Mega Man 4
While Mega Man 3’s development was rocky, Mega Man 4’s was actually pretty calm. The team faced very few problems during development and all went smoothly. This was the first game where designer Hayato Kaji joined the team, one who would become a prominent designer for many later Mega Man games. All of the Robot Master designs have been created by fans and they were so impressed by them that almost no changes were made. An entire level was even scrapped because they really wanted to put Skull Man in! The game was originally received pretty positively, but did notice that not much has been changed to the formula. However, the change in quality has definitely been complimented.
Surprisingly this game starts with a cutscene recapping the first three games and detailing Rock’s origins. Weird to do that with the fourth game but hey, be my guest. Last time Rock fought Wily, the castle collapsed during their fight. Rock was rescued by Break Man, who is revealed to be the first Robot dr. Light ever made named Proto Man. Wily on the other hand died. Maybe. Don’t count on it. But with Wily out of the picture, a new villain from the motherland of Russia rose up to power. This man is the evil dr. Cossack, and he too has eight robot masters that Rock needs to defeat. Rock goes out yet again to thwart this new villain his plan and save the world for the fourth time.
The cutscene mentioned that Rock has a new mega buster and that is indeed the case. The new ability he has in this game is the charge shot. By holding the attack button, the buster will charge itself and unleash a bigger blast that can be held until you remove your finger from the button. This does more damage and has a slightly bigger radius. For many people the slide is the best mechanic Rock has gotten over time, but for me this is it. It makes doing buster-only runs a lot more viable, and will always be a good option if you’re not comfortable with using a certain Robot Master’s weakness.
The biggest difference in my opinion is the stage design. I don’t know if I’m the only one with that opinion, but stages have gotten more improved with alternate paths and collectables to be found. Collectables such as e-tanks are shown pretty clearly, but there’s usually a platforming challenge to go through before being able to obtain them. There are also ladders in the middle of a hallway frequently that leads to said collectables, including Dr. Light’s new helper robot Eddie. This robot spits out useful items in the middle of the stage such as 1-ups and e-tanks. And because this game is not perfect, you can leave the area without picking up the item and return to get a potentially better item from Eddy.
Minibosses have also become a more frequent part of level design, usually getting their own screen and functioning like an obstacle you have to pass before being able to move on. I like this approach as there’s more emphasis on combat now. This game has an overall good selection of weapons. There’s a homing missile and the Dust Crusher that splits into four tiny parts upon hit. A time stopping weapon and an improved Crash Bomber that both don’t suck unlike the original, and the Pharaoh Shot that can be charged up and hangs behind you like a sun and damages any enemy that comes into contact with it, and can also be fired for massive damage. Finally there’s the first screen nuke weapon in the game, the Rain Flush which annihilates all small enemies on screen. Rush also returns, and there are two pretty well-hidden items in stages too!
For everything positive I can say about the stages however, there are some negatives I have to point out. I felt like there were a lot of pixel perfect jumps (especially for collectables) and “how could I see that coming” moments. For example, the rising robots when you jump over a pit in Dust Man’s stage. And I also swear there are just some moments where I can’t see myself going through a stage without taking inevitable damage. The falling rocks in Drill Man’s stage fall so fast, and I could not avoid taking damage without the time stop weapon. Enemy placement as a whole wasn’t the best either. So while I can see the intentions to make stages even better, the fundamentals were in this case not that good yet. Bosses were good however, except for Toad Man which had a weird pattern. Shoot him once, he’ll jump over you, shoot him again and he’ll jump back without doing any damage. I also felt that one of the final boss phases was really hard to hit with just the mega buster as it kept being bounced off.
The difficulty is higher than the previous two games because of this level design. It’s not impossible, not even close, but you might end up struggling because of obstacles you didn’t see coming. However, e-tanks are kept on death from now on so you can literally just save them up now. Bosses themselves aren’t too bad, and I don’t remember having an issue with any of them especially if you know their weaknesses. I had a lot of fun fighting them personally, especially the likes of Pharaoh Man. Due to the added castle, gameplay has been extended to about three to four hours because spoiler, it may or may not be the only castle.
While not looking that much different from its predecessors, Mega Man 4 had a quite significant jump in presentation. There’s more variety in graphics, the weapon selection screen became its own and looks very clear, and the weapon get cutscene also got a boost. The quality has gotten better, and not just in graphics. While I don’t necessarily prefer the soundtrack of this game over the games that came before it rhythm based, the quality of the sound is better. I can’t decide if the final battle theme or Skull Man’s stage theme is better, but I’ll just go with the latter because spoilersss.
When I think back on Mega Man 4, there is always one element that stands out: a big improvement in quality. Presentation got a major boost, Rock got one of the best abilities he has ever gotten being the new Mega Buster, and there’s a slightly different approach on stages in general. With that last one does come some issues however, as a lot of deaths might happen due to the level design overall being not that good. This game set up the stage for the following games perfecting this formula further and I do appreciate it for that. And with that, here is my final verdict for Mega Man 4:
I really like Mega Man 4 but I do not rank it amongst my favourites, and the level design plays a huge role in that. And hey, if the level design didn’t give me so many deaths I might have actually ranked it up there. Probably the next few games fixed that? We’ll see.. on the next pages! As always, Mega Man 4 is available on almost every modern generation console, as well as the NES of course.