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Mega Man X6

Shame on you Capcom.  Mega Man X5 wrapped up the X saga more or less completely and should have lead into the Mega Man Zero series like planned.  But you had to get greedy.  The first question is: Why?  It’s not as though gamers were begging for another game in the X series on the PS One of all systems so close to 2002.  So I’m calling it like I see it, 100 % greediness.  And it more or less bit them in the ass.

Mega Man X6 was released near the end of 2001 for the PlayStation, less than a year after X5.  Continuing the plot 3 weeks after the disappearance of Zero a new virus is ravaging the near inhospitable surface of the planet dubbed the Zero Nightmare.  Taking up Zero’s Z-Saber X sets out to clear his late friend’s name.  As the sixth installment in the series Mega Man X6 brings nothing new to the table and survives by merely being a competent entry in the series for the most part.  The accelerated development schedule would unfortunately rear its head in many ugly ways that bring down the experience however.

If you’re familiar with any game in the series than you already know what to expect.  The sub tanks are here, the heart tanks, the boss weapons all return.  Like X5 you start out with a number of armors so you aren’t stuck with gimpy regular X.  Now equipped with the Z-Saber your offense is truly complete since you have the tools to deal with any threat, close or long range.  After defeating the Zero Nightmare early on you can then select Zero who plays exactly the same as he did before.

There are 2 additions to the game that do somewhat increase its longevity.  The nightmare system influences a few facets of the levels as you progress.  Defeating a boss will sometimes cause a random level to turn red and fall under the influence of the Nightmare, causing a variety of effects.  Some of these range from the mundane, such as changing the layout of boxes to the more severe, such as an increase in damage from enemies or changing the layout completely.

These also have an effect on the Nightmare Soul system.  Throughout the game are friendly reploids that need to be saved, much like X5.  However in this case if you are too slow the Nightmare enemies will permanently convert them into Mavericks who have to be destroyed.  These reploids have optional upgrades that you can equip, with the number determined by your rank.  Once a reploid has been converted they are gone for good so if that guy had a particular power up you wanted you are screwed.

So why is Mega Man X6 so divisive in reviews?  There’s a severe lack of polish to the whole package.  The game’s graphics are strictly average and at times sub-par.  The quick turnaround from X5 really shows in how simplistic most of the enemies and backgrounds are, with this extending even to the bosses.  The game’s character designer admitted to keeping the design’s simple due to a lack of time which sucks as the bosses are the highlight of any Mega Man game and here they border on generic.

I also question whether the game was play tested thoroughly because of the insane number of unavoidable cheap hits and how overpowered the enemies are compared to you right from the start.  In addition, there are sections of the game that are near impossible to progress unless you are using the right character or suit of armor and don’t even get me started on High Max.  About the only bright spot would be the amazing soundtrack; seriously, it’s incredible.  I’ve been listening to it for almost 10 years now and I’m still not tired of it.

The basic action is still well executed for the most part and if you can overlook the massive flaws I suppose you can still have fun.  I mean, it is still a Mega Man game, and no matter how tired the formula gets it does still make for a good time.  It doesn’t change the fact that the only reason this game exists is to milk a few more dollars out of the audience and they did so by cutting as many corners as possible.


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Mega Man X5

All good things must come to an end and so Capcom (initially) decided to end the X series at installment number 5.  This was a bit of a shock considering Capcom were the masters of milking a franchise dry at the time.   Although it would later turn out to be false Mega Man X5 was developed with the concept of finality in mind and as such would have been a fitting send off for the franchise.

Mega Man X5 was released in early 2001 for the US.  After his defeat at the end of X4 Sigma returns and purposely allows X and Zero to defeat him, thereby spreading the Sigma virus around the world and causing chaos.  In addition a mercenary named Dynamo has sent the space colony Eurasia on a collision course with Earth.  Our heroes have 16 hours to deal with this two pronged assault using one of 2 plans.  Although heavily story driven the immediate gameplay is exactly the same as you remember it and while there aren’t many new elements added the amount of content created is excellent and (would have) allowed the series to bow out with its head held high.

The Mega Man formula largely remains unchanged.  You still choose a level, defeat the boss, and gain their weapon.  The levels have heart tanks, sub tanks, and armor upgrades to find and are just as spacious as before.  There aren’t separate story arcs for X and Zero this time around; instead you can choose to play as regular X, Zero, or X in his final armor from X4 at the beginning of every level.  Destroying Eurasia after assembling the parts of the Enigma cannon is random and if it fails the game moves on to the second plan, crashing a shuttle into the colony to throw it off course.  These story events will also influence which of the multiple endings you’ll receive, most of these governed by time.

Now however there is a time limit that factors into gameplay in a few ways.  There is a 16 hour time limit before Eurasia crashes and most of your actions such as entering a level will use up 1 hour.  The effects of the time limit are felt the most during the boss battles.  The bosses will increase in level the longer you take, gaining new attacks and a much longer life bar if you truly suck at the game.  And speaking of bosses, really Capcom?  You named all 8 mavericks after Guns & Roses?  Whatever.

The amount of secrets has nearly tripled; there are reploids that can be saved for end of level bonuses, 4 armor upgrades, 2 additional suits of armor that can be assembled, and even Zero has an upgraded suit of armor waiting to be discovered.  It all comes down to managing that time limit and finding what you need in one shot to prevent the bosses from having a life bar 3 times as long as yours.

This is still a very pretty 2d game.  It might just be me but a lot of the rendered elements that were prevalent in X4 have been toned down, giving the game a much sharper 2d look.  There are no in your face special effects aside from the pretty cool looped backgrounds that are sadly underused.  By 2001 Sony had more or less stopped giving a damn about what was released on the PlayStation so more and more 2d games like the Mega Man series were released.  The soundtrack, a collaboration between 3 composers, is generally excellent however it remixes a few tunes from prior games, and not for the better.  Thank Christ there is no voice acting; I don’t think I could tolerate another abomination on the level as X4 and Mega Man 8.

With multiple endings, a truckload of secrets and an overall high level of polish this would have been a fitting farewell to the X series if Capcom had not succumbed to greed the following year.  It doesn’t break any new ground and truthfully does not need to.  The Mega Man games were largely designed for fans of the series and X5 is an ultra polished love letter to those fans.  Play this game and forget that X6 even exists so that your memory of the franchise isn’t tarnished.

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Mega Man X4

The 32-bit era were dark days for 2d gaming in the early years.  Sony actively limited the number of 2d games released on their console and while the Saturn was a powerhouse in that department the Sega of that generation had their head too far up their ass to show it off.  That Mega Man X4 was released in that period is something of a miracle but I guess it shouldn’t be surprising considering the relatively high profile of the series.   Mega Man X4 introduced enough new elements to the series to reinvigorate the stagnating gameplay and while it isn’t necessarily the revolution the first game was it still remains one of the better action platformers of that generation.

Mega Man X4 was released in the fall of 1997 worldwide.  Far more story driven than previous installments X4 follows X and Zero as they come into conflict with the Repliforce, a separate group of Maverick Hunters led by the General and his second in command, Colonel.  The Repliforce are branded as dangerous and tensions escalate when the Sky Lagoon crashes and they are blamed.  Rather than standing down and going into custody they instead choose to be branded as mavericks rather than abandon their ideals.  X and Zero are dispatched to stop the rebellion and unveil the mastermind behind it all.  Much like Mega Man 8 Capcom has loaded the game with FMV cut scenes to move the plot along and while grainy and saddled with terrible voice acting (good god the voice acting is bad!) are effective story telling tools.

If you are at all familiar with any game in the series you know what to expect.  Heart tanks are available to increase your life bar, sub tanks refill life, and new to the series are the weapon tank and EX tank which refill weapon energy and increase the number of default lives respectively.  At the start of the game you can choose to play as X or Zero and although you cover the same levels both have separate story arcs through the game with unique bosses and cut scenes.  Playing as X is exactly what you would expect however Zero represents a complete paradigm shift.

The Mega Man games have always primarily been about long distance attacks and hitting the enemy before they reach you.  Zero flips that premise and forces you to adapt to melee fighting.  The Z-Saber trades long range attacks for power and technique.  The 3 hit combo attack it possesses is devastating to enemies in a way the X-Buster lacks and is very rewarding at how fast you can clear a path through enemies.  Rather than lifting the boss’s weapons Zero learns new techniques for his Saber, some that require energy but most are standard techniques that can be used infinitely and boost your offensive power.

Unfortunately that power comes at a cost since Zero does not receive any upgrades to his armor as well.  Playing as Zero ups the challenge a bit, especially considering the game puts up quite a fight already.  The secrets are very well hidden and the bosses will punish you if you do not learn their patterns or exploit their weaknesses.  Despite that the game is more than worth powering through.

And its exceptionally pretty.  Eschewing the cartoon look of Mega Man 8 X4 features many rendered sprites and elements to better portray its more “hard” edge look.  Everything blows up in a spectacular shower of gears and sparks and the backgrounds exhibit the kinds of lavish detail Capcom was known for in the 2-d space.  I preferred the rendered look here over the saccharine tone of MM8; that isn’t to say it wasn’t a beautiful game just that it bordered on childish at times.   I know some people hate the rendered graphics and say it lacks the purity of traditional hand drawn art; fuck that.  This is a phenomenal display of 2d power that was a virtual feast for the eyes during a time where most 3d games were low frame rate stuttering messes that seemed like they could collapse if you sneezed too loud.

It was a ballsy move by Capcom to stick to 2-d at a time when every franchise made the leap to 3d regardless of whether it made sense or not.  While it can be argued that it was more of the same that isn’t necessarily a problem when the same old formula is so damn good.  Two semi unique quests and a wealth of secrets give Mega Man X4 plenty of replay value and make it more than worth your gaming dollars.

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Mega Man X3

At a time when most series were being held back for their 32-bit debut Capcom decided to give Mega Man X one last hurrah on the SNES.   Mega Man X3 was released at the tail end of the system’s life in the US and is among its last major releases.  As absurd as it sounds the original SNES release fetches a high price on Ebay because of its limited print run.  But is it worth those prices?

Mega Man X3 was released in 1996 for the US and Europe.  Following the events of Mega Man X2, Sigma has been defeated once again and Zero restored.  Dr. Doppler has largely neutralized the Maverick threat supposedly with his technology but things aren’t going well when the former mavericks create Doppler Town in his honor.  These suspicions prove true when they in turn attack Hunter HQ, with X and Zero sent to stop them along with Doppler.

Much like Mega Man X2 this installment is more focused on refining the series tropes rather than introducing new gameplay elements to the series formula.  The sub tanks, heart tanks, and upgradeable pieces of armor all return.  Unlike Mega Man x2 a large volume of new items have been added to the game to spice things up.  The most notable among these are the 4 ride armors that can be assembled and later deployed at select points on every level.  Previously these were only available for short periods but now you can choose which suit to use once gathered.  4 special chips will grant access to a major upgrade to one of your parts but only one can be accessed forcing a hard decision. Lastly this time around many of the boss’ special weapons have secondary functions necessary to find the upgrades adding an extra dimension to the proceedings.

This kitchen sink approach to the game’s design I imagine was to alleviate many of the criticisms lobbied at X2 and to a degree they work.  However most fall flat.  The multiple ride armors are a nice idea in theory but in practice are not worth it.  It takes far too long to find the necessary pieces for a given suit and when you finally are able to use it on a particular stage the segments are usually short before you’ll have to leave it behind.  I think giving the special weapons more uses was an awesome touch as it forced you to become familiar with the level layouts in order to find the secrets.

Completionists have their work cut out for them if they want to find everything, that’s for sure.  You have the option to switch to Zero at given way-points in every stage but this is half assed at best.  As Zero you cannot receive any armor upgrades or special weapons and you can’t even fight the end level bosses either.  It’s too bad the option to use Zero is so half baked but Capcom more than made up for it in Mega Man X4.

Rockman X3 (Opening) – PSX Game

A surprising amount of ports were made, most likely due to the game’s limited exposure so late on the SNES.  The PlayStation, Saturn, PC and even at one point the 3DO (don’t laugh, the 3DO garnered decent Japanese support in preparation for the upcoming consoles from Sony and Sega) were all home to a version of X3.  These ports added new music (and thank god for that, I hated the soundtrack), sound effects, and animated cut scenes to the game at the expense of increased load times.  All of these versions were only released in Japan and Europe with the exception of the PC game which saw release in the US in 1998.  While they aren’t necessarily vastly enhanced over the 16-bit edition these 32-bit games are the most feature complete and were included in the Mega Man X Collection for PlayStation 2 and GameCube.

As one last gasp for SNES owners Mega Man X3 isn’t the greatest in the series like Capcom probably hoped.  Although its new features aren’t fully explored like they should be they do add to the overall experience.  Whether it’s the SNES game or the X collection Mega Man X3 remains an excellent action game worth playing.

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Mega Man X2

It was a foregone conclusion.  It took Capcom many years to bring Mega Man to the SNES and when they did rather than retread the same ground they created a new character with a new continuity.  Mega Man X reinvigorated the franchise with some much needed improvements to the well trodden formula.  We all know how much Capcom loves to milk a series to death so it was no surprise when Mega Man X2 was announced the following year.

Mega Man X2 was released in 1994 in the US and Japan.  Following the events of the original game. 3 new maverick leaders called the “X-hunters” appear claiming to have pieces of Zero’s body in an attempt to distract X for some unknown purpose.  8 new Mavericks are dispatched and the adventure begins.  Largely the same as its predecessor, Mega Man X2’s sole innovation is the inclusion of the C4 chip, designed by Capcom to allow polygonal effects during gameplay.  While the effects it allows are underutilized Mega Man X2 remains an excellent addition to the series but loses points for being a carbon copy of the first game while dropping some of its more creative advancements.

An action platformer, most of the systems pioneered in Mega Man X apply here.  All 8 initial levels can be tackled in any order and have numerous hidden secrets to discover.  Heart tanks, sub tanks, and armor upgrades can be discovered throughout the levels with some hidden in very clever spots.  This time around there are 2 plot branches available depending on your actions in the levels.  The 3 X-Hunters are hidden randomly in the stages and defeating them will score a piece of Zero.  In truth the plot changes very little whether you defeat them or not; it’s more of an added challenge for those who seek it.  In many ways Mega Man X2 is a bigger & badder version of the first game but is still a step backward, most importantly in level design.

The levels have increased in size with many nooks and crannies not immediately obvious from the start.  The locations of the hidden items as I mentioned are very clever; you’ll really have to comb every pit and suspicious rock and sometimes even take leaps of faith.  Capcom definitely did not make it easy to fully power-up and that challenge is very welcome.  Some of the enhancements for X’s armor will assist in finding hidden power-ups and they are almost mandatory.

However one of the best features of Mega Man X, completing certain levels and causing massive changes in another is gone.  This is a huge blow to the game; not only did it make you consider the order you fight the mavericks but you could also consider the changes that would occur because of it.  Some of the changes were subtle, like the removal of particular enemies as you ascend the tower in Boomer Kuwanger’s stage.  It also added to the replay value by increasing the challenge and giving you twice the levels (almost).  You could argue the X-Hunters make up for this, since they change locations after every boss killed and will disappear after a certain point but it isn’t as well thought out as seeing Flame Mammoth’s stage completely frozen after defeating Chill Penguin.

But at least it’s a pretty game.  The X series was created with a more “hardcore” (those were the creator’s words not mine) look and it shows with the sophistication of the Maverick designs.  With an engine already in place Capcom were free to push the system further with more parallax scrolling in the backgrounds, sometimes 5-6 layers deep.  The C4 chip, while not as impressive as they would have hoped does still amaze in the way it mixes 3-d effects with 2-d graphics.  Some of the larger bosses feature impressive rotational effects and the occasional polygonal enemy, while gratuitous and out of place, has stunning animation.  Personally of the 3 SNES installments Mega Man X2 has my favorite soundtrack, equal parts rock and slow soothing tracks.  It’s a sight better than the third game that’s for sure (blech at that OST).

While not as original as the prequel Mega Man X2 is still an excellent action platformer.  If they would have kept some of Mega Man X’s ideas and taken them further then without question this would be the superior game.  As it stands it will have to settle for second best.

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Mega Man X

Throughout the 16-bit era almost every major franchise saw an update.  These iterations used the advanced features of the consoles of the time to really go to town and flesh out the original creators intentions.  From Mario to Castlevania to the Ninja Turtles your favorite gaming heroes were stepping out in style.  But one icon was curiously missing for the first half of that generation curiously enough.  Capcom made no bones about whoring Mega Man out over the years (the mental image I just conjured is so wrong) so it was odd they were taking their time. As it turns out they were making sure their flagship character got the treatment he deserved.

Mega Man X was released at the tail end of 1993 in Japan and the beginning of ’94 for the US to universal acclaim. I spent almost $70 for the game and was nearly grounded for it but it was worth every penny.  Just about everything you knew about Mega Man was thrown out as Capcom treated the X series as a new franchise.  Why start over?  By 1993 the original series was a sad and tired husk of its former self, having worn out its familiar formula through far too many installments. Establishing a new world allowed a clean break; without any constraints they were able to establish a new continuity with new characters and its own rules while at the same time keeping the elements gamers loved from the original series.

This new series takes place 100 years in the future and stars a new Mega Man created by Dr. Light but sealed away because he was too powerful.  After being unearthed, X was used as the blueprint for a new series of robots that could think for themselves and had free will named Reploids.  For a time peace reigned but a virus began to spread causing reploids around the world to go Maverick, thereby setting the stage for the series as we know it.

All of the familiar trappings from the original series return, but now have been expounded on and taken to the extreme.  The level and number of improvements to the formulaic pattern the Mega Man series has followed are absolutely staggering. The stage select is here in all its glory but now the levels are absolutely massive.  All of the added space is there for a reason: there are numerous power ups to collect this time around.  Heart Tanks to increase your life bar, Energy tanks and the biggest addition: new parts for your armor.  These capsules hidden by Dr. Light boost facets of your armor and are necessary if you want to find all of the hidden items.

But what truly makes the game special is the attention to detail.  The boss weapons you receive all have a secondary function when used in combination with your buster upgrade.  Charging them up and using them together is fun and will have you scrambling to see if that ledge you couldn’t reach before is now accessible.  The locations of some of the secrets are downright clever at times, challenging you to sometimes break your ingrained gaming knowledge to find them.  The order in which you complete the stages has even greater meaning, as killing one boss will drastically affect another level completely.  For instance, if you defeat Chill Penguin first, all of the lava and fire in Flame Mammoth’s stage is now frozen.  These little details all combine to give a richer experience.

There is far more story in the game than in previous MM games.  Mega Man X is not a silent protagonist and through his interactions with Zero you get a sense of his character and their camaraderie.  The bosses you face were normal Reploid citizens infected by the virus who have since gone Maverick rather than being robots built for the express purpose of fighting you, and to a degree you feel for them as you have to put them down.  The added complexity of the characters extends to the challenge.  By the later installments of the Mega man series you could power through the game off the strength of the Mega Buster alone.  Here that is nearly impossible, as even a fully powered shot barely makes a dent in their HP.  Becoming familiar with the workings of each weapon is necessary, and as a bonus, nailing a boss with their weakness will usually produce special animations such as Armored Armadillo losing his armor or Spark Mandrill becoming frozen in place.

The graphics are outstanding with expertly drawn backgrounds and awesome robot designs.  The art style used for the Mega Man X series is a bit more “adult” so to speak to further distinguish it from the classic series.  The more mature tone has resulted in a darker shift in the graphics but not to the extent that you would cal it grim and gritty.  While I’m not necessarily a fan of rock music, the soundtrack is too good for me to dismiss it.  This is very much the next generation Mega Man game we were all awaiting.

The only question remaining is: what took them so long?  Games of this caliber aren’t released very frequently but when they are it truly is an event.  Mega Man X totally does its heritage justice and ushered in a new age for Capcom’s mascot.  This was the shot in the arm the series badly needed and should be played by everyone.


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Mega Man 8

Unlike the 16-bit generation Capcom didn’t wait very long to start their Mega Man releases when the 5th generation came along.  Both Mega Man and the X series would see new releases in the US in 1997.  Mega Man 8 was released in the beginning of 1997 for both the Saturn and the Playstation to celebrate the series 10th anniversary and what a celebration it is.  With unparalleled animation and much needed gameplay additions it breathed new life into the aging series.

The story begins with 2 unidentified robots fighting in outer space.  After a brief skirmish they both crash land on Earth.  While this is going on, Mega Man is engaged in battle with Bass.  Their fight is interrupted by Dr. Light informing him that an unknown energy source has been found on a remote island and he should hurry before Dr. Wily reaches it first.  And here we begin.

Right away you know you’re in for a treat.  There are many cut scenes like the opening spread out in the game and while the picture quality is not the greatest, the animation is awesome.  They began flirting with cut scenes more and more in the later Mega Man games and now with the added CD space they were able to have fully animated cinemas, greatly enhancing the presentation.  While the animation is great, the sound is not, but more on that later.

It was just a matter of time until Capcom started using animated cut scenes in their games.  The video is slightly grainy but it captures the OG Mega Man charm so well.

Gameplay follows the Mega Man formula to a T.  Unfortunately they carried on the retarded decision to only allow you to fight 4 bosses at once from part 7.  There are no major upgrades this time around as well.  You receive the Mega Ball in the beginning but to be honest it’s completely forgettable.  It comes in handy in a few situations, such as using it to boost your jump but that’s about it. You retain all of your primary abilities from previous games.

What has changed, and this is completely understated, is the ability to use your chosen weapon in addition to your Mega Buster.  Boss weapons are mapped to a different button now and in addition to this you can use one weapon, switch to another and somewhat combine the effects of the two.  This is never mandatory but if you want to reach some of the out of the way screws you need to take advantage of this.  Auto’s shop returns with a load of items to buy.  However screws are limited, forcing you to choose carefully.

 

The Robot Masters are awesome and have a wide arsenal of attacks.  They border on being mini fighting game characters.

The bosses and their levels are truly a step above previous games.  The levels themselves are divided into 2 parts, often times switching up gameplay.  Frost Man’s stage makes extensive use of snowboarding.  Tengu Man has you hop aboard Rush for mock shooting segments.  Clown Man’s level has animated toys in the background that directly affect your progression throughout the stage.  This diversity keeps the game from getting stale.  The Robot Masters all have unique voices and this helps them come to life as they taunt you and call out the name of their attacks like an anime character.  Corny?  Sure.  Entertaining?  Absolutely.

This is what we’ve been waiting for.  Shame there weren’t that many 2d games during that generation.

The graphics are, in 1 word, phenomenal.  This is the 2d Mega Man we always dreamed of.  The stages are practically alive with activity.  Birds fly by in groups, background elements swing back and forth into the foreground, etc.  Every enemy is animated beautifully and blows in a shower of debris.  The amount of enemies that fill the screen at times with nary a hint of slowdown borders on absurd.  There are many times you’ll stop and just marvel at the animated insanity on display.

The soundtrack is also excellent; however this is offset by the biggest black mark on the game: the voice acting.  I’m not one of those elitist assholes who thinks all English voice acting is bad, but this is just sad.  All of the cut scenes are voiced, the bosses have a pretty large amount of speech and even Mega Man pipes in every so often.  Outside of a few exceptions most of them are terrible.  Dr. Light is especially bad.  That motherfucker sounds like Elmer Fudd.  Some of the voice samples made me stop and pause the game from laughing so hard.  Clown Man and Aqua Man in particular are comedy gold.  While it detracts from the game’s overall polish it doesn’t completely ruin the otherwise stellar presentation.

8 installments without many significant in later installments is enough for any franchise wear out its welcome.  Despite not bringing anything new to the series beyond its cut scenes and phenomenal graphics, Mega Man 8 still manages to be an excellent game that will provide many hours of entertainment and is worth your time.

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Mega Man 7

Just as it took years for the Mega Man X series to get its start on the SNES, the continuation of the original series did not come until the tail end of the SNES lifespan in the US.  Mega Man 7 was released in 1995 and unlike before is the only game in the main series on the system.

Picking up directly were Mega Man 6 left off Dr. Wily has finally been captured and is hauled off to jail.  However, a backup in case something like this ever happened releases 4 new robots to break him out of jail to wreak havoc on the world once again.  While giving pursuit Mega Man comes across a new robot called Bass with his own dog named Treble who inform him they are also fighting Wily after a brief skirmish.  And here the game begins.

They wasted no time showing off here!  I don’t blame them one bit though.

You retain all of your primary abilities from the previous games.  You run, jump, slide, and blast your way through the levels to beat the boss and steal their weapon for future use.  One new item that drops this time around are bolts that can be cashed in Auto’s shop.  The items he sells are more for convenience but some of them really do come in handy.  The only major addition to the game this time around comes in the form of Rush search, which allows Rush to sniff around for items wherever you are.  There are a massive amount of hidden items in the game you would never find without Rush search, some in ingenious locations.  These secrets are very handy, such as Protoman’s shield which allows you to block projectiles.

If you can find the letters RUSH you gain access to a combination of the power armor and jet adapter from Mega Man 6.  The boss weapons all have secondary functions that allow you to interact with the backgrounds in some way.  The Thunder Bolt for example can power up generators that will activate lights and platforms that are otherwise static.  They didn’t shake up the basic formula too much, however they did muck with what I believe was the defining trait of the series: the robot masters.

Unlike every other installment in the series with the exception of Part 1, you only get to choose from 4 robot masters initially.  After those 4 are defeated you then get to fight the remaining quartet.  This was a huge step back of one of the fundamentals of the MM series.  Half the fun of the games is that you have a large pool of potential targets to take out in whatever order you so choose.  Knowing that if you got your ass handed to you on one stage there were 7 other choices was awesome.  With that cut in half right from the start the proper “order” to tackle the bosses is a lot more cut and dry.  With the effective number of possible ways to run through the game cut the game’s replay value also takes a hit as a result.  Speaking of bosses, they are not as inspired as in previous episodes.  Shade Man just comes across as a bit silly and Junk Man is very reminiscent of Dust Man.

You only start out with 4 bosses!  4!  Who the hell thought that was a good idea?  Some of the Robot Masters are a bit hokey like Shade Man.  I get what they were going for but the homage to Ghouls & Ghosts can only carry him so far.

One thing that doesn’t disappoint are the graphics.  Capcom is known for having some of the best artists in the industry and they really went to town here.  The sprites are larger, the colors more vibrant, and the animation is fantastic.  Equal attention is given to the enemies as well as Mega Man himself.  The SNES color palette is given a thorough work out to make the world come to life.  It isn’t far-fetched to say that many of us wondered what the original series would like in 16-bit after the stellar work done with the X series.  I’m happy to say they did not disappoint.

The graphics and animation definitely do not disappoint.  It’s nearly cartoon like at times.

Its funny when you think about it but this is one of the weaker installments in the franchise.  Even with the amazing graphics you still have to take into consideration that this is the 7th installment in the main series and nothing was added to spice up the formula.  It’s doubly disappointing considering this came mere months before Mega Man X3 and that series really livened up the traditional blueprint of the series.  In spite of all that it is still worth your time if you can find it cheap.

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Mega Man 6

The final installment in the series for NES, Mega Man 6 oddly enough was released well after everyone else had moved on from publishing 8-bit games.  This included Capcom who opted not to release the game themselves and instead publishing duties fell to Nintendo of America, who released the game in the beginning of 1994 in the US.  The formula had been well worn by this point, especially in light of the improvements Capcom had made to it in the Mega Man X series.  But despite this it remains an enjoyable last hurrah for those who still had not moved on to the SNES or Genesis.

The story finds a robot tournament being held with participants from around the world.  Uh yeah, this sounds a little too much like another series that has fights that take place in the streets by the same publisher.  Mr. X reprograms the 8 most powerful robots and plans to use them to take over the world.  Mr. X my ass, we all know who he really is.  Mega Man will have none of that and so the game begins.

Back for one last dance on the NES.  Time to show Dr. Wily who’s boss once again!.

Gameplay is the same as the previous five installments.  You have your pick of 8 robot masters to fight in any order.  Your choice of boss order will largely determine how difficult your journey will be.  New this time are alternate pathways in the levels provided you have the necessary upgrades to reach them, a nice touch.  Rather than receiving upgrades for Rush, he now combines with Mega Man to form the Power Armor, which allows you to break select blocks in every level, and the Jet Adapter, which allows you to fly for brief periods.  These have their drawbacks in that you can’t slide or charge your shots, effectively gimping you and all but forcing you to switch back to normal instead of trying to finish a level with them.  Instead of collecting 8 letters to gain Beat, you only need 4 this time.  Lastly the energy balancer will automatically fill the weapon with the lowest energy, something brought over from Mega Man X.

Rush Power Armor and Rush Jet.  You’ll be using these extensively throughout the game.  Kind of wonder why they didn’t do this sooner.

2 of the bosses, Knight Man & Wind Man came from a contest held in America to design a boss.  This was similar to what the designers had done previously in Japan for nearly every installment.  In light of this fact the bosses are a slight letdown this time out.  Their patterns are really very simple.  Plant Man for instance will jump over you and then throw his shield.  That’s it.  Knight Man can only attack from close range.  Yamato Man has to run and pick his weapon back up after throwing it at you.

In the same way the bosses are a letdown their weapons are once again a rehash of prior games.  The C. Flash is exactly the same as the Gravity Hold from MM5, the Plant Barrier is the Leaf Shield all over again, and Knight C. works exactly like Cutman’s weapon.  The lack of challenge extends to the levels themselves.  Enemies drop extra lives left and right, and you’ll easily build up a large stock of energy tanks by the time you beat the 8 bosses.  The final levels do step up the challenge a bit and kind of make me wish the whole game was at that level.

Though some of the robot masters are a letdown, the mechanical designs throughout the game remain top notch.

By this point you know exactly what you are getting when you play a Mega Man game.  There is nothing wrong or offensive about Mega Man 6 but by this point the redundancy was very obvious and you can see why the Mega Man X series was needed.  In spite of it offering nothing new and as a final hurrah it allows the Mega Man series to bow out of the 8-bit era with its head held high.  Whether you still have it in you to play yet another Mega Man game is up to you.

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Mega Man 5

After the backlash against Mega Man 4 Capcom went back to the drawing board and released the follow up in the same year.  Mega Man 5 was released in December 1992 for all territories except Europe.  A bold move, as the 16-bit systems were hitting their stride and most other franchises had moved on.  It pretty much focused on executing the core concepts of the Mega Man series well rather than trying to bring something new to the table.  In that respect it succeeds but also suffers from playing it a bit too safe.

Protoman has shown up with 8 robot masters in tow and is wreaking havoc across the world.   In addition he kidnaps Dr. Light for that added bit of evil.  With a heavy heart Mega Man decides to end his brother’s rampage and the game begins.  Mega Man 5 continues the trend of trying to introduce new villains to give Dr. Wily a break but in the end we all know who the ultimate mastermind behind the game’s events will be.

Right away the bosses this time around are far more interesting than Mega Man 4.  Star Man, Gravity Man, Gyro Man, Stone Man, Crystal Man, Charge Man, Napalm Man, and Wave Man are a damn sight more appealing than friggin Dust Man and Toad Man.  Gameplay is identical to all of the other games, meaning you still have the slide, Rush, and the Mega Buster.  You lose your built up charge shot when hit this time and the graphic for it has been reworked.  It might just be me but in addition to a graphic tweak it seems to charge up faster and is far more powerful.  The only addition this time out is Beat.  By collecting the chips that spell out the name of the game you will gain the use of Beat who will fight alongside you when summoned.   While a nice gesture it’s completely forgettable.

Beat is the only additions this time out.  The charged shot is drastically overpowered now.

With more interesting bosses comes attention grabbing levels.  It is here where Capcom began to step things up.  Wave Man’s stage introduced a vehicle you pilot halfway through to the end.  Not a big deal, but a nice touch that would be expanded on tremendously in the X series.  There are sections in Gyro Man’s stage that require pinpoint precision jumping to navigate.  You contend with gravity switching in, who else, Gravity Man’s stage and Star Man’s stage has you space jumping all over the place.

The boss weapons on the other hand are a bit of a mixed bag.  The Charge Kick is almost as useless as the Top Spin from Mega Man 3 and the Crystal Eye functions similarly to the Gemini Beam, meaning its best used head on.  The Water Wave only affects enemies on the ground, doesn’t pass through them, and is pretty weak.  The Gravity Hold is awesome for saving your ass when the screen is too crowded but causes the enemies to not drop power-ups.  The Gyro Attack is like a Metal Blade that you can manipulate after release.  Your charged shot actually turns out to be one of your best weapons as it does more damage than most of the boss’s and you can use it infinitely.  I remember the Nintendo Power article on the game and couldn’t believe they suggested using your normal weapon in most cases.  But having played the game for myself it’s actually a viable strategy.

 

The bosses are pretty cool but their weapons leave much to be desired.  Pray to god you don’t miss with the Crystal Eye and thankfully you’ll only use the Charge Kick for one boss.

On the surface the Mega Man 5 doesn’t seem to be a large step up graphically from 4. However there are numerous little enhancements strewn about.  There is much more use of parallax scrolling, and once again the trend of ever larger enemies continues, especially on Wave Man’s stage.  Numerous rotating sprites, including Mega Man himself are scattered about and the effect looks pretty cool.  By this point the engine was well tested and they continued pushing it forward with this game.  There are far more sprites on screen at once and everything is nicely animated.  The music this time around was composed by Mari Yamaguchi, a newcomer to the series who would go on to score the Breath of Fire series.  Her fresh perspective would prove welcome as the game has a fantastic score.

As you can see the graphics are amazing for an NES game.  They knew their engine inside and out by this point.

The only crime Mega Man 5 can really be accused of is not bringing anything new to the table.  Whether that is because of a shortage of ideas or just not wanting to offend gamers after 4 we’ll never know.  In spite of that the core gameplay is still great.  You don’t see many series reach 5 installments, let alone on the same platform which is a testament to the formula Capcom created.

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Mega Man 3

Coming off the momentum gained from Mega Man 2 it would have been easy for Capcom to rest on their laurels and churn out an easy sequel.  Mega Man 2 has achieved legendary status and rightfully so.  But in creating part 3 they introduced  a host of improvements on the series formula, many that would go on to become mainstays of the series. Equal parts refinement and innovation Mega Man 3 continued the hit streak Capcom had achieved with part 2 and is every bit its equal in my eyes.

Mega Man 3 was released in 1990 in the US and Japan.  I still was not reading gaming magazines on a regular basis at this point so my only knowledge of game releases was seeing them in stores or advertisements.  I saw an ad for the game in one of my comic books and the rest is history.

I remember losing my mind upon seeing this!  With no set release dates games simply showed up in stores.

The game begins with Dr. Light and Dr. Wily having teamed up to create a powerful robot to promote world peace.  Parts from 8 robot masters are needed to complete it and so the game begins.  8 new robot masters await along with a new antagonist in the form of Breakman, later revealed to be Protoman. You’ll notice right away most of the bosses don’t use the familiar fire, water, air, etc. archetypes.  For some it came across as a minus because it isn’t immediately obvious what weapon will work on each one.  I applaud Capcom for going against the grain.

Fire Man? Ice Man?  Get that shit out of here!  This ain’t Captain Planet!  The robot designs in this game are really top shelf.

Once again each boss is weak against a particular weapon and the rock, paper, scissors aspect of all Mega Man games is here in full force.  Using the base knowledge gained in MM 2’s creation they pushed the level designs further than ever with bigger enemies and more thrown at you at once.  New to the series is the ability to slide, a nice compromise for the missing ability to duck. This time around rather than collecting different platform generating items they have all been consolidated in the form of Rush, your canine companion.

The ability to slide is a huge addition; not being able to duck always struck me as stupid and there were far too many situations where you had no choice but to take damage because of it.  Enemy placement is much more devious because you now have the tool to dodge their attacks even in tight spaces.  Plenty of passages that can only be accessed by sliding dot the levels, and some deceptively lead to bottomless pits.  Lastly a new sub boss named Proto Man will fight at the mid point of half the levels before leaving and continually shows up during the rest of the game.

One aspect that I especially like is that Mega Man 3 is longer and more difficult than previous installments.  After the first 8 bosses you must then tackle the 4 Doc Robot stages, each with 2 returning bosses from Mega Man 2.  These levels are remixed versions of 4 of the initial levels.  The difficulty really ramps up on these levels as it is assumed that you are intimately familiar with the trappings of the game and are ready to put your skills to the test. It’s a nice touch and even satisfies those fantasy scenarios people come up with.  “I bet Air Man could kick Spark Man’s ass!”  Uh uh, I don’t think so.

Old meets new.  These fights were awesome as you had to figure out how to kill them all over again using new weapons.

Wily’s Castle is also longer with far more stages.  There are many sections in the game that require near perfect execution or you will die.  Most of the initial bosses require deft reflexes to beat if you don’t have the weapon to exploit their weakness.   A noticeable side effect of there being so many enemies on screen and much bigger ones to boot is crippling slowdown.  I didn’t remember the slowdown being bad in some parts but I guess my nostalgia goggles are on strong.  The boss patterns are very unforgiving in that slight hesitation will be met with a large chunk of life lost.    There’s no overpowered Metal Blade to save your ass this time.  I have to mention the Top Spin weapon that no matter its used makes you look like a fairy and is useless outside one instance.  Oh man it would have been hilarious if you could only beat the final boss with it!

Speaking of bosses, a funny aside, in the boss rush in Wily’s castle, almost all of the bosses are weak against their own weapon with some dying in 1 hit.  Don’t ask what possessed me to even try it out back in 1990 but it was awesome when it actually turned out to be a valid strategy. Kind of like killing the final boss in Mystic Quest using life spells.

Anyway you slice it Capcom recognized the winning formula they had established and didn’t shy away from making additions to it in order to make it better.  Graphically and musically it meets and surpasses its predecessor.  This remains my favorite game in the original series, an opinion shared by many.  The debate on whether part 2 or 3 is the best will rage on forever but honestly it doesn’t matter.  Both games are seminal parts of any NES library and are worth the price you pay to experience greatness.

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Mega Man 2

The story goes that the original Mega Man was not a huge success.  Looking at that box art I think we can all agree that it isn’t very shocking.  However the team believed in the character and wanted to fully explore the world that they had created and were given the green light to work on the game in their free time so long as it didn’t impact their 9-5 work.  That decision would pay off as Mega Man 2 would go on to become one of the best selling games in the series as well as commonly voted as one of the greatest games of all time.

Bigger and badder than ever, these bosses are now legendary.

Dr. Wily has returned and built 8 robot masters of his own design for you to fight.  The sequel largely follows the same formula as the original but comes with a legion of improvements.  Many of the series tropes were established here.  The difficulty has been dialed back this time;  to some degree the game is almost a bit too easy not that there aren’t areas that will still test your platforming skills.  You have an option to select the difficulty at the start although it really doesn’t make too much of a difference.  Energy tanks can be found, allowing you to refill your life.  This addition is probably the biggest reason for the ease at which you can breeze through the game since you can simply brute force your way past the harder bosses.

The game is also longer this time and thank the heavens you are given passwords after every level.  The one caveat though is you will always start at Wily stage one no matter what code you are given there.  The magnet gun is replaced by Items 1-3 which perform the same basic function but are more situational.  You receive these after beating specific bosses to prevent everyone from missing them unintentionally like the Magnet Gun of the first game.  The insane boss rush at the end of the original has been replaced with teleporters that take you to the bosses instead of facing them one right after the other with no break in between.

The game benefits from the team’s experience creating the first game in all facets.  Graphically they now had an idea what the NES could do and in turn the levels have became more imaginative.  Obviously they’re all themed after each particular boss and the traps throughout the levels evoke this.

They decided to push the envelope a bit in terms of enemy size.  This was a serious technical achievement back in 1989.

The bosses themselves are probably the most famous and recognizable in the entire series; the selection they chose for the game really is outstanding.  The soundtrack is arguably the best in the series with many of the level themes regularly voted as some of the greatest tracks of all time.  If the Wily stage theme doesn’t get your blood pumping you need to see a doctor cuz you ain’t human.  My personal favorites are the Flashman, Bubbleman, and Heatman themes.

The game was very much a labor of love for the creators, literally.  In every aspect of the game’s design you can see that the designers were very cognizant of the flaws of the first game and fixed them while also introducing their own ideas as to how the series should progress.  The first 8 levels present little challenge, but as you make your way through Wily’s castle the game forces you to step your game up.

Time to step your game up!  They’re not playing around anymore by this point.  Some of these bosses can be tricky.

I love that slow ramp up games had in those days, where you are given a set of tools whose uses are limited at first but as you progress the situations you find yourself in demand you meet the challenge.  This is how seasoned gamers are born, and this game reinforces that theme perfectly.  Many of the series tropes were established here: 8 levels to start followed by Wily’s fortress, the boss rush at the end, and even the password format used.

It’s crazy to think the team made this game in their spare time but when the passion is there legendary games are created and Mega Man 2 easily shares that distinction.   This is definitely one of the greatest games of all time and should be not be missed by anyone.

10-out-of-10

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Bonus: The soundtrack for the game is incredible and has sparked a wide variety of remixes and tribute albums.  Some of my favorites include:

Project Megaman (taken straight from their youtube page) – Project Megaman is a Jazz/Fusion Cover Quartet that specializes in improvising over re-harmonized video game music primarily from the popular Nintendo game Megaman I, II, and III, along with other classic N.E.S. games.

This is one of the more unique remixes I’ve come across and is fantastic.  Here’s a sample:


The Greatest Bits – A tribute album dedicated to Mega Man 2.  Very awesome renditions of the songs in the game.  Feel free to go to the website to hear samples.

http://www.thegreatestbits.com/Music.html


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Mega Man

It shouldn’t have happened.  He shouldn’t have been popular.  Oh I don’t mean because the game sucks, far from it.  I’m talking about the giant elephant in the room that comes up whenever the first Mega Man game is brought up.  Here take a look:

I’ve been looking at this box art for over 20 years now and I still think WTF when I see it

Seriously what the hell?  How in god’s name did someone actually think that actually got the point across?  That Mega Man went on to become one of the most popular gaming icons of all time speaks volumes about the quality of the games he stars in.

Mega Man was released in 1987 and immediately stood out from the pack.  There were plenty of platformers at that point, but none of them imbued their main character with as much character as the blue bomber.  Nearly every aspect of his character shows through in his sprite.  When he attacks his arm morphs into his cannon and even during his normal walking animation you can see the determination on his face.  When he gets hit you can see him wince in pain. And he blinks!  Such small details, but they added so much.  The bosses you face also exhibit the same level of polish and truly are characters unto themselves.

Mega Man innovated in nearly every aspect starting with the stage select screen.  The ability to select which boss to tackle first was so awesome at the time, and even to this day trying to figure out the best boss order is an awesome rush.  There have been plenty of games that have used this mechanic since then, but the Mega Man series still remains the only one in which the order you tackle the levels affects how challenging the game is.  It also served as a great replay value incentive, as you could play the game and tackle the levels in different order every time.  The non linear level select is one of THE best elements of the franchise.

The biggest innovation came from gaining a boss’s weapon after defeating them.  This was mind-blowing for the time.  That would have been enough to push the game (and series) into god tier status, but was taken a step further.  Each boss was weak to a specific weapon.  The possibilities here were just incredible; you looked forward to fighting a boss just to see if a weapon you had just obtained would completely decimate them in seconds.  Finding the optimal order to breeze through the game became the goal.  Many games gave you power-ups but they always paled in comparison to what the bosses possessed.  Now you got to use them.  It was like a childhood dream come true and would become a hallmark of the series.

You see that?  You get to do that too after beating them.

All of these gameplay innovations would not have amounted to much if the level designs were terrible but the stages shined just as bright as the play mechanics.  Every level followed the boss’s “theme” and informed the enemies and obstacles you would face.  From the enemies to the traps they all fit.  The weapons you received sometimes also came into play while traversing the levels and also helped you obtain other power ups, further emboldening you to figure out the best order to take out the robot masters.

This particular installment in stark contrast to the rest of the series is freakishly hard.  A part of it comes from being the first in the series so properly adjusting the difficulty would have been challenging.  But frequent spike pits, bottomless pits, etc. don’t help.  A lot of the enemies take away large chunks of life; in particular the Big Eye’s that guard the entrance to every boss.  And speaking of bosses, while it is nice that you can tackle them whenever you want, the truth is for this specific installment, outside of 1 or 2 you will get murdered trying to fight the rest without exploiting their weakness.  The difficulty ramps up even further in Wily’s castle.  I doubt most gamers that have played the game in its heyday made it past the Yellow Devil.  And he’s the first frickin boss!

You will learn to hate this mofo and all he represents.  What would that be?  The steel toed boot crushing your dream of seeing the end of this game.

The last stage has an insane boss rush, one that requires near perfect execution to stand a chance.  There is no down time between each boss to refill your life or weapon meters; you face the next one right away.  It’s funny when I look back, my elementary school started at 9 so we would go over to a friend’s house and try to finish a variety of different games before leaving, with this being one of the most frequent targets.  We were eventually good enough to make it to Wily’s fortress in about an hour but that damn Yellow Devil was the brick wall we couldn’t tear down.

For those that like a good challenge or would just like to see the roots of the Mega Man series this still remains a fantastic game that will keep you occupied for few hours if not even longer and is definitely deserving of  its classic status.




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