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.)
Community review by dagoss (October 07, 2008)
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