Book Review: Salvatore Pane’s Mega Man 3

I’ve used the term “armchair academic” to describe Boss Fight Books’ output before. In turn, I guess it was just a matter of time before I got around to reading one by an actual academic. While Salvatore Pane may be an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas, Mega Man 3 thankfully never gets bogged down in academic jargon. It’s just as readable as other volumes from Boss Fight Books, so I was able to breeze through it in a couple of days before October hits and I start reading cheesy horror novels. Also, as a bonus, I got my digital copy of Mega Man 3 early since I backed the Kickstarter campaign, so you can consider this a sneak preview! (The book’s official release is on the 26th).

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Mega Man 3 is, as one could expect, about the third Mega Man game for the NES. I have vague memories of playing Mega Man 3 over at a friend’s house when I was in first grade or so, but I never got into the series as obsessively as some people did. In fact, most of my enthusiasm for the Mega Man franchise comes not from the games themselves, but rather for the rock-opera antics of The Protomen. Who, I might add, are never mentioned by Pane, which is one of my few complaints about the book.

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HOPE RIDES ALONE.

Thusly ignorant, I didn’t really know that Mega Man 2 was widely proclaimed as the best of the series, despite the fact that Mega Man 3 introduced characters such as Rush (Mega Man’s robot dog) and Proto Man (Mega Man’s bad-boy “brother” of ambiguous morality). Pane touches on this schism, giving a little bit of background on the development of the Mega Man series. It’s a fascinating story: Mega Man 2 was a side project and a labor of love, while Mega Man 3 was a quickly produced (and arguably incomplete) sequel under a different production team.

For a book called Mega Man 3, there’s not much to say about the actual game itself. Pane does a great job of describing Mega Man 3, with a level by level, boss fight by boss fight breakdown used as something of a framing device. The thing is, there’s not much else to really touch on. Mega Man games are simplistic (but surreal) by design. One can only say “there are some tricky jumps and tough enemy robots and you’re definitely going to die a lot because NES games are stupid hard” so many times, after all.

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Instead, the most interesting parts of Mega Man 3 branch out to tangentially related subjects. Pane touches on the further development (and eventual decline) of the Mega Man franchise, the development of video game studies (and the challenges in preserving said games), and on the general rise of ‘retro’ gaming culture, and the subsequent rise in the price of NES game cartridges. This part was particularly interesting. The going theory is that streaming services like YouTube or Twitch helped puff up the collector’s bubble, so games that were going for five bucks a pop were suddenly worth four, five, or six times as much. What makes this particularly interesting is the fact that all these games are widely available through digital means– you can even download an NES emulator for free, if you’re feeling pirate-ish. Or heck, there’s even the NES Classic (and its pre-loaded 30 NES games) due to hit in November– it’s the sort of thing that might just burst the retro-gaming collector’s bubble … but Pane doesn’t mention it at all. Huh.

Mega Man 3 is a broader and less personal than other Boss Fight Books– and honestly, that’s fine. Again, Pane touches on his own nostalgia, both from when he was a kid, and from when he was a broke-ass college student picking up NES games at flea markets, but Mega Man 3 never gets too dramatic and emotional. Personally, when it comes to Boss Fight Books, I’m more interested in the games themselves and the culture surrounding them, rather than vaguely recalled memories of clutching an NES controller in a wood paneled basement. I’ve got plenty of those already.

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