Once you’ve played one Mega Man game, you’ve played them all. Each starts with eight robot masters who you have to beat to unlock the final multi-stage extra-hard boss level (actually it’s often two major multi-stage levels, the first one with the flavor of the day big bad, who after having been beaten is revealed as just another puppet of the Dr. Wily). This time it looks like Protoman has gone bad, but obviously he hasn’t and it’s really just another Dr. Wily scheme.
The first eight bosses are either variations of the elemental bosses of past iterations (Wave Man = water-based boss, Gyro Man = air-based boss), clever gimmicks like reverse gravity segments in Gravity Man stage or lower gravity in Star Man stage (which plays like an underwater level), an assortment of other themed-bosses – Stone Man, Crystal Man and Napalm Man – and the occasional off-the wall concept like Charge Man (who probably should have been called Train Man).
The one thing that becomes obvious early on is that MM5 is easy. Often you can finish a stage on the first or second try and the same is true for most bosses. Very few attempts to figure out their pattern and beat them. Even the multi-stage final levels are only occasionally hard. If you farm enough Energy Tanks or Mystery Tanks, most of the enemies are easily beaten and only two or three segments really require some more advanced platforming skill. Also, the Mega Buster is so overpowered here that it’s usually the only weapon I use, with a few exceptions for specific situations.
Though while the game is easy, it’s only easy in comparison to other Mega Man games, compared to really easy platformers in general it probably still poses a moderate challenge. Every moment of distraction is punished with major HP loss, even from low level enemies. And while the bosses often have less random pattern than in other parts of the series, you still have to time your evasive actions more or less perfectly.
Overall though, the low difficulty is actually not a drawback, every series needs an entry level episode and MM5 is perfect for that. I remember beating the first Gameboy Mega Man and that was just painful. After that MM5 was a relaxing walk in the park. Every time I start the game up again and beat the initial eight levels, I feel like my platformer skills haven’t gotten completely rusty.
Like a lot of the late NES games, the game looks gorgeous and makes you really appreciate the difference in graphical fidelty between early-system and late-system games. The eight bosses are pretty cool and don’t feel like they run out of ideas (okay, maybe with Charge Man) and there are a lot of cool ideas in terms of platformer mechanics, that while not entirely original were new to the Mega Man series. A boat’n gun sequence, reverse gravity parts, riding bubbles, inventive weapons and bosses that feel unusual fresh for a late entry in the long running series and just a lot of attention to detail that makes this one really enjoyable.