I know I’ve told this story before, but I received Mega Man 3 as a gift on Christmas morning 1990. By the middle of the afternoon, I’d already beaten it, much to my mother’s consternation — the idea that I’d already finished such an expensive gift so quickly really irritated her. But she didn’t realize that Mega Man 3 was fantastic and that I fully intended to play it over and over again. Which I did. Money well invested, I would say.
Mega Man 3 proved that whatever dark alchemy used to create Mega Man 2 wasn’t simply a fluke, or some sort of formula that would vanish forever at the stroke of midnight. Here we had Capcom recapturing the greatness of Mega Man’s breakout title and building on an already amazing creation. Sure, some of the new elements here change the nature of parts of the game — the ability to slide opens new tactical possibilities while losing some of the mechanical purity of the first two titles — and the weapons aren’t as useful as in the previous game (though some might argue Metal Blade was too useful).
Nevertheless, for every possible down side, Mega Man 3 introduced a number of upsides. The remixed stages you have to complete before taking on Dr. Wily’s lair aren’t simply padding, they rework each stage to create new and more challenging scenarios for play mechanics you might otherwise take for granted. The music, expectedly, rocks. The graphics extend the depth and quality of Mega Man 2‘s characters to the backgrounds and environments, offering a wider array of visuals and characters. If ever you needed a case for the importance of giving developers a little more room to stretch, compare the visual improvements afforded by Mega Man 3‘s more advanced mapper chip to the great but limited visuals in the previous game.
Despite the upgrade, Mega Man 3 didn’t compromise the series’ underlying cartoon weirdness. Those bug-eyed Disney robots became even wackier — grenades dashing at you in a suicide run, penguin generators that looked like shaved ice makers, and more. All goofy, and all the weirder for how hostile and deadly they were.
The next year, I opened up a copy of Mega Man 4 for Christmas, kicking off a tradition that… ended abruptly, because the Super NES came along and made NES Mega Man feel tragically limited. But it was fun while it lasted.