Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 2]

MMLogo2

Welcome back to my retrospective look at the MegaMan franchise, particularly at the “Classic” branch of the series that started it all. My previous articles looking back at long-running franchises ran a little too long for their own good, so I decided to break this one up into multiple parts. Last time, I looked at the first 3 MegaMan games, as well as their remake, The Wily Wars. I also discussed the first two MegaMan games Capcom licensed out to another company, the infamous Mega Man and Mega Man 3, released on IBM-compatible PCs by Hi Tech Expressions, Inc. and developed by Rozner Labs. This time around, I’ll be finishing up MegaMan’s stint on the Nintendo Entertainment System, looking at MegaMan 4, 5 and 6. After a few quick words on the Japanese-exclusive Rockman Complete Works, I’ll also be looking at what are perhaps the most recognizable spinoffs in the entire series: the five games that were released on the Game Boy.

MegaMan 4

While the first three MegaMan games are generally pretty well-regarded as being among the best games that the NES had to offer, the exact opposite can be said for the other games that appeared on the 8-bit institution. Having said that, MegaMan 4 definitely gets the most love of the remaining titles on the NES. Personally, I think it’s unwarranted. MM4’s flaws are significantly more minor when compared to other lesser games in the series, but they were pretty fundamental to the game’s design in a way that they’re difficult to isolate without completely reinventing the game from scratch. Likewise, 4 managed to introduce a gameplay mechanic that would both become synonymous with later games in the series and even future iterations in the franchise, but brought it about in such a haphazard way that it ultimately gutted one of the franchise’s trademark mechanics for years to come. MegaMan 4 is certainly not one of the worst games in the entire series, but it would definitely cripple its future – something I’d argue is far more damaging to this beloved franchise’s legacy than lame robot masters or mediocre one-offs ever could be.

Considering the previous game’s developmental woes, it’s almost reassuring to hear Keiji Inafune recount that there were relatively few problems during MegaMan 4’s development. In fact, one of the major issues the game had was trying to sift through the sheer amount of fan submissions this game had for boss designs – with over 70,000 submissions in total! In fact, during development, designer Hayato Kaji – the man who would go on to design the characters for MegaMan X – stated that they were so impressed with Skullman’s design that they ended up scrapping a completed stage so they could create an entirely new one, based on his gimmick. MegaMan 4 also introduced a brand-new villain character: Russian roboticist Dr. Mikhail Cossack, but originally the character concept was significantly different. Originally named “Dr. Vice”, he was originally intended to be much younger than Dr. Light and Dr. Wily and they even toyed with the idea of making the character American instead. The Cold War’s approaching conclusion likely led to Capcom favoring Russian influences, something that would also likely affect the design of similarly Russian Street Fighter character Zangief. Likewise, the new support character Eddie was designed with the concept of a lottery in mind, rewarding the player with an item that would either be a pleasant surprise or disappointing.

In Japan, MegaMan 4 had the subtitle, “A New Evil Ambition!” and given the game’s storyline, it’s a fitting name. One year has passed since Dr. Wily’s latest scheme. After stealing the giant peace-keeping robot Gamma and using it to exact his revenge upon MegaMan, Wily was thought to have perished in the ensuing collapse of his base after Gamma was defeated by MegaMan. Since then, the world has been at peace. This fragile peace is short-lived, however – a Russian scientist by the name of Dr. Cossack issues a message to Dr. Light. Claiming that Light has overshadowed his own scientific genius, he has sent eight of his most powerful robots to challenge and destroy MegaMan in order to prove that he is the superior roboticist. Cossack’s army of robots begin to make their move, seizing control of eight cities in the process. Armed with his new and improved Mega Buster – developed by Dr. Light in secret – MegaMan sets off to stop this new threat.

MM4-01

Don’t know why, but this always looked so cool to me.

While the first three games in the series attempted to experiment with their mechanics to at least some degree, MegaMan 4 was clearly the point where the franchise’s game design began to solidify, while at the same time providing swansongs to various gameplay mechanics. I think it’s easiest to summarize MegaMan 4 like so: it was clearly built as a reaction to MegaMan 3, possibly in an effort to recreate the magic of the second game – which is still the most successful game in the franchise to this day. Having said that, this game borrows elements from all three of the previous games: while the various Rush-based support items return and are still acquired by defeating specific bosses, there are also a couple of other support items that are completely optional, hidden in various robot master stages, much like the Magnet Beam was in the first game. That’s not to say that there aren’t any new elements added to the game. For starters, bosses now have hit-invincibility after taking damage, which definitely adds to the game’s challenge and would become the standard for future titles. As I mentioned earlier, Eddie is a brand-new support robot, built to assist MegaMan on his mission, doling out a random power-up at a specific point in a stage – similar in function to the “? Cans” from the previous game, but much less common, only appearing on select stages. Eddie often gives out a large weapon energy power-up, but occasionally he’ll give out a large health, an extra life or even an E-Tank.

Of course, all those changes are minor compared to the biggest change that MegaMan 4 had to offer: the “New Mega Buster”. MegaMan’s standard arm cannon can still fire its usual three shots at a time, but if the button is held down, it can be charged for a short amount of time and unleashed as a large, powerful shot. The charge has two separate levels: while the first only produces a larger shot that deals the same amount of damage as a standard one, a fully-charged shot is larger still and deals three times the damage of a standard shot. While this sounds like a great improvement, it had an unfortunate side effect: the charge shot absolutely destroys the efficiency of the various boss weaknesses. For most bosses in MM4, their weaknesses do roughly 4 points of damage per hit. Therefore, the charged Mega Buster shot is generally considered to be a secondary weakness for just about everything in the game. Balance that with the fact that the Mega Buster has infinite ammo and it becomes a much more attractive option compared to any of the boss weapons. I remember seeing that Super Castlevania IV episode of Sequelitis from Egoraptor a long time ago – the one where he opined that because the whip could be aimed, it effectively made the traditional sub-weapons useless and therefore, the game was technically a bad sequel to the previous Castlevanias – and I think MM4 should’ve been that video’s subject. The worst part about all of this is that while Capcom would eventually find inventive solutions to this problem, it still took time to do so, and other games suffered as a result.

MM4-02

In retrospect, the water stage was the worst choice to showcase a charge shot.

Then there’s MegaMan 4’s other major flaw: its level design. That’s not to say that the stage layouts in MM4 are bad, more that they’re boring – which I would argue is much worse. Personally, I could barely remember many of the levels from the game, to the extent where I actually decided to watch a quick playthrough on YouTube just to refresh my memory on them. I followed that up with the boneheaded mistake of doing the same for another game in the series – its direct sequel, MegaMan 5 – for comparison’s sake right after, which certainly dulled my memory. While previous (and future) MegaMan games would often employ gimmicks to reflect either the abilities of the boss for each stage or the setting itself, MM4 takes this to a whole new level …and then proceeds to do nothing meaningful with their gimmicks. Most stages employ two gimmicks, but that generally seems to be it: the gimmicks are the level design. In most games in the series, gimmicks would be introduced, in situations that teach the player about how to overcome them. Then they would later be expanded upon with new, more difficult variations – bringing out their inherent potential, and by extension, leading to a fun game design. Most of the stages in MegaMan 4 don’t appear to leave that first phase, at least not in my experience. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the gimmicks are generally utilized separately from one another: a big mistake, given the fact that cross-pollinating them would often lead to more difficult and varied stage designs. It’s a shame, there are actually some interesting concepts present in a few of the stages: it would’ve been fun to see a more complex use of Ringman’s disappearing platforms or the rising and falling water levels in Diveman’s stage.

MegaMan 4 also relies upon one new gimmick in a number of stages: mini-bosses that block Rock’s progress. While Protoman was arguably the first mini-boss in MegaMan history, and previous games had large enemies that took several hits to defeat, the mini-bosses in MM4 combine both aspects to create something that would become a recurring element in future titles. The problem is that, while the Protoman fights were short and the large enemies could be bypassed simply by taking a hit and using the post-damage invincibility frames to walk past them, neither is the case with MM4’s mini-bosses. They aren’t particularly engaging to fight – they’re usually either bullet-sponges or just remain invincible most of the time with brief windows of vulnerability – and they slow the game’s pace to a crawl. They’re more annoying than difficult, essentially just feeling like a waste of time.

MM4-05

I love how this boss fight is literally just a claw machine.

Apparently, the developers on MegaMan 4 were at least somewhat inspired by its direct predecessor: the game has two entire boss fortresses, bringing the grand total of stages to a lofty 16. After fighting through Dr. Cossack’s armored Citadel, MegaMan ends up in a climactic clash with his new opponent. Just as he’s about to deal the final blow on Cossack’s weaponized claw machine, Protoman comes in – with a young girl, donning an ushanka and a heavy red jacket. She’s Kalinka, Cossack’s daughter. As it would turn out, Dr. Wily is alive and well and kidnapped her to blackmail Cossack into working for him, but now that the jig is up, Wily reveals his own fortress. All things considered, it was a nice twist – even inventive for the time – and there’s just something quaint about the game pretending like Wily isn’t the final boss after all. MM4 also introduces the Wily Capsule, a boss fight format that would inspire the final bosses of several future games in the Classic series. Passwords return, but they no longer save the number of Energy Tanks MegaMan has collected. Fortunately, players can revisit cleared stages – likely due in part to the return of collectable items – and as such, it’s easy to grind for E-Tanks prior to tackling the game’s fortresses.

Let’s move onto the items. I’ve already described the Mega Buster in detail, so we’ll just skip that for now. MegaMan 4 may very well have the most support items of any game in the entire series, I certainly can’t think of one that exceeds or even matches it off the top of my head. Rush Coil and Rush Marine return from MegaMan 3, exactly as they were in the previous game. Rush Jet also returns, but I’m afraid it’s been – excuse the pun – neutered. While the previous game gave players a full range of motion, the Rush Jet now better resembles a slower moving Item-2, only affording user input on the rocket sled’s height. This was probably what was originally intended for the Rush Jet all along, but it still hurts to see it lose its original overpowered nature. Rush Coil is, once again, available from the start. Rush Marine is obtained from beating Toadman, while defeating Drillman nets players the Rush Jet. As I said earlier, there were two other support items completely unrelated to Rush. They’re optional and don’t really afford MegaMan with any truly significant abilities, but there are fun little things to hunt for. The Balloon Adapter, found in Pharoahman’s stage, is essentially the Item-1 from MM2, only redrawn to better resemble a hot air balloon. The Wire Adapter is a grappling hook which can only fire upward, found in Diveman’s stage. Both of the Adapter support items are significantly harder to find than the Magnet Beam from the first game – completely out of view, unless you know exactly where to get them – but still, just neat little challenges that spice up the level design a little bit.

MM4-03

My favorite part of the Wire Adapter is the “looking up” sprite they made for MegaMan.

With those out of the way, let’s get onto the weapons. Five of the eight weapons from MM4 are essentially inspired by weapons from MegaMan 2, while one is similar to a weapon from the third game. As with the previous list, I’ll be ranking these in my own personal order of preference, from best to worst. My top choice in this game is easily the Pharaoh Shot. Another chargeable weapon like the Mega Buster, I consider it an improvement on MM2’s Atomic Fire: it has better ammo consumption, the ability to aim it in six directions – forward, back and all diagonals, but not straight up or down – and better still, a second charged shot appears above MegaMan’s head while charging, not only signifying the weapon’s charge level, but also entirely capable of damaging any enemy unlucky enough to collide with it. That’s right, you get two charge shots for the price of one! Next up would have to be the Dive Missile, one of MegaMan 4’s two completely original weapons. It’s essentially a homing missile that seeks out the nearest enemy and rams right into it. I suppose one could make a comparison to MM3’s Magnet Missile, but the tracking abilities on this weapon are much more robust, to the extent where it feels entirely new. Third on my list would have to be the Drill Bomb, which is essentially a vastly improved Crash Bomb. It deals the same payload, but not only does it detonate immediately on impact, the explosion can also be triggered at will by hitting the fire button a second time. After that, the other completely original weapon, Toadman’s Rain Flush. MegaMan fires off a pod that flies into the sky, generating a short but heavy torrent of acid rain, dealing damage over time. I’d rank Brightman’s Flash Stopper at a solid #5. Remember how the MM2’s Time Stopper rendered you completely defenseless while time was frozen until the weapon’s energy ran out? Well, Flash Stopper works in shorter bursts, but offers MegaMan a standard arm cannon – perhaps the most improved of the returning weapons. The sixth best weapon would probably have to be Dust Crusher, a shot comprised of scrap metal that explodes on impact into four pieces of shrapnel that fire off diagonally. Then there’s the Ring Boomerang, which is essentially like MegaMan 3’s Shadow Blade, only without the ability to aim. It does make up for this by gaining some slight range and the ability to do multiple hits if aimed properly, but honestly, I preferred its direct ancestors. Finally, the worst weapon in the game would have to be the Skull Barrier by far. Imagine Woodman’s Leaf Shield with the added benefit of being allowed to move without losing it, coming at the cost of its durability and ability to be thrown at enemies. The Skull Barrier also has the dubious honor of being the first shield knockoff in a long line that would last beyond even the NES games. And yet, none of its imitators could come even close to matching its sheer impotence.

The evolution of the graphics in the MegaMan games that began in MM2 and continued in 3 essentially reaches its apex in the fourth game. While the character sprites are still pretty much on par with the first game’s, the backgrounds and the large bosses in the fortress levels have reached the highest levels the MegaMan series would achieve during the NES’s lifespan. Much like the gameplay, MegaMan 4 would also cement the series’ presentation for the rest of the franchise’s third-generation tenure in a multitude of ways. For starters, the game starts with a relatively ornate introduction sequence, utilizing full-sized still graphics with (albeit limited) animation. Likewise, compared to the earlier games, there are more in-game cutscenes compared to previous games. This allowed for a much more complex storyline: indeed, it would’ve been difficult to reveal the twist that Dr. Cossack had been blackmailed into working for Wily without them. It’s nothing compared to the complex methods used to build narratives in modern games, but it was a definitive step in the evolution of the MegaMan series’ ability to tell stories and led to further involvement of story in-game in later releases. One seemingly insignificant change would be the pause menu, which goes full-screen this time around: a trend that future MegaMan games would also follow, though each game would have their own take on the design and layout. On the plus side, this does give the user interface more room to breathe, especially given the multitude of weapons and support items MegaMan has access to in this game. Still, it just doesn’t match the coolness factor of MegaMan 3’s pop-up menu in my opinion, regardless of how impractical it was.

MM4-04

It’s also cool that the Ring Boomerang can go through the Skull Barrier.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Minae “Ojalin” Saito (née Fujii) and the sound programming was handled by Yasuaki “Bun Bun” Fujita, the main composer for MegaMan 3. The soundtrack definitely lives up to its predecessors, with many memorable themes and effectively continues the evolution that began with MegaMan 3’s soundtrack, utilizing the full potential of the NES’s built-in sound chip. I wouldn’t place it among my favorite soundtracks in the entire series, but it’s still definitely lives up to the “Rockman” name. The composition played on the Password screen is an interesting change of pace: while the songs played in the previous two games were relaxed and playful, MM4’s take has a clear urgency behind it. My personal favorite robot master themes from this game would have to be Brightman, Diveman, Ringman and Pharoahman’s. Most people seem to like Skullman’s, but I never really got the appeal. The best music in the whole game would definitely have to be the Fortress themes, particularly the songs that play during the second batch of Dr. Cossack stages and Dr. Wily stages respectively. While MM4 uses a single boss theme for most of the game, it also set a precedent by including a unique song for the game’s final boss fight with the Wily Capsule. This would become a series staple, with final bosses in most future titles – including all future mainline games – getting the same treatment.

As much as I’ve torn into it, I wouldn’t say that MegaMan 4 is a bad game. I’d probably say it’s more of a disappointment after the previous two games. MM4 plays it too safe with many aspects: it tries to ape MegaMan 2 to a degree often reserved for remakes, the Mega Buster essentially deconstructs the entire concept of boss weapons and the stage design stays far too paint-by-numbers for its own good. These problems would certainly be easy enough to swallow on their own, but given the game’s widespread reputation of being the best game of the second trilogy, I suppose my expectations were too high for their own good. In the previous article, I discussed how a remake could have potentially fixed MegaMan 3 – I didn’t bother with MM2, simply because it’s good enough as-is and MM1 already has a fantastic, if not obscure reimagining (more on that later). I wouldn’t recommend remaking MegaMan 4 simply because as its flaws are minute but many, it would take some seriously retooling to fix the game. Indeed, the game is a perfect example of the death by many cuts and in order to improve upon the existing package, it would take far more extensive retooling than any other game I can think of in the series, which generally suffer from surface level flaws. The base gameplay’s too solid to allow for a total overhaul, so in the end, the best way I could think of fixing MM4 would be changes on par with a ROM hack – and that’s just not a viable course of action.

MegaMan 5

MegaMan 5 has led a pretty strange life, at least as far as its criticism with regards to the rest of the series goes. I’ve seen it go from the most maligned of the second NES trilogy to the most beloved, yet there’s always that qualifier: “of the second MegaMan trilogy”. All the same, seeing the fifth entry in the series get the love it so rightly deserves warms the very cockles of my admittedly bleak heart. The odd part about the whole reversal is that I completely understand the arguments for considering the game the best and worst of its “trilogy”. While I obviously subscribe to the former, it took me quite some time to fully grasp at the reason why so many hated this game only a scant few years ago. Granted, the answer I found was actually really obvious when I think back to all of the complaints people made about the game in the first place – though, honestly, I still think what I’ve seen is still fairly shallow, all things considered.

By the time MegaMan 5 entered development, Keiji Inafune was generally considered a senior staff member with regards to the franchise. He used his experience to guide the product leader, who was new to MegaMan. As such, looking back, Inafune felt that MM5 was too easy, which was the logical conclusion of his attempts at avoiding making what could be considered “an unreasonable game”. Inafune also felt that the gameplay had reached its logical conclusion in the previous game and decided to instead “introduce powered up versions of everything”. Capcom received over 130,000 fan submissions for MegaMan 5, as the contests continued to grow in popularity among Japanese children and other fans of the series. Compared to previous games, Inafune had difficulty getting approval on the redesigns he made on the chosen bosses, forcing him to re-illustrate them multiple times. Conversely, Beat – MegaMan’s new partner – was apparently easy to design, as Inafune’s superiors accepted his first draft. As it turns out, Inafune had been planning to use the concept of a robotic bird as MegaMan’s partner since MegaMan 3. In the end, development was troubled – though not to the same extent as MegaMan 3. The aforementioned Hayato Kaji was even pulled off another project to assist with the game’s development.

MM5-01

MM5 has some of my favorite level designs in the series, both mechanically and aesthetically.

MegaMan 5 takes place two months after the events of the previous game and was the first game in the franchise to officially take place in the franchise’s signature “year” 20XX – previous games seemed to take place in “200X”. After his daughter Kalinka was rescued from the clutches of the evil Dr. Wily, Dr. Cossack has begun to collaborate with Dr. Light in the creation of a new support robot “Beat”. MegaMan, on the other hand, tries to remain vigilant for any other attempts at world domination at the hands of Wily, but ends up beginning to enjoy a vacation as life returned to normal. There was still one question that bothered him: who was the mysterious Protoman, the robot who had assisted him in his previous two adventures? As he’s about to ask Dr. Light about it, Dr. Cossack sends word that the new robot is completed. The Blue Bomber sets off to Cossack’s laboratory to meet his new feathery friend. While MegaMan is away, a new army of robots go on a rampage, attacking MegaMan’s hometown. MegaMan leaps into action, returning home only to discover that Dr. Light has been kidnapped by the robots’ leader – Protoman? To make up for his previous actions, Dr. Cossack offers his support to MegaMan, upgrading his buster in the process. With only Protoman’s signature yellow scarf left behind as evidence of his wrongdoing, MegaMan wonders just why the mysterious red robot has turned evil. But is everything as it appears? The Japanese subtitle “Blues’ Trap” – Blues being Protoman’s Japanese name – seems to imply that there’s more to this whole situation than meets the eye.

Compared to the other games in the MegaMan franchise, relatively little is known about MegaMan 5’s development. Most of what we know comes directly from Keiji Inafune’s reflections on the project. He wasn’t exaggerating when he claimed that the main changes made to MegaMan 5’s base engine compared to its predecessor were simple balance issues. The thing is, they were changes that were all too necessary. The most major change would have to be the Mega Buster – dubbed the “Neo Rock Buster” in Japan – which would finally be modified into its most recognizable form. The charge shot still has two levels and its first form is pretty much identical to the one from MM4. The fully charged shot, on the other hand, works completely differently. Taking on an appearance not unlike a bright yellow Hadouken from Capcom’s more popular Street Fighter II, the newly adjusted charge shot is more likely to blast through multiple enemies at a time. This is balanced by the fact that taking damage negates a charge, forcing players to start charging again from scratch. The game would also introduce a new variant of the E-Tank: the Mystery Tank (sometimes called the “Mega Tank”) restores not only MegaMan’s health, but also the weapon energy for every weapon. They’re fairly rare and only one can be held at a time, but they’re definitely worth finding.

Of course, where the game truly shines is in its level design – a fact that was often forgotten in early reactions to the game itself. Admittedly, this brings us to Capcom’s first attempt at fixing the weapons problem that came about in the fourth game: outright ignoring it. In that sense, MegaMan 5 feels a bit less like a MegaMan game compared to the previous entries in the series, simply due to the fact that it puts much less of an emphasis on the weapons the Blue Bomber takes from his downed opponents. Instead, development seemed to focus on creating a good run-and-gun game in general, as opposed to making “the best MegaMan game possible”. The level design in MM5 is top-notch, with many of the stages incorporating several gimmicks. In fact, a few of the gimmicks from the previous game – such as Toadman’s cascading water and Dustman’s trash compactors – reappear in the fifth game and are used to a much greater effect, essentially bringing out each concept’s full potential. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what MM5 brings to the table: there are hidden collectables in each of the eight initial stages that unlock a new power-up; WaveMan’s stage transitions from a precision platforming across delicate bubbles to an auto-scrolling segment on a jet ski; and don’t even get me started on Gravityman’s stage gimmick, constantly flipping MegaMan upside-down and right-side up. The game provides a great amount of challenge, particularly in the fortress stages, but the sheer prevalence of 1-Ups in the game does make things feel a little easy at times.

MM5-03

This jet ski segment was so good, the X games stole its gimmick 3 times.

The game does manage to experiment a little bit with its various support items. Of course, the Rush Jet, obtained after defeating Gyroman, is essentially unchanged from the previous game. However, the Neo Rush Coil works very differently compared to its previous incarnations: instead of simply sending MegaMan upward, Rush bounces into the air, acting as a platform, allowing MegaMan to get just a little more height. Personally, I preferred this iteration of the Coil, but considering that it was exclusive to MegaMan 5, I’m sure I was in the minority. The Rush Marine was unceremoniously retired after the fourth game – not too many water stages that relied upon it, I’m afraid – but it was replaced by a different item. Defeating Starman grants players the use of the Super Arrow, which is generally considered one of the most useful items in the entire game. MegaMan shoots off an arrow, which he can jump on top of and ride, almost like the Item-2 from MM2. Upon coming in contact with a wall, the Arrow sticks to the wall, providing the Blue Bomber with a foothold. It can also be used as an attack on enemies, but clearly the mobility functions are the real appeal. Then, there’s Beat, MegaMan’s new robotic avian partner. Beat can only be obtained if players collect items that are hidden in the 8 robot master stages: letters that spell out “MEGAMAN V” (or “ROCKMAN 5” in the original Japanese version). Beat is an interesting partner: he locks onto nearby enemies and swoops into them, causing massive damage. Quite frankly, he makes beating the final boss a snap. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Like I said earlier, Capcom didn’t seem to care too much about the utility of most of the weapons in MegaMan 5, which one of the game’s most criticized shortcomings. Quite frankly, it’s probably most efficient to stick to the Mega Buster for the majority of the game, occasionally switching to the Super Arrow, Rush Jet or Beat when necessary. However, I personally feel like this freed up the development team to go more inventive with the weapons, effectively going with concepts that would be considered too unorthodox for standard MegaMan games, bringing about some really unique concepts that may not have otherwise seen the light of day. As such, I’m going to be ranking the weapons again, but this time, I’ll be focusing more on fun factor over utility: after all, if I was going for the latter, I’d stick with the Mega Buster. First off, we’ve got Gravityman’s Gravity Hold, a unique little power that fills the entire screen with a flash. Weaker enemies turn upside down and fly into the sky. It’s generally only useful in specific situations, but I love watching those little robots shoot into the sky. Next comes the Charge Kick, courtesy of Chargeman. It’s a simple move that effectively weaponized MegaMan’s slide. It doesn’t exactly work out that well in practice, but I wish more games had played with this concept – weaponizing MegaMan’s mobility options. Third is Waveman’s Water Wave, which sends a surging torrent of water across the floor, almost like MM2’s Bubble Lead on steroids. After that, there’s the unoriginally named Gyro Attack, obtained after defeating (who else?) Gyroman. It’s a propeller blade that can be fired off horizontally, but if players hit up or down on the D-Pad any time it’s onscreen, it shoots up in a straight line in that direction. Number five is the Crystal Eye. Crystalman’s weapon fires off a large crystal orb, which upon collision with a wall, splits off into three smaller crystals that bounce around at random trajectories. I’m going to be honest: from here on out, the weapons become pretty useless. Napalmman’s Napalm Bomb manages to reach the number six spot, by default. It fires off a large egg-shaped explosive which rolls around on the floor for a short period, before exploding into a huge, highly damaging explosion. Essentially, it’s almost like a slightly improved Hyper Bomb. The seventh best weapon is the Star Crash, obtained by the Blue Bomber after defeating Starman. In any other game, it would be the worst weapon by far – it’s essentially the same as the Skull Barrier, except MegaMan gains the ability to fire it off at enemies by pressing the button a second time. Finally, we come to the weapon that isn’t just the worst in the game, but the worst in the entire franchise: Stoneman’s Power Stone. It’s hard to even describe it. Essentially, by activating this weapon, two moderately-sized stones begin spinning around MegaMan temporarily in random (and, quite frankly, awkward) arcs for a few seconds. It’s difficult to even think of a way that the attack could be adjusted into something more useful without just outright turning it into a shield.

MM5-02

This was the letter I always had trouble finding. Don’t ask me why.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 4 pretty much set the graphical standard for the remainder of the NES era. The fifth game’s art style matches its predecessor pretty well, to the extent where it can be difficult to differentiate graphics between the two games. MM5 uses all of the graphical tricks found in the previous game, including various cutscenes. One unique difference is that instead of using a large static image to represent MegaMan after defeating one of the robot masters to showcase his new ability, the game elected to use a new animation of the standard in-game MegaMan sprite rotating in a full 360° motion while standing perfectly still, before shifting his color palette to represent his new weapon. Oddly, the pause menu did receive a significant graphical overhaul, though aside from adding an area to keep track of which “MEGAMAN V” letters have been collected, the layout pretty much remains the same. All the same, the graphics are still fairly impressive for an NES game, showcasing the console’s full capabilities near the end of its lifespan.

I’d have to say that of all the soundtracks in the series, MegaMan 5’s ranks among my favorites. Composed by Mari Yamaguchi – who was only credited with her first name – MM5 manages to incorporate multiple styles, while pushing the NES’s sound chip to its limits. Most of the stage themes manage to match both their settings, as well as the stage designs themselves. For example, Crystalman’s stage theme has both a cavernous sound and takes a slow pace, representing the deliberate and methodical pace of the stage itself. Likewise, songs like those from Gyroman’s and Chargeman’s levels are relatively fast-paced, but vary significantly in terms of their tone: Gyroman’s is more light-hearted, signifying the relative calm of the stage’s clear skies, while the music from Chargeman’s level is more energetic, providing a perfect depiction of the numerous speeding trains MegaMan runs through. Best of all, the theme that plays during the Protoman Fortress stages have gained something of a cult following, managing to become popular enough to rival the first Wily Castle theme from MM2 – and I definitely can’t fault a game for forcing more musical diversity in MegaMan-themed remix albums. The fifth game’s soundtrack does try to distance itself from some of the recurring themes found in previous games in the series, though unlike MM3, it does manage to keep the traditional stage clear jingle. It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite tracks from MM5’s soundtrack, so I’ll just name a few: the themes from Gravityman, Napalmman and Stoneman’s stages are all great, as well as the songs from both fortresses – of course Dr. Wily was behind everything, as usual. I also can’t help but love the standard boss theme from MegaMan 5. It manages to maintain the standard frantic pace and tone commonly associated with boss themes in the series, while still managing to sound completely unlike any of its predecessors.

MM5-04

One of my favorite boss fights in the entire series, with or without his weakness.

It’s encouraging to see MegaMan 5 finally begin to get its due. These days, it’s essentially considered the crown jewel of the Classic MegaMan series’ “second trilogy”, a solid step forward over the game’s reception upon its initial release: as nothing more than a lazy, outdated rehash. In terms of being a pure MegaMan game, it’s hard to compete with the second or third games in the series, but aside from falling down on some of the signature gimmicks associated with the franchise, MM5 offers a solid action-platformer. In fact, in a lot of ways, the sheer regularity of extra lives in the game almost makes it feel like a modern game in a sense, focusing more on providing a challenge based strictly on level design, as opposed to resource scarcity. Still, the game’s bad rap with regards to weapon design is well deserved. I’ve seen quite a few ROM hacks based around the fifth game, and none of them has really been able to rebalance the weapons in a way that feels both useful and fun. All the same, I am glad that that MM5 took a far more experimental approach to weapon designs: compared to MegaMan 4’s retreads of older weapons, it was definitely a breath of fresh air, with some of MM5’s unique weapon concepts managing to be refined much later down the line. That’s probably the best summary of MegaMan 5 – it’s a game that failed to live up to specific series conventions, but delivered an excellent game nonetheless.

MegaMan 6

I’ll be honest, I never really liked MegaMan 6. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the game always seemed to bother me, which has always made it among my least favorites in the entire series. As the final MegaMan game to be released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was truly the end of an era: the final truly 8-bit MegaMan platformer out of the mainline series. Compared to later iterations of the MegaMan franchise, the original “Classic” franchise was perhaps the most difficult to separate from the stylistics choices made in this era. Future titles would initially try to distance themselves from it, but the last two games in the series (as of right now) dove headlong into retro-themed nostalgia. While many spinoff sub-series did maintain a single artistic style for their entire run, it was due to remaining on a single platform for their entire runs, as opposed to any thematic choices. …See? That’s how little I care for MM6: I ended up spending a significant part of the introductory paragraph talking about other games in the series! In the end, I can’t really call MegaMan 6 a bad game, but it’s definitely my least favorite in the entire franchise. It’s a mechanically sound game, it plays well and it’s certainly a proper example of a MegaMan game, but there just seems to be something I can’t quite articulate that underwhelms me about it, as unfair as that sounds.

MegaMan 6 was developed late in the NES’s lifespan, to the extent where development was parallel with MegaMan X, Capcom’s first game in the series for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As such, Capcom themselves only decided to release the game in their home territory of Japan. The game was the only NES game in the franchise not to be released in Europe and Nintendo of America published the game themselves in North America, releasing the game in March of 1994. Nintendo decided to use MegaMan 6 as a key title to advertise the NES-101 – affectionately referred to as the “NES2” – a new top-loading variant of the classic 8-bit console, sold at a cheap price point alongside the new SNES. Other late-era titles used to advertise the NES-101 include Zoda’s Revenge: Startropics II and Wario’s Woods, which was the last NES game to be released officially in North America.

MM6-03

Here’s that new Charge Shot I was talking about in MM5, it’s back in 6 too.

Keiji Inafune’s take on MegaMan 6 seemed to be substantially more laid back when compared to earlier games, opining that video game franchises reaching six titles were very rare and one such advantage to such long-runners was that players would expect certain aspects from previous games to be repeated in future titles. The concept of Rush and MegaMan combining was something Inafune considered inevitable, though he had difficulty coming up with the designs due to the sheer lack of realism in the concept itself. The game saw over 200,000 entries for the boss design contest this time around, and to make matters even more interesting, for the first (and only) time, the contest was open to non-Japanese participants. In fact, Nintendo Power held a similar contest in America and two of the robot masters chosen from the final game were designed by North American fans: Windman and Knightman. To pay homage to their “foreign” origins, Nintendo of America featured these two robot masters on the North American box art. The game’s subtitle in the original Japanese release was “The Greatest Battle of All Time!!” and this went with the game’s overall theming: described by Inafune as “the world is our stage”. Of course, like earlier games in the franchise, MM6’s development saw its fair share of hardships – likely due to the fact that both MegaMan X and MegaMan Soccer were in development around the same time – but Inafune was pleased with the final product.

After five attempts at world domination, governments all over the globe are finally taking steps to safeguard against the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. While MegaMan has consistently thwarted the mad doctor’s schemes, the world feels that relying solely upon the Blue Bomber may not be for the best. In response, the World Robot Alliance was organized soon after Wily’s fifth assault. One year later, thanks in large part to both the cooperation of the scientists all over the world and the financial backing of the X Foundation, robotics has made fantastic progress, with many scientists becoming capable of creating robots on par with MegaMan himself. To determine the world’s strongest peacekeeping robot, the “First Annual Robot Tournament” is held. While Dr. Light decides not to enter the competition, he sends MegaMan to supervise it. Before the contest can begin, the mysterious head of the X Foundation and the tournament’s host, known only as “Mr. X”, declares his own ambitions for world domination. Furthermore, he declares that he had been manipulating Dr. Wily all along, but now that he has reprogrammed the eight strongest contestants from the tournament, he no longer needs him. MegaMan springs into action, alongside Rush, his canine companion, to stop the evil ambitions of this new threat.

Inafune’s statements about long-running series repeating various aspects proves particularly true, with regards to MM6: the game plays pretty much identically to the fifth game. In fact, much of the graphics data, information and level layouts of MM6 are extremely similar to MM5’s, leading some fans to speculate that it was essentially a heavy edit of the previous game. MegaMan 6’s level design was fairly decent, though this time around, they would focus heavily on splitting paths. Personally, I like design choices like that, simply because it adds replay value to most games, but in MegaMan 6’s case, it feels almost hollow. Most of the alternate paths require specific weapons or power-ups to get to, and many times they simply result in shortcuts, as opposed to alternate layouts. Most importantly, in many cases, alternate hidden paths are used to gate off specific power-ups – this gets particularly confusing with stages that have two separate boss doors, where only one contains the parts necessary to unlock Beat – so for the most part, there’s no reason to go any other way. In fact, to be honest, the most major change to the game comes through the form of MegaMan’s new powers, especially the new assortment of support items.

MM6-01

A ‘roided-out MegaMan worthy of the Ruby-Spears cartoon.

The support items go through a significant shake-up in MegaMan 6. In fact, the only item that returns from previous games is Beat. This time, players need only to spell out “B-E-A-T” to unlock the assault aviary, though this time around, the parts are a little more cryptic. You can only get them by reaching four of the bosses through specific routes: they have two separate sets of boss doors, with the more hidden one or the one that’s more difficult to reach generally being the one that contains the part. The only way to know for sure if the right door was chosen is by looking at the stage select afterwards: if the correct door was chosen, the corresponding letter will show up on the stage select in place of the robot master’s portrait. The major attraction would have to be the two new Rush armors: referred to in-game as Jet MegaMan and Power MegaMan. Unlocked by defeating Plantman and Flameman respectively, these two transformations give MegaMan access to entirely new powers. The Jet Adaptor allows MegaMan to fly for brief periods – with a smaller gauge depicting how much lift remains – but MegaMan is unable to charge his Mega Buster in this form. The Power Adaptor, on the other hand, replaces the buster with a shorter-ranged but more powerful shot that can break through certain obstacles and bypass shields when fully charged. The bulkiness of both armors removes MegaMan’s ability to slide, so it’s crucial switch between these all three of MegaMan’s forms. There is also the Energy Balancer, hidden in the depths of Tomahawkman’s stage. It recovers energy for the weapon with the lowest energy remaining whenever MegaMan collects a weapon energy power-up without having a weapon equipped, as opposed to just wasting it.

This brings us to what I perceive as Capcom’s second idea to redeem the loss of importance faced by the Special Weapons in the face of the almighty Mega Buster: give players entirely new toys to play with instead. The Rush armors are, by far, the most interesting parts of the game, but they only seem to break the game’s difficulty balance in entirely new ways, especially Jet MegaMan. One of the trademarks of MegaMan’s level design has been challenging platforming segments, but with the additional of what is essentially an unlimited flight ability – the only real limitation being a limited meter which can be recharged by standing on the ground – entire segments of stages can be bypassed. Sure, later areas line their ceilings with spikes to avoid that kind of abuse, but it’s only a half-measure with regards to just how much this breaks the game, as skilled players can easily navigate even those aerial obstacles.

MM6-04

Fighting flowers with frostbite.

Which brings us to the weapons themselves. Of the entire series, I’d have to say that I consider MegaMan 6’s assortment of special weapons to be the most forgettable of the bunch, but apparently, some fans consider them to be among the most practical in the entire series: most weapons can deal big damage on at least four bosses. It’s difficult for me to rank this game’s weapons for those reasons, but I’ll try regardless. My favorite weapon would probably have to be Knightman’s Knight Crusher. It shoots out a spiked mace in a circular boomerang pattern. Simple, but it deals decent damage and for some reason, it’s the first weapon I’d always instinctively try to grab while playing the game. Next comes the Blizzard Attack – obtained by beating Blizzardman (who else?) – which fires off 4 snowflake-shaped projectiles from behind MegaMan at different trajectories: the middle two snowflakes fly straight forward, while the highest and lowest projectiles move diagonally. I like that one less for its practicality and more for its originality: it almost seems like it was an unused weapon from MegaMan 5. The third best weapon would have to be the Yamato Spear, courtesy of Yamatoman. It’s not unlike the Needle Cannon from MegaMan 3, with shots alternating between two different heights. Yamato Spear lacks the rapid-fire capabilities of its ancestor, but is able to pierce enemy shields. Number four would have to be Tomahawkman’s Silver Tomahawk – which honestly, looks more bronze to me. It fires at a weird arc, dropping low briefly before rising quickly until it flies offscreen, but it deals a great deal of damage and its strange trajectory allows it to bypass shields when aimed properly. Best of all, it acts as the primary weakness for a whopping 4 bosses in this game. Fifth would have to be the Plant Barrier, taken by defeating Plantman. It’s essentially the standard shield weapon, much like the Leaf Shield, Skull Barrier and Star Crash before it. It once again loses its ability to be fired off as a projectile, and will usually dissipate after making contact with one enemy. However, if used on a shielded enemy, it will be unaffected and deal massive damage through the shield. Then there’s Flameman’s Flame Blast, which I’d best describe as being the MegaMan equivalent of the holy water from Castlevania. Megaman fires a fireball at a very low arc and once it hits the ground, it spawns a pillar of fire, which can do massive damage if aimed properly. Next, there’s the Wind Storm, which is Windman’s take on the Bubble Lead. It can’t climb walls, instead disappearing whenever it hits a wall or any other obstacle. The weapon does send enemies weak enough for it to defeat flying in the air, but in return, they’ll never drop any power-ups. Last and most certainly least, is Centaurman’s Centaur Flash: a weapon so lame that, much like the Power Stone before it, it was replaced with something much less useless in future appearances. It claims to be a time manipulation power, but instead comes across as a bargain basement version of MM5’s Gravity Hold. It damages all enemies on screen, even hitting destroyable projectiles, but the only boss that’s actually weak to it is Windman, and even then, it takes a full stock to take him out completely. No other boss even takes damage from it, it’s pathetic.

 

Once again, the graphics don’t go through any particular major evolutions from the previous two games. The game has cutscenes, both using in-game graphics and more detailed static shots. The pause screen is slightly reworked once again, this time to allow for MegaMan’s new transformations. I think that the most impressive graphic in the entire game is the animation of MegaMan readying his buster and firing off a shot during the now-standard screen showcasing the new weapons and abilities he’s unlocked at the end of each Robot Master stage. My personal favorite touch would have to be the screens that show up after deciding on one of the Robot Masters. Showing off a variety of statistics about each robot master – things like their attack strength, weight, “defence”, power source and even their abilities and current location – it’s kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it does show how much love Capcom put into their swan song for the system that got them headlong into console development in the first place. By this point, the NES was on its way out and its hardware had long since been pushed to its limits. In fact, Tony Ponce of Destructoid once opined that the game was essentially the first retro throwback, due to the fact that it was made for the NES well into the lifecycles of the fourth-generation of consoles.

MM6-02

Seriously, this game is gorgeous.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Yuko Takehara (née Kadota), who like her predecessor, was credited with only her first name. MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is about on par with the rest of the series up to this point, particularly sticking towards the more refined sound of the previous two games. As with MM5’s soundtrack, most of the Robot Master songs tend to match the locales in which they take place. This is perhaps most evident in what fans have dubbed the “warriors”: Centaurman’s music definitely matches the psychedelic and mystical nature of his stage, Knightman and Yamatoman’s themes both evoke the medieval and Feudal Japan-era castles they inhabit, but best of all would be Tomahawkman’s theme, which evokes the American Wild West perfectly. That’s not to say that the “elemental” masters’ themes fall flat, but it’s difficult to evoke musical leitmotifs with things like fire and snow compared to mythology and various points in history. Honestly, back in the day, I would’ve said that Windman’s theme was probably my favorite robot master theme out of this game. These days, I think I lean more towards Plantman. MM6 also shies away from the same conventional jingles that its predecessor did, though again, the traditional victory tune returns in full form. Perhaps the oddest quirk about MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is that there were two different themes for the introductory cutscene – the North American release had a completely different track used for reasons I don’t entirely know. People are generally divided on which version is better – personally, I prefer the original Japanese track. Typically, when I look back at these soundtracks, I have difficulty choosing a singular track that I would consider “the best”. Not so with MegaMan 6 and truth be told, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My favorite song in the entire game would have to be the theme that plays during the Mr. X Fortress stages. There’s just something so fitting about the theme: it comes across as almost melancholic, like the perfect musical piece for the MegaMan game that has to say goodbye to the very platform that birthed it in the first place.

MegaMan 6 is not a bad game by any means. I thought that by reflecting on the game, I could finally discover what the inherent flaw that gave me my admittedly irrational hatred for it in the first place. In retrospect, I’m only left with the reason I had before I began writing this piece – quite frankly, I thought the game was the easiest in the franchise. That’s not exactly a fair reason to heap the scornful title of “worst my least favorite mainline MegaMan game” onto the franchise’s last truly 8-bit iteration. After all, let’s be honest – regardless of my opinions, it’s still objectively a mechanically superior game to the original 1987 classic. Then again, perhaps that says it all. Classic MegaMan is one of the few series that I would claim has been consistently good since its origin point. If I can acknowledge that the game is not only a quality title on its own merits but also the game I personally consider the weakest entry in the series, doesn’t that just mean that the series entails a certain level of quality, matched by a scant few in the grand scheme of video games?

Interlude: Rockman Complete Works

The Rockman Complete Works always felt like a missed opportunity for me. Back when I was reading video game magazines, I remember that publications like PlayStation Magazine and Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine – yeah, how times have changed, right? – would do pieces about various big-name import games. One recurring feature throughout the second half of 1999 were the Rockman Complete Works games. Effectively, all six of the NES MegaMan games were being re-released for the very first time – like I said, times have changed – on the PlayStation with additional bonus features. I’d always hoped they would come Westward, but alas, SCEA had grudges against both 2D games in general and especially direct ports of older titles – some things never change. I considered importing them for a while, but considering that this was both before the days of online import shops and back before I was even in high school, it just didn’t work out for me.

RMCW-01

‘Cause nothing’s more challenging like a blue bird over a flashing arrow, telling you, “Go here, stupid!”

There were three basic features in each entry in the Complete Works series. First, “Original Mode”, which is exactly what it sounds like: a direct copy of the original NES (or in this case, Famicom) game. Next, there was what was called “Navi Mode”, which I’ll explain in greater detail in a bit. Both of these modes can use save files or the original NES passwords, which is a nice touch. Finally, there were the “PokeRoku” which were special bonus mini-games for people who owned a PocketStation – a Japan-only peripheral that plugged into the PS1’s memory card slot and acted not unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU. Each Complete Works game had its own unique mini-game, ranging from things like a Whac-A-Mole style game where players are forced to bash multiple Cutmans to popping balloons with Beat. Every game in the series also included a Janken (that’s Rock-Paper-Scissors for us Gaijins) game where players can choose any robot master from each corresponding game to compete with a Met. These mini-games can be used to boost both MegaMan and the various robot masters’ stats in the various remixed game modes.

RMCW-02

Still, I’d be lying if I said the new UI wasn’t helpful.

Which segues back nicely into Navi Mode. For the most part, Navi Mode is mechanically similar to the 8-bit originals, but there are some additional tweaks and bonus features. For example, the standard pause menus have been redesigned and there’s a new secondary pause menu, accessible from the Select button. This new menu offers a number of new features, most importantly a specific character that varies from game to game acting as a “navigator” for MegaMan – hence “Navi Mode” – providing various hints for how to progress through both stages and boss fights whenever an exclamation point flashes onscreen. The UI for the energy bars are also slightly different, showcasing both MegaMan’s remaining lives and the remaining shots for whatever special weapon he has equipped at that moment in time. In fact, the redesigns resemble those of MegaMan 8. MegaMan can also switch weapons on the fly by using the shoulder buttons, which is a great addition. Finally, there’s the addition of the remixed soundtracks. For the first three Complete Works releases, a selection of songs were taken from both the MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters soundtracks, generally remixes of the songs they replaced. This wasn’t always the case: MegaMan 3 used Cloudman’s theme and MegaMan 7’s intro stage tracks to replace Magnetman and Topman’s songs respectively.

RMCW-03

The game hints, on the other hand…

By the time the fourth game came along, Capcom put a lot more effort into these soundtracks. They still used the arcade game’s remixes whenever possible, but otherwise, they completely rearranged them from scratch. I personally consider the days of the original PlayStation to be among the best times for Capcom’s sound design, the results are amazing. In fact, I’d consider the Complete Works soundtracks for MegaMans 4 through 6 to be the quintessential way to experience them in general. The second half of the Complete Works also added some additional features. For starters, while the first three games merely had a boss rush mode as an unlockable feature after beating the game, 4-6 replace it with Mission Mode, which has multiple challenges, including the aforementioned boss challenges. The later games also add new power-ups that can be equipped to MegaMan in both Navi and Mission Mode. These include things like an auto charge, faster normal and charge shots and even halving the amount of energy Special Weapons use. Rockman 4 through 6 also adds the ability to remove MegaMan’s helmet at any time by hitting the R2 button, in both Original and Navi Mode.

Fortunately, these games did see multiple re-releases. First, they were re-released as PSone Books – yet another Japanese imprint for Greatest Hits titles – back in 2003. They were also re-released alongside Rockman X7 in the Rockman Collection Special Box in the same year. They even eventually saw release in North America, albeit in an altered form. The MegaMan Anniversary Collection, released on the PS2, GameCube and Xbox, used the Complete Works ports as their basis, even including and translating the hints from Navi Mode. Of course, only MegaMans 4-6 retained their arranged soundtrack – which may have been for the best – and all the other bonus features were patched out of the game. Finally, Sony would eventually release the games as PS1 Classics on the PlayStation Network. While Japan would receive all six games, North America would only receive the first four. As the service has been discontinued, it seems unlikely that the set will ever be complete in the West. As such, if you really want to track these games down, I’d suggest looking for the Anniversary Collection, but if I’m going to be honest, they really don’t add enough to make them worth more than any other re-release.

MegaMan on the Game Boy

MegaMan, specifically Classic MegaMan, is generally considered a Nintendo property by most fans. Of course, that makes sense: all but one mainline game in the franchise were released on a Nintendo platform proper upon its initial release – to the extent where even the latest two games debuted on the Wii before they released on the other major platforms – but more appropriately, one must consider the whole host of spinoffs that the Blue Bomber received on the Big N’s hardware. Perhaps the most recognizable of these spinoffs would be the pentalogy – perhaps quintology would be more appropriate? – of games released on the Game Boy. Categorizing these games was difficult for quite some time. It’s easy enough in Japan, where they’re referred to as the “Rockman World” games. Elsewhere, they were simply referred to by number, like the NES games that served as their inspiration, aside from the first game which was given a subtitle. Eventually, a consensus was reached: Roman numerals would be used to refer to the Game Boy games, allowing fans to discern between the two sets of games easily. I’d argue that the Game Boy games are among the most important games in the entire franchise, particularly the later ones.

MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge

First, there’s the aptly titled “MegaMan: Dr Wily’s Revenge”. Released in 1991, it was the first game in the MegaMan series that Capcom published directly that was farmed out to an outside developer. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was Minakuchi Engineering’s first MegaMan-related project. Fortunately, the project leader was “a huge MegaMan fan” who, according to Keiji Inafune, understood the games better than some of Capcom’s own internal staff. As such, rather than being an original project, it recycles content from the first two NES games with some original content to create a game that is both familiar and new – a trend that most of the Game Boy games would follow. In fact, the game’s unique boss character Enker – named for the Japanese musical genre enka – was the first boss character Inafune was able to design completely from scratch.

Sometime after stopping Dr. Wily’s plans for world domination, the mad doctor has once again decided to take over the world by using 4 of Dr. Light’s old robots to wreak havoc in a city. However, Wily also has four more robots of his own, lying in wait at his new fortress, the Wily Station. However, this new Wily Castle boasts an additional surprise: a robot designed specifically to destroy the Blue Bomber, the very first MegaMan Killer (or Hunter, as it was known back in the day), Enker. Armed with the Mirror Buster, a lance that is able to absorb MegaMan’s attacks and fire them back at him threefold, Enker seems like Dr. Wily’s last line of defense, but could the evil genius have any more tricks left up his sleeve? To be honest, the first game’s story is a bit sparse, but honestly, I think that having a new MegaMan adventure available on the go was more impressive than any plot could’ve been.

Dr. Wily’s Revenge seems to take a lot of its gameplay cues from the second game in the series, which makes sense as this was the later of the two games it used as inspiration. The game has the same password save system as most of the NES games in the series. The first four Robot Masters – Cutman, Iceman, Fireman and Elecman – all have new remixed stage layouts that take elements from their stages from the original MegaMan while throwing in new elements. The boss difficulty has also been somewhat adjusted: would you believe me if I told you most people told you to start with Elecman over Cutman? The four bosses taken from MM2 – Bubbleman, Heatman, Flashman and Quickman – however, get demoted to mere boss fights in the standard teleporter hatches found in Dr. Wily’s Castle. It always felt kind of weird to me that they decided to put two fire-based robots in the same game, but what are you gonna do? Revenge was unique among MegaMan games in the way that it handled its stage select: it split the eight robot masters into two groups of four, generally corresponding with which game they originated from. This would become a hallmark of the Game Boy games and would even manage to find its way into the mainline series for a short time.

DWR

Would you believe this is Elecman’s stage?

The eight weapons taken from the Robot Masters in this game are functionally identical to their NES counterparts. However, that’s not to say that Dr. Wily’s Revenge doesn’t have any surprises of its own. Upon defeating the fourth Robot Master from MM1 – doesn’t matter which one it is – MegaMan is granted a brand-new support item, known simply as “Carry”. Carry generates a platform right below MegaMan which can be used as a stepping stone or to avoid falling into spikes. It’s a unique concept that doesn’t work exactly perfectly, but it feels at home when compared to some of the quirkier pre-Rush items, like Item-3 or the Magnet Beam. Of course, the main attraction is Enker’s Mirror Buster. It generates a shield directly in front of MegaMan that reflects plasma shots. Pretty simplistic, but at least it’s a unique concept.

The graphics and music owe a lot to the NES games they were based on. The graphics generally retain their classic 8-bit look, albeit with less color behind them. Inafune was displeased with how some of the standard enemy graphics from the original MegaMan had aged, so he redrew many of his old illustrations to create new sprite designs. The stage themes for the first four bosses are essentially recomposed versions of the original songs from the MM1 soundtrack, while the boss music appears to be a highly modified version of the MegaMan 2 boss theme. The rest of the music, on the other hand, is entirely original – the game even omits both the established stage select and victory jingles, long considered trademarks of the series. This was composer Makoto Tomozawa’s first composition for the MegaMan series, though he went uncredited along with the rest of the game’s staff. Fortunately, he would go on to compose such games as the original Resident Evil, both MegaMan Legends games and even contributed to the original MegaMan X’s soundtrack.

Much like the original MegaMan from 1987, Dr. Wily’s Revenge is a good first effort. It was not only the first game in the series to be released on the Game Boy, but also the first developed by the game’s developer. Having said that, the game’s fatal flaw is generally considered to be its difficulty. At times, the game’s obstacles become unfair to the point where the game’s layout has to be essentially memorized in order to progress through the game. To make matters worse, there’s definitely a lack of checkpoints compared to other games in the series. In the end, it’s definitely a unique experiment and while it’s not my first choice among the Game Boy MegaMans, it’s also definitely not the last.

MegaMan II

Dr. Wily’s Revenge did well upon its initial release, eventually earning a spot on Nintendo’s Player’s Choice label. So, it only made sense to make a proper sequel. Unlike the other Game Boy games, this game’s development was handled by a company known as “Japan System House”, but more commonly known by its later name, Biox. Keiji Inafune considers this game to be the weakest of the Game Boy spinoffs, as the developer had very little knowledge of the series prior.

Admittedly, MegaMan II was the only Game Boy game I owned on cart as a child and to this day, I definitely consider it the weakest of the bunch by a wide margin. Which is a shame, given how interesting the game’s storyline is. After his latest setback, Dr. Wily ransacks the Chronos Institute, a research laboratory focusing on time-space research. While there, he obtains the Time Skimmer, a device that allows for time travel. Wily’s original plan was to travel back to the past to prevent MegaMan’s creation, but when he discovers the Time Skimmer is only capable of moving forward through time, he changes his plans. Travelling roughly 37.426 years (thanks Capcom USA) into the future, Dr. Wily finds that the future is peaceful and even Wily himself has reformed into a model citizen. MegaMan has given up his weapons and has gone back to his civilian life as Rock, Dr. Light’s assistant. Dr Wily convinces his future self to help him abduct the now defenseless Rock and the two modify him into Quint, a fighting robot with one goal in mind: destroying the MegaMan of the present. Meanwhile, Dr. Light has been dispatched to the time-space laboratory to investigate the recent break-in. Using Rush’s super-sense of smell, Light was able to deduce that Dr. Wily was behind the theft and called in MegaMan to search for Dr. Wily’s whereabouts.

As with the previous game, MegaMan II takes content from the second and third NES games to create something original. MegaMan has access to both his slide maneuver and Rush as a support item in MMII, but there are some odd quirks to the gameplay as well. For example, MegaMan immediately dies upon touching spikes even during his standard hit-invincibility period, much like in the original NES MegaMan. The game’s layout matches that of Dr. Wily’s Revenge: players can choose to tackle the four remaining Robot Masters from MM2 – Metalman, Airman, Woodman and Clashman – before moving onto Wily’s latest fortress. There, teleport hatches leading to four robot bosses taken from MegaMan 3 – Hardman, Topman, Magnetman and Needleman. However, MegaMan has to clear unique stages before facing off with the MM3 bosses, as opposed to just being teleported directly into a boss fight like in the previous game. The various stages have unique layouts like in Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though this time around, they seem to more directly inspired by the stages found in the NES games compared to the other Game Boy games.

Once again, most of the weapons have been recycled from previous games. This time around, Rush Coil, Rush Jet and Rush Marine also return, resembling their MM3 incarnations. Rush Jet is obtained by beating Airman, defeating Metalman unlocks the Rush Marine and surprisingly, the Rush Coil is unlocked by defeating Crashman. That’s right, for the first time, Rush Coil isn’t a standard item, it has to be unlocked by defeating a boss. The only original weapon found in MMII is Quint’s Sakugarne. Essentially a cross between a jackhammer and a pogo stick, the Sakugarne allows MegaMan to jump on enemies and even safely traverse spikes. The weapon is kind of useless in most situations and comes across like a joke all things considered, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.

MMII

Seriously, the Sakugarne is so dumb, it’s funny.

Japan System House redrew a lot of the sprite work from scratch for MMII and it shows. Sadly, that’s not a compliment: several enemy sprites just end up looking weird and completely out of proportion at times. Of course, these little quibbles pale in comparison to the game’s take on the Wily Machine, which is scaled at roughly the same height as MegaMan, meaning that either MegaMan has grown to Godzilla-esque proportions or Dr. Wily shrank to the size of a doll. Then you’ve got the graphic of MegaMan riding the Sakugarne which appears to give him the body proportions of a rotisserie chicken, for some reason. I will admit, I did like the use of melting clocks in the Wily Castle backgrounds. A clear reference to the work of Salvador Dali, so they fit with the game’s theming. That along with the Wily Fortress establishing shots are really the only things that turned out well in this game with regards to graphics. Even worse than the game’s graphics would have to be the music. Even when I was a child and I’d often pop in headphones to play video games at any opportunity, I kept this game muted, simply because the music is so irritating. Looking back, I have to wonder if Japan System House just assigned the parts to each song to the wrong instruments or if they just chose terrible instruments in general. It’s a shame because aside from the Got Weapon theme – which was clearly inspired the one from MM3 – the entire soundtrack is entirely original compositions. While many enterprising musicians have tried to rearrange the audio into something worthwhile, it still doesn’t fix the ruptured eardrums the original likely caused. While MegaMan II wasn’t the first game composer Kenji Yamazaki worked on, it was the first time he worked on the Game Boy, which may account for the wonky instrumentation. It’s also more than likely his most well-known work, and not for good reason.

If MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge was too difficult, then MegaMan II was more than certainly far too easy. Even with its odd quirks, including a multitude of glitches, the game offers little reason to play it in the first place. The boss fights are far too easy, the stage designs are bland and the whole thing just feels off in general. I’ve gotten into arguments over whether Revenge or II was the worst Game Boy MegaMan game, but I feel so confident in my stance, I’m almost inclined to believe that MegaMan II is, in fact, the lost game between the PC versions of Mega Man and Mega Man 3 from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. After all, it’s got the right name and even managed to release in Japan in 1991, between Mega Man’s 1990 debut and MM3’s 1992 release.

MegaMan III

Despite MMII’s lack of quality, the game managed to sell well enough to also be re-released as a Player’s Choice title and thus, the Game Boy spinoffs earned a third entry. Considering the sheer lack of knowledge regarding the franchise as a whole, Japan System House was not brought back. Instead, Capcom went back to Minakuchi Engineering – the same company that developed Dr. Wily’s Revenge – and hired them to create the aptly named MegaMan III. Likewise, the game’s unique boss character Punk, is among Keiji Inafune’s favorite boss characters. Inafune even used his position as producer to get Punk added to the Battle Network series.

After his most recent defeat, Dr. Wily goes into hiding. Eventually, he is found having modified an oil platform in the middle of the ocean to drill to the Earth’s core, to use the thermal energy to build his most powerful robot yet. Using eight of his most powerful Robot Masters – well, technically four of them belong to Dr. Cossack – to defend various offshore locations, Dr. Wily has clearly prepared himself for any interference from the Blue Bomber. Just to be sure, he’s built a second robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Punk. Living up to his name, Punk is a delinquent robot boasting a buzzsaw mohawk, spiked shoulders and the ability to roll into a buzzsaw and slice through anything. Can MegaMan stop Wily’s energy stealing scheme and bring the megalomaniacal doctor to justice?

The base gameplay is fairly similar to Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though there have been some modifications. For starters, MegaMan has both his slide and New Mega Buster this time around. The charge shot is exactly like the one found in MM4 on the NES, both in appearance and mechanically. As such, it doesn’t lose its charge when MegaMan takes damage. As usual, the game starts by giving players a choice between 4 bosses from MegaMan 3 – Sparkman, Shadowman, Geminiman and Snakeman. This time, however, there is a short stage that acts as an interlude between both sets of Robot Masters, with a unique boss: a giant version of the Adhering Suzy enemy from the original MegaMan. After that, a second stage select appears, consisting of the four robots taken from MM4 – Diveman, Drillman, Skullman and Dustman. All of the bosses’ stages have been revamped, taking minor inspiration from the original levels in the NES version. After that, it’s onto the Wily Station, an underwater base this time, instead of the space stations in the two previous games. All-in-all, not that different from the two previous games, but definitely the most refined Game Boy game thus far.

MMIII

A weapon from the third game being used on an enemy from the fourth? Zany!

As expected, most of the weapons are again identical to their NES counterparts. Rush Coil and Rush Jet are both similar to their MM4 iterations and are unlocked by defeating Snakeman and Dustman respectively. And once again, the only original weapon from this game comes from the game’s MegaMan Killer, Punk. The Screw Crusher – don’t look at me, I didn’t name it – fires a spinning blade into the air, which quickly arcs down and falls through the ground and walls. Not particularly the best weapon, but it beats Sakugarne.

Minakuchi’s attempts at recreating the NES games’ graphics on the Game Boy shine through, even better than in Dr. Wily’s Revenge. Indeed, their attempts at recreating the backgrounds, enemy graphics and even boss sprites from MegaMan 3 and 4 are significantly more accurate than the two previous games. Better still, the graphics original to III also manage to blend in with the existing artwork seamlessly. That’s really all that can be said about the graphics though: they do their job, but they aren’t exactly impressive. The same could be said for the music. Of all the Game Boy games, I think MegaMan III’s soundtrack recycled the most music from existing games. The game’s composer was Kouji Murata, who I mentioned previously for his work on The Wily Wars. The rearrangements of existing songs work out fairly well, but given the fact that this was the first MegaMan game Murata ever worked on, it’s completely understandable that his original compositions often fall a little flat. MMIII’s unique music isn’t bad, but it does little more than get the job done in most cases. This is also the only Game Boy game that recycles the trademark MegaMan stage chosen and victory jingles. Heck, even the song from the title screen of MM2 makes an appearance in the game’s soundtrack.

I think that the best way to describe MegaMan III is it’s the most stereotypical of the Game Boy games. That is to say, it best fits the mold of what people would expect from the portable spinoffs of video game series that began on console. It’s not a bad game by any means, and it definitely improves upon the first two by leaps and bounds. In fact, the game itself is both challenging and fair, fixing the major concerns from Dr. Wily’s Revenge and MMII. Having said all that, there is no way that anyone would choose to play MMIII over any of the NES games in any circumstance. The game’s main problem is that it comes across as sort of ordinary. It’s major selling point is its portability. While this is far less of a major selling point in a day where one can literally break out the first 6 NES games onto a device that fits in your pocket – I’m talking about the 3DS, of course – it was probably the best thing MegaMan III had going for it upon release. Of the Game Boy games, III is generally considered the rarest, as it was the oldest game in the series to not receive a Player’s Choice re-release. Somehow, for a title that’s best described as “average”, that seems like an ironic fate.

MegaMan IV

When all of the MegaMan games made from the Game Boy are lined up, side-by-side, it tells a story. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was the first experiment, generally considered a failure. II was an even bigger experiment, going with an entirely new developer and ended up being a failure. III was where things tipped over the edge and Minakuchi Engineering managed to achieve what most Game Boy iterations of popular series always shoot for: competence. Not excellence, not brilliance, but mere competence. On their second game, the team at Minakuchi managed to achieve that goal and got their foot in the door for the remainder of Classic MegaMan’s portable adventures. In the end, that seemed to be their plan all along: allow Capcom to become happy with their work, which sold games but didn’t outshine the “real” MegaMan games. Little did they realize that the very next game, MegaMan IV, would end up redefining the expectations of any and all future spin-off games for portable systems.

To put things into perspective, IV was the first Game Boy MegaMan game that had introductory cutscenes depicting the game’s story. Scientists from all over the world have gathered at the first annual Robot Master Expo, to showcase the latest advances in the field of robotics. Suddenly, Dr. Wily arrives on the scene in his trademark flying saucer and sends out a radio transmission which sends all of the robots at the Expo go berserk. He then activates eight of his old robots – again, four of them actually belong to Cossack – and sets off to take over the world yet again. Fortunately, MegaMan is at the expo and tries to stop Wily’s latest scheme, but first he must find a way to deactivate the reprogrammed robots. He also has to contend with the latest robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Ballade. Far more powerful than his predecessors, Ballade views MegaMan as the greatest challenge of his life and eagerly awaits fighting the Blue Bomber in one-on-one combat. Can MegaMan defeat this new threat and stop the mad doctor’s latest scheme?

MegaMan IV is unique from its predecessors, in the sense that it experiments with brand-new gameplay mechanics, while still feeling exactly like a true MegaMan game in its own right. Perhaps the simplest example of this comes in the game’s take on the Mega Buster. It essentially combines elements from both the MM4 and MM5/6 versions: MegaMan doesn’t lose his charge after taking damage, but the charged shot itself more closely resembles the more compact design from 5 and 6, as opposed to the longer “comet” design from 4 (and by extension, III). However, IV also adds a new mechanic all its own, whenever a fully-charged shot is fired, MegaMan takes a little bit of kickback. Now, there are times where this can be detrimental, but they’re very few and far between – MegaMan would have to be standing at the very edge of a ledge to be knocked off by the recoil of a charged shot. Perhaps the most significant change would be the addition of the Shop mechanic. A new power-up, referred to as “P Chips”, can be found throughout stages and can even be dropped by defeated enemies. They come in two sizes: small ones are worth 2 units, while the larger ones are worth 5. There are also miniature E-Tanks that can be found in stages, collect 4 and they become a full E-Tank, but otherwise they’re as useful as individual pieces of heart from Zelda. MegaMan can hold up to 999 of them at any time. By hitting the Select button on the Stage Select screen or pressing the B button after completing a stage, players can enter Dr. Light’s Laboratory. There, P Chips can be exchanged for several items, including various Energy Tanks, extra lives, and even the Energy Balancer.

As usual, the game retains the formula as established in the previous game. Players are allowed to choose reimagined stages, each capped off with one of 4 Robot Masters from MM4 – specifically, Toadman, Pharoahman, Ringman and Brightman – before taking on a short intermission stage. After that, the cycle is repeated, only with an assortment of 4 bosses from MegaMan 5 – Chargeman, Stoneman, Napalmman and Crystalman, followed by the Wily Station stages. There are a few interesting caveats this time around. For starters, there are letters hidden in all eight of the Robot Master stages. In the MM4 bosses’ stages, the letters B-E-A-T are hidden and collecting all four of them unlocks Beat, much like in MM6. However, the bosses from MM5 have the letters W-I-L-Y hidden in their stages and these are necessary to complete the game. They act as keys to Wily’s Fortress and players cannot progress without them. That’s right: a MegaMan game that expects more than the bare minimum from its players to proceed, something that hasn’t happened since 1987. What an age we lived in. Best of all, MMIV brings back the boss rematches in this Wily Station, teleporter hatches and all. This definitely adds to the game’s length. One odd point is that the password system gets a lot more complex in this game compared to previous titles – more than likely due to the amount of information each passcode needs to remember. By this point, Capcom probably should’ve considered investing in a battery back-up instead.

MMIV

I love how his second form just consists of raising his horns and putting on sunglasses.

Obviously, the weapons are once again the same exact ones from the NES games for the most part. Beat is identical to its MM5 and 6 version, and is unlocked by collecting the BEAT letters. Rush Coil is obtained by defeating Toadman and beating Chargeman grants MegaMan the use of the Rush Jet. As usual, the only original weapon comes from the MegaMan Killer, Ballade. The somehow simultaneously aptly and incoherently named Ballade Cracker is an explosive that can be aimed in 7 directions – all but straight down – that deals massive damage. Of all the unique weapons exclusive to the Game Boy MegaMans, the Ballade Cracker is the best by far. It’s a shame that it’s only accessible near the end of the game.

There’s little that hasn’t already been said with regards to the graphics. By this point, the artstyle has gotten as close to that of the NES as possible, given the Game Boy’s lack of colors and small screen. A nice touch would have to be the redesign for the stage select: instead of having four portraits onscreen at the same time, bosses are selected by cycling through full body shots of each Robot Master’s in-game sprite, with the bottom portion of the screen showcasing each boss posing in front of their stage’s setting. It’s a really interesting concept that I wish more games in the series had used. Inafune was a big fan of Ballade’s design – as was the case with Enker and Punk – and he had fun devising what Ballade’s second form would look like. The game’s music is also top-notch. Kouji Murata returns as the game’s composer, though by this point, he had left Minakuchi and begun working as a freelancer full-time. He returned for this game at the request of his former employer. Much like how the soundtrack for MMIII perfectly mirrored the safe approach Minakuchi Engineering took with that game’s development, the same could be said for the more experimental nature of IV overall. Aside from the Robot Master stage themes and the boss themes from both MM4 and MM5 – which have been rearranged to varying degrees – the entire soundtrack is original, including the stage selected and victory jingles. In fact, there are quite a few catchy tunes in MMIV: I love both variants of the stage select theme, the password music and Ballade’s theme. My personal favorite is probably the Wily Stage theme.

It’s really a shame that MegaMan IV doesn’t get more love. Despite falling into the same basic mold as the first three MegaMan Game Boy games, it ended up making a lot of changes to the existing formula. It’s safe to say that IV probably had much more of a lasting impact on the series than most people would likely give it credit for. The shop system that was established in this game would appear in every mainline game moving forward, not to mention a few spin-offs. IV’s emphasis on storyline told in-game would have an impact on the series moving forward, particularly during the 16-bit and 32-bit eras. If this was the last game released on Game Boy, it would’ve been a suitable end – the game surpassed the expectation of most portable tie-ins to popular series by a wide margin and provided a more than suitable adventure for handhelds that deserves its place among the “real” MegaMan games on the NES. Alas, it’s generally lumped in with its predecessors as little more than a pale imitation of the console games, due to recycling bosses.  However, it’s completely understandable why people could easily forget about MMIV. After all, the best was still yet to come.

MegaMan V

While portable spinoffs for video game series, popular and niche, are generally considered average at best, there are games that somehow manage to far exceed these simple expectations. Link’s Awakening, Super Mario Land 2 and the Shinobi games for Game Gear come to mind, but perhaps the greatest of all was the fifth MegaMan game released on the Game Boy. While the first four portable games recycled boss characters and stage elements from the NES games, the final game was completely original. Considering what I’ve seen of Minakuchi Engineering’s development history, this game is clearly their magnum opus. I’ve even seen some claim that this is the best MegaMan game in the entire franchise. Frankly, I’m not inclined to disagree.

A few months have passed since Dr. Wily’s latest attempt at world domination and the world is at peace. Rock and Roll are walking through a field on a peaceful day when a mysterious robot suddenly appears. “So, you are the famous MegaMan! I am Terra – and you will soon be my slave!” Rock transforms into MegaMan while Roll runs to safety. The Blue Bomber puts up a valiant effort, but his attacks have absolutely no effect on this new threat. MegaMan is quickly defeated by Terra and awakes hours later in Dr. Light’s lab. Several robots from outer space have begun an assault on the Earth. Referring to themselves as the “Stardroids”, these intergalactic warriors have conquered most major cities. To make matters worse, they are constructed of alien materials, which render most weapons useless. Fortunately, the good doctor managed to study the Stardroids’ powers and devised a new weapon to replace MegaMan’s Super Mega Buster: the Mega Arm. He also created a brand-new robotic assistant for MegaMan: a mechanical feline named Tango, capable of transforming into a buzzsaw to attack enemies. Armed with these new abilities, MegaMan sets forth to stop the aspirations of the mysterious Stardroids. But could there be more to this threat than it appears?

MMV-01

This intro is pretty amazing for a handheld game.

In the previous entries, I neglected to mention how the Game Boy games handled gameplay compared to their original NES counterparts. The games themselves, for the most part, play similarly, but there is one key difference that has been a constant criticism since Dr. Wily’s Revenge. The Game Boy’s screen size is significantly smaller than standard-sized televisions – even back in the 1990s – and as such, the games’ aspect ratio had to be adjusted to account for the handheld’s tiny display. As such, most of the stage is left obscured compared to the full console releases, which can often allow obstacles and enemies to seemingly come out of nowhere. For the most part, the stages are designed to prevent this from becoming a problem, but it’s not an exact science. There are examples in all five games where the limited screen size can become a problem, but MegaMan V avoids it for the most part. Fortunately, MegaMan retains his fluid controls – even in MegaMan II – a surprising feat given the compressed level designs present in the Game Boy spinoffs.

MegaMan V introduces a host of new elements. First and foremost is the Mega Arm. While the various incarnations of the Mega Buster allowed MegaMan to charge up a larger and more damaging shot, the Mega Arm elects instead to deliver a powerful punch. MegaMan still has his standard shots, but a fully-charged Mega Arm shot fires off MegaMan’s fist across most of the screen before it returns to MegaMan (not unlike the Ring Boomerang). A partially-charged shot only goes half the distance, but maintains the same damage as the charged shot. Of course, this comes at a cost: the arm must return to MegaMan before he’s able to attack again. Otherwise, the Blue Bomber is left completely defenseless. The shop mechanic from the previous game also returns, but adds some new items, specifically two add-ons for the Mega Arm: Magnet Hand allows MegaMan to grab items with the Mega Arm, while the Clobber Hand allows MegaMan to hit enemies multiple times with a single Mega Arm charge shot. This extra damage is achieved by hitting the Fire button multiple times with proper timing. It can be difficult to perfect the technique, but it’s always worth attempting, since failure just means the Arm moves back into position as usual. Aside from those, the items from the previous game are also available for sale: various energy tanks and the Energy Balancer. The game also retains MMIV’s unique password system – though they swap out Beat for Tango this time around.

MMV-03

I love the Mega Arm. It’s so bad.

As per usual, the Stardroids are split into two sets of four. The first four Stardroids – Mercury, Mars, Neptune and Venus – are found in various locations on Earth. After a short intermission pitting MegaMan against a familiar foe, the Blue Bomber sets off to fight four more Stardroids – Uranus, Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn – who have all taken refuge on the planets bearing their names. Yes, even Pluto: it was 1994, so we still considered Pluto a planet, deal with it. Hidden in each of the second wave of stages are four Energy Crystals. If all of them are collected, Dr. Light can use them to build the Power Generator – a device that halves the amount of energy it takes to use all of the Special Weapons. After defeating the eight Stardroids, MegaMan is finally able to have his final showdown with their leader, Terra – or Earth, as he was known in Japan. After defeating him, it turns out that Dr. Wily had a hand in the Stardroid’s conquest and MegaMan must fly to Wily’s latest base – the aptly-named“Wily Star” – using a modified version of the Rush Marine as a spaceship, leading to a shoot-’em-up sequence culminating with a boss fight against the base’s defenses. After fighting through the MegaMan Killers and Quint from the previous Game Boy games, as well as rematches with the first eight Stardroids, MegaMan finally comes face-to-face with the mad doctor in another climactic battle. After being defeated, Wily still has one trick up his sleeve: the ultimate weapon, Sunstar – a Stardroid boasting the power of the sun itself. That’s right, there was a Classic MegaMan game where Wily isn’t the final boss – I didn’t believe it either the first time I heard about it.

As usual, the game has a few support items. The Rush Coil and Rush Jet are unlockable once again, beat Venus and Saturn respectively to unlock them. The Coil is its usual self, but the Rush Jet acts differently: MegaMan needs to run while using it and it can no longer move up or down while in use, much like Item-2 in MegaMan 2. However, MMV decided to try something entirely unique with the latest addition to MegaMan’s mechanical menagerie. Tango is a frisky feline who can be used from the very beginning of the game. Like Beat before him, Tango attacks enemies, but goes about it in a very unique way. Summoned with a fully-charged shot, Tango teleports on the scene, meows – I must admit, it’s a pretty cute sound – and rolls into a buzzsaw, bouncing around the stage, staying close to MegaMan. Not particularly the most useful support item in the series, but certainly an interesting concept. Tango sticks around until his energy is depleted, he falls into a pit or when MegaMan leaves the room he was activated in. Keiji Inafune would later state that Tango was designed because the development team for MMV wanted to introduce a supporting character that didn’t appear in the NES games.

Of course, with completely original bosses come some new weapons. As usual, I’m going to be ranking all nine of them, from best to worst. MegaMan V’s arsenal is actually pretty unique, particularly in comparison to those found in its NES contemporaries. The Mega Arm essentially balances the Mega Buster’s power with some minor disadvantages, allowing the Special Weapons a rare chance to shine. First off, the obvious choice is Terra’s Spark Chaser: a laser shot that locks onto the nearest enemy, striking them multiple times. The only downside is that it’s obtained so late in the game, but given Terra’s position as leader of the Stardroids, it only makes sense that he would have the best weapon. Next would have to be the Photon Missile, obtained by defeating Mars. It’s similar to the Drill Bomb from MM4, but it lacks the remote detonation feature. It hangs in place for a second before shooting forward at incredible speeds, allowing it to be used as a trap. Considering each shot only takes half a unit of energy per shot, it’s also probably the most efficient missile weapon in MegaMan history. My choice for the third best weapon would be Pluto’s Break Dash. After charging the weapon, MegaMan lets loose with a powerful dash, able to crush enemies and specific blocks. Best of all, unlike similar weapons like the Top Spin and Charge Kick, MegaMan is rendered completely invincible while dashing. The Bubble Bomb, taken from Venus, takes the number four spot. MegaMan fires off a bubble that floats upward in an erratic, wavy pattern. Once it reaches the ceiling, it drags along it – not unlike the Bubble Lead from MM2 – and if it makes impact with an enemy, it explodes in spectacular fashion.

MMV-02

MegaMan V’s original bosses were truly amazing.

Number 5 (Number V?) on the list would have to be the Salt Water, unlocked after beating Neptune. MegaMan throws a large orb of water in a downward arc, splashing into three smaller balls on impact with a wall or the ground. It’s almost like a modified version of the Crystal Eye, but with a much higher damage output. My choice for the sixth best weapon would have to be Jupiter’s Electric Shock. Similar to MMX’s Fire Wave, MegaMan fires a short-range stream of electricity for a single second. Unfortunately, he’s unable to move forward or back for the duration of the attack, but he can still jump and the Electric Shock makes up for its shortcomings with high damage. Next, there’s the Grab Buster, taken from Mercury. The weapon is a standard shot, but the cool thing is that when it hits standard enemies, it can pull power-ups – generally small health and weapon energy pick-ups or the occasional small P chip – off of them and send them straight to MegaMan. Aside from that, the weapon isn’t too special, most bosses are actually completely immune to it. Trailing at number eight is Uranus’s Deep Digger – there’s no way that name wasn’t intended as a joke. It’s essentially the Super Arm 2.0: MegaMan can lift specific blocks by standing on top of them and fling them at enemies as a solid piece. If they hit a wall, they ricochet back in four smaller pieces. Fortunately, this time around, more areas have the blocks in question. In fact, some hidden paths are covered by those specific blocks, so it’s definitely got more of a utility than the original Super Arm. Still, it relies entirely on those blocks, but at least it allows MegaMan a standard arm cannon attack whenever there’s nothing around to grab. Finally, there’s Black Hole, the prize for defeating Saturn. It essentially sucks in enemies and one of them makes contact with the black hole, it causes a massive explosion that damages every enemy onscreen. It’s one of those weapons that’s really only useful in specific situations. To make matters worse, the only boss weak to it is Mercury and it can only be used on him during the rematch on the Wily Star.

Like the gameplay itself, MegaMan V’s graphics push Nintendo’s plucky handheld to its limits, while still maintaining the look of the classic NES games. Aside from some reused graphics from previous Game Boy titles, all of the in-game sprites are completely original, leading to some fairly unique enemy designs. Keiji Inafune even recounted that having a specific theme made it easier and harder to design the Stardroids, especially given the vagueness of theming the game around outer space. As such, Inafune had several reservations when designing the game’s original bosses.  The fact that the game doesn’t have to follow any preconceived theming for the Stardroids compared to the recycled Robot Masters of previous games, also allowed Minakuchi Engineering to get inventive with some of the game’s environments. Neptune’s stage starts atop a battleship on the sea, constantly rising and falling, before moving to the inside, where there are several water-based hazards to navigate. Uranus’s stage is a cavern themed after Egypt for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Most of the other stages utilize a more common “space station” theme, but still manage to incorporate their own unique elements over the underlying theme. The game also uses the Game Boy’s small scale for some interesting effects during the initial push to the Wily Star. While MegaMan and Rush start out at full-size on the journey to Wily’s space station, once they fight with it to gain entrance, they shrink to miniature versions of themselves to bring the massive Wily Star into proper scale. The way that the shift in scale is handled by the game is actually really impressive for a Game Boy game, even this late into the system’s lifespan. The real star of the show would have to be the cinematic cutscenes that play throughout the game. Even compared to MMIV, the sheer amount of story cutscenes is amazing and the expressions that were captured in the in-game sprites is impressive. This game is essentially a masterclass in terms of showing game designers how to do more with less. MegaMan V was also the first and only game in the series to be fully-compatible with the Super Game Boy peripheral for the SNES. Plugging the game in caused the game to display special color palettes for each stage and cutscene and surrounded the gameplay with a nice little border featuring the Metools

The game’s soundtrack is completely original, even keeping with the Game Boy’s theme of original jingles for both the stage select and boss victories. Like the other Game Boy games, the entire staff goes uncredited, but this time, there’s really no concrete evidence as to who actually composed for this game. Most people assume that Kouji Murata returned to bring the series to its conclusion, but given the fact that he didn’t list the game among his works on his own website, it seems this might not be the case. Still, there is evidence that implies that he could have been behind MMV’s soundtrack: some music from MMIV is found among the game’s data and the musical style does seem to match up with III and IV. Regardless of who composed the game, the game’s tone seems to simultaneously match up with the mainline games, while having its own unique tone. Many of the stage themes have this weird tone to them that is both playful, yet sinister. I’d say the soundtrack’s highlights are the stage themes for Venus, Uranus and Jupiter; the theme that plays while MegaMan makes his way to the Wily Star and the final battle with Sunstar. I also found the stage select theme catchy, not to mention the theme that plays in Dr. Light’s lab at the beginning of the game and the password theme.

Perhaps it’s fitting that MegaMan V was the last game in the Game Boy series, as it finally managed to achieve something its predecessors could only dream of. While the first four portable games relied heavily on their “big brothers” from the NES, V not only stood independently of everything that came before it, but also seemed to provide a look at how the Classic series could have continued in tandem with the new MegaMan X series, which had started on the SNES the previous year and was heralded as the first proper evolution of the series since the second NES game. After MMX debuted, many assumed that the original series may be done for good – despite MegaMan 6’s ending hinting at a sequel – but MMV managed to find a way to keep the series relevant. More importantly, it was the last game for a long time that used the classic 8-bit MegaMan art style – retro throwbacks hadn’t come into vogue just yet – so in a sense, it was also closing a chapter on the MegaMan legacy itself. In the end, Minakuchi Engineering managed to create a game that not only completely surpassed the concept of the portable spin-off, they created a game that can stand proudly among the best of one of the greatest video game franchises of all time.

Thus concludes the Game Boy line of MegaMan games. While the game carts are rare in the West, especially the last 3 games which didn’t receive any budget re-releases, the entire set has been re-released on the Nintendo 3DS via the Virtual Console. As such, it’s easy enough to fire these up in a fashion both cheap and legal. However, this wasn’t the only time Capcom considered re-releases for the portable spinoffs. Back when the Game Boy Color first debuted, three major titles from the original Game Boy – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Tetris – were re-released, with brand new content and capable of using the GBC’s full color palette. Wario Land 2 would receive similar treatment, but was a simple coloration of the original game with no added features.  At one point, Nintendo apparently considered doing more deluxe re-releases, but eventually decided against it. The only two games that are known to have been considered to receive the DX treatment are Metroid II: Return of Samus and MegaMan V. Alas, the worst was yet to come. Back in 2004, Capcom considered making two collections to celebrate the Blue Bomber’s long tenure. The first was the MegaMan Anniversary Collection, which I touched on earlier. The second was a title meant exclusively for the Game Boy Advance. At one point referred to as “MegaMan Anniversary Collection” but more commonly known as “MegaMan Mania”, the game was set to include all 5 Game Boy games on a single cartridge. Best of all, the games were going to be fully colorized in this new re-release, though players would also have the option to play in the original black-and-white. There was also talk of an art gallery, as well as a “complete history of MegaMan”. Unfortunately, Mania never materialized, with the commonly accepted reason being that Capcom had lost access to the source code. To add insult to injury, some have speculated that it was only MegaMan II that had kept this collection from coming to fruition. While it’s good to see the games available in the present, just thinking about how we almost had enhanced re-releases several years before makes the whole situation bittersweet. I’d love to see Capcom revisit the MegaMan Mania concept one more time with a third Legacy Collection, but at this point, I’m pretty much sure I’d accept straight ports again.

This brings us to the end of MegaMan’s tenure during the 8-bit era. While MegaMan would continue to thrive in future generations – mainly by way of various spinoffs – the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System is definitely the period most people look back on most fondly with regards to the original Blue Bomber. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at how Classic MegaMan fared during the next two generations, as well as several of the weirder spin-offs Capcom either made themselves or licensed to other companies.

Advertisements

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 1]

Mega_Man_logo

I’ve said this so many times, it’s probably a cliché at this point, but I owe much of my love to the entire medium of video games to MegaMan. When I was a kid, my only regular outlet for playing video games on a console was the old NES at a childhood friend’s house. Of the numerous games he’d traded back and forth to Funcoland (Ah, Funcoland!), there were three games that stood out to me, that would have a profound impact on my taste in video games. Of those three games, for the longest time, MegaMan was the constant. Double Dragon II was its series’ swansong for quite some time – arguably, it only recovered recently with Double Dragon Neon and Double Dragon IV. Likewise, Contra’s relevancy diminished significantly after the 16-bit era. MegaMan, on the other hand, managed to persevere. Not always in its original form, but for most of the Blue Bomber’s life, the franchise was the recipient of much love from the folks over at Capcom. There’s the more mature themes of the X series, the experimental 3D gameplay of the Legends series, the unique RPG spin of Battle Network, my beloved MegaMan Zero quadrilogy, the woefully incomplete ZX and the profoundly underrated Star Force franchise. As far as I’m concerned, Capcom got it right the first time: I still maintain that the “Classic” MegaMan is the best of the bunch, offering what may very well be the purest take on run-and-gun platforming action in video game history. While the series has obviously seen much better days – what with the present 7-year hiatus, multiple cancelled titles and only a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it – sometimes it’s better to just dwell on the past and try to remember the good times.

In honor of the franchise’s 30th year, I’ve decided to go ahead and dedicate a retrospective to MegaMan, specifically the aforementioned “Classic” series. Chances are I will revisit other sub-franchises down the line in future Retrospectives, but this seems like as good a place as any to get started: at the beginning. As with the Retrospective on Ys, I won’t necessarily be handling this in chronological release order, at least not in the pure sense that I ordered the various listings in the first two retrospective articles. Given just how long the series has gone on – not to mention my experience with the games in question – I’ve decided to split this article into four separate ones. This first one will cover the first 3 games, all originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Of course, this time around, I’ll include broader takes on my opinions regarding the various facets of each of these games, as opposed to the generalized reviews I did in previous articles. After all, the original MegaMan series may very well be the video game series I’m the most well-versed in, so it’s only fitting that I accompany each game’s analysis with my own personal thoughts on their various facets.

Likewise, I’ve also decided to cover an assortment of various minor titles: remakes, spinoffs and the like. Now, this list won’t be complete by any means, but I’ll try to hit as many traditional-style MegaMan games as I can possibly remember – and maybe even some that most people wouldn’t even bother with. These will also be split across all four articles, just to keep things a bit light and to allow me to discuss these various offshoots. Of course, that means that I’ll be skipping out on spinoffs like MegaMan’s Soccer, MegaMan: Battle and Chase, Super Adventure Rockman and Wily and Light’s RockBoard: That’s Paradise, but I think those are fair omissions. This time, I’ll be discussing MegaMan: The Wily Wars – fitting given that it’s a remade compilation of the three mainline games I’ll be covering in this article – as well as the two IBM PC games Capcom licensed through Hi-Tech Expressions, arguably the evilest company that ever lived.

Also, given the fact that this is a video game blog, I’ll be skipping over the various adaptations, but I feel like giving a couple of them some proper shout-outs regardless: the cheesy 1990’s cartoon show from Ruby-Spears Production, as well as the brilliant but woefully short-lived comic from Archie were among my favorite takes on the world of MegaMan. Having said that, there may be times where I make references to various other media that MegaMan has inhabited, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. So, with all the introductions out of the way, let’s get equipped with some Bubble Lead and get started with this celebration of 30 years since the Blue Bomber first appeared.

MegaMan

Ironically, the first MegaMan game was the second game in the series I’d ever encountered. That friend of mine I mentioned at the beginning of the article? He managed to get his hands on the first game during one of his usual trading binges. It didn’t end up staying in his collection for too long, so my childhood memories of the game are fuzzy at best, and it doesn’t help that they were mostly passive experiences. I’m sure many of you know that feeling, of being at a friend’s house when he’s obsessed with a brand-new single-player game and you’re just essentially sitting there, waiting and watching: hoping for a turn that you know, deep down, will never come. I don’t think I got to sit down and actually play the original MegaMan until many years later, when I really started getting into the series on my own terms. I’ve just always thought it was funny that the original MegaMan, the game that started it all, just barely came out within a month from the day I was born. Maybe I was just destined to love the series because of that odd coincidence. Granted, it does seem like a fair amount of series that I love even to this day – Ys, Street Fighter, even Double Dragon and Contra! – all seemed to start the year before I born. Funny how that worked out for me.

Before we get into the game itself, I feel like mentioning some random trivia about the first game and its development. It’s been long asserted that it was originally meant to be a licensed title featuring Astro Boy (better known as “Tetsuwan Atom” in Japan), but I haven’t been able to track down any concrete evidence supporting this. Regardless, Classic MegaMan in general appears to draw a lot of inspiration from Osamu Tezuka’s classic anime and manga, so it’s only fair that many people would take this rumor as gospel. Likewise, the character was originally named “Rainbowman” – likely due to the fact that he changed colors depending on which weapon he had equipped – but this was soundly rejected due to copyright issues, likely due to the live-action superhero of the same name, created by Toho over a decade prior. They would end up settling on “Rockman”, which would supposedly also find copyright issues elsewhere – considering it’s the name of a series of headphone amplifiers – so the name would be changed to “Mega Man” elsewhere, though Capcom’s then-Consumer Products Division President Joseph Morici asserts that the name was changed because he thought the name was terrible, and that Mega Man would be more appealing to US audiences.

The game’s story is simple, but appealing. In the far-flung year of 200X – which was still fairly far off back in 1987, to be fair – advances in the field of robotics have revolutionized society, allowing humanity to enter a new golden age. Roboticist Dr. Thomas Light is at the forefront of the field, having just created eight highly intelligent robots. Among these were Cutman, built for logging; Gutsman, a construction robot with incredible strength; Iceman, whose resistance to low temperatures made him a suitable choice for exploring arctic territories; Bombman, a demolition robot and expert with explosives; Fireman, built to incinerate trash and Elecman, designed to help maintain electrical plants. However, a former colleague of Light’s, Dr. Albert Wily grew jealous of Light’s fame and glory and reprogrammed these six robots, with world domination as his end goal. Wily would leave behind Light’s earliest robots – Rock, Light’s lab assistant and Roll, a housekeeping robot – feeling that they weren’t worth reprogramming. Feeling a strong sense of justice – God, I love that line – Rock volunteers to be modified into a super fighting robot, to stop the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. Thus, MegaMan is born.

Of course, as was the case with many games of this era, the English story for MegaMan took more than its fair share of liberties with the original Japanese story. For starters, while the setting in Rockman is unnamed, Capcom USA chose to christen the game’s setting “Monsteropolis”. Likewise, Rock and Roll’s origin story was nixed, with Rock always being referred to as “Mega Man”, to the extent where rather than being dismissed by Wily, he outright resisted being reprogrammed. Of course, the most important difference between the original Japanese and Western backstories would have to be Dr. Wily’s role prior to the game’s story. While he was merely a rival scientist in the original Japanese version, the American version out right states that he was originally Dr. Light’s assistant, before going rouge. While I’m not particularly a fan of the other changes, this one always made more sense to me: it added to Wily’s motivations and what better way to reprogram your rival’s robots than from right under his nose? Apparently, I’m not alone either – this particular plot point was used as recently as Archie’s adaptation of the original Mega Man storyline. Other takes that go for authenticity with regards to the original Japanese backstory have a tendency to gloss over how the bad doctor manages to get his hands on Light’s robots, skipping those events in most cases.

MM1-01

I’m still not entirely sure what this stage was supposed to be.

The original MegaMan is the perfect example of what I like to see in the first game in any new franchise: a perfect example of a “diamond in the rough”. The base mechanics are all there, but clearly, they’re going to need some refinement before they reach their full potential. For those of you that have never played a MegaMan game before – which, I’m kind of surprised you’re reading this article – I’ve heard its gameplay best describe in three words: jump and shoot. Taking the qualities of both traditional platformers like Super Mario Bros. and “run-and-gun” games, players guide MegaMan through a stage, vaulting over obstacles and blasting enemies to progress. Each stage ends with a boss fight, as was the style at the time. There are also a number of power-ups to collect: extra lives take the form of MegaMan’s face and both health and weapon energy power-ups, in both small and large varieties. Of course, the larger ones give off more energy, but the small ones are better than nothing. Capcom even threw in a reference to some of their earlier games, in the form of the Yashichi – an icon that originated as an enemy in Capcom’s first title Vulgus – which restores all of MegaMan’s health, energy for all the weapons and is worth a staggering one million points.

MegaMan also brought some unique features to the table as well. You’re allowed to tackle the first six stages in the game in whatever order you choose. The real appeal of this game is what you get after you defeat each boss. After you defeat each of the first six bosses, you get their weapons. Each boss is also weak to a specific weapon, leading to a sort of “rock-paper-scissors” strategy when dealing with the more difficult bosses. Of course, freedom is the name of the game – you can also choose to avoid using boss weaknesses if you prefer a challenge. Both of these features would become franchise staples and would come to define MegaMan as a whole. Weapons could be switched via the pause menu, accessed by hitting the Start button. This would bring up a menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, which would bring up a number of letters and energy meters, each corresponding to the bosses that were defeated thus far – for example, “C” for Cutman – though MegaMan’s standard cannon is oddly identified with “P” and its corresponding energy meter represents his current health as opposed to remaining weapon energy.

MM1-02

I’m a bit rusty, but bomb beats rock, right?

Of course, the original MegaMan also had its own unique quirks, that emphasize the kind of early installment weirdness one comes to expect in the first game of a new series. For starters, the game keeps track of your score, which is entirely pointless: the score resets on a game over, the game doesn’t keep track of high scores and even if it did, the lack of a battery save would make that pointless anyway. Various power-ups also looked different from their equivalents in future games, not to mention there was one specific power-up that only had the effect of increasing your score, which would obviously be dropped in later entries. MegaMan could revisit stages, a feature that would only temporarily be dropped, but unlike future games, the boss would reappear at the end of the stage indefinitely. There’s also some weird physics issues that get ironed out in future games. Spikes are always an instant death, regardless of invincibility frames. Likewise, the game’s physics are a little different compared to future games: MegaMan’s walking is a bit more slippery, jump physics are normal even when underwater, and when the ground falls out from under him, MegaMan drops like a rock. Future games would tweak these weird quirks, but it’s important to keep in mind if it’s your first time playing the game. Of course, the difference on gameplay that had the largest impact was the infamous “pause trick”. By hitting Select, you could activate a secondary pause feature, one that didn’t have the menu. By spamming the Select button while an attack was on-screen, you could get multiple hits off a single shot with certain weapons. Easily abusable, but it takes a certain level of skill to pull off properly.

It’s impossible to fully discuss a MegaMan’s gameplay without discussing the weapons. The Plasma Cannon is MegaMan’s standard weapon, which allows for 3 shots to be on-screen at the same time. There’s also the Magnet Beam, which is less of a weapon and more of an “item”: allowing MegaMan to generate platforms of pure energy that he can walk along for a limited time before they dissipate. It’s stashed away in one of the initial six bosses’ stages, but is paramount to completing the game.

MM1-03

I will never understand why anyone started with Cutman.

The most important weapons are, of course, those you obtain by defeating bosses. I’ve decided that it seems worthwhile to rank each of them, based on my own personal preference. So, I’ll start with my favorite and work my way down. Number 1, in my opinion, would have to be the Fire Storm, which combines a damaging flame shot with a flame shield briefly surrounding MegaMan. Second best would obviously have to be the Electric Beam, which shoots three bolts of electricity directly in front of, above and below MegaMan. Most people tend to be torn on which one of these are their favorite, but usually one comes right after the other. They’re both obviously better than any other weapon in the game. Number three would have to be the Ice Slasher. The weapon doesn’t do damage for the most part, but it temporarily freezes non-boss enemies in place, defying gravity. It’s essentially a weapon that allows you to bypass obstacles, rather than destroying them.  Next, we have the Rolling Cutter, which is essentially a scissor blade that flies in a circular arc, slowly boomeranging back to the Blue Bomber (or would he be the Gray Garderner at this point?). It’s not a particularly useful weapon, but it essentially acts as an alternate aim compared to the standard plasma cannon, which can occasionally be useful when fighting specific enemies. Also, it kills Elecman in three solid hits, so it can’t be all bad. Moving on down to number five, we have Gutsman’s Super Arm. It has good range, solid aim and awesome damage, but it’s all ruined by one simple fact: it’s extremely situational. You can only get any real mileage out of this weapon by finding special destructible blocks that flash when you’re right next to them and have the Super Arm equipped. Kind of a letdown compared to the original version of the attack, where Gutsman can literally stomp blocks out of the sky into his massive arms. Finally, we come to the worst weapon in the game, and it’s obviously the Hyper Bomb. One might expect that the Super Arm’s uselessness couldn’t be topped, but the Hyper Bomb manages to achieve that impressive feat in mediocrity. To summarize, MegaMan throws a representation of the archetypical cartoon bomb at an awkward arc, bouncing two times upon hitting the ground (three times if you use in while jumping!) and standing still for a few seconds before detonating with a moderately-sized explosion. It does decent damage to standard enemies, but it’s too difficult to hit any of them reliably with this thing.

The game’s graphical style is fairly simple, but stylized – effectively going for a super-deformed “chibi” look, befitting the NES’s graphical limitation. There’s really not that much to talk about with regards to the graphics of the first six games: after all, they effectively maintain the same style throughout, even recycling graphics with minor updates and tweaks across titles. The graphics were clearly at their roughest during the first game, which is to be expected. Many of the original MegaMan’s unique enemies have less of an edge to them when compared to future installments, both those unique to this game and those that would eventually become series staples. The Sniper Joe, for example, looks much doughier and less threatening than future incarnations. The Metool – you know, those little hardhat guys – would closely resemble its more traditional incarnations, though lacking the feet that would become a signature trait in its design and having a far more sedate expression on its face. In general, most of the common enemy designs are a lot more abstract than those from future titles in the series, giving the original MegaMan a sort of retroactive individuality compared to future titles. Likewise, many graphical conventions typical of the series had yet to be established: the stage select consisted of full body shots of each of the Robot Masters, as opposed to mugshots. Likewise, instead of empty boxes denoted cleared stages, the backgrounds would change: yellow signifies that the boss had yet to be defeated, while black specifies that the stage has previously been cleared. Even Dr. Wily’s trademark saucer looks different, even sporting a unique red and gold palette, as opposed to the more traditional blue and gold.

MM1-04

I think this might actually be the most visually appealing segment in the game.

Of course, no discussion of any MegaMan game is complete without discussing its soundtrack – these games aren’t called “Rockman” in their home country for nothing! After all, the MegaMan series in general are often renowned for their soundtracks, which have given us many memorable themes in general. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Manami Matsumae and programmed by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, going by the respective pseudonyms of “Chanchacorin Manami” and “Yuukichan’s Papa”, as staff members in video games at the time were forced to credit themselves under false names to prevent gaining any sort of fanbase or following as individuals. While it differed from future titles in many significant ways, the original MegaMan firmly established the entire franchise’s tendency towards catchy, memorable songs. In fact, many of the franchise’s most iconic musical pieces originated in this game: most notably the jingle that play when a stage is selected. The music that plays on Cutman’s stage is one of the musical pieces best associated with the series as a whole. My personal favorite would have to be Fireman’s theme, an upbeat theme with a mechanical percussion sound that evokes the sound of crackling metal, fitting perfectly with the incinerator it accompanies. MegaMan 1’s boss themes are also both catchy, yet they both evoke different emotions: the standard boss theme is far more manic, exemplifying the deadly struggle between MegaMan and his former comrades at arms, while the theme reserved for the bosses fought in Dr. Wily’s robot factory evokes a sense of foreboding and despair, that perhaps the struggle at hand is truly impossible to overcome. The soundtrack has a much lighter sound compared to future titles, but that may just be because this was the first game Capcom had developed specifically for the NES (and home consoles in general), as Capcom’s developers would likely be unfamiliar with designing a game with that hardware specifically in mind.

With regards to the rest of the series, there tends to be an unspoken agreement among fans with regards to the first MegaMan: it’s generally considered the weakest game in the entire series, but due to its overall importance – not to mention the advantages that future installments building on its solid foundation – it’s rarely referred to as such. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the MegaMan franchise, but it is generally important to keep in mind. However, the first game does manage to win out, especially when compared to various other franchises from the same company. After all, Capcom didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the original Street Fighter until it became customary to celebrate video game anniversaries. The original MegaMan, despite all of its issues and flaws, was never really cast aside or forgotten. It was a bold experiment and ended up giving Capcom one of its most recognizable “mascots” (though, they never seem to recognize the concept) and one of video gaming’s most beloved icons. Given the ubiquity of the game, not to mention the fact that it’s generally packaged with other games in the series, I’d definitely say it’s worth playing, if only as a curiosity. After all, I’d generally consider knowledge of a game’s roots to be important, and despite the myriad of differences compared to future installments, there are more than enough similarities to prevent any sort of confusion. To those just getting into the series, however, I’d suggest playing one of its sequels beforehand, as the first game is among the hardest games in the entire franchise.

MegaMan 2

I don’t really know how to discuss my history with the second MegaMan game: after all, what hasn’t been said? It contributed a vast amount to my love of video games as a whole, it was the first MegaMan game I ever encountered and while it’s not my favorite game in the franchise, I can at least acknowledge why it is generally considered to be the best game in the entire series. Hell, I got way more playtime on this one when I was a mere Icepicklet compared to the first game, but that’s not really that much of an achievement all things considered. I beat a few bosses, got my grubby little hands on a few boss weapons and I was absolutely hooked on the franchise, even with my access to it was essentially blocked off for a number of years following. Regardless, while this game will always occupy a very special place in my heart, MegaMan 2 – subtitled “The Mystery of Dr. Wily” in Japan – has definitely been far outstripped by a fair share of its successors – more on that later. Of course, not prostrating before the 1988 classic as the absolute apex of what the Classic MegaMan series could hope to offer always struck me as a little weird. In the end, having future titles surpass this beloved game strikes me as an ideal scenario: after all, what’s the point in continuing a series that peaked as early as the second game?

The original MegaMan wasn’t a run-away hit in any region, but it did manage to sell well enough in both Japan and North America to warrant a sequel. Keiji Inafune, long-time steward of the franchise, blamed the poor sales of the first game in the latter region due to its infamous box art, literally drawn in six hours with no reference material. MegaMan 2 incorporated various concepts and content that was left out of the original game, and while the majority of the staff from the first game returned to develop the second, they were assigned to other projects in the interim, only allowed to work on MM2 in their spare time. Akira Kitamura, the director for the first two games in the series, wanted to incorporate a greater amount of fan feedback into this game, compared to the first game which was an internal affair. As such, they held a contest for fans to submit their own concepts for boss characters, something that would become a staple for throughout the series history. Capcom received a whopping 8,370 submissions, but only 8 ended up making it into the final product, with major tweaks made to the designs that ended up being accepted. Of course, it all ended up being worth it: MegaMan 2 is the top-selling game in the franchise to this day, moving roughly 1.5 million units, cementing MegaMan’s place as a beloved video game icon.

MM2-02

This area just always stuck out to me.

One year after MegaMan put an end to the evil machinations of Dr. Wily, the not-so-good doctor returns, setting his sights on world domination once again. This time, however, Wily has built eight combat robots all his own to defeat MegaMan. These robots include Metalman, designed as an improvement over Cutman, wielding razor-sharp saw blades; Airman, a robot with a giant fan capable of generating typhoons built directly into his torso; Bubbleman, an aquatic robot resembling a frogman, designed strictly for underwater combat; Quickman, a robot capable of moving at supersonic speeds based loosely on Elecman’s design; Crashman, a combat robot wielding time-bomb explosives with design elements taken from both Bombman and Gutsman; Flashman, a robot capable of temporarily stopping time, freezing his opponents in place; Heatman, an improvement on Fireman’s design, built to resemble a Zippo lighter, providing extra protection against high temperatures and Woodman, a defensive robot built mostly out of wood. Wily himself has taken refuge within a castle lined with a skull motif.

The gameplay is mostly unchanged from the first game: pick from eight stages, beat the boss, take his weapon, rinse, repeat. The fact that the game has beefed up its initial roster of stages from six to eight, which would become the standard for the series. Fun fact there: apparently, MM1 was originally intended to have eight bosses itself, but it was pared down to six due to time constraints. So, it was less that MM2 was adding content, rather it was finally delivering on the original concept. Those physics issues I mentioned from the first game? All changed, leading to the general engine that the series would follow for years to come. MegaMan 2 also added a new power-up: the Energy Tanks, an item that could completely restore MegaMan’s health. Better still, they were added to MegaMan’s inventory, so they could be used at any point. You can, however, only carry four E-Tanks at a time and you lose any that you were carrying on a Game Over. The superfluous score system was removed, it didn’t serve any actual purpose in the first game after all. MM2 also began the trend of coupling the support items with specific weapons, as opposed to hiding them within the stages themselves. MM2 is also fairly unique in the sense that it’s the only game without an obvious “perfect cycle” of boss weaknesses.

MM2-03

This was always a fun boss fight.

Perhaps the most significant addition MM2 made over the original game was the addition of the password system. The original MegaMan was a “one-session” game: if you needed to take a break, you either had to finish it in a single shot or you had to leave your system on while taking breaks and pray that nothing changed that fact before you got back to it. While a battery save would’ve made things even easier, it’s better than nothing. Best of all, passwords even keep track the number of E-Tanks you have left. Besides, the password jingles in many of the MegaMan games are among my favorites in the series – especially the one from MM2 – so it worked out pretty well for me in the long run. The Western releases also added a difficulty setting, that was somewhat misleading: the “Difficult” option had the balancing from the original Rockman 2, while “Normal” doubled the damage MegaMan could inflict on …well, everything. These days, I only play on “Difficult”, but adding that easier difficulty (and not dubbing it “easy mode”) was a brilliant move on Capcom USA’s part: I probably never would’ve gotten into the series back when I was 4 or 5 if I’d only had the original difficulty as an option.

That being said, let’s move onto the fun part: ranking the weapons. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon returns unchanged from the first game. The Magnet Beam gets retired, in exchange for three new support items. These three items were devised as a response to feedback from both customers and Capcom’s marketing team regarding the first game’s difficulty. Item-1 is a platform with a propeller on its bottom that stays in place for a brief period before disintegrating; Item-2 is a rocket sled that propels MegaMan forward until its weapon energy dissipates; and Item-3 crawls up the first wall it collides with, draining energy until MegaMan jumps off of it and it begins descending towards the ground. These support items are collected by beating Heatman, Airman and Flashman respectively, and while they mainly factor into the later Wily Castle stages, they allow MegaMan to reach otherwise unreachable powerups in the earlier stages as well.

MM2-01

Everyone’s favorite!

With those out of the way, let’s get on with the weapons, once again, going from best to worst. Obviously, the crème de le crème is the Metal Blade, it literally couldn’t be anything else. Generally considered the best weapon in MegaMan history, this thing is broken. Low energy consumption, 8-way aiming and hits harder than your standard buster. Not to mention the fact that it’s often a better option for fighting most bosses than their official weaknesses. It’s so overpowered, I legitimately save Metalman for last in many of my more recent playthroughs, just to get a feel for the other weapons. The next best weapon would have to be the Leaf Shield. Often imitated, never duplicated, the Leaf Shield surrounds MegaMan with a barrier of 4 indestructible leaves. Hitting a direction on the D-Pad, even to move forward, sends the leaves flying in that direction, doing massive damage, but I always found that the weapon works best while standing completely still. Number three would have to be the Crash Bomber. While its best use is destroying destructible walls, the Crash Bomber also does some awesome damage, making it a multi-purpose powerhouse and an extreme improvement over the Hyper Bomb. Then there’s the Quick Boomerang: a short-range attack capable of extreme rapid fire, and perhaps the weapon with the most weaknesses in the later stages. I never really had much love for this thing, considering I’d always go after Quickman last, but it’s still good. Next comes the Atomic Fire, which can be best described as the predecessor to the Mega Buster – more on that later – it fires off a weak fiery shot, but if you hold down the shoot button, it can be charged up into a giant fireball of destruction, albeit at a steep weapon energy cost. Number six is probably the Bubble Lead –I never knew whether it’s pronounced like “reed” or “red”, both make sense honestly, but I always went with the latter. Generally considered the joke weapon of MM2 – I mean, come on, it’s a bubble – it’s actually better than you’d expect, especially around the end of the game. Next comes Flashman’s Time Stopper. I used to love that thing when I was a kid, but once I got actually experience with it, its flaws became apparent. While it freezes enemies and obstacles in place for the duration of the attack, some things aren’t easy to avoid while in this state. As MegaMan lacks any other form of attack while the Time Stopper’s active, it’s impossible to destroy any enemies that are both frozen in place and too large to jump over. Of course, that leaves the Air Shooter as the worst weapon in MM2. It fires at an awkward angle, a lot of enemies are immune to it, it’s basically only useful for beating Crashman and those terrible Sniper Armors. Otherwise, it’s best to just stick with the Plasma Cannon.

As I mentioned earlier, the game’s artstyle doesn’t really vary all that much from the first game – after all, the main character’s graphics are ripped directly from it. At best, we’re essentially looking at a refinement of the first game’s look. The backgrounds are more detailed, the new enemies are more cohesive in style, and the bosses themselves actually seem a little more animated than their predecessors. The major difference between the two games focuses more on presentation. While the title screen in the first game was just a still image – either the “MegaMan” logo on a black screen or a static image of MegaMan with the Rockman logo above it, depending on region – MM2 greets players with an animated cutscene, detailing the game’s backstory. The bosses are represented by unique mugshots, as opposed to the static sprites of the previous game. Transitions between menus, the stage select and even the screen signifying that a stage has been chosen are all animated smoothly. Defeating one of the eight robot masters is accompanied by a new screen that would become a series staple, detailing the name of the weapon MegaMan got from them, showcasing the color palette associated with it and allowing Dr. Light to chime in when the support items get unlocked. The game’s pause menu is mostly similar to that of the previous game, a floating menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, but it’s been expanded with a second “page” to accommodate the larger array of weapons and items available to MegaMan in this game. Perhaps the most impressive transition in the game is when you reach Skull Castle. At the beginning of each of the Wily Fortress stage, an exterior view of the castle is shown, accompanied by a sinister melody. Then, a simple map of the castle’s interior is displayed on screen, detailing the progress MegaMan has made so far. By no means the most complex way they could’ve done it, but there’s just something so satisfying about that whole sequence. It’s completely understandable why it would become another common element of the Classic series.

MM2-04

Kind of impressive how all these crystals can withstand an explosion.

MegaMan 2’s soundtrack was composed by Takashi “Ogeretsu Kun” Tateishi, though Manami Matsumae (credited as “Manami Ietel” this time) did provide minor support as well. Yoshihiro Sakaguchi also returned as sound programmer. MM2’s soundtrack is generally considered an improvement over that of the first game’s, and I’m inclined to agree. One of my favorite elements of the game’s soundtrack is one that I wouldn’t find out until I actually got to sit down and play through the first game: the song that plays during MegaMan 2’s opening is essentially a reprise of the song that played during MegaMan 1’s ending. An obvious statement, but somehow, even though I’ve known about it for years now, it still impresses me. It’s hard to really choose my favorite song from this game, though I often lean toward the Crashman stage theme. The themes from Heatman, Woodman, Airman and Bubbleman’s stage are also pretty good. I already mentioned the Password jingle, but it definitely deserves high praise. The stage select music goes for a far more intimidating and upbeat tone – an objective improvement over the first game’s. The title theme and the credits are both variants on the same composition and deserve their place as MegaMan’s most commonly recurring theme. Of course, the most popular song in the entire game is easily the first theme from the Wily Stages, a song which I personally believe is required by law to be in every single MegaMan music remix album. I used to be a big fan of it myself, but as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Honestly, it’s still a good song, just a little overrated in my opinion. The rest of MM2’s soundtrack deserves way more love.

MegaMan 2 is considered by many to be the quintessential MegaMan game and for good reason. While I won’t contest the game’s importance, I’ll just restate that I think later games in the series improved upon the framework provided by MM2. Having said that, for anyone just getting into the Classic MegaMan franchise – or even MegaMan in general – there’s no better place to start than the second game in the franchise. MM2 smooths out the odd quirks present in the first game, while keeping the base gameplay equally barebones. It’s a good place to learn the rules – and perhaps more importantly, the feel – of the standard MegaMan game. The fact that the Western releases also include an easier difficulty can also help those new to the series get their bearings, which in turn, may help to spark a new love for the series. Again, as with all the other NES MegaMan games, it’s easy to find these days, even on modern platforms, so I’d recommend giving it a shot. Who knows? Maybe it’ll spark a love for the MegaMan series in you just like I did roughly 25 years ago. Unsurprisingly, MM2 is also the most popular game in the entire MegaMan franchise when it comes to modding, as there are an impressive number of hacks of this game, completely changing stage layouts, boss patterns and even the weapons themselves. So, for even those that have memorized MM2 front to back, there are entirely new ways to play this NES classic.

MegaMan 3

After MegaMan 2, I didn’t really keep up with the series as much as I would’ve wanted to. The friend who first introduced me to them didn’t grab any more NES games after the first two – by that point, we were both way more into his new Genesis – so, for quite some time, I didn’t even know there were any games beyond the first two. I ended up discovering the existence of the third through sixth games when I first found my way onto the World Wide Web itself. Though I was still quite young when I first got my hands on the internet, I was still struck with pangs of nostalgia and curiosity for the MegaMan series I’d enjoyed roughly half a lifetime ago. Granted, four years isn’t that long in retrospect, but it was long enough at that age. My first experience with any of those four games came from sprite sheets, sprite sheets that I moronically printed out instead of saving them to the hard disk. Oh, what a fool I was! Oh well, at least I got some nifty decorations for my school folders and notebooks out of all those drained ink cartridges. All the same, it was definitely not the ideal way to discover that my favorite game series had tripled in size from my perspective, but an important revelation all the same.

Of the NES MegaMan games, I generally consider the third to be my favorite. For quite some time, it was my favorite in the series overall. These aren’t exactly unique opinions. If a Classic MegaMan fan’s favorite game in the series isn’t MegaMan 2, chances are it’s going to be MM3. In that sense, MegaMan clearly follows that trend that you’ll often see in long-running video game franchises: if there’s one game that’s generally considered to be the objective in the series, expect a faction of fans that disagrees and chooses a specific alternate game as their favorite. Maybe it’s a way to establish a higher sense of devotion to the franchise in question, or maybe we’re all just a bunch of colossal hipsters. For whatever reason, after replaying both MegaMans 2 and 3 so many times, I still prefer 3. The way I’ve always looked at it is that 2 is the better NES game, but 3 is the better MegaMan game. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the best I’ve ever been able to articulate my opinion.

MegaMan 3 – boasting the subtitle “The End of Dr. Wily!?” in its original Japanese release – was the first game in the series where the man long considered the “father of MegaMan” Keiji Inafune took on a planning role in a MegaMan game. Akira Kitamura, the director of the first two MegaMan games, had just left to form his own company Takeru alongside various other former developers from large Japanese developers, including Capcom. As such, Inafune had a much greater role in MM3 compared to previous games. Having said that, Inafune considers MM3 to be a disappointment, likely due to the loss of key staff members during development, leading to a game that clearly falls short of its own lofty aspirations. The game itself is fairly glitchy at times, especially with regards to accessing the pause menu in certain areas. Likewise, the game itself has an odd array of cheat codes: high jumping, slow motion and the infamous “Zombie MegaMan” glitch, which renders the Blue Bomber invincible at zero health, but unable to use his standard weapon. My theory is that these were simply debug functions that the development team didn’t have the time to remove for the final release. While I love MM3, I have to admit it makes me sad to think about what this game could have been with a longer development cycle, being brought to completion. Perhaps the final product could have even surpassed MM2 in the hearts of gamers in general. Regardless, the game did fairly well: selling over 1 million copies and is still the 4th highest selling game in the entire MegaMan franchise to this day. Likewise, the game had significantly more boss submissions from fans compared to the previous game, boasting 50,000 in all, while again only eight ended up being used.

MM3-03

Unbeknownst to Rock, Breakman is actually his older brother, Blues.

After two failed attempts at world domination, Dr. Wily is a changed man. He’s reformed and has decided to join forces with his colleague Dr. Light to develop a giant peace-keeping robot named Gamma. The two worked hard designing the robot, with the final step being to collect eight different Energy Elements from various uncharted planets. The two doctors created a set of eight new robot masters to set off to these mining worlds and collect the power crystals. Unfortunately, these new robots all end up going haywire, attacking everything in their sights. MegaMan is once again enlisted to travel to these distant worlds and recover the elements. But he’s not alone, Dr. Light has built a new companion robot to accompany MegaMan on his mission: Rush, a robotic dog that can transform into a springboard and more. Throughout his journey, MegaMan continuously encounters a mysterious red robot who seems to be an even match for the Blue Bomber. Referring to himself as “Break Man”, is he friend or foe? And what about the robots gone berserk? Did they really just go haywire at random or was their sudden defection just the beginning of a new sinister plot?

As I said earlier, much of MegaMan’s gameplay was refined in the second game. As such, for the most part, MegaMan 3 is more of the same. There are, however, a few new wrinkles. For starters, MegaMan gains the ability to slide, which can allow him to pass under areas blocked off with low ceilings and even dodge certain enemies and their attacks. I’ve always mused that I wished that MM1 had incorporate passwords and I feel the same about MM2 and sliding – it just adds a new dimension to the Blue Bomber’s repertoire. Energy Tanks are now retained between continues and now MegaMan can hold a whopping 9 of them at a time. There’s also the brand new “? Cans”, which only appear in this game. They can be shot to reveal a random power-up, ranging from a small weapon energy all the way up to extra lives and E-Tanks. An interesting little gimmick, but one that never really caught on. You’ll also remember that I said MM2 didn’t have a perfect loop for boss weaknesses. Well, MM3 makes up for this shortcoming by having two individual weakness cycles: Magnetman – Hardman – Topman – Shadowman – Sparkman and Needleman – Snakeman – Geminiman. Crazy stuff, right? The game’s format has also been slightly adjusted. For example, in addition to the standard boss fights with the Robot Masters, MegaMan also has encounters with “Breakman” during four of the game’s stages – three of these lead to miniboss fights, while the fourth time, he simply allows MegaMan to proceed through the stage.

MM3-01

But where’s the jump?

Likewise, MegaMan 3 has many more stages than the previous two games, which works to both its advantage and its detriment. After defeating the 8 Robot Masters, four new stages, utilizing the art assets and themes of Shadowman, Sparkman, Geminiman and Needleman, pop up, each guarded by the maniacal “Doc Robot”. Fun fact: “Doc Robot” is just a mistranslation of “dokurobotto”, a pun on “dokuro”, the Japanese word for skull, and “robot”. Doc Robot utilizes the powers of all 8 Robot Masters from MM2, though only uses one at a time. As such, you fight him twice in each stage, and each time he uses a different ability. After that, MegaMan has one last showdown with Breakman in what appears to be the remnants of Hardman’s stage. After that, we enter Wily’s latest iteration on the Skull Castle, for a whopping 6 stages. While the Doc Robot stages may be among the hardest the game has to offer, the Wily Fortress stages are laughable at best. This is what I was referring to when I said having more stages had drawbacks for MM3. Likely due to the game’s troubled production schedule, the Wily Castle stages feel incomplete and simpler than anything that came earlier in the game as a result. It gets so bad, that the final two “stages” are literally just a screen filled with power-ups before the boss fight. I kind of wish that Capcom would’ve been able to remake this one and put some actual effort into redesigning the Wily stages into something truly memorable, as this is probably the game’s true fatal flaw.

This brings us to my favorite part yet again: talking about the game’s arsenal. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon makes a return as his standard weapon, but that’s the only thing that returns from previous games. The support items from the previous game have all been replaced with various functions of the Blue Bomber’s new canine companion, Rush. Rush Coil is available from the start and transforms MegaMan’s poochy pal into a springboard, significantly increasing MM’s jumping height, allowing him to reach areas previously unheard of without assistance. Defeating Shadowman nets MegaMan the Rush Marine, which turns the crimson canine into a tiny submersible, able to navigate watery areas with ease. Finally, defeating Needleman allows MegaMan access to the Rush Jet, which I consider the “Metal Blade of support items”. When activated, Rush transforms into a fully-controllable rocket sled, capable of flying anywhere onscreen with absolutely no drawbacks. Of course, the Coil drains energy on each use, and both the Marine and the Jet drain energy while being used, but most people have found an exploit for the latter: the Rush Jet only depletes energy while MegaMan is standing on it, but he can jump at will while riding it, which slows the energy drain and Rush continues to fly beneath you even as you jump.

MM3-02

Such a ridiculous power-up.

With those out of the way, let’s start ranking those weapons. I originally considered shifting the order to worst to best for a few of these, but I decided that consistency was key here, even if it made things a little boring. My top pick for MegaMan 3 would have to be the Needle Cannon. It’s pretty similar to Mega’s standard weapon, with one clear advantage: rapid auto-fire. Its energy consumption is the lowest in the game too, which just adds to the fun. Number 2 would have to be Hard Knuckle. A slow-moving non-explosive take on the Crash Bomber, this fist-shaped projectile can smash through breakable walls, does massive damage and its vertical aim can even be adjusted after it’s been fired. Next up would have to be the Shadow Blade. Charitably described as a cross between the Rolling Cutter and the Metal Blade, in reality it’s just the Metal Blade tethered with boomerang mechanics and being limited to a 5-way aim. Still, despite the balancing, it’s a pretty good weapon. My fourth favorite weapon is probably the Magnet Missile. It’s essentially a standard projectile, but if it’s not aimed properly and it approaches an enemy, it can turn either up or down to lock in on and attack it. Then, there’s the Search Snake. Effectively a weaker Bubble Lead, it makes up for this shortcoming by allowing three snakes onscreen at once, compared to the two-bubble maximum. Sixth best weapon is the Spark Shock, which is functionally identical to the Ice Slasher, except it can only stun up to two enemies at a time, and there are more enemies that actually take damage from it. Second-worst weapon is easily the Gemini Laser, though I wish I could put it lower. The Gemini Laser is a slow-moving laser beam, that can bounce off of walls and ceiling, which changes the trajectory of the act. There can only be one on the screen at a time, and if its aim is off, it will ricochet multiple times, leaving MegaMan defenseless. The worst weapon in MM3 is the Top Spin, but that’s only because it’s literally broken, and I’m not talking about in the overpowered sense. It does no consistent damage, its energy consumption is equally erratic, and it’s a melee-range attack that can only be done while jumping. While I’ve seen more than a few speedrunners use the Top Spin to turn the Blue Bomber into a whirling dervish of destruction, it takes too much effort and luck to use it properly. The only upshot is that it’s the final boss’s weakness – capable of felling the beast in a single hit, if you’re lucky – but frankly, I’m not even sure if that was intentional, a glitch or just an exploit the developers accidentally left in the game.

MM3-04

Spin on, you crazy diamond.

Much like the gameplay itself, the series’ graphical style had pretty much been established in MM2, but 3 attempts to add its own flourishes, again with mixed results. Later games in the series would attempt to expand on the style established in the second game, and MM3 was a first, albeit shaky step in that direction. Stage backgrounds seem a little more complex than those from previous games, though many of them evoke similar themes to its direct predecessor. I do like how they gave MegaMan center square on the stage select, especially how his eyes move to follow the cursor. It’s a simple touch, but still appreciated. The pause menu also changes completely from the previous two games, take up the lower third of the screen, instead of just being a floating box off-centered. It maintains the “two page” format of the previous game, but it’s got a much more ornate layout. For starters, each weapon is now symbolized by two letters instead of one – likely due to the sheer amount of Robot Masters with names that start with the letter “S” – with the exception of the standard arm cannon, which retains “P” from previous games. Each special weapon also has its own unique icon when selected, which is a nice touch. Plus, the E-Tanks can be selected from either page now, while in MM2, they were limited to the second page. Unfortunately, the implementation of this fancy new UI was clearly imperfect, as there are numerous points in the game where the top edge of this menu will glitch up slightly. A shame, because otherwise, I thought it looked great.

The game’s presentation takes a hit in some areas too. This game lacks an opening cinematic, likely due to the game’s troubled production, but I’ve always sort of imagined that the epic tune that plays on the title screen implied that they considered one. MM3 does seem to do a much better job at expressing its story in what few cutscenes it does have, though these make me wonder if more were originally planned. And then there’s the ending, where Breakman returns to the collapsing Wily Fortress, too late to save Wily but just in time to save MegaMan. As Rock awakens in Dr. Light’s lab, the two wonder how he was able to make it back in one piece, when they both hear Breakman’s signature whistle. Dr. Light identifies the whistle as that of ProtoMan, MegaMan’s older brother and prototype, who mysteriously went missing. As MegaMan chases after the whistle, we see a notebook with entries for all of Light’s robots from newest to oldest. First the six robot masters from the original MegaMan, then Roll, then MegaMan and finally Protoman himself. This is definitely one of my favorite endings in the entire series.

It seems like the area where the game tried to deviate the most from its predecessors was in its soundtrack. The original composer for the game was Harumi “Mrs. Tarumi” Fujita, but she ended up giving birth fairly early into the project and was forced to drop out because of it. She did manage to compose the themes for Needleman and Geminiman, as well as part of the credits song before leaving though. The project was then picked up by Yasuaki Fujita – no relation – better known as “Bun Bun”. The MegaMan 3 soundtrack actually manages to avoid reusing any musical compositions from earlier games. The boss victory jingle established in MM2 – that would eventually become a trademark of the series – was eschewed. Even the jingle that plays when a stage is selected is completely original and the previous one was used in the first two MegaMan games. I have to say, overall, I think I like MM3’s soundtrack more than the previous two, and its sheer boldness in discarding tradition is a big reason why. While MM3 does a lot to set itself apart from its predecessors, it still manages to sound like a “MegaMan game”, if that makes any sense.

Another thing this game’s soundtrack does that I love is utilize two separate boss themes: one for most of the boss battles in the game and one exclusive to the Wily Fortress stages, just like in the first MegaMan. I would like to say that it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite song from this game, but if I’m going to be honest, the theme to Hardman’s theme is my clear favorite, without a doubt. That’s not to say I don’t love a majority of the songs from MegaMan 3: the aforementioned Needleman stage, Sparkman’s theme, Shadowman, both boss themes, the first two Wily Fortress stages and both the game’s ending and credits theme all come to mind quickly. All the same, MM3’s soundtrack deserves way more love than it gets – the sole exception would have to be the theme that plays when MegaMan gets a new weapon. That one actually managed to end up becoming something of a recurring theme. It’s a shame that the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t get nearly as much love.

In the end, I think the reason that I love this game is completely intertwined with its failings. It’s easy enough to understand why MM3 became the MegaMan game of choice for more contrarian fans: while its myriad troubles during production clearly took their toll on MegaMan 3, flickers – no pun intended – of the game’s true potential shine through. It’s a shame that Capcom gave up on remaking MegaMan games so quickly: MM3’s problems are so obvious and easy to fix, that a true remake – more akin to Powered Up, as opposed to the one found in The Wily Wars – could’ve brought the game up to the lofty standards associated with its predecessor, if not outright surpass it. All the same, it’s still a fun game, definitely well worth playing, regardless of its obvious flaws. Better still, since most people are only familiar with MegaMan 2, MegaMan 3 could act as an almost entirely new experience, for those out there who are only familiar with the most popular game, but still find themselves craving more action in the same vein. Many fans who consider MM2 the best series in the game recognize MM3 as the next best game in the franchise. If that’s not enough of an endorsement to give this game a shot, I don’t know what is.

MegaMan: The Wily Wars

Considering that I just discussed the first three MegaMan games, it only seems fitting to take a quick look at the first attempt at a MegaMan remake – one that encompassed all three of these games – and one that is a bit of a curiosity, especially in North America. MegaMan: The Wily Wars – or Rockman Megaworld as it was known in Japan – was also the first MegaMan game to be released on a non-Nintendo console, specifically for the Sega Mega Drive, or the Genesis as we Americans know it. I think the mysterious nature of the game in our region is what made it so much more intriguing to us in the first place. The prospect of enhanced remakes of the first three MegaMan games – the games in the series that are generally considered the best overall – and one that most Americans missed out on is a very tempting prospect. Unfortunately, it sounds much better than it actually is.

Originally released in 1994, The Wily Wars was outsourced to Minakuchi Engineering – the same team that worked on the vast majority of the Game Boy MegaMan games (more on those later) as well as large portions of MegaMan X3 – and it seems that they just couldn’t cope with the Mega Drive’s hardware. Of course, every other project I’ve seen attributed to them were on Nintendo platforms, so that makes sense. Keiji Inafune described the game’s development as an “absolute nightmare” and even stated that he had to help with the game’s debugging himself. Aside from that, Inafune’s involvement with the title was fairly limited: he designed the three new boss characters and drew a piece of artwork that was incorporated into the game’s box art. The new characters, dubbed the “Genesis Unit” (or the “Mega World Corps” in Japan) were based on characters from the Chinese novel, Journey of the West. Buster Rod G., Mega Water S. and Hyper Storm H. were based on Sun Wukong, Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie. Of course, these same characters also inspired many other works, most notably Son Goku, Yamcha and Oolong in Dragon Ball.

WilyWars01

Power Pole, extend!

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind generally revolves around the game’s release. While there were physical releases in both Japan and Europe, The Wily Wars was exclusive to the Sega Channel service in North America. However, it does appear that there were originally plans to release the game properly in America as well. The success of Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition fueled the initial rumors of a MegaMan title hitting a Sega system. Sega of America even displayed the game at their Sega Summit sales meeting back in May 1994 Apparently, it was put on hold indefinitely due to “graphical problems” in October of the same year, and the game’s American release was officially cancelled in 1996. With that and the Sega Channel being discontinued in 1998, the American version appears to no longer exist in any form, official or illicit. I doubt there’s much difference between the American and European versions in terms of content, but it would’ve been nice to have an official release in English that ran at the proper NTSC speed. Of course, that could be achieved by playing the European version on an NTSC Genesis, using a Game Genie to bypass the region lock, but that just strikes me as being more trouble than it’s worth.

The game even manages to have an original backstory, despite being a compilation title. Tired of his schemes for world domination being foiled by MegaMan, Dr. Wily decides to build a time machine to undo the Blue Bomber’s earliest victories over the not-so-good doctor. Transporting himself into the past, Dr. Wily restores the robots that MegaMan previously defeated and started to create chaos across the timestream, aiming to cause chaos even in the peaceful past, before his megalomaniacal aspirations even begin. In order to stop Dr. Wily, Dr. Light manages to hastily build another time machine and sends MegaMan back to stop Wily’s twisted time tactic. Of course, even if the Blue Bomber manages to stop his plan, Wily has another trick up his sleeve in the present: three new robots he built to guard his new Wily Tower, a massive structure with traps and enemy robots taken from the past to ensure MegaMan has no future. Of course, the remade games retain their original storylines as well, but since I’ve already gone over them, it just seemed like it was worth detailing the new content instead.

WilyWars03

If you can’t handle me at my worst…

The gameplay is difficult to discuss. The simplest way to put it is that the remakes definitely play worse overall when compared to the original NES releases, while there are a few improvements as well. This is most evident when playing MegaMan 2, which gets hit the hardest with the Wily Wars’ flaws. The sole advantage this version has over the original is that now, E-Tanks are no longer lost when continuing, much like in MM3. On the other hand, the first and third games manage to get a few improvements out of the deal. MM1’s physics now align properly with those of later games in the series, which definitely makes the game feel less unfair at various points. Likewise, MegaMan 3’s presentation improves significantly and the Top Spin is no longer as glitchy as it used to be: now it deals consistent damage and all with a non-random energy expenditure. Of course, these benefits come at the cost of gameplay quirks like MM1’s pause trick and MM3’s various cheat codes and exploits – seems like a fair trade to me, in the end. I’ve been told that MegaMan 3 is more prone to locking up when compared to the original NES version, but aside from one instance – while I was using certain Game Genie codes, more on those later – I never experienced any game-breaking glitches. Likewise, the password system has been excised – replaced with a save system that works about equally well, saving data on all three games to a single file. Even MegaMan 1 gets this save functionality – definitely an improvement over having to beat the game in a single setting on the NES. The save feature does have its limitations, however: it will only recognize progress as far as reaching the Wily Castle stages, the Castles themselves must be completed in a single sitting. After completing any of the games, the system must be reset in some form in order to make it back: the game’s completion is confirmed with a giant “GAME CLEAR” written over the game’s page on the save file.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else positive to say about the remakes. Movement feels significantly more sluggish than the original NES games, especially the walk speed. What’s even worse is the weapons. The fire button’s response time is even slower than the movement, sometime weapons don’t come out on a single button press, and sometimes, it takes a while for fired shots to be considered inactive, even after they’re off-screen. Worst of all, the game won’t let you pause if there are any weapons or support items on-screen. For example, in the NES version of MM2, you could pause the game while using one of the support items, which would remove it and prevent you from draining precious energy on misfires. This is no longer possible in The Wily Wars, which means that shots must be planned carefully. As far as I can tell, Wily Wars also gets rid of the ability to aim the Super Arm weapon taken from Gutsman in MM1 – if it’s still possible, it certainly works completely differently than it did in the original. There’s also a significant change to the gameplay that significantly throws off the balance: the Robot Masters – and by extension, the Copy Robot bosses from MM1 and 3 – now have invincibility periods after taking damage (much like MegaMan himself), preventing the weapon spam possible on the NES. While this was common in later games, the games aren’t rebalanced for this new property. In turn, this has some strange effects on balance: between this and the inability to aim the Super Arm, Cutman, of all things, becomes incredibly threatening. Strangely, no other bosses appear to be affected by this change.

WilyWars04

…you don’t deserve me at my best.

Perhaps the worst aspect of The Wily Wars would have to be the slowdown. The early MegaMan games pushed Capcom’s limited knowledge of the NES hardware to its limits and oftentimes, the Blue Bomber would be put into situations thought to be beyond the system’s capabilities. To compensate for this, sprites would often flicker, limiting any framerate drops to a minimum. The Wily Wars decided to do away with that method – after all, the Mega Drive was so much more powerful than the NES. Given how the games originally came out roughly midway through the NES’s lifecycle and this remake was coming out closer to the end of the Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, was it even possible for the Genesis to run into any issues when running these ancient games? The answer was a resounding “yes”. I think what I encountered in Wily Wars may very well be the worst slowdown I’ve ever seen in a MegaMan game, official or otherwise. There’s one moment in particular I remember while playing that embodies these limitations: while on one of the Wily Stages, there’s a segment where you have to ride a moving platform through an area, while being attacked by 3 enemies that constantly respawn. Attempting to use the Leaf Shield in this area literally slowed the game down to a crawl. Worst of all, one might be under the impression that destroying at least one enemy would mitigate the slowdown. They would be right, unless that defeated enemy drops a power-up, in which case, the game continues to chug at a pace that is downright molasses-esque. It’s embarrassing. The worst part about it is that there are times where the slowdown makes the game easier. The Yellow Devil fight in MegaMan 1 is so much more manageable now than in the original thanks to it, it almost makes up for the loss of the pause trick!

By far, the best part of the game would have to be the original content. After clearing all three of the NES remakes, a brand-new entry is added to the game select menu: the mini-game “Wily Tower”. The game starts off with a cutscene of Dr. Wily talking about how while MegaMan stopped him from changing the past, but he still has one last plan up his sleeve. From there, players are sent to a stage select screen, with the three Genesis Unit robots as the choices. At the start of each level, players are allowed to choose any eight weapons and three support items from the first three games. This is somewhat a mixed bag: it’s cool to have mix-and-match different elements from previous games, but most of the bosses have two weaknesses at the most, and if the wrong weapons are chosen, it can make things difficult in general. The Genesis Unit’s stages are essentially hodgepodges of various elements from the previous games – which is neat, because it leads to some interesting synergy. Once those three are defeated, MegaMan moves onto the eponymous Wily Tower. The theming is pretty simple: the first stage is themed around elements from MegaMan 1, the second takes aspects from MM2, the third from 3 and the final stage is the standard corridor to the final boss.

WilyWars02

A weapon from MegaMan 3 , an enemy from the first game and obstacles from MM2, it’s madness!

The weirdest aspect of Wily Tower is that, while the remakes feel off in various ways, it feels “right”. It feels more distinctly like the original NES games than their remakes in this collection. If I have one comment to make about Wily Tower, it’s that I wish it were longer and had a bit more content. The Genesis Unit don’t give out weapons after being defeated – which makes the presence of original and unused “New Weapon” music in the game’s data even more bizarre. Were they originally planned to give MegaMan boss weapons at some point? I wouldn’t even specifically ask for additional robots: considering the fact that the game was called “Wily Tower”, a larger take on the Wily Fortress could’ve been pretty cool. The first three stages were essentially remixes from each individual game – imagine if they had added stages that mixed elements from 2 games and then done an extra-long one with aspects from all 3. Even more than that, it makes me wish that Capcom had just made an original game for the console. Definitely not a mainline, but one unique full-length spinoff game would’ve probably ended up way better than three mediocre remakes of some of the most common games in the franchise.

The graphics are something of a mixed bag. The backgrounds and some of the characters have been redrawn from scratch and they look great. The characters have been redrawn slightly larger than their NES counterparts while still maintaining their general look. They boast a much wider palette of colors compared to the original versions and there’s more detail put into the sprites themselves – for example, Sparkman’s face is actually visible now, Bubbleman’s air tank is visible and both Gutsman and Hardman are less squat, better emphasizing just how colossal they’re meant to be. Unfortunately, for most enemies and even a few major characters – looking at you, Protoman – they literally just took the NES sprites and recolored them to match with everything else. It generally works alright for less humanoid designs, but for anything that’s supposed to be even vaguely in scale with MegaMan, they’re just clearly too small, it honestly gets a little distracting at times. I wish that Capcom had had the resources to redraw everything, because what they managed to get done looks excellent, even by today’s standards – I wouldn’t mind if a new MegaMan game had a similar art style.

The music is actually pretty good in this one. Both the rearrangements of the classic NES music as well as the original compositions were handled by Kinuyo Yamashita – one of the composers for the original Castlevania. Unfortunately, much like everyone else who worked on this game, her work went uncredited. Regardless, I’d say that, for the most part, I personally prefer most of these arrangements over the originals, but I’ve always been a fan of the Genesis’s sound chip. My favorite arrangement in the entire game would have to be Fireman’s stage, which gets turned into a samba. I wish more tracks in the game could’ve received rearrangements that thorough. My only real gripe is that, at least in the case of MegaMan 3, some of the music – particularly the Dr. Wily stage map and the ending – were truncated to match what could’ve been heard in the original release. Of course, given the fact that the full compositions were never legitimately accessible in the game itself, this makes sense – but it’s still a bit disappointing to try to listen to these tracks and expect the full tune, only to be cut off at an inopportune moment. Of course, as with everything else, the songs original to the Wily Wars are the best part of the game’s soundtrack. The song that plays during the game’s introductory cutscene has been stuck in my head for well over a decade. The music for the third and fourth stages of Wily Tower are probably my favorite in the entire game, especially stage 4’s. I can’t describe why, but I love it when original music from various spin-offs sound like they belong in a mainline MegaMan game, and the Wily Wars soundtrack certainly fits the bill.

In the end, I’d say that it’s probably not worth trying to track down a copy of The Wily Wars, especially if you’re from North America like I am. The NES versions of the first three games are significantly more widely available – both as digital re-releases and even the original cartridges – and those are the definitive way to play. While Wily Tower is a good bonus, it just doesn’t add enough to the base package to make the whole thing worth it: the fact that one has to complete all three remakes just to reach just manages to make things worse. Regardless, I’ve been meaning to play through The Wily Wars for years, ever since I first learned of its existence and I’m thankful that this article gave me both a reason and the motivation to finally complete it. While it’s a shame that North America missed out on a physical release of Wily Wars, we did get our very own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega platform – one that I’ll be covering later on.

Mega Man & Mega Man 3 (DOS)

With those out of the way, let’s move on to what are certainly the worst officially-licensed MegaMan games of all-time. Mega Man and Mega Man 3 – they skipped 2 – are difficult to define. Most people are sure to differentiate these two from the NES originals, generally either appending their titles with “PC” or “DOS”, to make sure that they’re being perfectly clear when discussing them. The reason behind this is simple: both games are terrible, yet it seems like anyone and everyone I’ve ever encountered who’s ever played them and still consider themselves fans of the series at large have an almost masochistic fascination with them. At worst, they’re not unlike an eldritch abomination, maintaining a small but permanent space of one’s memory and psyche; at best, remembering the games is akin to watching a car crash – you want to look away, but just can’t bring yourself to do it. Despite being released in 1990 and 1992 respectively, it’s really impossible to discuss one game without the other. Both are so intertwined with one another in a way that no other two MegaMan games can match. I only managed to play the first game when I was a child. A cousin of mine owned it, and I was only barely able to make it one level in before the game became far too difficult for me to continue.

Capcom licensed out the right to develop PC games based on the MegaMan franchise to an American company known as Hi Tech Expressions. On the surface, Hi Tech seems no worse than many publishing companies of the time: licensing the rights to develop video games that were typically mediocre at best based on various properties from other media – Hi Tech just managed to be one of the few that upped the ante by doing the same with existing video games. In addition to the MegaMan games, Hi Tech also published PC ports of the first two Street Fighter games – which would eventually be bundled with the MegaMan games in a later release – as well as the original arcade version of Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Development of the title was handed off to Rozner Labs. Effectively a one-man development team headed up by Stephen Rozner, his brother William would eventually take over the position of artist during the development of Mega Man 3. Rozner Labs was a short-lived company, though they would also end up developing the PC port of MegaMan X directly under Capcom.

The games’ backstories are both fairly simple – not to mention redundant. Both games involve plots from the devious Dr. Wily attempting to take over the world, using a mere 3 Robot Masters in the first game and doubling that number in its oddly-named sequel. This time, however, Wily has the assistance of CRORQ, a mega-computer as powerful as its name is unpronounceable. While it was originally developed by the government as an advanced peacekeeping system, the devious doctor reprogrammed it in order to control robots from all over the world. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the DOS MegaMan games is their sheer originality: most poorly-made cash grabs based on popular franchises would be content with aping existing material poorly, but Rozner Labs went one step further, essentially making officially-licensed fanfiction and that’s probably the major reason why I’ll never be able to get this game out of my head.

MMPC-01

Times have been tough for Rock, I hear he’s been moonlighting as a bug zapper.

I’ll talk about each game’s gameplay separately, simply because there are pretty much as many similarities as differences between the two. Both games maintain the same awkward control scheme: the arrow keys move, but the J key is jump and the fire button is the space bar. I don’t know how people were intended to orient themselves on the keyboard while playing this. To make matters worse, F9 pauses the game but F10 quits to DOS. The Escape key opens the weapons menu in game, and pressing F10 while there kills MegaMan instantly. Both games also have the usual assortment of power-ups, health and weapon energy refills, extra lives and even E-Tanks. Mega Man has a total of five stages. The first of which is actually a franchise first: Mega Man DOS had an intro stage. Sure, it simply involved MegaMan trying to run through a tollbooth while being mauled by a nigh-indestrucible mechanical dog that just respawns if you destroy it, but it’s an intro stage all the same. It managed to even beat MegaMan X to the punch by roughly 3 years. No wonder they hired Rozner to handle that game’s PC port. Apparently, the man was a visionary.

After clearing that slog of an opening, players are dropped into a slightly familiar stage select screen, allowing them to tackle Wily’s three robots in any order. They are Sonic Man, who looks like someone tried to recreate Bomberman using stock clipart; Volt Man, the clear winner in terms of design; and Dyna Man – short for Dynamite, much like “Elec” being short for Electric – who boasts a strange design with blue, green and yellow body armor, topped with a blue helmet and a black facemask that only reveals his eyes. After defeating all three and gaining their keys – which are shaped like calculators for reasons I don’t entirely understand – players are then sent to Dr. Wily’s castle, a single stage consisting of rematches with the three robot masters, followed by a two-stage fight with CRORQ, who has been converted into a bipedal mech piloted by Dr. Wily. That’s the entire game, a mere five stages. The controls feel sticky at times, the jumping and shooting is really awkward and the game has an odd fascination with enemies that are too small to hit with the standard arm cannon, forcing you to take damage in order to progress. There’s also a notable lack of checkpoints: it gets so bad that I’m not even sure if the final stage has any, I never actually died once I got past the rematches with the first three bosses and dying on any of them sent you all the way back to the beginning.

MMPC-02

I can’t even begin to comprehend this design. That’s what I love about it.

MegaMan 3 improves on the original game’s formula in some ways, but makes entirely new mistakes to compensate. For starters, the controls feel marginally better than the previous game and the enemies that are too small to hit normally are gone. Another interesting quirk, MegaMan now swims when underwater, as opposed to the standard moon-jump physics – which means, once again, Rozner Labs introduced a gameplay mechanic to one of their games before Capcom would go on to implement it in a game of their own. Unfortunately, the level design takes a hit: everything goes from straight-forward and linear to literal mazes. It’s interesting, but trying to progress can get confusing and frustration can set in when faced the sheer commonality of dead ends. This game misses out on the intro stage, but given the fact that there are three more boss stages, it brings the grand total to 7. The bosses are a lot less original this time around – most of them are directly based on existing robots from the actual MegaMan 2 and 3. Torch Man, Bit Man, Shark Man (well before Battle Network), Wave Man (not the one you’re probably thinking of, although both MM3 PC and MegaMan 5 for the NES came out the same year), Oil Man – not that one – and Blade Man – not that one. After that, it’s another gauntlet of rematches in Wily’s Castle, followed by a rematch against CRORQ and then finally, a two-stage battle with Dr. Wily himself, who has surrounded himself with acid that kills MegaMan instantly. I personally think that MM3 was the better of the two, but there’s no real objective way to measure which game is superior. It’s all just a matter of opinion. Besides, it’s not really that much of an achievement to be the better of the two Rozner Labs Mega Man games.

MM3PC-01

An underwater maze with awkward controls. Clearly, a good omen.

I suppose I might as well mention both games’ array of weapons. Both games grant MegaMan the use of his standard Plasma Cannon. The way that one selects weapons in this game is intuitive but also weird: on the pause screen, you hit the key on the keyboard associated with the weapon to select it – the E key is, of course, reserved for E-Tanks. Of course, the oddest bit is that MegaMan doesn’t change colors based on which weapon he’s using – this is especially weird in Mega Man 3, where he shows up in different colors on the “New Weapon” screen. The weapons in the first game are fairly unique: the Force Field is a unique shield weapon that can be turned on and off with the fire button, keeping it on drains the weapon energy; Sonic Wave is like a faster version of the Gemini Laser and Nuclear Detonator, which is like a worse version of the Hyper Bomb: it has a lower firing arc, takes longer to go off and can damage MegaMan himself. It can destroy certain blocks though. The weapons from MegaMan 3, on the other hand, are a lot more one-note. The Torch Arm shots off a fireball; Oil Stream looks almost identical, though it’s colored black to signify that it’s oil; the Shark Boomerang effectively works like the Ring Boomerang from MM4; the Blade Launcher fires off an upward spread shot of three blades; the Bit Cannon is probably the best weapon in the game, firing off a powerful lightning bolt and the Water Shooter fires off three water balls at a downward arc at different angles, almost like an upside-down Air Shooter from MegaMan 2. Kind of fitting when you consider Wave Man’s design. I’d say the first game has the edge when it comes to weapons – while there are less overall, they’re way more unique than the ones in MegaMan 3.

The graphics in this game are, in a word, terrible. Instead of essentially recycling the graphics from the NES games, Rozner decided to redraw everything from scratch. This ends up leading to an array of unique enemies – in the first game, MegaMan ends up fighting more animals than robots, bats, ants, spiders, even parrots and mosquitos. In fact, the only traditional MegaMan enemies that show up in the game are Mets and Sniper Joes, which only show up in the final stage. The enemies in MegaMan 3 make a little more sense: a few of the animals return, but now MegaMan’s mostly fighting gillmen, plant monsters and guys in hazmat suits. The Mets and Sniper Joes return and better still, they show up more often. The robot masters are drawn in a completely different style, with more realistic proportions. They look like they belong in a different game. The oddest part is that, even though Rozner’s brother took over art duties in the later game, most of the Robot Masters’s in-game sprites appear to be traced over the Dynaman sprite from the first game. The backgrounds are the only aspect of the game that look good. In fact, the crates from Dyna Man’s stage and the nuclear barrels in Sonic Man’s stage were actually used in the original Duke Nukem, which is perhaps the game’s most enduring legacy. As for music, there’s really nothing to say: this game has none, which feels like the biggest blasphemy to me. The sound effects all come through the PC speaker anyway, so even if there was music, it would probably sound terrible.

MM3PC-02

Somehow more incoherent and less lovable that even Sonic Man.

Like I said before, these games are both trainwrecks, but I can’t help but remember them. While they are by far the worst games I’ve ever played that have borne the MegaMan name (and I’ve played more than my fair share of them) but I do still manage to have some positive feelings toward these games – and I’m almost certain they aren’t ironic! I think it all stems from the fact that Rozner Labs came up with original content while making this game, as opposed to just taking content directly from earlier (read: better) games in the series. Perhaps it’s just a trick, but the originality of CRORQ and Rozner’s own take on Robot masters – many of whom would eventually be reused by Capcom in one form or another – implies that, regardless of how poor the final product came out, actual effort went into the creation of these two games. The only remaining mystery is why Hi Tech and Rozner Labs skipped directly to MegaMan 3, as opposed to making a MegaMan 2: after all, MM2 was the most popular of the NES games, so making a game with that title likely would’ve sold even better. The best explanation I’ve heard for it is that they wanted the game to sound as “new” as possible. Granted, since the first Mega Man game on PC came out in 1990 – the same year MM3 came out – so you’d think they’d be called MegaMan 3 and 5, instead. I think the titles are perfect in their own way: they perfectly represent the outright bizarre nature of both games. Still, they both seem to have a handful of …I’m not sure if “fans” is the right way to describe them. Nevertheless, I’ve seen fanart of the characters from this game, heard attempts at creating original songs to associate with them and I’ve seen at least two attempts at remaking the games to bring them more in line with the quality generally associated with the Blue Bomber. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the characters from this game show up in some form in a future Capcom release. After all, we’ve seen other licensed games get similar treatment – but that’s a story for another time.

Six games – or would that be eight? Nine? – seems like a perfect place to stop for now. I’ve got a lot more to talk about, but I think keeping these articles shorter should make them much easier to read. What do you think: do you prefer the massive, almost novel-length Retrospective articles I did before, or do you prefer these smaller, much more digestible segments over a longer period of time? Feel free to let me know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, which should be coming your way soon.

PC Ports Wishlist 2: Lost in New York

Around this time last year, I decided to do a new article in my long-running indulgence: port-begging for PC games. Of course, in the most recent article, I also added in some additional musings. I discussed what my favorite overall “victories” were since I’d originally started doing these lists, as well as focusing on both my overall top 10 most wanted games out of what I’d covered in older lists and the top games for each remaining list. I can’t really remember if I decided I wanted to make it a yearly tradition after the previous article – at the same time, I guess I just sort of assumed I’d be doing it again anyway. I had fun with last year’s lists, so why not?

This time around, I’m going to be focusing entirely on 2017 with the recap. As such, I’ll be starting with my top 5 confirmations of the years, which was a lot more difficult than I would have expected. Little has really moved since last year’s “Best of the Rest” list, but I’ve finally been able to cobble together an entire new list, so it only seems fitting to introduce it in this article. Finally, considering the fact that the top two slots in my previous top ten list – MegaMans 9 & 10 and Ys SEVEN – have since been released, I’ve decided to write up a new list. Not every game is new, but some have switched places.

Before we get on with this year’s lists, I’d like to go over the PC port announcements that were made since August, when I did the list for GOG games. Admittedly, I didn’t really expect that much in the way of announcements, especially considering the major announcements revealed from May until August. That’s not to say there was nothing these past four months. Killer Instinct was finally released on Steam back in September, technically not a new port – as it was previously a Windows Store exclusive. However, putting it on Steam and adding (albeit limited) crossplay with both the Xbox One and Windows Store versions was a nice touch. September also brought us the announcement of Zone of the Enders 2 receiving another re-release, adding a new VR option, on both PS4 and PC. While the ZOE HD Collection was on a previous list, I suppose getting a new release of the game that worked – apparently, the PS3 and Xbox 360’s version of the first game was broken – is better than nothing, so I’ll count that as a win. However, November alone definitely brought me some big-name releases – that ended up forcing me to modify the new game’s list not once, but twice. Capcom announced that Okami HD would be ported to PC, as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I wish I could say that I had considered this game for my list, but I thought of it as too much of a long shot, given the series’ Japan-centric aesthetic running counter to Capcom’s Western goals. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, a Zelda-like adventure game with platformer elements previously released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, also managed to receive a remastered port on PC, Mac and Linux, courtesy of THQ Nordic. The game didn’t fall within my usual criteria for inclusion, but considering the game’s recent cult following, it’s definitely good news from my perspective. Injustice 2, on the other hand, was originally going to be on this year’s list, but it ended up receiving a PC port courtesy of the fine people at QLOC. Unfortunately, the game uses Denuvo, so I’m going to have to hold off on it until WB comes to their senses. And just like last year, the biggest surprise comes from SNK. The Last Blade 2 – based on the PS4 release this time around – was released on Steam completely unannounced. Ironically, this was another game I intended to put on this year’s list but had to swap it for something new at the last minute.

Speaking of last-minute announcements, there were two more PC gaming announcements I’d consider wins literally the day before this article was scheduled to go up. First, both Jazz Jackrabbit games were released on GOG, which means that the GOG wishlist I wrote back in August has finally borne fruit. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many. Earlier this week, XSEED announced a livestream on November 30th, with a mystery announcement. I was hoping for something Falcom-related and once again, I hit the jackpot. 2001’s Zwei!! – now retitled as Zwei: The Arges Adventure – is being translated and set to release on their usual storefronts (Steam, GOG and the Humble Store) sometime in “Winter 2018”. The work that went into bringing this to modern computers cannot be understated: the original game used DirectX5. XSEED managed to collaborate with Matt Fielding of Magnetic Games, the developer behind Exile’s End. As such, a majority of the original applications and mini-games from the original Falcom release have been maintained in this new version, with the exceptions of the calculator and the calendar. Frankly, I’m just surprised at the turnaround on this one and can’t wait for it to be released.

This year’s list of console ports also managed to achieve a win. Owlboy was originally announced for the Switch back in May, but since then, PS4 and Xbox One ports have also been announced. Last year’s list did way better. Back in March, Lethal League was announced for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Team Reptile also announced a sequel – named “Lethal League Blaze” – set to release some time next year on both PC and “console”. Undertale was also announced for release on PlayStation 4 and Vita back during this year’s E3. I was honestly surprised that it didn’t end up hitting the Nintendo Switch, but that’s life. Likewise, while NEO AQUARIUM – The King of Crustaceans – failed to receive a console port, its sequel ACE OF SEAFOOD has been ported to the PlayStation 4, as well as developer Nussoft teasing a future port to the Nintendo Switch.

Top 5 Successes of 2017

Before I get to my actual picks, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Arc System Works in general. They’ve made quite the evolution over the past couple years, going from re-releasing old PC ports of classic games on GOG to outright announcing PC versions of upcoming games – Double Dragon IV and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle come to mind. I hope more Japanese companies take after their example and decide to offer major PC support for any games they decide to release in the West.

5. de Blob 1 & 2 – THQ Nordic (Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

I honestly didn’t think this was possible, which is why this made the list over ASW. ASW’s transition into a more PC friendly company was alluded to for quite some time, but when Nordic Games rebranded themselves as “THQ Nordic”, the Darksiders III announcement wasn’t remotely surprising. Bringing back not one, but both de Blob games, on the other hand? Absolutely blew my mind. When Nordic first purchased the intellectual property and said they “had plans” for the series, I thought it was merely corporate talk. After all, the game’s rights had languished in purgatory while other major IPs were claimed by other companies at auction. Best of all, they hired Blitworks to handle the ports of both games. Eventually, the first game had ports announced for the Xbox One and PS4, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the second game follows.

4. Bayonetta/Vanquish – Sega/Platinum Games (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U)

Speaking of amazing turnarounds, Platinum Games managed to grant us not one, but two of their cult classics from last-gen on PC this year. The fact that both games came out so close to one another made this even more amazing. It’s also been heavily rumored that both games will be released as a double-pack on the PS4 and XBO, though confirmation has yet to be made. With Platinum’s Twitter heavily implying that Bayonetta 3 may be on the horizon, it only makes sense to get the game in as many hands as possible. While a Bayonetta 2 PC port is a pipe dream due to Nintendo’s heavy involvement with the game’s development, I hope we can see even more of Platinum’s back catalog hit PC in the near future.

3. The King of Fighters XIV – SNK (PlayStation 4)

It’s funny: I was honestly expecting to put this one on this year’s list of new games: it was even the sole new addition to last year’s list. SNK managed to impress me with a timely Steam port that I assumed would usher in the game’s demise when it came to additional content, but apparently that wasn’t the case at all. With a port handled by Abstraction Games – an underrated company that handled the Double Dragon Neon PC port – KoFXIV is now capable of shining in brand-new ways, thanks to a fledgling mod community. Seriously, what they’ve been able to do with the game has been amazing.

2. MegaMan 9 & 10 (MegaMan Legacy Collection 2) – Capcom (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

I’m surprised this is coming in at number 2, but my top request definitely put up a good fight. I’m probably alone in the sense that I’d have been willing to pay $20 for these two games and all their DLC alone. Adding in two more MegaMan games that hadn’t shown up on PC before – MegaMans 7 and 8 – only served to sweeten the deal and make it a can’t-miss proposition for me. For a while, Capcom had been weird about what they’d port to PC – but in recent years, as long as it’s not a Nintendo-exclusive, PC gamers are likely to get love from Capcom. If anything, I wish they’d been a little less generous in some cases…

1. Falcom (in General)

Yeah, I get that it’s kind of cheating to put an entire company in the top slot, but if I’m going to be honest, they deserve it. Sure, the promises of day one parity with the console releases of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana ended up being a pipe dream, but considering the rumors of the port’s quality (or lack thereof), not to mention the outright poor quality of the original translation, it may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Aksys Games’ translation of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is set to launch the same day as its PS4 counterpart as promised, but considering how late they started their own beta testing (similar to Ys VIII), well, “watch this space”. Even though Ys VIII didn’t hit its original release date on PC, some good did come of it. Ys VIII is actually the first game that NIS America is releasing on GOG, which is amazing. Whether or not that means other NIS games will hit the platform is beyond me, but that seems pretty cool.

Despite these setbacks from one of their new partners, XSEED more than picked up the slack when it came to representing Falcom on PC. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Ys SEVEN and Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (formerly “Zwei II” in Japan) all saw release on Windows PC this year. Also, they’ve announced that both Trails of Cold Steel II’s PC port and the first Zwei!! will release some time next year. Good stuff, but that’s not the major reason why they topped it out. In an interview with Techraptor, Toshihiro Kondo – Falcom’s president – said that he wanted “all of [their] games that come out to [release] on Steam”. Not just all future titles, not all of the old games that Falcom previously released on Windows, ALL of their games. Big words, but considering the massive collection of Falcom games we’ve amassed on PC so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes to pass.

Our Feature Presentation

Before we go onto my new list, I feel like it’s worth going over the rules I’ve limited myself to in the past with these lists. It’s odd, I know, but it just ends up making the process of building a list much more fun. For starters, I’m limiting myself to games from the seventh (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii) and eighth (PS4/Xbox One/Wii U/Switch) generations of gaming. Porting anything else seems like it would require a brand-new release across the board and this is more about simple ports. Considering the sheer amount of games from these generations that have been ported to PC in recent years, it only seems fair. I also try to limit myself to one game per company, though considering the sheer number of buyouts we’ve seen, I’ve decided to expand that to one game per “brand” – but only if the buyout happened since the games were made in the first place. For example, I can ask for one game each from Sega and Atlus, but asking for two games from Square Enix is a no-no. I also consider one “series” as an entry, as long as the games themselves were all present in the generations available to me. Finally, no games that are clearly “console-exclusive”. So, even though Sony Music has started that whole “Unties” publishing label for indie games and Nintendo’s willing to do tie-ins on mobiles, I’m not going to be asking for stuff like Parappa the Rapper Remastered or Super Mario Odyssey. It’s just common sense.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant – Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games (PlayStation Portable)

I mentioned earlier that Falcom’s president wanted to put all of their games on Steam. The main goal most people have their sights set on is getting Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure on the PC platform. A segment of Falcom’s popular “Legend of Heroes” series, these two games – known colloquially as the “Crossbell games”, named after their setting – are quite literally the most commonly requested games. Unfortunately, they also lack any official English translations, so this would be a necessary part of porting the games to PC.

But do you know what Falcom game already has a full English translation and is also currently doomed to exclusivity on the inescapable purgatory that is the PlayStation Portable? That’s right, Brandish: The Dark Revenant. A remake of the first installment in a short-lived Falcom series, the games bring a new perspective to the first-person dungeon crawlers of old with its unique brand of gameplay. Brandish’s translation was a labor of love from Tom “Wyrdwad” Lipschultz, one of XSEED’s most prominent localizers. While the PSP remake saw its original Japanese release in 2009, it only managed to reach America in January 2015 as a digital-only release. It’s a shame that such an interest game was resigned to such a lackluster fate outside of its home market. Considering the fact that we’ve seen Ys SEVEN hit PC this year, I’d love to see Brandish achieve the same thing. At worst, it would at least give XSEED’s new partners a chance to hone their craft while XSEED is working on translating the Crossbell duology.

Rare Replay – Microsoft Studios/Rare (Xbox One)

This almost feels like cheating, considering I put the Banjo-Kazooie games on an earlier list. Considering they’re both included in this compendium of some of Rare’s most beloved titles (not owned by Nintendo), getting this collection would just end up killing two birds with one stone. It may seem unlikely given the fact that it hasn’t already come to PC, but that’s exactly what I thought about the Killer Instinct reboot back on my very first list. If I’m going to dream, I might as well dream big.

Tekken Tag Tournament HD – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3)

This has the exact opposite problem compared to Rare Replay. I’ve already asked for the second Tekken Tag Tournament, so why ask for the original? The answer’s simple: despite being outclassed in every possible way by its sequel, I associate some really happy memories with the classic game. The re-release in the Tekken Hybrid package reminded me of that and so did replaying the game for the Tekken retrospective I did this year. There was just something amazing about the original game, some intangible factor that prevents me from letting go of it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t rather have the second game if forced to choose, but if Bandai Namco considers re-releasing both, I’m not going to complain.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir – Atlus/Vanillaware (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)

Every list has got to have at least one pipe dream on it. A game that outright transcends any other baffling choice. I’ve got quite a few on this year’s list, but I’d say last year’s re-release of Odin Sphere is the big one this time around. Since I started doing these wishlists nearly four years ago, we’ve seen Atlus’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the PC market go from the rule to the exception when it comes to Japanese publishers. Having said that, Atlus USA does do a good job of publishing various indie titles on the platform and Sega has apparently been applying pressure on Atlus’s PC-phobia, with various people speculating that we could see a Persona game hit the platform someday. Frankly, I’d rather just have Vanillaware games, considering the developer’s stated openness to releasing their games on PC. Leifthrasir is technically their most recent release, therefore it feels the most likely.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 – Inti Creates (Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch)

This was honestly a last resort when it came to PC port requests. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Gunvolt 2 even more than the original game. It’s more that it seems like Inti Creates may have abandoned the platform when it comes to the games they publish themselves. Not to mention the fact that I think I’d rather have a release of the Striker Pack on PC, as opposed to just the second game. The original Gunvolt’s release on Steam was sort of wonky and it looks like the version included in the Striker Pack on Switch is a much more coherent experience, likely due to what Inti Creates was able to learn from their first attempt at transferring the title – which required two screens – onto a single-screen platform and improve their efforts. At the same time, asking for the Striker Pack feels a bit skeevy, considering we already have the first game on Steam. That’s what makes the whole thing so complicated. I mean, ideally, they’d just release the Striker Pack on Steam and give anyone who bought the first game a discount. That’s my opinion anyway.

Yakuza series – Sega (PlayStation 3, Wii U, PlayStation 4)

From what the internet has been telling me, the Yakuza games – better known as Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan – are the best games I’m not playing. I totally want to try them out, but I’m afraid I’m just no longer into playing big experiences like that on console these days and frankly, I wouldn’t even know where to start at this point. Much like Atlus’s Persona series, there is a massive wellspring of support for these games to make their debut on PC. Some people want the games to start with the latest game in the series – either Yazuka 6 (the next game set to hit the West) or Yakuza Kiwami 2, the remake of the second game set to hit Japan in a matter of days. Other people seem to be fine with the series starting up with Yakuza Zero – which has essentially been deemed the perfect place to jump into the series for newcomers. Meanwhile, I’m a little more extreme: I want everything. Start by localizing the Japanese-exclusive HD ports of the first two games on the Wii U, then just continue from there. Ideally we’d be seeing most of the cut content restored to its original glory in the process. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but honestly, a legitimate entry in the Yakuza series hitting PC is a pipe dream anyway.

(P.S. Nice try, Sega. But no one’s counting that smartphone game you’re working on as an actual PC release for the Yakuza series. In fact, most of us were just insulted.)

The Witch and the Hundred Knight – Nippon Ichi Software (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)

NIS America still appears to be pretty heavily involved in the PC scene, but personally, I wish they’d port more of Nippon Ichi’s games to the platform. The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a game that friends of mine have been raving about, and considering the fact that it’s an action-RPG, I’m onboard with it too. The game’s sequel released in Japan early this year and is set to release in the West sometime next year, so allowing the PC crowd to get their hands on the first one would be a nice treat. Though frankly, I’m still worried about which Disgaea game we’ll get next – I’m kind of worried that they might just skip right to 5, considering the game’s ESRB listing. I’d rather play through the rest of the old games first, personally.

Final Fight: Double Impact – Capcom/Iron Galaxy Studios (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

Truth be told, my backlog of PC port requests from Capcom is running pretty low. That’s not exactly a bad thing: it means that most of the recent games I actually want from the company have already been released on PC. Final Fight: Double Impact just seems like a safe choice to make. It contains arcade-perfect releases of both the original Final Fight and Magic Sword, two beat-‘em-ups with significantly different gameplay styles. Factor in the drop-in multiplayer using GGPO and it’s still worth playing to this day, in spite of the DRM present on the PS3 release. Considering that the 360 and PS3 have essentially been retired, it’d be nice to see this collection – or better yet, a bigger collection with more games included – ported to modern platforms, PC included.

Windjammers – Data East/DotEmu (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita)

Windjammers is among the most underrated multiplayer games of all-time, so when it managed to get a re-release on both PS4 and Vita this past year, it was exciting. The only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been if PC had been involved in the fun as well. Fortunately, DotEmu’s released a whole lot of their ports on the platform down the line, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be tossing frisbees in no time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that out of all of the games on this year’s new list of games, this is the one I’m most confident will hit PC by this time next year.

Let It Die – GungHo Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture (PlayStation 4)

Let It Die and I have had a pretty turbulent history. I was originally excited for the game when it was first announced as “Lily Bergamo”, I’m a huge fan of Grasshopper Manufacture after all. Then the game was transformed into Let It Die and touted as a “free-to-play” experience, at which point, I totally lost interest. Flash-forward to earlier this year when I actually hear some actual information about the final product and I’m intrigued all over again. Let It Die may be a free-to-play game littered with microtransactions, but it’s built far more like a classic arcade game than the mobile cash grabs we associate the concept with. Let It Die is effectively a dungeon-crawler with rouge-like elements, you’re limited to a single life – but if you pay in a quarter, you can continue with your current character. Otherwise, you’ve got to start from scratch. Aside from that, the game maintains the typical Grasshopper off-the-wall insanity: for example, the player is guided by a skateboarding grim reaper named Uncle Death. The permadeath mechanic also lends itself to asynchronous multiplayer: dead characters appear in other players’ games. It’s an honestly interesting concept and one that I’d like to see on PC, though given the fleeting nature of games like this, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Top 10 Most Wanted

Last year, ranking my top 10 list of the games I want ported to PC the most was more haphazard than anything. I’ve never really been all that good at ordering my favorite things in general and in many cases, there wasn’t really much of a difference in how much I wanted many of the games on the list. So to compensate for it, I’ve decided to factor in just how likely I think it would be to see a re-release on PC, which should go a long way toward explaining why various games have switched places from the previous year. Keep in mind that the top two games from the previous list were in fact the top two games I wanted, this new method just helps to keep things feeling a little more structured: I’ve never really been all that good when it comes to rankings and usually by the time I’m done with one list, I instantly regret the final product. Also, don’t view a game being snubbed from the list as a sign that I don’t want the game: it’s safe to assume that I want everything that’s ever been on any of my list, even games like the now-defunct Tekken Revolution. These are just the ten that would make me the happiest to see on PC at this point in time.

10. Catherine – Atlus (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Like I said earlier, Atlus’s Japanese branch appears to be actively against doing PC versions of their games. That setback won’t stop me from holding out hope. But this was clearly the longest of the longshots last year and yet, here we are. Considering the fact that we were teased with a potential new entry in the series back in August, it only seems reasonable to bring the original back for those who missed it or simply want to play it on more modern platforms.  And what platform is more modern than the PC? Come on, Atlus: you’ve literally got nothing to lose – do a modern “HD” port on PS4 and PC, replacing the Xbox brand. It’s a Golden opportunity you can’t afford to miss.

9. Lollipop Chainsaw – WB Games/Grasshopper Manufacture (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Lollipop Chainsaw dropped a fair amount this year and there are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, WB Games’ PC gaming record has been littered with ups and downs in recent years – ranging from the legendarily bad port of Arkham Asylum to hiring QLOC to fix the botched Mortal Kombat X port to adding Denuvo to a QLOC-developed port of Injustice 2 – Warner Bros. just seems to keep me guessing in strange new ways. More importantly, I don’t think WB Games has any interest in reviving the game, particularly given the game’s controversial content and our current social climate. I mean, the game hasn’t even been added to the Xbox One’s library through backward compatibility. Even Catherine managed that. I think our only hope to see this game again is if Grasshopper Manufacture’s new parent company GungHo Entertainment manages to buy the rights from WB Games and that just seems like a pipe dream.

8. Dragon’s Crown Pro – Atlus/Vanillaware (PlayStation 4)

Of course, even though Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is the most recent Vanillaware release, we do know what their next release is. Last year, I simply had the original Dragon’s Crown on this list, but considering the fact that there’s a re-release coming up with a higher resolution and on a platform with a more PC-friendly architecture, it just seemed obvious to ask for the new version instead. Still seems odd that they’re doing a re-release so soon: they even released a patch for the PS3 and Vita versions allowing for crossplay with Pro. Truth be told, there’s a part of me that wonders if Dragon’s Crown Pro is just being made as a Trojan Horse to allow Vanillaware to toss their hat into the PC gaming market. I’m more than onboard with the concept.

7. NeoGeo Battle Coliseum – SNK (Xbox 360)

This one seemed like an obvious choice. I didn’t have any 2D fighting games on the list last year and frankly, that’s unacceptable. Considering the fact that many of SNK’s old games that have been re-released on this gen have made their way onto PC – particularly the ones handled internally – it only seems fair to ask for something from the previous gen. Hamster’s been killing it with their Arcade Classics releases of classic NeoGeo games, but SNK’s work after their long-running self-made arcade hardware is a rarity these days. Considering the rumors abound that SNK may be working on a second Battle Coliseum game, re-releasing the first on modern platforms seems like a no-brainer. I see it going down like this: initial release on the PS4, followed by a Steam release at some point down the line.  Not an ideal scenario, but perhaps the most realistic.

6. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – Capcom (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Another significant drop from last year’s list, I just think that seeing either a re-release of the old PC version or a new port of the HD release just isn’t in the cards anymore. Puzzle Fighter’s recently been relaunched as a new free-to-play mobile game with a hideous art style and I’m sure that Capcom would try to avoid any undue competition by releasing the original game. And believe me, this new mobile game is going to need all the help it can get. Maybe we’ll see a re-release if it fails to meet Capcom’s likely insane expectations, but it’ll take some time to gauge the game’s success.

5. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U)

While we did finally end up getting a Tekken game on PC this year, I honestly still would prefer Tag 2 to make its way there as well. Unfortunately, as TTT2 was among the worst selling games in the entire series, it seems like the chances of this game getting re-released on more platforms are pretty slim. At least it’s on the Xbox One via backwards compatibility, but I’m still salivating over the thought of what the modding scene could do with this game.

4. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – Konami (PlayStation Portable)

It feels a little weird moving this up, considering Konami’s recent history. This year offered us an omen: Super Bomberman R, one of the Nintendo Switch’s launch titles, was a true return to form for the company. This has led to a great deal of speculation about a return to Konami’s roots, with potentially even more new games in the vein of classic titles. An easy way to test the waters for this kind of revival would be re-releasing actual old titles and I still can’t think of a better choice than the Dracula X Chronicles. Containing a full graphical remake of one of the most beloved Castlevania games, an official English translation of the original PC Engine version, as well as a retranslated version of Symphony of the Night, DXC deserves a better fate than being trapped on the likely-defunct PlayStation Portable line for all eternity. The remake could use a little polish to handle higher resolutions, but aside from that, it would be a perfect package.

3. Splatterhouse (2010) – Bandai Namco (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

2010’s Splatterhouse reboot did not get nearly as much love as it deserves. The game was a high-adrenaline romp through a horror-inspired environment that both paid homage to and build on the original games. Considering we’ve seen various companies choose seemingly random games for modern revivals, Splatterhouse feels like it could have a chance. The game’s only major flaw, its terrible load times, could easily be fixed on modern platforms and frankly, even if you’re not a fan of the reboot itself, it also comes with perfect ports of all three of the mainline games from the 90s. If that’s not worth a re-release, then I don’t know what is.

2.  MegaMan: Powered Up/MegaMan: Maverick Hunter X – Capcom (PSP)

I wouldn’t have considered putting this so high on the list, but considering the recent re-releases of Okami HD and Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney on contemporary platforms, it looks like Capcom may be raiding their backlog for some big cheap releases. For me, the most obvious choice would have to be a twin-pack of their MegaMan releases on the PSP. Both games were critical darlings crippled by the platform they were released on and their timing. Re-releasing both games with improved resolutions in a two-pack for $20 would sell like gangbusters. Considering the fact that Powered Up isn’t even available as a downloadable title outside of Japan, this would also go a long way to preserve what is objectively the best iteration of the original MegaMan in existence and the fascinating curiosity that is MHX’s Vile Mode. Better yet, don’t just release this on PC – release it on everything: PS4, Switch, and even the Xbox One. Come on, Capcom. It’s the Blue Bomber’s 30th anniversary, let’s celebrate!

1. Ys: Memories of Celceta – Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games (PlayStation Vita)

It might surprise you to see that while much of last year’s list has remained pretty much the same, Memories of Celceta managed to jump a whopping six places to take the number one slot. For starters, the main reason that it was low was to keep things fair – after all, Ys SEVEN was my second most highly-requested PC port of all, and with that out of the way, MoC could flourish. But beating out a MegaMan game for the top slot? That comes down to pure psychology. With SEVEN coming out this year and Lacrimosa of Dana eventually hitting PC at some point, Celceta is literally the only remaining modern Ys game without a PC version in the West. You ever notice how the most painful losses are the ones where you come so close to victory? The most noticeable gap in any collection is a single entry? Same basic concept: PC is so close to being a perfect platform for the Ys series, it just needs that one last game.

Another element that puts this so high on my list is the sheer possibility of it. Everything else on here feels like a pipe dream to at least some extent – a majority of these games are from last-gen and companies don’t seem quite as keen on re-releasing old content as I’d hoped. With that in mind, I’d easily consider Ys SEVEN to be the less likely of the two missing Ys games when it comes to PC ports and that managed to become a reality. Considering the poor timing of SEVEN’s release date on PC compared to the American release date for VIII on consoles, I’d almost be willing to bet that we might see confirmation of a Memories of Celceta PC port from XSEED around the time NIS America announces the final release date for the PC version of Lacrimosa of Dana.

To put it simply, Memories of Celceta is the only game on this list right now that I don’t see merely as a hope. It’s an inevitability. Falcom has already begun focusing more on the PC market in the West, the fact that day-one PC releases were a big part of what led them to choose Aksys and NIS America only proves it. XSEED has been playing a game of catch-up, effectively proving that they are capable of following through with this new strategy given the fact that they released 3 Falcom games on PC this year alone, with one more set likely to release sometime next year. And while the Trails games are Falcom’s top brand in Japan, Ys is still the more popular brand in the West. The Western demand for Crossbell may be deafening, but there’s a much more viable option left to XSEED. The cry for Memories of Celceta on PC is literally deafening: it was riled up by a Twitter gaffe two years back, Joyoland’s attempt to put their ports on Steam Greenlight with pages entirely written in Chinese were met with salivation in English and SEVEN’s recent PC release proves that XSEED finally has the resources to make this request a reality. It’s time to complete my collection.

Thus concludes this year’s set of lists. It almost makes me wonder what I’d be able to write next year. The sheer amount of new games receiving releases on PC and old games being ported long after their initial release is what caused me to abandon this entire concept in the first place, so in a strange sense, it almost feels good to not have to write these nearly as often as I did in previous years. At the same time, I do miss writing up these lists: that’s why I’ve continued with the yearly April Fools’ list of console ports and managed to put together a wishlist for GOG this past summer. On the plus side, I’ve almost got a full list ready for next April, but as for December 2018, I’m kind of at a loss of what to do to extend an article like this to its usual length. Oh well, at least I’ve got a whole year to figure that out.

 

Shedding Light on My Dark Souls

In 2009, Demon’s Souls was released.  Initially a cult favorite, its popularity grew and put From Software on the map worldwide.  The game spawned four titles that the copyright lawyers assure you are only spiritual successors, as well as a host of imitators.  The series really hit the mainstream with Demon’s Souls’ immediate not-sequel Dark Souls, and its incredibly challenging, unforgiving and epic dark fantasy quests became iconic.  Until reviewers passed the title on to Crash Bandicoot and Cuphead to hide how terrible they were at old-school platformers and action shooters, Dark Souls became the go-to example of a hard game.  It was the Dark Souls of lazy and often nonsensical comparisons.

^F1BF9340356D605BEED9696419177ECD712A719375216D498D^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

No, seriously, they compared this to Dark Souls, look it up.

My feelings on the series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, and Bloodborne, the fan name for the collective being Soulsborne) are… complicated.  I wanted to like the series, lengthy and challenging action-adventure games in a dark fantasy setting sounded great to me.  But with all those stats and equipment to manage, despite being Japanese I would classify the Soulsborne games (or at least the earlier ones) as really hard WRPGs.  I have no problem with hard games if they’re in a genre I like, but WRPGs are definitely not one of those genres.  And the controls and hit detection seemed too clunky for such a demanding game.  But were my complaints legitimate, or just me refusing to adapt to a series outside of my comfort zone?  I was never completely sure, which was a major reason I haven’t said much about these games before.

Well, the series offered to meet me halfway, and I accepted.  Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 addressed some of my major issues (the characters move faster and checkpoints are a little more sane), and I managed to beat both of them.  For reference, I made it around a quarter of the way through Demon’s Souls before giving up, and only played a little bit of a friend’s copy of Dark Souls to confirm it hadn’t fixed my issues.  I didn’t bother trying Dark Souls 2.  I’m not claiming to be an expert on the series, but am I a fan?  I’m still not completely sure, which is why I’m writing this article.  While playing Dark Souls 3 (I beat that very recently, while Bloodborne was a couple years ago), I switched several times between finding it an enjoyable and satisfying game, and being furious at it and wanting to quit.  But either way, it was addictive and dominated my gaming time.  When I finished it, I felt a wave of emotion that was part accomplishment and part relief.  I’ve been trying to understand and articulate my thoughts on the series, and I think I’ve finally gotten it.

^E6A216CCE70A69D80AD410531CC90856438444B620135E308B^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

I hate this asshole more than any other boss in recent memory.

The Soulsborne games have a concept I love, they are in a genre that has great potential to draw me in.  I really want to like them, but I feel like there are some serious flaws that could be easily fixed.  However, many of these flaws haven’t been addressed, and I think a major reason for that is that reviewers and the gaming community are refusing to acknowledge these flaws.  As the series progresses, some of my problems are addressed, but others are completely ignored.  I trudge through these issues to get at the part of the game that I enjoy, while wishing that the genre could fix these flaws and feeling resentful towards the rabid fanbase of the series for refusing to acknowledge these issues as flaws.  As these thoughts went through my head, I realized there was a very close parallel to my feelings about Soulsborne in a different series.  Yes, for all the games that supposedly are the Dark Souls (apparently the first difficult game ever made) of their genre, Soulsborne itself fits into that mold.

Dark Souls is the Grand Theft Auto of the 2010s. 

^35B548084C11026CFB04B4BDD4C7280D0F651C6BF98FF84D05^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Forget King’s Field, this is the Dark Souls prototype.

Yes, Soulsborne lines up almost perfectly with the beloved sandbox codifier that contains my personal punching bag (Grand Theft Auto 3 will always be terrible no matter how much the series improves).  And I think I’ve pinpointed what I find so frustrating about both the Soulsborne games and the pre-Grand Theft Auto V GTA games…

Recently, I’ve grown fond of the term “quality of life” as it relates to game design.  I define quality of life as features in a game that reduce frustration and inconvenience without making the game easier.  Being able to quickly equip items or abilities in real time instead of constantly pausing, information about items and stats prominently displayed and easy to access, the ability to retry challenges on the spot instead of being forced to commit suicide if you think you’ve messed up too much to finish an area.  And I’m sorry to say that in many ways the Soulsborne games seem to pride themselves on being anti-quality of life.  Want to fight a boss again?  In the later games you can almost always run to that boss easily without enemies getting any hits on you, but every time the boss kills you have to make that run again.  To make matters worse, you have to deal with a load time that’s longer than it would be if you could just respawn in the boss room.  You aren’t allowed to have a map, which isn’t even justified by realism, explorers made their own maps.  You… you can’t even pause.  There’s an offline mode, for God’s sake, let us pause!

^BE7F8479B7EF7D17919BAE0A8FC2076B65AB25447D2FE3E040^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Seriously, how the hell is not being able to pause an offline game acceptable?

This is in addition to things that do make the game harder, but in ways I feel aren’t legitimate.  Having one shot at collecting the souls/blood you had at your last death is an interesting feature, but something needs to be done about how it punishes you for making progress between checkpoints.  Die early?  You can easily get your experience points back.  Make lots of progress then die?  You are very likely screwed.  And don’t get me started on using an item, dying, the enemies you killed along the way respawning, and that item STILL BEING GONE.  The line between challenging and cheap is always… one of those… to draw, but I think there are some elements of the Soulsborne games that are legitimately cheap.

So, what is my overall point, what am I hoping to get out of this?  Well, it ties back to the Grand Theft Auto parallels.  In 2008, Saints Row 2 came out, and in 2012 I finally tried the “GTA rip-off.”  It was night and day, SR2 kept everything I liked about GTA and fixed all of my problems.  That’s what I want: the Saints Row 2 of Dark Souls.  A game that improves the genre so much that previous games in it feel unplayable in comparison.  Something that even makes the developer of the earlier, more famous series take notice and improve their games.

^1CFF26865F61D047FB0B2AAD649A17605C53305C0280E2008D^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

We may have the Dark Souls of everything, but what we need is the Saints Row 2 of Dark Souls.

So, back to the question of how I feel about Soulsborne, it remains complicated.  The later games are for the most part enjoyable for me, but I’m actively hoping for a game that will make me unable to ever go back to them.  So I guess I’m a fan at the moment, but a fair amount of that comes from Stockholm Syndrome.  Soulsborne draws me in with things I love, and holds them hostage with needlessly annoying and frustrating “traditions” that its fanbase refuses to acknowledge as flaws.  I seriously saw people arguing that the pre-patch Bloodborne load times were a good thing because they punished the player for dying.  Few internet gaming opinions have aggravated me that much.  For the time being, the Soulsborne games are good, but they could be so much better.  Let’s just hope that someday a Saint-like franchise fills these Dark Souls with light.

Player’s Choice

When it comes right down to it, the video game industry in general is a very tumultuous place. It seems like consumers, publishers and the journalists who act as intermediaries between the two are often at each other’s throats in a way that doesn’t appear to be that common when it comes to entertainment in general. Usually, I find myself siding with the customer side of things: after all, that’s probably where I end up falling most of the time – I think my article from last month proves that. The thing is, lately, I’ve been noticing a trend among some more vocal gamers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always hated the “entitled gamers” label: frankly, I think it’s generally just used as an out for publishers to put out a lackluster product, expecting to get away with it scot-free. But I’ve seen cases where I’d be willing to apply the label; if it weren’t for the baggage associated with the term. I’m talking about the kind of people that demand that every game priced at $60 owes them 60 hours of gameplay, bare minimum. Of course, that’s a rare and extreme example, but it exemplifies this trend I’ve seen. I’ve heard of cases where people have demanded platformers and other speedrun-friendly genres last between 30 and 50 hours to be considered worthwhile purchases. It just sort of strikes me as a ridiculous proposition: there are decidedly few genres out there that could achieve anything remotely close to that length on a regular basis, and most of the time, they have to resort to “tricks” like endless sidequests or a multiplayer mode. Single-player campaigns just aren’t built to last for that long and frankly, I can’t really recall a period where it was practical to hit that mark consistently.

Expecting an hour of gameplay per dollar paid for a product just seems insane and unfair to me. I mean, let’s compare this to other forms of mass media. At the time I’m writing this, most Blu-Ray releases of theatrical movies tend to range between $25 and $35 – and that’s after taking into account severe discounts compared to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which generally appears to sit around $40 a movie. I don’t see people demanding an hour’s worth of film per dollar spent on new movies. Granted, those usually come with bonus features. You know what doesn’t? Watching brand new releases in the theater. The average price of a movie ticket in the United States was about $8.84 in the first quarter of this year – yet, I can’t even remember a mainstream film that clocked in at five hours, let alone eight. Books are a bit harder to gauge in terms of how much time is spent getting through them – everyone reads at their own pace, after all – yet I don’t recall seeing any Amazon reviews calling a book a ripoff because they got less than 100 pages for every dollar they spent on it.

One possible argument I could think of is that when someone buys a movie or a book, they can rewatch or reread it ad nauseum, whenever the urge hits them. I don’t see how this doesn’t apply to video games too. Maybe the longer ones would be difficult to replay immediately, but if shorter games are the problem in the first case, then it should be easy enough to replay them soon after if they’re that short. In fact, replay value is where video games shine compared to other media. Most movie buffs talk about how certain films can be viewed in entirely new lights upon repeat viewings, but that’s nothing compared to video games. Due to their inherent interactivity – well, in most cases – each playthrough of a video game offers an entirely new experience. In pretty much every video game I’ve ever played, there have always been new secrets and exploits to be found upon second or third playthroughs, allowing for a more in-depth look at the game. That’s nothing to say of self-imposed challenges: I’ve replayed the original NES version of MegaMan 2 several times, but it’s been years since I started with Metalman – the traditional boss to start with when playing the game – and the game feels entirely new each time I tweak the order.

Then of course, you’ve got additional bonus content. While many games these days tend to hide extra features behind paywalls as opposed to in-game achievements, there are still a fair amount of games that respect the old ways in at least some small form. While most home video releases of major motion pictures and TV shows have a tendency to add bonus features, the majority of them have little bearing on the meat of the package. Maybe you’ll get the occasional “extended cut” that mixes various deleted scenes back into the work proper, but most of the time special features are generally expected to be enjoyed outside of the feature attraction. Not so with video games. Higher difficulty levels, alternate playable characters and “New Game+” modes all add something new to the game itself, allowing for entirely new experiences, which can double the standard length of a game. It’s a shame that features like this generally aren’t taken into account when gauging a game’s length, because generally, that would double the length of a game bare minimum.

That’s a problem that most people don’t seem to consider: where does the metric of calculating the time it takes to complete a game come from? Most people game at different skill levels – not to mention the fact that most gamers excel at some genres better than others – so how is the average time it takes to complete a game determined? It always just sort of struck me as arbitrary. I’ve taken more than the average time to complete a game on a blind-run than what the developers expected and in some cases, I’ve managed to finish in less time. The whole concept of measuring time in video games just strikes me as an inexact science and it makes me wonder about those people who demand such large games. Do they keep track of the time they spend with the game meticulously or do they just take traditional timekeeping methods – be they in-game or on the console itself – at face value? I suppose that this would bring video games more in line with books, as people have different reading levels and often read at different paces based on the material. Unfortunately, they’ve also got a much more uniform tangible length, in the form of pages. Sure, at times, you can say a game has a certain number of “levels” or “chapters”, but considering how these vary from game to game (not to mention, segments typically get longer as games themselves go on), it still comes across as an inconsistent way to measure a game’s true length.

I guess my main issue with the whole argument that every game should last a certain amount of time is that, as a rule, I’m more concerned with the quality of the time I’m spending on a game as opposed to the quantity. I’m often much more enamored with games that grab my attention for 5 hours over anything that just becomes a 500-hour trudge for the sake of “getting my money’s worth”. Granted, those are my priorities – but I just can’t wrap my head around to idea of demanding that a game takes up a certain amount of time instead of just giving players a certain amount of enjoyment. Of course, these days I seem to be gravitating more and more towards smaller games in general. Considering the fact that I’m a retro gamer at heart in the first place – I doubt I’ll ever see anything after the 16-bit era as gaming’s “Golden Age” – shorter games remind me of the good old days. In addition to that, a lot of the games I find myself enjoying the most tend to retro-style throwbacks anyway and those games are generally shorter than AAA extravaganzas. Oftentimes, I think the best thing I can ever say about a game is that it leaves me wanting more. That’s probably the main thing I keep in mind when gauging just how much I enjoyed something: it all comes down to whether I feel satisfied upon finishing it. Whether I just want an expansion, a straight up “level pack” sequel or some kind of spiritual successor from the same developers, it’s always a good sign.

This article may come across as a defense for some of the admittedly scummier tactics that publishers and developers – but mostly publishers – use to milk their consumer bases for all they’re worth. I’m by no means defending practices like selling a $60 game entirely on additional paid content. There just has to be some happy medium between companies demanding full price for an incomplete experience and gamers demanding that a game provide at least a full 168 hours of content before they consider buying a game at half price. Neither extreme really feels all that viable for the industry as a whole and as development costs continue to balloon, concessions need to be made at both sides. Of course, as I said, I’m not really that big on AAA blockbusters, so I’ll probably be fine either way. I’ll stick to getting ripped off by shorter games, thank you.

Under Reconstruction – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

As I’m posting this around midnight on All Hallows’ Eve, the witching hour as it were, it feels only fitting that I’m reviving a series I’ve not seen for a couple years. What better treat for Halloween than one last revival for the year? While Sum of Its Parts may have been more fitting given the day, Under Reconstruction always felt like an interesting concept. Taking a look at the odd one-offs, the quirky experiments and the black sheep games in popular series and reimagining them in a way that would improve their standing, while maintaining their unique identities in the process. I guess it would be scarier if I just decided they should be reworked to completely represent the rest of their franchises, but where’s the fun in that?

As I’ve only written one of these articles before, I’ll be making some changes from the previous article. Quite simply, I went far, far too in-depth in the last article, which may have contributed to my abandonment of the concept. Looking back at the previous article, I was clearly going for of a mini-design document style, which decisively hurt the flow of the entire thing at times, forcing it to be confined to sections and sub-headers. This time around, Under Reconstruction will be going for more of a “broad strokes” format, effectively going for the gist of what I’d want to see in a remake of the game in question. Hopefully, that’ll make this more viable as a recurring series, which honestly, was the original point of the first article. So, if you’re expecting another set of in-depth treatises on how to remake an old video game few people remember and fewer people liked, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with this one. As for anyone else still reading this, let’s continue.

If you haven’t already guessed from the title, this article is going to be focusing on the second Castlevania game, Simon’s Quest. While Simon’s Quest is generally considered among the weaker entries in the series, due in no small part to a parody review video from one James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe, its place of importance within the Castlevania franchise is still unquestionable. While the original Castlevania was essentially an arcade-era platformer in the same vein as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Simon’s Quest took a far more exploratory approach to its games – best resembling Nintendo’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Due to this shift in priorities, some consider it to be something of an “ur-Metroidvania”, the style of gameplay associated with Symphony of the Night – which in turn, is considered by many to be the best game in the series. Of course, SotN and SQ handle exploration in almost entirely different ways, but by now, the connection has been made. Simon’s Quest isn’t the worst game in the series by any means, but it suffers from its mechanics – to the extent where the following game simply refined the mechanics of the original game and the series would follow on this path until the 32-bit era. Considering we’ve seen several remakes and reimaginings of the first game, why not give the second a chance to shine, especially given the fact that platform-adventure games in general have become substantially more refined?

Gameplay

The best games I can think of that took inspiration from Simon’s Quest would have to be the first two Shantae games from WayForward. As such, they seem like a good place to look for inspiration when refining mechanics for the remake. For starters, throw out the lives system. It was an odd mechanic in general, especially considering the fact that the only way to replenish them was through getting a Game Over. Most of the platformers that focused on exploration that came out after SQ had done away with the lives system, so it only makes sense that a remake would do the same. Having said that, I would keep the pitfalls in the game, as they emphasize the platforming elements in the game – just have them do about as much damage as an enemy instead of costing a life (you know, because they won’t exist anymore). Having said that, any Simon’s Quest remake should bring back the day/night mechanics, but do a straight fluid transition between the times of day, rather than doing it with a textbox and a slow-paced transition every single time. The original Shantae also made use of the day/night mechanics and handled them perfectly: just a quick palette and music swap. I’d suggest incorporating the classic texts for the first night and day transitions respectively, but make them background elements: don’t interrupt the flow of gameplay.

Simon’s Quest had a simple leveling system in it, and frankly, I’d just bring this back unchanged. Keeping the level cap at six and allowing for significant stat boosts based on experience points would be an interesting concept – effectively bridging the gap between the sometimes-ridiculous RPG-style leveling associated with the Metroidvanias, while still rewarding players for facing down enemies unlike the Classicvanias. Keeping the amount of experience points that can be earned in specific areas is another element I’d keep from the original NES version, simply because it would force progression. Likewise, the way the game handled equipment – including upgrades for existing weapons – is also well done. Granted, in this case, I’d suggest allowing players to shift back to weaker versions of the powered-up weapons, for the sake of adding some measure of optional difficulty. I’d also suggest adding both the Axe and the Cross Boomerang to Simon’s arsenal of sub-weapons, not only because their absence struck me as odd, but because they could allow for new obstacles and gameplay mechanics. Simon’s Quest also had multiple endings, based on how quickly the game was beaten. I’d definitely keep those mechanics: considering the fact that the game is said to be a prototype of the future Metroidvanias of the series, it would only make sense to include something that rewards quick completions, consider that’s a hallmark of the sub-genre‘s namesake.

The game world itself, on the other hand, needs to be significantly overhauled. The only thing I’d consider worth keeping from the original release would be the literal setting, which sufficiently depicted the kind of countryside and towns one might expect to exist alongside a literal demon castle. While researching for this article, I looked up a full map of the game’s overworld, and it’s literally a straight line. Some verticality and branching paths would be appreciated, especially considering how much of a role these elements would play in future games in the series. In a game like this, non-linearity seems like it should be the focus and as such, keeping the linear design of the original overworld seems like a mistake, especially considering the fact that the game managed to take a non-linear approach in the first place. The various areas were lined up in a random order, forcing playing to backtrack between both ends of the map to progress. Adding additional paths and shortcuts could make things much more interesting from a gameplay perspective.

Then there’s the case of the Mansions, which effectively acted as “action stages” or dungeons within the game. Each housed a specific relic of Dracula’s and they ended up being the parts of the game that best resembled the first game in terms of gameplay. However, they would generally focus more on cryptic puzzles rather than platforming gameplay, something I’d probably change if the game were remade for modern audiences. The best examples of how I’d like to see an SQ remake handle the Mansions would be the mini-dungeons in a later Castlevania game, Portrait of Ruin. The segmented areas in Aliens: Infestation are another good example of what I’d like to see. To put it simply, each mansion would essentially be a miniature Metroidvania map, roughly the size of a single area in the major Metroidvania-style Castlevanias. Another point about the original Simon’s Quest that was disappointing would have to be the lack of bosses. There were only 3 bosses in the game: Death, Carmilla and Dracula himself – and they were all fairly underwhelming. Given the fact that there are so many iconic bosses in the Castlevania series, it would be easy enough to pick some additional bosses for the game. Likewise, I’d suggest expanding on the existing bosses as well – it’s not like there aren’t several other incarnations of those three to draw inspiration from. Speaking of expansion, increasing the number of mansions overall would probably be a good idea: it’s not like the Prince of Darkness only had 4 body parts and a ring. Expanding the mansions to 8 would probably be a good number thus allowing for a much more ornate game world in general. Better yet, these new mansions could easily justify my proposed redesign of the overworld – these new Mansions could be hidden along alternate paths from the standard straight-line design of the original game, thus allowing this new version of Simon’s Quest to feel more like an expansion than a total reimagining. I’d also suggest giving each mansion a theme to focus on, which would allow for more cohesive level designs. I’m not talking about silly things like “make one Egyptian-themed”, but giving each mansion a unique obstacle to center its design around would probably make things was more interesting.

Finally, we come to the game’s towns. Perhaps the most unique element Simon’s Quest introduced to the Castlevania series – as the concept wouldn’t be revisited until 2008’s Order of Ecclesia. In the original version, players would be able to buy items and talk to the townsfolk for information, which wouldn’t always be true …or coherent, for that matter. When accounting for modern game design, using the towns as save points and areas to heal seems obvious. I’d consider also using them as warp points, allowing players to travel to areas they’ve previously visited with no issues, but that’s strictly my preference: backtracking can be a nightmare, especially when the game map is literally a straight line. As for the townsfolk, I’d keep things cryptic and allow some of them to lie, like in the original game. Just please make sure that their speech isn’t translated into gibberish this time around. Hell, maybe add in some sidequests between towns, that could help to expand the game’s world even further. Again, I’d look to the second and third Shantae games for inspiration when reimagining the towns. Giving different layouts and themes to each town would be helpful, but at the same time, keep the vertical layouts in the new version. Likewise, I’d also say to maintain the various obstacles – both the pitfalls and the zombie attacks at nightfall – in the new version, it definitely mixes things up.

Presentation

Of course, when it comes to remaking a game, gameplay is only half the equation. Presentation is also important. A subtle balance must be achieved: the game must simultaneously appear new to draw in those who played the original game, while at the same time maintaining enough key elements from the source material to be recognizable as an actual remake, rather than an outright reimagining with nothing in common with the original. At the same time, the game also has to be able to draw in those not familiar with the previous release, effectively making sure that it can appeal to those familiar with later iterations of the series or even those completely unfamiliar with the franchise in question. It’s a precarious balance that is too difficult to really look into clinically, but I’ll do my best to keep it in mind when discussing the aesthetical content of the game.

For starters, we have the game’s story. After defeating Dracula in the events of Castlevania – which have been told a million ways a million different times – Simon Belmont retires to a simple and peaceful life for the next seven years. However, upon his death, the Prince of Darkness placed a curse on the young vampire hunter, cursing him to an early grave unless the lord of vampires was resurrected at Belmont’s own hand. To make matters worse, Dracula’s minions are once again terrorizing Transylvania, leaving mayhem in their wake. As such, Simon gathers his legendary whip – the Vampire Killer – once more. He begins a quest to revive the dark lord, only to kill him again, ending his reign of terror once and for all. …Or for the next hundred years, whichever comes first. There’s really little that needs to be added to make SQ’s backstory work, all the framework is already there. At best, I’d probably suggest making references to all the different incarnations of Simon’s original adventure throughout the game. After all, the original Castlevania’s story had been touched upon in a multitude of different ways – hell, one version even had Dracula abduct Simon’s bride on their wedding day – so it would be somewhat interesting to hear of the various legends of the storied vampire hunter as told by various townsfolk, relying solely on hearsay, rumors and tall tales.

I’m usually pretty flexible when it comes to graphics in games. It has been awhile since we’ve seen a game done in the 32-bit SotN Castlevania pixel art style and given how well that allow the graphics of the original Simon’s Quest to translate into a more modern environment, that would probably be ideal. If they use Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth as a design guide, the game could end up looking gorgeous. Hand-drawn 2D, similar to the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, could be an interesting take as well, though that would probably be prohibitively expensive. In all seriousness, 3D graphics in a 2.5D game would probably be the most cost-effective choice, but it would probably harm some of the game’s readability, unless Konami (or whatever developer they’d put in charge of such a project) takes extra care to make the game look gorgeous and decipherable at the same time. While everything was properly visible in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, the character designs looked a bit weird at times. Hopefully, if a SQ remake went the same route, we’d get something much more visually appealing, while making sure not to sacrifice clarity in the process.

I’d have to say that my personal favorite aspect of Simon’s Quest would be the game’s soundtrack. With that in mind, I’d keep all of the compositions from the original game in a remake – which Konami outright avoided with Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth. I would, however, love to see Konami take songs from other Castlevania games and incorporate them into a remade soundtrack – especially if they go with more obscure tracks like in ReBirth. Original compositions would be nice too, but considering it’s a remake, I’d definitely prefer going with other classic songs. Choosing a musical style is a bit more difficult: my ideal pick would be symphonic metal, similar to the Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack, allowing for both an orchestral sound that would fit with the game’s setting, as well as a strong melodic component. Of course, I’d love to hear a new chiptune arrangement of the soundtrack as well, but I’d be happy if they just included the original NES and Famicom Disk System versions, as well as older iterations of any new tracks, as bonuses. They should definitely implement the ability to swap out different versions of each song, sort of like how DXC let you customize which songs played in which stages during gameplay.

Finally, we come to the project’s scale. Ideally, we’d be looking at this as a downloadable game – with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price between $10 and 20 at launch. Nothing too extravagant, after all, this is meant to be a faithful adaptation of a game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The best game I can use as an example of what I’d expect out of a Simon’s Quest remake would probably be 2013’s Ducktales Remastered: Capcom and WayForward took the basic format and layout of the original game, expanded on it – both lengthening existing stages and adding entirely new ones – tightened up the controls and provided updated visual and audio. If Konami did something similar with a Castlevania II remake, it would probably end up being a winner. Traditional Castlevanias fell to the wayside in the wake of the Lords of Shadow series and we’re still waiting on Bloodstained, Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s spiritual successor. Metroid-likes and Castlevania tribute games are a pretty profitable niche among indie games, so it would only make sense for Konami themselves to capitalize on a void they created.

This brings the second entry in the Under Reconstruction series to an end. The new format leaves a few gaps in the overall design document aspect of the article, but I think that ends up working to its advantage. After all, it leaves a lot more to the imagination. Personally, I had fun writing this, so hopefully I’ll be able to think of more topics for more of these in the future. More importantly, what do you think? Would you like to see a remake of Simon’s Quest? Do you think the changes I suggested are too extreme or not extreme enough? Sound off in the comments below.

The Fear of Luigi

Things are looking up for Nintendo at the moment.  The Nintendo Switch has pretty much had the most successful launch anyone could expect, with critical reception and third party support going better for a Nintendo console than they have in a long time.  The Switch hasn’t even set off a wave of anti-popularity backlash like the Wii did.  The Nintendoomed meme has officially regained its full irony status.  It’s as if the last four years never happened.  But that’s what I want to talk about, the last four years…

Now some of my more observant readers who can do basic math may be wondering why I said the last four years.  After all, Wii U launched in 2012, five years ago.  The second it came out, or even the second it was announced, the world turned on Nintendo and their confusing Fisher-Price Wii add-on, right?  Not exactly.  While the Wii U’s launch certainly wasn’t the explosive success that the Wii and Switch enjoyed, it wasn’t bad either.  Wii U sold a decent amount during the 2012 holiday season, and if it had kept on track it wouldn’t have been a huge success, but it would have been a reasonably sized one.  Things didn’t go wrong until 2013.  On February 14th, 2013 it was revealed that the Wii U had sold only 55,000 units in North America during January 2013.  This was a pathetically low amount, and marked the start of disastrous console sales numbers that the Wii U never recovered from and that would cast a dark cloud over Nintendo for years to come.

^956835CF111FAABC3B8D6355485EAE6B943634BCB2E687AA34^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Hot buttered popcorn, what a curse!

You know what else happened that exact.  Same.  Freaking.  Day?  The Year of Luigi.  On February 14th, 2013 Nintendo announced that in honor of Luigi’s 30th anniversary, the year 2013 would be dedicated to the second best green Mario series character (Yoshi being the first, of course).  Luigi marked the year that sent Nintendo into a dark age.  The Year of Luigi was the year of what can best be described as a curse being inflicted on Nintendo.  Luigi is the symbol of every bad thing that happened to Nintendo from 2013 to 2016, and the poor Wii U never recovered from the darkness of that year, that specific day.

Well, is it really fair to blame Luigi for all of that?  It’s not like 13 is renowned for being a lucky number.  But let’s look at some of Luigi’s other big years.  1983, the year he debuted?  The North American video game crash hit in full force.  1993, 10th anniversary?  Worst year for SNES in its console war.  2003?  For Luigi’s 20th birthday Nintendo fell into third place in a console war for the first time ever.  2008?  The year of Wii Music’s E3 and the height of fears that Nintendo had abandoned their fans.  In addition to anniversaries, Luigi was the star of Nintendo’s big launch game for the GameCube, the worst selling Nintendo console until he cursed Wii U.  When did Nintendo 64’s launch hype wear off and set Nintendo on course for their first console war loss?  Early 1997, the same time Luigi made his first appearance on the system in Mario Kart 64.

luigi

He knew exactly what he was doing.

When we look at the evidence, it’s clear: there is and always was something ominous about Luigi, a kind of darkness inside that is inexplicable and frightening.  Luigi’s insecurity, envy, cowardice, what have they been molded into inside the mind of the tall green plumber?  Is Luigi the sympathetic, comedic figure he is often portrayed as?  Is Mario oppressing Luigi by saving the world at great personal risk as a grand manipulation to make sure his brother never gets the glory?  Or is he protecting us, knowing what would happen if Luigi got the glory and power that his twisted heart desires?  I haven’t seen the true form of Luigi, I don’t know his real motives, but I… can feel them.

There is a bleak dryness inside and around Luigi.  A constant feeling of despair and dissatisfaction that eats away at you, distracts you, makes you unable to fight the darkness overlaying you, your view of the world.  Luigi knows he can’t do what Mario does, and it consumes him, he is a being of jealousy and bitterness.  But he has other talents, he can do things that heroes like Mario and Yoshi could never do, and would never want to do.  He manipulates people, makes them feel sorry for him.  Mario risks his life again and again for the sake of others, yet Luigi has a sizable percentage of gamers convinced that he is the victim because he does not receive as much credit as his brother.  The fear Luigi demonstrates, it isn’t real, it is a psychological manipulation technique.  Luigi puts others on edge, plants seeds of anxiety in them.  Luigi makes everyone around him weaker, and less able to counter the darkness he sows.

^47FEDBA5AEF43CD0B951DB550A8C59705E08792DEAD7F94CFD^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The darkness within will claim you.

So what is Luigi truly capable of?  What is his ultimate goal?  I don’t know, deciphering the shadowy depths of this horrifying mystery is impossible.  Maybe Luigi wants everyone to be as miserable as he is, viewing himself as an evangelist for gloom and despair just as the Joker views himself as an ambassador for chaos.  Maybe he wants to use vague, creeping fear and hopelessness to do what Bowser’s minions never could and defeat Mario, taking his spot as Nintendo’s brightest star afterwards.  Maybe Luigi is an eldritch abomination who adopted the form of a green Mario and its intention is no more coherent than making children hallucinate a show about screaming puppets.  Whatever he is and whatever he wants, the curse of Luigi is a danger that we can no longer ignore.

So, what can we do about it?  How can we possibly combat the shadow of Luigi that hangs over Nintendo like the Sword of Damocles?  I wish I knew.  There are things beyond human control, beyond human comprehension.  Humanity lives at the mercy of the type of darkness that Luigi exudes.  We can only hope that our brush with him doesn’t cause complete madness, that his indecipherable whims don’t call for the total destruction of all that we hold dear.  Let’s hope that Mario can keep the darkness within his brother under control, but we’ll never be truly safe.  No matter what happens, we are destined to live in the fear of Luigi.

^87E4009677C94F5D23271DE172885182DF8F792AEA3BE26E39^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

We’ll never be safe.

Disclaimer:  This article is completely serious and absolutely not a creepypasta style parody written for Halloween.  The author really thinks that Luigi is a real life incomprehensible force of negative emotions while still viewing Nintendo as a video game company that makes the games Luigi stars in.  He is 100% serious when he blames Luigi for Wii U’s sales failure, the North American video game crash, Wii Music, and Trump being appointed president.  This is both serious and not at all related to the author being an only child who rarely encountered Luigi in classic Mario games and just never got why so many people love him so much.  Despite this being completely serious, he for some reason wants you to know that he wrote a similar Halloween article in the past accusing Mario of being a sociopathic attempted murderer, so it’s not just him picking on Luigi for the aforementioned reason that has nothing to do with this at all.  He will neither confirm nor deny wishing you a happy Halloween or knowing what Halloween is.

 

Invasion of the Franchise Snatchers

I can’t tell if I’m late to the party on this topic or just on time. Lately, we’ve been seeing a great deal of backlash, pitting “core gamers” against the casual market. Perhaps the most prominent example of this we’ve seen lately would be the journalistic backlash against Cuphead – a game that blends a 1930s cartoon aesthetic with unforgiving gameplay inspired by games like Contra and Gunstar Heroes. Cuphead was originally considered an indie darling by gaming journalists en masse. Unfortunately, once the game was available in a near-final state, the sweet words of the mainstream press turned sour. The impetus for this turnaround was a humiliating video of a journalist failing to make any meaningful progress in the game – to the extent where even completing the tutorial seemed a Herculean feat – and this posting was mocked by core gamers in general. This would lead to mockery from the gaming community at large and be followed with articles on many websites bemoaning the game’s difficulty, asking why there needs to be so much focus on gameplay in video games. The Cuphead fiasco wasn’t the first major scandal to illustrate this disconnect between the two groups and it most certainly won’t be the last. A similar, but opposite reaction came from Ubisoft’s decision to include a new mode in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Origins called Discovery Tour, which removes combat and even story progression, allowing players to roam through the game’s recreation of ancient Egypt with little to no actual interactivity. The reactions were mirrored: gaming journalists applauded this move as brilliant, while hardcore gamers considered the entire concept disgusting. The sheer chasm that has formed between the enthusiast press and the enthusiasts themselves is staggering, to put it mildly.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen several articles from the press about why games should be easier, “more inviting” and less gamey. I’ve seen significantly less in the way of major think pieces from the enthusiasts themselves, defending the practices that have long since decried as “elitist gatekeeping”. As such, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that this article will make any sort of an impact on the industry overall, but considering I typically just write these blogs to amuse myself first and foremost, it seems like an interesting topic to tackle. Most times, the motivations of the so-called “gaming elite” have only been viewed through the lens of their detractors. After all, what’s so bad about broadening a game’s audience? That just means more people can play the game, right? Where’s the downside?

I can only speak for myself on this topic, I’ll never claim otherwise, but for me, history is what makes me so wary of these continued calls to make everything friendlier to the mainstream marketplace. I’ve seen so many games in my years as a gamer go from promising niche titles, clearly meant for a small but dedicated audience, to the same homogenized trash that litters the entire media – all in the name of “broadening the game’s appeal”. The best recent example that comes to mind would be Dead Rising. The first game was generally lauded for its high-stakes difficulty, necessitating restarts in order for all but the most dedicated players to complete the game. The second game streamlined the gameplay, toning down the difficulty at the cost of the first game’s unique levelling mechanic – in the first game, experience points would be kept between playthrough attempts – thus allowing the game to remain balanced in a much more inviting way. The third game attempted to tack on an open-world environment, to the detriment of the franchise’s trademark strict in-game timer, but otherwise managed to maintain other key elements of the franchise. But the worst was yet to come: the fourth game effectively stripped Dead Rising of anything even remotely resembling the first game – an incredible feat considering Frank West returns from the first game as the playable character, albeit in name only. The timer was completely removed, the inventory was much more forgiving, the psychopath boss fights and survivor rescuing mechanics were completely removed despite being franchise staples and the gameplay was dumbed down to a shallow parody of a standard action game. But hey, who cares if a series completely ditches its roots, just so long as it attracts a larger audience, right? Oh, turns out it didn’t even come close to Capcom’s projected sales target. Whoops.

There’s this pattern when it comes to both modern series and long-runners that find their way into the modern era. Truthfully, “modern” feels like a bit of a misnomer: this trend has been going on since the previous console generation at the bare minimum. I’ve got it down to a pattern: a new intellectual property based around some niche aspect in video gaming manages to far outpace the meager expectations such a game would have, so the game itself gets some mild tweaks and a larger audience is expected for the next game, leading to a bigger budget all around – particularly when it comes to the game’s marketing. When that game – or one of its sequels that emerge when the strategy succeeds – manages to fail to reach the dizzyingly high expectations the publisher has set for the game, rather than tampering down expectations and working from a more reasonable budget like earlier games, most publishers will decide instead to dilute the original core concepts of the original game to the extent where this new entry will be totally unrecognizable. It happened with Dead Space 3, which shoved microtransactions and forced co-op into the game, turning the once-fledgling survival horror series into another braindead action-shooter. Resident Evil 7 has managed to redeem the series’ faltering reputation, which was nearly destroyed in the previous game. While Resident Evil 5 essentially threw out the franchise’s survival horror roots, it performed well. Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, attempted to appeal to the fans of every style seen in any mainline series entry and ended up with a scattershot game that ended up appealing to no one, reflected by the fact that it missed its sales target by a significant margin.

The worst part about this trend is that we’ve actually seen evidence to the contrary with the regards of the effectiveness of shaving down the unique traits of a gaming franchise. When 2K Games decided to bring back XCOM, they originally intended to transform it from real-time strategy game to a generic first-person shooter. Needless to say, the fanbase was vocal in their displeasure with this shift. 2K relented, deciding to create both their planned FPS title – eventually released as a spinoff titled The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – as well as a brand-new RTS title – XCOM: Enemy Unknown – due to fan outcry. The latter came out first and managed to earn enough sales and acclaim to justify making a sequel, while the FPS spinoff was promptly forgotten soon after its release. As much as I don’t really care for RTS games, I wish more companies had heeded the lessons 2K Games learned from the XCOM franchise.

To put it mildly, whenever I’ve seen “professional” gaming journalists discuss making games welcoming to a wider audience, this is the phenomenon that comes to mind. It never stops at a few tweaks to make things simpler to those not familiar with the series, the endgame always seems to be sapping a beloved franchise of everything and anything that made it unique in the first place and replacing it with the same bland drivel that marketing departments all over the world think Western gamers crave. Video games apparently stopped being about crafting fun experiences and became more about checking off all the boxes that focus groups supposedly crave.

I think the worst part about all of this is that the gaming journalists in question are working from a flawed premise in general. This might come as a shock, but not every video game is intended for every single player. Hell, I’ll probably never be a fan in any capacity of the Final Fantasy, Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid or Pokémon series – but changing them to appeal directly to me isn’t going to do anyone any good. All it’ll end up doing is alienating the fans that loved it in the first place and what are gaming companies left with? Best case scenario, people will buy the first retooled iteration in droves, but after that? You’ll be lucky if the true believers still manage to buy your game: clinging to the desperate hope that if they keep the series alive, maybe, just maybe, the developers will make a new entry in the series that lives up to the best the franchise had to offer. It’s a sad proposition: supporting terrible games with the minute hopes that the series will return to glory, when 99 times out of 100, companies just end up tossing them by the wayside once they fall short of whatever obscene sales target the publishers expect to reach.

In the end, I suppose this is just another symptom of the modern video gaming landscape. Everyone appears to expect that AAA gaming is the only way to make money, when in reality, it seems like games with smaller budgets manage to make more money more consistently. A recent example would be Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from Ninja Theory. A game that was made with a lower budget and sold at a lower price point, yet managed to make its developer enough of a steady profit that they decided to donate a day’s worth of sales to charity. I don’t know what exactly is causing companies to kill themselves over creating bloated abominations that try so hard to appeal to everyone, they end up appealing to no one. I don’t know particularly what it will take for more companies to reconsider this strategy, but something tells me it’ll be something extreme and nothing good for the health of the industry.

Turn Based #3: X, Shrugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

SNES Master KI: Welcome to another installment of Turn Based! Today we will be tackling probably the most heated topic between myself and Professor Icepick that this series has covered so far. Ever since the original Mega Man X started the trend of new Mega Man series that coexisted with the original, people have argued over which was the best. The biggest battle in that area remained the original Mega Man series vs the X series, and Icepick and I are on opposing sides of this battle. Icepick will be representing the original Mega Man series, and I will be representing my beloved Mega Man X series. Since original came first I’ll let Icepick make the first actual argument, time for the battle where there can be no winners to commence! Who will win?

Professor Icepick: It’s easy to discount the Classic series as being “outdated” or “archaic”, but it’s obvious that it is the starting point for one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. If not for the humble release of the original Rockman on the Nintendo Famicom on December 17, 1987, the series wouldn’t exist whatsoever. Likewise, to this day, the best-selling MegaMan game of all time is MegaMan 2 on the NES, a feat which the franchise has yet to top. Classic is the most endearing branch of the MegaMan franchise, managing to claw itself back to relevance after over a decade of inactivity. Scoring not one, but two retro throwback games — before they were even cool! — as well as several spinoffs and appearances in various other forms of media, MegaMan Classic’s importance to Capcom, platformers and video games as a whole, cannot be understated.

KI: The thing is, none of that really addresses which series makes for better games. I don’t deny that the original Mega Man is the reason the series exists, but that’s true by definition of anything that has a spin-off series. Not to imply the quality gap is as large for the Mega Man games as it is for the example I’m about to give, but the Tracey Ullman show is why The Simpsons exists. The original Mega Man games are important and great games in their own right, but in my view, they were building up to something.

Mega Man X is, in my opinion, a colossal increase in quality on the level of Nintendo’s Super Nintendo sequels to NES games. Unlike the other Mega Man subseries, which are doing their own thing for the most part, MMX is an evolution of the original that shows what Mega Man can truly be. Everything the original series accomplished led up to it undergoing a super powered evolution into the SNES Mega Man X games.

Icepick: And that’s the problem, isn’t it? You’ve often told me that you consider the first game in the MMX sub-franchise to be the best by far, correct?

KI: I never said it was the best by far, it’s actually pretty close between the first four Mega Man X games. I believe that those four games, any one of them, are better than any game in the original Mega Man series. Mega Man X5 and X8 can also hold their own against many of them. Yes, there are two bad ones, but that doesn’t change the quality of the other games.

Icepick: That brings up another issue, MMX had spinoffs of its own: the Zero quadrilogy and the ZX duology. Personally, I prefer the gameplay in those two games over the X series in general. Which is where a major problem lies: through these six follow-ups, the X series lost any sense of cohesive identity. The Zero/ZX games are closer to the X series than any other branch of the MegaMan franchise in general. Therefore, while Classic can offer me something unique, I’m given the choice between the X, Zero and ZX series for that particular style of gameplay — and I’m always going to choose between the latter two series over the former.

snake

MegaMan’s been fighting animal-themed robots since before X was created!

KI: Zero and ZX have more differences from the X series than the X series does from the original. They may be more similar in setting, but the character customization, action-RPG and Metroid-like inspired gameplay completely changes the feel. And of course, you aren’t playing as a traditional Mega Man in those games, X played like Original with a couple new abilities, there was nothing from Original that you were missing. I’d almost argue that Mega Man series come in pairs, with Original/X, Zero/ZX, and Battle Network/Starforce all having the same basic gameplay philosophy, and Legends… well, it would probably need a third game before it got a sequel series.

Like I said, the X series plays like a (in my opinion) superior version of the original series, which is why the argument over them in the most prominent among the fanbase. I think for the purpose of this debate, we should limit our focus to the original and X series.

Icepick: Fair enough. However, when looking at both series in general, one must also account for overall quality. You casually mentioned this earlier, but X6 and X7 are generally considered to be among the worst games in the entire franchise, with dips in quality so severe, that no game in the franchise — not even the 1987 original — has as extreme of problems. Meanwhile, while you point out that MMX is generally considered the best game of the side-scrolling MegaMan series by many, the 11 mainline Classic games (yes, I’m counting MegaMan & Bass, if only because Capcom did in MM9) maintained a certain level of quality.

mm9-12

See? 9 previous defeats show up in MegaMan 9! MegaMan & Bass was canon!

Many people hold the MegaMans 4 through 6 in low regard simply due to being “repetitive”, yet anyone who’s actually played them won’t hold that against the game’s inherent quality. MM7 is a weak entry in the series, but given the fact that it was developed in a mere 3 months, makes it amazing given the level of quality Capcom managed to achieve in a severely below-average development cycle. MegaMan 8 was experimental, finally taking into account the criticisms of the later NES era, only to have it explode in their face — delivering a game that managed to achieve mixed reactions. And that doesn’t even take the Game Boy games into consideration: which slowly evolved from portable cash-ins to some of the best games in the entire series.

KI: I don’t think you can give Mega Man 7 a pass for being made quickly. Who knows what the developers of X6 and X7 went through (X6 took less than a year and X7 was trying something completely new to the series). The original Mega Man games may not have lows as dramatic, but 1, 4, 6, 7, and M&B, I would say X5 and X8 (the mid-tier X games) easily beat those. I’m not holding repetitiveness against 4 and 6 for the record (and 5 is a great game), 4 had bland level design regardless of context and while 6 is my favorite of the ones I listed, it didn’t have great levels and was really easy. And you probably shouldn’t bring the GB games into this, remember the first two? They poke a big hole in the classic games never reaching truly bad quality.

So basically, I think the highs and mids of the X series are better than the original, and the lows being worse is pretty insignificant.

^287222E8C23A82F705C55316AF6A105E5AFE09B0A3C84A6FED^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The best Mega Man game in 20XX and beyond.

Icepick: The thing about the first two GB MegaMan games is that both were outsourced to outside developers. The fact that the team from Dr. Wily’s Revenge (the first Game Boy game) were able to come back from that and make IV and V, among the best in the entire series is telling. Meanwhile, X6 was built with the same team, using the engine from X5 — which itself was tweaked from X4 — and managed to create an abomination of a game, where the only redeeming factor would be its soundtrack. Yes, Capcom made Sonic ’06 before Sega — and worse yet, they didn’t even make it from scratch.

KI: But if you count GBIV and GBV, then you have to count other games from the same developer. X6 may have been from the same team, but they were clearly rushed and who knows what else went wrong. My only point with that is that we can’t give 7 a pass for being made quickly. But I think we’ve been avoiding the flame based elephant ancestor in the room for too long. I’m assuming you disagree with my assertion that the gameplay in the first four X games significantly surpasses the originals, correct? We should probably get into which series plays better when you compare the best games.

^1B70EEB2FE823578629F704C57CBCE43A61751A87CB0FF0979^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

He’s in the room, we can’t just ignore him.

Icepick: It’s been argued that the Classic games are more difficult than the X series in general. Frankly, I consider that a plus. Maybe, it’s the “hardcore gamer” in me talking, but frankly, I love a good challenge: which is part of the reason I prefer the aforementioned Zero and ZX series over the X series. Indeed, among the side-scrolling MegaMan sub-franchises, X is generally considered the easiest of the bunch.

KI: I’ve really never heard anyone argue that. Both series vary in difficulty from game to game to a significant degree. If we’re going into hardcore signaling though, the X series has more complex gameplay mechanics than the original and much more incentive to fully explore levels. Indeed, if you really want to make the game as hard as possible, you can do minimalist runs in the X games and it will affect you a lot more than it would in the original games. I’d also argue that the only times the X series really feels easier is when it avoids situations where exact tip of a ledge jumps screw you up, since you can accelerate and essentially grab ledges in the X series.

Icepick: Didn’t you once say that the platforming in Classic felt “cheaper” (i.e. more difficult) compared to the X series, due to the Classic having less abilities than his futuristic counterpart? Likewise, you’d also have to consider that X’s difficult is split between doing “minimalist runs” and “100% runs”, which run counter to one another: much of the difficulty in the X games are paradoxical. Going out of one’s way to find the hard to reach power-ups irreversibly powers up X, thus making the rest of the game easier.

KI: The X series has levels designed around the greater powers, and most of the powerups just bring you up to original Mega Man’s strength level (maxing out health gives you what you start with in original games, sub-tanks are basically E-tanks). The X level design removes the parts I felt were cheap, but adds new challenges (vertical sections relying on the wall climb being the most prominent example). I only mentioned the minimalist runs as a choice people have if they really want excessive difficulty, the games are not balanced around them and games like X3 and X5 can be pretty challenging even when you get everything.

^E10CA0CA6EEFA2E1B471E63A37F1693D0E3D1434DC52127C85^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

X may have more abilities, but the level design can keep up.

Moving on from difficulty for a second, I’d just like to point out the massive quality of life upgrade in the X games. Every X game has shoulder button weapon swapping, you can leave already completed levels whenever you want, picking up weapon energy automatically goes to the weapon that needs it the most if you don’t have a special weapon equipped. These all show up in most post-X1 original games, but the latter two have to be paid for or found. Doing that for QoL features that don’t make the game any easier, just more enjoyable to play, infuriates me.

Icepick: Honestly, I never really minded the lack of the ability to exit cleared levels in Classic games: in most cases, there weren’t collectables hidden in each stage, which made repeat visits kind of pointless in the first place. All the same, these feel like minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things.

Circling back to an earlier point you made, I disagree with simply claiming that X and Classic are strictly linked. In fact, I’d argue that the Zero games definitely had more of an impact on the later games in the franchise, due to their shift from a darker future than the setting of the Classic series to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The point is, Inafune wanted to end that series at X5 and it looks like Capcom didn’t have any ideas on how to progress afterwards, thus leading the franchise to lose its identity in an effort to stay relevant.

KI: Later original games gave you incentive to revisit levels, especially 7, 8, and Bass. I’m not sure what you mean by Zero having a greater impact on later games as a counter for original and X being linked, it seems to support my point. And regardless of what happened behind the scenes or the later context of the X games’ identity, it doesn’t change the games themselves.

Icepick: And yet, I’d argue it did. X6 and X7 had no idea what they wanted to be, attempting to continue from X5’s attempt at closure. X8 may have rebounded, but by that point, the damage had been done.

KI: But we’re comparing the games that exist. After Mega Man’s hibernation finally ends, there’s a good chance that we’ll just get a new series or reboot, so there isn’t much impact on the future. I don’t think X6 and X7’s problems came from the story, the story was a mess, but neither original or X depend on story. X6 was rushed and X7 tried to do something new in gameplay that was much more the fault of the sixth generation’s antipathy towards 2D console games than any story issues. And it definitely doesn’t change the first five X games in any way.

Icepick: Maybe, but the point is that we’re only comparing games that presently exist. And considering the fact that an entire quarter of the X series is substantially worse than even the weakest Classic entry must be taken into account.

KI: But we were comparing the best examples in quality at this point. My stance is that half the X series is better than anything in the classic series, and another quarter is better than a majority of the games in the classic series. You can use statistics and fractions to make any point you want when the numbers are this low (80% of people know that), I’d say that two below average X games are better than almost two thirds of the classic series.

Icepick: Personally, I always found X2 to be utterly forgettable. Falls right out of my head the second after I’m done playing it or watching a playthrough. X3 had promise, but ultimately its version of Zero was a let-down. X4 is my favorite game in the X series for obvious reasons. Having said all of that, I think that saying that two-thirds of the Classic franchise are inferior to the outright “mediocre” X games is an overstatement. But I think it’s time to wrap things up.

KI: Well, we’re probably not going to reach a conclusion, which is expected. No shouting or the text equivalent this time though, so that’s progress. I think we should each make one last statement on why we feel our preferred series is superior, without arguing against each other’s. Want to go first for chronological reasons?

Icepick: That seems fair.

The point is, Classic’s definitely the more important of the two franchises, no matter what’s been said. Likewise, just due to the interesting turns the series has taken when ditching the 8-bit aesthetic — MM7, MM8 and MM&B were all experiments in their own right — I feel like the Classic series also has more potential when it comes to adapting to modern gaming conventions. Most fans of the X series want a strict throwback to either the SNES or PS1-era games, which the unjustified backlash against MM10 likely means that any future installment in the Classic series will attempt something new. MegaMan Classic adapted in ways that the X series only wishes it could, as shown by the poor reception to X7.

284819-ccx

The worst part is, this isn’t even the first MegaMan game with a shmup section.

KI: The X series is simply better designed than the Classic series. It has every gameplay strength the classic series has, added a couple huge new features (the dash and wall climb) that were implemented perfectly, and polished the game with quality of life enhancements and reasons to fully explore levels. The original style X games are considered the best because they essentially perfected the Mega Man formula, nothing since has matched them from any Mega Man series. I’m sure that in a perfect situation a team could pull a Super Mario Galaxy and make a new type of MMX game that surpassed the SNES ones, but as of right now I believe the X series has the four best Mega Man games, period, and two more that are high tier. It comes down to the games, and games come down to gameplay, and the X series has reached highs in that that no other Mega Man series, and very few video game series at all, have achieved.

As per usual, KI and I have come to yet another stalemate. I don’t honestly foresee any of these articles ending any other way, but that’s not a problem: Turn Based is more about discussion than changing opinions anyway. But what do you think? Did X improve on its predecessors or are the old ways the best? Feel free to sound off in the comments. — Professor Icepick

2017: Reclaim Your Happy Ending

The state of gaming goes up and down, the state of everything does. As much as I love the idea of the Earn Your Happy Ending trope, it’s obvious that in real life, nothing is ever stuck in a permanent state, positive or negative. But that’s not an easy thing to accept. After Nintendo, platformers, linearity, and 2D games made a comeback in the seventh generation, especially the second half, I desperately wanted to keep what we had gotten back. But even though the game releases in 2013 were incredible, it was clear that night was on the horizon. While trying to convince myself it wasn’t happening, I saw what I loved in gaming go into free fall from 2013-2016. Sure, there were still good and even great games released, but fewer and fewer ones that were what I really wanted. No matter how much I wanted things to freeze the way they were, that didn’t happen and a mix of denial and gloom descended over me (considering how the internet reacts to everything, I have no way of telling if this happened to other people or if that’s just how the gaming community would have reacted anyway).

But you know the good thing about nothing staying the same? After enough time, things also get better. As some of my previous article this years have shown, I’ve seen some very positive developments and trends this year for gaming, especially parts of it that I care about which were slumping in previous years (Japanese games, Nintendo). Even before this year started, the announced games gave me a feeling of true optimism for the first time in years (see my part of the 2017 top 10 lists). While not every game on that list delivered or is making it out this year (same as every year we’ve done those lists), those are more than made up for by both ones that personally surprised me and that were surprise announcements made after the year had started. 2017 for me has made gaming a phoenix rising out of the ashes, both in releases and announcements for 2018 and beyond.

As shown by the previous articles, there are many reasons for this. But why are they converging in the same year, and why have some frankly miraculous things happened against all odds? I always thought Switch had the potential to repeat the history of the original Wii, but I was never certain until it happened, and there are things I never would have guessed in my wildest dreams (Bethesda’s strong commitment, did they make a single game on a Nintendo system before Switch?). Nier went from being a critically-panned example of how JRPGs have cooties in 2010 to a cult classic to… a multi-million seller that already has Square-Enix hiring for its sequel and saying it has franchise potential!? Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy became a mega-hit out of nowhere and along with Mario’s triumphant return could easily spark a resurgence in retail platformers. After pleas for SNES Remix were ignored during the dark days, we not only get SNES Classic, but it has a never before released game on it! So many franchises I missed that hadn’t been seen since 2013 or earlier either returned or had games announced in 2017.

^0A99FC3A05D5D882AEC398961834B87844C76D9D0B8E537A74^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

He’s cool again, no matter how dark his souls apparently became.

So the question is, why? Well, I can’t explain exactly what happened, but I do have a few theories to explain some of it. For the Nintendo stuff, it isn’t hard that hard to figure out. After their big push to turn Wii U around in 2014 didn’t work (E3 2014 just gives me a creepy aura of false hope these days), they went into cocoon mode. The Switch’s formal reveal in 2017 was their chance to come back, to show that they were still the strongest publisher in gaming and that they were not going to become a mobile focused developer (I’ve almost forgotten their mobile games exist in recent months), to prove that they could still make a successful console and that the original Wii wasn’t a fluke. They did it, and achieved things they had been trying for so long that nobody ever expected them to actually happen. Switch didn’t have a post-launch drought, they finally did it! With the delay of learning to make HD games behind them, Nintendo has been releasing and announcing Switch games at a rapid-fire pace. Not only that, there’s been a strong emphasis on giving fans what they had been asking for, which is miraculously working this time. Open world Zelda, sandbox Mario (with enough actual platforming that I’m not upset), Xenoblade and Splatoon sequels faster than anyone thought possible, Metroid Prime 4, mainline console Pokemon. And after I got scared they would minimize platformers because people complained about them on Wii U, they announced a new Kirby and Yoshi at the same E3. Switch is on track to become the best Nintendo system since SNES, and if it keeps it up, maybe, just maybe…

^9936996A1CA47015EF11A50962CB5F499C0A200993DC9C646E^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

And all the doom and gloom was simply switched off.

I don’t have as many guesses for the other positive developments, but I have some general theories. Japanese companies as a whole seemed to have trouble adapting to HD, not just Nintendo, so that could explain boosts to companies like Capcom and Square-Enix. PS1 and PS2 nostalgia kicking into high gear could be why Crash N. Sane Trilogy sold so insanely well, and bodes well for Japanese games in general, since they dominated those eras. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One took a while to get going, just like their predecessors, and we’re past that hurdle so their best days have started. I can’t think of much rationalization for long running Japanese series getting so much more western attention all of a sudden, but as long as it’s happening, I’ll gladly take it.

^F747CC2B328A7C7090FE87B9A87C8EEC02547F54D03D26330F^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

I didn’t hype it, I didn’t play it, but if one person calls it weeb garbage, I’ll raise hell!

So, there’s my self-therapy session for the day (hey, not like there are tons of readers for me to focus on instead). But I’m not just trying to trick myself into being happy, 2017 really has been an incredible year for gaming in both releases and announcements. No one can ever say for sure what the future holds, but I think we have landed on the bright side of the coin, and hopefully we will stay there for many years to come. We need gaming now more than ever, and 2017 has been more than fulfilling that need.