Mega Man 4 was not a bad game but its reception was mixed. Many of its gameplay additions brought unforeseen consequences that slowed down a tightly paced game. Apparently it was enough for Capcom to rush a sequel into production which was released the same year. Why Mega Man 5 was an NES game and not for the then new SNES is a mystery but the NES was gifted with another good title. It doesn’t rock the boat in any way but is better for it.
It seems Proto Man has turned to the dark side as he leads a group of Robot Masters on a rampage throughout the city. In the midst of all this destruction Dr. Light is kidnapped! And the culprit is….Proto Man? A lone scarf is found at the scene but maybe things aren’t what they seem….
Mega Man 5 tends to be the forgotten entry in the series. Part 4 added the Mega Buster and part six is notable for being the last on the NES and for its 1994 release. Compared to that the fifth game comes across as just another in a long line of sequels. However that isn’t necessarily bad. The Mega Buster and the changes it brought are why Mega Man 4 is so divisive. Meanwhile the worst you can say about this is that it isn’t ambitious. That ends up being its strength as Mega Man 5 is simply a great game.
The Robot Masters this time around are far more interesting in their design and powers than the previous game. You won’t find anyone as lame as Toad Man or friggin Dust Man here. Well maybe Star Man. The problem with some of the more creative bosses such as Wave Man and Gravity Man is that they are dumber than a bag of rocks. It seems more emphasis was placed on their gimmicky powers than AI and so they follow the same repetitive pattern that is easy to exploit.
I like the bosses but their weapons are disappointing. The charge kick can only be used while sliding and if you can use it without taking a hit you’re a better gamer than I am. The Crystal Eye is very similar to the Gemini Beam from MM3 and is just as useless if the initial hit misses. The Star Shield is once again another weapon that functions exactly like the Leaf Shield. They’re not all terrible of course; the gravity hold is incredibly useful and cool to see in action. But they pale in comparison to the redesigned Mega Buster.
To put it lightly the Mega Buster is completely overpowered. The projectile was redrawn and is much larger and more powerful than most weapons in the game. In addition the charge time has been reduced to less than two seconds. That’s insane! An added “drawback” to supposedly offset the power boost is that your charge is lost when hit. But trust me it doesn’t matter. I remember Nintendo Power suggested using the Mega Buster for most bosses and thinking that was crazy. But in reality they were right. It’s a shame that it devalues the boss weapons and thankfully this mistake was not repeated in the future.
Yet in the face of all these criticisms Mega Man 5 is still a damn good game due to its fantastic level design. I would even say it is some of the best of the series on NES. This is one area Capcom really stepped it up a notch. The levels are more inventive this time and play around with different mechanics to keep them fresh. The most notable is Gravity Man’s stage which features arrows that invert gravity up or down. You’ll spend half of the level upside down which is disorienting but also a fun challenge to figure out how to reach certain power-ups. Star Man’s level features low gravity with moon jumps throughout the entire stage. Wave Man’s level features an auto scrolling shooter segment on a jet ski for a nice change of pace.
If I have one complaint it is that Rush is further marginalized. The Rush Coil was made worse and I can only think of one sequence where the Rush Jet was mandatory. In fact the new Super Arrow performs many of the same functions and is far more interesting to use. You won’t need to use any of these until Proto Man’s castle, further making their inclusion less important.
Aside from the first game I have found every Mega Man title to be almost perfectly balanced when it comes to difficulty. That isn’t the case here as I found the Mega Man 5 to be one of the easiest in the series. Aside from the incredibly strong Mega Buster extra lives drop far more frequently than you can imagine. After 4 stages I had well over 9 lives without even trying. There are less energy tanks lying around but in this case they aren’t even needed. A good number of the bosses have incredibly simple patterns; I wonder if Capcom simply stopped trying. Not that I’m docking the game for being easy. It just seems odd given how well Capcom has managed this element over the years.
You could make a strong case that this might be the best looking Mega Man title for the NES. There’s a greater variety of environmental scenery in each stage with less repeated tiles. There is more background animation which makes the world seem more alive such as the trees in Napalm Man’s forest and the bobbing of the train in Charge Man’s stage. Both Crystal and Napalm Mans’ stages exhibit a much better use of color that really shows off the game’s art design. Capcom also experiment pretty heavily with sprite rotation as it is used in on quite a few bosses. It isn’t excessive but is extremely cool to see in motion. Breath of Fire series composer Mari Yamaguchi was brought on to compose the music and her fresh perspective brings a new sound to the music that is a joy to listen to.
Mega Man 5 is short on new ideas but doesn’t need them. What it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for with solid execution. It isn’t as polished as 2 or 3 but is only a step below in my opinion.