Mega Man: A Retrospective
On March 24th, Mega Man 7 turned 17, and I\’m going to take this time to do a Mega Man retrospective of the classic series. It is a flimsy excuse to be sure, but if it gives me a chance to talk all things Blue Bomber, then you bet I\’m going to take that chance.
The year is 1987; the original NES is only two years old with such classics as Super Mario Bros and the Legend of Zelda. The grey box found its way into many homes around the world, reviving the gaming industry single handling. Capcom, at the time, mostly spent their efforts working on arcade cabinets, but wanted in on the sales and wide market of the NES. After hiring a young new employee by the name of Keiji Inafune, they decided to give him and his small team of six to develop a hit action game. Keiji Inafune clearly had fun designing all the characters, as Dr. Light was based on Santa Claus, while Dr. Wily drew inspiration from Albert Einstein. Mega Man was named Rock Man in Japan, but before localization overseas, Capcom’s Senior Vice-President Joseph Marici opted to change the name to Mega Man, as he strongly disliked the name Rock Man. Rock Man was chosen over other possible names, such as Mighty Kid, Knuckle Kid, and Rainbow Man.
When it was finally released, it received glowing reviews with its top-notch controls, detailed graphics, and a high degree of difficulty. Despite all this, it was not a blockbuster hit, although it did exceed the expectations of Capcom. There are a number of reasons that attributed to the moderately low sales, such as a poor marketing campaign and a laughably bad cover box.
The story was not the main focus here. Dr Light and his partner Dr. Wily created Mega Man and six other robots to help humans in various industrial settings. Over time, Dr. Wily betrayed Dr. Light and reprogrammed the six robots to help him take control of the world. Dr. Light then instructs Mega Man to put an end to the previously helpful robots and stop Dr. Wily outright.
Players had to jump and shoot their way through six stages before heading to the Dr. Wily stages. While many games used this formula, Mega Man altered this progression with one of its biggest innovation of being one of the first non-linear games. Players could choose what order they wanted to tackle the six robot masters in. Because of this, gamers did not have to torture themselves over one particular level.
Another major innovation is the ability to permanently obtain additional weapons. With games like Contra and Mario offering temporary power ups, Mega Man gave players the option to switch between any weapon on the fly, depending if they have enough energy for that weapon. Commonplace today for sure, but back in 1987, it was jaw dropping to have something besides a generic peashooter. More impressive are the weapons themselves. It was not simply a higher rate of fire or more power, as Mega Man could shoot ice missiles to freeze enemies, electricity in three directions or toss bombs from afar. Strategy also played a role, as the bosses functioned on a rock-paper-scissors mechanic and had a specific weakness. Finding out their weakness did make the encounter much easier, but discovering what weapon to use was apart of the fun.
The first Mega Man has some of the most recognizable bosses in the series. Cut Man gave the power to throw scissors with the Rolling Cutter. Guts Man made Mega Man stronger with the Super Arm, who can now pick up heavy blocks. Fire Storm, obtained from Fire Man, gave the ability to shoot fire. Ice Man, Elec Man, and Bomb Man rounded out the package and gave Mega Man the weapons previously described.
Upon destroying all the robot masters, Dr. Wily\’s fortress opened its gates to the Blue Bomber, where four more stages welcomed you to conquer, each with its own unique boss encounter. In addition, the original robot masters were sprinkled in randomly throughout them, keeping players on their toes and hoping they have enough power for their weapon.
Regardless of its poor marketing, it did succeed based on word of mouth, and it became quite the sleeper hit. While not reaching the sales figures of Mario or Zelda, it did warrant a stellar franchise to be born that is still going to this day. Speaking of stellar…
Hailed by many to be the best game in the series, Mega Man 2 showed us how a sequel should be done. While the gameplay and structure remained unaltered, there was no denying the brilliance of Mega Man 2.
After starting the game up, players were introduced to eight new robot masters, two more then the previous game. Once again, players could choose what order they preferred, and once again, it was discovered each robot master had their designated weakness. With more stages, this game was definitely longer, but the pain of sitting down and beating it all at once was alleviated since there was now a password system.
The original Mega Man was not renowned for its story, so Capcom said, “why bother” with the sequel. The plot is as simple as can be as Dr. Wily creates eight robot masters to take over the world. Absolutely riveting.
More robot masters meant more weapons, and like the original, they were really unique at the time. Metal Man gave the ability to shoot saw blades in 8 directions; Wood Man’s weapon was a protective shield that also causes damage to enemies on contact; Quick Man’s boomerangs; Air Man’s technique of shooting three tornadoes that arc upwards; Crash Man’s sticky missile; Flash Man’s ability to freeze time; Bubble Man’s rolling bubble; and Heat Man’s fire launcher that could be charged for more power. In addition to the weapons, Dr. Light would give Mega Man three helpful items ingeniously called “1”, “2” and “3”. These included a platform for extra lift, a jet to cross large gaps, and a wall climber to access new heights. That is quite the arsenal.
One of the best things about this game was the music. There is something magical about playing through Wood Man’s stage with his theme song in the background. When someone asks me what the definitive Mega Man tune is, I think of Wood Man, no question. Whether it is jumping on clouds or invading Dr. Wily’s castle, the music complements the intense action and gives an amazing sense of adrenaline. Sometimes at home, I’ll blast music from this game, it is that good.
With Mega Man 3, Capcom upped the ante once again. More emphasize was placed on story, and two new additions made this the best Mega Man yet. With that said though, I prefer Mega Man 2, but there is no denying that three is the best in terms of game mechanics.
Even with more story elements, it does not get in the way of all the action. The premise this time is that Dr. Wily, now sick of getting his ass handed to him, is reformed and is working with Dr. Light to build a peacekeeping robot codenamed Gamma. However, eight robots steal Gamma’s power crystals and it is now up to Mega Man to retrieve them. After defeating them, it is revealed that Dr. Wily was behind it all along and now pilots Gamma, yet he is defeated once again. On top of all this, a mysterious red robot named Break Man confronts Mega Man numerous times throughout the adventure. After defeating Dr. Wily, his castle crumbles and traps Mega Man, but Break Man sacrifices himself to save Mega Man. Upon meeting with Dr. Light, it is learned that Break Man is actually Proto Man, Mega Man’s brother.
Two additions made this game stand out among its prequels. A sliding technique allowed Mega Man to avoid enemy projectiles, and Rush the mechanical dog. Rush essentially replaces Mega Man’s items from 2, acting as a coil to reach high places, a jet to cross large gaps, and a submarine for underwater activities. In terms of options, Mega Man 3 was hard to beat. Also in a new game were new robot masters to slay and steal weapons from. Needle Man’s Needle Cannon fires off 3 rapid shots. The Gemini Laser was obtained from Gemini Man and could bounce off walls. Magnet Man gave the power of the Magnet Missle, which acts as a guided projectile that does away with that pesky aiming business. Hard Man’s Hard Knuckle is one of the weakest, allowing Mega Man to throw his fist at enemies. The Shadow Blade from Shadow Man acted like a more limited Metal Blade, as Mega Man could shoot in any direction but down. Spark Man’s Spark Shot only stunned enemies. The Search Snake from Snake Man released the critters on the ground and followed a straight path to attack enemies. Finally, the most hilarious one of all is Top Man’s Top Spin. Mega Man attacks with a ballerina spin, it is pretty much useless, until the final boss.
The thing about Mega Man is that most people consider 2 and 3 to be the best, and often dismiss 4 through 6 as disappointments or failures. As you may have suspected, I have my opinion on them, but that will have to wait until next time. Be sure to come back for part two of my Mega Man retrospective, we still have seven more games to discuss.