Mega Man IV

Mega Man IV is the fourth Mega Man installment on the Game Boy, so I’m going to assume you’re up to speed on the Game Boy series by the point or at least the main NES series before reading on. You’ve been warned. And hey, this one actually lets me start with a bit of plot! It’s not a lot, but it’s present. If you leave the title screen on for a while you’ll be greeted with a cinematic showing Dr. Wily sending his robots into the city and causing destruction, followed by Mega Man gearing up and getting ready to stop him. In the start of the game you’ll also be greeted by Dr. Light for the first time in the Game Boy series, who may or may not be called Dr. Right in this game. I’m still unclear. He sort of explains that Wily is up to no good again and that you have to stop him. He also introduces you to the idea of P chips which can be collected and used to make items, but we’ll get to that later.

So you start playing with the usual select screen, even though it’s a bit fancier here than the typical grid from the previous ones. You choose between four bosses from Mega Man 4 on the NES that you can beat in any order. Once again, these are the same bosses but different stages. Once you beat them you will have a Dr. Wily stage ending in a brand new boss that you nearly defeat before it flees. You then are given the next set of four bosses, this time from the NES Mega Man 5. After defeating them and collecting certain collectibles, you can go to the final set of Wily stages ultimately ending in a second encounter with a powered up version of the new boss and then a three-form fight against Dr. Wily himself. You’ll also be awarded with passwords and some cutscenes along the way. Oh, and for a fun tip, you can hit B on the stage select screen to switch between the two sets of stages once you’ve unlocked the second set.

The basic gameplay is about the same as before, but the charged shot now has an even larger blast and some knockback this time around. Rush Coil and Rush Jet are back, but Rush Jet now can only move straight ahead from the starting point. The E-tanks are back, but now there are mini E-tanks, W-tanks, and S-tanks as well. Collecting four mini E-tanks will turn them into one full E-tank. The W-tanks refill all of the ammo for your currently select special weapon and the S-tanks fully refill both your health and all of your weapons. Then there are the new pickups you can find in a few set locations and dropped from enemies known as P chips. These essentially act as currency for you to use between rounds in Dr. Light’s lab, who is apparently referred to in this game by his Japanese name Dr. Right. I looked it up, okay? You can enter the lab by selecting the option after completing a level or, fun fact, by hitting select on the stage select screen. Here you can purchase extra lives, E-tanks, mini E-tanks, W-tanks, S-tanks, ammo refills, and the Energy Balancer which will automatically refill the weapon with the lowest ammo when you pick up an ammo refill unless you have a different weapons specifically selected. It functions the same way in Mega Man 6, if you’re familiar. There’s also a secret upgrade to your buster that shoots an even larger charged shot and makes your bullets fly faster, but it can only be attained through getting four game overs in a row and upon continuing the fourth time you’ll get a short cutscene in the lab about it. This is only active until you turn the system off. You can also get the robotic bird companion Beat in this game by collecting the four letters of its name scattered throughout the first four levels. Beat will fly around and automatically attack enemies for you as long as you have ammo. The one other part to mention is that, in the last four stages, you need to collect letters to spell out Wily in order to unlock the final set of levels. Oh, and the new boss gives you a weapon that’s basically a bomb that you can shoot in eight directions.

This one has a lot of great stuff going for it. The usual cool stuff like new levels, a few new bosses, and the mashup aspects are still cool. The addition of a plot establishment in the start is a nice touch and it’s only enhanced by even more badass cutscenes later on. I mean, this has some stuff I didn’t even see in the NES titles. It’s that impressive. The P chips are a nice touch. They make killing enemies feel more meaningful, especially when you are just grinding out more health or ammo in an easy enemy spawn. It also helps in case you need to continue more because you’ll be able to buy more resources to help compensate a bit for your skill level. However, you can still get E-tanks in the stages so you can even totally avoid the shop if you’d prefer a more classic experience. You don’t refill ammo between stages, though you do upon continuing. This, along with being able to buy more lives, helps make the shop feel a little more useful to be a pit stop in order to continue playing smoothly. You won’t have to just do the next level without enough lives or die to restock. This lets you actually use your resources more freely without fear of completely running out of things like E-tanks for later in the game. I also enjoy the collection element with the Beat and Wily letters. It adds a little bit of challenge and replay value. There are some alternate routes you can take in the stages in case one way is too difficult, though often times the branching paths will lead to bonuses and require you to backtrack to continue. It gives you a few more options. Oh, and the new boss weapon kicks ass. It’s a bomb that you can shoot in eight directions and it doesn’t even use up that much ammo per shot. It’s also pretty cool that there are a few stages after getting it so that you can actually use it for a while rather than just having it be an item for the final fight. The difficulty is done very well here, in my opinion. It can be pretty easy and forgiving if you play smart, but it does get pretty tough by the end. It just happens to curve pretty well, largely due to the separation of levels and how it manages to have both linear and open elements to your progression. It really all just comes together with solid established ideas, interesting new ideas, and a layer of polish I didn’t expect for a Game Boy title.

Then again, not all of this is great. The new charge shot pushing you back a bit can be an interesting mechanic, but I think it mostly just discourages you from using the charge shot. It’s usually safer and almost as efficient to just shoot the enemies multiple times instead and not mess with your position or momentum, placing too much risk versus the reward of using it. I’d like it if the upgrade to it would take away the knockback either instead of or in addition to what it does already. I also think that upgrade shouldn’t be unlocked by dying and continuing a bunch. I get why it is, but you can also just abuse it by dying intentionally anyway so it’d make more sense to just be able to purchase it in the lab with a bunch of P chips, forcing you to just grind out more chips to earn it which you can do even if you’re having that much trouble in the levels. It’d also make the lab more useful, as it’s kind of a let down. Getting the tanks is helpful, as is the Energy Balancer, and even lives have their place, but maybe the Beat parts could be here for purchase as well in case they were too hard to get in the levels. Or maybe the Rush abilities. The weapon refills could be replaced and just have your weapons refill between rounds like the used to. It just feels like the shop isn’t utilized super well, but it’s certainly something new so perhaps that’s why. P chips can sometimes get a little annoying to see when all you want an enemy to drop is ammo or health, though. And I don’t like the mini E-tanks. They do nothing until you get four and then they just turn into a normal E-tank. And since you can also not only purchase full E-tanks but also find them within the stages… well… do you really need these? Especially when the max you can hold is four E-tanks anyway. I also think I should point out that this one has the most slowdown and flicker of the Game Boy titles so far. It’s not unplayable, but it does mess with the flow in some parts so you might have some trouble adjusting. And look, I know the passwords needed to keep track of a lot of items, but my god are they a pain in the dick to write out.

Still, I think Mega Man IV is pretty damn good. The great difficult curve mixed with interesting new elements and the stuff that was already good about the previous titles, plus that extra layer of polish with the art and cinematics, makes this a damned impressive Game Boy title. Not only does it not feel limited by the platform, it manages to feel impressive for it, rivaling even its NES counterparts. If you’re a Mega Man fan, this is certainly a worthwhile one to check out. I’d say it’s worth up to 25 bucks, even. It’s really good. It’s not just another companion piece to your collection. This is a game with enough to stand on by itself, despite the few borrowed elements. Maybe it’s not the best one to start on, but fans familiar with Mega Man should not be disappointed. I’m very excited to see how they wow me with the next one.

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