Suppose it is your job to bake just one pizza every 1-2 years, and it’s pizza time once more. You’ve gotten really good at making pizzas over the last ten years or so, but some of your critics say that a few of your more recent pizzas have tasted pretty much the same. Maybe it’s because you’ve just been rearranging the same ingredients, or perhaps it’s because that layer of cheese hidden in the crust was only a surprise the first time.
So you make a pizza. No, make that…two pizzas. They’re not quite identical, but they’re close enough. You stick with some of the same basic ingredients you’ve always used, but now you’re throwing in pineapple chunks and gumballs and whole jalapeño peppers. And your Canadian bacon can talk. The pizzas come out of the oven with slightly burnt crusts, and who knows what they taste like, but what matters is that they look and sound pretty.
Congratulations! You’ve just baked Mega Man 8!
Buried under all those toppings is a decent game that is worthy of the Mega Man name, but unfortunately, the things that aren’t so appealing cannot easily be scraped off. Mega Man 8 introduces plenty of new ideas, but too many of them are half-baked.
OK, it’s time I cut the extended pizza metaphor. The jokes are already getting cold, and if I keep it up, I won’t be able to finish this review in 30 minutes or less.
Mega Man 8 begins with a full-motion anime video that is a sort of retrospective of his previous adventures, showcasing all the main characters and depicting boss battles that reveal how little research the video creators did. Anybody who’s played Mega Man 4 knows that Bright Man’s weapon defeats Pharaoh Man, not Charge Man, who, I might add, is in a totally different game. And I don’t mean Charge Man’s weapon; I mean Charge Man himself, thrown by Mega Man at high speed.
Ah, but that’s forgivable when compared to the anime cutscenes that appear throughout the game. I had expected the voice acting to follow in the footsteps of the Mega Man cartoon show, where Mega Man was an enthusiastic young man, Dr. Light was a respectable gentleman with a British accent, Dr. Wily sounded like an insane Albert Einstein, and Rush was like a robot Scooby-Doo. Imagine my reaction when I discovered that Dr. Light sounds like Elmer Fudd, and when it was revealed that Mega Man is, in fact, a little girl.
This will not do.
In general, the actors’ performances range from passable to poor, but I’m willing to let it slide a little bit (except when Mega Man pronounces “Bass” as “Bass”—that’s just embarrassing). What bothers me most is that most of the main voices don’t quite fit, and a few voices, such as Dr. Light’s, are aww wong!
The master robots’ voices are fine, but their dialogue occasionally leaves something to be desired. (“I’m Aqua Man, but you can call me Handsome Guy!” Ew.) Oh, and the twenty unbearable seconds of one particular cutscene where Mega Man screams and shrieks continuously might cause anyone just passing by to call the cops on you. These problems, combined with the lousy plot, sometimes make it impossible to take the game seriously, let alone enjoy it.
Lousy plot is as follows: Two robots are duking it out Dragon Ball Z-style in outer space and crash-land on Earth. Dr. Wily finds the bad robot and steals his Evil Energy to power his own robots, which are absolutely no different from any of his previous robots as a result. Mega Man finds the other robot, named Duo, who can pull the Evil Energy out of robots after it has possessed them (or something) and then crush the swirling skull-shaped energy with his bare hand.
There’s no real explanation about where Duo and the Evil Energy came from, how they can do what they do, or how they have anything to do with the Mega Man universe. No, we need to shut off our brains and accept that they’re from OUTER SPACE!!! To quote Grenade Man, “That’s no good!” But hey, this kind of thing worked for Indiana Jones 4, right?
Plot has never been a strong point of the Mega Man series, but I’ll take utterly predictable over something that makes the whole game feel like a generic anime. And while it’s a good thing that the cutscenes match the style of the rest of the game (or perhaps it’s the other way around), Mega Man 8’s graphics are perhaps too colorful and stylized for their own good. Bright colors abound, and the characters, enemies, stages, and special effects are more detailed, animated, and sometimes more cartoony than in any of the previous installments; sure, it’s all nice to look at, but I find that the graphics can be distracting and sometimes make me feel as though I’m watching the game, not playing it.
The game itself isn’t half bad; most of the weapons are pretty decent—a flame sword, homing missiles, a moving wall of ice, etc.—the music is nice (good quality, albeit a bit forgettable and perhaps a tad too happy sometimes), and a lot of fresh ideas breathe some new life into the series. In addition to some new and revamped enemies and minibosses, most stages have some sort of gimmick that sets them apart: for example, one stage features a scrolling shoot-‘em-up level in the same vein as R-Type and Gradius, while another puts you in search of the exit to an endlessly looping maze.
Also, the shop feature from Mega Man 7 has been overhauled—instead of offering mundane items such as extra lives and E-Tanks, the shop gives you access to various upgrade parts for Mega Man. Depending on which part you take, you might receive more energy from powerups, transform your charged-up blaster shot into an enemy-piercing laser beam, or slide farther than is necessary or safe. Parts are purchased by trading in the big bolts (metal, not lightning) you find scattered throughout the stages.
In theory, searching for all the hidden bolts increases the replayability of Mega Man 8. In theory. However, most of the bolts are as well-hidden as a dead fish in a bowl of oatmeal. Too many bolts can be picked up without any effort whatsoever if you only have the right special weapon to bypass the obstacle protecting them, but the trouble is that you’ll almost never have the right weapon on your first time through the stage.
This is in part because, as in Mega Man 7, you don’t have access to all eight robot masters (or their weapons) at the start of the game. You need to fight four of them, play through an extra stage, and then fight the next four. This completely wrecks the replayability of the game, reducing the number of different possible playthrough orders from 40,320 to a paltry 576 (and replaying an entire stage just to pick up one stupid bolt that was just out of reach totally doesn’t count).
Some of the game’s other ideas aren’t so great, either. Mega Man 8 introduces a rocket-powered sled that propels you at un-Mega-Manly speeds through a series of frustrating jumping and sliding challenges, with the added “bonus” of some floating diamond shouting “JUMP! JUMP!” “SLIDE! SLIDE!” at you. In my opinion, this is still less obnoxious than “HEY! LISTEN!”, but that won’t stop your ears from bleeding.
Other misfires and flops include an inventory screen that takes an objectionably long time to load up; a glorified soccer ball as part of Mega Man’s arsenal (did we ask for a sequel to Mega Man Soccer?); the superfluous and dorky-looking ability to swim; a less-than-detailed energy meter that makes it difficult to estimate exactly how many more hits you can take; a completely different and mostly worthless array of Rush abilities; the worst version of Proto Man’s whistle I’ve ever heard; and NO ENERGY TANKS, as they have been replaced by a Rush ability that drops random powerups all over the screen, which can make a losing boss fight worse by turning it into a frantic scramble for that one tiny health powerup in a growing sea of weapon energy capsules.
Oh, it doesn’t stop there, folks. Mega Man 8 was released for both the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, but the two versions are different enough that you need to play both to get the full Mega Man 8 experience.
Don’t deny that you want the full Mega Man 8 experience; my enthusiasm for Mega Man is unstoppably infectious.
The PlayStation version has marginally faster loading times and better audio and movie quality on its side, while the Saturn version features a “Bonus Mode” with things like a sound test and art galleries, plus a number of minor stage redesigns, most notably the inclusion of two minibosses from the Mega Man games of yore: Cut Man and Wood Man. The differences don’t end there, but your attention span probably does, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
Mega Man 8 is an OK game, but it’s easily the weakest in the original series (Game Boy games notwithstanding), and it only sometimes feels like a Mega Man game. Mega Man 8’s numerous flaws poke holes in the hull, but the unfortunate plot and egregious voice acting are what really sink the ship. No, wait; let’s go back to the pizza metaphor. They really sink the pizza.
Unless you’re a diehard fan or a total newcomer who doesn’t know any better, don’t eat Mega Man 8.