May 12th, 2014
Over the Christmas break, I burned through Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2. It was the first time I’d ever played Mega Man, and now I’m a big fan of the series. A lot has been said about the original NES games, so I’m just going to focus on a few key observations.
Since the platforming gameplay is fairly static, most of the trials (think trial and error) that the player makes are in the robot master battles. That is, testing to see whether a certain beam will take off more damage, whether a new tactic will help you dodge a certain move, etc. This is why the pre-boss checkpoints introduced in Mega Man 3 are so great: they remove the redundant repetition that occurs when the player is learning how to beat a boss. So there’s no need to repeat half the level when you’ve already done it once.
The robot masters get wackier and more obtuse much earlier than I thought they would. And as such, it becomes hard to figure out the their weaknesses, which means more hypothesis testing and trial and error. Since there’s only a handful of beams, though, the player can find out which attacks work best relatively quickly. Like the clues in crosswords, you want the answer to seem intuitive without being too obvious. Usually the combinations make sense, but sometimes they’re a bit less elegant (Plant Man is takes more damage from a Blizzard Attack than a Flame Blast?!).
The original series isn’t as difficult as internet folklore would have you believe. The extra beams and abilities (Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc.) allow players to scale the game’s difficulty, so there’s plenty of wiggle room.
Besides the inclusion of Proto Man in Mega Man 3, which mixed up the progression structure a bit, the elaborate stories of the later games don’t really complimented the gameplay a great deal. They just pad out the opening introduction.
The warp pads that teleport Mega Man out from the individuals rooms and into the robot masters selection room in Wily’s castle should require that the player press down to exit. Several times I accidentally left the rooms before I could pick up the health pellet.
In Mega Man 4, the final few bosses and levels in Wily’s castle are quite short and easy, throwing the difficulty curve out of whack. It’s nice that they added more content, with the second phase of Wily’s castle, but it could have been better placed.
The charge shot in Mega Man 4 contributed a great deal to the series. The mechanic allows the player to suspend gameplay over multiple areas, allowing them to remain more consistently engaged in the game.
As a kid, I imagine that I would have played a very pure game of Mega Man, focusing on my dexterity and reflex levels. As an adult, I move some of the stress onto my knowledge skills. So I’ll look for patterns or internalise timings.
After beating a level, you’re given two options, “continue” and “level select”. The “continue” option always confused me as instead of allowing you to continue you’re game, you’re put back in the same level that you just completed. It should be relabelled as “retry level”.
Although the series ran out of fresh ideas around Mega Man 4, the later games still had some glimmers of innovation here and there. Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5 is a great example. I think of it as a precursor to VVVVVV.
In Mega Man 5, many of the enemies die after taking a hit from a fully-charged beam, so it’s easy to defeat enemies as soon as they come into view. Since the enemies have no way to counter, the mechanic is overpowered. Some simple dodging or reflecting moves could have gone a long way to making the enemies more effective.
In Mega Man 5 and 6, tank reserves are suspended across game overs, so it’s possible to stock up supplies for the final boss battle. These games are also way too generous with the distribution of tanks. What was once a reward became a right. Find a spot at the start of a level where there’s a free energy tank and go crazy.