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8/31/2014

DOS Dungeon: Mega Man III

The original DOS Mega Man's shortcomings were evident, but not entirely its fault.  Technology at the time was still fairly limited, as VGA and MIDI were brand new innovations at the time and not likely to have their full capabilities be taken into consideration by smaller developers yet.  But its sequel was released two years later, so surely in that time span Rozner Labs would turn things around by addressing the original game's design flaws, taking advantage of advances in hardware and software and coming out with a much better product to show for it, right?


Well... no.  Mega Man III is just as bad as its predecessor.  In fact it's actually worse in a lot of ways, as we'll see shortly.


The first thing we have to address is the title.  I honestly have no clue why they decided to give it the name "Mega Man III" as there was never a Mega Man II for the PC.  My only guess is that they were trying to capitalize on the NES' Mega Man III, which is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the series among fans.

More puzzlingly, there's no option for VGA graphics on the startup menu as in the first game; your choices are just CGA, EGA and Tandy.  One would think that a newer game would add features rather than removing them, but apparently Rozner Labs was pioneering this downward trend long before Electronic Arts beat it into the ground!

There is one small improvement right off the bat, though, in that they removed the pointless introductory stage and instead just put you straight on the Robot Master select screen after you start the game.


The previous select screen was hardly a masterpiece, but at least it featured original art.  That's not the case here; every one of these portraits is copied from the NES games and given some rather amateurish edits to distinguish them.  Here's a side-by-side comparison as proof:


They're all just loose edits of Magnet Man and Hard Man (from Mega Man 3) and Crash Man, Air Man, Flash Man and Metal Man (from Mega Man 2).  Oddly enough, though, only about half of their in-level counterparts actually resemble their portraits at all...

(Coincidentally, later entries in the franchise would also feature an Oil ManBlade Man and Wave Man, though none of them resemble their counterparts in this game.)

Well, let's start things off with Bit Man, I suppose.


Once again you can see that the stages fail to match their robot masters' themes.  Bit Man himself has an electrical themed-weapon and appearance, but his stage is just a generic factory or oil rig type of level, complete with fiery pits and oil barrels strewn about.  Oh, and get used to those multi-directional cannons and guys in the hazmat suits, as they appear in almost every stage in this game...

Don't expect any improvements on the control front, either, as the keyboard layout is the exact same as the previous game's.  Once again, I highly recommend using a joystick or gamepad if you have one, because using the keyboard to brave all of these frustrating jumping puzzles simply isn't going to cut it.  They didn't add any music either, so you're once again treated to a lot of bloopy PC Speaker sounds against a backdrop of dead silence.

Speaking of the cannons, you will learn to hate them very quickly.  They fire tiny beams that you can barely see which ricochet off of walls and they are always, always positioned in such a way that they will clip you and cause you to fall right into another hazard or get trapped in a pit somewhere.  Carefully timed movements and taking advantage of after-hit invincibility are often your only options for getting past these...


The stages have also taken on a more maze-like motif, which makes them much more of a chore to play through.  A good portion of the time you'll think you're getting further in the level, only to hit a dead-end with nothing to show for the effort (except the occasional health pickup), forcing you to backtrack and take another path.  It gets tiresome very quickly...


Don't ask me how they expect you to get that E-Tank; you can't possibly jump high enough and there's nowhere to drop down from above in order to get it.  Rush doesn't exist in this game either despite bearing the name and box art of the game where he originally appeared, so even that's not an option...


After a lot of cursing at the annoying platforming and awkwardly-placed gun turrets, we come to Bit Man himself.  He puts up an electrical barrier in front of himself to block attacks, then charges, firing two small spikes as he does so (and causing tiles to fall from the ceiling) before repeating the process.  But like the first game, bosses have no after-hit invincibility, so defeating him is simply a matter of making a single well-timed jump and then mashing the fire button as hard as you can during his vulnerable moments.

Sadly, Bit Man is the only decently programmed boss in this game, as we'll see...


Well hey, at least the post-battle screen shows up properly this time.  It recalls Mega Man 2's victory screen with Dr. Light appearing to tell you about the weapon you've collected, and they even give you some distinct sprites and color palettes for Mega Man on each one.

Moving on, let's pay Shark Man a visit.


Shark Man's is an undersea stage which has you swimming through a sunken ship and underwater caverns filled with hazards.  And toxic waste barrels, because Rozner Labs seems to have a fetish for those for some reason.  It resembles a level from Little Nemo: The Dream Master closer than anything you'd expect to see in a Mega Man title.

Also note that I said "swimming"; yes, unlike every other Mega Man game ever (with the strange exception of 8), Mega Man can swim in this game.  In fact, you're pretty much forced to throughout 90% of this stage.  It's also very floaty and imprecise, which makes avoiding all those hazards a challenge...

Stopped dead by impenetrable seaweed


One thing you'll quickly notice about Mega Man III is that while the stages are seemingly designed to be as annoying as possible, the bosses are laughably easy.  Case in point, Shark Man just bounds around the room, only stopping to fire when he lands close to a wall.  Hell, you can probably finish him with the Bit Cannon before he even gets a single shot off.

Defeating him earns us the Shark Boomerang, a three-pronged thing that flies a short distance straight ahead, then comes back.  Sadly you can't dodge it on its return trip to have it hit enemies behind you, nor can you catch it in mid-flight to restore your weapon energy as in Mega Man X...

So who do you think would logically be weak against a shark and/or boomerang themed weapon?  Wave Man, perhaps?  Nope, the answer is Blade Man.  Of course.


A robot master who hides in yet another unfitting level, this one appearing to be some kind of water treatment plant.  Complete with barrels of toxic waste and several enemies recycled from the previous stage, as well as graphics seemingly recycled from the first game!  It just keeps getting better, this game.


Even moreso when you encounter more of these rooms where you have to make carefully timed jumps between platforms while multidirectional turrets fire at you.  If you get hit while standing on a platform, you fall right through it and back to the bottom.  Joy of joys!


Walking flowers that spit fireballs.  Walking flowers... that spit fireballs.  What this has to do with blades, or indeed anything resembling the treatment plant motif, is anyone's guess.


Blade Man's pattern is nearly identical to Shark Man's; he simply leaps around the room and fires his weapon when he lands near a wall; in this case, a spread shot of three twirling caltrop-like things that's rather tough to avoid.  Fortunately he also dies very quickly to the Shark Boomerang, so this isn't much of a concern.

The version you get to use is almost identical, firing out three blades at once.  As you can imagine from the lack of post-hit invincibility for bosses, this means that the next fight will be very quick and easy indeed!

So who falls to the Blade Launcher?  Why, Oil Man, of course.  Don't ask me how that makes any sense, because I'm just as much at a loss as you are.

Well, at least Oil Man's stage fits his theme, taking place on what looks like an oil refinery (complete with "OIL Co." plastered on numerous signs throughout).  It also seems to have a subtle message about environmentalism coded in as the enemies include those weird mutant flowers from the previous stage as well as bizarre aberrations like these:


That's obviously the spider sprite from the first Mega Man DOS game, only now it has the head of a king cobra attached.  It looks more like one of Porky's weird experiments from Mother 3 than anything belonging in a Mega Man game...


You will very quickly learn to hate these bee/scorpion creatures too, as they fly around in a totally erratic pattern, are too stubborn to die and, like most enemies, seem to be intentionally placed to be as annoying as possible.  Case in point, at least once during this stage I got trapped at the bottom of an area, unable to climb back out because every time I tried climbing back up a ladder to escape it would simply drop on my head and knock me off again.

Oh, and unlike every other Mega Man game ever made, losing your last life and using a continue means losing all of your E-Tanks as well.  Fantastic design there.


Oil Man follows the same braindead pattern as both Shark and Blade, bounding around the room and only firing a shot when he lands next to a wall.  You can wipe him out in a hurry with the Blade Launcher, which, as mentioned, fires three shots at a time.

Since we've established that there's not really any concise pattern to the bosses and their weaknesses, the next one has to be Torch Man.  ...Just kidding, it's Wave Man.  Can you guess what his stage looks like?


If you guessed "tons of oil barrels and a generic industrial setting", you're absolutely right!  In this case, we're on board what appears to be an oil tanker, fighting atop it, through it and under it.  Was Rozner Labs just under the impression that Wily was an evil oil baron?  Or possibly a Captain Planet villain?  It would explain a lot...

Not much to say about this one as it just features a lot of elements we've seen before: A mazelike layout, plenty of recycled enemies and oil drums stacked to the sky and creating falling oil drop and fire hazards throughout.


Wave Man once again mindlessly bounds around the room, but he at least changes up his attacks a bit, periodically firing a spray of small bubbles at the peak of his jump that will damage you on contact.  These are fairly easy to avoid so long as you try to stay behind him, as he will fire them in a much wider arc in front of him.  Or you could just brute-force your way through him with the Oil Stream, either way works.  Your version of the weapon works much the same way, but it only fires three shots in front of you.  Still, like the Blade Launcher, that's enough to take out anything you can get close to in very short order.

That just leaves Torch Man.  I can already imagine what his stage will be like - fire hazards and burning oil barrels abound.  What else could it possibly be?


...A sewer.  A maze of bricks and tunnels with water pouring in, and no torches or fire anywhere in sight.  Never before has a Mega Man stage so thoroughly misrepresented a Robot Master's theme.  I mean, good lord; were they that desperate to create yet another level out of recycled assets that they couldn't even be bothered to make it pertain to the boss in any way, shape or form?  Even Wave Man and Blade Man's levels had something resembling their bosses' themes!


But the real icing on the cake comes with the fight itself, which has both you and Torch Man standing chest-deep in water.  Which, considering his weakness is the Water Shooter, should probably just kill him instantly without your help.  But nope, we need to make him even wetter to defeat him, apparently.  Not that it should be hard to do since he follows the same mindless pattern as half the other Robot Masters and just bounds around the room, throwing a fireball your way whenever he lands close to a wall.

Thankfully, we're now at the end of the game, which is good as I honestly can't take much more of this dreck.  Onward to Wil(e)y's fortress!


Yep, they still didn't get his name right.  Well, they kind of did; on the continue screen they use the name "Dr. Wily", but in the ending he's referred to as "Dr. Wiley". He's also referred to as "Dr. Willy" within the game's files, so hey, chalk one up for consistency.


Once again, I have to give the game at least some props here.  The fortress stage this time is not another cut-and-paste job like the previous game's, but does feature an original theme.  Circuit board styled backgrounds and acid pits that instantly kill on contact aren't exactly the most original of ideas, but it's something to distinguish it from everything else at least.

As per the previous game (and series tradition), you get to fight all of the robot masters again before the final fight.  Like the previous game, they're all in a fixed order, pitting you against Bit Man, Shark Man, Wave Man, Oil Man, Blade Man and finally Torch Man (thankfully not chest-deep in water this time).  Then you come up against - oh, you've got to be kidding me...



...It's CRORQ again.  Yep, they got so lazy that they reused the penultimate boss, just changing his graphics and his attack slightly.  He still paces straight ahead and fires shots in a predictable pattern, but now they fire in three directions at once instead of one at a time.  The strategy is much the same; just use the platforms to your advantage to avoid being backed into a corner, then shoot the window on the front with the Bit Cannon to destroy him.

Incidentally, although the window has a silhouette (implying someone is piloting CRORQ) he simply blows up when defeated.  However, there are unused graphics in the game revealing a character that resembles Dr. Cossack from Mega Man 4.  Apparently he was supposed to serve some role in the game's story (perhaps giving you some kind of weapon or item after defeating him), but he ultimately went unused. (Source)


The final boss is of course Wil(l)(e)y himself, rising and sinking in a vat of acid, which can't feel good once you break the protective glass dome he's under.  Less so once you start shooting him in the face with your arm cannon to whittle down his health.  The dome itself is weak against the Water Shooter while Wil(l)(e)y himself takes the most damage from the Shark Boomerang, but I find it's easier to just use the standard arm cannon and button-mash him to death.  The only danger in this fight comes from the strange green rods that leap from the pipes on either end of the screen to the other side of the room; they don't seem to have any particular pattern, so just do your best to avoid them.

So let's check out our reward for enduring all of those frustrating levels.


...One lousy end screen that's nearly identical to the first game's, just with a different set of credits revealing that two people worked on this game rather than one..  Would you expect anything else?  I know Mega Man's not exactly the series you turn to for epic storytelling, but the endings usually at least give you a sense of closure and some decent visuals and music to celebrate your victory.  This is just plain lazy...

I'm sure you can now see why these games are so reviled and rejected among Mega Man fans.  Frustrating stage designs, uninspired bosses, plagiarized graphics, bad controls, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the franchise and the appeal that keeps gamers coming back to replay them well over twenty years after their original release.  The two Mega Man DOS titles are little more than low-quality fan games; the only difference between these and any other fan game is that they managed to get Capcom's official endorsement, dooming them to be remembered as a blemish on the proud legacy of the Blue Bomber.

With releases like this, it's not hard to see why platformers wouldn't have much of a presence on the PC for many years to come.  However, next time we'll be looking at an attempt by a PC developer to capture some of that console charm which actually turned out pretty well.  See you then!