mega man 3

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — #10-6

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: You can read the intro to this list here and the entries for #15-11 here.

10. Downwell (2015)

Some might define Downwell as a shooter, but developer Ojiro Fumoto ingeniously riffs on one of the platformer’s most common features: the ability to dispatch an enemy by bopping them on top of the head. In Downwell, you can safely bop certain enemies but get injured by touching others, and it’s this concern that gives this pacey game its fundamental tension as you try to rack up combos or merely survive through the greatest fall in video-game history. The newest game on this list, Downwell shows that Fumoto is a brilliant independent artist who should get more attention from the gaming press (which is too obsessed with, among other things, the randomly generated sci-fi banalities of No Man’s Sky).

9. Kirby’s Adventure (1993)

Kirby’s Adventure doesn’t exactly conform to the standard notion that platforming should involve a distinguished approach to jumping. This Nintendo classic — which has the fingerprints of the late and great Satoru Iwata, in addition to those of long-time Kirby and Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai — is more driven by the freedom to fly, and Kirby’s copycat ability both complements the established formula of 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land and predicts the surreal, morally dubious nature of Super Mario Odyssey. As a game where you can casually advance through its levels or dive deep into its hidden areas through fun uses of the hero’s many powers, Kirby’s Adventure has flexible appeal and is one of the greatest technical achievements of the 8-bit era.

8. Spelunky HD (2013)

I’d like to meet someone who has stopped discovering tricks and quirks in Derek Yu’s Spelunky HD. The fundamentals of this game — the climbing and hanging, the running and jumping, the throwing and dropping — are fine-tuned to an absurd degree, and Yu’s level design strikes an impeccable balance between randomness and familiarity. And pay attention to the game’s underrated satirical undercurrent, where the protagonist’s greed and treachery — the damsel in distress, who is wryly labeled a villain in an in-game notebook, can literally be used as an object — are almost always rewarded with death.

7. Mega Man 3 (1990)

An honorable mention in my 15 greatest shooters list, Mega Man 3 fully realizes the potential of its predecessors. This game’s silky smooth run-and-jump action, a revelation after the slippery play of the first two Mega Man games, is accompanied by faster screen-to-screen transitions and a now-legendary move, the slide, that redefined how the blue hero can travel and react to threats. The game’s kinetic flare makes it hard not to feel propelled through its gauntlet of outstanding villains, from Snake Man to Gemini Man to Top Man. (For more on the greatness of Mega Man 3, read my essay here.)

6. Donkey Kong (1994)

The best remake in video-game history, this Game Boy masterpiece opens with the four levels of 1981’s Donkey Kong before sending the player, as Mario, on an indisputably epic quest. Without a tutorial sucking the creative spirit out of the whole affair, you’ll learn how to create temporary ladders and bridges, ride on the heads of harmless enemies to reach higher ground, take advantage of a highly athletic moveset (a clear inspiration for the acrobatics of Super Mario 64), and more as you identify and then carry a key to open the door to the next stage. This stunning interpretation of Donkey Kong as a limitless well of dynamic action is also an audiovisual home run, with sound effects that pay homage to the arcade classic, an urgent soundtrack that ranks among the best on the Game Boy, and cinematics that amusingly reimagine Mario’s neverending pursuit of the titular antagonist. Jonathan Blow, eat your heart out!

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Game Bias’ 15 Greatest Shooters List — Intro and Honorable Mentions

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: The following links will lead you to the main list: #15-11, #10-6, and #5-1.

The word “shooter” is frequently used as shorthand for a particular subgenre of pop games. I’m referring to the first-person shooter, which includes everything from 1990s sensation Goldeneye to the seemingly eternal Call of Duty series. And while first-person shooters are worthy of analysis (like any subgenre), it’s limiting to think of Doom, Overwatch, and the like when someone says “shooter.”

As such, this list will not focus on a single shooter subgenre. Any type of shooter is eligible: first-person, 3D third-person, vertical, horizontal, gallery, run n’ gun, topdown, platformer shooter, rail, and more. Although their perspectives and allowances for player expression differ, the games I list are all united by the button-tapping, or button-holding, delivery of projectiles. These games might let you talk, dodge, fly, run, jump, scan, thwack, explore, and more, but you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting along the way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I do not choose games based on how difficult they are.

Finally, you might ask, “Why only 15 in the list if you almost have enough honorable mentions here for a top 20?” From my view, the honorable mentions are not quite in the same class as the 15. They are also not the only honorable mentions that I could list. I could cite TwinBee, Wild Guns, Lords of Thunder, Metal Slug 3, Downwell, and many others, but I picked the following honorable mentions to make specific points.

Note: For my thoughts on the unique appeal of vertical shooters, go here.

Combat (1977)

The pack-in game for the Atari 2600 for several years, Combat required more than one player, as many online shooters do now. But unlike its modern counterparts, Combat doesn’t pay lip service to fairness and competition. Compared to most, it actually is fair and competitive. When the game begins, there’s one player on the left and one on the right. Both players are tanks. Both players have to make due with the odd controls (to move forward, you press up on the joystick, and pressing left or right turns the tank). No reverse. No power-ups. Just shooting and slow movement. What makes Combat truly special is its ingenious array of tank modes. One allows you to guide bullets with the joystick. Another requires you to bounce your bullets off a wall first in order to register a hit. And yet another renders both tanks invisible, except when they fire, but only for a second. Sure, Combat stumbles with its plane modes, some of which kick fairness out the door, as when one player is stuck with a humongous specimen that is much easier to hit. But the tank modes of Combat are thrilling in how they bring together stripped-down opponents. The pretentious communities that complain about balance should adopt this game, art that sees us as equals and makes us laugh at our limitations.

Mega Man 3 (1990)

Mega Man 3 is the best Mega Man game, as I argue at length here. One incredible part in the Mega Man games is when they show you that your bullets are worthless. Shoot an enemy’s armor, and you hear a distinct but inoffensive ping as the bullet makes impact, right before it flies diagonally upward all the way off the screen. There have been times where I will repeatedly shoot impenetrable parts of enemies to watch this detail. Great kinetic art can make all action, even the impotent sort, interesting to observe.

Tempest (1980)

Some implied Resident Evil 7 was scary for leaving behind the traditional Resident Evil third-person perspective for a first-person perspective. But tension doesn’t take on a new form due to a perspective alone; it’s what you do with the perspective, as demonstrated by the third-person Tempest, designed by auteur Dave Theurer. A so-called tube shooter, Tempest has you look down at tiny enemies that get bigger as they climb up walls, at the top of which you flip around and rain down fire. Although Tempest isn’t unique in how it encourages you to prevent invaders from closing in on your space, it’s uniquely uncomfortable when the malevolent beings join your plane, as you no longer feel like a god looking upon the weak. Nothing in Resident Evil 7’s horror cliches is as unmistakable as the suspense of Tempest, yet the latter only sports wireframe graphics.

Shutshimi (2014)

Not merely a parody like Parodius or Star Parodier, Shutshimi is the quintessential postmodern scrolling shooter. My review of this game can tell you a lot about why it’s mentioned here, but I want to point out that Shutshimi is a distinct product of the (Mis)Information Age, much like the recent RPG hit Persona 5. Both Persona 5 and Shutshimi go overboard on tutorialization. The difference is that Shutshimi recognizes the flood of information as a hindrance to our understanding and progress. Shooter mechanics as social observation.

On the Significance of Mega Man 3

by Jed Pressgrove

The release of Mega Man Legacy Collection raises an old question: “What is the best Mega Man game?”

For years, this question has inspired a strand of criticism known as the overly sentimental Mega Man 2 review, which, if nothing else, matches the overly sentimental tone of the game. Mega Man 2’s intro enshrines its protagonist as a defender of justice standing on the top of a building, the wind blowing his hair. Takashi Tateishi’s music starts slow and romantic before awkwardly speeding up to make the cliche of a hero watching over a city seem significant and exciting.

Mega Man 3, the greatest entry of the prolific series, sets a far different tone with its more straightforward title screen. It’s immediately apparent that Yasuaki Fujita is a more sophisticated composer than Tateishi and Manami Matsumae, who scored the original Mega Man. Fujita’s opening notes are bittersweet like the blues (it wouldn’t take much of an imagination to visualize a harmonica), and when the song changes tempo, it forms a sudden yet natural-feeling crescendo, avoiding the contrived anticipation of Tateishi. In Mega Man 2, Tateishi’s music speeds up to get you pumped up. Fujita’s opening music in Mega Man 3 accomplishes the same while carrying a hint of sadness.

The level select screen of Mega Man 3 builds on this complication. In contrast to the boring level select screens from the first two games, Mega Man 3 puts the protagonist’s face right in the middle of the screen, his eyes moving with the cursor as you browse the robot villains. This anticipation might have been nothing more than a presentation trick if not for complementing elements. Mega Man’s frown is a departure from his usual blank expression, suggesting a weariness about his robot vs. robot fate. The level select screen’s music (the best track of any Mega Man game) supports this interpretation. The lead melody, while catchy and upbeat, evokes tragic possibilities. The music of Mega Man 3’s predecessors was never this ambiguous, and it wasn’t until Mega Man 6 that the series would try to replicate this pathos at the level select screen.

The emotional framing of Mega Man 3’s title and level select screens instills the ensuing action with a sense of rugged duty. After you defeat a robot villain, the weapon-gaining segment recalls the hero’s conflicted seriousness. This effect deviates from Mega Man 2’s funky and tedious post-level sequences, which become especially ridiculous when Dr. Light shares vague references to items. Compared to the original Mega Man (which didn’t waste time with such scenes), Mega Man 2 doesn’t value simplicity. Mega Man 3 redeems Mega Man 2’s approach with style and substance.

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Mega Man 3 would only be half as remarkable without superior action and weapons. Mega Man 2 often receives credit for surpassing the original and making movement a little less slippery and the journey more forgiving. Yet the protagonist in Mega Man 2 still pointlessly slides forward a bit if you don’t release the directional pad through a jump, contradicting the requirement of precision landings. Mega Man 3 corrects this issue and adds an actual slide, a maneuver that, once performed, brings about the realization that Mega Man should have always had this dynamic capability. In lacking this move, the first two Mega Man games ask for more memorization of levels and enemy attacks so that you don’t find yourself out of position. Mega Man 3’s slide represents an extra reflex, allowing the possibility of a skillful evasive reaction. The tactic may seem minor, but unlike Mega Man 4’s charged shot, the slide can’t be removed without rendering the proceedings awkward (as demonstrated by its absence in the beginning of Mega Man X).

The other small tweaks in Mega Man 3 combine for a considerable improvement in pacing and aesthetics. The hero climbs ladders faster, and there’s a shorter delay when the game scrolls from screen to screen as you advance. These two changes sharpen the kinetic rhythm of the series — one of the best sensual pleasures of Mega Man 3 occurs when you scroll up or down a screen while climbing a ladder. It’s the difference between being propelled and being dragged on a dull ride.

The most obvious attraction of Mega Man 3 is a selection of weapons and items that doesn’t inspire head scratching. Mega Man 3 has no lazy missteps like Mega Man 2’s Time Stopper, which runs out of energy so quickly that it resembles nothing more than a throwaway power-up. The laughably named Item 1, Item 2, and Item 3 from Mega Man 2 get replaced by different forms of Rush, Mega Man’s robot dog. Unlike the case with Items 1-3, you can fire your standard cannon while using Rush. This change isn’t about fairness so much as keeping the action logical and appealing. Mega Man 3’s Search Snake trumps its predecessor’s Bubble Lead, which, curiously, wasn’t bubble-like and, absurdly, required to defeat the final boss in Mega Man 2. Mega Man 3’s most experimental weapon (by the series’ standards), Top Spin, illustrates again a subtle attention to detail. Depending on how carefully you initiate contact with an enemy, Top Spin can be a frustrating energy drainer or a unique way of handling problems. Top Spin, like the slide, enriches the grammar of action in a way that only Mega Man X’s wall scaling and dash jumping can rival.

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Mega Man 3 is more epic than Mega Man 2, but of course the former has the enviable position of coming after the latter. This advantage shines when Mega Man 3, while revising four of its primary levels, reuses the eight robot villains from Mega Man 2, forcing you to cycle through weapons to pinpoint weaknesses before being annihilated. These trials emphasize another minor yet major difference between the two games: in Mega Man 3, your standard weapon doesn’t hurt bosses as much as it did in Mega Man 2, creating especially suspenseful moments when both you and the enemy are on the brink of destruction.

As we all know for various reasons, greater length doesn’t always mean better. Some of Mega Man 3’s later challenges may remind you of this maxim. The fight with sea turtle robots is surprisingly innocuous. Although Mega Man 3’s version of the Yellow Devil results in a less monotonous battle than in the original game, its inclusion implies the production team was too comfortable with old ideas. While the concluding bosses are more interesting concepts, that you can use Top Spin to eradicate the final enemy in one hit is a design flaw that encourages know-it-all gamers to feel good about themselves.

These observations play off the notion that other games are closer to perfection than any Mega Man entry. Mega Man 3’s addition of a mysterious family member, Proto Man, can’t match the understandable melodrama of the father-son relationship in Ninja Gaiden (1988). From a standpoint of action, the gymnastics of the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy outweighs anything that the Mega Man franchise can muster. Mega Man, as a shooter, can’t compete with the traditional Contra series. And if we consider games that involve gaining the abilities of enemies, Kirby’s Adventure is a more consistent masterpiece. But Mega Man 3 is still a better action game than most, and its dramatic kineticism transcends the modest foundation laid by its ancestors. For that, it’s worth remembering.