torstai 17. tammikuuta 2013

REVIEW - Mega Man IV | GB | 1993

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: October 29, 1993
PUBLISHER(S): Capcom, Laguna Video Games

Let's place the NES game Mega Man 4 and the Game Boy game Mega Man IV in a face-off. Mega Man 4 was a good game, but it was a notably weaker, less inspired and less memorable performance in every way than its two predecessors. Not to mention a very easy game to everyone who had suffered Mega Man 3's torture to the end; a bit too soft of a landing, so to speak. Well, Mega Man 4 followed two extremely grand installments... unlike Mega Man IV. Mega Man IV does not have any great expectations on its side. Mega Man X for the SNES had just been released in the United States to great acclaim, and the Japanese release of Mega Man 6 for the NES was just days away. It's no wonder people didn't believe that this sequel to a decent, but lukewarm and flawed series of handheld games would make any difference whatsoever. Oh, but it did - it turned out the most inspired game in its own series. In contrast to my low expectations, Mega Man IV is one fresh, solid take on the tired old formula(s) - and way better than the NES game that came out a while later.

The feeling you get when it all falls into place

Guess where we're at.
Dr. Wily interrupts a robot exhibition with a reprogramming signal, that causes the subjects to go on a rampage. He then unleashes four of his earlier creations to wreak havoc in the city, and retreats to his fortress with another set of four robots, and his newest pet project, Ballade. Mega Man, who along with some of his friends is able to resist the signal, vows to take the mad scientist down in his toughest and longest black and white adventure yet.

Well, I'll be damned. For real. When I first started reaping through these Game Boy exclusives in the Mega Man series, before I even got started with Dr. Wily's Revenge, I didn't believe I'd bump into anything truly special. There were good games on the Game Boy for sure, but rarely anything that would truly stand out in the big picture. Wario Land - the first one - is the only game to come to mind right at this moment that was a truly unique and memorable title, with all Mario games taken into account. Dr. Wily's Revenge didn't really make an impression since the level design was a bitch, Mega Man II was an entertaining but extremely easy game, Mega Man III was once again a frustratingly hard game with most of its difficulty stemming from the awkward level design and the total lack of slack. The structure of all of these games was near-identical, and all of them suffered from several different issues. Issues most of which are harvested in Mega Man IV. Some technical ones remain, though.

Mega Man stays silent as
he should... for now.
All in all, the game is way more polished than any of the preceding games. Maybe even all of them combined, considering all that it's got in store, which I will spill out soon enough. The graphics are great, the level design is fantastic - no more spaces cramped to the hilt, no extra challenge involved - and the music, both the ported music and the new tunes sound as excellent as you can possibly expect from the Game Boy. On the downside, the deadly lag is still very much present, in fact it's worse than ever, as you might expect from a game that absorbs the Game Boy's capacity by such force.

From the very beginning, Mega Man IV feels like taking an idea, placing it on a slab and hacking it to just the correct amount of bloody pieces to make it feel fresh, yet not alien. First up, it introduces Dr. Light's Lab - which is interestingly mistranslated to Right Lab. This is the first appearance of a store, and unlike in Mega Man 7 where the store was practically under a rock and I didn't even know of its existence before entering one of the final stages, you are clearly given the opportunity to visit the store after the completion of each level, and the acquisition of each password. It's still extremely hard to find any health items or long-term aid such as Energy Tanks in the game, but now you can buy them yourself, by using P-Chips that are scattered all across the levels, and yielded by most enemies at a 70-80% certainty. You being able to buy Energy Tanks, Weapon Tanks and Special Tanks - which replenish both your health and weapon energy - does not make the game too easy. The level design is very diverse (even the lengths of the levels vary), there are some tough-ass enemies to deal with, and finally, you have to enter the very final series of stages with the knowledge you'll never be able to use the store's services again once you cross that final threshold. Believe me, what awaits beyond that threshold is not a comforting sight. What relieves us a little, is that Mega Man IV is far from a near-impossible game to complete. It's the middle road that's been long paved.

Robot Chicken's early days.
Even the Stage Select screen is different. Instead of the usual boss grid, it's a 3D design with a big portrait of the boss and the level's general outlook revealed once you highlight one of the bastards. First, you have to deal with four bosses from Mega Man 4 - Toad Man, Ring Man, Pharaoh Man and Bright Man. Not only that, you might want to go on a little hunt for secrets and collect the Beat letters from these levels to gain the assistance of your bird buddy Beat - who I found no use for, though. After you're done with all you're willing to do here, the next order of business is disabling Dr. Wily's tank. Here, you'll face off with two bosses, including the new Mega Man Killer who is another  pushover in the vein of Enker and Quint if you figure out the right tactics.

After this, you enter Dr. Wily's castle, which is a bit different since it features the rest of the four main bosses - meaning your weapon energy won't be restored between levels. Charge Man, Napalm Man, Stone Man and Crystal Man from Mega Man 5 make up for the bosses in the castle. Instead of Beat letters, you are absolutely mandated to find each and every Wily letter to open the gate in the level that unlocks after you've beaten the four levels. If you haven't figured it out before this point, you can replay the levels. After opening the gate, you're going to find yourself pitted against the Killer again. He's a bit harder than before, but still pretty much a pushover in comparison to his predecessor Punk. What follows is a gauntlet run in which the weapon you got from the Killer turns out essential.

Hey, bro. Fancy meeting you
If you played any of the earlier games, you might fool yourself into thinking you're pretty close to the end at this point, but you certainly aren't. First, you're cut off from Dr. Light's Lab for the rest of the game. You have to deal with the bosses on the deck of Wily's giant spaceship, then with a couple of more bosses in the interior area, and finally... a BOSS SURVIVAL. For the first time in the Game Boy series, you have to beat each one of the first eight bosses again, in succession, and it just so happens that two of them are weakest against the very same weapon. Luckily most of the bosses are quite easy to kill with the right weaponry, and your health is kept in check by the orbs they yield.

If Wily has the resources to
pay for this sort of stuff over
and over again, why doesn't
he just BUY the world?
One who is not easy to kill is Dr. Wily. Seriously, this is the toughest confrontation I've had with the son of a bitch yet. He's not impossible to kill, and there's at least one checkpoint placed somewhere in the three-phase fight, but he's still an extremely frustrating boss. Yet, the feeling you get from finally seeing him drop to his knees to the very same pose he's taken upon losing the game for ages, and then taking to the sky just to be blown up as always, and seeing "Thank you for playing - Capcom" on the screen is extremely rewarding. Mega Man IV was a long and hard game - and hard for all the right reasons.

There's an exact amount of two major problems I have with this game - the selection of bosses (which really can't be helped without any exclusive Robot Masters, the source material just ain't that good), and the graphical lag. Nothing else. It's a fresh game with a few neat surprises that immediately make it stand out from the array of Game Boy exclusives in this franchise - hell, the WHOLE franchise. It's almost as good as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 on the NES, and a positive surprise if there ever was one. A definite must for Game Boy cultists.

+ Good, not to mention FAIR level design
+ The same structure is enhanced and enforced with a few surprise levels, such as the gauntlet run after the second Ballade fight
+ Good graphics and music
+ The store is a wonderful addition and a fine excuse for the lack of helpful items
+ It's long
+ It's hard, and for a lot of more right than wrong reasons

- The lag is one persistent issue as it was on the NES
- The selection of bosses isn't from the strongest end
- The ability to shop is removed perhaps a tad too early 
- Once again I find myself bothered by dialogue in a vintage Mega Man game

< 8.8 >

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