After the fun but flawed Dr. Wily's Revenge and the almost thoroughly disappointing Mega Man II on Game Boy, Capcom made a serious and substantial course correction. The result is Mega Man III, and we couldn't be happier about that.
Retaining the template from Dr. Wily's Revenge (two sets of Robot Masters, a new Mega Man Killer, a unique weapon) and adopting one of Mega Man II's more inspired additions (full stages for the second set of bosses), Mega Man III achieves the potential that even the most dedicated Mega Man fan probably didn't realise it had.
When you start the game you'll be able to choose from four stages: Snake Man, Gemini Man, Shadow Man and Spark Man, and the improvements upon the previous Game Boy titles are immediately apparent.
The soundtrack isn't identical to the NES version, but it's close enough that it doesn't feel lesser in any way. The spritework is excellent, the sound effects are correct and used appropriately, and the challenge is steep, but fair overall. The improvement over the previous portable titles is appreciated, but what's truly surprising is the fact that it also manages to improve upon the NES titles from which it borrows.
We don't mean that it improves on them in every way, of course, but for the first time the Game Boy titles aren't content to remix content we've already seen; Mega Man III seeks to actively refine it; it succeeds.
In some cases it's purely cosmetic, such as Snake Man's stage, which now takes place in a lush forest instead of the dark, featureless underground of the original — happily, his glitchy cloud platforms are also missing. In other cases it's functional, as with Spark Man's rising platforms, which are now much more manageable, and the fight with Shadow Man, which has been slowed down and allows for more strategy than a reliance on simple reflex. Then there's Gemini Man's stage, which takes on a completely different, creepier atmosphere simply from the contrast between the black and white version here and the glitzy neon of the original. We should also, of course, mention the fact that the Gemini Laser actually works now, in the sense that you can fire it without slowing the action to a crawl. That's a very welcome fix.
Things get even better with the second set of Robot Masters: Dust Man, Skull Man, Dive Man and Drill Man. While it's not likely that those bosses would make many lists of absolute favourites, Mega Man III elevates these stages to new heights. Dust Man's crusher room now poses a genuine challenge as opposed to being a glorified speedbump, and Dive Man's stage has been transformed into an unforgiving gauntlet of death spikes that turns Mega Man's floatier underwater controls into a massive liability. Even poor, wimpy Skull Man has been buffed up, and puts up an impressive fight.
Mega Man III seems to soften the things that were a bit too difficult in the original games, and sharpen the things that were a bit too easy. The end result is very even experience that remains consistently challenging not because of unexpected difficulty spikes, but because of new ideas and new arrangements that are being introduced throughout.
For the first time on the Game Boy, a Mega Man game feels whole. It's a complete adventure of its own, and while it recycles the hazards and enemies of the original games, it evolves their usage in such ways that the most dedicated fans will still find a major challenge ahead.
The new boss Mega Man will have to face is Punk, and the fight with him is one of the highlights of Mega Man III. Much like Enker from Dr. Wily's Revenge, battling Punk requires fast reactions and a good sense of anticipation. However Punk is much more nimble, and the fight is far longer as a result, giving you plenty of time to make a mistake. He also hits very hard, meaning there's little room for error. Take him out, though, and you'll get the Screw Crusher, which is so much fun to use that it's disappointing you won't have it until the game is nearly over.
If there is a complaint about Mega Man III, it's the claustrophobia. The environments often feel cramped, and while this can be used in aid of the stage design, it often ends up being responsible for cheap deaths as Mega Man bumps his head on a low ceiling and fails to make a jump that required pixel perfection. This is especially irritating when you've almost made it to the boss gate and have to start over from the last check-point. In Gemini Man's level, for example, that checkpoint is all the way back in the second room.
The soundtrack is also rather good, but the few new tracks are mainly underwhelming. The Wily stage theme is pretty great, but aside from that the only tunes you're likely to find yourself humming are the ones you'll already know from the NES.
But those are minor complaints. Mega Man III is a very worthy purchase, and it's one that stands on its own merits better than either of its predecessors. As good as this one is, though, the best is yet to come.
Offering gorgeous visuals, a great soundtrack, an excellent new boss, a fun new weapon and some surprising improvements on the NES originals, Mega Man III is a solid outing. The difficulty might be a bit high, but E-Tanks (and now Restore Points) cushion the blow for all but the most masochistic Mega Man fans. While Dr. Wily's Revenge and Mega Man II had their respective merits, this is the first of the portable series that is a great game in its own regard. Fortunately, it was by no means the last.