Do you know how long I’ve wanted to beat the Mega Man series? I hope not, because it would imply you are a mind reader, in which case you are sadly wasting your time and talents by reading this blog. For the rest of you, the answer is “about 16 years”.
When I was a kid, my parents got me Mega Man 2… for the Game Boy. I played it. Liked it. Beat it. Next was Mega Man 4. I don’t know why I skipped, but what the hell, I was a kid – who cares about continuity? (And when I recently learned most of the GB games are just compacted versions of the full-sized games, well, all the less to care). Anyway, I never beat Mega Man 4 (and still haven’t). I would always get to Wily’s castle and then something would go wrong. I used to hook it up to the SNES in my room and would come home from school to find my mom or a house cleaner had unplugged it. I still sometimes think about going back and playing it, but I have better games to play.
Then there was Mega Man 5; still on the GB. This one stood out because it [i]is[/i] different from the earlier games. Oh, the stages do reuse some concepts, but all the bosses are new, the stage layouts are different, and Mega Man fires a rocket arm instead of a Mega Buster. Beside having some cool battles, the game had a neat trick I learned about in my first days of using GameFAQs: if you died repeatedly on a stage, you could get a better rocket arm. You could do this two or three times.
On a whim, I tried the same trick in my copy of Mega Man 4. And it worked! I was ecstatic. I had discovered a secret that wasn’t even on GameFAQs at the time. I was too lazy to actually [i]post[/i] the secret and now somebody else has done it.
Since then, I’d tried one or two of the Mega Man games for the NES, but never really got anywhere. It wasn’t until the Mega Man Anniversary Collection was released that I felt the urge to finally do it; beat all the Mega Man games. And then I got stuck in the second game with the damned turrets that shoot at you and must be destroyed with the Crash Bomb. Believe me when I tell you that this is the most frustrating area in the Mega Man games as a whole. You cannot make [i]any[/i] mistakes, or you won’t have enough energy to beat them. Oh, you can redo the level, and the damage sustained is still there, but good luck finding enough energy along the way and making it there with enough health to feel comfortable finishing the battle without a hurry. Point is, I stopped playing for a while, and then the disc got scratched and wouldn’t play any more. Blah.
A few years later, Mega Man 9 was released. I didn’t play much of it, but it seemed interesting. I promised myself I’d go and beat all those games eventually.
Now, in law school, I am always busy. I like to play short games that don’t take up both of my monitors’ screens because that lets me multitask and get more things done. Enter the Mega Man games. Easy enough to play while watching Doctor Who.
I started with the second game (having actually already beaten the first) and worked my way through ten. I also played X1-5, ignoring 6-8 because those games are reputedly terrible.
So, here’s what I think, after 16 years, about the Mega Man games.
They started to suck after 2.
Oh, well, some of the later games weren’t terrible. I didn’t mind the addition of the slide. And the Mega Buster charged shot seemed cool at first. But the Rush Adaptors made the game too easy. And later games began using the Charged Shot as if it were the default attack.
Mega Man 4 was inexcusably hard. Several bosses are just immune unless you hit them with certain weapons; run out of energy? Well, guess you better let Wily just kill you.
Five was easy and six was easier than that.
Now, even the earliest Mega Man games aren’t immune from some criticism. Although bosses have weaknesses, 1) it’s not clear who is weak to what – what is Gemini Man’s weakness supposed to be? And, 2) sometimes the “super effective” weapons didn’t do nearly enough damage to be distinct from other weapons. Especially when fighting Wily. But moving on…
The problems got worse when the game left the NES. Seven isn’t [i]too[/i] bad. Mega Man looks stylish and the levels are colorful. But, seriously, I shouldn’t need three Charged Shots to defeat a standard enemy. That is inexcusable. The game was also still pretty easy and got a bit gimmicky with the special items that Mega Man could switch out. The only real challenge is the absurdly difficult fight against Wily at the end.
But 8 is the worst. The graphics are mismatched. Mega Man looks slightly faded. Or maybe it’s just the white-washed backgrounds. The levels are… “inspired”. It’s like they’re trying to play to the X series’ more open level layouts, but they don’t go far enough. They gimmick up things with squares on Clown Man’s stage that respond with penalties if you press the wrong button on them, a flying stage where you attack from Jet Rush’s back, and an ice stage where, of course, you use a sled. The stages are sometimes hard, without being clever, but it’s at least better than the abysmal difficult of the games that preceded it (that’s not really a compliment, mind you). There’s also a Mega Ball, which is just a weapon that Mega Man gets at the start of the game. It’s a soccer ball. He kicks it and it does damage. He can use it to get a bit higher. Weird.
Really, the game’s problem is that it relies too much on its gimmicks. Poorly-implemented ones, like the smoke clouds near the end of Frost man’s stage, which don’t hide anything. With all the weird stages where Mega man doesn’t do normal platforming, the game doesn’t even feel like Mega Man half the time.
The story doesn’t help much either. Capcom added a story to Mega Man. Now, Mega man has always had a story, but it’s always been silly and basic…or, at least it was in the earlier games; putting aside weird things like the time Wily pretended to be Mister X (oh, spoilers, Wily is always the villain). So, what’s the story? Robots from outer space crash land on earth. Or, at least one does. There were two fighting, but I don’t know what happened to the other one. The story never really explains. Anyway, this is somehow tied in with the “evil energy” now on the planet. You see, there is this energy and this energy is evil and now it’s going to go find Wily because Wily is evil and you and this robot have to stop it. It’s somehow even stupider than it sounds, because a lot of the story is told with badly drawn anime clips, and you are fighting robot masters because, um, they’re there.
Oh, but the worst part? The voice acting. I don’t know, maybe they had a fantastic story in the original Japanese; the translation is almost certainly a butcher job, despite there being less than 100 lines of dialogue in the game. And the voice actors…
The voice actors are the [i]worst[/i] VAs I have ever heard. Dr. Light sounds like Elmer Fudd. Mega Man sounds like a little girl. And the robot masters are so embarrassing that I had to turn off the music. Yes, I played this game without any music; that’s how terrible the VAs (and the music) are.
Thankfully, somebody got Mega Man’s head back on straight after eight.
Mega Man & Bass, the easily-overlooked sequel that comes before 9, is a decent platformer game, with none of the major problems of 8. It still feels a little weak overall, but that might just be the limits of the handheld system.
But it’s what comes after that is really impressive. Mega Man 9 and 10 have none of the complaints I have with the later games in the series. I do miss the dash a little bit, but it wasn’t a necessary feature. The Charged Shot is, thankfully, [i]gone[/i]. Mega Man is more fun when he is a run-n-gun platformer. The music is top notch. The controls are tight. I know all of this sounds a little bit odd to describe a game which works and looks like an NES platformer, but that’s the beauty: Mega Man just works best as an 8-bit character. No Mega Ball. No cut scenes. No voice acting. Only the most basic story (with a bit of retro charm to its simplicity). The designers pushed the graphics to the limit; for NES games, they are gorgeous. Heck, for games in general, they look good – everything was well thought-out. And the difficult is back! Nine is a bit more difficult than ten, but I died more than a few times in each of them.
Nine and Ten are the best Mega Man games.
I’ll be a bit briefer on the X series. X works much better on the SNES and the PS than Mega Man ever did. The X series makes good use of cut scenes, voice acting, and the graphics. The setting is darker and levels are much more spread out. Beside the Dash and the Charged Shot, X can wall climb and, later, air dash (in the later games). The games force X to be constantly on the move, dodging and weaving and charging. It’s well-done and different from the Mega Man series, in a good way. But stop at X5 because the series was meant to stop there. Capcom wouldn’t let the series die. Considering some of the problems with X5, many of which were reminiscent of MM8, it probably would have been for the best had it ended there.
If you’re interested in playing the Mega Man series, I strongly recommend playing 9 and 10. You might also want to check out 1 and 2, maybe even 3. Mega Man & Bass is all right. Four isn’t [i]terrible[/i], but the flaws of the series begin to show with that entry, and up through 8, they are really bad.
You might also want to check out the X series. Four is the best, and 5 is mediocre. Just don’t expect the games to play like the Mega Man series.