Three and Out: Mega Man 3
Mega Man 3’s combat systems serve as a puzzle that can have its pieces either a) jammed and squished together through defiance or impetuosity or b) fit snugly into their place if you’re patient and methodical. Both can be gratifying, but the game’s ingenuity can’t be appreciated until you’ve gone through the trial and error of discovering the strength and weaknesses of your foes. Each boss gives Mega Man a new weapon when defeated, all of which function as entirely unique tools. As is custom with the franchise, each boss is (inexplicably) weak to a different boss’ weapon – and defeating these bosses without their weakness proves deafeningly difficult. It’s like putting out a fire without water to pour over it. When everything clicks, something that will likely vary from player to player, Mega Man 3 is a smooth and satisfying ride.
The thing about Mega Man is there really isn’t much else to consider. Not on the surface, at least. It’s art style is dressed in dreary, mechanical tones and its narrative goes absent for entire levels at a time. Because you can beat the levels – of which there are eight main ones – in any order, what little hints of storytelling they do deliver are fleeting and hard to understand. Somehow, that feels fitting. Mega Man is on a lonely sojourn between worlds, accompanied only by his robo-dog “Rush”. The world feels antagonistic – an idea backed up by swarms of angry bees, spiked floors and trash compactors that crush anything that makes the smallest of missteps. Accentuated, then, are the brief moments of battle between yourself and a different robot by the name of Break Man. Break Man seems remarkably similar to our protagonist, and even though the late-game explanation is heavy handed, his relation to Mega Man is a fun piece of world building. Mega Man 3’s narrative is minimal by design, and its existence is welcome.
The game mechanics include running, jumping, sliding and shooting. Under the pretense of ludonarrative, a game’s mechanics blending seamlessly with its narrative, it’s oddly effective. Mega Man isn’t difficult to understand, and his abilities aren’t, either. The game expertly polishes what it has and slowly builds off of its strong core through the addition of the aforementioned boss weapons and a small handful of tricks for Rush. Even then, the weapons and tools function similarly in how they’re used, they just provide a boost of versatility. The game’s biggest flaw is its interface – which almost seems to purposefully discourage the exploration of these tools with a two-paged menu system that is remarkably clunky. All the same, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that much like the hardware we utilize daily, Mega Man’s interface feels like a design flaw. Intentional or not, this connects wonderfully to Mega Man’s older brother, Proto Man (whose alias is the previously mentioned Break Man), who is explained to be a more primitive version of our protagonist. Mega Man 3’s imperfect and robotic protagonist fits snugly into a world that seems content to exist without any kind of humanism.