The first thing you'll notice about Mega Man 3 is its stunning lack of anything before the title screen. You'd expect some little 8-bit cutscene giving a general plot outline. I mean, we all know how the game will play out, but at least you'd think they'd try to justify it before thrusting you into action. And don't act like they couldn't do it, because there are cutscenes in the rest of the game. Why neglect the beginning? I'm not easily deterred though, so I hunted down the game's backstory. Evidently Dr. Wily is now claiming to be reformed, and is helping Dr. Light build some sort of robot for some sort of purpose. But the robots in charge of various mining operations across the world start going haywire, so Mega Man is sent off to handle them. Whatever. Who decided tops were ideal mining equipment anyway?
I'm thankful to not see an ice or heat derivative robot in this one, I must say. As outlandish and silly as the bosses may be, at least they're trying to branch out and avoid rehashing the same concepts over and over in this one. There is, sadly, an obligatory lava-based stage, even though none of the bosses are fire-related themselves. Also, a quick complaint about the stage I like to call Spark Man's Seizure Emporium. The background for the whole thing is flashing lights, and I don't mean just a few. They're all over the place for the entire level. The whole thing! I wish there were some sort of study I could reference indicating the percent of Mega Man 3 players who acquired headaches on this stage, but you'll have to just take my word for it. It's rough.
Of course, some habits do die hard. Like ripping off Bullet Bills. Again, Capcom? Wait, don't tell me - because you used these in the first game you now feel like they're a "classic" Mega Man enemy. I'm sorry guys, but no matter how hard you try, you will never lay claim to a bullet with eyes and a mouth. Never. Stick to the hard hat bots. Which, by the way, are now capable of piloting bulldozers. Some of them have propellers in their hats and fly around dropping crap on your head. There's even a giant one that spawns the small ones infinitely. Didn't see that one coming.
But maybe it's for the best that the game's designers weren't given free reign to invent all new enemies. Because you know what showed up when they did? Fish eggs. Literally, fish eggs. Gemini Man's level is loaded with walls and walls of fish eggs for no good reason. Shooting one hatches the egg and a little fish or tadpole or whatever the heck it is wriggles in your general direction unless you kill it. What in the world? And even if you're dead set on including this in the game, why Gemini Man? That theme has absolutely nothing to do with fish, nor their underdeveloped spawn. When you fight Gemini Man, you know what he does? He splits into two and fights you two-on-one. That makes sense. Fish eggs? Not so much.
Spikes are every bit as ridiculous this time around as before. Perhaps even more so. Look at Mega Man just closing his eyes and shaking his head. Can you blame him? That room has no business existing. How is it possibly convenient or cost-effective to construct all of this? How many robots died to make this room? Just one finger prick on one edge of one spike and it's Explosionville: Population, you. And why the platforms? Why would Mega Man use them? At the end of every stage we see him turn into a little blue line and shoot up into the air. Can't he just do that for like half a screen, then grab the ladder? Why can't I ever use that ability? Quit holding out on me, game.
But hey, you do get a couple new toys. First is the slide. In the previous two games, Mega Man couldn't so much as duck from enemy fire. Well, he still can't bend those little robo-knees, but he can launch himself into a slide across the floor, which accomplishes basically the same thing. He can also fit himself into tight little horizontal spaces using the technique, and he moves quicker sliding. Still, it's not perfect; you can't slide through boss doors. Anyone who's anyone knows that one of the best things about Mega Man games, for no good reason, is jumping through boss doors. Now you give me this epic looking slide move, and I can't do it through a door? Humbug.
And God bless the other new stuff you can do, all revolving around Mega Man's new robotic dog, Rush. Designed essentially to replace the ambiguous "Item-1" and such from the previous installment, Rush initially can extend a spring from his back to launch Mega Man high in the air at the cost of a little special energy. After completion of a certain stage, Rush is upgraded with the Rush Jet, which lets Mega Man ride him through the air anywhere he pleases, at the cost of a constant drain on the special energy reserves. But perhaps most important is the Rush Marine adapter, also acquired after a certain stage. It turns the dog into a boat...wait, I really need to emphasize that. Your dog turns into a submarine of living death. It's easy to forgive the water levels when you can ride through on that badboy! Naturally, then, there are only two areas of the whole game with enough water to use it. Figures. Water levels. No winning with them.
There's another new character too, by the name of Proto Man. Seems Dr. Light created him first (hence "Proto," like prototype) and he's stronger offensively than Mega Man, but with a weaker defensive core, so Dr. Light made Mega Man to address that flaw. Throughout the game Proto Man will play a tune on his dandy whistle, leap out, and starting blasting shots at your face. Talk about sibling rivalry. Ostensibly it's just to "train" you for the game's actual bosses, but if you die, you're dead. How am I going to save the world now, jackass? And why is it that at a certain spot in the game they call him Break Man instead? Come to think of it, they also call Dr. Light "Dr. Right" in one of the cutscenes. Make up your mind, game.
This is a game that specializes in the odd. It doesn't end with fish eggs and seizure stages. Snake Man's stage takes place, by and large, on the bodies of enormous robotic snakes. Someone actually constructed - as a mining site - huge robotic snakes, intertwined them, gave them the ability to shoot stuff out of their mouths, and deemed the work well done. Heck, even the enemies there are really screwed up. One of the common ones is some little trash can looking thing sprinting at you with a push broom. When it gets close to you, it actually pole vaults off the push broom before landing behind you and running away. Huh? People make robots to serve functions. What the hell kind of function is that? I didn't even mention the giant robotic cats who barf balls of yarn. And I won't.
Anyway, after beating the eight robot masters, guess what? Wily steals the robot he was helping Dr. Light to build, sends out four robots of his own (four Mega Man 2 bosses in new bodies), and retreats to his castle. Again. Just kill the dude already, seriously. So you kill his four other robots, then do a "final test" against your robro Proto Man, and it's off to Wily's fortress for the same old dance.
Sadly, the special weapons this time around leave a bit to be desired. A couple are useful - Magnet Man's weapon seeks targets vertically which is nice, Gemini Man's laser bounces off walls and such...but moves like "Top Spin" are just a waste of cartridge data. Mega Man leaps into the air and pirouettes, costing him about a third of his special energy. What does this accomplish? Sure, there's the one boss with a fatal weakness to it, but otherwise tell me when you'll use that. But you know what's just embarrassing? "Search Snake." It's a little green "snake" that looks a bit too ready to fertilize something, and it drops limply out of your arm cannon before squirming along the floor until it hits something. That's super uncalled for. And insult to injury - you're going to need it to beat Wily, since he's shielded from every direction but the top. Yep, you'll be dropping your
Overall, the level design remains pretty good, and the game is certainly playable and enjoyable. While things like Rush and the slide are improvements to the gameplay, there's not a whole lot of fresh excitement here. It's up to the standards the series had set to this point, even if a sliver less fun than its immediate predecessor. Fans will love it, haters will find nothing new to like. Except that Rush Marine. Freaking water levels.
Bottom Line: 14/20