Capcom’s first four Gameboy Mega Man games were remixes of the NES games, but for the fifth and final entry, they decided to change things up. Instead of using existing bosses and weapons, Mega Man V features nine all-new planet-themed robots. The stages, bosses, weapons, and even common enemies are all new. The result is a surprisingly good Mega Man game.
Having all-new content improves Mega Man V in many ways, including by making comparisons to the NES games less obvious. This is still a slower-paced Mega Man than the original games, due to the Gameboy hardware, but for once the game seems designed with that in mind. There are tricky jumps, but the stages are not brutally difficult as in some of the earlier games. And Mega Man takes less damage from most basic attacks, to reflect his shorter life bar.
The revelation of Mega Man V is the boss design, however. Since Mega Man 4 for NES, every game in the series has had a very basic boss rotation, but Mega Man V is a callback to the earlier games where things aren’t quite so simple. Some weapons work on multiple bosses, and one can’t even be used on any of the eight basic bosses. The weapons themselves are well-designed, many calling back to earlier weapons with a slight new spin. The correct weapons for each boss are as much informed by how the weapons operate, and what can actually hit each boss, as by any other logic.
While Mega Man’s basic weapon remains powerful, Mega Man V does a decent job of giving you a reason to use other weapons during the course of normal play. Some enemies are hard to reach with a normal horizontal shot, and the new charged-up Mega Arm has a cooldown before it can be fired again, scaling back its power somewhat. The later stages also feature various secrets requiring specific weapons, and the game features a number of useful upgrades for Mega Man to spend P-chips on.
All in all, Mega Man V is not only good, it’s arguably the best entry in the series since Mega Man 3 for the NES. Mega Man has become rote and unchanging over the years, and the Gameboy games were particularly bad in this way. Mega Man V changes all that, and it’s too bad this is where the series ended. It’s also too bad the original cart is obscenely expensive, though the game is available on several flavors of Virtual Console. Mega Man fans should definitely check it out.