Games writers over the age of 30 tend to grunt and groan about how old game anniversaries make them feel. Take me, for example: Just thinking of Super Mario's 35th anniversary makes my bones ache. But the 30th anniversary of Mega Man 3 for the NES really punches me in the heart, because I'm a huge fan of the franchise—and it was my first Mega Man game.
I picked up Mega Man 3 on a whim. It was on sale at the video store where we rented our weekly fare, and I recalled Johnny Arcade had said good things about the game on Video Power. I'm using "said" loosely, here: Johnny Arcade didn't talk about video games so much as he yipped about them while squirming and dancing like a Labrador puppy. He was a convincing video game salesman.
In any case, I took home Mega Man 3 and fell head over heels. The soundtrack alone snared me immediately. (Shout-out to the most underrated Dr. Wily theme ever composed.) I loved the jump-and-shoot action, which I wasn't familiar with at that point in time; I preferred platformers like Super Mario Bros. and its myriad imitators, so shooting projectiles and weapons at evil "Robot Masters" was a new experience for me.
Also, that kickin' title screen music just keeps you coming back. Woo.
Those Robot Masters also sold me big time on Mega Man 3. I was enthralled with their charming, unapologetically anime character designs, to say nothing of their goofy-ass names. Like, "Hard Man." Are you serious, Capcom? Whatever. I love it. And Snake Man is still my #1 Robot Master. I love snakes, and I adore how Snake Man's design involves his face peering out of a serpent's maw. Amazing.
There's an additional, albeit unusual, reason why I fell for Mega Man 3: It introduced me to the "long lost brother" anime trope through Protoman, a mysterious robot who tags Mega Man as the Blue Bomber makes his way through the Robot Masters blocking his way. I was maybe 11 or 12 when I first played Mega Man 3, and my mind was starting to fill up with stories. (Most of them awful.) Protoman's mysterious entrances, characteristic whistle, and relationship with Mega Man made my pupils dilate and my imagination race. Mega Man had a brother! Could a robot even have a brother? Who cared? The very idea made me gasp—especially since Protoman was a lone wolf who watched his sibling from afar, but rarely interfered in his affairs. So cool.
Note: I didn't watch Speed Racer as a kid, so I had no idea Capcom had lifted the story of Racer X wholesale for Protoman, including how both brothers had run away from home following disagreements with their fathers. Protoman hasn't sucker-punched Mega Man yet, though. I don't know what he's waiting for.
It would be some years before I learned Protoman's full back story—about how he's Dr. Light's first self-aware humanoid robot, and how there's a critical flaw in his power source that might cause him to literally go nuclear. His stubbornness and independence prevent him from accepting Dr. Light's offers to repair him, as he's worried going under the proverbial knife will somehow rob him of his sentience. The Mega Man comic by Archie delves deep into Protoman's psyche and does an excellent job of unraveling who he is, and why he's reluctant to accept Dr. Light's help.
In both the comic and the games, Protoman is under the employ of Dr. Wily in the events of Mega Man 3; he owes the mad doctor a debt for fixing him when his power supply depleted and he was on the verge of death. Hence why he fights Mega Man at fixed intervals in Mega Man 3—though he does it with the loving purpose of testing his brother's abilities, too.
Japanese Rockman fans were probably treated to all kinds of supplemental material that laid out Protoman's backstory shorty after Rockman 3's release. Us North American suckers weren't half as lucky, so I had to guess at Protoman's major damage. I made up stories full of my own reasons, though if I wrote them down, I seemingly discarded them. If you want the truth, I had a crush on the mysterious red-and-silver robot. I was a little ashamed of myself for being infatuated with Protoman. If only I'd known I'd be flung into a future where it's weird not to have a crush on a video game character.
I did eventually guess at one fragment of Protoman's story that turned out to be canon. I suspected Protoman ditched Dr. Wily's company in Mega Man 4 after the doctor kidnapped the young daughter of another scientist, Dr. Cossack, and forced him to fight Mega Man. Some years later I learned I was right all along. I felt like a lore queen.
Keiji Inafune, one of the designers for Mega Man 3, is not fond of the game. According to Mega Man Complete Works, a series history published by Udon in 2010, the game's development was troubled and rushed (so to speak), and Inafune feels he didn't have enough time to polish the game before its launch. It's true that Mega Man 3 isn't as well-balanced as the much-praised Mega Man 2, but that didn't matter to me: I cherished it anyway. The cheesy predictability of Protoman's very anime reveal didn't matter, either; it set my imagination alight regardless of the well-worn trope it's based on. A writer shouldn't lean on cliches, but they're still capable of making a big impact on the right person. I didn't meet Racer X as a kid, but my meeting with Protoman is imprinted on me forever.
Heck, a few years later, I'd go on my very first journey to kill God. By the time Breath of Fire 2 came west, Japanese anime fans had seen God fall out of the sky every other week. But for me, it was a brand-new experience that echoed my first meeting a mysterious scarf-wearing robot who always looks out for his little brother. There is nothing new under the sun, and sometimes, that's all right.
Header image source: The Cover Project