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Everyone noticed when Super Mario Bros. turned 30 last week. Well, today’s gaming birthday is even more important to me.
Mega Man 3, which originally came out for the Nintendo Famicom in Japan on September 28, 1990 (before hitting the U.S. on the Nintendo Entertainment System that November), is 25 years old today. It was a big hit for publisher Capcom, selling over 1 million copies. The critical and commercial success helped to turn Mega Man into a gigantic franchise with tons of sequels and spin-off series, like Mega Man X and Mega Man Legends. And in an age when 2D platformers are suddenly hip again thanks to wonderful modern efforts like Shovel Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest, everyone should take some time to replay this classic (if you haven’t recently already via the Mega Man Legacy Collection), which is one of the greatest games of all time.
High praise, I know. Honestly, you usually hear that level of acclaim reserved for its predecessor, Mega Man 2. Even today, the debate over which is superior wages on. Put me on the Mega Man 3 side. Mega Man 2 perfected the mechanics of the original while adding a formula the series used for decades, but Mega Man 3 had several improvements. Notable, it added the slide mechanic, which doubled as an evasion tool (Mega Man could slip under many enemies and projectiles). It’s also a way to get across flat surfaces much faster than walking. While the chargeable Mega Buster introduced in Mega Man 4 remains controversial (it was so strong that it devalued the weapons you got from defeating bosses), the slide is a great addition that adds strategy and depth.
This was also before the Robot Masters (which serve as the series’ bosses) got overly ridiculous. From Snake Man to Gemini Man, they all have cool designs. You don’t have any questionable additions like Mega Man 4’s Toad Man. Mega Man 3 also expanded the world with the addition of two important characters, Mega Man’s brother, Protoman, and his robotic dog, Rush. They became staples in the franchise.
But what about music? The soundtracks are often the best part of any Mega Man. Again, the second entry in the series gets a lot of love, and it definitely has some of the most memorable tracks in gaming history, including the songs for Bubble Man’s, Metal Man’s, and Dr. Wily’s stages. But, again, I think Mega Man 3 tops it (Top Man-related pun unintended). Levels like Snake Man and Shadow Man have amazing, catchy tunes, and even the tracks for the stage select and game over screens are classics. The song that plays after beating a boss and you get their weapon, however, remains my favorite.
Also, Mega Man 3 is a longer game than its predecessor. It was the first in the series to include extra stages between the eight Robot Masters and Wily levels. It also included rematches with the Robot Masters from Mega Man 2, giving a great nod to that game while adding the fun challenge of figuring out their new weaknesses.
Beyond all of this, and the thing that’s the hardest to describe with just words, Mega Man 3 plays like a dream. It’s challenging, but the excellent design makes it fair. Death rarely feels cheap, and victory requires nothing more than patience and skill.
I know, I’m gushing, but I really love this game. When I was a kid growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Mega Man was my gateway to the larger gaming world. Today, I’ve easily beaten Mega Man 3 more than any other game, dozens and dozens of times, and yet I can always go back to it. All these years later, I still marvel at just how well-designed and engaging it is. I don’t think I’d be writing about this industry today if Mega Man 3 wasn’t so good.
Today, you can play Mega Man 3 via the digital Virtual Console stores on the Wii U or 3DS. It’s also a part of the Mega Man Legacy Collection, which is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U. Take the time to play it. In an era where plastic toys, downloadable content, and rampant bugs and online issues plague gaming, Mega Man 3 remains refreshingly simple and pure.
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