Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mega Man Is Broken

This week we're taking a critical look at some of our favorite flawed fandoms. We're proposing one change to each installment or aspect of the fandom in question that we feel would provide the most improvement.

Yesterday I discussed the biggest changes I would make to all six Star Wars movies; today I'm covering the entire classic Mega Man series, or at least as much as I've played, which is darn near most of it.

Hoo boy.

In the interest of having at least one person read to the end of this post without expiring, I'll be keeping things as concise as possible. We'll see how long I can keep it up.

Mega Man (NES) cover artThe original Mega Man games on the NES, as well as the sequels that appeared on a number of different platforms, have their high points and low points. Mega Man 2 is generally considered to be the cream of the robo-crop, but I say that many of the later games rival if not surpass this classic.

For me, the best Mega Man games are solidly challenging without being overwhelmingly unfair, have a great variety of fun and useful weapons, feature creative bosses with interesting stages, sport a dynamite soundtrack, and possess a high degree of replayability.

People complain about repetition and recycled ideas in later games, but those things are often more of a welcome comfort than a flaw for the dedicated Mega Man fan. If you can look past that, you'll see the Mega Man games are more nuanced than that; a lack of creativity is rarely the most important thing to be remedied.

Mega Man (NES)

Despite a few technical areas where the game could be cleaned up a bit, the original Mega Man is one of the most perfect Mega Man games, at least in terms of challenge, weapons, and the other aspects I feel are most important. One thing has always bothered me, though, and the replayability suffers for it: the placement of the Magnet Beam.

The Magnet Beam creates platforms for you to stand on, and it's necessary to beat the game (unless you're cheating, cheater). However, the Magnet Beam is tucked away behind a row of special blocks that can only be cleared out by Guts Man's weapon or Elec Man's weapon. Well, guess what? The Magnet Beam is located in Elec Man's stage.

Getting the Magnet Beam in Mega Man (NES)It's rather inconvenient to go through the entire stage again just to pick up that one item after you've beaten Elec Man, so it's almost a requirement that you beat Guts Man before taking on Elec Man so that you don't need to do any backtracking. Not a huge deal, but certainly something that detracts from the replay value in my book. I can think of a good place or two in Fire Man's stage where the Magnet Beam could go instead.

Mega Man 2 (NES)

Sprite flicker. I didn't even need to think about that one. There are waaaay too many areas of the game where all the enemies start flashing and become very difficult to see. Not only does this degrade the visual quality of the game, but it makes one or two already difficult boss fights much harder than they should be (most notably the wall turrets in one of the final stages of Wily's castle).

Sprite flicker in the wall turret boss battle of Mega Man 2
Mega Man 3 (NES)

I have more issues with this game than almost any, but what truly ruins the game for me is the lack of variety in the weapons. Virtually all of the weapons fire a normal-sized projectile in a straight line, and Spark Shock and Top Spin are utterly worthless except in very specific situations (though I admit that Top Spin has recently proven to be mildly more useful than previously believed).

Using Top Spin in Snake Man's stage in Mega Man 3
Mega Man 4 (NES)

This one is my all-time favorite Mega Man game, and there's only one thing that truly bothers me: THERE ARE NO FLASHING LIGHTS IN THE BACKGROUND OF THE FINAL STAGE. There need to be flashing lights.

Final stage of Mega Man 4Okay, okay. If you really must know, I think it might be nice to let Rain Flush, Flash Stopper, Skull Barrier, or Dive Missile be the weapon of choice in at least one of the castle stage boss fights. The other four special weapons, especially Ring Boomerang and Dust Crusher, get all the attention in the later boss fights.

But I still want my flashing lights.

Mega Man 5 (NES)

Rush's transformation into a springboard is a completely pointless alteration to Rush Coil. You stand on Rush as he hops into the air, and then you can jump off of him for extra height. Problem is, you never need that extra height. Furthermore, there's not one place where you need to stand on Rush as he jumps and then slide into a narrow passageway that is otherwise inaccessible. Either go back to Rush Coil or make that springboard earn its keep, is what I say.

Using Rush Coil in Charge Man's stage in Mega Man 5Hang on; I have a better idea. Fix those crystals that fall from the ceiling over the bottomless pits in Crystal Man's stage so that they have a discernable pattern so that it's not a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-you-get-lucky leap of faith every time. Yeah.

No, wait; I've got an even better idea: develop the final few stages a bit more. Too many areas are just a room with a bunch of enemies; though there are some creative challenges, the areas between them are often pretty ho-hum.

Mega Man 6 (NES)

This game has one of the most disappointing final boss battles in Mega Man history. Dr. Wily has three forms instead of two, which is a nice surprise, but otherwise he's a big bundle of missed potential. His weapon vulnerabilities are basically the same from one form to the next, and you don't even need to be careful where you aim--he's a huge target, and hitting any part of him will deal damage. Also, he's got to be one of the easiest bosses in the whole game, and there are already a few pushovers, lemme tell ya.

And that's not even mentioning that there's almost nothing novel whatsoever about any of his forms, and that's really saying something for a boss in a Mega Man game.

The three forms of the final boss of Mega Man 6It's an easy fix: switch up the weapon vulnerabilities for each form, make it so that you can only damage him if you hit the cockpit, up the damage he deals, maybe even throw in a totally out-of-the-blue super attack, and then you've got a much better boss fight.

Alternately, the idea of multiple paths could be better executed. It totally doesn't count if your idea of multiple paths is a split at the very last screen of the stage before the boss, where one path takes you to a boss fight that'll yield you one part of the power-up you're trying to create, and the other path takes you to the exact same boss that does not give you the part. Either one of these solutions would make me happy.

Mega Man 7 (SNES)

I love the fact that you can acquire Proto Man's shield as a secret bonus prize, but its usefulness is hampered by the fact that you probably won't get it until you're about ready to take on Wily, and also by the fact that you can't start running if you're firing while the weapon is equipped.

That's right: Mega Man has trouble walking and shooting at the same time. Good thing he's wearing that helmet, because who knows what could happen if he starts chewing gum.

Mega Man obtains Proto Man's shield in Mega Man 7It's such a small change, but being able to run after you've started shooting would make the Proto Shield a true bonus prize, with no drawbacks. Maximum fun.

Alternately--and this is something that I've only come to think about after more playthroughs than the average person would endure--the cutscenes could be shortened or spread out a little more. Once you can start quoting even the most mundane lines of dialogue, you start to realize that there is a lot of talking.

Mega Man 8 (PS1, Saturn)

This game is about as problematic as Mega Man 3, the only difference being that I'm not as much in the minority when I complain about MM8. Although I really, really want to say that the atrocious voice acting is the most necessary fix, it turns out that the addition of Evil Energy is even more egregious.

A funky spiritual energy from spaaaaaaaaaaace that possesses robots and... makes no discernable change to them whatsoever? LAME.

Evil Energy, from a cutscene in Mega Man 8Rewrite the story so that Dr. Wily is crafting his new robots out of some fancy space rock (not fancy space energy) that Duo is trying protect from falling into the wrong hands, and you've got the beginnings of a much more coherent plot. Not that plot has ever mattered in a Mega Man game, but this one poses so many unanswered questions (most of them resembling, "WHY?? WHY DID THEY DO THIS??") that it actually damages the integrity of the Mega Man games' threadbare plots.

Mega Man & Bass (GBA)

No-brainer: Map Bass' dash ability to Down + A, like Mega Man's slide, instead of a double-tap on the control pad. At least give us the option to choose one control style or the other. A split-second can make all the difference in a platformer, especially when the screen is so small; Bass stutters forward if you do it wrong, and the teensy time differential between pressing two buttons at once and double-tapping a button has often spelled doom for Bass under my control.

Demonstration of Bass dashing in Mega Man & BassDOOM, I say!

Mega Man 9 (WiiWare, XBLA, PSN)

It's hard to pick one thing to change: MM9 is definitely one of the better Mega Man games, but... oh, wait, I just remembered. Proto Man.

Playing as Proto Man in Jewel Man's stage in Mega Man 9Though it's considered bonus content, you can play through the game as Proto Man, which I discussed quite a while back in a post called Downloadable (Dis)content. Like the Proto Shield in MM7, playing as Proto Man in MM9 has too many drawbacks to be a truly great bonus feature; if only he were at least as good as Mega Man in every regard, it would have been genuinely fun to play as him. Tragically, playing as Proto Man is a frustrating and unfairly difficult challenge unbefitting of such a wonderful character.

Hang on...[rereads what he's written]...sorry, I seem to have talked prematurely about how to fix MM10. MM9's biggest issue? It tries too hard to me MM2 all over again. The removal of Mega Man's charge and slide. The similarities in the music. Shake the game loose from being so heavily anchored to the past, and you might actually have a rival for my all-time favorite Mega Man game.

Mega Man 10 (WiiWare, XBLA, PSN)

If you look at the date this post was published, you may notice that Mega Man 10 wasn't even released yet. This anachronism is made possible by the "Edit Post" button. I do enjoy keeping things up to date, and Mega Man 10 is one game that especially needs fixing.

Though I would love for the story (especially when playing as Proto Man and Bass) to be a little more developed, coherent, and relevant to the greater Mega Man continuity, the most vital issue to fix here is the character balance. Mega Man is underpowered, Proto Man is overly penalized for any benefits he has, and Bass...actually, I'm OK with Bass.

We've had the slide since MM3 and the charge shot since MM4, and these have become critical abilities that the developers seem to have in mind when they create game levels--when Mega Man is denied them, and Proto Man is penalized for having them, and the stages are still as complex and challenging as ever (if not more so!), this deals a serious blow to the fun factor while steepening the learning curve. Why can't they both slide and charge?

Character balance is what it's all about. Let Mega Man have the bigger charge shot from MM5 and Proto Man can take the weaker one from MM4 while still retaining his shield, for example. The later Mega Man X games do this pretty well--X is a sniper and good for boss fights; Zero is a brawler and good for tearing through stage enemies (at least the way I play). Somewhat different play styles, and certainly different abilities, but essentially equal. Don't suddenly overhaul game mechanics that were perfected nearly two decades ago.

Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge (GB)

Oh, thought I was going to skip over the Game Boy games, eh? Well, I think it's lousy that you fight four bosses from MM2 but don't get to play through revamped versions of their levels, so there. (Maybe those levels would be fun, 'cuz this game is one of the few Mega Man games I dislike... But that's a story for another time.)

Teleporting hatches in Mega Man: Dr. Wily's RevengeWhile that would be nice, the game might also be more fun if enemies occasionally left extra lives and health powerups. I could just have rotten luck, but I've never seen a game provide so many weapon capsules, which are useless if you keep refilling all your weapons when you Game Over every few minutes.

Mega Man II (GB)

Mega Man gets a pogo stick for a weapon and he doesn't get to use it. The one chance Mega Man gets to pretend to be Mario by bopping enemies on the head, and there's absolutely no good place to use it in the one level you play after you get it. Lame! Overhaul the final level so the pogo stick has a chance to shine, or else add one more "final" level.

Using Sakugarne, the pogo stick weapon, in the final stage of Mega Man II
Mega Man III (GB)

Here's another game on my very short list of Mega Man games I dislike. The Game Boy games are a bit tricky to begin with, considering how much smaller the gameplay area is and how sluggish Mega Man is compared to any of the 8-bit games; there are plenty of times in general where not even the most experienced Mega Man players have enough reaction time to dodge or avoid a trap. MMIII is rife with cheap shots and dirty tricks that make a first-time playthrough almost completely intolerable.

Game Over screen from Mega Man IIII am not exaggerating when I tell you that, every few screens, there's an enemy positioned in such a way that you will get hit unless you've memorized where they'll be. This trick is fine when used sparingly, but the fast-paced action crawls to a halt when you have to tiptoe through every stage to have even the slightest chance of survival. Remove or relocate some of the enemies (and traps, while we're at it) and the game might actually be fun before you've spent hours and hours becoming the master of it.

Mega Man IV (GB)

Incredibly, this is one of the best classic Mega Man games there is! As such, there's really not much I would change, except Crystal Man's stage stands out as being incongruously long and difficult compared to the rest of the game. In one section, for instance, all of a sudden the floor and ceiling start closing in and you need to rush before you get crushed. Heavy, man.

Screenshot of the floors and ceilings closing in Crystal Man's stage in Mega Man IV
Mega Man V (GBC)

This one needs to be less expensive and more readily available so I can finally get a chance to play it.

Wait, nevermind that. Thanks to the magic of going back to edit posts you've already written, I can throw in my two cents about Mega Man V now that I've played it. I'm from the fuuuutuuure!!!


My issue with MMV is essentially the same issue I have with the original Mega Man (and with MM6, though that ties in with the multiple paths bit): due to the placement of a few special items and the means required to get at them (not to mention the "fight four bosses, then fight the next four" setup), there's some necessary backtracking and a more limited variety of ways in which you can play through the game if you want to collect everything.

I don't have many issues with MMV, but the setup hurts the replayability, and replayability is a big deal for me. If the need for backtracking could be abolished, or if all eight stages were available from the beginning, MMV could very well be one of my favorites.

Mega Man (PC)

Oh, I went there! They did release a Mega Man game for PC! And it was pretty bad! There were some redeeming features, but it was more in terms of concept than actual execution. So much is wrong with the game, but the most glaring omission is that there is no music! Add music; the game will still be bad, but at least it could sound good.

Screenshot of Volt Man's stage in Mega Man (PC)Wait, let me clarify: Add good music. There we go.

I kid, I kid. I have a soft spot for the first PC game. It's the next one that's deserving of my ire.

Mega Man III (PC)

What happened to Mega Man II for PC? Make that one first, then we'll talk.

Screenshot from Shark Man's stage in Mega Man III (PC)On second thought, maybe it's best they didn't make a Mega Man II for PC, if it was going to be anything like this. I have a number of issues with this game, from obnoxious enemy placement to swimming physics (yes, like MM8), but the core issue is that the stages are just too long, especially without a save or password feature. Huge mazes filled with irritating challenges and few rewards for exploration make for an unpleasant gaming experience. Shorten the stages. The challenges in the first PC game can be every bit as aggravating, but it's less noticeable because the stages are literally less than half the length of those in MMIII PC.

Mega Man: Powered Up (PSP)

While I love the addition of an intro stage and an attempt at crafting a real (and entertaining) plot, the designers wrecked the tight challenges of the original with the New Style mode by throwing a bunch of obstacles together that may or may not have created fair or fun challenges. I've pulled off some pretty slick tricks and beaten some of the most difficult Mega Man bosses without breaking a sweat, but I can't beat Elec Man stage on Normal difficulty here.


Using Oil Man's weapon to jump across the hovering platforms in Elec Man's stage in Mega Man: Powered UpIf nothing else, reprogram those %@&* floating platforms to move close enough that you can actually jump on them once before being shot and knocked into a pit a dozen times.

Literally, a dozen times.


Well, there are still the two arcade games and the racing game and the soccer game to discuss, not to mention, oh, the X series and the Zero series, for starters... but I think that's more than enough for now. Besides, I wrote this post more for myself than I did for you, so I get to declare when I'm through.

Well, I'm through.

Thanks to the one person who read this far. As for the rest of you, I'm sorry you expired before you got to this point. Go read our celebration of 10,000 hits and tell us what new fandom Alex and I should both try, so that I'll write about something that's not Mega Man next time. Unless you're, uh, too busy being expired and all that.


Anonymous said...

Mostof the stuff you said about 10 goes the same for 9.

PolyRuni said...

You forgot the Game Gear version, Hoover! Also great post as always. :3

tmntgrl25 said...

*waves hand* I know how to fix 10! 10, in my opinion, could have taken some cues from Powered Up.

For one, I agree- give Mega Man his slide and charge shot back, because at the moment there's nothing Mega can do that Bass and Proto can't also do. Mega Man, as he stands, is boring. If nothing else, they could've added the option to turn the slide and charge on and off like Powered Up does upon beating the various difficulties.
So Protoman. Proto jumps higher and runs faster than Mega does in Powered Up, and has his shield, but he still takes more damage and knockback. He has a permanent charged shot, but you can only have one onscreen at a time. Why couldn't they have kept this over in 10? It'd make each character feel just a little more unique and balanced, I think.

But that's my two cents, anyway. Sorry to hear that you're having trouble with Powered Up; those floating platforms in Elecman's stage are a beast unless you're abusing Protoman's longer jump...

Flashman85 said...

Anonymous: Huh. I think it's probably time to update this post; I don't think my assessment of MM9 should have been so similar to MM10.

PolyRuni: Thanks! And yeah, I'm missing a few more games that I've since played...gotta add 'em!

tmntgrl25: *calls on you* Ah, now there's an idea! I didn't play enough of Powered Up to try out Proto Man, but that seems different enough to be both effective and interesting.