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Mega Man (NES) artwork

Mega Man (NES) review


"Despite the popular notion that the Mega Man series never evolved (or became more “intelligently designed”) as it progressed, the series actually underwent many fundamental changes in its early NES installments. While the differences between the first Mega Man and Mega Man 6 are pretty blatant, even the refinement that took place between MM1 and MM2 or MM3 and MM4 cannot be overstated. Anyone that has played these games over and over (and over)..."



Despite the popular notion that the Mega Man series never evolved (or became more “intelligently designed”) as it progressed, the series actually underwent many fundamental changes in its early NES installments. While the differences between the first Mega Man and Mega Man 6 are pretty blatant, even the refinement that took place between MM1 and MM2 or MM3 and MM4 cannot be overstated. Anyone that has played these games over and over (and over) for speed run purposes or because they lack newer games will begin to see fundamental changes that took place in the series, both as Capcom became a better developer and as the direction that the series was taking shifted.

The first installment genuinely lacks such direction. There is a naivety to its design, like it really doesn't know what it's trying to do. Though the series is better known for, you know, action, the first Mega Man is a highly methodical and tedious experience. Take, for example, Ice Man, whose method of attack is a pre-determined pattern that never changes: he skates forward, jumps, fires three slow-moving blades of ice, then fires three more as he jumps again. The effect is a lethargic yet steady wave of projectiles in the shape of y=sin(x) through which our blue hero must navigate – compare this to Quick Man in Mega Man 2, who darts around at unpredictable speeds firing energetic boomerangs in all directions. Then there is the Yellow Devil, who phases from the left side of the screen to the right by moving one tile at a time. Even the final boss is a test in patience over reflexes as the player dodges slow moving projectiles that drift in concentric circles.

Levels too have a significant amount of tediousness to them. There are some segments, for example, that take place on platforms that move through the air with no predictability. They sporadically shoot horizontally, and if such firepower connects with the player an immediate death will ensue. Crossing such regions can be absolutely excruciating if the platforms are not lining up properly – one must wait, and wait, and wait for everything to be in the right position, for the enemy to stop firing, etc before taking an often risky jump. There are also ladders on which the player must pause to wait for bursts of electricity to disperse and lengthy, bland corridors with flying enemies spawning from the right side of the screen. All of this is exasperated by obstacles that frequently deal significant damage – the slow and clumsy eye robots guarding most bosses, for example, can nearly kill a healthy player in two hits.

Mega Man has something of an identity crisis. It holds on to many of its arcade roots while still embracing the terminal experience that was developing on consoles. It doesn't know how to create fair difficulty, it doesn't understand how to design levels, it hasn't figured out how to form attractive enemy patterns, so it just sort of guesses at what it should be doing and hopes for the best. The score system – which is absolutely pointless in a game with no time limit and enemies that respawn when returning to a screen – and segments in which enemies constantly reappear from the right side of the screen feel like vestiges from the arcades that Capcom couldn't embrace but did not have the heart to remove either. All of this creates a sense that the levels aren't fully realized or aren't finished, which is only confounded by numerous instances of poor platform placement and cheap glitches.

For example, once while speeding my way through Fire Man's level, I found it prudent to jump across a pit while shooting at an enemy that was in my way, thus saving time. This enemy, however, dropped a power up (which I didn't need), which in turn caused Mega Man to lose momentum and plummet to his death upon obtaining it. There was another area in which several hopping enemies were situated above me as I climbed a ladder. These creatures are programmed to instinctively jump towards the ladder, and thus fall down it and hit the player with no chance to evade. Collision detection isn't exactly spot-on either.

Despite its glaring faults, Mega Man still made numerous enduring contributions to games, the most interesting perhaps being its music. It's hard to ignore names like Rock and Roll that suggest music was an important part of Capcom's vision, even if the titular name was conspicuously absent from the American localization thanks to a copyright conflict. It isn't so much that the tracks are good – let's face it, good music has been around for awhile – it's that the tracks are actually relevant to what is happening on the screen. Ice Man's stage has a slick jingle to it that is highly appropriate for its cold setting, while Elec Man's music makes heavy use of synthesizers that sound similar to the jolts of electricity throughout the level. Fire Man's music is particularly interesting, with is pounding rhyme to match the level's mechanical nature while coming close at times to exploding into some sort of Bach-esque counterpoint with its melody.

Variety is something that Mega Man clearly excels at. While Mario was romping around in nonsensical levels that offered little difference from the previous level, Capcom infused Mega Man with themed environments based around its bosses. Some of these are quite obvious – Ice Man resides in the arctic while Fire Man hangs around some sort of magma factory – though others are subtle, such as the round buildings in Bomb Man's stage that suggest, you know, bombs. Then there there are the weapons – seven in all – which serve very different functions, many not even conforming to the tried and true “every weapon must be a projectile” mentality.

It is, however, hard to get excited about such features -- which are now so commonplace and so easy to overlook -- and much simpler to focus on Mega Man's most damning fault: it's old! And it's primitive. And it's old. While it represented many fresh ideas, there is a clear sense that Capcom was fumbling around in the dark as they went along. They were sitting in the middle of that awkward transition between arcades and home consoles, and they just didn't know what parts went where. It's certainly an interesting and recommend play for anyone that likes games, but it lacks the sense of relevance that games like Super Mario Bros 3 or later Mega Man titles still manage to conjure. Sure you should play it, but never forget that it is an antique, and at its heart fundamentally outdated.

(By the way, fuck Ice Man.)

Rating: 7/10

dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (October 07, 2008)

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honestgamer posted October 07, 2008:

This is a pretty good review that I think does a nice job of capturing what was wrong with the first Mega Man. A point you didn't really make that I was expecting to see was how the elements you described were refined for later installments. You kind of hinted at that--particularly in your intro--but that didn't really make it into the main text. It felt a little bit to me like a point that got lost along the way, though maybe it was never something you wanted to talk about. Either way, this was a solid review... and timely, I'm sure.
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dragoon_of_infinity posted October 07, 2008:

It's a pretty good review, although I think it's a little weird to criticise an old game for being old, and the first game in a series for not having everything nailed down exactly. It's not so much that you mention it, as the fact that you keep mentioning it. That was the point, I suppose, but of course it's old and unrefined. It's Mega Man 1, one of the earliest examples of its genre.

But that said, all of the criticism is pretty valid. Mega Man had a truely mechanical feel to it (puns!) that was smoothed out a lot in the later games. It was a good review that I found was very persuasive in its argument.

Edit: Fuck Ice Man.
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Suskie posted October 07, 2008:

I think it's a little weird to criticise an old game for being old

You're not around here very much, are you? That's the number one complaint old games get on HG.
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dagoss posted October 07, 2008:

Thank you everyone!

A point you didn't really make that I was expecting to see was how the elements you described were refined for later installments. You kind of hinted at that--particularly in your intro--but that didn't really make it into the main text

That is because I want to review more of the NES Mega Man games, and I'd like the gradual refinement of the series to be a common theme. These are without question my favorite games, so I obviously want to go into more detail than what I did here.
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dragoon_of_infinity posted October 08, 2008:

You're not around here very much, are you? That's the number one complaint old games get on HG.

Not as much as I should be, no. I'm working on that.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 08, 2008:

Haha. Good review. I really don't see a problem with arguing that the game's bad because it's old (indeed, some games are still good for their age, but that's not the point here) as long as you back it up, which you do here. I understand everything you're trying to say well; I can picture everything clearly. It's also entertaining, which is always a plus.

I look forward to any other reviews you produce.
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overdrive posted October 09, 2008:

Pretty spot on, I thought. You get kudos or curses for making me remember my least favorite part of that game......where you have to jump from those randomly moving platforms. It was unbearable in Ice Man's stage and I think you do it again in Wily's Castle, don't you, with the difference being the spiked ceiling and floors? Nothing like randomly moving around, hoping your platform doesn't take you right into the ceiling.....

And it also made me remember I reviewed this game in Dec. of '03 (and put it here in Jan of '04) and those platforms pissed me off so much, I devoted two full paragraphs to them. If I recall correctly, that was my first review after going full-time to essay form. So you brought up all kinds of memories for me. I think I'll get drunk and maudlin tonight, sobbing about past failures and shit.....
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pickhut posted October 09, 2008:

Yeah, it happens again in Wily's castle. When I tried beating the game the last time, maybe 6 months ago, these two parts became annoying. I would stand on the ground in Ice Man's stage, waiting for up to 3 or 4 minutes for a platform to finally reach me. It happened again in Wily's castle, except I ended up waiting an absurd 10 minutes. I turned off the game after that.

Edit: Is it me, or is HG's time a few minutes behind?
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EmP posted October 14, 2008:

Your intro is a little silly. You say MM a lot very close together and the line about people still playing Mega Man games over and over seems a little far fetched to me. I dunno, maybe people do. But the real complaint is how you make this claim then go nowhere with it.

Here is a random typo: There are also ladder on which the player must pause

Curse you, Ladder!

Mega Man reviews always seem to end in a score completely unreflective of the text, and here is no different. You tear Mega Man to shreds at time, and do so well. Saying that mega Man is overly hard mainly because of design flaws and outdated obsoletes is a point well made, but then you excuse this all because you liked the music and the levels have solid diversity. The latter point is poignant and well explored and is probably the only bit of relevant praise offered all review. I see that you plan to review more Mega Man games, but, by starting the foundation on such a high, how are you going to then illustrate the series evolution?

I also feel bad for Iceman.

Here’s another typo to close things out: and at it's heart fundamentally outdated
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joseph_valencia posted October 14, 2008:

Those Ice Man platforms are frustrating, but they can be by-passed completely with the Magnet Beam. Now what's really annoying is Fire Man and the way he randomly and aggressively spams his fire wave attack.
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dagoss posted October 14, 2008:

It's actually not random. He prioritizes keeping a set distance between you and him; if he is within that distance, he will use fire wave repeatedly until you either move towards or away from him, which will cause him to move in kind.

...the line about people still playing Mega Man games over and over seems a little far fetched to me. I dunno, maybe people do.

I do!! I've been playing through one of the NES games like once per week since they've come out. Any time I find myself at home with an hour to kill, in goes the Mega Man. It's actually kind of pathetic, now that I think about it. In fact, If I hadn't bothered to write this post, I might have spent a few minutes before bed drilling Toad Man in the face.

I will try to address your complaints in any revisions I make. I'm not surprised that there are typos -- I actually wrote this review impromptu in like an hour span. On an unrelated note, I finished my (first) masters thesis this week, so that's fun too.
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psychopenguin posted October 15, 2008:

Considering there's like 30,000 Mega Man games it's not far fetched to think people still play them. I know I still do and the original six are still some of the most popular NES games out there.

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