For some reason, one of these old Mega Man games seem to be rereleased about every 6 months on the Playstation Store. These are Japanese releases of versions originally from the late 90’s on PSOne, and contain Japanese text and sub menus. This is a rerelease of a rerelease, the original Mega Man 4 debuted in 1991. Seriously, you can’t read the menus, they are in Japanese. If only there was a Google Translate for Playstation! If you press start enough times you’ll eventually make it to the game (alternatively you could buy Rosetta Stone or something but that seems like a costly alternative).
Anyways, this installment of the Mega Man series was notable because of the introduction of the Mega Buster, which allows for the famous charged-shot which eventually would be a signature of the series. Despite being memorable special effect in the game, the addition of the Mega Buster finally gives a base Mega Man some options. The upgrade is also infamously cited as being “game-breaking” in that the premise of the game, stealing the powers of defeated robot masters, is essentially mooted by the introduction of a more-powerful and unlimited use super-weapon.
Having played and celebrated Mega Man for something over 20 years, and having the appreciation for the base mechanics brought back by Capcom’s 2009 and later 8-bit remakes, I can definitely say that the criticism of the Mega Buster is actually spot on. The charge shot makes this game entirely too easy. Mega Man 4 is not as challenging as the earlier games in the series. I found myself rarely using special weapons in the game when I had a more reliable, higher damage causing weapon always at my disposal. Charging the shot to full power does not take that much time, receiving damage while charging doesn’t disrupt the charge, the projectile has a larger collision pattern, and finally it cleaves through multiple enemies in a straight line. It also generally does about as much damage to bosses as their special weapon weakness would, making a difficult weapon to use, like Skull Shield (Dive Man’s weakness) completely irrelevant. The charge shot is also, technically speaking, not original here either (you can charge Atomic Fire in Mega Man 2).
This is a pretty consistent style and quality with prior Mega Man games. There is a bit of a Russian style to the Dr. Cossack stages (obviously), which fits nicely, but generally the player is confronted with light-hearted anime enemies, catchy one minute and thirty second midi tunes. The best and brightest spot is actually the introduction video, which is the only Mega Man game to develop Mega Man’s origins and reinforce some themes seen in earlier games. From the beginning video we get that Mega Man is not a combat robot and, perhaps somewhat reluctantly it seems, volunteered to don his famous blue armor. Maybe this explains why he’s screaming in every little jump.? The game also begins as it ends, with Mega Man riding on a train. The attempt here is to show that the character is pure of heart, and although he’s maybe not that confident, he’s willing to dig in. Each journey out into the world against a new batch of jacked up robots ends with him preferring to go home to his quiet place in the country. Although the changing seasons at the end of Mega Man 2 might be a little more sentimental, the use of the train as a metaphor for the journey of Mega Man, and the player is ingenious. It’s been used before, but is best executed in this game. The music and lighting effects in this brief little cutscene develop the game’s conflict, explain prior installments concisely (not that there was much of a story to rehash), and effectively build up tension needed to make the player get ready for the next adventure.
Levels have a formulaic feel. Unlike prior installments, the game never seems to suffer from a framerate reduction as a result of too many sprites. I suspect this is due to the fact that certain areas where there are lot of moving items (running currents in Toad Man’s stage for example), also have no backgrounds. Although the quality of levels and pixel art and animation are roughly consistent with earlier games, it also shows the lack of progression in the development team. There’s just nothing ambitious here, although there are neat gimmicks in most of the levels (lights out in Bright Man’s stage, heavy rain in Toad Man’s stage, quick sand in Pharoah Man’s stage). There are pretty much all new enemies, although all have similar roles to ones we’ve seen before. There is your typical big stomper-guy, and other propeller enemies. I did not feel like there was a greater than normal number of new encounters, but then again it’s following a formula. The second appearance of a giant Metaur also seems derivative following a very similar boss in Mega Man 3.
This is maybe the 20th time I’ve played through this game, but perhaps the first time that I noticed it is considerably easier than Mega Man 1,2, or 3. Although there are the occasional cheap kills waiting over bottomless pits (definitely guilty in Dust Man’s stage where you have no prior warning), most of the enemies don’t seem to do a lot of damage and can’t stand up against the Mega Buster. There are, of course, 8 special weapons retrieved from each robot master stage. The problem here is that most of the weapons aren’t that useful compared to the a charged Mega Buster shot. I found myself using the special weapons very rarely. Of course, a bunch of the stronger enemies don’t seem to have enough life as they did in prior installments either, so perhaps the difficulty problem isn’t just related to charging up.
It’s not that the charged-shot isn’t a good base premise for a game mechanic. That’s not really an accurate statement. It COULD be really good, provided the game was developed around it. Perhaps special enemies would require combo shots, where a charged shot would open up a vulnerability that would require you to use a different weapon or salvo of normal shots to finish. Mega Man gets a big bump up in this installment, but the world of Dr. Wily and friends does not.
I think all the criticism of this game mechanic could be effectively elimination with some reasonable balancing adjustments. For example, make the charge reservoir take longer to fill, make it so you lose the charge when you suffer damage, and make the bosses generally more resistant to the charge shots damage. A few simple tweaks could eliminate a lot of concern here. The glowing graphic, sound effect, and animation of the buster shot are good. Perhaps too good.
I find the notion that these old games are being released without translation, from a prior rerelease, one at a time for $9.99. Perhaps Capcom realized it could have made a lot more money if it hadn’t released the Mega Man Anniversary Collection (all 8 of the first games on PS2 disk) about five years earlier. Although I still consider it fun to go and waste an hour playing through these old adventures every once in awhile, I can start to see where things went wrong with this series. Hopefully Capcom will get back on track before it’s too late.