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.

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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.

Of Axioms and Idioms: The New Sub-Standard

While I’ve been having fun revitalizing older series that I abandoned awhile back, it would be hypocritical of me to orphan my latest series. This time, it’s not so much a lack of topics that has caused me to forgo writing Of Axioms and Idioms, it’s more a lack of time. I’ve got so many ideas for new articles that I’ve managed to leave a good number of worthwhile topics on the back-burner for quite some time. It doesn’t help that I seem to be coming up with more new ideas quicker than I can write the existing ones. Worst of all is the fact that I tend to find my newest ideas the most intriguing, which pushes things back even further in many cases. Still, it’s been roughly half a year since the last time I wrote an article in this series, so it seems like it’s the right time to bring it back.

This one’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for quite some time, yet ironically, it’s also the latest topic I’ve managed to come up with for this series. Basically, there’s something of a stigma when it comes to long-running series. Specifically, when it comes to their latest iterations. The issue isn’t specifically liking the current games in an old series, that seems to be alright by most accounts. Rather, considering the most recent entry in well-established franchises to be the best that said franchise has to offer seems to be frowned upon among die-hard fans. Likewise, when a more or less “objective” best game is chosen, it’s generally a relatively early title in the series’ history.

To show you just how long this idea has been sitting around, the original example that inspired this topic is no longer relevant. Tekken Tag Tournament 2, while still currently my favorite game in the Tekken franchise – ironically, I’ve yet to pick up Tekken 7 – is no longer the latest game in the franchise. Still, I felt a little ashamed to acknowledge that the latest entry in the series had become my favorite, simply because I was a long-time fan and therefore, was familiar with the earlier games in the series. Meanwhile, ask the average Tekken fan and chances are they’ll name a much earlier game as their favorite: specifically, Tekken 3. If you’ve read my Tekken retrospective from earlier this year, you’d know that I was never really quite as enamored with the game as the majority of the Tekken fanbase, even if I did recognize its quality.

Another slightly more relevant example would relate to MegaMan, specifically the Classic series. Personally, I think the tenth game in the franchise – which has been the most recent game for a whopping 7 years at this point – is the best that the series has to offer. Most of the Classic faithful, on the other hand, are still hung up on MegaMan 2. Honestly, I don’t even think MM2 is the best of the NES games, let alone the best in its entire series. MegaMan 2 made the most significant improvements over its predecessor, but the franchise still had room to grow. What I find especially ironic is that MegaMan 9 – a game that was essentially built to perfectly emulate an MM2 ROM hack – received much greater acclaim, despite having weaker level designs. Worst of all, it seems like if you don’t accept 2 as the “one true Classic MegaMan game”, you’re bound to be accused of being a contrarian, or worse still, a hipster. Don’t get me wrong: MM2 is a great game, I just think that some of the later games in the series made vast improvements to the formula, but they’re generally cast aside as inferior copies. As a side note, I think it’s a crying shame that the Game Boy games (namely IV and especially V) don’t receive as much attention as they deserve: I think both of those games blew MM2 out of the water, in spite of their hardware limitations.

A slightly less relevant example would be the near-deification of Super Mario 64 among the 3D Mario platformers. Sure, people recognize the quality of both Galaxy games – to at least some extent – but for whatever reason, 64 is still somehow the golden standard to which all future Mario games of that type are held against. I’ll never understand it: honestly, I never thought SM64 was that good in the first place and I think every other game of that type in the Mario series surpassed it in some way, even the abomination/cult classic Super Mario Sunshine. To make matters worse, I actually consider 3D World to be my favorite in that particular batch of games, though I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss it as an inferior knockoff of 3D Land which was, ironically, my previous favorite. I’d argue that the 3D Marios keep improving with each game and that makes 64 the worst by default. Yet it is still the clear favorite for some reason.

Of course, perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the fan reaction to the Legend of Zelda games. While both A Link Between Worlds and especially Breath of the Wild have seemingly put it to rest, the so-called “Zelda cycle” is, by and large, the most prevalent and observable example of this mentality I’ve seen on the internet. The Zelda cycle, as I understand it, can be broken down thusly: after enough time has passed since the release of the latest Zelda game, the fanbase begins its backlash against the game itself, deeming it terrible. This, in turn, allows the previous game in the franchise – the one that was previously dubbed the worst the franchise had to offer – to be viewed as an acceptable game for the series. The game that came before that will then usually take its place at the series favorite, the stated “gold standard” for what the next Zelda game should attempt to be. The former “gold standard” is then considered to be overrated (but still good) and everything before that seems to just fade into the ether, effectively just becoming acceptable in general but not a major focal point for the franchise. A safe choice, considered “good for their time” and generally otherwise ignored.

As for a counterpoint to this particular attitude, the best I’ve really been able to observe would have to be within the Ys fanbase. Put simply, “every Ys is best Ys”. Given the fact that the series has gone through at least two major gameplay shifts in its 30-year existence, it only makes sense that most of the fanbase would generally be pretty chill about liking the newest games in the franchise, as Falcom always seems to strive to improve upon mistakes made in the previous games and avoids change strictly for its own sake, rather only fundamentally shifting the gameplay style once they’ve reached the limits of their current format. Of course, this isn’t a perfect example by any means: there’s a distinct faction that considers The Oath in Felghana (and to a far lesser extent, Origin) as the one true Ys game(s), disavowing anything that came after and, bafflingly enough, before. I guess there are problem children in every fanbase.

Then there’s the Sonic fanbase, which I supposed also acts both as an example and a counter-balance to this perspective. There are essentially three major camps contained within the Sonic fanbase: those who enjoy the original Genesis-era games and feel that this is the best direction for the franchise moving forward, those who cut their teeth on the series during the Adventure games and want the games to go back to that style (in spite of the fact that Sega already tried to recreate said formula twice and ended up with the games generally considered the worst in the entire franchise in the process) and finally, fans of the modern games who consider any references to older titles to be meaningless pandering to a bygone era. If it’s not obvious, the former two camps clearly act in support of my theory, while the third and final camp appears to be its Bizarro doppelganger rather than a nuanced reaction. Of course, these three factions don’t encompass the entire Sonic fandom – there is room for nuance elsewhere – but they definitely make things difficult for Sega moving forward.

Of course, there is a certain level of forgiveness allowed when it comes to committing the grave sin of liking the latest game in a long-running series in general. This is generally reserved for those new to the series. After all, you always remember your first and as they’re new to the series, they have time to learn the “right way” to consider the series. Older fans, on the other hand, generally aren’t afforded the same level of leeway. They’re already familiar with the franchise and its history, so the entire concept of long-time fans disagreeing with the status quo is inconceivable to the hiveminds generally associated with these fanbases. It’s almost like to prefer a game that was intended as an improvement to earlier games in the series is to completely discount the series’ entire history in one fell swoop.

So what exactly is the cause for this animosity towards the most recent games in a franchise? An obvious culprit would be the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t necessarily follow: if nostalgia were to blame, then every fan would generally consider the first game they played to be the best in the franchise, which would be a particularly difficult move for those who had been playing games in the series since its inception. Not to mention the fact that if the first game in a franchise is its best, then there’s really no point in continuing to produce them, diminishing returns and all that. Likewise, given the fact that many video game franchises tend to have one or two games that are considered the best at large, that would also imply that most of the fanbase started playing the series upon the release of that specific game, which seems a bit farfetched if you ask me. So clearly there’s more at work here than simple nostalgia.

A much more likely explanation is equally simple: credibility as a fan. With well-established series – regardless of medium – knowledge of the series’ origins has a tendency to give the impression of legitimacy with regards to any particular fan’s adoration for the works in the general. The same could be said for general consensus: as with most group dynamics, a lack of dissention among the ranks has a tendency of creating a much stronger sense of community, an element that fandoms require to thrive at any stage in their life cycles, from their humble beginnings on. Whether or not this means that most fans legitimately believe that the designated best game in the franchise is their actual favorite, they’re simply giving the game lip service to fit in or that they’ve been essentially railroaded into considering said game to be the best in order to align themselves properly within the group tends to vary – all are clear and distinct possibilities, though I’d consider the former two to be the most likely.

This leads to a much more pertinent question: why is there such resistance to the idea that modern entries of an existing series could potentially surpass their forebearers? I mean, it just seems logical to me that games should constantly strive to improve over what came before them, so maybe I’m missing something. Does acknowledging the strength of newer games make the older ones retroactively worse? Is one’s credibility at stake if they acknowledge improvements made to an existing formula if they just happen to be implemented to close to current year? I’m at a bit of a loss here.

Maybe newer games are just being held to a higher standard in general. After all, they do have years of experience to fall back on, so I can’t argue that they should be held to a higher standard than the games of old. However, there is also the potential to take things way too far in this regard: while nostalgia isn’t completely to blame, they can generally build classic games up to be better in fans’ memories than the reality – take a look at how well various re-releases for more obscure games have been received. Put both the overinflated quality of older games with an expectation for every game to exceed the previous entries in their series to an obscene degree, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I mostly wrote this article to essentially dispel any shame, perceived or otherwise, I’ve felt when liking the latest games in series I’ve been following for quite some time. The sheer sense of elitism when it comes to long-time fans vis-à-vis newer entries has always just struck me as weird. I suppose that this was more of an exercise in trying to justify my own preferences to myself. Of course, this is a fitting use of the “Of Axioms and Idioms” banner, as they’re generally meant to explore my various opinions, unorthodox or otherwise. But what do you think? Do you think I’m completely off-base or am I on to something? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

A Tough Act to Follow

Over the years, there were tons of video games that are universally liked by critics and gamers alike, and there were sequels that had much more praise than their predecessors. However, even among the most critically acclaimed game series there are games that other entries can’t come close to. What I’ve decided to do was to make a list and narrow down specific games that meet this criteria. There were ten different choices I have made for this list, and with that, I present to you the ten games that are a Tough Act to Follow.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – Arcade (1991)

The original Street Fighter hit the arcades in 1987 with lukewarm responses, but when Street Fighter II was released in 1991, the game became an instant hit. It was so popular that Capcom made an updated version of it a year later, followed by three more subsequent updates ending with Super Street Fighter II Turbo. People were getting tired of the updates, as they were waiting for Street Fighter III. A new game was announced in 1995, but it wasn’t Street Fighter III; it was Street Fighter Alpha. While the game was popular, as were Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, they never reached the same success as Street Fighter II. When Street Fighter III was released, it did not catch on due to the lack of classic characters save for Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Chun-Li (granted, Chun-Li only appeared in Third Strike, while Akuma did not appear in New Generation). While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) was successful, the original game was criticized for balance issues (mainly with Sagat being overpowered, which was proven to be unfair). Still, its popularity couldn’t match the same type of popularity that Street Fighter II had.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles – Genesis (1994)

After two successful games in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog became a pop culture phenomenon in the early 1990’s. To capitalize on the success, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on what was dubbed as “Hedgehog Day”, which happened on Groundhog Day of 1994. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced a save feature, a new character, new ways to get into special stages, bonus stages through checkpoint lamp posts, and new power ups. There are greater distinction of levels per zone (including the music), as well as differentiation of characters in regards to their skill (such as Tails being able to fly or swim). While Sonic 1 and 2 had in game cutscenes, it was fleshed out more in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles to show what’s going to happen next. The game’s reception was a lot more critically acclaimed in comparison to its predecessors in spite of the fact that Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were released separately within a span of eight months.

Super Metroid – SNES (1994)

The original Metroid introduced exploration in a side-scrolling adventure game in a non-linear world. Metroid II introduced save points, which eliminated the need for passwords. Both of those games were popular in their own rights, and were both well received; granted, Metroid II wasn’t as well received as the first one, but was still popular enough. When Super Metroid was released, it introduced many new elements to the series, such as a map, more expansive areas, eight-way directional shooting, and new weapon and item upgrades. It is exponentially better than the original Metroid, and has done a lot more than what the original Metroid has offered. There have been many other Metroid games that came afterwards, but none of them have reached the same critical acclaim that Super Metroid had, although Metroid Prime came close to it. Since Super Metroid is held to a high standard, every Metroid game that came after it would always be judged in comparison.

Super Mario 64 – N64 (1996)/Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii (2010)

After many years of 2D Mario platformers, with the last ones being Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo, and Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for Game Boy, the next step was to bring Mario into a new world: The Third Dimension. The goal was to bring Mario into a 3D World where he can explore new areas like never before, and Super Mario 64 accomplished that. While the Nintendo 64 was not as successful as the Sony Playstation, Super Mario 64 was very popular, and to this day, is still highly regarded as one of, if not, the best platformers of all time. Super Mario Sunshine tried to capitalize on it with more expansive worlds, and a new mechanic, the F.L.U.D.D., specifically made for this game. Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the same critical and commercial success that Super Mario 64 had.

Super Mario Galaxy changed things up, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes it into another level. The gameplay is similar to the original Super Mario Galaxy, where it has a new physics engine, which allows each and every celestial object to have its own gravitational force, which lets players circumnavigate rounded or irregular planetoids, walking upside down, or sideways, for a matter of giving the game a feel of going through galaxies. There are new unique stages with excellent level design, as well as a new Hub World, the Starship Mario. You collect 120 Power Stars, 120 Green Stars, and 2 special Power Stars, bringing it up to a total of 242 Stars. The game received critical praise that matches Super Mario Galaxy, with many of the critics citing that this game is better than the original. There have been debates on the Galaxy games (specifically Galaxy 2) and 64 as to which is the best in the 3D Mario series, and with Super Mario 3D World out now, only time will tell if it will match or surpass the praise of these games.

Final Fantasy VII – PS1 (1997)

While past Final Fantasy games were popular amongst dedicated gamers, Final Fantasy VII was the first Japanese RPG to have a mainstream presence in the western market. The gameplay hasn’t changed much from the previous Final Fantasy games, but it was the first game in the series in 3D. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the breathtaking FMV cutscenes wowed people to the point that an entire market opened up to JRPG’s. Final Fantasy VII for many gamers was an introduction to Japanese RPG’s, and the story was a lot more complex than what gamers had seen, and was a one of the first console based games to have more openly adult themes in western markets.

Final Fantasy VII was well received, and sold really well, and it cemented Sony’s dominance in the fifth generation console wars. While some later Final Fantasy games, such as IX, and in between X and XII, had dedicated fanbases, none of them matched the mainstream impact that VII had. To this day, people still demand a remake of Final Fantasy VII, but all Final Fantasy VII fans received were spinoff games and a movie.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PS1 (1997)

Castlevania has always been a popular series ever since it made its debut on the NES back in 1987. While it had a lot of hits with games such as Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, and even the Japanese TurboGrafx-CD game Rondo of Blood, it wasn’t until the series made the jump on the Playstation with Symphony of the Night. This game was a complete departure from other Castlevania games, and adopted a Metroid-esque style with RPG elements, allowing you to explore Dracula’s Castle in its entirety. The popularity of this game led to more games in the series, as well as other games to adopt this style, dubbed as “Metroidvania” due to their similarities with Super Metroid with the map and structure with the game. There have been other Castlevania sequels to come out after this game, and while some of them couldn’t match the popuarity, others just fell flat. No matter what Castlevania game comes out, people will always make the claim that Symphony of the Night is the best game in the series.

Resident Evil 2 – PS1 (1998)/Resident Evil 4 – GCN (2005)

While Resident Evil 1 and 3 have their respective fanbases, Resident Evil 2 was the most popular game of the original trilogy. The controls were refined, the ammo wasn’t as limited, and when you draw your gun, you face towards the nearest enemy. It made better use of having two playable characters, giving the game continuity between the character’s stories, and having rewards for beating the game with the second character. This game was well received, with fans wanting a remake of this game.

By the time Resident Evil 4 had been released, the initial Resident Evil Formula was considered stale due to the awkward fixed camera and controls, as well as it being a newer generation at the time, so it felt much like an early 3D game. Therefore, Capcom capped Shinji Mikami to reimagine the Survival Horror genre. While many prototypes became other Capcom games, the final product was significantly different from the Resident Evil of old. The game now resembles a Third-Person Shooter, but still stayed true to the series’ Survival Horror roots. You don’t have to find a specific item to save anymore, which removes the limitation of saving. It got really good critical reception, it received good reviews on release and has won Game of the Year on multiple publications. This game is also a fan favorite, with fans claiming that it was arguably the best game in the series. After Resident Evil 4, fans argued that the games in the mainline series focused more on action gameplay, as a detriment to the series. Other games in the series that had the Survival Horror gameplay either didn’t succeed financially, or did not give the Survival Horror experience that longtime fans had hoped for.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 (1998)

Like Super Mario 64, Nintendo wanted to bring The Legend of Zelda to a new world. They did so by changing the top-down overworld seen in past Zelda games into a more dynamic 3D environment. It is the first Zelda game in the series to introduce free-roaming, context-sensitive actions, and Z-targeting. There is a method where you can change the setting to seven years in the future, where Link becomes an adult, and must rescue the rest of the seven sages. While the Ocarina has appeared in past Zelda games, Ocarina of Time lets you learn twelve different melodies for solving puzzles and teleporting to locations you already visited within the game.

When Ocarina of Time was released, the critical acclaim was exceptional, and even to this day, it’s always at least in a close struggle for the highest game in Gamerankings and Metacritic. It is not only claimed by fans and critics to be the best Zelda game of all time, it is also claimed to be the best game of all time. There have been other games in the series that rivaled the popularity, but Ocarina of Time is the last Legend of Zelda you can praise without the fanbase attacking you. It was even remade in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS, which many people enjoyed just as much as the original, if not, more.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – GCN (2004)

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is much like its predecessor, only better in every way. Timed moves and the Partner system were improved: with the partners now having their own Heart Points, as well as having more abilities. The battles are staged and audience participation can have an impact on the battle, and as you level up, it increases the audience size. Save for Game Informer’s infamous 6.75 score, the game was well received, and it sold well for a Gamecube game. The reason that many Paper Mario fans don’t like Super Paper Mario or Sticker Star is because it deviates too much from the formula that The Thousand Year Door perfected. Beta footage of Sticker Star implied that it was going to be a direct sequel, but as development time went on, it changed to a completely different game.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – PS2 (2005)

While Devil May Cry was a genre trendsetter, Devil May Cry 3 felt more like a modern action game. It fixed the problem Devil May Cry 2 had, which was that the game was a lot easier. It added different styles for Dante to use that dramatically changed the gameplay. After gamers grew attached to Dante’s cocky and aggressive attitude in Devil May Cry, his emotionless performance in Devil May Cry 2 disappointed many. Devil May Cry 3 completely reverses this with Dante being even cockier, and the game had more over the top cheese than ever. After the negative reception of Devil May Cry 2, Devil May Cry 3 redeemed the series for many gamers and reviewers. Devil May Cry 4’s reception was lukewarm from fans and reviewers, and DmC had a massive fan backlash.

Honorable Mentions:

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest – SNES (1995)
It gave the series its own identity after the original borrowed elements heavily from Super Mario World. The level design really hit its stride with its cleverly hidden secrets. The game is held at a high regard where arguably not even the other games in the series would match its popularity.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – Arcade (1995)
While Mortal Kombat 2 may arguably be better, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was ultimately considered to be the last great Mortal Kombat game in the series until Mortal Kombat 9.

Mega Man 2 – NES (1989)
Mega Man 2 was initially well received and even considered to be the best in the series. Even Keiji Inafune considers this game to be his favorite Mega Man game that he has worked on.

And there you have it, ten different games that set the standards of the video game industry, with sequels unable to match the sales success or popularity. These games will always be looked upon as some of the best games of all time, and it shows when you look at retrospectives and top 10 lists. Many fans argue about what happened with these respective series after the specific game gets high praise, and many argue about which game is really better in their series. Regardless, there will always be games that are a Tough Act to Follow.