“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
― Albert Einstein
A little bit of background, if you please. By the time Rockman 4: A New Ambition!!, known as Mega Man IV in the West, first rocked out in 1991, the Super Nintendo was already out and the Mega Man series was already beginning to show its age. Does that make Mega Man IV a bad game? Nah. But a predictable one? Well, for the most part.
As with AAA games, cheap Chinese food, and octogenarians, with Mega Man you knew what you were going to get: perilous platforming, robot bosses to steal weapons from, and of course the Blue Bomber himself in all his pixelated, 8-bit glory. IV met the familiarity of the Mega Man series with a few innovations. Chief among those was a gameplay addition that came to characterize the character for years to come. Players could now charge up his New Mega Buster.
In the previous three Mega Man games, our hero could only pop out a few pot shots. Not anymore. Now you could hold down the attack button as long as you like and charge up Mega Man’s arm-mounted cannon for a more devastating blast. Fans of later games in the series, and the reboot that began with Mega Man X, will be intimately familiar with this innovation but it first appeared here.
But no, you still can’t shoot up.
I’ve read elsewhere that several critics believe in hindsight that charging led to the deterioration of the franchise. It made the game unbalanced since weapons from robot masters were almost obsolete compared to a charged up Mega Buster blast. It changed the way the game was played, with less rapid tapping to fire and more knuckle-jumping. I don’t share their opinion.
I think it was repetitiveness that wore down the Mega Man franchise and not the inclusion of what would become the character’s trademark attack. Charging up his Mega Buster didn’t make the robot master weapons useless as there are plenty of instances when those weapons’ arcs of fire or range or sheer power made them necessities. Even in the case of Mega Man IV, I still had to use robot master weapons in order to progress through the game. As cool as the Mega Buster upgrade was, it couldn’t carry Mega Man through the entire adventure, so in my view the allegation that that innovation equally a down-turn in the series is without basis.
In many ways I prefer the upgrade to the rapid-firing of the earlier franchise entries.
Mega Man IV takes place in the year 200X, an undisclosed year in the first decade of the 21st century. Yeah, that means we’re already living after the events of Mega Man IV and we still don’t have our flying cars or autonomous robots, though IV might be a cautionary tale against them after all.
The third Mega Man game saw the death of Dr. Wily, Mega Man’s mustachioed nemesis. In Mega Man IV, we’re filled in on a little of the backstory of Mega Man. When the first industrial robots went berserk under the twisted wiles of Dr. Wily, Mega Man (or Rock, as he was called) was but a humble household robot. However, he had a strong sense of justice and volunteered to be converted into a super fighting robot.
If you can hear the theme song to the Mega Man animated series in your head right now, then you’re awesome, sir or madam.
The newly dubbed “Mega Man” would go on to face Dr. Wily three times, defeating him at each encounter, but in Mega Man IV a new threat has arisen in Wily’s absence. Dr. Cossack has created eight robot assassins to take on Mega Man and only the Blue Bomber’s new Mega Buster can give him the edge to take them all on!
Of course, any gamer worth their own salt would realize that (spoiler: highlight to reveal) Dr. Wily isn’t dead. Turns out Dr. Cossack was threatened to create eight new robot masters. Cossack’s daughter, Kalinka, was being held hostage. When Proto Man returns Kalinka to her father, Mega Man is free to finally face the real villain.
Mega Man IV follows the familiar structure of eight bosses in eight stages that can be fought in any order. Defeating one of the bosses grants you a unique boss weapon which Mega Man can use against the remaining robot masters. In the vein of rock-paper-scissors, each of the robot masters is susceptible to damage from one of their fellow robot masters’ weapons. Mega Man need only discover the “true” boss order to get through the game with greater ease. Oh and here it is:
Flip Top Eddie makes his debut appearance as a handy-dandy character which will appear occasionally to give Mega Man a random item. Then there are the two secret adapters hidden in two stages. The Wire Adapter shoots a wire straight up that Mega Man can ascend or descend, and the Balloon Adapter creates temporary, floating platforms. Finally, Rush returns in Mega Man IV with three movement modes (Coil, Jet, and Marine) to aid in navigating different environs.
Mega Man IV ends up being easier to complete for all of these new additions. It is certainly easier than Mega Man II. If you bought something like, well, let’s just say the Mega Man Legacy Collection then I recommend you play Mega Man IV first before playing either I or II. The fourth game is just a far more accessible experience and not as punishing as the others, plus charging the Mega Buster is again a defining trait for this franchise.
The 8-bit Review
Mega Man IV didn’t make any vast improvements over the previous three games. More moving objects, enemies and backgrounds meant the graphics sometimes slow to a crawl, and there is the persisting problem of sprite flicker. Mega Man always had a characteristic look about his games but the telling factor against IV’s graphics was that the Super Nintendo had already been out for over a year, making the visuals in this game seem like they came from the Stone Age. But then, are you really playing these for the graphics? Besides, coming toward the end of the NES’ shelf-life, IV had better graphics than most games on that system: animated sprites, vivid colors and anime style.
The music in this game sticks to its guns. With a protagonist named “Rock”, we know what kind of sound we should expect. The original Mega Man series was marked musically by percussive, electronic rock n’ roll. The kind of music that makes you want to go for a run (I’ve tried it, it’s great running music). Mega Man IV refuses to break new ground. While these tracks aren’t any where near the best in the series, and they can’t touch some of the classic songs off of Mega Man II, some of them are catchy and memorable in their own right.
Again I hold that the additions do not mean the quality of the game met with a decrease. However, it should be said that in Mega Man IV our hero has a bigger arsenal of tricks than ever before. Not only does the New Mega Buster make dispatching mechanical monsters faster, but the adapters and the new Rush modes render several areas in the game harmless.
Once you get the Jet, for instance, you can literally jet across a sizable portion of a stage, skipping over any nasty parts like bottomless pits, rows of spikes, or those horrible disappearing-reappearing platforms these games can’t get enough of. Sure, there are a few times when clever level design makes you debate between all the options available to you, or better yet simply renders all your adapters useless, forcing you to hoof it on foot, but a good chunk of the game can be skipped provided you have enough energy to fuel your adapters.
Compared to the extremely tight, exact, and demanding platforming of Mega Man II and III, this fourth one is tame.
And that’s precisely why Mega Man IV scores so high in the accessibility department. It’s easier. Even the bosses are easier than earlier Mega Man games, with more obvious patterns of attack, or attack patterns that can be simply interrupted with a specific assault of your own. The new adapters and chargeable buster make for a less brutal Mega Man game.
However, that doesn’t mean Mega Man is a walk in the park. Facing the final stages in the castle and the final bosses is still grueling. There are still several skillful moments of platforming that need to be faced. By today’s standards, Mega Man IV is still a very, very hard game requiring determination and lots and lots of extra lives. Otherwise, enjoy writing down those passwords, or abusing save states if you have the Legacy Collection.
With only a couple of secrets, there isn’t really any reason to return to Mega Man IV other than out of nostalgia, or to introduce it to the next generation of gamers. That’s what I did when I confronted my kid brother (15 years younger than me) with Mega Man IV. He couldn’t stop remarking how tough it was but with a little grit he was able to get a hang of the sense of physics and timing and weight in the game, then he beat his first boss, and then he just wanted to keep playing.
Coming on the tails of three other Mega Man games, it’s only the additions which lend Mega Man IV an above average score for uniqueness. The fact that charging the Mega Buster originated with IV cannot be overlooked. This one innovation is literally the first thing people think of when they remember Mega Man, and it’s practically been with him ever since. No more recently than when I played Super Smash Bros. Wii U, I had a big ol’ smile on my face when hearing that charge-up noise. Now that’s honoring the source material, Nintendo. Take notes, Capcom.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
Mega Man IV will always endure in my memory as it was one of the earliest games I remember choosing out myself. It was my birthday and my parents annually took me to Toys R Us in Pearl City, HI to pick out whatever I wanted (within reason). The SNES was still at the time outside of the realm of reason. So I looked at the display of NES games and I picked out Mega Man IV. I must have been 6 or 7, depending on which birthday it was.
I recall leaving Toys R Us and sitting in the car, reading the manual for the game over and over again. It was a long ride back home, the game growing in my imagination into a colossal piece of entertainment. When I got home, Mega Man IV was everything I wanted it to be. I even fought Toad Man first, just like I was supposed to. Its demand upon skill, its challenges, its mechanical characters all left an indelible print on me and made me the mega-man I am today. Thanks, Blue Bomber!
For several reviewers, Mega Man IV signaled the beginning of the end, but for me the game was only the beginning.
Aggregated Score: 7.4