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 6, a game that marked the end of the NES era with some of the best graphics on the system and the introduction of several important gameplay elements. Mega Man 6 was released as the Super Nintendo was in full swing and Mega Man X was either nearing release (in Japan MMX was two months away from release when MM6 hit stores) or already dominating sales charts (as the SNES classic was already out in the US when Nintendo of America published MM6). When compared to its 16-bit counterpart, MM6’s innovations come across as a bit shallow and pedantic. And while that is a fair reading (as Capcom came to prefer small evolutions with sequels, saving revolutionary change for new series, be it Mega Man or Street Fighter), it robs Mega Man 6 of the attention it deserves as a game that continued to push the series forward and in a very different direction from its X counterpart.
Mega Man 6’s big innovation is the Rush Power and Jet Suits. Rather than follow the MMX team’s ideas of armor pieces as hidden items (similar to Mega Man 4’s two hidden items), MM6 follows the more traditional route of awarding the suits for defeating particular Robot Masters. In doing so, it ensures that the player has the abilities of these suits (which, despite their simple premise, are actually more of a game-changer than the bells and whistles of the original MMX armor) and designs the second half of the game accordingly.
While the Power Suit is useful in destroying certain blocks (usually a secondary function of a Master Weapon), the Jet Mega Man suit radically changes how Mega Man 6 is played. It essentially erases the abilities of Mega Man gained in Mega Man 3 and 4 (an unintended sign of what would come fifteen years later with Mega Man 9) and instead gives the player vertical mobility, which combined aspects of the Rush Coil and Jet, simplifying one aspect of gameplay while introducing new complexity.
To that end, several Robot Master levels and both sets of castle levels have multiple instances where the Jet Suit is utilized. Whether it be navigating rooms that have spikes on multiple surfaces, fighting enemies in mid-air, navigating the aforementioned secret passages or all three at once, the Rush Jet Suit provided a number of new challenges for players, resetting (if for only one game) what was possible to do with the Blue Bomber. It's only a shame that the developers did not utilize the Rush Jet Suit more or bring it back in the more recent installments. More of a shame still is the lack of serious hack of Mega Man 6 that fully utilizes the Jet Suit.
Along with the introduction of the Rush Suits was an evolution in level design. While Mega Man 4 had dead-end paths that netted the player additional items, Mega Man 6 had branching paths in nearly half of its levels. Finding and taking the hidden paths in some of these levels netted Mega Man power-ups, secret Robot Master battles that led to obtaining Beat, and even the first appearance of the Energy Balancer.
More importantly, this game broke new ground in level design that was utilized for subsequent games. Now, players had some choice in how they went through levels and level designers had more leeway in constructing levels. Instead of waiting until the final half of the game to test player's abilities with a full arsenal, certain paths could be chosen only by utilizing particular weapons and items, opening up greater variety of gameplay in the levels themselves. Starting with Mega Man V for Game Boy and continuing with Mega Man 7, this became a staple of the Classic series, and later on the X series would catch up with its supposedly antiquated antecedent.
While Mega Man 6 certainly makes an attempt at innovations in level design and the Rush Suits, there is sadly little utility to the Master Weapons in this installment. It is not just that nearly none of the weapons are versatile but using them as weapons is also usually a clunky and frustrating affair. Silver Tomahawk may be useful at attacking the Wall Crusher and the Wily Capsule, but its swift upward arc makes it less than useful in other circumstances. The Knight Crush’s limited range and weird travel path makes of limited use, as does the delay and small size of the Blizzard Attack.
The Wind Storm is an even further nerfed version of the Water Wave and the Plant Barrier is a re-skinned Skull Barrier, as Centaur Flash is a less fun retread of the Gravity Hold. The Yamato Spear is nearly indistinguishable from the regular arm cannon and the Flame Blast is awkward due to its small arc and vertical nature, though it can melt certain objects (but so can Rush Power’s Charged Shot). Given the ingenuity found elsewhere in the game, this punt on weapon design really hurts the title and makes the majority of the non-boss portions of the game basically a Mega Man and Rush show.
Despite the incredibly lackluster attempt at a weapon roster, Mega Man 6 serves as a good swan song for not just the NES Mega Man series, but for the system as a whole. Capcom delivered on the international robot concept in a graphical tour-de-force. From Tomahawk Man's setting sun to the clouds of Knight Man's level to the ridiculous detail put into Blizzard Man's domain, the attention given to the settings of the game were remarkable. On top of that, larger enemies never looked more advanced on the hardware, with the Metall Maker, the Gorilla Tank, and Gamarn and Gamadayu showing the prowess of the graphic artists at Capcom, who finished the NES installments on the highest note possible.
It's almost crazy that the same series that brought us the simplistic backgrounds of the first three games led to such high-end utilization of decade-old hardware. Further than the graphical advances are the smaller, less appreciated aspects of level design. Oil pits became instant-death fire cauldrons by actions of common enemies, propellers elevated the player and complicated navigating perilous rooms of spikes, large boxes could be pushed along the floor by the Power Suit, and Centaur Man’s level even had water floating above Mega Man’s head.
Looking back now, nearly twenty years later, it’s almost depressing how little attention Mega Man 6 has received over the years. For what it was worth, it was clear the team put in their all and the innovations it brought to the series were welcome. Despite its strides, it was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was not just released at the end of an era but after the end, as by the time it hit shelves the Super NES had already been available for nearly four years and Mega Man X was stealing the thunder of the day. But it was a good bookend to a solid set of games that would continue in ways we never thought possible.
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.