After three glorious installments the Mega Man series seemed invincible. Capcom could do no wrong and by this time I began reading gaming magazines. So the news of a Mega Man 4 was not as much of a surprise. Despite the sterling reputation of the series this fourth installment seems to have a love/hate relationship with fans. The game definitely has its faults however it is still a Mega Man title at its core meaning it is solid overall. But you could tell the designers were running out of ideas as 16-bit would soon take over the market.
After Dr. Wily’s seeming death at the end of part three peace returned to the world. However a new threat has arrived. Russian scientist Dr. Cossack sends Dr. Light a letter asserting that he is the better robot engineer. To back up his claims he unleashes eight of his creations on the world, forcing Mega Man into action once again. All is not what it seems but you have to give Capcom credit for trying to spruce things up.
If there is one truth it is that Mega Man 4 introduced the last major addition to the classic series and one that would carry over to nearly all subsequent sequels and spinoffs. The Mega Buster allows you to charge your arm cannon to release a more powerful shot, boosting your attack power. The most important factor is that this is free of charge aside from the few seconds it takes to prepare. In some cases it is far more useful than some of the boss weapons; it beats the pants off the stupid Dive missiles and near useless Flash Stopper. That the Mega Buster was so powerful also devalued the boss weapons and the entire reasoning behind wanting to defeat them in the first place. It would only get worse with the next game.
That being said its implementation in the game is clumsy. To justify its use many standard enemies take more hits to destroy which slows the pacing down somewhat. Mega Man was ever known for its nonstop action but still. In these cases it’s better to rapid fire normal bullets than waste time charging up the Mega Buster. Annoyingly the sound of the Mega Buster charging occupies one sound channel and drowns out other sound effects in the process.
In addition to the buster power-up Rush has been redesigned and made less effective. The Rush Marine only sees usage in two situations. The Rush Jet was broken and allowed you to skip the hairiest situations. Here it only flies in a straight line and you have limited control over it. The Rush Coil still functions the same but is made redundant because of the two other additions. The Wire Adapter and Balloon Adapter are simply better than the rush coil and easily found. The Wire Adapter in particular is awesome, bringing a little Bionic Commando to Mega Man.
Each Mega Man title is only as great as its Robot Masters and Mega Man 4 stumbles a bit in this regard. Design wise I like many of the bunch such as Toad Man, Skull Man, and Pharaoh Man. There are just as many duds such as Dust Man and Bright Man; the type of generic names that would suggest Capcom ran out of ideas. The rainbow bridges of Ring Man’s world are easily navigated and pose little threat. Dive Man’s underwater level is better but that is one of the few bright spots. There are more mini boss style enemies that take far too many hits to defeat to justify the Mega Buster’s presence. And the boss weapons are also very reminiscent of prior games; Bright Man’s Flash Stopper is near identical to Flash Man’s time stop while the Skull Shield is a Leaf Shield with a new name.
Yet even with these flaws and questionable design choices Mega Man 4 is still a good game. It’s a testament to the series that even a game with flawed execution can still be compelling even if it feels like a retread. It’s pretty long with two castles after the eight bosses giving you more time to use each boss weapon. The presentation is still top notch even if the color palette is darker than all the other games. The music isn’t as memorable which is a huge letdown after the legendary soundtracks of the prior two games.
For as much as I have pointed out its flaws I still really like the game. You would have to create something on the level of the MS-Dos games to make me hate a Mega Man title. However it is clear that this installment isn’t as polished as the first three. The worst you can say is that it does not live up to the legendary standard set by its predecessors. That being said Mega Man 4 is still better than most action games for the system.