Fighting the Classics, One Last Time

Mega Man IV

Although for a while there the Game Boy Mega Man games came out regularly between the NES iterations, Mega Man IV marked the first time a Game Boy edition didn't follow one of the NES's big brothers. Following hot on the heels of Mega Man III, game four for the Game Boy didn't break from tradition in the series at all (we would have to wait for Mega Man V for that), but it did refine many of the elements of the Game Boy editions to make one of the best Mega Man games on the hand-held.

Like the previous Game Boy games in the series, Mega Man IV features a mix of Robot Masters from two previous NES editions in the series (this time the remaining Robot Masters from Mega Man 4 and four from Mega Man 5). Mega Man will have to battle the Mega Man 4 bosses first, gaining their powers (and, maybe, finding Beat in the process) before gaining access to the first Wily Fortress for a short set of battles. Then it's on to the Mega Man 5 bosses before the final slog through Wily's fortress begins. By this point anyone that's played any of the Mega Man games on Game Boy will know exactly how it goes.

Not everything is exactly the same as in previous games, with the big change being the addition of a ship to Mega Man IV. As Mega explores the levels he'll collect P-Chips (which, in later games in the main series, would come to be known as "bolts"). Once he's collected enough of these he can visit Dr. Light's shop (run by Auto in later games) and purchase items like E-Tanks, W-Tanks, and the all important Energy Balancer. It's hard to overstate the importance of this shop for this game -- the inclusion helps to ease the difficulty some, allowing players to grind, collect chips, and buy enough health and weapon energy to make it through some of the harder sections of the game.

That is, if they need the help. While I certainly suck at every Mega Man, i did find this fourth Game Boy edition to be one of the easiest in the series. Gone are the evil level design and nasty enemy placements from Mega Man III -- things are much more manageable in this game, almost sedate in places. It's probably too easy a game for hardcore players, but I certainly enjoyed this version of Mega Man over the tough-as-nails game play from the third Game Boy game.

Plus, I love the Energy Balancer. Being able to pick up weapon refills and have them auto-applied to my guns not only make it easier for me to keep topped up at any time but it also encouraged me to go out of my way for some extra power-ups. This is an essential item, one that feels like a core element of Mega Man (largely because it's appeared in just about every game in the series since first showing up here). This is always the first thing I save up for in the game, and absolutely essential utility I can't live without.

Along with plenty of ammo in the game (fairly distributed by the Energy Balancer), Mega Man IV also fixes the health refill drop rate from the third Game Boy game. By that I mean health actually drops (and isn't all just weapon ammo, all the time). This, too, helps to ease the pain of this game, giving players a chance to breathe, to relax, to not worry about the occasional face-tanking of damage. This is a relief and I'm glad Capcom realized it was necessary.

Not everything in the game is sunshine and roses, though. For starters, this game is very detailed and nice to look at, but in the process of making a pretty game, Capcom also made a very laggy one. Players will regularly see a bit of slowdown any time more than a couple of enemies are on screen. Many sections of the game are just totally laggy like the engine is struggling to produce both the background sprites, effects, Mega Man, and everything else on screen. You do eventually get used to it, learn to work around it, but this is the kind of thing you shouldn't have to get used to in a fast-paced run-and-gun game.

Also, for whatever reason, Capcom nerfed the Mega Buster. In this game, when Mega fires off a charged blast he gets thrown back slightly. This adds a weird pace to the run-and-gun game play, to be sure, slowing down the pace a touch. Worse, there are times where I've died because the knock-back from the Mega Buster blast was enough to send me into a pit or onto sprites. I'm not sure why Capcom felt this nerf was necessary (maybe to encourage people to use the Robot Master weapons instead of just killing every boss with the Mega Buster, like you could in Mega Man III), but it hurts the overall game play

And while we're lamenting stupid decisions, I still don't understand why Rush Coil is once again doled out after defeating a Robot Master. Rush Coil is a basic, essential utility and he should come packaged in with Mega from the beginning of the game (like he does in the NES games from Mega Man 3 on).

What I think is most interesting about Mega Man IV is that it feels the most like one of the full-fledged NES titles. Sure the small screen still hampers the game a tad (while sometimes aiding the players with less room for enemies to dodge your weapons), and the game is still steadfastly monochrome. And yet, it features lengthy stages longer than any previous featured in the Game Boy games. This game has one of the longest sets of Wily stages in any of the portable titles, and even many of the later Robot Master stages are gauntlets of their own with a ton of split paths and hidden sections.

The game even features Robot master re-fights, the first in the portable series to do so. Although the previous games proved this wasn't entirely essential for the series, it is nice to have this section of the game back, a second chance to fight all the weird and full Robot Masters in this game and play around with the full compliment of weapons.

As far as the Game Boy Mega Man games are concerned, Mega Man IV is easily one of the best of the set. Well balanced, lengthy, and fun, this game does just about everything right (aside from a few weird changes to the overall formula). I would even state this game can contend with some of the big-boy editions over on the NES (I certainly like it a lot more than the first Mega Man game). Some people might argue with that statement, but I'm gonna stand behind it: Mega Man IV isn't just a good portable game but a great, proper Mega Man title in its own right.

Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
  1. Pharaoh Man's Pharaoh Shot (PH): This is a beast of a weapon in this game. Aim-able in three directions (straight, up-angle, and down-angle) plus chargeable, you get a lot of basic utility out of the weapon. Of course, like in Mega Man 4, Mega Man charges the weapon by storing the energy in a ball above his head, allowing you to damage enemies with this ball as well. The screen real estate benefits this weapon, allowing you to bash the charge shot into so many enemies. This weapon is a real winner in this game. About the only way this would be better is if it had even more ammo. Sigh.
  2. Ring Man's Ring Boomerang (RI): Another great weapon. Because it's a boomerang-type, the range is naturally short, only traveling about half the screen. The boomerangs seem bigger in this game, though, making them easier to hit with. Overall a very useful, very strong weapon.
  3. Toad Man's Rain Flush (TO): Normally I hate screen-clearing weapons because they never get enough ammo. Not so in this game, as each use of Rain Flush only eats up a single unit of energy, so you can fire this off a lot. Better, it last long enough to hit some enemies twice, and does pretty good damage over all. A very useful version of this screen-filling arsenal.
  4. Bright Man's Flash Stopper (BR): This game features the proper, working version of Flash Stopper. As in Mega Man 4, firing the weapon freezes time for a short while, but Mega Man can still fire a form of his buster while time stopped. Useful, although I wish the game gave you more ammo for this weapon to really make it useful across stages.
  5. Ballade's Ballade Cracker (BA): An aim-able, exploding weapon. It's quick, it's powerful, and it's everything you wish Napalm Man's bombs would be. If only you got it earlier in the game so you could really enjoy it.
  6. Beat (BE): We have the return of the bird. Beat will follow along with you, flying out and attacking enemies. The big problem with him here is similar to his first appearance in Mega Man 5: you don't get him until after the auto-refills at the end of a stage are already done. As such, you have to conserve his ammo along with all the rest. At least he's not essential for boss fights in this game, which is nice, but it also means you probably won't use him as much in this game as you might have otherwise.
  7. Charge Man's Charge Kick (CH): This weapon overwrites your slide, when used, giving you a cool kick-power on the ground. It's fast, makes you invincible for a little while, and it great for speed-play. I do enjoy this utility a lot, but there isn't a lot of time to really get to use it in this game. Charge Man is in the back-half of the game, and since you have to conserve your ammo from the mid-point on, you won't use Charge Kick anywhere near as much as you'd like.
  8. Crystal Man's Crystal Eye (CR): Like in it's previous appearance, the best way to use Crystal Eye is to directly hit an enemy with it. If you don't, and it hits a wall, it'll break up into smaller pieces in bounce around. While this is certainly useful in the tighter corridors of this game, you're still unable to shoot any further Crystal Eyes until all the pieces disappear. And with the at-times laggy game play, you really don't want a bunch of sprites bouncing around while you're trying to run and gun.
  9. Stone Man's Power Stone (ST): Ugh, Stone Man. Why does your weapon suck so much? A screen-filling spiral weapon that, even on the small screen, is hard to hit with and moves so slowly. There are so many better weapons in this game, but I guess something had to be a dud.
  10. Napalm Man's Napalm Bomb (NA): Well, this item is still useless. You get to throw out bombs in a small arc before they bounce around on the ground and explode; the weapon has no travel and barely any utility. The best thing going for it is that its explosions are pretty big in this game, but it's not worth using the bombs to see that. Even hitting the boss that's weak to it, Stone Man, is an absolute chore.
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
  1. Energy Balancer: This is the first game where this item is available, and it's a god-send. If you have this utility (which you get from Light's shop), any ammo refills you pick up with automatically be distributed to the weapon with the lowest current ammo. It's a great way to auto-refill and always have ammo shots on hand. A must buy in this game (and every later game that features it).
  2. Rush Coil (RC): The standard (non-broken from Mega Man 5) Rush Coil. There area few good spots to use this item to reach hidden items and out of the way areas, but the Coil is in no way a necessity. Still, useful when you want an extra refill or life.
  3. Rush Jet (RJ): This is the usual Rush Jet we're used to, the one that isn't anywhere near as delightfully broken as we'd like to see. The real issue, though, is that you don't get the Jet until the second half of the game, and then only after beating Charge Man. As such, none of the stages in the second half are really designed for the use of this utility, and then it's off to Wily Castle where you have to conserve. While the utility is decent, your time with it is lacking.