…something borrowed, something blue.
What else is there to say about Mega Man (or Rock Man if you’re from Japan)? He is Capcom’s original mascot with the run-and-gun fun and also innovates with the boss weapon-stealing powerup. While the X and Zero games superceded and improved upon the weapon-stealing formula, you can’t forget your 8-bit roots.
But which Mega Man game is the best? Which Blue Bomber battle royale is the one with the best stage ideas? The best weapons catalogue? The best aesthetics?
We have to answer this basic question: what makes a standout Mega Man game? Simple:
- It has to be a run-and-gun action platforming marvel despite its graphics and hardware limitations,
- It needs to have Robot Master weapons that are useful and designed beyond mere fodder
- It needs to build atop its original foundation of the Robot Master weapon-stealing system
- It needs to have beautiful, BEAUTIFUL music you can bop your head to.
We are ranking the OG Blue Bomber here, the one featuring his sibling Roll, his dad Dr. Light, and a whole slew of Astro Boy-influenced futurist ideas and concepts. Yes, we are aware that Mega Man 11 is out this week, so think of this as a companion piece before our review comes out later.
Mega Man V (Game Boy)
The last Game Boy monochrome Mega Man title is perhaps his most refreshing. Rather than rehashing stages like in the previous four Mega Man Game Boy titles, Capcom just made new Robot Masters named after the planets of the solar system and made brand new worlds and stages in an exclusive MM experience.
It’s limited by the constraints of the Game Boy, but you get to fight in places in low gravity and have a blast of a time navigating through challenging stages and fighting different kinds of bosses.
Dubious Mentions: Mega Man, Mega Man 3 (PC)
Capcom has made some horrible Mega Man games, but nothing compared to these two abominations. With crappy hit collision and detection, ear-bleeding music, and not-so-ideal controls and design, it’s no wonder PC gamers back then are grumpy elitists now: they did not get the Mega Man game they deserve.
Mega Man 3 for PC at least adhered to the weapon and weakness chain formula and had 6 bosses compared to the previous PC game’s sole 3. But still, these are best left buried in the same desert hole alongside that ET game.
Now, on to the real deal.
12. Mega Man 7 (SNES)
Funny story: Mega Man X was so godlike and was the definitive “Super” Mega Man experience that many devs at Capcom weren’t sure if they should continue on with the original Blue Bomber escapades on 16 bits. Turns out they did and they only had a few months to craft something and ship it. The result? A plodding and archaic but well-meaning Mega Man game with a few Easter Eggs and lovely animation to stand out.
Don’t feel bad for the internal team who developed this mediocre attempt: they went on to create their own company Inti Creates. Last we checked, they did a bunch of rockin’ Mega Man Zero games and sequels.
11. Mega Man 5 (NES)
Arguably the nadir of the mothership series, Mega Man 5 just rolled with whatever ideas were established and just became another assembly line Mega Man. While it has its moments, like the Dark Man stages, Gravity Man’s upside-down stage, and a Wave Man scrolling waterbike stage, there’s really nothing going for this game save for its by-the-numbers and not-completely-terrible design.
Plus, who the hell wanted a choo choo train as a Robot Master? With a weapon that actually harms you more than the enemy?
10. Mega Man 4 (NES)
While its weapons were a rehash of past MM titles, you have to give props to Capcom for adding in a new Mega Buster charged shot concept and creative bosses like Skull Man and Pharaoh Man with unique themed stages. What also stood out about this game was its new villain, Dr. Cossack.
This was way before the internet came in and no one knew whether Dr. Cossack was going to be a mainstay in the Mega Man rogue’s gallery. Alas, Capcom faked us out and revealed that Dr. Wily was still pulling the strings. It was still a fun revelation while it lasted, eh?
9. Mega Man & Bass/Rock Man & Forte (SNES, Game Boy Advance)
The SNES version appeared in Japan as a pretty late Super Famicom release, but damn if it didn’t push the system to its limits. With slick Mega Man 8-styled animation and pretty challenging gameplay, as well as some creative rehashing on their side and two different playstyles, this Mega Man game would be a bit higher on the list if it wasn’t for its insanely tough last few levels that even rival Mega Man 2’s gauntlet and Mega Man 8’s Dr. Wily encounter.
We suggest you play the Super Famicom version instead of the Game Boy Advance port which basically reduces pixel resolution and screen size, making things a lot more difficult than it should be.
8 Mega Man 6 (NES)
Thanks to Mega Man fatigue in the 90s with Mega Man 4, 5, and the Game Boy sequels, Capcom were trying their best to squeeze out good ideas and bring something new to the table. Mega Man 6 had that with the Rush Armor idea and the multiple stage routes that led to fake bosses.
Most of the weapons from the Robot Masters are pretty useful compared to the previous Mega Man titles on the list. It’s a shame that the past games too made people assume part 6 is going to be another assembly line Mega Man title. They’re clearly wrong, so do give this last NES-made Mega Man a chance when you can.
7. Mega Man 10 (PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii)
The second game in the neo-retro Mega Man series – the first which we will get to later down this feature- is just an extension of the past games. Now you can play as Proto Man and even Bass in 8-bit neo-retro glory. And there’s that challenge and time trial mode where you can clash against the Game Boy Mega Man Killers.
Beyond that, the stages here are middling, with some standouts like Sheep Man’s dream electronic city hub and Blade Man’s fortress. Part of MM10’s strength and weakness is its adherence to classic Mega Man conventions; while not exactly innovative it at least offers a good amount of challenges. If you want the best balance of nostalgia and brilliant level design while using the 8-bit trappings of the series’ forebearers, keep reading this feature to find out.
6. Mega Man (NES)
You can’t create a Mega Man feature without making any mention of the very first game and placing it high on the list. This first entry got a lot right with its mechanics, its Robot Master weapon-stealing concept, and its level design and tight controls.
Still, there were a few chinks in the Mega armour: the scoring system was unnecessary and it’s really easy to miss the Magnet Beam which is essential in completing the game. But you cannot condemn the very first game that set a template that will last Capcom for 3 decades.
While later games improved upon the foundation, the actual base was established back in the late 80s when platformers had to evolve or die in obscurity. The first Mega Man did just that.
5. Mega Man 8 (PlayStation One, Sega Saturn)
This game is more like a testing ground for the awesome Mega Man X4, but there’s still a ton of merit here. After many years, what used to be shoehorned as a product of its time ended up being a technical high water mark for the franchise.
With a lovely art style, animation, and a ton of great stage ideas ranging from clown-themed deathtraps to an out-of-this-world space race, it would be a disservice to put this anywhere else but within the top 5 of this feature.
Our only gripes with the game include the endgame auto-scrolling sequences with visual/VO indicators that came in a split second before the obstacle, the removal of Energy Tanks, and a mandatory use of an explosive soccer ball which makes the last parts of the game an infuriating endurance contest. Still, the rest of the game is ace.
4. Mega Man Powered Up (PSP)
Leave it to the remaster of the original to pick up the top few spots of this feature. Arguably the best version of Mega Man you need, this one has it all: a complete revamp of Mega Man 1’s stages complete with two new Robot Masters like the almost-racist Oil Man and Time Man, the original versions of the stages from the NES original (but in polygons), and 100 challenge stages to complete and master. Oh, and you have the choice of sparing Robot Masters and recruit them as playable characters.
On top of that, you have a level editor so you can create your own Mega Man levels and masterpieces. That’s right, this was way before Super Mario Maker came out.
It’s really hard to find copies of this game since it’s only on the PSP at this point in time, but it’s a shame because this is one of the truly better Mega Man titles out there that succeeds the original source material and adds in a ton more content for fans and casual Mega Man lovers alike. Just be prepared for the chibi-style graphics. They can be rather adorable, like Ice Man here.
3 & 2: Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 (NES)
The Mega Man fandom will always be at an eternal war, bickering over which of the two prestigious Mega Man games deserve a spot on the list.
Mega Man 2 is a distilled experience that more or less perfected the first Mega Man. It’s bigger, better, and tougher. It has the best boss stages and best level design, save for that one Dr. Wily stage boss that required you to conserve a limited weapon in your repertoire. You also have multiple solutions to certain stages. Can’t get past Quick Man’s quick laser barrier? Just use Flash Man’s Flash Stop. Of course, the Metal Blades from Metal Man is enough to deal with most bosses and enemies, but that slight design flaw doesn’t tarnish the overall challenge and platforming goodness.
Meanwhile, Mega Man 3 expands upon that and makes the game a lot more epic. Suddenly you’re dealing with a mysterious guy named Break Man, going through weird-ass stages like Gemini Man’s mines, and the fact that you have to use MM3 Robot Master weapons against resurrected Mega Man 2 villains.
And then you have Rush, perhaps one of video games’ greatest robot canines ever who helps Mega Man traverse the air easily and acts as a temporary springboard to reach unreachable spots.
It’s a really tough call to pick between the two, so we figured it’s best that they take up third and second place; the order is really up to you. At the end of the day, these are the Mega Man games you want in your collection if you want the pure original Blue Bomber experience.
Which begs the question: which Mega Man is number one in this current generation?
1. Mega Man 9 (Nintendo Wii, PS3, Xbox 360)
If you want a neo-Retro Mega Man game done right that also succeeds in improving upon its foundation set by Mega Man 1, look no further than part 9. Not only did it have graphics in the NES mold, it also went back to a time when Mega Man only had jumping and shooting skills to work with. No charge shots, no sliding.
The best part? Mega Man 9 walks that fine line between being a nostalgia-baiting game and a true successor to the series. From the fact that all your weapons from the Robot Masters are useful outside of killing bosses to levels that subvert your expectations of a Mega Man game -case in point Tornado Man’s platforms and Galaxy Man’s cranes that lift you up and drag you to spikes if you’re not careful, this entry is genius.
It may troll you with some of its deliberate one-hit kill tactics, but it gives you ample chances to see telltale signs before throwing you into the deep end. It forces veterans to rethink their assumptions of a Mega Man level trope & section, and then make them stay on their toes.
On top of that, the basic details are done right. The music is great, the bosses are unique, and the final Wily fortress is a no-holds-barred combo of platforming and combat that really tests your Mega skills. The game is clearly for experts, but it’s also the best kind of love letter for fans of the series.
What do you think of our list? If you disagree with the top three spots, feel free to dispute on the comments box below or on Facebook.