“Mega Man has ended the evil domination of Dr. Wily and restored the world to peace.”
– Narrator, Mega Man
“The following is a guest post by The Final Fourteenth Mage.”
So here I am on my laptop penning a review for the original Mega Man in 2017, a game that came out in 1987; four years before I was born. I never imagined I would be writing this however I couldn’t be more excited to do so. Growing up I went from a Master System II to a PlayStation and because of that I missed out on a lot of well-renowned titles. Over the years I have played through some of them but I recently wrote a post about how I wanted to expand what genres of games I play. The timing of this was fantastic as Sony had their ‘Big in Japan’ sale and Mega Man Legacy Collection was only $7.55AUD – an absolute bargain for six titles.
I hesitated before I placed it in my cart the first time. I ended up removing it after a few days. My only experience with Mega Man up until this point was reading on the internet that the series was incredibly hard and that the original in particular was the hardest. When it was time for the sale to come to an end, I figured it was now or never and I added it to my cart once again and purchased it. Even after the purchase I sat on the game for awhile. Eventually I asked Twitter which game in the collection I should start with and the response was fairly mixed. The two main responses were:
- Start with the first one and experience how the series had progressed.
- Skip the first one and play the second one which is the superior experience.
In the end I opted for the first choice as I figured if I could beat the first one that sets a precedent for being able to beat the rest of the games in the series and I wanted to see how the series had developed over time. I didn’t want to have access to abilities from the start that may be ripped from my grasp if I went backwards which is often the case and can have a jarring result.
Mega Man was first released in 1987 on the NES. Previous to its release the team behind the title had worked on arcade games which shows throughout Mega Man. Once you load up the game you are greeted with a screen that lets you choose between six Robot Master stages. In no particular order these consist of: Cut Man, Bomb Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Ice Man and Fire Man. The non-linearity aspect lets you choose between each of these stages. With that in mind, each Robot Master has a weakness towards a certain weapon obtained from defeating another Robot Master which whilst unnecessary in defeating them can make your time with the game easier.
As I progressed through Mega Man I didn’t realise that there was any kind of story at all. I just accepted the narrative that had me pulverising robots and then Dr. Wily at the end. It wasn’t until I beat the game, saw the credits and looked into it that I realised the game had a basic story in the instruction manual. On a side note wouldn’t it be nice if all digital games included a digital copy of the instruction manual?
The story takes place in the pleasantly named Monsteropolis. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily worked together to construct the humanoid Mega Man and then the six additional experimental robots to fulfil helpful tasks. However Dr. Wily reprogrammed the six Robot Masters which led them to assist Dr. Wily on his conquest to take over the world. Mega Man, resistant to the reprogramming, was chosen as the one to defeat the Robot Masters and Dr. Wily which would bring peace back to Monsteropolis.
The stages are linear and you’ll find yourself making your way through them, destroying a range of enemies, dodging attacks and making your way to the Robot Master. Most of the levels are rather short which is beneficial as if you die you don’t lose much progress. Throughout the game there were only two levels I found difficult – Guts Man stage and Wily’s Fortress Part 4. Throughout the game I found framerate to be an issue in levels where a lot of enemies spawn onto the screen at one time. This severely slows you down to the point that leaping across hazards is fairly difficult and often results in untimely death. This is remedied by being pro-active and killing enemies as they appear on the screen. Once I achieved that, I never had to deal with any kind of slow down in the game.
Mechanically, Mega Man is simple. You jump, shoot and progress forward. As you do progress you will find yourself having to use different powers that you’ve obtained from defeating the Robot Masters to make your way past certain obstacles. These obstacles are always easily identified. I found that other than making my way through said obstacles and for the final bosses I never used the other powers at all other than the Magnet Beam which was needed in the final stage of Wily’s Fortress.
I expected the challenge to be a lot harder than it was. Once I had beaten the game I wondered why I had put it off for so long. Truth be told the main reason for this was seeing people complain about how difficult it was over the years. I had come to the conclusion myself that a game over must mean that you had to start the whole game again – an artefact from my childhood gaming. Which just wasn’t true. The stages are short enough that you don’t lose much progress at all if you manage to run out of lives. On top of this each level has check points to help you along. So with a little trial and error the game is beaten.
In saying that, there were two fights that I did find particularly difficult. The first was the acclaimed Yellow Devil. I wanted to beat it without the glitch so I spent some time learning the pattern as the segmented body flew to the other side of the screen. Eventually I beat it and I was incredibly proud of myself. The other fight that stopped me in my tracks was the four Robot Masters in a row in the final stage of Wily’s Fortress. Bomb Man and Ice Man were fine but Fire Man would stop me in my tracks time and time again. He was such a cheap boss and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t time my jumps to escape his onslaught of attacks. I ended up just spamming him right back which depleted my health significantly. Guts Man was a pain too. If you don’t time it right he stuns you when he jumps and then it’s hard to avoid his attacks. After Fire Man’s onslaught I couldn’t afford to get hit. His weakness was Bomb Man’s weapon but I found the bombs to be very hit and miss. I ended up just using the Mega Buster as I could hit him which resulted in him being pushed back and not attacking me.
Graphically the game is a product of its time. It has a certain charm to it that makes you nostalgic for your childhood. The sprites are simple, the stages are set colours and the enemies throughout the levels are fairly basic. The Robot Master designs are where the game shined for me. They were all vastly different from one another and they all looked interesting. Cut Man and Ice Man were particular favourites of mine with the latter reminding me of the Ice Climbers.
The soundtrack whilst simple holds a lot of charm. The music after only a few attempts of each level is instantly recognisable. Despite 8-bit limitations each track sounds vastly different from the other and you wouldn’t know that the composer was limited to a mere three instruments at once.
The 8-bit Review
The game visuals ooze charm. Obviously outdated the designs of the six Robot Masters are interesting and I appreciate how unique each one is in design. The same could be said for the enemies throughout the stages. Even though they are few in design they are all different as opposed to a re-skin. Even with the console limitations I appreciate how the level design and palette directly corresponds to the Robot Master you will be facing at the end of the stage.
Manami Matsumae did a wonderful job on the soundtrack for the game. It’s amazing how varied the tracks are considering the heavy limitations at the time. The tracks for each level are unique enough to be instantly recognisable. The Stage Select music gets you immediately prepared to become immersed in a truly retro experience. It’s mind blowing that it only took three months to finish the soundtrack especially as it is regarded as a fan favourite still to this day.
Mega Man suffers from frame rate issues and at times can be incredibly janky. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that this wasn’t corrected for the Legacy Collection. I understand wanting an authentic experience but as far as my understanding goes it wasn’t the developers wish to have a game plagued by slowdowns and it was more to do with the limitations of the NES. Other than that the game plays relatively smoothly. There are times where the controls seem wonky and Mega Man doesn’t jump when prompted instead falling down to his death but for the most part it plays as you’d expect. There are a few glitches in the game with the most well known being the pause glitch allowing you to hit an enemy multiple times as opposed to the once. This means that you can easily take down enemies – especially with Elec Man.
I didn’t even know that Mega Man had even an inkling of a story until after I beat the game, saw the credits and researched it online. Back in that era it was fairly common to have the story separate in the instruction manual to provide context. The issue is that when you are downloading the game digitally there is no manual. Therefore the only way to learn about it is to do your own research. The story itself is rather basic but it does add flavour to the game as I like knowing why things are happening as opposed to mindless progression.
Mega Man as a whole is very accessible. The controls are incredibly basic with one button to jump and one button to attack no matter what power you are using. As soon as you load up a stage you begin. There’s no long winded tutorials or complex rules to follow. The game offers infinite continues so as long as you have the patience you are free to continually attempt the same level until you are eventually successful.
Whilst being easier than I expected, the game is rather challenging. Some of the jumps require precision that you can’t rely on due to the framerate drops and the wonky controls. Some of the bosses are incredibly challenging like the previously mentioned Yellow Devil. It took me two hours to beat him the old fashioned way. Not to mention that Fire Man reminds me of that kid who wins Smash Bros by just constantly button mashing. With that said though I feel that I can only rate it a seven due to the fact that the levels are short and starting from the start doesn’t impede your progress too much. Not using the pause glitch either meant that I found a few segments of the game rather challenging and I can appreciate why other people do use the cheesy option.
Mega Man is short enough that wanting to replay the game is no big deal. There’s always room to improve on your previous run. Get through it without getting hit? Improving on your score? A speed run? Only using the Mega Buster? There are many options that you can explore when it comes to playing through the game multiple times.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
I am glad that I started with the first game. It gave me a good starting point in regards to the series. I really enjoy seeing how a game series develops over time and now I can as I slowly make my way through the first Legacy Collection and eventually the second. I went into the game assuming that it was too hard for me and I wouldn’t be able to beat it. I surprised myself and learnt a lot about my own ability which has opened me up to exploring more games I had previously placed off limits. So in that regard I am so thankful that I gave Mega Man a chance! Even with the flaws throughout the game I really did enjoy it.
Aggregated Score: 6.0
The Final Fourteenth Mage has the weight of her backlog on her shoulders as she scours the internet searching for her next favourite game. You may know her as Priscilla Cullen and can read more of her musings at Cilla vs. Games.
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