Mega Man III
Based on: The Revenge of Dr. Wily's Revenge Part 2: The Revenge. Also: making a decent game miserably frustrating using cheap kills.
Life sucks, and then you die. Except in Mega Man III for the Game Boy, where you die regularly.
Coming after the sweet and forgiving Mega Man II, this third game returns us to the School of Hard Knocks popularized back in Dr. Wily's Revenge. The kindly jumping and kickback physics, generous 1-up drops... In fact, everything about Mega Man II that made the game easier has been struck from the records. All except for the Shadow Blade, which on a Game Boy-sized screen hits nearly as far as the free-flinging Metal Blade in the previous game.
You'll appreciate a couple of the special weapons in this game, but the Shadow Blade most of all. It's for all those hard-to-reach places, like in Snake Man's stage where the jumping toasters try and land square on your forehead, conveniently shoving you into a bottomless ravine. Shame we lost the cool razor-slicing sound effect, though. And the Spark Shock, nearly useless in the original Mega Man 3, is indespensible here for freezing those enemies that end up targeting whatever sadistically-placed one-square-wide island you're teetering around on.
Mega Man III continues the basic premise of combining elements of two NES games (Mega Man 3 and 4) into a cohesive unit. This results in some subtle design changes, most notably the cross-pollination of enemies from Mega Man 3, such as Hammer Joes, into stages originally taken from Mega Man 4. Although enemy backporting was common in Dr. Wily's Revenge, this is the first time we've seen the series forward-port older foes unchanged.
More pertinently, the stage difficulty and frustration have been dialed up to eleven, especially for the second wave of Robot Masters. Levels feel longer, mostly because Mega Man must avoid legions of spike-balls and cruelly-spaced pits. Developers, ask yourselves: if your previous game was too easy, how do you remedy it with as little effort as possible? I've got it! Sprinkle spike-balls and pits every two steps. Pacing is now measured in geological time, since the levels routinely require the player to meticulously inch Mega Man along until only his little toe touches the platform edge, prior to a successful jump.
Two of NES Mega Man 4's lamest bosses provide eighty percent of the challenge in this game: Dive Man, wielder of the infamous snorkel of doom; and Dust Man, vacuum-powered and ever-sucking. Dive Man's stage has a glitch in its spiky tidal area where the sky actually has a ceiling, inevitably causing fresh players to misjudge their actual clearance, fall on a bed of spikes, and utter something obscene. And Dust Man's stage, aside from being full of nasty jumps and crushing ceiling-presses, contains a room that lets the player choose between using Rush Coil on a bed of spikes, or taking a hit to cross the spikes during a period of invulnerability to set up Rush Coil on a one-sqaure outcrop. After dying at this area multiple times, you learn to appreciate disappearing blocks -- because now you know how much life can suck when level designers forget to include them.
Sure, beating Dive Man and Dust Man's stage is a matter of pride now, with all the opportunity for one-hit deaths. But what's the payoff? In Dust Man's case you get a newly-gimped Rush Jet that auto-scrolls with no vertical movement. Oh, and the Dust Crusher. Gee, thanks, guys. I guarantee you that no person in the history of the universe will ever defeat Dust Man in drooling anticipation of his "special" weapon. And Dive Man's auto-targeting Dive Missiles are second-tier compared to the more reliable, slower-depleting Shadow Blade.
In spite of these nagging level design and pacing issues, there's a lot of quality apparent in Mega Man III. The graphics in particular are fantastic, even improving (sometimes animating!) the detailed background art from the NES games. And the slight instrumentation differences between the NES and Game Boy actually serve to improve the otherwise perfect note-for-note song conversions. That said, it seemed that Capcom learned their lesson -- it's not enough to merely copy features from the NES Mega Man series and then make the game harder. You have to take the source elements that don't work, improve on them, and then play-test the hell out of the final result.
Otherwise, in my class of quality platform game-design, you fail.