After the success of the first two games, it was clear that Mega Man has become a stalwart Capcom franchise, and a third game was in order. In fact, a third game, a final for the trilogy was already in the mind of the original development team. As is obvious, this wasn't the final classic Mega Man, but it does feel like the finale of a trilogy, and what a finale it is.
Often competing with Mega Man 2 for the title of the best classic Mega Man within the fandom, this is another game that sets a high bar for the series while introducing key elements as well, as well as striking a better difficulty balance in my opinion. In this case, the introduction of a slide mechanic is a game-changer. Other introductions such as Rush the dog (only cosmetically changing the platforming weapons) and extra stages were notable as well. Subtly, this entry is also where a hint of story was made more apparent, and the introduction of Proto Man (and his iconic whistle effect) made sure you noticed it.
According to Keiji Inafune, who started having more importance in the game's design with this game, the development for it was extremely difficult and under a lot of time constraints, which is evident in some of the technical shortcomings of the game. This environment, which was also the case in the first two games may be why the creator of the series, Akira Kitamura, decided to retire from the industry after just a short while (Kitamura had a very insightful blog about his experiences which he had to close because he was being harassed by the unstopping questions of Mega Man fans)
Regardless of its development troubles, the game was successful in both Japan and the US, which for the first time started having an accurate (but still dirpy) Mega Man on the cover. Still, it doesn't mean the Capcom US office accurately conveyed the spirit of the game, noting how "Mega Man goes berserk" against his enemies along with Rush, his "dogdroid". At least it's no longer fighting the Robot Masters in their empires.
Anyways, let's look at how the "superpowerful cyborg takes on a horde of metal maniacs" in this gem of a game:
The biggest change Mega Man 3 does to the franchise's formula is the introduction of the slide mechanic. It allows Mega Man to slide beneath some projectiles, slide into tunnels, and slide into safe platforms away from floating hazards. While the mechanic is most useful in boss battles, it also introduced a host of threats to avoid in the stages themselves.
These stages continue to refine what Mega Man 2 did while curiously abandoning mid-bosses for some reason. Generally, there are few additional elements, as tried and tested obstacles (such as the dreaded vanishing blocks) return. What few new elements are there, such as the launching platforms, spinning platforms, and the collapsing platform are sparingly used.
What's most apparent is the increased amount of enemies, which in line with the general increase in difficulty means a tougher time going through the levels. However, with the slide mechanic and a generous supply of Energy Tanks, you should have the tools to survive. Also, it should be noted that the Rush Jet can help you cheat through difficult platforming sections if you have the energy for it. Also, it should be noted that there are four extra stages between defeating the eight Robot Masters and going into Wily's Castle.
Graphically, the game continues the trend of pushing the console to its limits. It has detailed character and stage sprites, some amazing background work (the red waterfalls on Shadow Man's stage are a highlight), and excellent animations and special effects. Unfortunately, with that and the increased amount of enemies, the base game suffers from frequent slowdowns and excessive screen flickering during scrolling. The slowdown issue is resolved by using the Turbo Setting in the Mega Man Legacy Collection, but it was something that could probably be fixed with enough polishing time that the team didn't have.
If you like Mega Man games then you must like fighting bosses, so how about fighting double the amount of Robot Masters? That's right, in addition to eight new Robot Masters of Mega Man 3 you will be fighting eight bosses programmed according to those of Mega Man 2. Don't worry though, they are even tougher now than you remember.
For the new Robot Masters, they are starting to have mostly weird elements with this game. Electricity made a comeback with Spark Man, and Magner Man makes some sense, but what kind of element is Snake Man supposed to be? Anyways, the weakness circle at least works as designed this time, but there are two circles instead of one: Magnet Man>Hard Man>Top Man>Shadow Man>Spark Man>Magnet Man, and Snake Man>Gimini Man>Needle Man>Snake Man.
Unlike the second game, these bosses almost present a challenge with or without their weaknesses (except Shadow Man who dies very quickly with his weakness) and are generally more fun to fight thanks to having more attacking patterns and your sliding ability. Generally, you can learn to beat any boss with the base lemons, and I feel it's really balanced in that regard except with Needle Man and Hard Man. However, the fights don't become trivial when using the correct weapon, as you still need to dodge and position yourself to land an attack for almost half the lemons you would otherwise need.
The increased complexity of the new bosses is apparent when you fight the reincarnations of the Mega Man 2 bosses, who all have only two basic patterns to try and avoid, making them harder bosses with their increased difficulty in this game. That's especially apparent when they don't have a specific weakness (I find most of them to have two or three effective weapons against them), but note that you should never fight them with just lemons. Here is where most people should try and survive by using energy tanks.
Especially since you don't need to use them for Wily's castle (Except the final bosses), since the levels are not exceedingly hard, and most bosses, including the second coming of the Yellow Devil, are not too complicated when you are using the right tools. Just make sure to have enough energy for your Hard Knuckle weapon.
One recurring boss I didn't mention is Proto Man, but that is because I am dedicating an entire section to him here:
Here is where Mega Man elevates itself from being just another Action Platforming series and becomes a bonafide franchise with vast multi-media potential. Where previously it was obvious that Mega Man was inspired by Anime such as Astro Boy, it was now becoming an anime in the fledgling video game space with the tools it has.
If you have the manual, at least in the Japanese version, you read about the mysterious Proto Man. Later, depending on the sequence you go through the stages, the first time you encounter Proto Man is pretty iconic. First, you hear this whistle sound, and then you fight someone who is the same size but wearing a distinctive scarf and carrying a shield. It's not a tough fight and is pretty easy to win if you correctly use the slide to dodge him. However, it's there for a dramatic purpose.
So later, when Proto Man saves you during the game's ending and you learn that he is your damaged earlier model (Robot No.000), it adds some drama and intrigue to an otherwise action-heavy series. It also helps that Proto Man is just designed according to be the epitome of cool according to 80's anime sensibilities. It also doesn't hurt that he probably is associated with the best music track in the whole franchise:
This track begins with the iconic Proto Man whistle before going into a dramatic whistle crescendo backed with piano beats ending in some electronic echo effect. Then the main Blues-inspired melody begins (which fits the Japanese name of the character), and it consists of jazzy electronic sound imitating a flute or harmonica with a cool piano counter melody in the background. Already, the track is one of the most complex tracks on the SNES, but it gets even better. At the 1:45 mark, the second part begins with a beautiful piano crescendo that takes the theme's drama to new rights before it goes back to that soulful Blues tunes. The track evokes emotions of nostalgia and melancholy that always succeed in tearing me up, and it's one of the best themes in the franchise as a whole.
This game's soundtrack was originally planned to be headed by Harumi Fujita, but she had to step down due to her advancing pregnancy, and Yasuaki Fujita took over. You can detect the difference between the styles of the two, as Harumi's two tracks (Gemini Man Stage and Needle Man Stage) have more complex melodies but are not as catchy as Yasuaki's more action-packed and dramatic tunes. Let's check out some of the highlights of this soundtrack.
If I was going to believe that Mega Man 3 was at some time planned to be the series finale, then I would believe it because of this track. It begins with a strong dramatic flourish before it descends into a determined melody. The second part of the melody swells with a dramatic, but still determined melody that has hints of string instrumentation. I imagine it trying to imitate a violin because it sounds sad. You can almost imagine Mega Man, with both sadness and determination going to his last fight with Dr. Wily since the stakes are much higher this time. If the classic Mega Man series ever gets an official finish, then this track should be remixed and reserved for the final stage.
For some reason, the start of this track always reminds me of the beginning of the Mortal Kombat movie theme, but it quickly changes pace into a more upbeat track. The main melody is a cool high pitched guitar with a determined melody that picks up the pace and starts feeling like a kung fu movie theme. However, it's the second melody that elevates the track, answering the first melody with a more determined guitar sol backed by a solid counter melody. The percussion through the track is really good as well. This track has an excellent arrangement in Super Smash Bros. by Hideki Sakamoto.
Notice how this Harumi Fujita track is nearly twice as long as the other two tracks without looping. It starts with a mystery motif, which is backed by a percussion sound that is out of investigative fiction. The first melody repeats three times before resolving into the secondary melody beautifully, giving off a Middle Eastern sound that keeps the theme of mystery intact. It's a really catchy track that fits the level and the mysterious nature of Gemini Man perfectly.
Usually, the greatest debate on the placement of the classic Mega Man games is between the second and third games. The second game was a huge leap forward for the franchise that the third game iterated on and refined. For some, the purity of the second game edges it, but for many, the addition of the slide in Mega Man 3 expanded the game in exciting directions. Both games had their flaws, with Mega Man 2 frankly being too easy and with poor weakness balancing, while the original version of Mega Man 3 chugged along with frequent slowdowns thanks to the increased number of enemies.
In any case, one element that the third game introduces, which is the increased role of story and drama in both the soundtrack and the occasional set-piece served the franchise going forward. Proto Man was cool, and that made the game feel like it had more of a story than it actually did.
Personally, I always preferred the third game, but only if you enable the Turbo improvement that is available in later releases of it. For me, the fact that had some of the best pieces of music I like is a big factor, but it's mostly about the slide mechanic that I think adds a ton of welcome mobility and options to the franchise.
Rankings: I am firmly in the Mega Man 3 camp thanks to the slide, but Proto Man's theme helps as well. Will it stay number 1 for long?