Mega Man: A Retrospective – Part 3
Nintendo Enthusiast has been taking a look at the Mega Man franchise recently. This series will soon come to an end so if you\’ve missed any articles make sure to catch up before it\’s over.
With the dawn of a new console generation comes souring expectations. Fans speculate how their favorite franchises will flourish and evolve in the next generation. Some prime examples of this include Super Mario World, Super Castlevania IV and A Link to the Past. Arguably, one of the biggest and best evolutions of the 16-bit era was Mega Man X. With superb music, tight gameplay and new enhancements, many deemed this game an instant classic. Recently, my friend watched me play X and he said, “This game is absolutely perfect”.
Followed up by a sequel the following year, it showed the fans that Mega Man’s reinvention was here to stay. After gamer fatigue on the NES, some thought that this new series would take over the numeric games. However, in 1995 the Super Nintendo was treated with the true sequel of the NES games, Mega Man 7.
Critical reception was mixed. While the colorful graphics, gameplay and challenge were praised; many agreed that it failed to bring anything new to the series. Part of this could be due to the development cycle. According the Capcom, due to “bad timing” this game had only a three-month development time. Keiji Inafune looked back at this time with fond memories saying it was fun to keep everyone motivated. Another interesting note was that Capcom held another contest where fans could submit their own robot masters, and submit they did. Over 220,000 entries were sent to Capcom.
The complexities of the X franchise were replaced by the traditional style of the NES ones. E-tanks made a return and there were no armor upgrades. In spite of this, there were more hidden secrets throughout the levels, and a new store feature was added to purchase extra lives, E-tanks, weapon tanks and more. In many stages, there were hidden areas that led to obtainable secrets such as Beat or Proto Man’s shield.
The story takes place right after 6. With Dr. Wily in prison, the world has a brief moment of peace until one day his robots bust him out of jail and wreck havoc on the world. Mega Man arrives on the scene, and in my opinion, this introduction stage is one of the most memorable parts of the game. Roll and Auto drive Mega Man throughout a city (I guess Mega Man forgot he could teleport) with kickass music in the background. When the Blue Bomber sets out, Auto gives him the incorrect helmet and after a brief awkward moment, gets his real one. After a mini boss and some dialogue with Dr. Wily himself, we are introduced to a new character Bass, and his dog Treble. Akin to Proto Man in 3, we fight this new robot before he says he too is against Dr. Wily. What is neat about this is that Bass’ dialogue will alter depending how well you play. Do good, and he will say he is impressed; conversely, do poor and he will act like a disappointed father.
The structure of this game is slightly altered. This is the first game in which we can only select one of four robot masters. Burst Man, Cloud Man, Junk Man and Freeze Man. Upon beating them, Mega Man travels to a museum that shows some robot masters from the NES games. He reaches Dr. Wily who makes off with Guts Man and a mini boss fight ensues. I think this part was placed here just for the nostalgia, but I’m not complaining. After this, four more robot masters are introduced: Shade Man, Turbo Man, Splash Man, and Slash Man. In one of these levels, Bass is found injured and Mega Man offers to help him by telling him to go to Dr. Wily for repairs. After beating the other robot masters, it is revealed that Bass and Treble were secretly working for Dr. Wily all along and stole parts from the lab that was to be used as a new upgrade for Mega Man. Enraged at this betrayal, Mega Man sets out to stop Wily once and for all. A fight between Mega Man and Bass tells us that Bass wants to be the most powerful robot ever and is obsessing over beating Mega Man, but loses because he isn’t the protagonist. After some more stages, and the hardest end boss in the series, Mega Man actually attempts to straight up murder Dr. Wily, yet fails as Bass interferes and makes off with Dr. Wily. As far as story goes, I think it is one of the best in the series. It is not convoluted, and does not distract from the gameplay. It is a simple tale, yet more engaging then the NES ones.
Mega Man 7 features some of my favorite robot masters in the series. Shade Man and Slash Man are standouts, the former being a vampire and the latter being the hardest robot master of the series. Another reason why I find Shade Man memorable is his stage. The level takes place in a haunted castle, and features an Easter egg. If the player holds the “B” button while selecting this stage and while the level loads, the music will change to Capcom’s Ghouls’ ‘n’ Ghosts’ theme. This stage also features portraits of Dr. Wily in vampire clothing. In Cloud Man’s level, there are airborne enemies that when fired upon, make is rain. However, shoot these with the Freeze Cracker, and the rain will turn to snow. Similarly, Slash Man’s stage takes place in a jungle, but if you use the Scorch Wheel, the whole environment will burn, leaving the trees baron. It is the little details like this that set it apart from the static environments of previous Mega Man games.
The weapons this time around are fun to use and feel necessary. Junk Man’s Junk Shield is the shield weapon again, by this point I’m sure you don’t need another explanation of what this does. Danger Wrap from Burst Man is a bomb inside a bubble that can trap enemies before detonation. The Freeze Cracker from Freeze Man is a shot of ice that can break up into smaller pieces. Shade Man’s Noise Crush fires a sound wave that can bounce off walls and even be charged. Turbo Man’s Scorch Wheel features rotating flames that can be shot along the ground. Slash Man’s Slash Claw is a short ranged scratch attack that is very powerful. Defeating Cloud Man gets Thunder Bolt which can shoot through walls and upon hitting a target fires another bolt up and down. Finally, Spring Man’s Wild Coil fires a bouncing spring forward and backwards.
With just a three-month development cycle, I’m still amazed with what they were able to do. The attention to detail is exquisite, the graphics are gorgeous, the music is catchy and the small touches like Shade Man’s alternate musical score or using Proto Man’s shield sets this title apart. Simply put, this game is worth your time. Mega Man X may have pushed it to the side but 7 is still a worthy successor in the franchise, and one of my personal favorites.
The following year Japan received its first 32-bit Mega Man. North America waited a month later for a January 1997 release date, and Europe had to wait until October 1997.
The storytelling in Mega Man 8 is laughably bad. Full Motion Videos (FMVs) and voice acting is used, and the results are terrible. For starters, Mega Man sounds like a little girl, and whoever voiced Dr. Light should learn how to read as he often stutters. The game opens up with two robots battling in space before they both crash to Earth. Meanwhile, Dr. Light is detecting bizarre energy readings from a remote island and sends the Blue Bomber to investigate. On the island we meet up with Dr. Wily before he flies off with a mysterious purple gem, and upon further inspection we find one of the mysterious robots that were battling in space. Mega Man asks Dr. Light to repair him because we all know that never backfired in the past.
Dr. Wily then sends four robot masters after Mega Man: Tengu Man, Frost Man, Clown Man and Grenade Man. After defeating each one, another purple gem is discovered. Back in the lab, the robot awakens and flies off enraged at the site of the purple gems, and Mega Man follows him via Rush. After arriving at the destination where he flew off, Mega Man gets captured by a creation of Dr. Wily and is then saved by the robot, which introduces himself as Duo. Duo reveals that the purple gems are called “Evil Energy” and his job is to rid the planet of it. The source of the energy is in Wily’s Tower, which is blocked off by a force field. Duo instructs Mega Man to find the keys from Astro Man, Search Man, Sword Man and Aqua Man, while he deals with other Evil Energy signatures. Upon defeating these bosses, Mega Man enters Wily Tower who defeats the scientist once again. The base is set to blow up, but he is rescued by Duo, who then removes all traces of Evil Energy from Mega Man, who has become infected.
Other then the story embracing voice acting and FMVs, the rest of the package is what the series has been known for in the past. One of four robot masters is selected, then four more arrive, and after some Dr. Wily stages, it is on to the last boss. Critics mostly agreed that this game was unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the franchise. I disagree, as there are more variety in the stages then before. In Tengu Man’s stage, there is a 2D shoot-em’-up, with power ups and a mini boss. In other stages, it plays as a “Runner” style platformer, where Mega Man is constantly moving on a board and the player must jump, duck and shoot at the correct time. What makes it hard is the constant increase of speed.
I’m also a fan of the weapons this time around. From the get go, Mega Man has a soccer ball weapon that spawns the ball, where upon pressing the fire button again lets him kick it. It is silly, but it is effective. Astro Man’s Astro Crush allows meteors to rain down, damaging everything on the screen. The Flame Sword from Sword Man is a short range weapon that can ignite enemies. The Flash Bomb from Grenade Man is a bomb whose explosion remains on screen, allowing for multiple hits. Defeating Search Man rewards you with the Homing Sniper, which locks onto an enemy and fires a missile. This weapon may be charged. Frost Man’s Ice Wave sends out a wave of ice along the ground. Tornado Hold from Tengu Man shoots out a propeller on the ground, and fires a tornado upward. The Water Balloon from Aqua Man shoots out water at a low arc. Finally, Thunder Claw from Clown Man is a beam of electricity that damages enemies, and can be used as a grappling hook.
The presentation overall is well done. I personally find the graphics stunning and the environments are full of details. With the power of the PlayStation, enemies can flood the entire screen. The enemy designs are well done with detailed sprites that I still find impressive today. Mega Man 8 is a prime example of graphics not being dated due to good art style. On the other hand, the music is not as memorable as previous games. As I said in the two other parts of this retrospective, I often listen to Mega Man music at home, but I never listen to anything from 8.
As the only two classics Mega Man games that are not in the 8-bit style, both 7 and 8 are worth your time. The general agreement is that these cannot and should not be compared to the glorious NES games yet while they offer very little new, they successfully duplicate the core of Mega Man into two new console generations. I often hear the saying “If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it”, but it appears this saying omits the Mega Man franchise as many are quick to dismiss 4-8. The reason I fell in love with Mega Man was its amazing controls, often-brutal challenge, some of the best tunes in video game history and its simple yet addicting game style. The fact that this stayed true the whole way is a testament to how well they were designed.
Next week is the last part to this retrospective as I finish the classic series and offer some final words on the series.