Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 07/27/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Mega Man V is, in a lot of ways, the pinnacle of the Game Boy series. It’s pretty close between Mega Man IV and Mega Man V – I enjoyed the level design in IV a bit more – but there are a lot of things that V does better, and I think that V is the overall better game. The story, for one, is totally original in V with an original cast of bosses. The premise and setting is new and really solid, as well. Regardless of if you think IV is better or if you think V is better, this is a fantastic way to end Mega Man’s run on the original Game Boy.
Rather than sticking to emulating the NES games, everything about Mega Man V is original aside from the obvious Dr. Wily boss fight and the fact that you face off against the four Mega Man killers again. Instead of fighting Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters, you’re fighting the nine Stardroids, alien robots trying to take over the world. Of course, Dr. Wily is still behind it all – Dr. Wily is ALWAYS behind it all – but the fact that these are alien robots and not Wily-made robots gives the story a really unique feel. The fact that IV actually dabbled with story-telling impressed me in that game, but V just takes that to a whole new level. It might not be a groundbreaking story, but it’s fantastic in the context of the Game Boy Mega Man games, and even for Mega Man in general, it’s the best of the classic games in my opinion.
Between the nine Stardroids, the four Mega Man killers, the Yellow Devil model, Dr. Wily, and the final boss, there’s nearly a dozen and a half bosses. Despite that, they never feel stale. Each boss feels relatively unique and interesting, and while I got frustrated at times, it never felt unfair or pointless. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a Game Boy game. There’s even a horizontal scrolling shooter segment in space about two-thirds of the way through the game for a change of pace. Dr. Light’s lab shop makes a return from IV as does Proto Man’s little cameo, two of my favorite things from that game. Pretty much everything IV did right is brought back in V along with all of the new bits.
I may have enjoyed the level design in IV a little more, but V is still an example of top-tier Mega Man level design. Gimmicks are used brilliantly here with some levels changing the strength of gravity, water hazards being used to great effect, and the timing of falling platforms striking that perfect balance of challenging but not unforgiving. The one thing that might turn off some fans but that I, personally, found to be a welcome change was the decreased difficulty. The large sprites already made the Game Boy games tougher than their NES counterparts in a lot of ways even aside from level design, so I enjoyed seeing the overall difficulty of the game take a notch down. That’s not to say that the game isn’t still challenging – it absolutely is – but it’s far less frustrating than the previous Game Boy entries, and it never feels unfair, something that the previous games (minus IV) couldn’t say.
All things considered, Mega Man V is about as perfect as a Mega Man game on the original Game Boy can be. It still has some issues here and there – some bosses are markedly more challenging than others that are fought around the same point in the game, and there’s still a lot of slowdown when the screen gets busy – but considering the limitations of the hardware and the relatively non-linear nature in which you fight the bosses, those are kind of just the nature of the beast with Game Boy Mega Man. This is, without a doubt, the best of the five Game Boy entries in my opinion and an all-around excellent game. I don’t mean that as “excellent for a Game Boy game;” this is a genuinely excellent game and a definite must-play for Mega Man fans. It’s a shame that this has never seen a re-release outside of the 3DS Virtual Console because it definitely deserved one. Hopefully, we’ll see a collection with the Game Boy games (and maybe the Game Gear one thrown in just to make it six like the first Legacy Collection) so that this will game will be more accessible to modern gamers. Of all the Game Boy Mega Man games, this one definitely deserves it the most.