WHICH IS BEST? Ranking the Mega Man Games on NES

A few months ago, I got the Mega Man Legacy Collection (the one with the shoddy packaging), and for the past few weeks I’ve finally gotten to playing them all consecutively. If I recall correctly, I played the original Mega Man and quite possibly that was it until a few years ago. That’s when I bought the games for the Wii Virtual Console, playing through and beating the original again, then 2 and 3.

That left three Mega Man games I’ve never played! Crazy, right? To top it off, I own 5 of the 6 cartridges…the only one I don’t own is Mega Man 5. (Oh, so pricey.) So, I was excited to go through em all! I wanted to know what the last few games looked and played like and I wanted to see for myself if Mega Man 2 was indeed the best game of the bunch.

It started off easy. Despite what everyone says about the original Mega Man being so difficult, I beat the game when I was younger. And many times more. This time, I got through it in a day. Same for Mega Man 2 and only a few days for Mega Man 3. All was going great until Mega Man 4 hit me like a ton of bricks. Whoa! This game was hard! I tried many times and couldn’t beat one boss. I got frustrated with dying and being started at the beginning of some obscene level. Ultimately, I quit on it and moved on to Mega Man 5. I hated skipping it, but I’ve never even seen the fifth so let’s just…DAMN!

Mega Man 5 was also very hard! After beating just one boss, I quit on the Legacy Collection altogether for a day. And I was going to write an article on it all, too! Well…I did get back to it and decided to give Mega Man 4 another go. And hey, you know what, once you beat a boss you can eventually worm your way through. Eventually, I got in a zone, and finished the game off. Then I beat 5. Finally, 6! And there we go, I finally played and beat the first six Mega Man games!

Now, to tell you about my experience. So, let me give my Top 6 Mega Man Games for the NES!


#6 – Mega Man 4

I can say, without a doubt, the worst Mega Man game of the lot has to be Mega Man 4.  Now, before I get into why, let me say that it’s not an awful game on its own merit. It’s simply the worst of the six. However, of the six, it’s by far the worst! Why is that?

Mega Man 4 represents the first time in the series where the game takes a noticeable drop in quality. From Mega Man 1-3, you can see the game progressing. The mechanics were improving. Then Mega Man 4 hits and it takes a dip.

First of all, the most noticeable new addition is the mega buster. This is the first time Mega Man can charge his standard weapon and fire with a stronger shot. This was a good idea that offered up more strategy, but the game designers (if you even want to call them that) mistakenly required that you use it far too often. So many enemies take multiple shots to kill now and it really sucks the flow out of the game. No longer can you run and gun. There’s more stopping and charging now.

We also have what I dub the “energy tank bug” making its first appearance. An energy tank allows you to fill up Mega Man’s health at any time. Once you use one, it’s gone. You can hold up to 9 at a time. In each of the previous games, if you lost all your guys, you lost all the energy tanks, too. This meant you really wanted to use up your energy tanks when playing your last man because losing all your health made no sense if you still had one left. Might as well use the tanks, right? So you did, and it made for some tense moments as you tried to finish off a level by applying those energy tanks at the perfect time to stretch them out and eke out a win.

In Mega Man 4, you no longer lose the energy tanks when you hit “Continue.” That concept was so glaringly bad that I assumed it had to be a bug. Surely, QA overlooked it! By allowing you to retain them between game overs, you can scam the game quite easily. Just play a level, find an energy tank, then kill yourself. The tank doesn’t come back right away, but once you continue it does. You can take 10 minutes and give yourself the maximum number of energy tanks, making the game much, much easier! When you were on your last man, no longer was the tension there. Really, you were often better off dying and accumulating more energy tanks.

I think any time you reward a player for dying, that’s bad game design.

Finally, the bosses. Oh my. Of the 8 bosses in the game, only one of them really provides an obvious strategy to beating it. Rarely do any other boss weapons overwhelmingly beat one like in other games. Ring Man is especially tough as I was only able to beat him with a minimum of 3 energy tanks at my side. The crevices to escape getting hit by him are so tiny and he’s so quick. None of the bosses are particularly easy the first time through, in fact, except Frog Man. Frog Man is ridiculously easy. Just keep shooting! He jumps whenever he’s hit. It’s ridiculous.

Add to these damnations the fact that the game has terrible slowdown issues, now spells it “pass word” instead of “password” (and keeps it this way for the rest of the series, amazingly) and the awful level designs with so many cheap hits built in and you have a lousy game that’s the worst of the bunch.


#5 – Mega Man 5

Good news for the series, after Mega Man 4, Mega Man 5 improved on things a bit. So, that’s nice.

The first thing you’ll notice is that some enterprising developer on the team fixed the slowdown issues. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they lowered the framerate to do it. You’ll notice this by the smoothness (or lack thereof) of your cannon shots. There’s just a lack of fluidity there. It takes a while to get used to, but there’s far less slowdown while you’re playing so it’s for the best.

We also see better level design again. The people in charge of designing the Mega Man 4 levels did an awful job. So cheap. I’m not sure if different people worked on these levels, but they’re better so that’s all that matters. The levels also got more creative with some new mechanics. Among them is the upside-down level featuring Magnet Man. At various points here gravity will flip and Mega Man gets sucked up to the top. Not only are you upside-down but your controls flip, too. You’ll have to climb up ladders by pressing down. The level wasn’t as rich as it could’ve been, but it did help keep things fresh.

At this point, I also realized that energy tank bug seemingly wasn’t a bug. It’s here too. (As well as in 6.) So, yes, they did that intentionally.



#4 – Mega Man 6

In keeping with late-series improvements, Mega Man 6, the final game of the series, improved on Mega Man 5 again. Level design is better, the bosses are much improved with more distinguishable patterns that make you feel like you’ve got a fighting chance beyond just mashing the buttons and energy tanks.

Overall, the game experience is more fun, but there’s some new flaws as well.

The most obnoxious issue I had with this game is that you lost your robotic dog. He’d previously assisted Mega Man by offering himself as a spring or jet. In Mega Man 6, they went away from having him as a secondary character and instead he “transforms” himself to augment Mega Man directly. For example, he can transform into a jet pack and attach right on Mega Man’s back. This is all well and good, but what drove me insane was that they had to show the transformation every single time you switched to it. I mean, really? It’s so annoying. Really kills the flow of the game. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.

Another big change here is that this game is among the easiest of the series. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that I kinda flew through it in a couple days. Still, the boss patterns are easier to figure out and some of the special bosses in the final stages of Dr. Wily’s castle are uninspired and easy pickings. It was refreshing to see that each boss had a weakness to one other boss weapon the way it should be!

The final boss is also very muted. Instead of Dr. Wily’s capsule being its own level, it just continues immediately after the prior battle. It’s very similar to the final fight in Mega Man 4, but much easier. The stilted dialog after you beat him doesn’t make anything better. A jail sentence? Really? We’re bringing the police into this now?

So lame. But hey, the last few games got better so that’s good. This also means the first three games were all better than the last three, and that shouldn’t be.


#3 – Mega Man

Ah, the original! This game has so much nostalgia for me. Quick story…my mom would buy me and my 3 siblings gifts for Easter to go along with our baskets of candy. One of those Easters, I got Mega Man. Woke up Easter morning and there it is, a sealed original Mega Man. DON’T OPEN IT, YOUNG ME! KEEP IT SEALED!!  IT’LL BE WORTH THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS SOME DAY!!!

Damn. I didn’t hear myself.

Anyhoo, my mom bought it for me because she went to the store to find a game I’d like and, of course, not knowing what to get she asked some kids who were there shopping. She told them that I’d beaten Legend of Zelda. (Ha!) They recommended Mega Man and I’m sure glad they were good people as this was an excellent choice! (They could’ve been jerks and had my mom get Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after all…)

Mega Man is a classic! It’s just how I like my games…hard! There’s no bounty of energy tanks in this game. You won’t find a lot of 1UP’s as in later games, either. The levels are designed wonderfully and the bosses are hard as heck…unless you know the weapon that’s their weakness. Ultimately, that’s what I love about this game. More than any other game in the series, having the right weapon will obliterate the bosses. As in…3 shots max! Does it make them a bit easier to kill? Sure. But it’s a great concept. Too often later games would make certain weapons useless and enemy weaknesses wouldn’t be so pronounced. I miss it.

In the Dr. Wily stages, the hardest boss you’ll take on is also found here…the Yellow Devil! DANG!!  This guy is a beast! He’ll put your jumping skills to the test. Even today, it takes me about a dozen tries to even get close. He was so epic they even put him in the Smash Bros. franchise as a stage hazard!

The downside to this game is that there’s less bosses. Every other game had 8 characters, but this one only had six. Yet, they’re so memorable. I always start against Cut Man personally. He’s easy to tackle with your standard weapon. Guts Man isn’t very hard either, but the cut weapon is powerful against another boss (no spoilers), whereas Guts Man’s weapon is more useful in the levels.

Don’t miss the original!


#2 – Mega Man 3

At this point, you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “So he did pick Mega Man 2 as the best of the franchise,” and you’d be right. Knowing this, I want to say that the followup to that game is a close second, too!

Mega Man 3 is the followup to the top game of the series and is a great game in its own right. A very difficult one (and much harder than Mega Man 2), this game perverts the weapon system more than any other. Rarely did a bosses weapon help me against other bosses. Each of the 8 stages ends in a boss battle where you have to use your wits and can’t lean on an overpowering weakness. Towards the end of the game, when you re-fight all the bosses, the weapons can do more damage, but not the first time through.


I really loved this game. It’s actually the first one to introduce sliding. By pressing down and jump, Mega Man will slide on the floor. This one little feature makes boss battles so much more fun. It’s incredible how many tactics can come into play with a simple slide, but there you go. Sliding. Yes!

It did have its flaws though, too. The most obvious is that the weapon that you take from Shadow Man is way overpowered. Most of the bosses take serious damage from this one in the Dr. Wily levels. I’m not sure why they didn’t change things up. I was consistently surprised when it was always the most effective.

WAIT. Did I say Dr. Wily? For some reason, and quite embarrassingly, this game spells it “Dr. Wiley” with the e. No other game spelled it this way.


I was able to get through levels pretty easily in this one, but I think I fought every single boss at least once before I finally beat one. For this reason, I’ll impart some advice for you: start with Top Man.

And play this game!


#1 – Mega Man 2

Alright, I agree. Mega Man 2 is the best of the originas! It came at the cross-section where the series was improving before introducing some elements that made the game worse. The graphics were much better than the original. Your robotic dog is introduced, adding to the potential of each level’s design. After beating all the bosses, there’s a multi-part endgame that became a fixture of the series. The stages are more difficult but boss weapons are still effective against other bosses…though not to the degree they are in the original.

Every aspect of the game is better before things started to get worse. While I still argue Mega Man 3 was better in some ways, Mega Man 2 is still the best of them.

So there it is. Mega Man 2 is our champion. Now you play them all and tell me which one you think is best!

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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