The year 1987 saw the debut of Mega Man. Made by Capcom, this game only proved to be a modest hit. Nonetheless, director Akira Kitamura and his team found much potential in what they created, and sought to make a sequel. Capcom’s executive branch permitted them to work on it under the condition that they contributed to other projects at the same time. To see this project to completion, the team had to regularly work twenty-hour days for four months. Although Keiji Inafune, one of game’s original artists, described the process as daunting, he also considered it the single greatest period of his tenure working for Capcom. The care and attention they put into the game paid off when, to everyone’s surprise, Mega Man 2 sold well both domestically and internationally. With a clear triumph in the console market, Capcom began working on a sequel in 1989. However, the team faced a significant setback during the planning phase when Akira Kitamura resigned from Capcom. He would soon join the developer Takeru wherein he directed a game highly similar to Mega Man known as Cocoron before leaving the industry in the early 1990s.
Not willing to let the series come to an end, Capcom assigned Masahiko Kurokawa, a man who had proven his skills on other projects, to direct the newest Mega Man installment. Creative differences between him and Mr. Kitamura’s former teammates resulted in a troubled production cycle. The immense frustration led Mr. Kurokawa to leave the team before the game was finished. With the project quickly falling behind schedule, Mr. Inafune stepped up to salvage what they had completed before the deadline. Realizing his own lack of experience helming a project, he recruited Yoshinori Takenaka, who had designed Capcom’s adaptation of the popular Disney animated show DuckTales, for assistance.
Soldiering on through, Mr. Inafune and his team completed the game, which was released domestically in 1990. Named Rockman 3: The End of Dr. Wily!?, Mr. Inafune would regard this particular installment his least favorite entry in the series. Even if he and his team were able to get the game released on time, they had to leave many ideas on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, the game was met with a positive reception; some regard it to this day as the series’ definitive entry. After it was exported to the West under the name Mega Man 3, the game went on to sell over one-million copies worldwide. In defiance of Mr. Inafune’s negative feelings about the game, does Mega Man 3 stand as one of the series’ highlights?
Analyzing the Experience
Twice in the twenty-first century has the nefarious Dr. Wily attempted to take over the world. First, he seized control of six robots created by his rival, Dr. Light. However, his plans were foiled when Dr. Light converted one of his first robots, Rock, into a fighter. Renamed Mega Man, Rock was able to stop Dr. Wily’s plans and rescue Dr. Light’s six robots. Undeterred, Dr. Wily created eight robots of his own in his second attempt at world domination. Mega Man then came to the world’s aid and foiled Dr. Wily once again.
Having twice tasted defeat, Dr. Wily decides to reform, working with Dr. Light on a peacekeeping robot they name Gamma. Eight Robot Masters are sent to mine power crystals intended for Gamma to use. However, upon arriving at their respective sites, the robots go berserk. Mega Man is thus called into action, tasked with retrieving the power crystals. He may not find this task so easy, as a mysterious foe with abilities similar to his own takes an interest in this quest.
Mega Man 3 retains the same basic gameplay its predecessors established, providing an experience with an equal emphasis on platforming and action. One of the most significant changes can be observed within seconds of starting the game. When the original Mega Man was being conceived, the designers consciously decided against giving the title character the ability to crouch, reasoning that it would be too difficult for players to gauge the exact level of the arm cannon’s volleys if they did. Mega Man 3 doesn’t exactly gain the ability to crouch, but one can cause him to perform a new maneuver by going through similar motions.
Specifically, by holding down on the directional pad and pressing the “A” button, the player can make Mega Man perform a short slide. While this doesn’t sound too exciting, it vastly increases the title character’s maneuverability. He can use this to navigate smaller passageways in a manner not unlike Samus Aran’s Morph Ball ability. If he does this, the slide lasts until he reaches a place where he can stand normally. Until that moment occurs, you can move him back and forth. You will also find yourself taking advantage of this newfound ability when fighting enemies that have a tendency to jump frequently. In these cases, you can only reasonably dodge the enemy attacks by sliding underneath them; jumping runs the risk of colliding into them.
Another significant change is that this time, Mega Man is not alone in his journey. Joining him is a robotic dog built by Dr. Light named Rush. He manages to unintentionally maintain the musical motif of the series’ main characters, for he shares a name with a famous Canadian progressive rock band. His role in gameplay is highly similar to the Magnet Beam and the Items. In other words, he provides helpful utility functions to help Mega Man access areas otherwise out of reach. As soon as the game begins, you can access his first function, the Rush Coil, as you would a normal weapon. He acts as a springboard, which propels Mega Man high into the air.
Upon clearing two specific stages, Rush gains two more functions. The first of which is the Rush Marine. As far as platforming protagonists go, Mega Man is notable in that he cannot swim, sinking like a stone in water. Like many of his contemporaries, he doesn’t run the risk of drowning, but rather than giving him the ability to swim, water causes his jumps to last as long as the player holds the “A” button. The Rush Marine allows him to properly navigate underwater areas. The second function is the Rush Jet. As is implied by its name, Mega Man’s robotic dog takes the form of a jet in this mode, giving him full maneuverability in the air. Like a standard weapon and the Items that preceded them, Rush’s utilities have their own energy gauge. The Rush Coil requires drains energy every time Mega Man launches himself from it. Meanwhile, the Rush Marine and the Rush Jet burn energy while in use.
Mega Man 2 stood out from its direct predecessor because while all of the Robot Masters possessed weaknesses to the others’ attacks, the weapons themselves had a bit more versatility. That is to say, one could use a single weapon against multiple bosses to a degree of effectiveness. The Metal Blade in particular was prized for being effective against no less than four other Robot Masters – including the one from which Mega Man received the weapon in the first place.
Mega Man 3 scales things back a bit by having each boss possess a single weakness. However, there is a catch. The eight Robot Masters of Mega Man 3 are Needle Man, Magnet Man, Gemini Man, Hard Man, Top Man, Snake Man, Spark Man, and Shadow Man. Needle Man’s Needle Cannon is Snake Man’s weakness. Snake Man’s weapon, the Search Snake wreaks havoc against a Robot Master able to clone himself such as Gemini Man. Gemini Man’s Gemini Laser is then provides Needle Man’s weakness. Meanwhile, Hard Man, being composed of tough metal, is naturally weak to Magnet Man’s Magnet Missile. The Hard Knuckle obtained from him is thus a logical choice to take out a Robot Master that spins such as Top Man. The ninja-like Shadow Man is, in turn, highly vulnerable to Top Man’s Top Spin. Spark Man, being an electric-based Robot Master, would naturally shy away from anything sharp enough to sever a wire such as Shadow Man’s Shadow Blade. Finally, bringing things full circle, the electricity generated by Spark Man’s Spark Shock would confuse Magnet Man’s control over magnetism.
When examining the weaknesses in terms of the classic game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, the astute reader will have noticed something off; these Robot Masters form two distinct circles. What effect does this have on the gameplay? It subtly makes the experience a little more difficult than its direct predecessor. This is because in the first two games, you only needed to defeat a single Robot Master to break into the lineup. In Mega Man 3, you are required to defeat at least two Robot Masters without their weaknesses because two such circles exist. The Robot Masters aren’t that much more difficult than those from Mega Man 2, but being required to fight two of them armed with only the Mega Buster does tell returning players not to get complacent just because they cleared the first two games.
Although Mega Man 3 well-received, a few players felt the game was a significant step down from its predecessor. One of the most common complaints concerned the lineup of Robot Masters along with the weapons they provided – Top Man being a particular point of contention. While Mega Man 2 featured the decidedly unwieldy Bubble Lead, the Top Spin is frequently derided as the worst weapon in the series. The weapon causes Mega Man to spin in midair. No weapon before the Top Spin required Mega Man to collide with his target, and the hit detection when using it isn’t always consistent. That it’s the weakness of Shadow Man, one of the more difficult bosses in the game, only rubs salt on the wound.
It also doesn’t help that Top Man’s stage barely has anything to do with his theme. While every other Robot Master has a stage that, in some way incorporates their gimmick, his takes place in what appears to be a generic greenhouse. As it turns out, the original concept for his stage was erased when an employee accidentally tripped over a cord. Coupled with the strict deadline the team faced, they had to quickly redesign the stage entirely from scratch.
Although I do have to admit the Robot Master lineup from Mega Man 3 isn’t as memorable as those of the previous two installments, the designs are still interesting enough that it doesn’t feel as though they’re going through the same exact motions. Given that, within the first two games, the Robot Master designs had already exhausted the four classical elements, the team realized they needed to accept creative entries in any subsequent set. For the most part they succeeded; there weren’t many robot ninjas roaming around before someone came up with Shadow Man, after all. Magnet Man’s very concept would seem to be a contradiction given that magnets and electronics generally don’t mix, but the team found a way to make the gimmick work. Arguably the most standout design would have to be Gemini Man, who, as mentioned before, has the ability to clone himself, thereby alluding to his namesake constellation.
What I instead believe to be a more substantive problem with Mega Man 3 concerns its unpolished nature. To be clear, the final product is by no means unplayable, but there is much evidence the team had to cut corners as the deadline loomed over their heads. Upon defeating the eight Robot Masters, creations known as Doc Robots take up residence in the stages of Spark Man, Needle Man, Gemini Man, and Shadow Man. Two Doc Robots are fought in these stages: one at the halfway point and the other at the end. They are programmed with the artificial intelligence of each Robot Master from Mega Man 2 and even possess the same attacks.
Many people take umbrage with this development because it forces them to replay four stages. I can understand where these detractors come from, as reusing stages and making them slightly more difficult was one of the problems I had with the original Super Mario Bros. In a series that had historically provided players with unique challenges in each stage, this was uncharacteristic. However, I also give the team a lot of credit for changing enough aspects of these stages that they don’t entirely come across as carbon copies of their original incarnations. Needle Man’s stage in particular is borderline unrecognizable, featuring a portion in which you must use the Rush Jet over a large gap. In doing so, the game turns into a shoot ‘em up, thus giving it a level of variety that was highly rare at the time.
I also like the idea of the Doc Robots itself because it encourages players to think outside of the box. While a savvy enthusiast going through Mega Man 3 could have deduced every single one of the Robot Masters’ weaknesses in relation to each other, the Doc Robots demands they apply what they learned to a completely different set of challenges. Indeed, the prospect of facing Quick Man without the Time Stopper is rather frightening – especially when the Doc Robot is much larger and more durable. Nonetheless, it is impossible to have reached this point without acquiring the appropriate weapon, so even if a little experimentation is in order, one shouldn’t find themselves second-guessing whether or not they chose the correct stage.
As interesting as the idea is, it does fall short in a number of ways. One gets the sense that the developers simply gave each Doc Robot a Robot Master skillset without actually balancing them in any way. Although the slide does admittedly make certain encounters – most notably Air Man’s – easier, they do not account for the large size of the Doc Robots. In three fights, their attacks are capable of shaving off a little more than one-fourth of Mega Man’s total energy. Elec Man and Ice Man from the original game managed to be even more powerful, but their small size and the corresponding damage they took from their own weaknesses acted as effective counterbalances. In Mega Man 3, you have to contend with bosses that have all the maneuverability of a Robot Master and the damage output of a Wily fortress boss. On the other hand, the game does show mercy in that you can hold more energy tanks and, unlike in Mega Man 2, they are preserved through passwords. That the team managed to implement this feature without overcomplicating the password algorithm is truly remarkable.
For that matter, even if I praised the team for not completely reusing their stage designs, revisiting them does make for a repetitive experience. The only stage exempt from this is the aforementioned retooled version of Needle Man’s stage. Even then, the shoot ‘em up section with the Rush Jet suffers from a glaring execution issue. If you lose a life in this portion, you are better off restarting, for you will not have enough energy to make it to the end of the stage. It is reliant on fixed weapon energy capsules to help you make it to the end, which don’t respawn with each death. Combined with the fact that any potential capsule would likely tumble into the abyss, and you have yourself a nigh-unwinnable situation.
It’s also easy to get the feeling that these revisited stages are overcrowded. In order to reach a checkpoint in any of them, you must defeat the first Doc Robot. If you lose to it, you must start the stage from the beginning. The design team originally intended for all eight stages to be revisited with a different Doc Robot encounter awaiting players at the end of each one. Considering what a different experience Needle Man’s stage becomes upon revisiting it, it’s easy to conclude time constraints prevented the team from giving the remaining three a similar treatment. It’s a shame because the gimmicks within each stage are certainly unique enough to get a warrant using them a second time. Seeing what kind of inventive spins they had for the remaining stages would have been interesting.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the endgame of Mega Man 3 isn’t nearly as exciting as that of its predecessor. It turns out that Dr. Wily was lying about having reformed. Once Mega Man retrieves the final crystal, the mad scientist makes off with Gamma. It is then up to Mega Man to infiltrate Dr. Wily’s new castle and foil his plans once more. Everything about Mega Man’s storming of Dr. Wily’s castle in the second game was executed flawlessly. It was a marked step up in difficulty from the Robot Master stages, had incredible, fast-paced music, and featured several challenging bosses.
The final stages of Mega Man 3 don’t successfully replicate this feeling due to their low difficulty. The first three stages have some inventive quirks to them, but the latter three primarily consist of boss fights. It’s to the point where the revisited stages actually present more of a challenge – if only because of their dubious checkpoint placement. Even then, none of the stages are particularly long. If you were good enough to reach Dr. Wily’s castle, completing the stages within is merely a formality. As a coda to the game’s anticlimactic nature, Gamma, the final boss, can be defeated in a single hit using the Top Spin.
However, I relent that even if the endgame does have its problems, it does come with a legitimately interesting twist. Throughout the game, Mega Man fights a mysterious foe – his appearances signified with a distinct whistle. Upon defeat, he disappears just as quickly. Strangely, this foe ends up helping Mega Man as well, opening up passageways he wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. When Mega Man defeats Dr. Wily, the castle collapses, trapping both of them under debris. The heroic robot then awakens in Dr. Light’s laboratory with no recollection of what happened after battling Gamma. At that exact moment, the mysterious character’s whistle is heard.
It is revealed to the player that this character is Proto Man. Dr. Light created him with a single purpose: to create the first robotic lifeform capable of independent thought. As a prototype robot, he managed to exceed his creator’s expectations, but his energy core would eventually cause him to cease functioning entirely. Dr. Light sought to repair him, but Proto Man fled, believing the procedure could permanently alter his personality. The doctor assumed he had died, and promised not to make the same mistakes when designing the energy cores of Rock and Roll.
After wandering the world, Proto Man collapsed once his reactor had been depleted. The person who found him was none other than Dr. Wily. He repaired Proto Man’s core by replacing it with a nuclear reactor. In the process, Proto Man was converted into a combat robot. Ever since, a grateful Proto Man had been in Dr. Wily’s employ. However, upon encountering Mega Man, he eventually realizes the doctor’s true nature. This culminates in him rescuing his younger brother from Wily’s collapsing castle.
The Mega Man games hadn’t been driven by their story, yet I do enjoy this development for adding a level of intrigue to the proceedings. It is for having a surprisingly interesting arc that Proto Man immediately cemented himself as one of the most popular characters in the series. It’s a great example of what you can accomplish with storytelling in this medium using action beats alone.
Drawing a Conclusion
Playing Mega Man 3 with knowledge of what could have been is a little bittersweet. On one hand, it is incredible that the game turned out as well as it did. Whenever creators clash behind the scenes, it’s a miracle if the finished product isn’t a complete mess. Conversely, it is very possible to play Mega Man 3 and have no idea of the myriad problems Mr. Inafune and his team encountered. This is especially true when you consider games significantly worse than Mega Man 3, such as the NES edition of Dragon’s Lair, had no such excuse for turning out the way they did. However, when one is told that the development cycle of Mega Man 3 had been rushed, the kinks in the game’s metaphorical armor begin to show. It’s about as far away from unplayable as one can get given the circumstances, but one cannot escape the conclusion that, as well as Mega Man 3 turned out, it could have been even better.
In the end, Mega Man 3 was not able to live up to its superior predecessor. What it must instead settle for is being a solid game in its own right that is still worth playing. It is a true testament to the talent of Mr. Inafune and his team that what they considered a half-finished product still manages to outshine many other developers at their best. The game’s lack of polish does prevent it from achieving its true potential, but the great ideas still prevail over the half-formed ones, providing the series the momentum it needed to both remain fresh and help pave the way for other classic platformers along with its direct predecessor.
Final Score: 7/10