We’ve finally arrived. And after slogging through the scrap heap of backwater bot ideas that did little more than signify the end of a great run of a classic series (well, plus a few treasures found underneath the rubbish), we are long overdue to pay homage to the legendary bosses that have us still talking about these games nearly 30 years later. You can read the first part of this list, which covered bosses #46-30, here, and the followup of bosses #29-15 here. If you prefer to skip them, though, I don’t blame you – let’s get to the fun stuff!
A final recap of the grading structure that determined these ranks – after playing all 6 original Mega Man games (many times), I judged each of the 46 bosses on three different factors – stage design, boss design/battle quality, and the music accompanying the stage. Things more or less fell where I thought they would, judging by my own opinion, but I ended up intrigued how some bosses found themselves further up (or down) than I originally may have guessed, simply because they got a jump ahead in a category or two.
Nevertheless, we are wrapping it up now! So, let’s blast the finest of Dr. Wily’s stage soundtracks to set the “closing in on the end of this epic journey” mood, and get to it!
#14 Gravity Man (Mega Man 5)
Hell yeah, Mega Man 5! Way to show up in the best-of! Maybe I’m crazy, but I love the concept of Gravity Man and the tie-in theme with his stage. Finally, some fresh air is breathed into the level design, with the frequent changes in the upside-down/rightside-up sections. When walking on the ceiling, ladders will actually make you pause for a moment as your brain sorts through how to snag it without dying. Combining these elements with the usual spikes and enemies forces you to proceed carefully, rather than charge-shotting your way to the end. The music isn’t too bad, and the boss fight continues the gravity change aspect for a bit of a different experience. Once you catch on, Gravity Man doesn’t stand a chance, but he delivers an experience that raises the bar with this outing.
#13 Bubble Man (Mega Man 2)
At last, we reach a reference to the coveted Mega Man 2. Scoring three solid 4’s across all of my categories, his stage introduced the concept of Mega Man’s exaggerated water jumping, which would become a staple in all entries from here on out. The music is a catchy underwater sonata, set to a stage that features spikes to avoid, fish, frog and crab bots, waterfalls and falling platforms. Bubble Man sort of pulls off the impossible by not appearing completely laughable in his scuba-gear getup, because Christ only knows what the concept of “Bubble Man” would have looked like in the hands of the Mega Man 6 designers. His battle is fair, but fun, The lowest ranked of the Mega Man 2 bosses is still a gaming great.
#12 Charge Man (Mega Man 5)
When I said some bosses surprised me by their placing on this list, Charge Man was one of my cases-in-point. I always thought his concept was cool (although this image with his train-head is pretty damn silly), but when I revisited Charge Man’s stage for a refresher for the purpose of this ranking, I was blown away. The tune to his stage is AWESOME – easily my favorite in the game. The train aesthetic throughout the stage is great – it reminds me of picking a fight with this tough bastard, and whether you are blasting through the cable cars or traversing the rooftops, it is just themed very well. Charge Man himself isn’t overly tricky, but his titular attack and raining projectiles make for some fun dodging opportunities, and his train whistle prompt is fantastic.
#11 Heat Man (Mega Man 2)
Admission – I have gone the majority of my life without ever realizing Heat Man is supposed to resemble a lighter. This blew my mind when it was revealed to me a few years ago. Anyway, now that I have that out of the way, Heat Man was always the last boss I tackled when playing Mega Man 2. I think it was my hatred for the cursed disappearing/reappearing blocks section, and I always wanted to be sure I had ‘Item-2″ to pass over it. Nowadays, I enjoy those challenges without the items, so this stage has grown on me more. The track here is fantastic, but still not quite the upper echelon that consists of other Mega Man 2 tunes. Heat Man’s battle is a good one – I love that he becomes super pissed when struck, and flies directly at you despite your best attempts at dodging. Another solid experience all around.
#10 Skull Man (Mega Man 4)
Another relative surprise for me to find on this list, I never loved Skull Man on the surface, beyond the idea of “Skull Man” being pretty badass. But, a revisit to this stage reminds you his track is the best in Mega Man 4… by a landslide. This one could hang on the Mega Man 2 soundtrack – it’s that good. Add to that a stage that literally and figuratively throws bones at you everywhere, branches off into multiple paths to explore, and features undergrounds, blue skies and vibrant sunset backdrops, and you’ve got one ultra-solid Mega Man stage appearing after the series’ heyday. Skull Man is Mega Man 4’s token “I have a spinning shield” boss (see: Wood Man, Star Man, etc.), but his wild jumps, sporadic sprinting and frequent projectiles make him a decent challenge. Top 10 suits you well, Skull Man!
#9 Spark Man (Mega Man 3)
Spark Man ranks among the upper-average of Mega Man 3 bosses for me, which means comfortably within the top 10. His tune is totally bitchin’ and kickin’, and fits right at home with his industrial themed stage. Full of electrical themed hazards, the level offers up pretty decent challenges, including a section of platforms raising quickly toward a spike-filled ceiling when jumped upon. Traversing this area without having it mastered will have you pulling out your hair, quick – but, you know, in a fun way! The battle with Spark Man features an uneven ground, an idea I wish the designers had kept in mind more as the series progressed. Spark Man moves slow, but he sends out blasts of both small and large projectiles. Combine these with his slow lumbering movements over the unlevel battleground and you find yourself in a duel when you must choose your movements carefully – or, to put another way, my ideal Mega Man boss fight.
#8 Magnet Man (Mega Man 3)
This is probably really ridiculous to say, in that this is MY ranking, but – Magnet Man, I was rooting for you to rank SO MUCH higher than this! One of my secret favorites, Magnet Man has everything I love – his tune is my favorite in all of Mega Man 3, and even ranks above a few Mega Man 2 tracks in my book. (If you are so inclined to check it out, here’s a cover of it I discovered upward of 10 years ago that I still keep in rotation.) His stage has a lot of fun magnet-themed enemies and obstacles that change up the pace a bit, and his battle was always a thrilling one for me, before I ingrained in my subconscious how to defeat him without even thinking about it – I loved the thrill of running and sliding as fast as you could as the magnets rained down on you. As I mentioned with Heat Man, although I came to appreciate the challenge offered with the disappearing/reappearing blocks sections in Mega Man, Magnet Man’s stage overdoes it a little and knocked a point off of his stage. You’ll forever hold a place near and dear to my heart, Magnet Man.
#7 Quick Man (Mega Man 2)
Another relative surprise, as a whole, I had Quick Man pegged as my least favorite in Mega Man 2. The track is great, but not my favorite, and godDAM, even after having played this game through dozens of times, I still muck up the falling-and-dodging-lasers section. But, I have to give credit where credit is due – truly challenging stages such as these are what make Mega Man the fantastic series that it is. I do love the bizarre theming of his stage, which I can’t seem to peg, and it can be argued he has the most badass design of all the bots. He lives up to that tough look in his battle as well – Jesus, what a prick. Without using Flash Man’s freeze on him, Quick Man’s battle turns QUICKly into a battle of attrition that forgives little to no errors. Safe to say, Quick Man fought his way this far up the list.
#6 Wood Man (Mega Man 2)
The “tank” of Mega Man 2 (sorry, too much Overwatch clouding my gaming analogies), Wood Man delivers an expertly themed stage, set to a fantastic tribal-pumped theme and a satisfying final battle. The progression of the stage, from the top forest level filled with ostrich bots, to the underground lair where you must square off against enormous fire-spewing hellhound bots, and finishing up with the limb-to-limb jungle platforming, is perfection. I appreciate Wood Man’s look and feel of “I’m a tree robot, and I don’t GIVE A FUCK”, and although his battle is by no means bad, it always bothered me that, despite your best efforts to dodge them, you MUST get hit by the falling leaves (not the spinning wheel of leaves he shoots – a perfect jump will save you there. And I could be wrong about this, and maybe there is a way to dodge them I never discovered – if so, please let me know!). Regardless, we’re really nitpicking now, and Wood Man is an essential part of the composition that is the perfection known as Mega Man 2.
#5 Air Man (Mega Man 2)
Here we go, the top 5. Now we begin to split hairs over the best of the absolute best. Air Man’s tune is snappy as hell – I’m always humming this one throughout the stage, and long after it’s done. The tricky jumps and cloud platforming make for great gameplay to enjoy against the music, the enemies are varied in both appearance and challenges they present, and I always loved the clouds in both the foreground and background. It could be because I’ve played it so many times, but I wish it was a little more challenging – it often feels like it’s over too quickly. Still, it’s capped off by a fight with Air Man, toting his intimidating, angry industrial fan motif. His tornadoes offer him a decent shield of protection, and if you’re not quick to take advantage while he’s exposed, he bounces on over to show you what-for. He’s always the first one I take on, and for that he signified the start of an awesome gaming session.
#4 Flash Man (Mega Man 2)
I could be wrong, but my impression is Flash Man is a huge fan favorite among Mega Man players. I get the idea that his theme is an absolute favorite for many (not me – VERY close, but not quite), and the overall experience of his stage just screams “Mega Man” to many people. I would agree – the amazing background song, set to the gleaming blue backgrounds, allowing players to explore what feels like somewhat of a maze while taking on an eclectic bunch of cool bots makes this stage a true standout. Where Flash Man lost his ONE point with me is he himself – the photo attached of him here does him a lot of favors, as he always looked (and fought) like an old, hunched-over man in sprite form. He moves slow and dies a little quick, but the overall package he delivers is textbook Mega Man magnificent.
#3 Crash Man (Mega Man 2)
Probably not hidden very well due to my avatar, I now present, at face value, my favorite Mega Man boss, Crash Man. We’ll start with the background track – I don’t know what it is, because I feel like, objectively, there are better tunes in this game, but it’s always been my favorite. The up-and-down, wavering funky feel to it always made me look forward to this stage. Sadly, I had to deduct a point for the stage… it’s a little boring, and relies too heavily on waiting for platforms to swing by so you can catch a ride. Those gripes aside, I really enjoy the idea of ascending to the top of this stage, rather than the usual left-to-right progression. The lackadaisical approach to it allows you to enjoy the music, too. Crash Man himself has just always been cool as hell to me – I love his helmet, his hand-bombs, and his sly smirk. You’ll always be my secret #1, Crash Man!
#2 Metal Man (Mega Man 2)
Metal Man, you would be number one if you brandished an electric guitar and flashed the devil horns in your battle, but being a literal Metal Man, you’ll have to settle for #2. Putting aside those minor qualms, Metal Man is Mega Man 2 perfection. Exploring a factory from hell, a pulsating, catchy tune is set to your trek along conveyor belts, punctuated by the crash of the incoming spike chandeliers. Clown bots riding giant gears, deadly drills hunting you from both the floor and the ceiling and risky platforming all make for one of the more enjoyable stages in a game with a bar set very high. Metal Man is a no-bullshit boss – enter his lair and he immediately jumps toward the ceiling, hurling buzzsaws at you quick and from every angle. I love running and gunning back and forth, finding the sweet spot that forces him to keep jumping from side to side, thus distracting him from trying to kill you. Another bonus point for him: his only weakness (although it is a DEBILITATING weakness), is his own motherfucking weapon. Rock on, Metal Man.
#1 Snake Man (Mega Man 3)
The shocking conclusion: my pick for the best Robot Master in the entire classic run of Mega Man is NOT from Mega Man 2! Alright, I’m trying to make this more interesting than it is, I’ll admit it. Mostly because, judged upon the three merits I mentioned above, Snake Man really is the epitome of Mega Man, in my book. Theming Robot Masters after animals could have been a VERY slippery slope that I am glad the developers did not explore much further – Snake Man himself would have been hokey if he wasn’t, well, Snake Man. The stage kicks off immediately with a rocking tune – has anyone else always been instantly reminded of the Mortal Kombat theme when it starts? From there, you’re trudging and climbing along coiled up platforms, blasting away snakes both big and small, and the use of green in the stage design mirrors the perfect use of blues in Flash Man’s stage in Mega Man 2. Eventually you emerge to an exterior part of the stage, where towers into the clouds must be ascended before a final cloud hopping section is the only obstacle left between you and reptile robot himself. This battle is my favorite to fight with just the mega buster – another boss lair with unlevel ground, Snake Man follows a set path of left and right, hopping up and down over the uneven surfaces while spitting snakes everywhere. Finding the correct pace of jumping over him, racing to the other side of the room, blasting away, then running towards him to execute a timely leap over him results in the feeling of perfecting a dance that he just can’t match, if you do it right. From start to finish, taking in all factors under consideration, this is Mega Man at its best.
Well, we made it! As much as I shit on some of the earlier ranks, all of these games are near and dear to my heart, and I really enjoyed taking a thorough look at all of their components. I may take an in depth look at all of Wily’s fortress stages in the future, as I really can’t ever get enough Mega Man. As usual, if you are a Mega Man aficionado, I would love to know where you agreed and disagreed with me on this list. Thanks so much for reading along!