If you get the Mega Man formula wrong, your results are mediocrities with predictable levels and nothing to test the player, like Street Fighter X Mega Man. Do it right and you get outright genius like Day in the Limelight. Or this one.
What makes Mega Man Unlimited a better game than many of the official games in the series is the incredible design of the levels. Every little piece of your travels will be a challenge—albeit a reasonable one—that tests your gaming capabilities without being sadistic. Mindlessly rush forward and you will die. And yet you have to hustle at times to avoid death from indecision; this game has the perfect middle ground between the two extremes.
Almost everything in Mega Man Unlimited is completely new. Graphics, levels, foes, weapons, music. This isn’t some lazy ROM hack that throws a bunch of goombas on one screen and calls it a day. I believe that the Mets and the fake-platform camera flyers are the only recycled enemies, and even the former have a few new tricks. Everything else is fresh and original new both in appearance and effect.
The glue enemies in particular are brilliant. They can be manipulated into firing your shots at other enemies, at angles you can’t normally reach. I don’t know who on the team came up with them, but they get kudos all around. You could make a whole game based on that concept. There’s a boss based on those mortifyingly annoying disappearing block puzzles that appear in many games in the series. That alone makes this game much more creative than anything Capcom’s done since Mega Man 9, easy.
One weakness of many Mega Man games is the uselessness of robot master weapons outside of boss fights. Unlimited avoids that trap, however. All nine (there’s a secret optional robot master) are indispensable. Similarly to Mega Man 9, I was most definitely getting a lot of mileage out of them in this one. For example, in Rainbow Man’s level, there’s a certain item that’s useful both for stage and the boss, much like Flash Man’s power against Quick Man in Mega Man 2. That’s just good game design; there’s no one single best option for playing Rainbow Man’s level, as you must choose wisely how to manage your weapons.
ULTRA HARD. Mega Man Unlimited is so hard it makes Mega Man X3 look like Cookie Clicker. It’s like if Dark Souls was a 2D platformer with a peashooter and a lives system. And yet I never felt cheated; Rainbow Man is the only level that’s filled with bullshit instant death traps, and even that one was a great tribute to Quick Man. If you’ve been playing Mega Man games for decades or are just skilled at gaming in general, Mega Man Unlimited is Goldilocks’ favorite gaming porridge.
There are some even harder optional parts hidden within the levels, and even an optional robot master, the aforementioned Yoku Man. They are seriously brutal and I love them. At one of the harder optional parts, there’s a reverse gravity thing as seen in other Mega Man games, but it’s obscured by spikes on the top and bottom of the screen. It’s still visible, but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll flip directions in mid-jump and fling yourself into the spikes.
A few minor quibbles: Beat (the robot bird that acts as a get-out-of-a-pit-free card) can get you stuck underneath platforms as you’re trying to fly up, wasting all of your Beat uses before finally dying. Annoying. Also, I once took damage from a mini-boss during its death explosion. And there’s no option to exit a stage you’ve already beaten, which may have been unintentional but is probably designed to prevent players from easily harvesting bolts to buy stuff.