Mega Man 3 has always been a weird one to me. It’s a great game, no doubt. Some would even go so far as to say that it’s better than its predecessor, but it never quite stuck with me.
It was a landmark title in the series, introducing the slide and replacing the generic ITEMs from MM2 with Rush the dog, which changed the way that enemies and levels needed to be designed. It works quite well, making speed a viable approach for the first time ever while still being able to avoid hits. Seeing a really masterful playthrough of the game has this sort of hypnotic rhythm that’s hard to look away from. It’s what our mind’s eye sees when we think of platforming speed runs.
All that said, there are a few nagging problems, mostly due to the fact that the game was barely finished. Inafune himself has stated that it’s his least favorite of the series, recalling the rushed development cycle and executive meddling. You can see this anytime there’s one too many objects on screen. While slowdown has always been a sort of trademark in the series, the sheer frequency in which it happens in MM3 is a sign of just how little time they had to optimize and play test, their ambition overstepping their resources. You get the feeling that there was so much more to the whole package, which is kind of incredible given that it’s already the longest game of the original six… dare I say a bit too long. Mega Man 3 started the trend of having additional late-game sections before Wily’s castle. In this case, you fight cloned versions of the Mega Man 2 robot masters, which is a nice bonus that they really couldn’t pull off, creating a mimic boss by the name of Doc Robot as a stand in. I’m sure that there was really convincing narrative reason for said character’s inclusion, but the story is another one of the things that was mostly left out.
The original series was never really about that anyway, in fairness. Mega Man was always about wacky bosses and cool powers. I think that’s where the real disconnect is for me. Such luminaries as Top Man and Snake Man don’t really resonate the same way that anthropomorphic fans and zippo lighters did in part 2. It was a sign that the well was already kind of drying up, which would only get worse as the series continued.
Except for Skull Man, of course. Skull Man is love. Skull Man is life.
There has been much debate over the years between those professing love for Mega Man 2 or 3, as if lines needed to be drawn in the sand. I mean, it is the internet, so that could go for just about anything , but it feels like it wasn’t until fairly recently that 3 has started to surge in popularity. For all of the little things that bother me, it’s still imminently playable. It has all of the running and shooting shenanigans you’d expect, along with the kicking soundtrack. The theme from the first Dr. Wily stage in particular is probably the best song in the entire series, but when I think of Mega Man 3 as a whole, I’m mostly… unmoved. Maybe it was a time and place thing. I didn’t get to it until much later than the others, already deeply involved with the X series by that point. Knowing the story behind it now, I’m less inclined to dislike it as much as I’m simply impressed that it ended up as well as it did. Perhaps that’s a testament to the way Mega Man works and the design tropes that had already been established, but it could also serve as an example of what passionate people can do under a lot of pressure.
If Mega Man 2 was a labor of love, Mega Man 3 was when that love became work. Often this is the point in a creative endeavor when everything goes to hell, but in this instance, it simply lead to good work.