Mega Man 3 is, of course, the third installment in the original 8-bit NES Mega Man series. It first came to that system 18 years ago in 1990, and it was the first game in the series to be released to an already-established audience of franchise fans. The first Mega Man had come and gone with little fanfare, but Mega Man 2 had exploded onto the scene and found great success — inspiring a wave of popularity for the franchise and the character. So by the time Mega Man 3 came around, Capcom could have decided to just make it a quick, cookie-cutter sequel. To cash in.
They didn’t. Keiji Inafune and his team of developers instead took the time to craft an innovative, evolutionary installment that took the foundation of Mega Man 2 and expanded upon it. Adding new characters, new gameplay mechanics and a greater number of more detailed and challenging levels, Mega Man 3 left no aspect of the series untouched. It was no quick, cookie-cutter sequel. It was a fully realized follow-up to one of the best action games ever made for the NES.
The core gameplay of Mega Man 3 is much the same as the other games in the series — you control Mega Man, a little blue robot with a gun on his arm, and as you fight and defeat each of the game’s Robot Master bosses you then gain the power to use their signature weapons. Those weapons then each prove to be especially effective against one of the other Robot Masters, prompting you to try to discover the right Rock-Paper-Scissors order in which to challenge and defeat each one. After you take out all eight of the initial bosses in Mega Man 3, though, something different occurs — you get a whole new set of stages to choose from.
Whereas Mega Man, Mega Man 2 and even Mega Man 9 took you straight into the linear progression of Dr. Wily’s Castle after you defeated the first set of bosses in each game, Mega Man 3 extends the adventure with the addition of four interstitial “Doc Robot” levels. These four stages are remixed takes on four of the initial Robot Master levels, and it just goes to show you how much more involved and intricate the level design work was for this sequel — you’ll fall down a completely harmless vertical corridor the first time you go through Spark Man’s stage, for example, but when you later revisit that scene for the Doc Robot Spark Man stage, that same shaft will be lined with deadly spikes. You’ll see some large, partially buried hard hats stuck in the ground the first time you run through Needle Man’s level, but when you later return for the remixed run those hats will unearth themselves and turn out to be huge mini-bosses that you’ll have to destroy to move on.
It’s a thoughtful and interesting take on Mega Man level design that, unfortunately, was never really seen again later in the series. But there are several other additions this sequel made that carried on into the franchise’s future — like the slide technique, the introduction of Rush and the debut of Mega Man’s brother, Proto Man.
The slide is the first and most obvious addition to the game, as it’s an immediately available new dodge technique that you can activate at any time by pressing down on the D-Pad and then hitting the jump button. The slide can be used to quickly move out of the way of an incoming enemy attack, or to just get Mega Man to fit through tight spaces — there are some pathways in Mega Man 3’s levels that are too short for our hero to run through, but sliding lets him zip straight through to the other side.
Rush the robot dog, Mega Man’s faithful canine companion, is also available to be called upon from the onset — he teleports into the stage in Rush Coil mode by your summons, and will propel you up the screen like a trampoline when you jump on his back. As you defeat certain Robot Masters, Rush will also gain access to two other transformations — the Rush Marine, which lets you freely move around in water, and the Rush Jet, which offers the power of flight. Though their use is mostly optional, there are some areas in the game that can’t be cleared without calling Rush — an extended sequence over a huge bottomless pit in the Needle Man Revisited stage forces you to master the Jet, for instance.
And, finally, Proto Man. The fanboy hype that recently fueled the addition of Proto Man as a downloadable character in Mega Man 9 all got started here, in Mega Man 3, when the character first appeared — as an enemy. Proto Man will appear to attack you as a mini-boss on several occasions before his true identity and allegiance are revealed, and his air of mystery and ambiguous intent made him one of the most compelling additions to the franchise’s cast of characters here in the middle of the NES set of sequels.
As with Mega Man 2, it would be easy to go on and on singing the praises of Mega Man’s third NES adventure. But just as with that game, I’ll cut to the point — Mega Man 3 is an excellent, fully featured and incredibly enjoyable action experience from the NES that is absolutely worth your investment of 500 Wii Points. To this day, fans of the franchise debate whether or not 2 or 3 is the best in the series — to me, the point is moot. Both are incredible, and both can be owned for a combined total of just ten bucks. You should download both.
Though Mega Man 3 features no intro sequence beyond the simple title screen, the introduction of Proto Man throughout the adventure advanced the story of the series well.
Another slight improvement over its immediate predecessor, Mega Man 3’s environments and character designs continue to sell the style of the Blue Bomber’s world.
One of the cornerstones of the 2 vs. 3 Mega Man debate — as with the soundtrack for Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3’s set of tunes is essential NES listening.
Though series creator Keiji Inafune has recently taken a stance against mechanics like the slide, introduced here, the game still speaks for itself. Superb, focused fun.
9.0 Lasting Appeal
Mega Man 3 removed the difficulty selector seen in its predecessor, but extended the adventure with four interstitial Doc Robot stages — 3 is a longer game than 1, 2 or 9.
9.5 out of 10 not an average