Review by SethBlizzard

"The unlikely one"

You know, today's gamers are spoiled rotten. Every new game has to present something new, to the extent that it‘s become hard to appreciate the concept of a sequel anymore. Most games don't even get sequels, and the ones that do better not be too much like the original or they will be stamped with that awful word, "unoriginal". Some game developers have discovered clever ways to bypass these accusations, by releasing their games in so-called „episodes“. This allows them to build on the same mechanics and give us more to fall in love with. Mega Man was probably the very model on which this system was built. We all know that every Mega Man game for the NES is more or less graphically identical in principle and we always go after a number of Robot Masters in any order, but just like the episode-based games of today, we were getting something arguably better instead.

When Capcom made sequels to the blue bomber's platforming capers, they were not out to make a totally new experience each time. Like new episodes of a TV series you love, they used the opportunity to introduce more Robot Masters, stages and music to fall in love with, without having to get to know the recipe all over again. Would you have liked Dragonball if with every season, they completely changed the characters, look and tone of the series? I didn't think so. Mega Man 5 walks the tightrope over the gaping chasm of dangerous accusations of "more of the same," "re-hashing" and other similarly malignant accusations. Not only that, it hops and skips across that tightrope. Mega Man 5 might just be the only sequel today containing the number 5 that is excellent. To pinpoint exactly why, let me argue that if you are already in the fifth installment of any given piece of media, chances are that you have got that far because you have a sturdy foundation that you can use to reel in those of us already hooked – in this case back to the fantastic, robotic world of Mega Man.

One thing has to be said about Mega Man 5, though – it‘s much faster than Mega Man 4. If you remember how slow the transition from screen to screen was in the battles against Dr. Cossack, the battle against Protoman sees you whiz from screen to screen. That‘s right; Mega Man‘s enigmatic brother steps out of the shadows and does the seemingly out-of-character act of kidnapping Dr. Light and leading a new invasion of robots. Something is definitely amiss there. And even if you see right away what‘s really going on, it has a charm, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – seeing the Turtles defeat Shredder and his cronies is always most satisfying, as is it for you to help Mega Man defeat the master of eyebrows, Dr. Wily.

Mega Man 5 is a beautiful game that‘s very well designed. The graphic capabilities of the NES were well-utilized in bringing the suitably-colourful fortresses of Mega Man‘s foes to life – often quite literally, as many backgrounds and sometimes the terrain are charmingly animated, especially Crystal Man‘s and Wave Man‘s levels. Sometimes the levels even tell a story, such as Napalm Man‘s tropical forest that eventually turns into an underground tank installation. The innovations introduced by Mega Man 4 have been perfected, too; the chargeable stable weapon the Mega Buster has taken a great redesign, where the blast is a satisfying, flashing blue-black bolt of firepower. Maybe it‘s just the redesign but it feels much more effective than the original Mega Buster did. The weapon select screen is also great improvement on the concept from Mega Man 4; now, every weapon you highlight sees Mega Man adopt the appropriate colour.

The Robot Masters – arguably the lifeblood of a Mega Man game that will see it either fly or fall regardless of other aspirations and shortcomings – are an excellent bunch. A lovably varied, idiosyncratic group of bad guys lead the armies of the bot with the shades, from the Neptune/pirate motif of Wave Man to the hilarious Gravity Man. There is the lovable Stone Man, a wonderfully goofy idea well executed, and the scary Napalm Man. As far as characters and Robot Masters go, there are no real dud shots – almost all are quite engaging characters that are a joy to get to and confront.

Not only is the control as slick and fluent as ever, the level designs and challenges are also full of joie-de-vivre. Gravity Man lives up to his name with his level, a bizarre factory where Mega Man switches the level of gravity at specific points he passes, meaning that much of the level is fought upside-down, including the boss fight! Wave Man‘s stage is the most unique in concept, even in the overall roster of Mega Man, because his level has hardly any enemies to shoot at all. That is, until you get onto a water scooter on which you spend approximately half of the level. The final castle then has an even harder version of Dust Man‘s infamous trash compactor sequence from Mega Man 4. There is a spirit of excitement and fun over Mega Man 5 that sometimes went missing in its moodier predecessor.

The soundtrack is no exception. Full of engaging melodies, it‘s a joy to listen to, often on its own! Wave Man‘s theme is a notable example, a superb listen that is ridiculously catchy. Stone Man‘s theme is much more eccentric, in the best possible way, and also glues itself to your mind, as does the bouncy and crazy theme for Gravity Man. Then there are more anthemic compositions like the ones for Gyro Man and Napalm Man, both of which progress to wonderful climaxes. The theme for Proto Man‘s fortress is castle music done well – melancholic, gripping and motivating. The final castle has a theme that could be a textbook example for fitting final level music, starting out fast and brisk and becoming steadily more atmospheric and downbeat though never losing that thunderous beat. The final boss music could be one of the most hummable boss themes ever, along with King Dedede‘s theme from Kirby. Mega Man 5 is as much a feast for the ears as for the eyes, and more than holds its own in the shadow of Mega Mans 3 and 2.

Whereas Mega Man 2 was often way too easy and Mega Man 4 often too hard, Mega Man 5 strikes a good balance between challenging and yet doable. While Gravity Man is a rather disappointing figure in terms of challenge, with a pitifully lame attack that overly relies on his ability to change gravity, we do have bosses like Charge Man, who can suddenly decide to charge at you without giving you much time to react. Gyro Man and Crystal Man are both quite challenging foes, who will kick your ass if you don‘t keep them at bay. Certain stable enemies are also to be reckoned with, such as tiger robots that justify their theme with their speed and ferocity, and strange looking, laser wielding robots whose only weak spot is the eye from where the lasers are fired. From the defeat of each of the 8 Robot Masters on, especially, there is a great deal of satisfaction with overcoming the challenges ahead. Many tricky jump sequences and tight reflexes ahoy for you to clench your controller over.

Even with the overall good level of difficulty, it still hits holes that Mega Man 3 (a game where it‘s hard to find any notable flaws) was careful to avoid. Some of the bosses, as said – Gravity Man, Stone Man – are way too easy. In fact, most of them pose little challenge of significant worry. I don‘t get that clench in my stomach that accompanies my arrival at a boss until I get to the following stages. Whenever I fight Bright Man in Mega Man 4 and Shadow Man in Mega Man 3, I know I have to pay attention in order to win and the Robot Masters in Mega Man 5 overall lack that sense of menace. There are other punctures in this joyous balloon. Some of the weapons you acquire from your foes are more than useless. I have not ever come across a spot where I found it a good idea to use the Gravity Hold, not even the interesting Charge Kick which is executed by performing your familiar slide move. While you can collect 8 letters across the 8 Robot Master levels to get the flying sidekick Beat, I never find that many places to use him, and he can make the final boss way too easy to beat. Annoyingly, just like in Mega Man 4, you can‘t steer the Rush Jet other than up or down. I don‘t understand why only Mega Man 3 had the fully controllable version of Mega Man‘s loveable robodog sidekick. Then, the Super Arrow, an item you get as an additional spoils from a certain Robot Master, is almost totally useless. Mega Man 4 had many parts where you needed to use the Wire or Balloon. Not so in Mega Man 5; Rush will more than suffice during the trickier parts. Finally, whose good idea was it to make it impossible to pause the game during Wave Man's lengthy water scooter section?

But one thing cannot be taken from Mega Man 5 – its spirit. Proto Man‘s levels have an interesting trend where very one of the four bosses is a different version of the same robot, called Darkman. This guy is quite challenging in all forms but his last, strangely. Should this not be your cup of tea, the bosses in the final castle should more than make up for it, including a robot composed of floating pillars that you will need to ascend to get in firing range.

With a lovable cast of Robot Masters, enjoyable levels, gripping music and a satisfying level of challenge, Mega Man 5 is a blast to play. While containing very few innovations asides from a slightly modified Rush and an optional sidekick that makes the game much too easy, the world of Mega Man 5 is engaging and enjoyable to master. While I don‘t understand why the boss room takes you back to the actual boss lairs of the Robot Masters, for the most part I quite understand where Mega Man 5 is coming from. If it ain‘t broke, and there‘s the potential for exploring the same concept and uncovering charming characters and music as well as challenges, then why throw out the old model? Why get a new car when the old one runs fine with a few engine modifications? When you get results as good as this, I don't see why we can't explore how much life there still is in the old bird.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/18/13

Game Release: Mega Man 5 (EU, 11/18/93)

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