To mix things up a bit we're introduced to a chap by the name of Dr. Cossack. His motives is simple, build robots that'll crush Megaman once and for all. Predictably this is all part of Dr. Wily's diabolical plot but who cares? It's time for some more robot busting and spike-pit avoiding action.
Megaman 4 introduces the ability to charge the Mega-buster. These charged shots do a bit more damage though unfortunately for this installment it comes off as more of a gimmick than anything. While the slide has many uses and is a constant important tool the charged shot is really only useful for certain enemies. The robot master Dive Man is a good example as he fires multiple homing missiles. A charged shot will go through all of these and damage him, making for a great weapon during this particular fight.
Then again at times it's better to be a gimmick than to be completely useless. Rush is back and while his Jet and Coil are still very handy his Marine ability for traversing underwater is a waste. Oh yes there is an underwater stage and even a couple underwater sections but they're actually easier to traverse with just Megaman. In an annoying change the Rush Jet moves forward automatically. While Megaman has slight control of its speed as well as the ability to move upwards or downwards he can't turn it around or use it for any kind of tricky navigation. As a bonus if Rush collides into a wall he'll take off, leaving Megaman to fall into whatever pits or spikes he might be flying over.
I assume this change was made so that the two new items would be more useful. Yep apparently a dog with multiple forms wasn't enough so now there are actually multiple paths with new special items at the end of them. The first one makes floating balloon platforms while the second uses a grappling hook to take Megaman straight to the ceiling. These really don't come into use until the second half of the game and in fact they're quite optional. Frankly I'm not sure why so many items were necessary.
One of the strengths of this game is that it takes on more inventive level designs. There's actually a sense of non-linearity to the stages with some having alternate paths or dead-ends that reward the player with goodies like extra lives and energy tanks. There are platforming sections that involve giant grasshoppers, a pit of quicksand that has to be traversed, and even an autoscrolling section. Still there are a number of areas that'll seem familiar to Megaman fans. There's an underwater section that feels almost right out of part 2 for example. The problem with a lot of these more creative areas is that nothing is really done with them. In one section Megaman must flip switches while jumping to reveal platforms he can safely land on. The game never tries to push this obstacle to create for some hard scenarios. There could maybe be some rock-dropping pipes in-between pits or something else. Instead it just comes off as gimmicky...a word that's already starting to become overused in my discussion of the Megaman series.
The fights with the Robot Masters feel a bit clumsier than they should be. In fact a lot of the damage and subsequent deaths are going to come from the boss bumping into Megaman. Sometimes this is intentional like with Dive Man's charging attack but usually it feels like there isn't any real pattern and Megaman just ends up trapped. This is very frustrating when many of the boss-fights are based on pattern recognition and learning to exploit it. On the other side of the pond there are bosses like Toadman that are absolutely pathetic. All you have to do is get close, move under him as he tries to jump on you, fire, and repeat the same action over and over until he dies. I guess this was Capcom's idea of giving the robot masters some amount of rudimentary AI but for the most part it just leads to more exploitable patterns. This makes for a difficulty setting that's off as it'll take longer to get the boss-fights going the player's way but with practice they can be done in very easily.
The weapons are very uninspired. While the earlier games had some clever uses for particular weapons this game doesn't really do anything with them. A lot of these weapons behave as little more than regular shots with an extra effect and there's not much of a benefit from experimenting. It's also annoying that the regular enemies feel very ineffective in this game. I'm not sure if it's their poor placement or general lack of damage but I don't really recall any times that I felt I had to work on particular areas due to how the regular foes behaved. The bosses are certainly tough but a more uniform level of difficulty would have helped this game immensely.
This is also the first Megaman since part 1 that allows the player to replay the robot master levels. This idea is expanded upon far more in the Megaman X series as at least in this game it's mostly good for stocking up on extra lives and energy tanks. It's a nice addition I guess but without the ability to leave a completed stage at any time it just becomes a nuisance having to reach the end of the stage or burn through all of the player's remaining lives to get back to the stage select.
To summarize this is a Megaman game with a bit too much useless fluff, uneven difficulty, some creative level designs that don't really go anywhere, and simply feels like it could have used a bit more development time. It's still worth a playthrough at least cause it is a fun game and like every other Megaman it'll put your skills and reflexes to the test. It's just that this game is a bit of a disappointment. Nothing major really and Capcom has done quite a bit worse so I guess it's not that big of a deal. Hopefully Megaman 5 is a return to a form.