“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
-Robert H. Goddard
Everyone’s favorite Blue Bomber is back in Capcom’s action-platformer sequel, Mega Man II. Improving in nearly every way over its predecessor, this game is hailed as the best in the entire series. With iconic music, tight gameplay, robot masters and their signature weapons, its steep difficulty, the energy tanks and a new password system, Mega Man II would set the tone and foundation for the Mega Man franchise.
Similar to other timeless characters of the gaming industry like Super Mario, Link or the balloon kid from Balloon Kid, the android Mega Man is one of gaming’s most enduring and instantly recognizable icons. Known as Rockman in Japan (because he rocks, duh), Mega Man is responsible for numerous sequels, spin offs, animations, and merchandise. Even his classic 8-bit persona saw the light of day again when he was dusted off and spruced up for Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Wii U.
In his games Mega Man adapts to his environment by utilizing different special powers. In real life, Mega Man has demonstrated the adaptability to adjust to the modern environment and its the ever-changing tastes and demands, its next-gen technology. And it all began with Mega Man II, a much more successful game than the first entry in the series. Note the fact that Mega Man II came together not because Capcom demanded a sequel to an unsuccessful game but because Mega Man II’s developers chose to work on this project on their own time while already busy with other designs. They incorporated unused information from the first game and took submissions for ideas for bosses from fans. Mega Man II was always a labor of love.
Series producer Keiji Inafune said of the experience:
“So we, of our own accord, got together, spent our own time, we worked really, really hard, you know, just 20-hour days to complete this, because we were making something we wanted to make. Probably in all my years of actually being in a video game company, that was the best time of my working at Capcom, because we were actually working toward a goal, we were laying it all on the line, we were doing what we wanted to do. And it really showed in the game, because it’s a game, once again, that we put all our time and effort and love, so to speak, into it, designing it.”
Their hard work and long hours paid off. Mega Man II is respected as one of the progenitors of platforming and a prime example of classic gaming, as well as one of the best games ever made. It was a coveted title for the original NES system. Selling over 1.5 million copies since its release, Mega Man II is a quintessential 8-bit game. It’s legacy launched its titular character into gaming history and into the fondness-centers of the hearts of children of the 80’s, namely, this 80’s kid right here. I still get high fives when I wear a Mega Man graphic tee.
Chronologically set after the original Mega Man game, the evil Dr. Wily is back with a host of mechanical servants and eight Robot Masters. Dr. Light, Mega Man’s creator, dispatches the Blue Bomber to save the day. Mega Man must choose how to confront Wily’s Robot Masters. Upon fighting his way through their unique stages and defeating the Masters, he earns a signature weapon based off of the boss’ special attacks (you pick up the Leaf Shield from Wood Man, the Atomic Fire from Heat Man, the ubiquitous Metal Blade from Metal Man, and so on), which can then be used to exploit the particular weakness of the next robot boss, if chosen properly.
This means that informed players (which consider that it was comparatively difficult to be informed of a game’s secrets back in 1988) could breeze through the game if they knew beforehand what order to fight the robot bosses in. This stands true for every weapon, except for the Metal Blade, which is so frickin’ awesome that even Metal Man is weak to it. Once the eight bosses are reduced to scrap then Mega Man can advance to Dr. Wily’s fortress replete with its morbid skull motifs. There he must battle through an additional six stages, face each of the the Robot Masters a second time, before he can finally reach the scientist mastermind, Wily himself. Defeat Dr. Wily and give yourself a double-jointed-elbow pat on the back. You’ve just beaten a difficult 8-bit platformer from an age when games were remorselessly punishing.
The 8-Bit Review
Despite its delegation as a side-project, almost a hobby for its design team, Mega Man II pushed the original Nintendo Entertainment System to its visual limits featuring some distinctly anime-influenced, bright and cartoonish sprites and settings. Even backgrounds were often animated rather than purely static. When I was a wee lad, Mega Man II looked fantastic, immersive, frenetic, dystopian, mysterious. Like this:
But with a modern taste for high-detail graphics, it now looks more like this:
Modernity notwithstanding, Mega Man II must be judged by its contemporaries and with that in mind it was one of the best looking games of the 8-bit era with a depth and vividness lacking from several other titles. It made even the first Zelda look like it was found inside of a pair of thrift store skivvies. I mean, at least it looked nothing like its North America box art… thank God.
Mega Man isn’t known as Rockman for nothin’. Spawning innumerable concerts, bands, covers, honoraries, mentions, cellphone ringtones and youtube medleys, Mega Man II is one of the great iconic soundtracks of the 8-bit scene. Its songs are instantly recognizable as belonging to the franchise and different enough from each other even though they all fall into the same intensely paced guitar-riffing rock genre that has become characteristic of the series. It’s all 80’s action-film influence with metallic solos, harmonics, and driving beats at crazy tempos. Its tracks make you want to get up and run, which, considering the BMI of the average gamer, is a miracle in and of itself. And in case an average gamer just read that sentence: your BMI measures how much Doritos and Mountain Dew you’ve consumed and how many months you have left to live.
It’s tight. And every completed boss that earns you a special weapon simply adds to the experience, changing Mega Man’s damage output, range, shot trajectory, etc. Playing through a majority of the game in the order that you choose allows the player to alter the difficulty by opting to engage bosses in the order of their weaknesses or not and take it like a mega-man. The addition of E. Tanks in this outing also deepens the playtime from the first game, plus there are all kinds of power ups and platform-tech that Mega Man can utilize to enhance the jump-and-shoot experience. There is never too much of a good thing in Mega Man II, nor is there too little. Everything seems perfectly balanced. It’s exemplary platforming.
Platformers are known for simple controls. Press this to shoot. Press this to jump. It was on a controller with two red buttons labeled “A” and “B”, and a “select” and a “start” and the D-pad. Can’t get much simpler than that. Anyone can pick up the game and know you got to shoot the bad guys and not fall in the holes or on the spikes that occupy every conceivable space. New players struggle only until they become familiar with the game and things like the distance of Mega Man’s jump and the patterns of the bosses’ attacks, which is intuitive. However, simple controls with ease of access belie a more sinister plot: Mega Man II cannot be played casually, which takes me to my next grading…
Though not as controller-throwingly difficult as the first Mega Man for lack of capability, this second entry can be just as excruciating. The picture above bears witness of the iconic dragon battle in Dr.Wily’s castle, which must be fought using only three platforms, barely as wide as Mega Man himself, suspended over a pit of doom. One false step and its over faster than opinions that Kristen Stewart can act. Everything is tweaked to kill you, murder you, blow you up, impale you, stab you, shoot you and obliterate you. It’s like the whole game takes place in Los Angeles. I mean just look at this… there’s spikes on the ceiling. On. The. Ceiling. Mega Man II is unapologetically hard and modern gamers who are used to helpful tutorials and practice rounds get none of that here. It is balanced to be challenging without being annoying.
Given that Mega Man II is as tough to beat as it is, it’s still got some decent replay value. Sure, you’re not going to sit down and play it again a second time through right after the credits roll, but its a game that has stood the test of time. People still come back to enjoy it to this day, certainly more so than the outright un-enjoyable difficulty of the original Mega Man. The fact again that you can complete the stages in any order you like and that it comes with two modes, Normal and Difficult, means it has a moderate amount of flexibility in this area for a fairly linear game.
Mega Man II may not be the first game to come up with its basic premise and concepts, but it is the game which took the basics of its franchise to the next level of refinement and played around with those original concepts to come up with something great. And it was Mega Man II, not the first game, that introduced the continued staples of the series. That’s why it is the launching pad, and not its predecessor. It’s whimsical but deadly visuals, engaging controls, fun boss fights and hardcore tunes set it apart from its contemporaries. While it didn’t sire the idea of jumping and shooting, and so it might be difficult from our standpoint in 2016 to understand how groundbreaking Mega Man II was, what it did do was ensure the infrastructure of a unique and lovable icon.
My Personal Grade: 10/10
I love this game. I love its awesome soundtrack. I love the quirky pixel art. It’s a part of my childhood. It and its successors are the reason my pre-teen self stayed up till 1am Saturday night just to watch the Mega Man cartoon show. If someone asked me to pick out the best sample of 8-bit gaming, I would say its a toss up between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man II. However, its the latter of those two that is the more challenging. Though knuckle-crushingly difficult at times, that only gives you the well-deserved sense of achievement when at last you lay that wily villain low. Mega Man II has been re-released and repackaged many times since 1988 and I hope that it perseveres to delight new generations without ever fading away into the obscurity of gaming’s happy, bygone golden age.
Aggregated Score: 9.1
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