With both Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 ranking among the best NES games ever made, many people were quite excited when Capcom announced a fourth entry in the series back in 1991. After all, if they managed to make it even better, it would be pretty much near perfection! Sadly, it didn't quite turn out as people hoped.
Set a year after the events of the third game, Mega Man receives a threat from a new villain, the Russian scientist Dr. Cossack. He's heard of Mega Man's escapades and as such wants to destroy him so that nothing stands in his way to world domination. To this end he takes a lesson from Dr. Wily and designs eight new Robot Masters to fight for him. To call these strange would be an understatement as they're easily the most unusual batch the entire series has to offer.
Although opinions are of course divided on this, most fans think little to none of this game's bosses are truly great; Dive Man, Skull Man and Drill Man come close, but the likes of Toad Man (who will never attack if you keep firing) and Dust Man (who literally "sucks") frequently rank among the top of "Worst Robot Masters Ever Made" lists. There's also Ring Man, Pharaoh Man and Bright Man, who generally seem to fall somewhere in between.
As always, at the beginning of the game, you're presented with a level select screen, where you can choose to tackle any of the game's Robot Masters, each of which has their own stage. For beating one of them, you'll get to use their weapon, which just so happens to be the weakness of a different one – figuring out the entire cycle will let you beat all of them with ease.
From this game onward, Capcom decided to get a little more inventive with the stages – each has at least one unique, defining obstacle. For example, in Dust Man's stage you'll have to deal with a ceiling that falls and rises while blasting through rubble in your way. In Toad Man's stage you'll have to be wary of heavy rain and sewer water that moves you back, and in Ring Man's stage you'll have to traverse platforms that give way shortly after stepping on them. Two of the levels also have secret paths that lead to bonus items – while not necessary to beat the game, they're a nice little extra.
After defeating all Robot Masters, Mega Man is able to advance on Dr. Cossack's citadel, comprised of the usual four final stages. Or are they? After clearing them all, there's a little twist (which isn't exactly an unexpected one), after which you'll have to go through a second castle, containing four more stages. This formula continued for two more games, but has since then mysteriously vanished.
The slide from Mega Man 3 returns, but there's also a new addition to Mega Man's arsenal. This is the first game in which Mega Man has the Mega Buster, rather than his standard arm cannon, allowing him to charge shots and unleash them for more damage than usual. The designers arguably went a bit overboard with this, though – enemies seem to have much more health than those in previous games, which means that you're almost forced to use charged shots, unless you want to set yourself up for a hit trying to nail them with an obscene amount of regular shots.
The graphics are about on par with the rest of the 8-bit series, although some new effects (like Toad Man's rain) look pretty nice. The music is the single most often criticized aspect of the entire game, though; it all sounds really grating, and almost every track seems to use nearly the exact same instruments. There's still a few standout tunes in there (the music for the final Cossack stages rivals the famous Wily stage 1 theme from Mega Man 2 in some people's eyes), but if you're expecting anything near the level of the last two games you might want to prepare for the worst. The sound effects can also be really annoying, with the shot charging sound resonating through your ears and the sound of a boss's life bar filling up completely drowning out the boss music!
Mega Man 4 is easily the most disputed classic Mega Man title. Some claim it to be the absolute worst in the series due to the (mostly) boring bosses, disappointing music, the new Mega Buster and the slightly less simple stages. However, others think it's still a great title, with Keiji Inafune, Mega Man's creator, even considering it one of the best! Let's just keep it at this: if you're simply up for more of the usual Mega Man action, Mega Man 4 offers it, but if you want something to rival the greatness of 2 and 3, you might walk away disappointed.