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 reviewing Mega Man V, which perfected much of the groundwork laid down by its predecessor while also breaking new ground in a variety of areas.
Mega Man V is my all-time favorite Mega Man game and one of the best installments of the series, period. Capcom and Minakuchi Engineering put a lot of love into this game, tried a lot of new concepts and perfected the art of level design in this monochrome classic. By now, most fans know that the normal formula for the Game Boy sub-series of utilizing two different NES installment's Robot Masters was replaced with brand-new Stardroid robots and settings. The regular Mega Buster is also dropped for the new Mega Arm, which can be upgraded at Dr. Light's lab. Beat is also replaced with fan favorite and series curio Tango, who serves as an adorable but totally nerfed, land-based version of the blue attack bird. The Power Accelerator from MMIV makes a comeback, as does the half-block kick back from the Mega Buster (during the opening cut-scene).
To say I am a little biased toward this game is an understatement. While I have been able to get past the nostalgia I have for Mega Man 4 and 5, I can in no way shake my absolute love for this game. The story and setting is the most original in the Classic series. A number of cut-scenes throughout the game keep the story going, from the first four terrestrial levels to the journey into space to the revelation of Dr. Wily's involvement to the final battle with the ancient Sunstar.
The process of pushing the Game Boy to new limits continues with MMV. The graphics maintain the same level of detail as Mega Man IV, with Mega Man venturing through locales from Venus' bubble-ridden halls to Saturn's gravity-defying ruins to the mines of Pluto. The brand-new music for the game is as great as it is varied. From Neptune's melancholy tune to Jupiter's bouncy beat to the awesome final battle track, the Game Boy's simple sound chip was pushed harder than anything else in 1994. This is also the only game in the series to utilize the Super Game Boy, a great addition that added a (limited) color variety to the mix, along with allowing players to use the SNES controller and play on their television screens.
The levels themselves are well-designed and are fairly varied. Despite substituting thematic Robot Masters for more vague Stardroids, the levels themselves tend to maintain a clear theme, even if it sometimes is inexplicable. Mars' level takes place in an armory, Jupiter has an ice-covered space fortress and Pluto has a mine. While MMV could have had levels with stronger or more consistent themes and gimmicks, cutting the game some slack seems sensible given the uncharted territory of the bosses and the overall plot. MMV also carries over the practice of secret rooms that hold power-ups and branching paths-- most curiously in Jupiter's level. Moreover, the levels of MMV are well-designed for the smallscreen and the inclusion of the Mega Arm.
The Mega Arm is the single most important new gameplay element introduced in Mega Man V. This is no understatement, as it changes the gameplay in three important ways. The first is that its purchasable upgrades makes Dr. Light's Shop relevant in a way that no other upgrade could. Players who know what they're doing will make the purchase of the Clobber Hand and Magnet Hand top priorities as they slug through the levels. The second is that those upgrades allow the player to engage enemies that are all over the screen-- not just those that share the same x-axis as the Mega Buster-- an important change in a game that frequently puts players in tough platforming situations with flying enemies (Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter's levels being chief offenders).
The third is that by having the charged Mega Arm blast meaning a detachment of Mega Man's arm, the player trades power for temporary vulnerability-- not unlike the 1/2 block recoil trade-off from the charged Mega Buster shot in MMIV, but it also has additional implications. The temporary vulnerability that comes with launching the Mega Arm is used against the player in various parts of the game, such as during the fight with Saturn, when time is slowed down by Fooley, or when the Mega Arm launches after the wrong enemy or stays on a foe (or boss) for longer than you wanted.
Mega Man's selection of acquired weapons in MMV is just as interesting as the rest of the game. Mercury's Grab Buster is incredibly useful, allowing Mega Man to steal life and weapon energy from enemies as it kills them. Venus' Bubble Bomb travels in a weird arc and floats along ceilings (useful against the multitude of airborne enemies in this game), Mars' Photon Missile is powerful but fires on delay, Neptune's Salt Water is a blob thrown on a downward arc that splashes and hurts enemies (weird). Jupiter's Electric Shock is a short-range weapon that makes the player immovable and Saturn's Black Hole is the requisite full-screen attack that sucks enemies toward the player before killing them. Uranus' Deep Digger is a monochrome version of Guts Man's Super Arm, Pluto's Break Dash is a somewhat cooler version of Charge Man's Charge Kick (both of which can destroy certain blocks, opening up different passages in later levels), and Terra's Spark Chaser is an awesome homing weapon that attacks most enemies until they're all dead.
Perhaps the best part of Mega Man V is the amount of care put in to making it both an extended shout-out to the fans while being the concluding game in the Game Boy sub-series. Observant folks will notice that the Mega Buster still has its recoil from MMIV when the Blue Bomber tries to fight Terra in the opening cut-scene (and that Sunstar shoots Power Accelerator-enhanced Mega Buster shots from MMIV). Fans of the series finally face-off against a portable version of the Yellow Devil with the mid-game fight against Dark Moon, the series has its first fully SHMUP-style level with the journey in the Rush Space adapter toward the Skull Blazer, and the Mega Man Killers plus Quint make a comeback as mini-bosses during the very, very long Wily Star level. In the end, the player is rewarded with the very first final battle against someone other than Dr. Wily.
As I've said, I am hopelessly biased when it comes to Mega Man V. It was the first Game Boy game I ever owned, and it was pretty much a permanent fixture in my Super Game Boy for the summer of 1995. Over the subsequent eighteen years, a lot has changed–- Pluto isn't a planet anymore, Mario and Sonic are in video games together, dragonfire.net is long gone, I've been to places that resemble other worlds and a thousand other things have happened–- but this game is still just as enjoyable as it was when I considered Calvin & Hobbes fine literature.
Does Mega Man V have problems? Sure. But I will always overlook them. When I play Mega Man V, I am in gaming bliss and it is perpetually summer of 1995. And almost 18 years later, it still feels that way every time I go to save the four-color world from the evil Stardroids.
James is a feature contributor for The Mega Man Network and a 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. James desperately wants a hack of MMV that unlocks the debug menu at least, and if you still questioned his love for this game (or if you need a password for any part of the game), check this out.
The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.