Even many Mega Man fans skipped Mega Man 6 back in the day, released as it was well into the SNES era and shortly after the superlative Mega Man X. It’s too bad, because this is a bit of a hidden gem in the series that went back to basics (though not nearly as much so as Mega Man 9 would, years later). It does suffer from some pretty lazy boss design, but the game works rather well.
The most jarring change in Mega Man 6 is the removal of all the usual utility items. For the first time since Mega Man 2, you don’t start with the Rush Coil. Instead, you can pick up two Rush upgrades that don’t use energy and change how Mega Man plays. Both prevent sliding and charged shots, with the Rush Power compensating with a powerful (though short-range) shot and the Rush Jet allowing you to fly with a jet pack. If that doesn’t sound cool to you, well, maybe skip Mega Man 6. The Rush Jet can only fly so long at a time, but it’s super fun to use and my biggest series regret is that they never did something quite like it again. (Much like Mega Man 3’s Rush Jet, I guess giving the player that much control just causes too many game design problems.)
The bosses in this game are lame beyond belief. Not only do they cover heavily-treaded ground by having Flame Man, Blizzard Man, and Wind Man, three of the bosses are just variations on (actual historical weapon) Man. The weapons are nothing to write home about either, and the game suffers from the same problem as the other later NES games where the Mega Buster is as good a choice as anything. The main choice you’ll make is whether to give up the charge shot for a Rush attachment.
While the bosses are lame in concept, they do at least look cool, and the stages have stronger thematic elements than many other Mega Man games. Tomahawk Man has an old west feel, Yamato Man feels very Japanese, and so on. There are a number of memorable stage design elements in play here, from the “flower” energy pellets in Plant Man’s stage to the super-cool upside-down waves in Centaur Man’s stage. (Side note: “Centaur Man”? So he’s half horse, half man, another half man, but also a robot, I guess?) These stages also branch quite frequently with the use of Rush attachments, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s cool, but it also leads to alternate bosses, which are how you get Beat.
Most Mega Man games have an agreed-upon “best order” but Mega Man 6 takes that to a new level. You’ll want to fight the four Beat-related bosses later so you can get to the proper alternate rooms to fight them, which basically means that not only is the order set, the starting point is as well. Which is fine, I guess, but it’s kind of going against the whole concept of Mega Man. Fortunately, Beat isn’t quite as ridiculous here as he was in his debut.
It’s easy to tell that Capcom was on the right track with Mega Man 6, and I think Mega Man X (which came out after Mega Man 6 in Japan) proved beyond any doubt that they still had it. The basic Mega Man series took a strange turn once it got off of the NES, though, which is probably why we eventually ended up with Mega Man 9 and 10. Still, this is a very fun game, and not as laughably easy as its predecessor, so it’s worth checking out. Though like its predecessor, it’s quite expensive to pick up in NES cartridge form, so maybe stick with one of the dozen collections that have been released.