The funniest part of this review will be when I tell you how much I actually like this game.
Humor me a moment and let go of any preconceived notions you have about what Mega Man is, was, or should be. Forget about the toe-tapping soundtrack, the cutting-edge graphics, the memorable level designs, the intense boss fights, the near-endless replayability factor, the radical special weapons, and the tear-your-pants-off-in-frustration difficulty factor that fans have come to demand. The game I’m about to discuss is a DOS platformer from the early 1990s created by a team of a dude. Coincidentally, the game is called Mega Man. I assume you’d have equally reasonable expectations of a backyard pancake shack called, “His Majesty’s Glorious Sustenance Palace.”
Don’t look behind you, Mega Man. Your name is sneaking up on you.
Is there anything wrong with this game? Yes. The programmer obviously spilled soda on the keyboard and had to program the controls using whatever was still functional: ENTER, SPACEBAR, ESC, the arrow keys, and the letter J. “Replay value” often equates to replaying a single screen dozens of times until you can make it to the top without being knocked all the way to the bottom by an irritatingly positioned enemy, an errant projectile, or your own inability to properly judge timing and distance because Rockman, appropriately, leaps like a lead zeppelin.
Look at you, soaring through the air like an eagle…piloting a blimp.
Our hero jumps out of the way of projectiles with all the grace of someone pulling him up by an invisible rope tied around his waist, and he stops before running off ledges with all the precision of a remote-controlled bar of soap. Anyone accustomed to the slick maneuverability of the NES Mega Men is likely to struggle until they realize that the secrets to success in this game are not quick reflexes and clever maneuvering, but willy-nilly shooting and blindly rushing ahead in a panic. Mega Man can absorb an impressive amount of damage before exploding, so plowing ahead with no regard whatsoever for your health bar is, alarmingly, the most effective way to stay alive.
If you get this far with a full health bar, you’re playing all wrong.
If you can get the hang of playing Mega Man like a nervous and likely-to-explode football quarterback, there’s an enjoyable experience to be had. I can’t make any promises about how enjoyable, though. That depends on how snooty you are about graphics and sound.
There are snobs who complain about the music. Mega Man has no music. Buncha snobs. There are a few high-pitched sound effects to remind you that yes, you are exceptionally good at taking damage and falling down holes. But no music. Remember, we’re still talking about a product of the silent era of PC games: Jetpack, Minesweeper and Paperboy, and Deja Vu for Windows all got away with a minimal amount of sound. We live in the age of radio and cassette tapes; it’s easy to provide your own soundtrack. I like to put my entire collection of music from other Mega Man games on shuffle, or hum loudly to myself with improvised melodies. My favorite tune is the one that goes HMM, HM HMMMMM, HMM HMMMMMMMM, HM HM. That’s a great one.
Help! I’m trapped in a bubble! And there’s no music in here, either!
Anybody who complains about the graphics has standards that are far too high. The graphics are fine, and don’t let the entire Internet tell you otherwise. Everything is easily identifiable—lava looks like lava, electric eels look like electric eels, and bouncing sticks of dynamite look like bouncing sticks of dynamite. If anything, the graphics are problematic because they’re too detailed—it’s difficult to see the enemies and the irritatingly plentiful disappearing puzzle bricks against a few of the busier backgrounds. The bottom line is that the graphics are functional, albeit occasionally goofy, and you’ll be much happier if you keep telling yourself that the game has a “unique visual style.”
Unique. Visual. Style.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to the intriguing visuals, the striking silence where there should be music, the unreasonable quantity of cheap jumping puzzles, the bizarre control scheme, and a hero who glides around like a buttered walrus, Mega Man feels exactly like its NES counterparts in that it has the words “Mega” and “Man” in the title.
The biggest difference from Mega Man‘s console cousins is that the villain of the series, Dr. Wily, seems to have finally run out of money. Wily evidently built the first three robot masters that came to mind, found that he didn’t have enough cash to construct proper lairs with proper robot henchmen for them, and resorted to stationing them near indigenous populations of makeshift henchmen: spiders, mosquitoes, and fish. Eschewing an opulent fortress, Dr. Wily’s base of operations now exists in what looks to be a farm shed adorned with a large papier-mâché skull. A frugal villain is a fearsome villain.
Waiting for his welfare check, maybe.
Mega Man is not a traditional Mega Man by any stretch of the imagination, but its oddities are part of what make it so endearing. After playing through countless carbon-copy sequels (and I say that in a good way—I’m highly resistant to change), it’s refreshing to play a game that is founded on the same basic principles as any other Mega Man game, but is so bizarre in the context of Mega Man that it feels like a completely different series altogether.
After shooting up armies of robot frogs, it’s liberating to finally shoot up armies of real, live (or formerly live) frogs. Players have gotten spoiled by the utterly perfect controls of the mainstream games; it’s a welcome challenge to learn how to steer a stocky cyan Cabbage Patch Kid through all the hazards of a sewer-cave, a power-plant-mosquito-hatchery, and a warehouse-volcano. Yes, some of the challenges are more difficult than usual. Obviously, you haven’t truly figured out Mega Man if you think whining is a good substitute for practice.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get all those mosquitoes to sit still for this picture.
It’s a little weird, it’s a little unpredictable, but the game always means well, even when it’s trying to kill you. With the inclusion of Energy Tanks, cameos by two staple Mega Man enemies, rematches against all the robot masters in the final stage, and a “surprise” second form of the final boss, the game offers a number of elements that any gamer worth his robo-salt would expect from a Mega Man title. What’s more, as many as two of the three special weapons are simultaneously super-helpful and fun to use—statistically, that’s better than most Mega Man games.
In many respects, Mega Man is just like Mega Man. In a few respects, I daresay it’s actually better. For instance, there is a tremendous satisfaction in being able to rail on the bosses without them enjoying a moment of invulnerability every time you hit them. All right, so that’s the only respect in which this game is genuinely better, and even then, the bosses all become pushovers when you’re simply button-mashing your way to victory, so maybe it’s not that great after all. But it is satisfying. And the option to accidentally blow yourself up on the inventory screen by hitting F10 is invaluable. If the game doesn’t live up to the Mega Man name, it’s only because you’re looking at the wrong elements, such as gameplay.
Well, there goes our spotless record of inventory screen safety. Somebody’s getting fired for this, or blown up.
This incarnation of Mega Man has just as much in common with its NES forebears and contemporaries as it doesn’t, so you’ll only be disappointed with it. Erm…if you want the same experience as the NES games. Personally—and here comes the funniest part of the review, as promised—I really like this game. It’s not that bad when judged on its own merits, and, wait, you’re not laughing. Let me try again. I really like this game—no joke. There we go. Cherish the similarities; embrace the variations. Seriously. Or else I’ll press F10 on you.