Protoman, How Could You?!
Mega Man 5
It's hard to deny that the Mega Man series was quickly and constantly pushed out, one game after another. Once Mega Man 3 came out, the series pushed forward with at least two main-line entries per year (including the Game Boy releases) which is a lot of games for any series to produce. There was certainly the potential for the series to quickly get tired, both in ideas and among the audience.
Going back through and playing Mega Man 5, I couldn't help but feel like maybe this series had in fact gotten a little tired with the fifth entry. That's not the say the game isn't fun, because it is. It's just that as I made may way through the adventure, the game started feeling less and less creative. It has a strong start but it totally whiffs the finish.
At first blush, Mega Man 5 is a pretty solid game. The game features an interesting mix of Robot Masters, many strange and unique. While my complaint about the Mega Man 4 Robot Masters holds here as well -- namely that none of the bosses really make sense in a functional capacity, such as what purpose does Charge Man actually serve? -- I found I didn't mind it as much in this fifth game in the series. The stages felt more creative, more varied, more interesting in this game and that goes a long way towards selling silly concepts.
Some of the early stages in this game are really interesting. I dig the train-set stage of Charge Man, and found the concept of exploring it inside and out to be pretty fun. I also enjoyed Dive Man's stage, and sections of that (like the bubbles) are so iconic that Capcom reused them for Splash Woman's stage in Mega Man 9. There are very few duds in the whole run (Stone Man's stage is pretty basic and boring, if we're being fair) with most stages being an absolute joy to explore (aside from the obnoxious crystal shooters).
While liked many of the stages and bosses in the early run, I do have to admit that the weapons you gain are almost all pretty terrible. Mega Man 5 boasts one of the worst selections of weapons in any of the Mega Man series, and that's including the paltry selection from the very first Mega Man game. There's really only one truly useful weapon out of the set of eight from the Robot Masters, and even that weapon (Gyro Attack) is pretty compromised. There's nothing in the selection that can stand with Thunder Beam, Metal Blade, or Ring Boomerang. Hell, when this game's version of the Top Spin, Charge Kick, is one of the more useful weapons in the game, you know your stockpile looks pretty bad.
Worse, though, is the back half of the game. The plot of Mega Man 5 revolves around Protoman (Mega's brother) seemingly going bad, kidnapping Dr. Light, and sending eight Robot Masters after Mega Man to do battle and end the Blue Bomber's life. Of course, if you've played Mega Man 3 (with the Doc Robot stages) or Mega Man 4 (with Dr. Cossack), then you know that more than likely Protoman didn't actually go bad and that it's all a ploy from Dr. Wily. And sure enough, once you get far enough into the game all of that is revealed.
Look, I know the games need to do more than just give us eight robots followed up by a castle -- there has to be an evolution of the series. But the mid-game of the series hasn't really changed since Mega Man 3. Swapping in Protoman for Cossack or Doc Robot doesn't make the idea any fresher. Something new and different really is needed, not this recycled plot-twist we've essentially gotten twice before.
It certainly doesn't help that the Protoman (really, Dark Man) castle stages are pretty boring. None of them really show any creativity to them -- they're more like harder, recycled elements from the previous Robot master stages remixed and dumped onto the players for them to quickly get through. But, to be fair, that kind of seems to be a formula for most of the castles from Mega Man 3 onwards -- Capcom dumps all their best ideas into the Robot Masters and then lets the rest of the game quickly just wrap up so the credits can roll.
Dark Man, too, is a pretty boring boss. Each stage of Dark Man's fortress ends with a battle with the robot himself. He has a different power in each battle, leading up to the fourth and last battle which is kind of a combination of all the previous forms. Fighting the same guy over and over isn't really all that interesting, and it makes the recycled nature of his whole castle feel even more pronounced.
Weirder still are the bosses in Dr. Wily's fortress. None of them are really all that interesting, to be sure, but they also aren't even all that challenging. For whatever reason Capcom made them all fairly weak to the charged-up Mega Buster, meaning you don't even need to use boss weapons to clear any of these suckers out. The challenge of the stages is greatly diminished if you don't have worry about conserving ammo, and if a Mega Man game doesn't have challenge, what's the point of it?
It feels weird to be so harsh on this game because back in the day I really loved Mega Man 5. I played this game for hours on my NES after it came out, finding it to be one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. I think that's largely because of the creativity on display in the early stages along with the fact that the game wasn't too hard. 11-year-old me was actually able to beat most of the Robot Masters (a feat he never was able to perform in Mega Man 2), which made this game seem so great. And it is, at the start. It's just hard to ignore how tired, how shaggy it starts to feel in the mid-game.
As far as Mega Man games go, Mega Man 5 is not the worst -- I still reserve that title for Mega Man 4. I just can't rate it among the greats like Mega Man 2 or (my personal favorite) Mega Man 3. It's a solid, B-average game in a series made famous by A+ titles. It's good, but it really could be better.
Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
- Gyro Man's Gyro Attack (G. Attack): This game's equivalent of the all-purpose blade-type weapon, Gyro Attack will shoot out a gyro blade that you can then control once, up or down, to hit enemies. It's decently strong and has plenty of ammo, although I hate the fact that it's so easy to press up or down on the controller, causing the gyro blade to fly off away from an enemy ineffectually. Still, it's basically the best weapon in this game, and that's kind of sad.
- Crystal Man's Crystal Eye (C. Eye): A decent weapon that would be so much better if you could shoot it more than once at a time. Kind of an equivalent to the Gemini Laser, Crystal Eye will shoot out directly in front of you -- if it hits a wall it will break up into smaller pieces and bounce around, damaging enemies. It's a decently strong weapon with good ammo, but because you can only have one of them on screen at a time, it's annoying to use at times.
- Charge Man's Charge Kick (C. Kick): While some would consider this weapon to be as useless as Top Spin, there are some (like myself) that dig the Charge Kick. It's a powerful attack that replaces Mega's slide. The downside of the weapon is that while you're using it you can't shoot. On the flip-side, the slide is nice and quick and Mega is invincible (mostly) while charging. Overall and pretty useful item in application if you know what you're doing.
- Gravity Man's Gravity Hold (G. Hold): Screen-clearing weapons, such as Gravity Hold, tend to all be limited in their application. While this items is strong, clearing the screen of many weaker enemies (by reversing their gravity, causing them to float upwards off-screen), you just don't get many shots of it. Worse, as the weakness to a Robot Master, you only get enough ammo to kill the boss and nothing more. While this weapon is great for the Robot Master stages, you'll end up conserving it for the final re-fights afterwards.
- Star Man's Star Crash (S. Crash): It's weird to rank a shield-type weapon so high on a list like this, but this game just doesn't have a lot of good weapons to use. Star Crash creates a shield around Mega that will move along with him and can be fired out, at will, at any time. If Mega touches an enemy with it, or their fired attacks, the shield will damage and absorb the attack, making it decently versatile. The one big downside is that it's a single, solid shield in use -- once it hits anything the entire shield disappears. It would be much more useful if each star of the shield were a separate entity.
- Water Man's Water Wave (W. Wave): This weapon creates a powerful wave that will travel along the ground, damaging anything it touches. In a way it's like a souped-up Bubble Lead. It has the same flaw as Bubble Lead, since it only travels along the ground, but it can at least deal decent damage.
- Beat (Beat): Don't get me wrong as Beat is pretty darn useful. The issue is that you barely get any time to use him before you have to conserve your ammo. To get Beat you have to collect eight letters (one in each Robot Master Stage) that spell out "Mega Man V". Once you do you can use Beat, but that means that through normal play of the game you won't get Beat until you're practically at the final castles. And, of course, Beat is the best weakness for two different bosses, so you won't be using him otherwise. As a homing bird that can attack and kill anything he'd be great to have but you just won't use him since he's so critical for bosses in the late game.
- Napalm Man's Napalm Bomb (N. Bomb): Ugh, this weapon sucks. We already have Water Wave, which is a ground crawling attack, but this game also includes a second one in Napalm Bomb. The bombs will shoot out in a tiny arc from Mega Man and then bounce listlessly across the floor for a bit before exploding. You'll be hard pressed to find any good use for this weapon.
- Stone Man's Power Stone (P. Stone): But then, if we're talking useless weapons, there's Power Stone. It's not quite a screen-clearing weapon nor a shield-type -- three stones will burst out and rotate in a spiral from Mega, damaging anything they touch. The problem is that hitting anything with the stones, including the boss weak to them, is frustratingly difficult. I you can come up with a scenario where the Power Stone would be useful, I can guarantee the Mega Buster is better for that job.
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
- Super Arrow (S. Arrow): To say this item is broken is an understatement, to be sure. The Super Arrow is a fast-moving platform that will shoot off in a single direction from the Mega Buster. If it hits enemies, it will damage them, and if it hits walls, it will stick to them like a plunger. Useful as that is, what makes it so good is that Mega Man can jump on to them and travel along the stage in style. Plus, he can shoot multiple of them so it's easy to get Mega above any enemies and breeze through open passages. Better, if you stand on the front edge of the arrow, less ammo will get used, stretching the life of the arrows. It's awesome.
- Rush Jet (R. Jet): In most games, Rush Jet would be so useful (even as nerfed as he is now). Because of the Super Arrow, though, Rush's usefulness is greatly diminished. He's neither as fast nor as capable as the Super Arrows, so it's unlikely you'd use him nearly as much.
- Rush Coil (R. Coil): God, Capcom, what did you do to Rush. This game wisely gets rid of the Rush Marine (finally), but it's as if Capcom said, "well, one Rush Item has to be useless." Enter the new Rush Coil which no has Rush spring upwards when you jump on him. You can then jump off Rush which in theory means you can get greater height off him. In practice, though, it means you'll screw up your jump and likely kill yourself attempting a maneuver. Avoid the coil whenever you can.