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CONSOLE: Game Boy DEVELOPER: Minakuchi Engineering PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (NA): December 1993 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Fight, Mega Man, for everlasting sequels!

This may seem like "yet another Mega Man game", but the folks at Minakuchi Engineering, the developer responsible for two other portable iterations of the Blue Bomber, are really showing how firm of a grasp they have on the series. Maybe outsourcing isn't so bad after all.

Having played countless Mega Man titles already, it came as no surprise whatsoever that Dr. Wily was back in the fray, hellbent on taking over the world. For what end, we have yet to determine. Conveniently using a World Robot Exposition as a catalyst for his schemes, Dr. Wily floats in his signature saucer and conveys radio signals that turn all the robots against their masters. Then, using the power of self-plagiarism, he releases eight of his former Robot Masters to take care of Mega Man and keep him at bay. Of course, we all know how this goes: Mega Man stomps those robots good, then he chases down Wily to his secret fortress...which is now in space! Where exactly is Dr. Wily getting the funding for all these elaborate laboratories? I hope he's not receiving any government grants...

If you came in expecting classic Mega Man gameplay — running, shooting down robots, getting occasionally impaled by craftily-placed spikes — then you won't be disappointed. Mega Man IV pulls off all of those things as usual. Rush, the lovable dog-bot with a heart of gold or some other futuristic alloy, also makes a return, showing off his springy Rush Coil and rocketed Rush Jet formations. (There's no more love for Rush turning into a submarine again. Then again, underwater levels ARE the tools of the devil.)

So what exactly makes Mega Man IV stand out? For starters, at some point when Dr. Light had a few extra moments in between working on that Mega Man X prototype, he opened up a new business, conveniently titled "Dr. Light's Lab"! By bringing him P-Chips (the currency of champions), he'll replicate items such as E-Tanks, W-Tanks (that refill weapon energy), S-Tanks (that refill EVERYTHIIIIING), and even the coveted Energy Balancer, just for you! This feature would be replicated in later titles, including Mega Man V and all numbered classic games beyond Mega Man 7 on SNES. Oh yes indeed. It comes in handy if you need extra lives or E-Tanks in a hurry and are unwilling to backtrack. Of course, his wares don't come cheap; you may need to spend some time grinding for P-Chips. ...Hmmm, would it be faster to just go and get E-Tanks from stages?

Mega Man IV also introduces two new characters to the monochrome menagerie. Beat, the bird that attacks enemies with an airborne assault, makes his first appearance here, provided you collect all four letter icons from various stages to spell B-E-A-T. (You also need to find the letters W-I-L-Y to progress through his fortress, as they seem to be the keys to opening the front door. Hmmm.) The game also ushers in the last of the so-called "Mega Man Killers", Ballade. He's a supposed pride-filled troublemaker with horns who, when provoked, will whip out a pair of designer shades and pretend he's Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami.

If you think this looks familiar, you are probably right. Or lying.

Interestingly, I found the difficulty of Mega Man IV to be about average. A few of the stages drag on a tad too long, but overall, nothing should give you too much trouble, with the possible exception of one Wily stage involving blasting through an extensive corridor of stationary missiles as the terrain behind you crumbles. It's cruel, to say the least. The difficulty is modified heavily by one addition: if you lose enough lives, Dr. Light will upgrade your Mega Buster. And it can be done twice, thus turning an otherwise rocky trek into a frosted cakewalk.

It's also the little things that stick out. When Mega Man charges up and fires off his Mega Buster, he actually experiences a little recoil, which can be deadly should you be standing on a ledge. It's a small but significant change, noting their attention to detail, as the regular Capcom team wouldn't have even thought about that. Mega Man IV also works to evolve its source material. Granted, much will be familiar — the slightly sluggish jaunt through the rain in Toad Man's stage, or the agony of getting smacked with a falling stalactite in Crystal Man's stage — but there are enough new attractions that an argument could be made of this game's level design being better than those of its NES counterparts. Mini-bosses are no longer the chore they one were. (I didn't physically groan while fighting that hippo on the ever-rising platform.) There are even new features altogether, like large cylindrical bots digging through Napalm Man's encrusted regions, or floor fires that can be quenched with a rain weapon to pass and continue. These make the game feel new, rather than heavily recycled.

Or, perhaps the biggest leap is that Mega Man IV seems to have an actual story packed into the game itself. Simply staring at a title screen is dull, which is why waiting just a little bit feels so good, as we're wafted into a full-on cutscene from the get-go. And this is where Mega Man IV also truly shines: in its presentation, which takes a step forward from previous Game Boy outings. Full and large digitized images of Mega Man, Dr. Wily, and Ballade grace the small screen in great detail, unlike what we've seen in the past. I especially enjoyed the unexpected and partially isometric cinematic introduction of Wily's oversized ultimate robot. That could make your heart skip a Beat or two. (See what I did there?) Plus, there's real dialogue! Whoa-oa-oa! The music is also a pleasant surprise. Most tunes resemble those from the NES and are overhauled rather well on the Game Boy. The new ones are mostly decent as well, though the tune as Dr. Wily's giant robot enters the scene is hauntingly heart-pounding.

Mega Man IV feels like an evolution over the previous three games. Though it still leans heavily on previously-available source material, there's enough innovation and remixing here to make it feel like a fresh experience. This will also be the last of the classic Game Boy series to pull from the past, and with all the little touches here and there, it's hard to top this one. Highly recommended for all Mega Man fans to try this one out.

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