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Retro Gaming – Mega Man

Old games used to get overly serious and realistic art. Arcade games and console games are fundamentally different in a lot of ways. While the hardware, game mechanics, and depth of narrative might be the most obvious, there is something at the core of the two that keeps them

Old games used to get overly serious and realistic art.
Arcade games and console games are fundamentally different
in a lot of ways. While the hardware, game mechanics, and depth of narrative
might be the most obvious, there is something at the core of the two that keeps
them separated. Before going in depth with my retrospective review on Mega Man (1987), I’d like to
first analyze the intention behind the design of an arcade game and a console
game.
We’ve written about arcades before. The period from
the late 70’s to the mid-80’s is known as the Golden Age of Arcade Video Games. As the popularity of arcade games decreased by the end of the decade,
console games were experiencing a boom thanks in part to the Nintendo
Entertainment System. Because of this shift, many old NES games feel more like
arcade games.  The fundamental purpose of
a console game is to provide you with satisfaction to justify your purchase of
the game. Games are usually not very cheap, so designers try to make their
product the most worthwhile for your money (ideally, at least). Arcade games,
on the other hand, are all about taking your money in small sums (quarters),
giving you a brief, enjoyable, and difficult experience, and then encouraging
you to play again to go further and get a higher score.
Mega Man feels
like an arcade game. It is so hard that it feels punishing at times and so
addictive that you can’t stop coming back to it. The amount of trial and error
inherent in the classic platformer makes the experience feel like learning a
song. Through your failures and deaths you wind up developing something
resembling a rhythm. You know  which
screen is coming next or which flying penguin is going to dive on you. I wasn’t
able to beat any levels on the first try, but on the attempt where I did beat them, it looked like I was an
absolute professional.
Though the level design was difficult at times, there were
several gems hidden throughout. As an avid player of the Mega Man X series, I knew that each boss gives you a new weapon to
your arsenal. And I also knew that each boss weapon was super effective against
another boss. They usually make sense, barring a few mix-ups (Ice > Fire? I
guess that means… thunder on the ice guy? Okay.) For example, Elecman’s
weakness is the weapon you receive from the truly epic Custman (my only
reasoning is that scissors cut wires?). Elecman’s level is full of these small
platforms with enemies on top that make avoiding them difficult. If you switch
over to the Rolling Cutter weapon, you’ll notice that the odd trajectory of the
attack fits the level design perfectly. The level becomes much easier if you
use the Cutsman’s weapon to get through it. Ideally, by the time you reach the
end of the level you will be pretty comfortable with using it.
I stand by what I said about completing each level being
similar to learning a song. That said, Iceman’s level is like learning a song
and then being expected to flawlessly improvise with someone else who is also
improvising. Everything is typical Mega Man gameplay, and then this happens…

Those platforms shoot sideways. Okay, okay, annoying, but
whatever it’s a challenge. Oh, but they also move in a completely random and
erratic pattern. Well that just doesn’t sound fair. Oh, and one more thing,
we’re going to throw some robot penguins at you for the last half of this part
of the level. But wait, that might be too difficult. Let’s make sure the player
has a platform to rest on halfway through. Good point, but we shouldn’t make it
too easy for them. This is a video
game after all, this is serious business, not Soviet Russia Handout Land. Let’s
cover that platform in ice. Video game
ice
. Which science has proven is twice as slippery as regular old boring ice.
Seriously.
The other issue I have with this game is about rationing out
lives. There is a checkpoint immediately before each end of the level boss
fight. Should you die in the boss fight, you will respawn there with full
health and one less life. The game is so difficult that many times I would reach
the boss, look to see if I had an extra life lying around, and just let the
boss kill me so I could tackle him with full health. That is just poor design.
Also, your health replenishes with each respawn, but your ammo does not. This
means a particular difficult stretch of a level will become progressively more
difficult. The general difficulty of this game is also distributed oddly. It is
very difficult in the beginning when you don’t have any special boss weapons,
and especially difficult in the end (cough, Boss Rush). The middle portion of the game
is by far the easiest. This uneven difficulty may be annoying for some players.
You can tell the designers were on to something when you
play Mega Man. It has vibrant colors,
an excellent soundtrack, and surprisingly rich and deep gameplay, with little
secrets here and there. The game is pretty easy to find. I played the PS2 port
from the Anniversary Collection, but you can also find it on the virtual
console. Though Mega Man 2 is widely
considered better than this game, this is the game that has lent its design to
Mega Man’s character in the new Smash
Bros.
, as well as the fact that one of the bosses from this game appears in
the new Smash Bros.
Final Thoughts:
Favorite Song: Elecman Stage
Favorite Boss: Cutsman, I actually have a shirt with him on
it!
Favorite Weapon: Magnet Beam, of course.  

Fun Facts: It’s Mega
Man,
not Megaman. I’ve been
making that mistake for over a decade.
– Joey Edsall

joey.edsall@newretrowave.com

Review overview

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