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Mega Man (NES) artwork

Mega Man (NES) review


"No one denies the innovations of the first game, but no one really gives it full credit, either. Here was a game which took difficult platforming and boss battles and gave players an out. Not the cheaterís out of Game Genie or even the passcode out of Contra. These were legitimate powers gained from beating the bosses, which made the levels easier, especially when the right power was applied to the right level. In my experience, it was the first platforming game to reward strategy."





Addendum: Alright, I got several emails asking me to mention the cover. Yeah. It's really bad. The look on his face is probably the most frightening aspect of the whole piece. It's the look of a man who has just had his left shoulder dislocated, his right arm crushed into his elbow, his neck removed, both legs twisted backwards, and his knee caps reversed. And the lesson? Helmets and knee pads cannot save you from incredible injury.

Itís taken me 20 years to beat Mega Man. It is a judiciously difficult game. It isnít the kind of ďendless enemyĒ difficult of Castlevania or the ďmake one wrong step and dieĒ difficult of Ninja Gaiden, but it is that special class of classic difficult which requires you to know each level by heart before you can squeeze through. And therein lies the real delay in my victory. This was Mega Man before passwords. If you wanted to beat it, you had to do it in one sitting. There was no turning off the game; no learning a level at a leisurely pace over the course of a couple of fun-filled days. Usually I burnt out around the time Iíd beaten the first six bosses and gotten to Wilyís Castle. Those who have played the game may remember the Yellow Devil in the first stage of the castle and, well, yeahÖ thatís where I invariably gave up.



The other reason it took me so long is because Mega Man 2 came out. And then Mega Man 3. And then Mega Man 4. And so on and so forth until eventually Mega Man X made all other Mega Men irrelevant for the remainder of my childhood. It was certainly difficult to go from the detailed graphics and sleek controls of the SNES Mega Man all the way back to a Mega Man who couldnít slide tackle, couldnít charge his gun, and would drift while coming to a stop. The incentive just wasnít there.

So why did I go back?

No one denies the innovations of the first game, but no one really gives it full credit, either. Here was a game which took difficult platforming and boss battles and gave players an out. Not the cheaterís out of Game Genie or even the passcode out of Contra. These were legitimate powers (gained from beating the bosses) which made the levels easier, especially when the right power was applied to the right level. In my experience, it was the first platforming game to reward strategy.

Yes, yes, people say. It started everything, but the other games did it better. In this manner, Mega Man has been relegated to a kind of ďbetaĒ status, with most people considering the series to really kick off with the second game. Itís a fair point; many of the true Mega Man standbys do start off in the second game. I even agree with the point, but something had kept me coming back for 20 years and it went beyond controls and graphics. What was it?

As I beat Mega Man today, it finally hit me: the original Robot Masters arenít ďbeta.Ē Despite the fact that playing any of the later titles was a smoother experience, nowhere else could I tackle that unique set of bosses. Victory wouldnít be complete until I had seen them all fall and bested the similarly unique Wilyís Castle. And then, of course, reviewed them.

Fire Man 5/5
Ice Man and Fire Man always felt like a pair to me. Not just because of the ice-fire comparison, but because they were the only two Robot Masters in the first game to have clear themes and stick to them. Between them, they have the two best powerups, with Fire Manís ability being almost game-breakingly useful. Fire Man also happens to be a reactionist. No, really. I always thought he was one of four or five Masters that couldnít be taken down without taking damage, because the guy spazzes all over the place and fires--sorry, shoots--flaming waves at you so quickly the graphics often start to flicker with the strain. But try going into the room and just standing still. Fire Man tones it down considerably, standing in one place and firing the occasional shot while you peck away at his life. Conclusion: Fire Man is a pacifist at heart. I enjoyed discovering this.

Ice Man 5/5
Now, Ice Man is a Robot Master I appreciate. First of all, Iíve always liked his design. Heís a little Eskimo guy in a parka! I donít knowÖ alongside some of the crazy Mega Man designs, it just feels comfortingly simple. And heís not wearing a stupid helmet. Props for that. His stage is one of the better themed ones, too, very easily working in ice, a brief aquatic section with penguins, and the first appearance of the disappearing blocks. That alone makes it memorable. His weapon is also incredibly useful, being able to freeze enemies in place, allowing you to run past those jumping bots that soak up, like, seventy hits before going down.



Guts Man 1/5
The most memorable thing about Guts Man is the series of stomach-wrenching jumps in his level, which you have to make over a long section of bottomless pits. Otherwise, Guts Man is a enigma to me. Heís important to somebody, because heís been brought back in several games and even serves as part of the logo of the Anniversary Collection, but heís basically the brute of the series; the obligatory ďbig guy.Ē I never understood his name and how ďgutsĒ relates to the mining theme of his level. His power is the most useless in the entire series. Get this: it lets you pick up blocks. Not just any blocks, but very specific blocks that are only on something like five screens in the game. Iím annoyed whenever I beat Guts Man and get that stupid power.

Cut Man 2/5
Another Robot Master whose design and power donít really do anything for me but who is apparently loved by someone at Capcom because he shows up all over the place. He looks like a bunny. He attacks with scissors. That puts him on the same threat level as children who donít know to keep the point down when running. I will say that I like the Cutarang better than most of the later Mega Man boomerang weapons. It cuts through multiple enemies, which makes it incredibly useful. Why later boomerangs take this out, I donít know. Without this, it would just be a regular shot thatís harder to aim. The levelÖ well, what are you going to do with ďcuttingĒ as your theme? Make it an emo stage? Itís all metal and ladders and itís really grey and bland. Like a placeholder for other graphics that never got put in. Reminds me a bit of Dural.

Elec Man 4/5
Elec Man is a Robot Master who wouldnít stand out except for one thing: he can kill Mega Man in three hits. Thatís a distinction that I donít think any other Robot Master can claim, even though most of them look a lot cooler than a guy with a lightning bolt plastered to a funky helmet. The fun of fighting Elec Man comes from trying to see how long you can avoid switching to his weakness. Heís sporadic about his movements and whips out those electric bolts with barely any sign of when heís going to do it. As far as taking him out with only the Mega Buster, heís the hardest Iíve ever tackled. His stage, on the other hand, is unremarkable. It uses electricity as a theme only in the basest sense, with little electric zappers spread around in a few rooms. The coolest thing about it (aside from the catchy electronic theme songÖ I see what you did there, Capcom) is the final climb to Elec Manís room. Itís one of the only Mega Man boss rooms that you enter from the bottom, making the start to the fight a little disorienting and again adding to the difficulty.

Bomb Man 2/5
What I find funny about Bomb Man is that he uses a conventional weapon to attack. I mean, anyone can chuck grenades around haphazardly. Should everyone in the mobile infantry call themselves ďBomb Men?Ē At the same time, I kind of like it. With most of the Robot Masters you canít think too hard about whatís going on. Like where is Skull Man getting his skulls from? and why? But I donít have to stretch my imagination too far to understand a robot chucking bombs. As far as the stage goes, the originality lands somewhere around Elec Manís. Itís that same dull grey and unthemed stage design placed alongside an obligatory Bullet Bill enemy. Like Elec Manís stage, it ends interestingly, with you falling into Bomb Manís chamber. But itís a much less impressive fight that follows.

Wilyís Castle 3/5
The Yellow Devil. A boss that gave me nightmares as a child. This guy had the effect of a propaganda bomb on me. I always thought, ďif this hulk of a boss is the first guardian of the castle, then what kind of demon is coming next? How hard is Dr. Wily going to be? How long is it going to take me to beat this castle?Ē The answers in my head were: itís too horrible to think about; the hardest boss in video game history; not in time for supper, Iíd better turn off the game. The real answers are: some giant bubble thatís weak to every weapon; pretty easy and exceptionally susceptible to the Cutarang; and about an hour and a half, most of it spent on the Yellow Devil.

Thatís the legacy of the Yellow Devil. He represents the entire Wilyís Castle to me. Heís actually not that difficult a boss, but he arrives at a very awkward point in the game. While most of the Robot Masters have patterns that can be taken advantage of, Yellow Devil is the first boss that you have to learn the pattern in order to beat. The switch is not an easy one to make, especially after a stage full of pits and instant deaths that leaves most players twitchy. Losing your last life to Yellow Devil and having to start the level completely over is extremely demoralizing. Demoralizing enough to dominate my childhood memories of the first Mega Man title.

* * *

Mega Man remains an interesting title among its younger brothers and I donít see it as the old-timer who tells the same old stories time and again. In fact, I think most reviewers have got it wrong. They say that Mega Man has aged poorly. I donít think thatís the case. Mega Man offers unique thrills from most of its bosses and requires a different kind of dexterity than the later games. Where it suffers is in its lack of imagination. Too many of the levels are grey and uninteresting. They are demoralizing in the same way that the Yellow Devil is. Just as he quenched my motivation to beat the game for 20 years, the bland settings take away the motivation to reach the entertaining bosses. This is the one innovation that wasnít present until later games and truly was in beta for this first run. Itís not something thatís come about because of age; it was always missing. Overlooking that, Iím glad I came back for a victorious run through. Rarely has a credits roll looked so good.





Rating: 6/10

zippdementia's avatar
Featured community review by zippdementia (July 22, 2012)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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zippdementia posted July 22, 2012:

Added an addendum by friendly request.
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SamildanachEmrys posted July 22, 2012:

Interesting assessment.

Mega Man 1 was my first experience of the franchise, and turned me off it for over 15 years. Mega Man 2 and 3 were already out but I decided to start this legendary, highly praised series at the beginning. I played for a couple of hours, thought "this is the hardest game in the world, I can't even beat one boss" and gave up Mega Man as an overrated waste of time until about six months ago.
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honestgamer posted July 22, 2012:

I managed to beat Mega Man back in the day, but I was fortunate in that I started with Mega Man 2, which is better in every way and remains one of my favorite games of all time. It was followed up by a number of other great games, and of course the Mega Man X series, so Mega Man will always hold a place in my heart.

I only found out just recently that Mega Man 2 almost didn't happen. Capcom wasn't overwhelmed with the first game or its reception, but Inafune and crew worked on Mega Man 2 in secret, in their spare time, and presented it to Capcom for approval when it was done. The game was a labor of love and it really shows.
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zippdementia posted July 22, 2012:

Ah, I doubt you'll like my upcoming review of Mega Man 2, then, Jason! It's probably my least favorite in the series and one which I think pales in comparison to later titles, especially Mega Man 3. I have always had trouble with the way the stages were designed in number 2: cheap deaths and an expectation that you have to beat the Wily Castle in one perfect run while collecting all the energy tanks along the way*. It's also the Mega Man which introduced grinding for power ups to the series and did the most damage with it, because it hadn't figured out how to incorporate that, yet.

I do think Mega Man 2 was notable for amazing controls, wonderfully vibrant graphics, and some of the best music in the series.

All of that discussion, and more, is coming in my next review, which I plan to finish tonight. And yeah, isn't that story behind its making interesting?

* I should note that several of my friends disagree with my assessment of the Wily Castle difficulty, but they all played the game on the easy mode that was included with the American release, which significantly dumbed down the enemies and bosses and, therefore, countered a lot of what was wrong with the design.
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honestgamer posted July 22, 2012:

It does indeed sound like I won't like your review, mostly because I feel that the bulk of your criticisms apply more readily to Mega Man 3 than they do Mega Man 2!

I beat Mega Man 2 the first time--when I was a little kid--after 10 days of fairly casual play (because my parents didn't like me playing games for more than a few hours here and there). It was one of the first games I ever beat, since the difficulty curve was so natural and the game so addictive. It's definitely one of the most tightly designed games in 8-bit gaming, particularly in terms of the difficulty.

What I like best is that there aren't a lot of cheap deaths, aside from the one hidden pitfall over the spike pit in Dr. Wily's Castle. The game otherwise plays fair every inch of the way (plus even the toughest segments are unlikely to trip you up for long), and yet it provides an exhilarating ride just the same. If there's a spot in a level that feels cheap, at least the levels are so short that you quickly learn a way around any obstacles and can keep going. The levels can also be tackled in any order and you genuinely stand a chance. I've managed to beat every single one of the initial eight levels with just the arm cannon and no energy tanks, but of course the game is much easier still if you play it using special weapons, as was intended.

Dr. Wily's Castle is indeed difficult, but mostly in a few key places. And yes, I prefer the "Easy" difficulty setting to the "Difficult" one, just because it's more relaxed, but I've played the game both ways. I'm not sure what value there is in docking the game for the "Difficult" setting when "Easy" mode is available (and fantastic) in the version most people will have played (or might play in the future).

Mega Man 3 is a good game, but I don't like it nearly as much as Mega Man 2 (or even as much as I like Mega Man 4 and 5), mostly because Mega Man 3 tried to make things better by providing a bunch more content. But it has a lot of cheap areas and the challenge gets obscene in Dr. Wily's Castle, plus the Doc Robot stages are pure filler and there are a number of recycled bosses. Fortunately, Mega Man 4-6 resolved that and finished the series run on the NES in mostly good shape (though 5 and 6 have plenty of their own brand new issues, admittedly).
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zippdementia posted July 23, 2012:

I'll save my exact thoughts about Mega Man 2 for the review (I'm adding HTML right now) but you can bet Wily Stage 4 and the good doctor himself feature heavily in my complaints. For Mega Man 3, I can't comment too much yet, because it's been about 8 years since I last played it. I recall the game being harder than 2, but the challenge feeling much more legitimate and fun. Wily's Castle I also remember being hard, but I think much kinder about the final bosses. Didn't they put a checkpoint after the Robot Masters? And the final boss had a pattern that you could figure out and use against it, unlike some of the bosses of Mega Man 2 (Quick Man comes to mind, but the biggest culprit was Wily form 2... the one prior to the alien).
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honestgamer posted July 23, 2012:

Both games had checkpoints before you took on the final forms, actually. When you defeat the eight robot masters in MM2 (which isn't difficult at all if you're using the right equipment and tackle them in a reasonable order), you have to take out Wily's spaceship and then a final stage appears where you just fall down a shaft and fight him. So it's not really all that different from MM3, and in fact the boss of MM3 tends to be the tougher encounter because the arms do so much damage if they catch you off-guard. The trick there is that you can stand below Dr. Wily and just toss shadow blades up at him for part of the conflict, which makes the fight considerably easier than it otherwise would be.
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dagoss posted July 23, 2012:

This is one of the best reviews I've read of Mega Man 1! I thoroughly enjoyed the way you went through and deconstructed each of the bosses. It was a pleasure to read.

I've played MM1-6 so many times that I could probably draw a pixel-perfect image of each level in Microsoft Paint. It's not often that I read something that feels new about it. Good job!
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zippdementia posted July 23, 2012:

Jason: yeah, those darn arms! I do remember that. I'm not sure I beat Mega Man 3 as a kid but I remember dying a lot at those arms. Fun when you finally get underneath them, though, and start wailing on his underbelly with the shadow star.

Dagoss: That's great to hear! I'm glad I was able to take you back. You should film yourself speed drawing all of the levels from memory and become an internet phenomenon.
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zippdementia posted July 27, 2012:

Note: changed the photos. The old ones were too tiny and really bugged me.

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