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Mega Man Review Rewind

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On 11/19/2014 at 12:00 PM by Jamie Alston

Rise of the machines.

Great for anyone with a love for platformers and a lot of patience.

The original Mega Man was the perfect NES action game: powerups, platforming, shooting, and controller-tossing difficulty merged with ‘80s story conventions: the convergence of man and machine, greed, and technology gone rogue. I can only imagine what people were thinking when they picked it up in 1987 and saw a silly middle-aged fellow stuck in an uncomfortable pose with his pistol on the box cover; I’ll bet they wouldn’t be thinking that in a few decades there would be people dressed up as Mega Man along the streets of Hollywood, making a quick buck posing with tourists. It all started with a great game that is still great today.

As the story goes, Dr. Light created a near-human robot, Mega Man, with the assistance of his colleague Dr. Wily. Together they developed six additional humanoids for industrial purposes: Bomb Man, Guts Man, Cut Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, and Fire Man. But Dr. Wily was disloyal and reprogrammed the humanoids so he could control the world and its natural resources.  However, Mega Man resisted the reprogramming and chose to hunt down the six “Robot Masters” and bring Wily to justice.

Where this game succeeds the most right off the bat is with the level design. Each Robot Master’s stage has a going theme that befits their various abilities.  For instance, Fire Man’s stage features areas with lava and enemies made of fire particles; Guts Man’s stage is located in a rock quarry with certain enemies resembling a construction worker (hard hat and all).  Most of the character designs are quite unique, to say the least.  You’ll have to contend with a variety of small and mid-sized robots that range from easily defeated floating penguins to the troublesome shield-wielding Sniper Joes.

Each stage ends with Mega Man passing through a brief gauntlet before finally facing that stage’s boss.  Once victorious, the boss for that stage will explode into small particles of light and you get collect the power core they leave behind.  Arguably the best part of the Mega Man series is the joy of defeating the near-impossible bosses by using the weapons of fallen Robot Masters.  Each of them has a specific weakness to the others’ abilities. Take Ice Man, for instance; if he seems too tough to beat, try using Elec Man’s Thunder Beam on him.  You’ll find that it makes life a lot easier.  Of course, there’s always at least one Robot Master that can be (relatively) easily defeated with Mega Man’s normal Buster cannon.  Figuring out each boss’s weakness added a layer of strategy uncommon in games back then.

The NES library still has a reputation for brutal difficulty, likely in part because of games like Mega Man.  Anyone who played any of the other games in the series can expect to see their fair share of cheap hits, missed jumps, and energy or weapon items teasingly placed out of reach.  But this first game had a particular viciousness to it.  The frustration of dealing with those dreaded disappearing brick patterns in Ice Man’s stage or the electrical beams in Elec Man’s stage will forever haunt me.  Each stage has at least one section that can potentially make you want to give up and quit after a while if you lack the patience to carefully time jumps or deal with those sine patterns of certain floating enemies.

Mega Man controls very well for the most part, though he tends to slide a little bit when coming to a stop from running.  This makes it tricky when trying to navigate jumps on narrow platforms, or those infernal vanishing bricks I mentioned earlier. When Mega Man takes a hit, he’s knocked back a little, which also leads to countless cheap deaths.  The slippery conditions on Ice Man’s level don’t help much either.  Even so, it’s not so prevalent to the point of making the game unplayable.

Practice, but only a lot, lot, LOT of it, will make perfect. Dying anywhere other than in the boss area will set you back further than you’ll like. Each level has only one checkpoint before you reach the Robot Master, meaning that unless you make it far enough into the level, you’ll start back at the beginning upon death. And while none of the stages are particularly long, they have their fair share of deathtraps you won’t look forward to repeating if you die.

From the start, the series has always had a pleasing quality not often seen on the NES.  The colors are bright and add to the very cartoon look and feel of the game.  It’s never hard to tell what object is an enemy and what’s a powerup or platform.  Everything stands out just right.  It’s also pretty cool to see Mega Man change colors when using a copied ability from a defeated Robot Master. But most of all, I just love that brief freeze-frame that happens when Mega Man collects energy pellets for his health or ammo. I can’t tell if it was intentionally programmed into the game or if it was just a side effect of some hardware limitation, but it definitely contributed to the game’s uniqueness that lasted well into the series.

The audio complemented the game very well.  My personal favorite would have to be the music in Cut Man’s stage.  Fire Man’s tune is my second favorite.  The only downer is that some of the tunes in the game sound tinny; Capcom still had some tweaking to do with audio presentation.  That issue aside, you can still tell where they were going with it. Interestingly enough, the tune that plays once that stage has been selected (just before starting the actual stage) has appeared in various other Mega Man games on and off throughout the series.  Even Mega Man X on the Super NES has it.

The sometimes mind-boggling difficulty and lack of a save feature keeps Mega Man shy of a perfect score. The game was unique for its time, had great level and character designs, and is still fun to play. It’s a game definitely worth playing, especially if you’re interested in going back to experience video game history. It’s a great start to a series and a cultural phenomenon that, thanks to his recent inclusion in the Super Smash Brother series, shows no sign of abating.

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In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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Remy LeBeau

11/19/2014 at 12:33 PM

Nice review! I miss this series. I've played through all of them, but never really cared for the first game. It's kinda rough. Having the proper weapon against the bosses definitely gave you a huge edge though. Guts Man can be taken out in three hits! It wasn't always so obvious in some of the later games.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/19/2014 at 06:17 PM

Yeah, Mega Man 1 can be a little rough around the edges, especially if you played the later games in the series before this one. And yeah, I think Mega Man 3 and 4 was where some of the Robot Masters' weaknesses were getting a little ambiguous.


11/19/2014 at 10:14 PM

This first one is good and unforgivingly difficult at times.  While I think the Robot Masters can be hard at first, Dr. Wily's castle is the real challenge.  The Rock Monster is probably the hardest boss in the game.  I always had to cheat using my NES Advantage "slow" button to down him.  Picked this up on the VG for my WiiU.  A must have.  Megaman 2 while better wouldnt have happened without this one.  

Cary Woodham

11/20/2014 at 07:19 AM

I first played Mega Man 2, but I liked it so much I went back and rented the first one.  Not as good as the sequel of course, but I liked it enough to beat it. 

Have you ever played Mega Man Powered Up?  That one is fantastic.  I wish Capcom would've made more sequels to that.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/20/2014 at 01:10 PM

You know, I never play Mega Man Powered Up.  Had been meaning to do it, but the game just slipped off my radar after a while.  I hear it a fantastic game though.  Wasn't the thata the game with two extra Robot Masters-- Time Man and Oil Man?

Cary Woodham

11/20/2014 at 07:21 PM

Yes it is, and you really should play it.  It's one of the best Mega Man games to come out in a long time.  And definitely one of the cutest!


11/21/2014 at 10:39 PM

I really like the game, but sadly i'm still stuck on the first part of Wily's Castle, since it's the level of the Yellow Devil and unfortunately the Wii doesn't allow for the pause trick. Honestly, screw that boss!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/25/2014 at 11:53 AM

Yeah, I played Mega Man on the Mega Man Anniversary, which also doesn't allow for the pause trick.  I seem to remember eventually defeating the Yellow Devil though.  I used the Elec Man's thunder weapon.  You just gotta pay close attention to his patterns when he detaches parts of his body across the screen.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

11/23/2014 at 06:18 PM

You like this game a lot more than I do.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/25/2014 at 12:11 PM

Had to check out your review on the cell phone, 'cuz the link is blocked at work.  Acutally, your review didn't seem as harsh as I was expecting. Though I can see where certain aspects of the game may not have bothered me quite as much as it did you.  But I definitely agree that Mega Man got outshined by it subsiquent sequels rather quickly.  The improvements in Mega Man 2 alone were impressive enough.

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

11/26/2014 at 01:10 PM

Great Review Jamie - one of my favorite aspects of the Mega Man mythos is how the second game came to pass because it was a labor of love project of a team at Capcom who knew Mega Man had a lot of potential as a series.

Also, reading this reminds me of why I love retro reviews so much!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/26/2014 at 10:55 PM

Hey, thanks for reading the review bro.  I also cherish the background of the creation of Mega Man 2.  I used to assume that the first game was a hit and Capcom wanted the team to do another one.  Had no idea it was such a labor of love instead.

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

12/01/2014 at 04:08 PM

From what I've heard: Capcom wasn't thrilled with the original, and had no plans of going forward with another one. A small but dedicated team worked on it after hours and pitched it to Capcom, and they green lit it. Thus was born one of the greatest gaming sequels of all time!

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