Alright, right off the bat, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way – Mega Man 2 is the best. Not just the best in the series, but one of the best games ever. Mega Man 3 comes as close as humanely possible to being a legitimate contender for that title (and arguably surpasses 2 it in the challenge department), but otherwise can’t live up to it’s older brother’s pristine reputation. The original Mega Man is worth checking out for how this series laid its foundation, and everything after 3 is a slow decline.
… Still, each entry, even the crap-bag ones, have their shining moments, and even the best have their low points. While Wily’s Castle stages are memorable in their own right, we all know the cast of Robot Masters are what make or break each title. I’ve played 1-6 many, many times; a buddy of mine and I chased a challenge of beating all 6 in one sitting, and hit a brick wall many times (mainly due to beer imbibing that went along with the all-day challenge). We finally managed to complete it awhile back, and with an extensive knowledge of each entry, I decided to undertake the Herculean task of ranking the best of the best from the entire classic run of Mega Man 1-6.
I judged each boss using three equally important parameters: music, stage design, and the bosses themselves (mainly their design and the quality of the battle). My favorite way to play Mega Man is to avoid using the upgrades in boss battles, and use only the mega buster; this also serves as a decent barometer of the quality of the gameplay.
Averaging these scores together gave me the ranking – even I was surprised, in the end, with who came out on top. With that, let’s get started with the shitbots rounding out the bottom of the ranks. These are Dr. Wily’s worst, crappiest, one-step-away-from-the-junk-pile-ideas these are only step above Milk Man, or Trash Man, or Mail Man.
#46 – Plant Man (Mega Man 6)
Ugh. Plant Man. I will admit, with a name like Plant Man, he could have a lamer design than he actually does but – Plant Man? His saving grace is the music in his stage in that it’s pretty average; you can find worse. His stage is an annoying, stale combination of springs, pits, and a boring battle with a sub-boss (which happens twice). You then face the flying flower who calls himself Plant Man, a boss who rips off his brethren Wood Man in both theme and attack – the large, spinning circular projectile. Uninspired and unoriginal, Plant Man embodies the idea that by Mega Man 6, it was time for a break.
#45 – Toad Man (Mega Man 4)
Starting this out, I thought for sure Toad Man would be dead last. Whenever you start a new Mega Man for the first time, you always try to pinpoint the weakling, the one bot who was clearly idea #8 out of 8 for that game, the one who barely made the cut, the one who was designed to die first. Toad Man has that written all over him. I judged his stage a hair more fun than Plant Man’s – the rain and water make for cool platforming challenges, and the snail sub-boss is sorta fun. However, the music is crap – Mega Man 4 is when the tunes began to take a big dip in general, I feel. The battle with Toad Man himself is so simplistic it’s laughable – engage him in a game of pun-intended leap frog where you never take a turn leaping and shoot until he’s down. Couldn’t be easier.
#44 – Crystal Man (Mega Man 5)
Crystal Man ranked just a step below average in all three categories. His stage looks promising at first – almost a call back to Flash Man from Mega Man 2 and Gemini Man from Mega Man 3. Then comes the cheap platforming challenge of timing jumps over short distances under chutes that disperse falling diamonds at seemingly random intervals. This always stands out as one of the more frustrating areas in all of Mega Man 5. The stage eases up into a humdrum chore, and the music, although not awful, is pretty forgettable. Crystal Man himself is a pretty boring design, matched with a boring fight – he jumps, pauses in midair, and tosses out a couple different projectiles. Carefully avoid, blast, keep your distance and you’re good to go. Try harder, Crystal Man.
#43 – Yamato Man (Mega Man 6)
I love the idea of a boss paying tribute to the birthplace of not just Mega Man, but gaming as we know it… it’s just that Yamato Man comes across as a missed opportunity. The music is “meh” at best, and his stage is just an exercise of going through the motions, full of Japanese stereotypes. There are zero challenges in it – just walk right, jump occasionally, shoot occasionally. Yamato Man himself provides a couple cool spots where you need to be quick with dodging projectiles, but he still telegraphs his movements, and more-or-less echoes the theme of his stage – that of “nothing new to see here, carry on”.
#42 – Flame Man (Mega Man 6)
Flame Man actually makes the concept of Toad Man look like a stroke of ingenuity. I know Wily favors refreshing his old concepts, but after Fire Man, Heat Man, and Napalm Man, he’s flaming us with Flame Man. Nevertheless, Flame Man’s stage is actually one of the better part of Mega Man 6. Some new ideas are used, like oil you can slowly slog through until flames set the floor ablaze. This makes for some fun platforming throughout the level that never feels unfair. The music, like most of Mega Man 6, is pretty much crap. Flame Man himself is somewhat of a challenge that doesn’t feel fun to fight – other than predictable straight on shots to jump over, he sends upward spouting flames across the floor. They seem impossible to avoid unless you basically stay rooted in the middle. Not great, but we’re heading in the right direction.
#41 – Centaur Man (Mega Man 6)
I feel like just leaving his name and image here explains Centaur Man’s place on the list. Okay, not as eye-rollingly bad as Toad Man or Plant Man, but… Centaur Man screams “WE HAVE NO IDEAS LEFT PLEASE SEND HELP”. His music is among the worst in the game: listen to the first 30 seconds or so – it’s basically one 3-note scale on repeat. The stage makes up for these shortcomings with some decent underwater platforming, and a cool area where you are walking on dry land, but water is rising and lowering above you, turning the underwater jump effect on its head. The battle with Centaur Man is nothing special, but does have that dodge the projectile/dodge the boss/shoot when you can dance routine that I love in certain fights. If it wasn’t for unbearable music in a franchise otherwise known for producing some of the NES’ bets earworms, Centaur Man would have ranked higher.
#40 – Blizzard Man (Mega Man 6)
I’m almost on board with the idea of Blizzard Man, a statement that’s hard to make when there’s already been 38 previous Robot Masters and good ideas are clearly hard to come by. The skis, though… it’s a little too on-the-nose for me. Still, they’re an excuse for one of the more fun boss battles in the game, so it’s forgivable. It’s become apparent by now the designers were going for regional inspiration for stages and bosses in Mega Man 6, and I guess this one is… Canada? Anyway, the stage is an improvement over some of the earlier bosses, although it features a section where the main platform raises and lowers with a ceiling of spikes overhead, causing you to spend time waiting and timing your progression… not my favorite obstacle. The music is painfully average, but again, the final battle is the standout – dodging Blizzard’s rolling attack and his snowflake projectiles gives you enough to juggle to make it feel fun.
#39 – Tomahawk Man (Mega Man 6)
With Mega Man 6’s theme of regions around the real globe, it’s surprisingly there aren’t more bosses and stages that haven’t aged well. Having said that, Tomahawk Man is pretty offensive. It’s a shame, too – the music might be the best in the game, and the stage is pretty fun. The Old-West-Meets-Mega-Motif really works, with blazing sunset backdrops, gunslinger bots and canyons to trudge through. The music is one of the few in the game that I genuinely hum along to – it sounds like it could hang with some of the tunes from Mega Man 3. Of course, Tomahawk Man himself goes and ruins it. Lame, culturally insensitive attacks like firing killer feathers from his headdress and slinging tomahawks in borderline unfair arcs make him a dud at the end of an overall great Mega Man stage. Cowboy Man (is that an oxymoron? Cow Man, then?) would have been pretty dumb, but a better choice overall.
#38 – Star Man (Mega Man 5)
Star Man should count all of his lucky stars he’s not much lower on this list. If not for a really fun stage and passable music, he’d be visiting the swamp with Toad Man and Plant Man with his lame design and lamer battle. The jump distance increase from lack of gravity, meteor attacks, space station themed area and groovy space tunes make for a great overall experience, but what a dud of a boss fight. I have always found Mega Man 5 to be the easiest overall, and no one epitomizes that more than Star Man. This dude jumps, freezes in midair, sends a slow, avoidable, puttering projectile your way, and waits for you to unload on him. He’s nothing more than a disgrace to David Bowie’s classic song with a fun stage to keep his rank afloat.
#37 Bright Man (Mega Man 4)
Bright Man scores a couple points in the stage column, as it has some unique areas. But although it mixes up the formula a little bit, it mostly comes off more annoying than fun – the section immediately proceeding the boss has you traversing tricky timed platforms, but lone projectiles from an enemy you blasted at the beginning of the progression follow you the whole way, threatening to knock you off course when they should be long gone (i.e., Classic Capcom). His music could be worse, but it’s the epitome of Mega Man 4, in that it really shows how the tunes just aren’t as catchy as they were just one entry ago. Bright Man himself is lame in an endearing way. He has a lightbulb on his head, for Christ’s sake, and it’s hard not to get behind that to some extent. His battle is a bit of a yawn, in that his attacks are duds and he jumps more than Toad Man. Points for trying get you to 37, Bright Man.
#36 Wave Man (Mega Man 5)
Like Flame Man, Wave Man finds himself as one of Wily’s reaching-blindly-for-the-back-shelf ideas. After God knows how many water themed bosses, though, I suppose he could be worse. He has kind of a badass Poseidon thing going on, and the music in his stage isn’t half bad. His stage, though… I HATE this stage. Specifically, the goddamn jetski portion. Jumping backwards over enemies is awkward, and the sub-boss is a chore. I might dread that sequence the most in the entire game. The boss battle is okay, but a little weird. Wave Man is one of those enemies that has wild, unpredictable leaps, and that’s probably the most dangerous thing about him. Thrusting his harpoon into the ground causes torrents of water to spring up, but they’re pretty easy to avoid. All in all, he’s put together better than you think ANOTHER water boss would be, but we’re still far from anything special.
#35 Knight Man (Mega Man 6)
You gotta give it up for Knight Man. He has to be invariably responsible in some way for the magnificent, meta-Mega-Man game Shovel Knight. Other than that, I don’t think we can give his mailed-in concept many more points. Still, though, we are finally reaching a point where all three categories are at least decent: Knight Man’s castle-themed stage is pretty fun and the music is dramatic enough that it sounds like it should be in a Wily stage (which is always a good thing). Knight Man’s battle is average, in that his shield and ball-and-chain defense and attack are cool, but he’s pretty much a sap. He moves pretty slow and telegraphs his every move. Thanks for trying, Knight Man – would love to see you as Knight Knight in Shovel Knight 2 someday.
#34 Wind Man (Mega Man 6)
This is where this list will start to take some strange turns. My gut tells me Wind Man is one of the dumbest – a terrible clone of Air Man who, although comes from the flawless Mega Man 2, isn’t all that original himself. But for some reason, I really dig his design. The music is pretty good for the last game in the run, and the stage has gimmicky aspects that pay off, such as industrial fans that you can use to float. Wind Man is more-or-less a ripoff of Air Man in his attacks, too, but it’s a fun battle. I don’t know if anyone would share this conceit, but thank you, Wind Man, for being a bright spot in an otherwise stale lineup!
#33 Drill Man (Mega Man 4)
Drill Man has a nice comfy spot at #33. His concept and design basically has “eh, there are worse bosses in Mega Man” written all over him. The music is typical Mega-Man-4-mediocre, and the stage itself goes a little over the top with spikes everywhere, but it moves quick and it’s fun to traverse. He loses points for the area with the switches, though – flipping them makes the next part of the stage appear out of nowhere (why?) and at first, it’s not terribly obvious how to flip them or what they will do. It has always stuck out to me as a poorly designed area in a series famous for the opposite. The fight with Drill Man is somewhat entertaining, as he is pretty aggressive… when he’s above ground. He burrows a lot, and spends way too much time out of view.
#32 Guts Man (Mega Man)
I’ll admit, it’s a bit like a crime to have a boss from the original Mega Man way up in the 30’s – and Guts Man, no less. He almost feels like the unofficial mascot of the entry point to this series. Nevertheless, I’ve always hated most of his stage – the traveling platforms over pitfalls laid the groundwork for a lot of great Mega Man stages to come, but here the platforms feel borderline broken, they fall so damn fast. The music, although primitive, is now a step above the rest, so that’s a plus. The battle with Guts Man is basically a war of attrition (if you’re using the Mega Buster, at least). It shows the promise so many Mega Man bosses will have, but doesn’t have a lot of substance to it. If it’s any solace, Guts Man, you’re definitely cooler than your rank gives you credit for.
#31 Top Man (Mega Man 3)
The only boss modeled after a children’s toy, it’s hard to believe Top Man isn’t fighting off Plant Man for last place. Appearing in one of the best games of all time does that for you, though. Top Man’s stage is a fun mix of platforms, funny enemies such as flea-ridden cats pawing balls of yarn, and music that threads the line of annoying and awesome while leaning toward the latter just enough to work. He suffers from the Toad Man curse of having “FIGHT ME FIRST” written all over his silly design, but his spin attack and top-hurling projectiles are actually kind of cool. Way to overachieve, Top Man!
#30 Cut Man (Mega Man)
Speaking of clowns you know to target first in a Mega Man game – in at number 30 is the original himself, Cut Man! I don’t know if it’s the speedo or the child-proof pair of scissors on his head, but he doesn’t quite scream intimidating. Regardless, his stage has a great tune – it’s quintessential Mega Man. The stage features a lot of fun upward progression, and although it’s not super challenging, it’s one of the better ones in this game. Squaring off with Cut Man himself proves he is the (literal) pushover he appears to be – shooting him knocks him backward and away from you, while he relentlessly removes his scissor scalp to toss at you in wild arcs. You may be the Glass Joe of Mega Man, Cut Man, but we love you.
That rounds out the first batch! Luckily, we are done eating the oats in this bowl of Lucky Charms, and we’ll be moving onto the marshmallows in Part II. Where did you land with these picks? Expected to see a few bots ranked lower? Higher? Offended on behalf of Star Man? GET EQUIPPED WITH ITEM-2 AND GET YOUR COMMENTS READY!