Mega Man 64 is a platforming shooter adventure game by Capcom for the Nintendo 64. It’s actually a port of the Playstation version of the game, originally called Mega Man Legends. I’ve not personally played the Playstation version, but as far as I’ve seen and researched, they are nearly identical apart from a few visual alterations, control schemes, and audio quality. Just know that, while most of this will apply to both, I’m basing it on my experience with the N64 version.
So Mega Man 64 starts out with an opening narration explaining this new take on the Mega Man universe. Basically, it’s a period where most of the world is covered by water and everyone is forced to power their machines by limited sources of energy known as refractors. These refractors tend to be found deep underground, so people known as diggers go on excavations looking for valueable refractors to use and sell. There are also pirates on the seas that seek to pillage and steal for their own personal gain. There’s also a legend of something called the Mother Lode, which I assume is part of the title of the Playstation version, but it doesn’t seem to have much relevance to this particular game. Maybe in the sequel. There’s also a mention of trying to find the parents of Roll, the mechanic and pilot of your futuristic ship, Flutter… but again, this is never really explored here to so don’t spend too much time thinking on those things for this game.
You start out on a short tutorial mission in the form of doing a basic dig. You play as Megaman and learn the basics of gameplay as you go via Roll on a radio communications. The control scheme is somewhat tanklike. Left and right on the control pad or control stick make your turn, while up and make you move forward or backward. You can use L, R, and Z to strafe. A jumps. B fires. You can grab onto some ledges and pull yourself up. Your standard buster shoots up to three projectiles at a time that will disappear on contact or after they have traveled a fixed distance. You can hold both strafe buttons to lock yourself in place and look around freely, or alternatively this will work as an automatic lock-on for nearby enemies. The game also sports some general auto aim even while not locked on. If you jump while pressing left or right you can perform a rolling dodge. When enemies are defeated they will often drop refractor shard that can be collected and instantly turned into zenny, this game’s form of currency. Sometimes they may also drop health or plot-specific items when appropriate.
After this mission you find yourselves crashing onto Kattelox Island due to problems with your ship. While there, you’re forced to talk to the authorities and go through the proper channels to go about entering the city, obtaining a digging license, and trying to find parts to repair Flutter. However, you’re given some special consideration after pirates start attacking city hall. You dive in headfirst to save the day, but this is only the beginning. Most of the game is split into two different types of play, though the mechanics tend to remain the same throughout. One major part of the gameplay is the digging. You’re able to go to different unground ruins and explore. There are enemies to fight, obstacles to overcome with certain items or abilities, and lots of treasures to find. Some of the treasures can be brought back to Roll and used to create new items to give you more abilities, or sometimes to create special weapons. These special weapons can be exchanged and upgraded with Roll’s help, but you can only carry one at any given time. You can also return to Roll to refill their ammunition. These special weapons are in addition to your buster, which also can be upgraded in a different manner. Along the way you’ll find, buy, and have Roll create a number of buster parts. You can equip a limited number of them to alter the stats of your main buster. You can increase its range, fire rate, damage, and the number of shots per volley. This will all feed into the exploration and combat elements of the game.
The other major part of the game is questing. There are obviously the main story quests you need to do in order to advance the plot, but there are also a number of optional sidequests. These may reward you with zenny, lore, or valuable items you can’t get elsewhere. Some quests require you to have progressed so far in the story already and some even depend on completing others first. These elements, along with the customization of your buster, lead some to consider this game an RPG. I’d personally disagree, but I can see the elements there so I wouldn’t necesarrily say that description is outright incorrect. Anyway, that is pretty much the majority of the game in a nutshell. You help out the people of Kattelox Island like most heroes do in adventure games, while fending off those pesky pirates, exploring the various ruins for your own goals of fixing your ship, and slowly unearthing more of the world’s history.
I enjoy a lot of this game. The exploration with a Mega Man world is very exciting. The transition to 3D is interesting and definitely lends itself to this type of play more than a strictly linear experience. Customizing your buster and upgrading special weapons are a neat way to strategize for certain areas or bosses rather than beating your head against a wall trying to simply get good. There’s also a lot of excitement whenever I find a new item because I wonder what it can do or be turned into and THEN do. Will I get a new buster part? Maybe this will be another special weapons. Man, I hope it’s something that gives me a new ability! I builds up the excitement and makes you want to ensure you inspect every inch of the environments so you don’t miss out. This incentive also bleeds over into the sidequests for the same reason. The game makes you want to play thoroughly because you’re rewarded for it by the rewards making the gameplay that much more enjoyable. Also… I’ll just throw it out there… Roll is a cutie. You can make eyes at Tron all you want but she has nothing on Roll, alright!? Well.. there’s no dating sim aspect so I guess that’s a bit of a moot point.
The most obvious ACTUAL downside to this game is its presentation. Even considering the systems it was on and the timeframe, it’s not among the most polished games. The character designs are fairly blocky and jagged. Much of the scenery lacks textural detail, though this may be due to following art direction of classic Mega Man and putting that into 3D, so I’m willing to consider letting it slide a bit on that merit. The voice acting isn’t always that great, and the sound quality is shockingly poor. The Playstation version definitely has better sound, but Mega Man 64 suffers from trying to lower the quality in order to fit all of the voice acting in. Even the mixing can be a bit questionable at times too. The music lacks here for a Mega Man game. There’s not a ton of music as most areas play more ambient sounds to give the proper atmosphere. Even of the music available, while there’s no accounting for taste, I think most of it is pretty underwhelming and I only really liked a few of the tunes. This normally wouldn’t be too big of a deal, but I generally tend to love the art and music in Mega Man games so it’s worth noting. I also find that the museum sidequest is pretty annoying. See, you basically need to keep finding things to display in the museum until you finally have it filled and the place is booming. Well, instead of giving you clues as to where to look, you’re just told to bring things there. So that means a lot of the things you get from other sidequests or find on your digs will NOT go towards rewarding you by making your gameplay more fun. Instead, they’ll just get displayed in the museum, often times cheating you out of actual lore as the curator simply hypothesizes as to what these thing ACTUALLY are and makes up something that will sound interesting to people coming in. So all of that is questionable at best and takes away from the core excitement of the game. I’ll admit that, while better than the Playstation version, these controls are still awkward and clunky for exploring 3D space and I understand complaints about them. When you first play the game you can choose to start a new game or continue if you have an unfinished file, but once you beat the game you unlock the ability to play on hard. This difficulty, as far as I can tell, simply makes it so that you take much more damage from enemies and deal much less to them. It’s the same thing except it’s more tedious and you have less room to make mistakes. It’s not more challenging, but it sure it harder, so ya got me there. The thing is, for beating the game on hard mode, and I looked this up because I got stuck at one spot in hard mode, you unlock easy mode. Yeah. Beating the game on HARD, indicating you’re pretty good at the game for beating it twice now, nets you EASY… the thing you should have access to right away! Why not call this Mega Mode or something so it doesn’t sound like a downgrade? It makes things easier with the damage ratios (I think, but don’t quote me on that) and gives you a fully maxed out buster from the start. It comes off as an insulting downgrade to play on easy rather than being an awesome reward for beating hard. The icing on the cake is that the ending of the game sucks. I’m not here to spoil it for you, but basically it brings up a new plot point during the last leg of the game, raises a lot of questions about that plot point, and then just kind of ends. It’s some kind of conclusion for the main story, but the inclusion of these things feels so tacked on for sequel bait that it really frustrates me to know there was no Mega Man 64 2 and that this can’t just stand firmly as its own game without that crap being shoehorned in.
For all my nitpicks and gripes, I still like this game. I like it more than I should. It’s probably the most unpolished game I’ve played that has still been able to draw me in and make me want more. It makes me want to see these ideas expanded. Get more areas. Add more items. Create new special weapons… and maybe let us carry them along like the Mega Man tradition rather than forcing us to switch one by one. Of course better audio and visuals would come naturally, but really make a solid story if you want to build it up and then have there be some real payoff for that story without undercutting it for promise of a sequel. Look, if this game looks fun or sounds fun, it probably will be. I can’t recommend paying too much for it or having high expectations, but it’s worth checking out if you’re on the fence. If you’re a huge Mega Man fan, it’ll be worth seeing their take on turning the franchise 3D. And I do think it’s one of those hidden gems on N64 since no one seems to bring this one up despite the cult following Mega Man Legends has on Playstation. Now I just wish I personally had a good way to play Mega Man Legends 2, because it may very well do all of these things for me and more. Maybe someday I’ll get there… in the year 20XX.