Looking Back: Mega Man IV

MMIV Title Screen 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 Mega Man series. This time, I’m looking at Mega Man IV, one of the best games of not just the Game Boy sub-series, but of the entire Mega Man series.

Regulars to The Mega Man Network may remember that I hold this game as one of the most innovative and influential game in the Classic series. To summarize, MMIV greatly changed the classic series by introducing a true ongoing story, Dr. Light's Shop, a more versatile weapons roster, a great expansion in secret passages and alternate paths, and a fine-tuning of the gameplay to account for Mega Man's greater share of the screen size, a change in gameplay that would carry on with subsequent classic games that featured a far larger Mega Man sprite than the NES installments.

Fighting the Doc TowerJust rightFighting Ballade

But there's more to this game than just these influential innovations. The graphical work is head-and-shoulders above Mega Man III, working in complex sprites and detailed backgrounds without generating slowdown. The developers also finally figured out how best to port over the large enemies from the NES games without making them impossible to defeat. While much of the soundtrack pulls from its source material in Mega Man 4 and 5, the original tracks are also fitting and well-composed considering the hardware limitations. The Robot Master fights are, for the most part, well-calibrated for the Game Boy (with awesome strategies to defeat them shown during the ending) and many of the new bosses are interesting (Doc Tower) and frantic (Ballade, Wily).

The pillars of Crystal Man's level......and the fun platforms of Crystal Man's levelNavigating Ballade's lairToad Man's level

As mentioned above, MMIV featured greater weapon versatility and more branching paths and secret passages. The levels themselves tend to be more complex than anything attempted in the preceding games, be it Toad Man's rain, Crystal Man's moving platforms (and dreaded shifting pillars), Pharaoh Man's falling blocks or Ballade's exploding munition blocks. Even with the Game Boy's limitations, this game has arguably far more interesting levels for the Robot Masters than on their NES outings. Also of note is that MMIV follows MMIII in setting the second four Robot Master levels inside the Wily Fortress, again changing the scenery somewhat while maintaining the theme of the boss (i.e. Napalm Man forgoes the NES jungle for a strictly armory setting).

There are a number of other innovations that turned out to be one-offs. Unique to this game is the kick-back from the Mega Buster that pushes the player back a half-block, changing the dynamic of the gameplay in a small but important way. This marks the only Game Boy game to feature Beat, who becomes available after collecting the BEAT letters in the first four Robot Master levels. The second set of Robot Master levels feature WILY letters throughout the levels that must be collected in order to move on to the final Wily levels.

Finally, the Power Accelerator is introduced in this game. If the player chooses to continue after losing all lives four times in a row on the same level, Dr. Light upgrades the speed of the Mega Buster shots and the shape of the charged shot. Given the relative slowness of the regular Mega Buster, one wishes that this would have been a purchasable upgrade from the store (or at least could be retained in passwords). Though most of these innovations would not be retained beyond this installment or the Game Boy sub-series, they all add something new to the formula and make this game that much more of a unique experience.

Entering the fortress using the WILY lettersUsing the Power Accelerator upgrade to the Mega Buster Fighting Dr. Wily (the only GB game with a saucer fight!)

After all these years, Mega Man IV is still one of the best, if relatively unknown Mega Man games. Not only did it set the Classic series on a new course, it features some of the best level design and greatest graphics possible on the original Game Boy (it also had a great debug menu). The platform which was once considered a gaming backwater reserved for watered-down versions of simple NES games became the home of one of the Blue Bomber's best outings ever, easily outdoing the "source material" of MM4 and MM5. Only a trip to the outer reaches of the solar system could outdo this 1993 classic.

James is a feature contributor for The Mega Man Network 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.