In the last 25 Years of NES I gushed about how Mega Man 2 is nearly perfect. With that in mind I start with this premise; Mega Man 3 is better. Mega Man 2 was almost perfect, and there was no way that Mega Man 3 could match it in game play and expect to be considered as good. But Mega Man 3 does not attempt to match its predecessor. As good as Mega Man 2 is, Mega Man 3 attempts to expand upon it in nearly every. Fortunately, for Mega Man 3, and for the players, it succeeds as often as it fails.
MM3 maintains the perfectly tuned controls of MM2 with one change. It adds the slide. That is a fairly significant change. The slide gives Mega Man an added touch of mobility and allows for more intricate level design. Unlike the new move added to Mega Man 4, the charge shot, the slide actually enhances the game. Sliding makes Mega Man move faster, or at least appear to move faster, while not changing the baseline game play. The charge shot from 4 is the reason that Mega Man 3 will be the last Mega Man game to appear in my series of articles. Not that the later Mega Man games are terrible, but the charge shot changes the flow of game play significantly, and not for the better. Instead of the smooth run, jump and shoot game play of the first three games, where the special weapons are used throughout the level and not just against the bosses, in Mega Man 4 through 6 the game is stilted charge and wait with sub-weapons used only as boss beaters. Again, not terrible, but not the high quality of MMs 2&3. The slide, rather than a drastic change, merely allows for more intricate levels and greater movement. Though the level design does not really pan out, as the levels in three are not really improved, but they also are not weaker. The slide is necessary because without something different the levels could not be as good two’s levels. Mega Man 2 had already taken that move set as far as it could go.
Another more minor change is the greater fleshing out of Mega Man’s world. Instead of the generic “Items” from 2, 3 has Rush, Mega Man’s faithful robot dog. Rush transforms into the Rush Jet that, like Item-2 from MM2, allows Mega Man to fly through the stage. There’s also the Rush coil, a spring that catapults Mega Man to great heights. And the largely useless Rush Marine, an underwater rush jet that is usefully at most twice. Rush is not greatly different from MM2’s Items, it is a more colorful, memorable version. The other addition to the Mega Man Universe is Proto Man, the scarf and shades wearing mysterious rival to the protagonist. Sure, he’s just Racer-X from Speed Racer, right down to secretly being Mega Man’s brother. Proto Man shows up in several levels to impede or assist Mega Man’s progress. (Incidentally Proto Man is much more awesome than the X series Zero) Plus, before you fight him, Proto Man gets his own awesome whistling theme song. While the story and its twists will never be a reason for playing Mega Man (hint Dr. Wily is behind it. Always) the mystery of Proto Man is a welcome addition to Mega Man’s world.
As far as Robot Masters go, Mega Man 3 is somewhat weaker than it is predecessor. Sure, there is Shadow Man, Gemini Man and Magnet Man, who are all interesting enough. Plus Snake Man, one of the coolest bosses in the series. But there is also Needle Man and Hard Man, both whom are dick jokes. And the single lamest boss in Mega Man history: Top Man. Top Man doesn’t even give you a useful weapon. The only use for the Top Spin, other than a couple of specific enemies, is to get a look at the Blue Bomber’s paunch. Overall Mega Man 3’s bosses are good. They have mostly interesting levels and good sub-weapons. While they are not quite as good as Mega Man 2’s bosses, at least none of the weapons are as stupidly overpowered as the Metal Blades.
If the game would have simply went from its 8 bosses to Wily’s Castle, then it would have been a slight drop from MM2, but MM3 ups the ante. Before the castle, there are four more stages to beat. Each level has 2 of the eight bosses from 2, now in the body of the Doc Robots. But now the player must figure out their weaknesses with the weapons from 3 instead of those from 2. Later games in the series would attempt similar tricks to this, but having already seen it in 3 the shock of 4 more levels was just not there. With no great effect, the games just got 4 levels longer. But the Doc Robots in MM3 were a shocking new challenge before the final showdown with Wily.
Mega Man 3 succeeds by taking all that was good about its predecessor and giving the player more. Rush, Proto Man, Doc Robots, the slide. Mega Man 3 simply gives the player more than Mega Man 2 had. MM2 is a great game, and all things being equal MM3 could not be better. But things are not equal. MM3 has all that its predecessor had plus more. It is not quite excessive in its growth, but it does hit the tipping point. Mega Man 3 added all that could be added before the additions stopped improving the game and started muddling it. In fact, it slightly passes that point. Capcom was clearly running low on inspiration for bosses. (Hard Man, really?) The signs if the excesses and stagnation that would doom the rest of the series to mediocrity are present here, but MM3 just avoids those traps. It is a clear response to its predecessor. Mega Man 2 is about perfecting a limited skill set. Mega Man 3 is about adding all that they could to that skill set in an attempt to one up it. And it succeeds, barely.
images courtesy of the VG museum