"Though the levels themselves aren't much longer than areas encountered in Mega Man 4 and its like, the ease with which you traverse each environment has been radically altered for the worse. Bottomless pits fill almost every room, and spikes and giant enemies that swarm you at every opportunity. Even the simplest of enemies do terrible damage if they brush against you, and the cramped quarters mean that all of them are much harder to avoid than you might expect."
Sometimes I think that Mega Man should just avoid portable consoles. No matter how fans yammer about what a great experience each Mega Man title is sure to be, it seems each new port is less than the dazzling platformer it should be. For North American gamers looking to play Megaman & Bass, though, there aren't a lot of choices. They can either import an old system and game from Japan, or they can play the Game Boy Advance version Capcom snuck onto store shelves here in the United States.
Having never played the Japan-only original, I can't say that I know how well it played. All I have to go on are the previous Mega Man titles released for the NES, SNES, and Playstation. Megaman & Bass originally fell in there somewhere near the end of the 16-bit era. Though I don't know for a certainty why Capcom never brought it stateside, I have one sincere guess: they thought it would be too difficult for the American audience.
From the minute you stick Megaman & Bass in your Game Boy Advance and power it on, two things become apparent. The first is that this is definitely a Mega Man title, and the second is that it's definitely the most difficult one in the series.
The game really reminds me of a cross between Mega Man X3 and Mega Man 8. Before you can begin fighting the game's eight robot masters, you'll first be forced to play through an introductory stage. In other Mega Man titles, these stages are short and simple. Here, the stage is quite a bit more difficult. You'll run through a fire-filled area more difficult than most any robot stage from previous franchise entries. Instant death is not only possible, but likely until you memorize the stage. Then you'll reach the end and watch a short scene involving Proto Man. From here, it becomes obvious that once again, you'll face up against eight robot masters before beginning an assault on the boss.
Those stages aren't presented in quite the normal fashion, unfortunately. Rather than providing you with an initial selection of eight stages, the game presents three. Defeat any of those and you'll access two more, until there are a total of eight available. With your options thus encumbered, the game suddenly feels a great deal more constraining. Still, when I first encountered the restriction, I figured I could easily adapt to it and push through to the other levels.
How wrong I was! Each of the initial three stages is extremely difficult, to a degree that's almost insane. Though the levels themselves aren't much longer than areas encountered in Mega Man 4 and its like, the ease with which you traverse each environment has been radically altered for the worse. Bottomless pits fill almost every room, and spikes and giant enemies that swarm you at every opportunity. Even the simplest of enemies do terrible damage if they brush against you, and the cramped quarters mean that all of them are much harder to avoid than you might expect. Not only that, but nearly every one of the robot stages has a mid-boss that will make short work of your life meter until you determine its pattern. Just making it to the various checkpoints throughout a stage often proves a monumental task, and then you might well be down to your last life. Far too often, I managed to make it to the stage boss with only a few bars left on my life meter, and no lives in reserve.
Once you make it to the boss of a given stage, though, you're still not out of the woods. These encounters are even more difficult than the levels preceding them. There's not a single robot master in the lot that I was able to beat in fewer than ten or so tries. Their attack patterns move them all over the cramped quarters, and there's never more than a small bit of space you can claim to avoid a direct collision. Bumping into your opponent drains your life meter quite rapidly, but you often have no choice. Not only that, but a lot of the bosses have cheap attacks.
For example, Cold Man will send out icicle barriers at the start of the battle. These are rather easily avoided, but they keep you from firing direct shots to hit your opponent. So you'll have to jump over them, get in a few shots, then jump again to avoid the wall of ice as it returns to its master. The whole time, you're always at risk that Cold Man will leap toward you with a body slam, so there's not a single split-second of safety. Drain two thirds or so of his life meter, and suddenly the robot master sends out a thundercloud of sorts. This will latch to your body and prevent you from not only jumping, but also shooting. Even if you get down to the last portion of the battle, you'll have a hard time getting in those last few shots. And so it goes with every boss, whether they're rolling around the arena or refilling their life meter just when you've almost defeated them. Truly, each new special weapon you get to add to your inventory is gained through blood, sweat, and perhaps even tears. Impatient gamers will have difficulty abstaining from angry outbursts, to be sure.
Fortunately, patience does pay off. Play through a level and its boss enough times and you'll eventually get familiar enough with the various patterns to emerge victorious. Helping you in your cause are special power-ups. These must be purchased, with the bolt-shaped currency scattered throughout stages. It's possible to purchase extra lives and small upgrades that enable you to gain more energy when retrieving power-ups and the like. Though this merchandise does make the game slightly easier, there never really comes a moment when things grow simple. Even the original Mega Man title, considered by many to be the most difficult in the franchise, pales in comparison.
With that being the case, then, why should anyone play? Well, there are a number of reasons. The most important of these is Bass. When you begin a new save file in Megaman & Bass, you are given the choice between Mega Man or Bass. Each robot has different attributes. Players by now are mostly familiar with what Mega Man can do. His most noteworthy abilities are his slide move (which enables him to pass through narrow corridors Bass cannot reach) and his mega buster, a charged shot that hits robots for a lot more damage than standard arm cannon fire. Bass, on the other hand, has a double jump that allows him to reach higher platforms. He can even drop off a ledge, then jump in mid-air, which means bottomless pits aren't quite as daunting as they are for Mega Man. Additionally, holding the 'B' button allows him to fire rapid volleys of arm cannon fire that quickly cut through most enemies.
Whether you choose Mega Man or Bass, though, the fact remains that the game is extremely challenging. Frustratingly so. It's difficult to play the game more than an hour or two at a time. You'll want to, though, because there are so many things about the cartridge that are polished.
Like most every Mega Man title before it, this one is a true feast for the eyes. I'm not sure exactly when it was programmed, but it looks like it must postdate Mega Man 7. Environments are colorful and varied, with good detail and vibrancy that makes them a pleasure to explore. Bosses are large and well-animated, too, and it's never difficult to tell what's happening on-screen. The levels employ great effects that wouldn't be possible with lesser hardware, such as rolling spikes that descend on rooms in the Ground Man stage, and dark rooms lit only by a roaming bulb in the Astro Man area.
There are also portions of the game clearly designed to make it more portable. The cartridge saves up to three adventures at a time, and the system automatically saves your progress at several points throughout any given stage in the event that you have to save and quit.
Not only that, but there are ways to stretch the experience well beyond the norm. The game contains numerous icons, scattered throughout the various stages. These are special chips of data that you can collect to view enemy robot profiles. It's not necessary to collect them, but they're cleverly hidden throughout the game and it's always satisfying to grab another one. The game menu will allow you to access this data whenever you like from the robot selection screen, too, so you can tell how many are left to collect. I'm glad Capcom included the feature, because it gives you even more reasons to play through the same stages all over again.
Yet another of the game's strengths is the sound department. While I can't really say that any of the tunes here are so memorable as those in some of the earlier 8-bit titles, there's a good amount of variety in the compositions. Sound effects, meanwhile, are the same as what you've always heard. That means they aren't astonishing in any way, yet they work perfectly for the game and its atmosphere.
In fact, it's hard to find anything about this game that doesn't work. The main fault I found was the ludicrous difficulty level. I suspect a lot of this comes from the hardware, too. I'm pretty sure Mega Man and Bass have a lot more space in the original console version. Still, gamers looking for something fun to play on the road could do a lot worse. It's good for quick bursts, and it'll challenge you for a good, long while (especially if you play through the complete adventure as both robot protagonists). If you're not easily frustrated and you're aching for a good challenge, Megaman & Bass is just the ticket.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 23, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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