Welcome to our second installment of Game Sequels, where we don’t intend to argue whether some sequels are better than others, but rather to identify the kind of sequels they are to begin with. In general, there are two kinds of sequels: ‘evolutionary’ and ‘revolutionary’.
Evolutionary sequels will be those like Castlevania 3, which simply offers an evolution of the game mechanics of the previous games in the franchise.
Revolutionary sequels, on the other hand, will be those like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which offers a significantly different gameplay experience from the previous games in its franchise.
In our first installment we looked at the Super Mario franchise. This time around, we\’re talking about Mega Man.
Mega Man 2
Such an awesome game. The few first Mega Man games could be said to have defined a whole section of the Action game genre, being the quintessential \”jump n\’ shoot\” experience. That is literally all you do in the game: you jump, and you shoot. It is incredibly simple, and wondrously executed: there is a decided rhythm to shooting, the platforming is difficult but manageable, the movement momentum is easy to grasp and master, the levels are clearly separated from one another both in terms of level design and theme, the bosses are silly but powerful, the music is cute, complex, hypnotic, and driving, and the pacing is brilliant as the stakes escalate in your approach to Dr Wily\’s abode. It made the first Mega Man seem like it was from an earlier generation, and sunk it to obscurity.
It was incredible in every way, which made it that much more surprising that it would be surpassed in several ways by its sequel.
Evolutionary: Mega Man 3
Did I mention how great the music was in Mega Man 2? Well, Mega Man 3 took all that cuteness, complexity, hypnotic-ity, driving-ness-ity, and made it evocative. That\’s right, the music now evoked a mood that wasn\’t just \”jump n\’ shot robots\” but more like \”jump n\’ shoot strangely melancholy robots, while pondering your destiny\”.
And that\’s just the music. The visuals were slightly better, the level design more refined, the bosses cooler and more difficult with more complex AI, the movement mechanics even tighter, and the pacing even better as the game was longer.
And though all that sounds fantastic, it was also largely the same game, and even the addition of the slide mechanic wouldn\’t make this game seem any more or less \”runny n\’ jumpy\” than the previous one.
…then Mega Man 4 came out, and it was still the same. Thankfull at this point Capcom was ready to move on and…oops, no, there it is, another Mega Man. Mega Man 5 was also largely the same game. Oh well! You know Capcom, they can\’t simply let a franchise die in peace, opting instead to milk it for up to 5 games…correction, that\’s 6 games. Jesus, Capcom, only you would do this. Each game only added a few extra mechanics, and at this point you would sound redundant if you said the franchise grew somewhat stale.
Revolutionary: Mega Man X
Holy robot masters, this game was amazing.
Though they kept very similar mechanics to those of the NES Mega Man games, some additions like Wall Jumping and Dashing make the game feel very fresh and give it a very different, more intense dynamic. Some small things were also given a better feel, starting with the Buster actually giving Bosses a good kick. The fact that the levels now scrolled both horizontally and vertically also made the level design feel much less claustrophobic and monotonous, something that I find made the levels themselves become more impactful and memorable.
Another element that was greatly improved here compared to previous Mega Man games was the ability to upgrade your health and armor, which not only gave you even more abilities to work with, but encouraged a good deal of exploration, making the whole experience feel better rounded out and more robust (I know previous Mega Man games (starting with 4) had already been including collectibles of sorts throughout the stages, but they weren\’t quite as prevalent or well hidden as in Mega Man X. I mean, one of the health upgrades in X requires you to find a ship floating on the surface of the water level, destroy it, follow it as it sinks beneath the sea bed, then fight a harder, optional version of one of the stage\’s miniboss. How cool is that!).
Something else that I can appreciate very well is how cinematic Mega Man X was compared to the NES games. I mean, it wasn\’t on the level of Contra 3, but the fact that you got to sink a ship, destroy an aircraft mid-flight and then kill a boss on top, ride on a minecart-platform-thing while enemies and bullets whirred by, and even got to see the effects that taking down the Power Plant had on the Factory was more than enough excitement. My favorite part, though? The way the bosses are interwoven throughout all the Sigma Fortress stages, instead of just being crammed right before the final boss like in past Mega Man games. It\’s a damn shame they went to that same configuration in later Mega Man X games, as it made the Fortress stages that much better paced and more interesting.
All in all, Mega Man X managed to turn the then-stale formula of the NES series into a fresh and exciting franchise once again, so much that Mega Man X it\’s generally even considered a separate series entirely.
Bonus: Mega Man Zero
Capcom being so comfortable in their own skin, it took them a whole other five Mega Man X games before realizing they couldn\’t just keep making the same games with just a few minor additions, and vowed to never again force-feed the gaming industry cheap sequels or \”re-skinned, this-time-it\’s-really-definitive\” versions of their games. And they never again did.
Instead, they once again revamped the Mega Man series with Mega Man Zero, a fast-paced, rock-hard, hard-paced, fast-rocking game of twitch reflexes and trial-and-error perfection.
For Mega Man Zero, Capcom decided to streamline many elements of the later Mega Man X games, removing the ability to play with multiple characters, the mechas, the jet-bikes, the armor upgrades that gave you quadruple multi-directional air-dashes, and a host of other stuff that was only burying the core mechanics deep beneath. Instead, they let the core dynamic shine throughout the whole game (mostly jump \’n\’ shootin\’ \’n\’ hackin\’ \’n\’ slashin\’) while providing recurring and new elements optionally through the new cyber-elf system. Cyber-elves would allow you to get extra lives, energy tanks, protection from deadly spikes, barriers for bullets, and other such amenities, yet they were discouraged by the game itself as using them would result in getting a lower grade at the end of each level.
More helpful to the game\’s core mechanics was the addition of two new weapons, as they provided provided an extra element of strategy when fighting particularly tricky bosses. Best of all, though, was the fact that each weapon would level up the more you used it, encouraging the player to master their fighting style instead of switching weapons around aimlessly.
Now that\’s quite a reasonable series of changes for the game\’s core mechanics, but what can be said about the other elements of Mega Man, such as level structure, bosses, and so on? That they did a hell of a better job than ever before, that\’s what can be said. This time around, there was a central hub area in which you could interact with NPCs and from which you could walk to each of the game\’s other areas, as long as you had visited them before. If you didn\’t care to do this, you could simply go talk to the cute robot-girl that gave you your missions, and you would be automatically transported to whichever mission you were doing next.
The missions themselves were not necessarily non-linear this time around, as you could initially only chose from a number of missions to complete, and further missions would be unlocked in a way that made sense for the story (for example, one mission would have you rescuing a platoon of resistance fighters from the Desert, while a later one would have you investigating the enemy base this platoon was trying to capture). You also did not even have to complete the missions, as you could simply choose to \”abort\” them and leave them out of your mind, which would change the narrative slightly, and drop your ranking by a lot. Furthermore, not all missions had you fighting robot masters, or even had bosses at all, which just made it all the more surprising when you did actually encounter a boss, especially if it was one of the main 4 antagonists, who were ridiculously hard to beat (until you mastered their patterns).
All in all, Mega Man Zero was a very welcome reconstruction of the Mega Man franchise, and one that was very needed after getting 5 very similar sequels to Mega Man X.
There you have it, fellow enthusiasts. Next time, we\’ll take a look at the much-beloved Castlevania franchise, as it is particularly ripe with examples of both types of sequels.
AKA Juegos Magicos. “You killed my father. Prepare to die.”