In a shocking twist Capcom released another Megaman game. This time we're introduced to a handful of new characters and a new ability that has made its way in some form or another to every future Megaman game(with some exceptions). Eight new robot masters are ready to get their powers stolen and even the bosses of Megaman 2 join the fray in an additional four levels for the biggest game yet.
The first new character is the mysterious Protoman. He's Megaman's older brother and while he comes off as a mid-boss in the game he's actually there to teach the player how to properly use the slide. His pattern simply consists of running from left to right though when he gets close to Megaman he jumps and fires bullets at the same time, prompting the player to slide in order to avoid damage. Granted a narrow passageway could achieve the same result but at the same time Megaman's slide is more than just a gimmick. I'll discuss it a bit more in-depth later.
The other new character is Rush. There's something poetic about a robo-boy and his robo-dog. Rush is the replacement for those special items from Megaman 2. Now instead of using one item to make platforms the player can summon Rush to get a high jump, ride a flying jet, or even take a ride in the sea. Rush is a good addition to the series as his appearance and abilities make for a more cohesive experience. In addition while Rush uses energy it is only expended when Megaman actually uses the mutt's abilities. So while using the jet the player is free to jump off and take care of business without costing energy. This is important for a late-game stage.
Most important however is the slide itself. While Megaman is short and a decent runner there are times when an extra boost of speed and an ever so slightly smaller target can be a real boon to survival. The dash is not only effective in terms of speed but it also allows Capcom to be more creative and dynamic with the boss battles. This means a greater variety of attacks with new ways to evade them aside from jumping or running out of the way. This extra bit of versatility makes the slide one of my favorite additions to the Megaman series.
The game itself also marks a change in the amount of levels. While the first couple games were about 12 stages long this one throws in four more. These four additional stages are patterned after four of the first eight but feature new level designs and traps. In addition a special robot serves as the mid and end-boss. These stages are probably the toughest part of the game for me as they contain the most traps. Thankfully in this game energy tanks can be saved even after a game over. Unfortunately this starts to become reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. I held onto so many herbs throughout that game thinking I'd save them for an emergency. Most of the time however I found it was easier just to die and restart the section than to use a healing item. There are players that will disagree with this sentiment obviously.
I think I should mention that Megaman games are frequently very clever about enemy placement. Usually this is a cut and dry affair when it comes to action platformers. For example you always gotta make sure there's the flying enemy waiting by each pit to knock the player off while they're trying to jump. In Megaman games you see a lot of that even with robots that aren't designed solely to home in on the player. Some enemies have patterns they're limited to but can become a serious threat at the critical moment to defeat the player. Like other early action-platformers like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden caution is always the best course of action. Though at the same time if the player knows what's coming they can clear dangerous areas looking just a bit more stylish.
The level structure is also a bit more improved in that the hardest parts of the stage are right before the boss where they should be. It's not like in Megaman 1 where at times they were near the beginning or in Megaman 2 where they are just kind of all over the place or dominate the entire level.
One remarkable aspect of Megaman 3 is that this game marks a drop in difficulty for the series. While it's expected to still die many times as well as see the game over screen every now and again overall it's quite a bit easier than the first two games. This isn't really a bad thing in my eyes since the games start to become better balanced to account for players trying new challenges to get more life out of the game(like fighting every boss with just the mega-buster or without energy tanks, heck some people are even able to beat the game without dying or even taking damage). It's a tall order for most gamers but it's good to see that the series is getting the refinements it needs to stay relevant and entertaining.
Overall this is a solid entry in the series and certainly worth a playthrough or several. It marks a good middle ground between providing a decent challenge while at the same time having enough accessibility for any gamer. One could argue that this is the point where Capcom started getting lazy but that discussion can wait for Megaman 4.