Whatever you want to say about Capcom’s current state of disarray–and from what I hear, they’re pretty much being kept alive at the moment by Super Ultra Mega Street Fighter IV Championship Edition Turbo Calamity Burst A-Spec For Answer–Mega Man is a gaming institution. Through what seems like a million games, the Blue Bomber has been taking the powers of his rival robots since 1987, and hopefully he’ll one day do so again.
Given the Mega Man series’s place in gaming history, it’s hard to comprehend a time when there were only two games in the series, with the third installment eagerly awaited. Yet, because I’m an old man, I can confirm such a time existed, and it’s that third game in the series I’ll be talking about today.
Released in 1990 by Capcom, Mega Man 3 features Dr. Wily and Dr. Light working together at its onset. The two are jointly building Gamma, a peace-keeping robot. The problem is that eight Robot Masters have gone haywire and made off with a set of Power Crystals needed to make Gamma function. Mega Man, with his new canine companion, Rush, travels to the sectors the Masters oversee to get the Crystals back.
Of course, if you’re the slightest bit familiar with Mega Man, you know how this turns out in the end. Suffice to say that in 1990, the inevitable was a bit more shocking than it is nowadays. In any event, to take back the Crystals, Mega Man runs, jumps, and shoots his way through 8 levels of platforming action. But the Mega Man Formula, so to speak, sets the game apart from other platformers in a few ways. First, you can select any of the 8 starting levels to begin in. Additionally, defeating a Robot Master will give you their weapon, and sometimes a Rush item as well. This means that there’s a theoretically optimum sequence of levels to take, where each weapon does massive damage to the next Robot Master, Rock-Paper-Scissors style (Though in truth, it works out as two smaller mini-sequences than one large one).
Mega Man has a couple new tricks up his sleeve in this game. The first is the slide maneuver, which lets Mega Man fit into tight spaces, and allows him to move faster for a brief time. The second, Rush, is a natural extension of Mega Man 2’s numbered items. You start with the Rush Coil, which Mega Man can bounce high in the air off of. Beating certain Robot Masters will earn you the Rush Marine, which can travel underwater, and the Rush Jet, which can travel over air…and water, obsoleting the Rush Marine pretty quickly.
Questionable choices regarding Rush aside, this, in my opinion, is where the Mega Man series really starts finding its stride. For a long time, people called Mega Man 2 one of the best in the series, but MM2 has a few too many bad design choices (Hello Wily 4 boss) for my taste. Most of those are gone in Mega Man 3, which is good. Mega Man 3 also has some of the most original designs and stages in the series. Even when the familiar series tropes (Water level, fire level, etc) are used, the Robot Masters inside them aren’t your typical “Water Man”, “Hot Man”, etc. that you’d see in many of the other entries in the series–the fire level is occupied by “Shadow Man”, who is essentially a Ninja Robot Master. Likewise, the water level has “Gemini Man”, a robot who can clone himself and shoots lasers, as its Master.
When it came out, the game was derided for being too difficult. Truthfully, though, I regard it as one of the easiest games in the classic Mega Man series. E-Tanks, introduced in Mega Man 2, are more plentiful this time around, and you can hold up to 9 of them in your inventory. The slide maneuver also offers more options in terms of dodging and running from enemies. Finally, the game tends to slow down frequently, which gives you more time to react to things happening as a side effect.
Mega Man 3, once you can get to the point where you can beat it in one sitting, will probably take about an hour to do so. Of course, working your way to that point is most of the fun, and the game offers passwords so that you can continue with any Robot Masters already defeated.
Which you’ll want to do, in part because of the soundtrack. Like many of the Mega Man games, Mega Man 3’s soundtrack is phenomenal, with a lot of rock influence. In particular, the tracks at the end of the game carry on the feeling established in Mega Man 2, IE that you’re coming to kick butt and take names.
Mega Man 3 is, put simply, a platforming classic, and one of my favorite Mega Man games in either the original or the X series. I highly recommend playing it, either on NES, or on one of the numerous rereleases. The NES version came out on the Wii Virtual Console and the PlayStation Network, and an update featuring autofire and quick weapon switching (And removing the slowdown) came out as part of the Mega Man Anniversary Collection available on all 3 PS2-era systems. Whichever version you get, though, you won’t be disappointed.