Mega Man 5 continued the success of Capcom’s best-selling franchise despite having been released two years after the release of the Super Famicom (SNES). Shortly thereafter, Capcom announced a sequel, which would be developed concurrently with a highly anticipated SNES entry. The game saw its domestic release in late 1993 under the name Rockman 6: The Greatest Battle in History!!
However, as the game came out when the fourth console generation was in full swing, the Famicom (NES) began to show its age, and Capcom decided against exporting it. This was a problem, as the monthly publication Nintendo Power had held a contest for its readers to design a new set of Robot Masters. While this had been standard practice since Mega Man 2, Mega Man 6 would include two Robot Masters designed by North American fans – Daniel Vallée and Michael Leader. To have North American fans participate in the contest for a game they wouldn’t get to play was unacceptable, so Nintendo stepped in and published it abroad. The game was released in North America in 1994 simply titled Mega Man 6. Due to the NES having far less presence in Europe, fans from that region wouldn’t see an official release for another nineteen years when it debuted on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2013. Mega Man 6 would be the final game in the series to debut on the aging NES. Was the game able to end its run on its debut platform on a high note?
Analyzing the Experience
Shortly after Mega Man cleared the name of his secret brother, Proto Man, the Global Robot Alliance was formed. To commemorate the organization’s founding, they decided to hold the first of what would be an annual tournament to determine the world’s strongest peacekeeping robot. The tournament was conceived by a man named Mr. X – the leader of the enigmatic X Foundation.
Many strong robots from all over the world are entered into the tournament. As a pacifist, Dr. Thomas Light opts not to enter the competition, though he sends Mega Man to supervise it. Suddenly, just before the event begins, Mr. X announces his true intentions. Having reprogrammed eight of the strongest combatants, he intends to use them to take over the world. A furious Mega Man demands answers out of Mr. X. The tournament’s benefactor reveals that he had been manipulating Dr. Wily from the very beginning; he is the true mastermind behind the mad scientist’s machinations. Realizing the world is in danger yet again, Mega Man and Rush set forth on a new journey to stop Mr. X.
Keiji Inafune, one of the most significant figures behind the series, noted that it was very rare for a video game franchise to have six entries. While a few series had several entries to their name, what made Mega Man stand out was that they all debuted on the same console. Unlike other popular series such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania, Mega Man quickly established a formula and stuck to it. This is particularly apparent when you consider the eponymous character had the exact same sprites in Mega Man as he does in Mega Man 6. Despite minor technical improvements allowing for more dynamic backgrounds, tighter physics, and improved sprite animations, the gameplay remained exactly the same across all six installments.
Although it was admirable that Mr. Inafune and his teams created six distinct entries, their unwillingness to change things up eventually caused the series to stagnate. Mega Man 4 is a common benchmark for the series’ stagnation because, while the three games leading up to it attempted to top their direct predecessors in some way, that entry felt distinctly less ambitious with a weak Robot Master lineup and an overall dull level design. Its only real contribution was introducing the concept of a fake villain to temporarily stand in for Dr. Wily. In practice, this change only succeeded in stretching out the endgame, and enthusiasts quickly accepted that Dr. Wily would always be the villain no matter how many curveballs the developers pitched.
However, as predictable as these sequels were, I got the sense that Capcom was trying their best to provide quality experiences with each project. I no longer felt that to be the case with Mega Man 6, and for proof, one need not look further than Mr. X’s concept art.
Mr. X is just Dr. Wily wearing a fake beard, sunglasses, and an overcoat. This does lend some ironic credence to Mr. X’s claim that he was manipulating Dr. Wily all along, but it’s no less annoying when Mega Man storms his compound only for him to retreat to his real lair. Granted, the development obviously isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but it indicates to me that the development team wasn’t trying at this point.
Things don’t get much better when you’re looking over the level design either. The eight robots competing in the tournament Mega Man must now face are: Blizzard Man, Centaur Man, Flame Man, Knight Man, Plant Man, Tomahawk Man, Wind Man, and Yamato Man. While Mega Man 5 at least tried to introduce several inventive gimmicks for its levels, Mega Man 6 doesn’t follow suit. Chances are that if you’ve played every entry up until this point, you have seen these ideas implemented far more competently. After the memorable, acrophobic designs of Air Man and Gyro Man’s stages, Wind Man’s feels highly redundant. Similarly, Knight Man’s stage is content recycling the descending ceiling from Dust Man’s stage – albeit lined with spikes this time.
The only stage I felt managed to successfully use a tried-and-true theme in an inventive fashion would be Flame Man’s. His stage involves navigating an oil field while dealing with enemies capable of shooting fire. If it touches the oil, it ignites. The oil significantly hinders Mega Man’s movements, but the fire produced by its burning defeats him outright. This means going through Flame Man’s stage is surprisingly tense because you’re constantly worrying about the possibility of a surface being rendered unsafe. Whenever a flame-spewing enemy appears, your first instinct is to reach for the fire button and hope you can destroy it first. It is the best-designed stage in the game, which makes it a shame the others fail to maintain this level of quality.
I think what caused problems for the team is that many of these Robot Masters don’t lend themselves to any obvious design choices. Looking over the Robot Master lineup of Mega Man 6 reveals two distinct themes. Plant Man, Flame Man, Wind Man, and Blizzard Man all correspond to the classical four elements. Meanwhile, Tomahawk Man, Knight Man, Centaur Man, and Yamato Man draw upon warrior archetypes – Native Americans, the European warriors of old, Greek mythology, and samurai respectively. The classical elements were used throughout the series because they would be a natural fit for whatever design gimmicks the team came up with. The themes of Plant Man, Blizzard Man, and Wind Man’s stages may be obvious, but having a Robot Master’s theme tie into the level design is what makes them memorable.
This design philosophy doesn’t work as well for the Robot Masters based off of warriors. One would not get from a first glance that Centaur Man’s lair is in the obligatory water level. Admittedly, the stage design does evoke the mythical lost city of Atlantis, which does complement the concept of the centaur, as both originated in Greek mythology. The same doesn’t hold true for the remaining three Robot Masters. The stages of Knight Man, Tomahawk Man, and Yamato Man have Mega Man exploring a medieval, European castle, the Wild West, and a Japanese fortress respectively. While the backdrops are certainly impressive, especially for the NES, they don’t provide any challenges directly relating to the Robot Masters’ designs save for a selection of unique enemies. Considering that the previous teams were able to incorporate themes of Robot Masters such as Quick Man and Gravity Man in creative ways, this is a bit disappointing.
Now, to be completely fair, dismissing Mega Man 6 entirely wouldn’t do the game justice. Regardless of how one feels about Mega Man 6 in relation to its direct predecessor, I don’t think it can be contested that it has a better set of Robot Master weapons. Retrospectives often say Mega Man 5 has the worst Robot Master arsenal. This is an accurate assessment, as precisely one weapon wasn’t useless or overly situational: the Gyro Attack. It was to the point where you were better off using the standard Mega Buster against Robot Masters as opposed to their actual weaknesses, which defeated the purpose of getting them in the first place.
While Mega Man never gets a weapon as impressive as the Metal Blades or the Pharaoh Shot in his sixth adventure, these weapons are markedly handier. The Silver Tomahawk and the Knight Crush in particular are not only useful for targeting enemies at higher elevations, they also ignore certain enemies’ shielding. Every single one of them is capable of damaging four of the Robot Masters. Half of them can damage all eight. This means if you find a weapon you particularly like, chances are you can rely on it to get you through the entire game. Coupled with the surprising durability of the average Robot Master, and you will find exploiting their weaknesses is a necessary tactic once again.
The only real exception would be Plant Man’s Plant Barrier. Plant Man himself is a popular pick for the worst Robot Master in the series due to his terrible design, but the weapon manages to eclipse even that dubious honor. Imagine a weapon with the Skull Barrier’s fragility and the Rain Flush’s exorbitant energy consumption, and you’ve got the Plant Barrier in a nutshell. Not helping matters are annoying springs littered throughout the stage that often propel Mega Man into deadly spikes. The sheer difficulty of his stage belies the fact that Plant Man himself is pathetically easy, having a predictable pattern capable of being exploited. As it is, his only redeeming quality is his stage’s excellent background music.
Mega Man 6 also sees fit to introduce the Energy Balancer. This device, once obtained, distributes excess weapon energy to the one that needs it the most. While not terribly flashy, the Energy Balancer was something the series needed from the very beginning. It ensures that you don’t have to awkwardly switch weapons whenever you find a pickup. Indeed, by decreasing the number of times you must open the menu, the Energy Balancer allows the game to progress at a much faster pace. There is really no reason to avoid picking it up because, unless you need to charge a specific weapon, it is always useful.
Otherwise, the most substantial innovation Mega Man 6 brings to the table would be the Rush Adapters. Up until now, Mega Man’s robotic dog partner had provided him with utility purposes, transforming into a coil, jet, or submarine depending on what the situation warranted. With the Rush Adapters, Mega Man 6 puts a different spin on this concept. By defeating Plant Man and Flame Man, Mega Man obtains two such adapters. They both allow Rush to combine with Mega Man, unlocking two new forms: Jet Mega Man and Power Mega Man.
By holding down the “A” button, Jet Mega Man can fly for a limited time. It recharges automatically when he is on the ground. As a tradeoff, he can neither charge the Mega Buster, nor side in this form.
Power Mega Man trades the Mega Buster for powerful punches. They are charged by holding the “B” button for a slightly shorter length than for the charged Mega Buster shots. These punches are capable of breaking cracked blocks, allowing Mega Man to access secret areas. It can also be used to destroy enemies that are otherwise invulnerable.
Both of these adapters are highly useful and address a minor issue the series always had. Previous installments would force players to use Robot Master weapons to circumvent obstacles. While it did encourage players to think outside of the box, it could be frustrating if the weapon you needed at a particular moment was completely drained. It required defeating enough enemies to farm weapon energy capsules, which was a rather time consuming process. If you were really desperate, you could deplete all of your lives, which would recharge all of the weapons, but it still wasted time. With the Rush Adapters, the moments forcing Mega Man to use a weapon to progress are significantly streamlined because both effectively have infinite energy.
They are also required if you intend to assemble Beat in this game. Although Beat isn’t as powerful as he was in Mega Man 5, he can still be a helpful asset, homing in on normal enemies with little effort on your part. The parts are guarded by the four warrior Robot Masters, but simply going through their stages isn’t enough. These Robot Masters have set up decoys of themselves, and while defeating them will grant you their weapon and eventual access to Dr. Wily’s first compound, you won’t get the part. By taking advantage of the Power and Jet Adapters, you can access branching paths in these stages to fight the genuine articles. I do like this development, as it gives the stages an exploratory element the series isn’t usually known for.
At the same time, I feel if Mr. Inafune and his team sought to alleviate a long-running annoyance, then they succeeded a little too well. With the foreknowledge that Plant Man is one of the easiest bosses in the game, savvy players are going to make a beeline for his stage so they can get the Jet Mega Man form as soon as possible. Once they do, they get to witness the whatever challenge the rest of the game may have presented dissipate immediately. Jet Mega Man turns the platforming segments in Mega Man 6 into a joke, for it is highly maneuverable and recharges very quickly. There is little point in designing these elaborate platforming challenges if you can easily fly over a majority of them.
On the face of things, one may argue Jet Mega Man isn’t as broken as the Rush Jet from Mega Man 3. Pound for pound, that incarnation of the Rush Jet has a much higher potential to trivialize the platforming segments. However, the one key difference is that the level design of Mega Man 3 accounts for the player collecting the Rush Jet upgrade – most obviously in Needle Man’s revisited stage, which involves flying over a long expanse. The problem with Jet Mega Man is that the level design is not optimized to handle the form. This is particularly obvious when progressing through Dr. Wily’s fortresses only for you to breeze by all eight stages without breaking a sweat. The lack of effort that went into the scenario is forgivable because Mega Man has never been a story-driven series. It is when apathy bleeds into the aspects with which the series sells itself that the lack of effort becomes especially problematic.
Drawing a Conclusion
In the interest of fairness, I will say it is impressive for a series to have six installments of a series debut on the same console. Usually, if you ever see six or more entries manifest in a relatively short amount of time, you’re dealing with a creatively bankrupt developer whose staff believes quantity makes up for poor quality. The prime, contemporary example would be Active Enterprises, who technically made fifty-two games for the NES under a single compilation entitled Action 52. Anyone familiar with the compilation can tell you that not a single one of those games is worth playing. This isn’t the case with the Blue Bomber. As the third console generation came to a close, he was second only to Mario in terms of prolificacy, and their respective series had a degree of consistency many lacked.
The key difference between the two series lies in how they panned out. While one could argue all of the NES Mario and Mega Man games are worth playing, completing them in sequential order reveals two very different through lines. Nintendo’s mascot started off with an arcade port of Mario Bros. before redefining the platforming rules via Super Mario Bros. The series then ended its NES run on a high note in the form of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playing those games back-to-back showcases just how much the creators improved in such a short time. Mega Man, on the other hand, had the exact opposite trajectory. While the original Mega Man got the series off to a reasonably good start, Mega Man 2 is considered one of the greatest games of the 1980s alongside Super Mario Bros. 3. The sequels had no shortage of good ideas, but their actual execution varied wildly, ensuring they never ascended to the same heights as Mega Man 2. Mega Man 4 is commonly cited as to when the series began getting stale. Indeed, the latter three games of the NES hexalogy are almost universally considered inferior to the former three entries. While the series’ formula did lend itself well to sequels, Capcom eventually received diminishing returns on investment. In short, whereas Nintendo ended Mario’s run with the implicit promise of bigger and better things to come, Capcom peaked with Mega Man’s second game.
At the same time, these three games, Mega Man 6 included, have had a very strange afterlife with many considering them underrated classics. While I do think there is more to them than what the popular consensus claims, it’s difficult to dismiss the notion that Mega Man 6 was, at the time, the series’ new low point. This doesn’t mean Mega Man 6 is a bad game. The classic Mega Man series at its low point is still more worthwhile certain other series at their own low points. The problem is that the creative spark guiding Capcom when making the first three games was all but gone by this point – and it shows. The creators intended for Mega Man 6 to lend a sense of finality to the NES era, but note it went out on was a decidedly lethargic one.
Final Score: 4.5/10