects of the bosses and weapons felt like retreads, MM4 did make leaps and bounds in changing the formula of the series. Unfortunately, its successor built upon the wrong trend started with this game.
Screenshot Credits: VGMuseum
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.