Coming off the momentum gained from Mega Man 2 it would have been easy for Capcom to rest on their laurels and churn out an easy sequel. Mega Man 2 has achieved legendary status and rightfully so. But in creating part 3 they introduced a host of improvements on the series formula, many that would go on to become mainstays of the series. Equal parts refinement and innovation Mega Man 3 continued the hit streak Capcom had achieved with part 2 and is every bit its equal in my eyes.
Mega Man 3 was released in 1990 in the US and Japan. I still was not reading gaming magazines on a regular basis at this point so my only knowledge of game releases was seeing them in stores or advertisements. I saw an ad for the game in one of my comic books and the rest is history.
I remember losing my mind upon seeing this! With no set release dates games simply showed up in stores.
The game begins with Dr. Light and Dr. Wily having teamed up to create a powerful robot to promote world peace. Parts from 8 robot masters are needed to complete it and so the game begins. 8 new robot masters await along with a new antagonist in the form of Breakman, later revealed to be Protoman. You’ll notice right away most of the bosses don’t use the familiar fire, water, air, etc. archetypes. For some it came across as a minus because it isn’t immediately obvious what weapon will work on each one. I applaud Capcom for going against the grain.
Fire Man? Ice Man? Get that shit out of here! This ain’t Captain Planet! The robot designs in this game are really top shelf.
Once again each boss is weak against a particular weapon and the rock, paper, scissors aspect of all Mega Man games is here in full force. Using the base knowledge gained in MM 2’s creation they pushed the level designs further than ever with bigger enemies and more thrown at you at once. New to the series is the ability to slide, a nice compromise for the missing ability to duck. This time around rather than collecting different platform generating items they have all been consolidated in the form of Rush, your canine companion.
The ability to slide is a huge addition; not being able to duck always struck me as stupid and there were far too many situations where you had no choice but to take damage because of it. Enemy placement is much more devious because you now have the tool to dodge their attacks even in tight spaces. Plenty of passages that can only be accessed by sliding dot the levels, and some deceptively lead to bottomless pits. Lastly a new sub boss named Proto Man will fight at the mid point of half the levels before leaving and continually shows up during the rest of the game.
One aspect that I especially like is that Mega Man 3 is longer and more difficult than previous installments. After the first 8 bosses you must then tackle the 4 Doc Robot stages, each with 2 returning bosses from Mega Man 2. These levels are remixed versions of 4 of the initial levels. The difficulty really ramps up on these levels as it is assumed that you are intimately familiar with the trappings of the game and are ready to put your skills to the test. It’s a nice touch and even satisfies those fantasy scenarios people come up with. “I bet Air Man could kick Spark Man’s ass!” Uh uh, I don’t think so.
Old meets new. These fights were awesome as you had to figure out how to kill them all over again using new weapons.
Wily’s Castle is also longer with far more stages. There are many sections in the game that require near perfect execution or you will die. Most of the initial bosses require deft reflexes to beat if you don’t have the weapon to exploit their weakness. A noticeable side effect of there being so many enemies on screen and much bigger ones to boot is crippling slowdown. I didn’t remember the slowdown being bad in some parts but I guess my nostalgia goggles are on strong. The boss patterns are very unforgiving in that slight hesitation will be met with a large chunk of life lost. There’s no overpowered Metal Blade to save your ass this time. I have to mention the Top Spin weapon that no matter its used makes you look like a fairy and is useless outside one instance. Oh man it would have been hilarious if you could only beat the final boss with it!
Speaking of bosses, a funny aside, in the boss rush in Wily’s castle, almost all of the bosses are weak against their own weapon with some dying in 1 hit. Don’t ask what possessed me to even try it out back in 1990 but it was awesome when it actually turned out to be a valid strategy. Kind of like killing the final boss in Mystic Quest using life spells.
Anyway you slice it Capcom recognized the winning formula they had established and didn’t shy away from making additions to it in order to make it better. Graphically and musically it meets and surpasses its predecessor. This remains my favorite game in the original series, an opinion shared by many. The debate on whether part 2 or 3 is the best will rage on forever but honestly it doesn’t matter. Both games are seminal parts of any NES library and are worth the price you pay to experience greatness.