The transformation of Mega Man into Gomer Pyle Man

Mega Man 5 (1992)

As Mega Man embarks on his fifth death-defying adventure, I feel I must finally lift my head above the parapet. It’s time for me to be a little bit ethical here, and ask that difficult question: are we sure Mega Man isn’t traumatised by now? I suppose the logical answer to this is that he is a robot, and robots don’t suffer from PTSD.

Oh really? You could have fooled me – all I had to do was drop my laptop from a great height and it got too scared to power on anymore, presumably because it feared I’d just give it another thrashing. And even when it boot up, it needed constant support and reassurance from charger, otherwise it just withered and died.

But then I better watch that I don’t talk myself out of a job. I’ve advertised chat bots to people during the really bad days of COVID-19 by telling them that robots don’t get sick, whereas humans do – that’s right, I was a pandemic profiteer.

But what I never tell them, and what I’m reluctant to tell you, is that all of my chat bots, without fail, suffer from mental health issues every now and then. They have a little sadness period where they just cannot get out of their funk and function correctly. So, can robots get sick or not? Nowadays, I don’t know what to believe.

Given Mega Man’s unflappable demeanour, coupled with the huge smile he has on his face when he leaps into the air, I felt that nothing out there could bring the little blue guy down. Not the maelstrom of battles he’s been involved in, not the bottomless pits, not even those terrifying disappear-reappear platforms. But then we started up Mega Man 5 together and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Napalm Man?! Are you serious?!

And just to avoid any doubt here, this Robot Master’s level takes place in the jungles, jungles that look an awful lot like the ones I saw in The Deer Hunter, and Principal Skinner’s flashbacks. You’ll even fight against enemy robo-helicopters in there, for God’s sake.

We are definitely in Vietnam this time, where some of the worst PTSD and shellshock occurred in soldiers. Why don’t we just have a Gulf Man or Normandy Man next time, if we’re going to go down that road? But we don’t want to picture people going down the road when we mention Vietnam either, do we?

Adding to the Vietnam trauma, and speaking indeed of flimsy premises, Mega Man 5’s ridiculous story leads us to believe that the man behind all the robo-aggravation is Proto Man. Yes, Mega Man’s brother in arms may have gone rogue. So you can’t even trust your own comrades, eh? That’d have a grim effect on anyone’s mental wellbeing.

And yet, when you jump into the levels of Mega Man 5, forgetting the unfortunate presence of Napalm Man for just a moment, you may just find, as I have, that this is probably the happiest and perkiest of all the Mega Man games on the NES.

Every single piece of music is upbeat and jolly, and there’s a lot of cool new gimmicks to try –have a look at Star Man’s stage, where the gravity is low and you can almost jump right onto the moon. Or if you’re sick of gravity altogether, which I often am, then you can visit Gravity Man himself on his stage and go fully upside-down, way before anything like Sonic 3 or Super Mario Galaxy came along.

If that’s not enough for you, then you can do a bit of speedboating in Wave Man’s stage or fight your way through a bustling train on Charge Man’s stage – look out for the little Mettaurs in their own locomotives. All the while, you can fire off fully-powered Mega Buster shots that look a lot meatier than the piddly first effort at a charged shot you had in Mega Man 4.

It’s got some proper power behind it this time, the charged Mega Buster, and you really feel that Mega Man is at or near the top of his 8-bit game here. He can slide through tunnels or underneath enemy fire as well, he hasn’t lost that ability. Multi-talented guy, he is.

Anyway, this is a holly jolly game all round, which is probably what a deeply disturbed individual like Mega Man (formerly known as Rambo Man) needs. A few level gimmicks, nothing too over the top, and it’s simply another no-nonsense action platformer from him. Is Mega Man 5 a bit by the numbers? Sure, but it’s well worth a look.

I’ll say this as well, and I’m always lambasting Capcom for the lack of effort and care they put into all the redundant sequels they used to fart out, but there’s definitely a lot of palpable effort gone into the graphics this time, which you didn’t see happening in Mega Mans 3 and 4.

That’s in addition to the bopping soundtrack which I mentioned. No 8-bit Creedence or Born in the U.S.A. in there unfortunately, but it’s got plenty of other tunes that’ll make you smile.

The game’s difficulty is perhaps too easy for some fans, but I think it’s just right. At least there are a lot less cheap deaths and sudden traps than in Mega Man 4, and the enemy Robot Masters don’t hit you like a truck whenever they smack into you.

For better or for worse, and I’d always say for better, this is where Mega Man became a bit of a collector as well. Quite fitting, because his games were also starting to become collectors’ items. He starts small in this game, with a hidden letter to be found somewhere in each of the eight stages. Find them all and you’ll unlock… a helpful bird companion called Beat.

Not exactly a tactical nuke, I suppose, but tracking down items always gives you a bit more extra juice and replay value, even if Mega Man 5’s collecting action is laughably easy. You won’t have to send poor Rush digging through each and every pile of dirt you see, at least.

For classic Mega Man, I’d say this one sits on the podium alongside the second and third games. It deserves some kind of medal anyway, or at least some recognition. This is a veteran game that served its duty well, and shouldn’t be forgotten.

It wasn’t Proto Man behind it all, by the way. Shock horror I know, but it was the dastardly Dr. Wily. Well, it’s usually the devil you know, right? You know in Casablanca when they say, “round up the usual suspects”? You’d think that would extend to the guy who tried and failed to enslave the world four times previously, wouldn’t you?

It must be a bit like those cases you always read about where someone’s up in court and it turns out they have 95 previous convictions. What, you’re only putting him away just now? Were all those previous cases just a bit of practice? I feel a bit left out, here – police, come and arrest me, I’ve been drunk in a public place and I need to be locked up.

Actually, let’s keep the police well away – you saw how that worked out for Rambo in first blood. In any case, maybe Mega Man is actually a bit of a pacifist, who just happens to be caught up in violent situations. Sounds ridiculous I know, but I can’t fail to notice that he doesn’t really use any of the Robot Master weapons very well.

Take the Power Stone for example; later to be a Capcom fighting series on Dreamcast, here it’s meant to be a barrage of rocks that smacks into enemies – the choo-choo Robot Master is weak to it, as I suppose trains would be weak to boulders if they smashed into locomotives at high speed.

Well, what usually happens when Mega Man gives the Power Stone a go is him sending the rocks spiralling way off screen, threatening nothing but his own self-esteem. He can weaponise his slide this time around as well using the Charge Slide, although that barely works – he just ends up hurting himself, making it a lot like Top Man’s spin weapon in Mega Man 3. And we all know how embarrassing that was to witness.

I’m also saddened to tell you that Gyro Man’s weapon doesn’t immediately make the delectably tasty Greek pita wrap appear, before it slams into your mouth and down your gullet at aggressive speed. No, the gyros in this game refer to fans and windmills, for whatever reason.

I don’t know, maybe poor Mega Man has finally lost his marbles. I must say it’s a bit cruel of Dr. Light, sending this traumatised little boy out to the frontlines again and again, just because robots don’t get sick or tired or bloody. You’d be forgiven for being bloody sick and tired of the Mega Man franchise by now, but don’t overlook Mega Man 5 – the man was the best.

5 February 2021

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