Mega Man (NES) review
"I donít think that the first Mega Man game holds up as well as many of its sequels did, but itís still a fun and challenging title."
The NES played host to a plethora of great games, but many of them were quirky little one-offs we never heard from again. They provided great gameplay, had interesting characters, and yet somehow that was the end of them. Then there was that select group of games that grew into massive franchises which have spanned the decades following their creation. Mega Man rests near the top of that second group, nipping at the heels of the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games when it comes to number of sequels and overall longevity. All of that success started right here, with Mega Man for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Although it spawned a major franchise, the first Mega Man game remains the outsider of the bunch. It wasnít a huge hit when it was released, and instead found success due to the gradual spread of positive word of mouth. Looking back now, I see the game as a solid first entry, but itís definitely missing some of the charm and polish that would become the franchise norm starting with Mega Man 2.
There are six evil robots that Mega Man has to contend with before moving on to the lair built by their creator, the maniacal Dr. Wily. These levels can be tackled in any order, which allows players to try out a different stage if the one theyíre on is too tough. Mega Man gains the weapons of the defeated robot bosses, and these weapons are the key to efficiently completing the game. While itís possible for Mega Man to take any robot down with only his default weapon, using the right gun on a boss thatís especially susceptible to it will end the fight in just a few shots. A big part of the appeal of Mega Man is the process of settling on the favored order in which to tackle the levels.
In actuality, the six robot bosses arenít the real challenge in Mega Man, not by a long shot. The path to those big baddies is where all of the challenge is found. While some levels are relatively simple and will require only some breezy platforming as you blow enemies away with a single shot, others are devious creations of gamer torture. Small enemiesóharmless on their ownóare often placed on narrow platforms. Theyíll knock less agile players off solid ground and into pitfalls, spikes, or back down to a previous screen. Larger enemies can remove huge chunks from Mega Manís life bar, dramatically reducing the odds that heíll be able to defeat the boss at the end of the level without dying. Sadistic platforming sections are full of disappearing and reappearing blocks that must be used to cross chasms, or moving platforms that will dump Mega Man into a pit at just a momentís notice.
Thereís a sweet spot for game difficulty, and to be fair, the sections with disappearing blocks are a simple matter of pattern recognition. However, such attractions overstay their welcome and are reused just a few too many times. Fortunately, the control in Mega Man is precise and immediate. Mega Man will always go exactly where heís told to go, nailing every jump just so. The really tough parts of the game remain some of the most aggravating sections Iíve experienced in an NES game, but because of the excellent controls I knew that the problem was with my timing as opposed to poor level design or imprecise controller inputs.
Iíve always associated the Mega Man series with charm and with graphics that push the limits of whatís possible with 2D sprites. The first Mega Man game has the first inklings of that charm, but compared to its NES sequels it falls short. As is par for the course, the little Blue Bomber himself is a small but expressive sprite, thanks to those massive blinking eyes that are his trademark. Similarly, all of the enemies, from the tiniest bot to the baddest boss, have that cartoony, light-hearted design that continued throughout the series. Iíve always wondered why the evil Dr. Wily was so obsessed with putting googly eyes and smiles on his death machines, but I canít argue with the results.
The levels, on the other hand, are woefully lacking in personality and graphical detail. This game came out in 1987 when the NES was still in its infancy, but even comparing it to other games released around the same time finds Mega Man coming up short. Sure, the levels represent their boss robots more or less: Fire Manís level is full of fire and Bomb Manís level has lots of bombs in it. There simply isnít much going on in these levels, though, and itís common to encounter backgrounds that are completely blank, with all the action taking place on the platforms that Mega Man is jumping on.
This first Mega Man game also doesnít quite deliver with its soundtrack. Iím a huge fan of the way that Capcomís composers were able to make the NES sound chip sing, but itís clear with this game that they were still learning how to do that. There are a few catchy songs to be found in Mega Man, but theyíre a far cry from the tunes that Capcom would go on to create as NES development matured.
I donít think that the first Mega Man game holds up as well as many of its sequels did, but itís still a fun and challenging title. It remains one of the toughest entries in the series, and itís interesting to go back and take a look at where it all started for the Blue Bomber. However, it will never hold my attention as much as my favorite Mega Man games, and now I just look at it as a piece of gaming history.
Freelance review by Julian Titus (June 20, 2013)
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