Amidst all the hullabaloo caused over everyone’s favorite plumber and a certain blue hedgehog who’s fallen on hard times, Capcom’s blue robofella is often forgotten in the conversation about great platforming games. In spite of this, Capcom and Digital Eclipse, obviously seeking to take advantage of the scramble for HD rereleases, are releasing The Mega Man Legacy Collection today, which contains the first six games in the series that brought genuinely fun run & gun mechanics to platformers. Let’s rank them from worst to best in all of their 8-bit glory.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.
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6. Mega Man 6: Let's be clear: none of these games are bad. Mega Man 6 is definitely the Jason Goes to Hell of the classic Mega Man games though, offering more of the same gameplay found in the earlier games without doing anything new or even really tweaking it that much. The game never comes into its own, and implements a strange and goofy plot that feels off even by Mega Man standards, which again, is a series about a robot dude beating up other robot people and stealing their powers so he can stop an evil scientist. This is the (still enjoyable) low point of the six.
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5. Mega Man 5: Mega Man 5 was notable because it was the first Mega Man that made any attempt at becoming more accessible for players. As such it's generally considered one of the easiest games in the entire series. If you're new to Mega Man, this might be a good place to start as the others are pretty punishing. However, beyond the difficulty tweaks, there's not much here that previous games didn't do better.
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4. Mega Man 4: Mega Man 4 is pretty, much prettier than the first three games, with great backgrounds giving life to the action that's happening on the screen. This is the first time the megabuster attack—where you hold down the fire button to charge for a more powerful attack—shows up, with it becoming one of the more notable staples of Mega Man. The attack is so much fun that it almost makes up for the game lacking most of the charm of its predecessors.
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3. Mega Man 3: Mega Man 3 AKA The One Where Mega Man Gets a Dog is a solid entry that introduced a few new enjoyable mechanics, including sliding and the transformative powers of Rush, your loyal robopooch. Proto man, a big brother-esque figure to Mega Man and one of the most popular characters in the series, was also introduced in this one. (Oh, and it was later remade and ported to the Sega Genesis as Mega Man: The Wily Wars, resulting in the stifled laughter of preteens everywhere.) In the end, Mega Man 3 is just packed with new mechanics to the point that it feels a little overstuffed at points, with the level design just not being as interesting as it was in prior games.
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2. Mega Man: Mega Man did what most first games in classic series do: it laid the foundation for what was to come, putting you in the boots of an Astro Boy looking character with a gun for an arm and tasked you with running through stages and destroying other robotic characters. Your reward for doing so? You absorbed their powers. This might all sound a bit ho-hum right now but do keep in mind that we're talking about a game from 1987.
Also lest we forget: the first Mega Man is notoriously difficult. Think you're a badass because you bested all the Souls games and Bloodborne? Hah. You can count on Mega Man to serve you up a steaming plate of your own humility.
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1. Mega Man 2: Mega Man 2 is far and away the best of the classic Mega Man games, improving upon the formula laid down by the original by adding a blessed healing item and a password system that would let you save progress after beating bosses (sweet Jesus thank you), assuming you had a pen and sheet of paper nearby. The bosses in the game, referred to in the series as "Robot Masters," were also the peak of the series, with memorable characters like Bubble Man (and, uh, Wood Man) for you to square off against.
From beginning to end Mega Man 2 is a fun, challenging time—a game that's held up a lot better than the others—making it easy to see why the series wouldn't be this great again until it transitioned to the Super Nintendo with Mega Man 7.