There Is No Way Mr. X is Dr. Wily...
Mega Man 6
Well, we're closing in on the end of an era. While the retro Mega Man games will go on for another few titles (one more Game Boy iteration, plus revisits on the Sega Genesis and Sega Game Gear), Mega Man 6 is the last game released for the aging Nintendo Entertainment System. I'd like to say that this portion of the series goes out on a high note... sadly...
That's not to say Mega Man 6 is a bad game. It's certainly not. The problem is that it's a very safe game. Few things in the game are going to feel new, or special, with the game giving yet another iteration of the same old Mega Man formula we've already seen five times before on the NES. For the last outing you would hope for something more interesting, or more daring (especially with the Mega Man X series also coming out the same year, 1993, and doing different things with the Blue Bomber), but this NES game is just another in the line of standard Mega Man games.
The problems with the game really start almost from the beginning. In the intro cut-scene we meet Mr. X, a new robotics master that surely can't be Dr. Wily in disguise. At a robotics competition, Mr. X steals all the robots and sets them up in eight themed stages, all for Mega Man to have to come and fight them before fighting through Mr. X's fortress. Swap out Mr. X with Dr. Cossack or Protoman and it's the same formula we saw in the previous games in the series. Plus, really, no one playing the game even has a doubt this is Dr. Wily, so there's no need for the disguise or the attempt at subterfuge. The plot, in short, just doesn't work.
Following that, it just doesn't feel like the developers put any more care into the Robot Masters than they did with the story. Sure, some of the stages are interesting enough, like Flame Man's stage with its oil pits (that can get lit on fire to kill Mega Man) or Centaur Man's stage that features inverted water sections (to decent effect). Most of the stages, though, just feel like more of the same. There are very few new twists and cool iterations on the basic formula are in short supply.
Honestly, many sections of the game don't even really feel like a copy of a Mega Man game, as if the A-list talent behind the series was more focused on other projects (like the Mega Man X series), shunting development of this game off to the dregs of the department to slap something together until the next SNES game was ready. Everything feels fine but... just fine. Not great. Not spectacular like we expect from the best Mega Man games.
Compounding this problem is a set of Robot Masters that just feel so strange. The creations, from Centaur Man to Tomahawk Man, Yamato Man to Knight Man, feel like rejects from one of the many Disney games Capcom produced over the years. It's like the team behind Duck Tales had scraps of ideas for bosses and just shoved them at the Mega Man guys with a note saying, "maybe you can use these." Again, they aren't terrible bosses (well, okay, Wind Man and Plant Man are both pretty awful) but they lack that certain spark that holds them up as classics of the form.
There are winners, to be sure. I really do like Flame Man as he has the whole package. His stage is cool, his music is pretty awesome, and he has a solid fight that feels like a classic Mega Man brawl. He's the exception and not the rule though. More bosses like him (with their own killer stages as well) would certainly have injected more life into the game.
Life is certainly lacking from the game, especially once you reach the two Wily Castles (one for Mr. X and then the traditional Wily Castle beyond that). Neither of the castles are all that memorable, admittedly a problem many of the later Mega Man games have had. While there are some decent music tracks in the castles, the stages themselves are pretty rote. It's once again like the production team just didn't care that much about the back-half of the game, which sucks because the front half lacks care as well. It just never gels together.
Of course, this is exacerbated by a lackluster selection of weapons for the player to use. As with the bosses, and the stages, there are some winners in the set: Knight Crush and Yamato Spear both show a high level of utility coupled with awesome ammo. There just doesn't seem to be enough real interesting weapons to make the collection sing. There's nothing super powerful, like a Quick Boomerang or a Shadow Blade, nor any oddballs to make you laugh, like a Top Spin or a Charge Kick. The collection has the usual blade weapons, screen-clearers, and Bubble Lead-wannabes, but nothing better.
It sucks, too, because I get the feeling like the team wants to craft something interesting, but between time constraints and (maybe) split resources with all the other Mega Man-related properties coming out, they just couldn't bring the game together. Take, for instance, the split-paths some stages have. Depending on the path you take you'll fight one of two versions of four of the bosses (it's the same fight, just in different locations in the stage). Beat this alternate boss and you get one of four Beat letters (to unlock the blue bird). I like this idea in concept, the idea of special rewards for exploring the stage, but the game doesn't push the concept far enough to make it sing.
Imagine a version of the game where each of the eight Robot Masters had split paths. Take the safer course and you get the main Robot Master weapon, but explore the alternate path and you get not just Beat, but other upgrades like various Rush modes or the Energy Balancer. But to earn that you have to fight an alternate, much harder version of the boss, really making you work for those upgrades. That's a neat new twist on the basic Mega Man formula that still feels like a natural evolution of what they tried in this game.
We also have Rush, who instead of being a vehicle for Mega Man now works like armor upgrades, giving the Blue Bomber different powers. One is a super fist that breaks bricks while the other works like a jet pack, giving Mega Man swooping hover abilities for a short time. I like these two upgrades in concept (although I like the fact that every time you switch to them, the menu has to cycle through a transformation sequence that slows down the game play), but these two upgrades are too limited on their own. Maybe Mega should have been given a few extra things he could do, like swimming, or wall climbing. Admittedly, these ideas would appear in later games (like the X series and Mega Man 8) but they could have been done here with Rush to give the dog more utility.
Everything in Mega Man 6 feels like a missed opportunity. The game feels rushed, like the team had ideas but lacked the time and resources to implement them. Of course, the game had to come out when it did -- if it took any longer it would have missed the NES life-cycle completely. I just wish the game was better. It's a fine game when it could have been so much more, a middling effort in the series when we already have plenty of those. Mega Man 6 won't irritate you, it's not a bad game. You'll just leave it likely wishing it was better (if you remember it at all once the experience is complete).
Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
- Knight Man's Knight Crush (Knight C.): A great weapon with plenty of ammo (one unit per shot), the Knight Crush will get used in plenty of situations. When fired, a mace ball will fly out from Mega Man before curving back, like a boomerang. Although, like with all boomerang-weapons in this series, it doesn't have a lot of range, it makes up for that with power and the ability to aim the weapon in three directions. Very handy.
- Yamato Man's Yamato Spear (Y. Spear): A decent, forward-firing weapon. Has a good amount of ammo to make it useful, and its projectiles alternate between a slight upwards and downwards arc. Good power, but it would be nice it had better coverage.
- Tomahawk Man's Silver Tomahawk (Silver T.): The blade weapon of the game, Silver Tomahawk could be so much better than it is. When used, a blade will fly out from Mega, following a long arc upwards. It has great range, and plenty of ammo, but since you don't get to aim it it's perhaps one of the worst blade-style weapons in the series. Still, it's better than nothing.
- Flame Man's Flame Blast (F. Blast): The first of two ground-traveling, Bubble Lead-style weapons. When you fire this, a small flame will spit out and travel along the ground. If it hits something, it'll create a flame pillar to do damage. While it's utility can be good if you're a speed runner, most regular players will prefer something with more range and flexibility.
- Beat (Beat): Beat isn't as useful for some players (like speed runners) this time around because he won't attack bosses. However, because you don't have to conserve the little robo-bird now you can use him as you like to take out random enemies. Like always. beat will fly out and home in on enemies, doing damage to them before flying back. A useful utility once you get him, especially for some sections of Wily's castles.
- Wind Man's Wind Storm (W. Storm): The second of two Bubble Lead-style weapons in the game, this one isn't all that great in most instances. While it does have a decent amount of ammo, it's limited utility as it travels along the ground means you probably won't use it except for a few select moments when your forward-firing weapons can't reach an enemy.
- Plant Man's Plant Barrier (Plant B.): One of the worst shields in the series so far. It has a high ammo cost (four units per) for a single barrier than spins around Mega. You also can't fire it off or use your Mega Buster while the shield is active. Leaf Shield is still worse, but only by degrees.
- Centaur Man's Centaur Flash (C. Flash): Another of the traditional screen-clear weapons. Although the name would imply this is another take on the Flash Stopper weapon, instead C. Flash simply pauses the action briefly before damaging all enemies on screen. It also doesn't have the best ammo rate, meaning on stages where you have to use this against a boss, you'll have to conserve every unit of ammo you can.
- Blizzard Man's Blizzard Attack (B. Attack): The weapon sucks. When used, four snowflakes appear behind Mega Man; two will fly straight forward while one will angle up and one down. It has decent coverage but limited utility and a pathetic amount of ammo. Useful only on the bosses weak to it (and even then, just barely).
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
- Rush Jet Adapter (JET): Rush has undergone quite a change this time around. Instead of summoning the dog to use as a vehicle of some kind, Mega now applies the doggo to himself like an armor. The Jet form gives Mega a limited-use jet pack with a short energy bar. No worries, though, as the energy bar will refill when not in use. Although the jet isn't as useful as when the dog was a riding platform (since Mega will end up doing swooping arcs as the jet pack burns fuel), it's still got more utility to it than the POW suit.
- Rush Power Adapter (POW): The other major utility for Mega Man, this Rush adapter give our boy a powerful fist attack. Useful for breaking bricks and reaching out of the way areas. Sadly, while using the fist Mega can't perform any other attacks. While the Jet can be worn for almost the entire game (if you so desired), the power fist has to be switched off regularly. Not a bad upgrade, but nowhere near as useful as the jet pack.