Does Mega Man have some sort of magical zapping power I'm unaware of?
Why mess with success?... Capcom, that's not a rhetorical question.
RELEASE DATE: December 1992
A mere eleven months after Mega Man IV was unleashed to disappoint the gaming masses with its less-than-great-but-still-good gameplay, Mega Man V is released, capturing the hearts of a few people and boring the majority. I am definitely part of the majority here. I said in my last review that it's incredibly hard to fully dislike a Mega Man game, but if I had to choose one to almost fully dislike, it would be this fifth entry. Aside from the graphics, which remain impressive, there's very little in Mega Man V to recommend. Much like IV, the boss and weapon design is uninspired, the music flat, the difficulty severely unbalanced (in Stone Man's stage, I maxed out my lives, simply by moving through the level and defeating enemies). Unlike IV, there's a real lack of inspiration in the levels this time. Many of them feel like slightly re-imagined levels from earlier games – something that makes complete sense, given the quick turn-around time. The Mega Buster returns, and I now understand why people complained about it in IV. It's such a powerful weapon that many enemies go down in one hit. Like one commenter pointed out in my Mega Man IV review, it's really annoying to continue holding down the 'A' button in order to charge. One bizarre new feature this go-round includes collecting a letter in each stage (that spells out "MEGAMAN V") to unlock Beat the bird. Beat is a great character design (I actually have a figurine of Beat staring at me as I write this review, judging me with his cold, adorable eyes), but he's incredibly cheap. Equipping him allows him to fly around you and attack any enemies that get in your way, and he's especially useful for the last couple bosses. I wouldn't have a problem with Beat – who can argue with a helper bird that causes damage to enemies? - except he's not one of Mega Man's weapons... even though he kinda is... but really he isn't. You don't "fire" him at enemies, he damages them of his own accord. If you wanted to, you could just have Mega Man jump around while Beat does all the work (until he runs out of juice). Beat, cute as he is, feels too far removed from the purity of Mega Man's game design. Other new features include the Super Arrow, which is a stepladder to reach high places or a very slow homing weapon, your choice; and the M-Tank, a tank that re-charges all of your weapons instead of health. The latter is the most worthwhile addition to Mega Man V, a sadly unnecessary entry in a once-great series.
Evil robots are again hell-bent on destroying the world, as if there would be any other reason for a Mega Man game. How many times must we see those same two buildings with explosions in the background? Turns out, Protoman, not Wily or Cossack or the G.O.P., is the real evil genius in this game. He's the one unleashing evil robots (does this explain why their design is so sub-par? Protoman can't have made many robots prior to this), along with kidnapping Dr. Light. Certainly not the best intro in the series, but the downcast music - composed by yet another newcomer, Mari Yamaguchi – is a slight improvement over IV's bizarre note-packed intro and the image of Protoman's cape is wonderfully evocative.
The boss design in Mega Man V is Capcom at their weakest. In Japan, once again, Capcom asked for fan submissions for the Robot Master designs. They received 130,000 submissions. I can't even fathom having 130,000 of anything, let alone hastily scribbled renderings of potential Mega Man boss candidates. But surely... surely, there were better suggestions than Charge Man?! Wave Man? Stone Man? ANYTHING?! Well, let's get started: Stone Man, Charge Man, Wave Man, Star Man, Gravity Man, Gyro Man, Crystal Man, Napalm Man.
I've played through the stage, I've watched the walk-through video, and I still can't remember anything that happens in Stone Man's stage, other than the generosity of extra lives dropped from enemies. The plentiful stones that make up the stage remind me of Hard Man's equally stony lair from III and the music reminds me of better music from previous games. Stone Man's a craggly jerk who (surprise!) likes to heed House of Pain's call to "jump around," but a few charged Mega Buster shots will destroy him – both from the stage and, Lord willing, our memories.
Hey, it's the boss that looks like a train with a face and limbs, but for some reason, he's called Charge Man! His stage also takes place on top of a train, in train cars, and contains the hard hat enemies known as Metools riding adorable miniature trains. The boss might be stupid looking and poorly named, but the stage is competent. Mega Man and trains seem to go well together. The music is solidly pieced together, but lacks substance or a competent melody. It's like listening to an old band's new album: it's not like they can't write a new song, but the magic is long since gone. Stone Man's Power Stone is the weakness against Charge Man, but good luck getting it to hit. Better off using the Mega Buster and avoiding his infuriatingly close attacks. Many swears.
Wave Man looks like an overweight sea creature with a trident gun on his arm... ::sigh:: Also, didn't Capcom just give us Dive Man in IV? I understand they want a water level, but what about Squid Man or Fish Man? The first part of the stage is sewer shenanigans, but the second half involves Mega Man riding on a Seadoo and trying not to get hit. Enemies will come from behind, from the water, and dolphins will try to body slam you from above (I always knew they were evil). It's fun at first, but the sequence goes on for way too long. Dive Man is fairly incompetent. It takes a few Charge Kicks (To use the weapon, you have to slide? Come on, Capcom...) to the groin to take him down.
How cool would it have been to fight a Aladdin Sane-inspired robot? Instead, we get a goofball with a large upside-down yellow star for a body. His stage starts off intriguing enough. You're fighting in space, with low gravity. Comets are careening down around you. Then you descend into a space station, and it's pretty blah from there. Avoid some spikes, jetpack-equipped Metools (at least Capcom comes up with creative new ways to use them), and listen to an almost-decent, appropriately spacey theme. Star Man's weakness is the Water Wave; in space, no can hear you drown apparently. I used to like this stage more before I played all five Mega Man games in a row.
Gravity or Lack Thereof Man's stage is all about destroying what Isaac Newton and his apple wrought upon the Western world. Throughout the stage, gravity will reverse and you'll be on the ceiling, shooting enemies. I imagine this would have been jarring in '92, but for players weaned on Super Mario Galaxy, this backwards gravity ain't nothing. Still, it's one of the funner stages, though the music doesn't know what the hell it's doing. It's four awkward themes in one, and I nominate it for Worst Music of the original series. Gravity Man, as a boss, is actually fairly rewarding to beat. Like the stage, he'll reverse gravity constantly, but you'll never be on the same plain as him. Equip your Star Crash (a star shield), and when Mega Man and Gravity Man pass each other, he'll be hit. After a few hits, he'll get onboard the Newton bandwagon and True Gravity will be restored.
Gyro Man's gyro backpack thing is pretty nifty, but what's with the sherbet coloring? In fact, a lot of the bosses have similar off-colors that make them unappealing to the eyes. Yet another feature of this game for me to complain about. Gyro Man's stage reminds me of Ring Man's stage, sans colorful platforms. Perhaps it's the same cloudy blue background that's been used at least once per game since Air Man. Move along, folks, nothing to see here until you have to move along rows of falling bricks, while avoiding spiky enemies that try to crush you. It's a gas, alright. This is followed by an elevator ascending, while you have to avoid beds of spikes as they try to crush you. It's another too-long stage, like Wave Man's. Gyro Man is pretty easy to beat, though. Simply use the Gravity Hold and Gyro Man's blades will lose their market value. No joke!
Crystal Man bears no resemblance to a crystal of any kind, unless said crystal is blue and bulbous in nature. CAN'T YOU EVEN TRY CAPCOM!!! His stage, the Crystal Mines, is one of the prettiest stages in the game, though. The outline of the crystalline stage shimmers a deep blue raspberry, while the background of robots encased in large glass tubes suggest something sinister. There's a bit o' frustration in the Mines, however, thanks to the crystals that randomly come out of chutes. They're always placed over drops or spikes, so if you get hit, prepare to lose one of your nine lives. Crystal Man deserves nothing less than a Gyro Attack or five. Give it to him proper and – hurry! The game's just about half over.
Napalm Man's Weapons Factory appears to be set in Cambodia, for some reason. You start off in the jungle, fighting tigers, before working your way down into guano-filled caves. Ascend into the forest to fight off a gorilla-like, missile launching fool, then back down into a real Weapons Factory, full of Super Fighting Warheads. The backgrounds of Napalm Man's stage have one of the more interesting progressions of any boss stage I've seen before, and that's my one positive comment. The music is the same uninteresting tripe, while the gameplay attempts nothing more than Mega Man-by-numbers. Napalm Man shoots two little bombs out at you, but he's easy to avoid – simply slide under him and give him a read of your Crystal Balls. Death will certainly be in his future.
Protoman's Fortress looks pretty rad, with his large helmet as the base of operations. Stages 1, 2, and 3 feel like every other castle level that's come before, without any musical gravitas to lend emotional depth to the end of Mega Man's journey. There's a smattering of enemies from all the previous boss stages, combined with the necessity to use more of a variety of weapons and Rush to get through each stage. The stages end with generic robot boss battles. Capcom couldn't have been more inspired by "Lost In Space" if they'd tried. They all have some sort of weapon weakness, but Mega Man hardly has to move to defeat them. Protoman's no Wily, that's for sure.
The pink sunrise/sunset background in Stage 1 is a wonderful use of the NES' limited color palette.
In Stage 2, leaping from conveyor belt to conveyor belt while avoiding both spikes and enemies dropping skulls on your head, is Mega Man masochism at its finest.
The Super Mario World-esque slithering worm platforms across space in Stage 3 was an unexpected tribute.
In Stage 4, Mega Man finally faces off against Protoman. Protoman blows his whistle, but something sounds off. Protoman takes a shot, reducing Mega Man to one bar of health. Suddenly, the authentic Protoman whistle sounds and the real Protoman bursts down and exposes the fake Protoman as... another tacky looking robot. This particular robot, Dark Man, plays for keeps, though. Just a few hits from him and you'll be dead. Protoman generously refills your life for you, before leaving you to face Dark Man by yourself. But Mega Man's tired. He doesn't feel like fighting, so he equips Beat to inflict the beating. Dark Man sees the light (or rather, he explodes into light) and from the darkness emerges Wily. He gives you some longwinded speech about how when he was your age, he would never have thought about coming after mad scientists and their evil robots, then flies away to his own castle.
DR. WILY'S CASTLE
Dr. Wily's fortress is far more interesting, but certainly, he's had more experience at being evil than a fake Protoman. This is his fifth unique fortress in five years, on top of the "fake" fortresses he made for Dr. Cossack and Darkman! He's either got money coming out his hairy ears, or he's backed by the world's most evil billionaires. Stage 1 finds Mega Man moving precariously. Whether it's jumping from moving wheel to wheel above spikes or sliding under descending ceilings, the tiniest slip-up will have your lives down to nil. Big Pets, the boss (no joke – thanks Mega Man wiki!), has three tiers, and only the top tier takes damage. Shooting the bottom two tiers will make him thrust the tiers at you, but you have to use them to stand on and shoot his head. It's one of the best boss designs of the game, and certainly one of the most fun to beat. A rare inspired moment.
Stage 2 makes Mega Man face his demons. Spikes upon spikes upon less gravity upon moving wheels which have spikes on them that can knock you off – well-constructed piece of the stage. There's also a couple large Stomper jerks that need to be taken down a notch with the Power Stone. Props to the fuchsia coloring in the stage, as well. The boss, Circring Q9, is another cool one. He's constantly bubbling around in the air, and the only way to reach him are two slowly moving platforms on either side of the screen. He's invulnerable until he opens his sideflaps and allows the Gyro Attack to DESTROY HIM.
Fight all the Robot Masters again. Was it good for you?
Wily shows up afterwards with the Wily Press. Unlike the printing press, it has absolutely no marketability, other than its potential to squash Mega Man into several large light particles. No need to use any fancy weapons here. Just equip the Mega Buster, wait until Wily tries to smoosh ya, then hit his bulbous, bald head. Fin'!... almost.
Wily's second-to-final boss form is a totally tubular-looking skull on top of dozer wheels. Finally, the Super Arrow gets its day in the sun! Equip the hell out of it and fire it directly at the skull for maximum impact. Explosions are imminent, then it's just you, Wily, and his silly UFO. But Mega Man's tired. Equip Beat again and let him destroy Wily. Capcom really made it that easy.
There really isn't an ending to Mega Man V. After Wily, Protoman, Dr. Light, and Mega Man all escape from the crumbling fortress, the three purveyors of good look on from afar while Wily flies away... then the credits roll. It's an anticlimactic ending to an ultimately average game.
Mega Man V is the first entry in the Original Six that feels completely phoned-in. It's impossible to think that Capcom forgot how to develop Mega Man games properly, given the series' unprecedented amount of quickly generated sequels, but how else does one explain this mess of an entry? Mega Man V may look, sound, and play like Mega Man, but it doesn't feel like Mega Man. The first three entries were created with passion, and without that, the character may as well be in a cryogenic chamber waiting until an adventure worthy of his name comes along to rouse him. Let's hope his NES swansong will do the trick.