Capcom celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Mega Man in North America this month, with festivities including the release of Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 & 2 on Nintendo Switch. There are cries of gameplay perfection surrounding the 10, admittedly classic, games soon to be re-released on the runaway console of 2017. Ahead of Mega Man 11 being lined up for its long-awaited debut much later this year, we consider all that you may have missed.
Perfection (according to the 1980s)
Videogames, and console games especially, were a fledgling entertainment industry in 1987 – the year that Mega Man (‘Rockman’ in Japan). Whatever was done well was likely being done first, so with a series like Mega Man, every iteration was an opportunity to build upon the good stuff and chip away the bad. In this respect Mega Man is the model of refinement, the leap from Mega Man to Mega Man II on the first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was huge, not least because the latter added a valuable password system to save progress. Mega Man has always been notoriously difficult, a hangover from the arcade sensibilities for which Capcom titles were equally feared and respected around the same time period.
The Mega Man formula
Arguably the most enduring and influential component of this loveable robot kid’s earliest adventure is how it intertwines an engaging narrative with ingenious gameplay mechanics. Mega Man was one of seven industrial robots created by Doctor Light, of which six were stolen and turned ‘evil’ by Light’s jealous rival Doctor Wily. This scenario neatly unfolds as six thematically diverse areas for our true-blue hero to infiltrate, to seek out and defeat his brainwashed brethren and save the world. This is where things become very interesting.
Wily’s army can be defeated in any order that the player chooses, presenting a puzzle with a rock-paper-scissors element at its core. The Hyper Bombs gained from trouncing Bomb Man are best turned against Guts Man, whose Super Arm soon dulls the efforts of Cut Man. Sure enough, Cut Man’s Rolling Cutters prove super effective against Elec Man, who leaves the Thunder Beam used to vaporize Ice Man. At long last, Fire Man is extinguished thanks to the Ice Slasher… but it’s not over yet! There’s still Wily to take care of, whose fortress is guarded by three bosses with weaknesses that are rather less obvious. Finally we meet wicked Wily.
Coding to the metal
While the Mega Man premise was extraordinarily clever, and spectacularly visualized for its time, the part that fans often forget to mention is how unforgiving the experience was and still is. Mega Man’s run, jump and shoot capabilities become hard-wired into the conscious after hours of missteps and memory lapses, learning the precise lines of approach by rote.
Consider the ways that every long-running series has sought to soften the blow of defeat over the years, from Castlevania’s heart capsule pick-ups to Call of Duty’s regenerating stamina, auto-save and infinite continues. Mega Man, meanwhile, is a notoriously sweet and sour challenge that aligns itself more closely to Dark Souls than Super Mario, despite the candy colored charm of its appearance. It’s pattern-learning to the nth degree, but this gaming without a net approach, when the designers are on song, is undoubtedly rewarding.
Mega minor malfunctions
Fans have their favorites, but the broad view is that Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 9 are the shining examples of the Legacy Collection, so it’s a good thing that the Nintendo Switch release brings them together. Keiji Inafune was at the helm for the first time with Mega Man 3, enlivening the established gameplay with a slide maneuver and the debut of Rush the dog. Mega Man 9, released in 2008, was a perfect homage to its ancient predecessors, acclaimed for preserving the classic formula with just the right amount of polish.
The series low-points only prove how rigid this formula needed to be in order to succeed, with the Mega Buster function being messed with in Mega Man 4, and the series simply running out of ideas by Mega Man 6. Mega Man 8 lost that sense of precision, after Mega Man 7 felt like an interim project. None of these games are at all bad, but being formulaic was perhaps an unavoidable consequence of a release schedule clinging close to annual.
Generally, we find it hard to shake the notion that we’re playing these foundational Mega Man entries as a form of study, as opposed to genuine contemporary enjoyment. For that, we’re conserving energy for the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, scheduled for this summer.
Mega-bucks Mega Man
For those of you wishing to leap into the 30th Anniversary celebrations with both feet and a lighter bank account, Capcom is collaborating with videogame collectibles company iam8bit to produce a limited number of retro imitation Game Paks of Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X. Costing $100 apiece, only 8500 of each are being made, 1000 of which are glow in the dark, but randomly inserted into sealed, unmarked boxes, leaving an awful lot to good fortune. All versions are delightfully packaged, including lavish and informative instruction booklets.
The collectibles are released in September, and available for preorder now at iam8bit.com. Meanwhile if you’d prefer a more modest approach to owning Mega Man 1 through 10, the Nintendo Switch version of The Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 &2 is available from May 22. Aside from a digital museum of production sketches and photographs, the most attractive feature we think many will enjoy is the rewind option added to undo inevitable mistakes ;)