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 Mega Man 5, a game that makes up for its lack of innovation with "Nintendo Hard" difficulty. While Mega Man 4 is usually criticized for being the beginning of the Mega Man stagnation that supposedly gripped the last three titles on the NES (or all of them, if you are not a fan of the series and are forced to review them), it is really Mega Man 5 that stopped with serious innovations. The charged shot is a big bigger, Beat is introduced, and the M-Tank makes its single appearance for 17 years until Mega Man 9, but these are small potatoes compared to the introduction of the slide or the Mega Buster.
While some of the levels introduce some new elements like gravity switching and jet ski fighting, there is no landmark new ability for the player to use in any situation. Given the creativity of modern rom hackers to introduce and code radically new innovations like gravity switching anywhere (such as in "Rockman Mind Roar") and/or air-sliding ("Rockman 5 Air Sliding" has both), one wonders why Capcom opted to just settle for this installment. It certainly leaves room to discuss the other oddities.
So, Mega Man 5 is never called too innovative. Which is fair, but it overlooks some of the bizarre one-off features of the game. For starters, if you have full life and weapons energy, using a M-Tank turns all the enemies on-screen into 1-Ups. Additionally, it is only one of two games (looking at you, Game Gear Mega Man) to feature the very weird, modified Rush Coil, allowing players to reach a handful of ledges that would have otherwise been just out of the Blue Bomber's grasp. It also features the Super Arrow, which follows Mega Man 4's "We-modified-an-item-from-MM2-and-passed-it-off-as-new" shtick. The only modification beyond the aesthetic is that the Super Arrow will continue forever, even once it's out of energy. It's also the only game without a surface-moving Gabyoall-type robot, even though its data and spritework are in the game's data. It was the only game to feature the L-Tank until 2007's Mega Man ZX Advent, and finally, it's the only game where Mega Man's helmet is given some weird additional vents in the back.
In addition to the weird one-off elements to the game, there are also just plain strange decisions regarding the Robot Master roster and the level design. This game does not include a fire-based and land-based Robot Master, while Wave Man barely qualifies as water-based. While not relying on the more tried-and-true concepts for Robot Masters and levels, nothing really intriguing is there to fill the void. Stone Man, Napalm Man, Charge Man, and of course Gravity Man are all incredibly weird, but they could have been so much more.
Stone Man's weapon is bizarre and extremely difficult to use. It's not that the material can be too weird to not do good, intriguing things with it (Mega Man Legends and half of Capcom's work proves this). In fact, Mega Man IV for Game Boy improves Charge Man, as his level is far more interesting and the Charge Kick can actually destroy certain blocks, rather than just being an odd curio. Also in MMIV, the Power Stone is a more useful because it was sized appropriately and Crystal Man's level is far more difficult and interesting. Gravity Man's intriguing concept of switching gravity goes underutilized and his weapon is a boring full–screen flash weapon, while his level gimmick is not used again.
This is arguably the hardest game of the original NES installments, and there's good reason for that. As I've stated before, good level design usually introduces new concepts in a death-free environment, i.e. introducing the disappearing block puzzles or water physics without tons of spikes and bottomless pits. Mega Man 5 is notoriously difficult because it constantly introduces interesting new concepts while trying to kill the player. Whether it be Gravity Man's gravity-switching concepts, Wave Man's jet ski segment, Star Man's zero-gravity environment, or Stone Man's weird spinning platforms, there is very rarely a margin for error while new things are thrown at the player.
This trend only gets worse in both sets of castle levels, with the first in-game appearance of disappearing blocks, scrolling blocks, block-snakes, falling ceilings, and water portions thrown at the player along with copious amounts of spikes and bottomless pits. Some call this "Nintendo Hard", but if you like the game, it's a feature.
While Mega Man 5 is still beloved by some and remains one of the most difficult games in the series, perhaps its greatest legacy is cementing the idea that the Mega Man series was irrevocably stagnant. This sour flavor (and the aging NES hardware) would prevent its successor from getting the accolades it deserved.
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.