Monday, July 5, 2010

Mega Man Marathon: 1-10 in 2010

As promised, I have recently accomplished one of the stupider geek achievements of my career as a gamer (I say "stupider" with affection): I have, in one day, beaten Mega Man 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

Total completion time? From start to finish, including breaks (intentional and otherwise), almost exactly 16 hours. If you're getting the doctor-recommended amount of sleep each night, 16 hours is about how long you're awake each day. Meaning, I spent literally every waking minute playing or thinking about Mega Man.

So, really, no different than usual.

A suggestion was made to record the run and stream it live over the Internet. If I'd been emulating the games on my PC, no problem, but I wanted the authentic experience of playing the games on their original systems. And sitting on my super-comfy couch.

I started investigating that possibility a few days before, but I didn't have the time to acquire the necessary hardware and futz around with the technology. After all, any time I meddle with video technology I don't fully understand, everything falls apart. Best to avoid the potential headaches this time around—though I have plans of recording my next marathon—and just play for my own entertainment.

OK, so that's not entirely true. I figured the marathon was perfect blog fodder, so I took notes on my performance. The original idea was to have a stage-by-stage recap, however short, in lieu of video footage; however, when the notes degraded into "Good," "Fine," and "I still hate Clown Man," I decided it might be better to take a broader look at the marathon, discussing some of what I learned and came to realize over the course of my 16-hour endeavor.

I also decided I'll do that tomorrow. I didn't take notes for nothing! To give you some context for my impending musings, today I'll give you a recap on the observable aspects of the marathon—namely, timing and gameplay. Don't worry—though my verbosity is endearing, my notes aren't that extensive, so my recap will be fairly brief. If we're comparing this post to the Ramayana.

One last bit of preface: As the Mega Man games allow you to choose the order in which you fight the bosses, I decided to try something new: going through each game by fighting the bosses according to the order in which they were created. Each robot master has a numerical designation that you can see during the end credits, so I went according to that order for each game, regardless of how terrible an idea it would be.

End preface. Commence recap. And, for the sake of not needing to fiddle with formatting every five seconds, we'll forego the formality of italicizing the names of the games.

Mega Man 1 ~ 8:12 AM - 9:11 AM (59 minutes, no breaks)

Number of tries to get the game cartridge working:

Boss order:
Cut, Guts, Ice, Bomb, Fire, Elec

It's always tough to start a Mega Man marathon with the first game in the series, despite the perfect logic therein. It's definitely one of the top ten most difficult games in the main series. I began playing with a nervous excitement—the night before felt like trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve, and this was like starting to unwrap all those long-awaited presents. Presents that would turn around and kick my butt if I started to slip up.

I'm good enough at Mega Man that even at my worst, I can still get through any given game in a predictable amount of time, but getting a Game Over toward the end of a level not only damages one's self-esteem, but it can be very costly in terms of time. Good thing I got out all those excessive deaths in the first game, then.

While there were some mighty triumphs—okay, there was one mighty triumph—I'd give my overall efforts a B- due to some rough boss fights, some costly mistakes (that powerup next to the pit in Elec Man's stage is NOT worth it!), and stooping so low as to use the pause/resume trick to defeat Ice Man, the Yellow Devil, and Dr. Wily's second form (in my defense, that was just to make up for lost time dying everywhere else). The one mighty triumph I want to mention is how I got through the dreaded moving platform section of Ice Man's stage in record time without dying or using the Magnet Beam (which I didn't have). That was exciting.

Mega Man 2 ~ 9:13 AM - 10:09 AM (56 minutes, no breaks)

Condition of right eye by end of game: Mildly irritated due to incongruent amount of sunlight on right side of room

Boss order: Metal, Air, Bubble, Quick, Crash, Flash, Heat, Wood

By the end of MM1, I was finally warmed up enough to handle the games in a more professional fashion. It also helped that MM2 is easier than MM1. In fact, the only deaths I experienced directly resulted from trying to show off like I did in my run of MM2 on YouTube. "No showing off!" and "STOP SHOWING OFF" are definitely two of the notes I wrote to myself. Things went swimmingly once I started playing the game casually again, and I found myself pulling off some impressive dodging stunts as the Wily stages went on.

Even though MM1 ranks above MM2 on the list of my favorite Mega Man games (blasphemy, I know), I had more fun with MM2 than MM1 this time around, perhaps because I was more interested in just playing through the games than appreciating their solid challenge. For once, I was able to just enjoy the game for what it was and let go of my criticisms that MM2 is visually glitchy and has many sections that play almost identically each time. I think it's the closest I've ever come to fully understanding how so many people can praise MM2 so highly and write off the rest of the series.

Mega Man 3 ~ 10:13 AM - 11:32 AM (1 hour 19 minutes, brief e-mail break)

Decision to not prepare a mid-game snack: Regretful

Boss order: Needle, Magnet, Gemini, Hard, Top, Snake, Spark, Shadow

This was not destined to start well. Needle Man would be a great choice for first boss of the game, except for the part where he's flippin' difficult to beat without any special weapons. The only thing I had to my advantage was an Energy Tank I'd picked up in the stage—other than that, it was my dinky little blaster versus a hard-hitting enemy who I had fought maybe once without a special weapon... while using save states on an emulator.

Needleless to say, I was in trouble. I had three chances to beat him, or else face the shame and setback of getting a Game Over on the first boss of the game. Attempt #1 was a trial run. Attempt #2 wasn't great, but it was good enough to warrant using my E-Tank... except I still failed. One attempt remaining, no extra energy in reserve to bail me out, and the looming prospect of having to do the same thing all over again. When I beat Needle Man with just a few bars of health left, I shouted a "Woo-hoo!" and pounded the air with my fists.

I needed a drink. My hands were shaking so much I actually dropped the container of white grape juice while trying to open the lid. That battle was intense! Yeah, I get emotional about video games.

The rest of the game progressed well enough, though the handicap of playing through several stages on my last life made things more tense than necessary, like trying to get through the long jumping section toward the end of Gemini Man's stage that you normally bypass using Rush Marine, which I of course didn't have. The predetermined order of stages was certainly a challenge at first, but it was nothing a seasoned professional such as myself couldn't handle without dropping a bottle of white grape juice on the floor.

Three things I noticed during my run: First, the controls seemed a little off. Needle Man was so difficult in part because I had an incredibly tough time getting the controls to respond to me as instantly as I needed when turning around and firing. This could have just been nerves, but I didn't encounter the problem in any other game.

Second, I actually got a little bored halfway through the game; between fighting the eight robot masters I just beat in MM2 and essentially replaying four of the stages I just finished, the Doc Robot stages dragged a bit.

Third, despite this complaint, I enjoyed this run of MM3 more than my last few, perhaps because I was going out of my way to make the special weapons fun and useful. I think playing the stages so out of order allowed me to try out things I usually didn't have so early on. MM3 still is toward the bottom of my list, but this marathon definitely established that it's higher up than MM8 and MM10... but we'll get there.

Mega Man 4 ~ 12:12 PM - 1:27 PM (1 hour 15 minutes, brief telephone break)

Unexpected urgent errand between MM3-MM4?: Yes. Silly me for checking my e-mail and remembering the rest of the world still exists outside of Marathon Stadium.

Boss order: Bright, Toad, Drill, Pharaoh, Ring, Dust, Dive, Skull
Mega Man 4 was my first Mega Man game, so the boss order was really inconsequential here. I have a lot of fun with flashy weapons, though, so it was nice to get Flash Stopper first thing off. There were some really great boss fights, but a few sloppy ones as well. Goofing off led to a few amusingly accidental deaths, such as sliding during the waterfall section of Toad Man's stage to catch up with my blaster shot, and completely ignoring the bottomless pit in front of me.
The pinnacle of boss fights was my bout with the Wily Machine's second form, when the good (evil) doctor is firing off huge energy balls at a rapid pace. Well, I applied the crushing blow and watched his contraption explode... and forgot that this is the one boss fight where enemy projectiles neither disappear nor become harmless once the fight is over. I pathetically exploded as Dr. Wily escaped. My next fight went much better.

Mega Man 5 ~ 1:25 PM - 2:54 PM (According to my notes, I started playing this game two minutes before I finished the last one. TIME PARADOX! Oh, well. 1 hour 29 minutes, mid-game lunch break)

Quality of meatball sub: Delicious

Boss order: Gravity, Wave, Stone, Gyro, Star, Charge, Napalm, Crystal
This is where my notes turned into one-word adjectival grunts. Having just completed a run of Mega Man 5 for YouTube that I'd been working on for more months than I can keep track of anymore, this game was still incredibly fresh in my mind, and it went brilliantly. In fact, if you check out my YouTube videos for MM5, it's almost exactly what you would have seen if I had been streaming my gameplay live.

I was glad to have company for almost all of MM5 through the first half of MM7; a friend and fellow Mega Man fan came over to visit, bearing lunch. I strongly suspect that many of my mistakes in MM4 stemmed partially from being hungry—I was able to focus much better once I had some food in me, though there was still a hilarious comedy of errors in the third Proto Man stage, the part with the moving platform over the long bottomless pit.
I can't explain what happened to my skill at that point, but I died FOUR TIMES trying to cross that gap: once with an unsuccessful jump up to a higher ledge, once because I misjudged how far I'd need to jump to clear those spikes, once because Rush Jet launched me into a different area of spikes, and once because an enemy rammed into my Super Arrow, destroying it, leaving me to fall hopelessly to my doom. It was really funny.

Mega Man 6 ~ 2:57 PM - 4:00 PM (1 hour 3 minutes, no breaks)

Desire to continue holding a rectangular controller with pointy edges: Low

Boss order: Blizzard, Centaur, Flame, Knight, Plant, Tomahawk, Wind, Yamato
Mega Man 6 offers a few secrets and a good number of multiple paths, but the boss order required at least one full stage of backtracking to get all the secrets; I decided that being quick was more valuable than being thorough in this case, so I completely ignored most of the optional stuff. Aside from getting a bit sloppy in the last two levels, the entire game went very well for me, so there's not much to report.
Oh, Blizzard Man backed me into a corner for the first time I can ever remember, and that made the fight a challenge, for a change. There were a few cases where robot masters suddenly pulled tactics on me that I'd never seen before. "They're learning," my friend said.

Mega Man 7 ~ 4:04 PM - 6:16 PM (2 hours 12 minutes, probably a brief break somewhere)

Alarmingly absent from the Mega Man Anniversary Collection's end credits for this game: GRAPHICS

Boss order: Freeze, Junk, Burst, Cloud, Spring, Slash, Shade, Turbo
The only time I've ever fought Freeze Man first, without the special weapon that makes the fight super-easy, was in the fan-created 8-bit remake of MM7. Freeze Man is much taller than I remember. Fighting him the honest way was a challenge I was only partially expecting, and I was having visions of Needle Man for a while there. Things worked out OK, but I died a few times, which once again left me teetering on the edge of Game Over for the first few stages. Burst Man was frighteningly intense—that guy seems to get harder each time I fight him.

"He's learning," came the observation once more from my buddy.

MM7-8 were a little tougher than they would have been otherwise because I ended up playing the Mega Man Anniversary Collection port for the GameCube, which offers a less-than-ideal controller situation. The tiny directional pad wears on your thumb before too long (the control stick is too loose for me), and the fire/jump buttons are reversed (though it's the same configuration as Metroid Prime, if I recall, so it's not as big a deal as it could be). Plus, the weapons screen is mapped to the Z button instead of Start, so that's confusing.

The real holdup during this game was the dialogue—MM7 used to be one of my favorite Mega Man games (though I have a number of issues with it), but it's slowly slipping because there's a LOT of dialogue, perhaps more than is really necessary. Still, aside from that and a depressing few fights against Bass in Wily's first castle stage, I was still enjoying myself, and I was holding up surprisingly well.
The biggest letdown was that the boss order required major backtracking if I was going to collect all the freebie upgrades and find all the secrets, so I ended up skipping my beloved Proto Shield and spending more time than was desirable on the other bonuses.

I'd like to note that somewhere during this game, the marathon temporarily turned into a surreal, out-of-body sort of experience. I saw the action happening on the screen, but it wasn't entirely connecting that I was the one making everything happen. That feeling disappeared really quickly on the final boss fight, which is generally accepted to be one of the most insane final boss fights in Mega Man history. I love it.

Mega Man 8 ~ 6:18 PM - 8:40 PM (2 hours 22 minutes, most likely a sanity break in there somewhere)

Severity of gradually growing headache: Mild

Boss order: Tengu, Clown, Frost, Grenade, Astro, Sword, Search, Aqua; technically, according to the numbers, it should be Tengu, Astro, Sword, Clown, Search, Frost, Grenade, Aqua, but that's impossible according to the way the bosses are broken up.
I've officially determined that MM8 is my least-favorite game in the main series. Even if we take all the classic Mega Man games into account, it's still in my bottom five. I'll talk gaming philosophy in my follow-up post tomorrow so that any diehard MM8 fans don't get all outraged, but I want to make sure I've expressed my stance on the game to help illustrate how 2 hours and 22 minutes is far too long for one Mega Man game.

The whole game just felt long—the stages are big and Mega Man doesn't seem to move as quickly as he used to, plus there's a LOT of backtracking if you want to get all the big bolts to spend on necessary upgrades at Dr. Light's lab. Throw in a lot of cheap deaths, an interminable maze level, and some full-motion-video cutscenes that could stand alone as a complete episode of a Saturday morning cartoon, and you've got yourself a game that is longer than necessary.
I did go into MM8 with an open mind. I was utterly willing to let the game entrance me and fall in love with it. I was ready to release my misgivings about the voice acting, the overly busy visual style, and JUMP! JUMP! SLIDE! SLIDE! It just didn't happen.

Side note? They remapped the menu button to Start instead of Z. Stay consistent, people!

Mega Man 9 ~ 9:03 PM - 10:31 PM (1 hour 28 minutes—though my clear time distinctly said under an hour—no breaks)

Decision to return Mega Man to his 8-bit roots: Even better than originally thought, having just finished MM8

Boss order: Concrete, Tornado, Splash, Plug, Jewel, Hornet, Magma, Galaxy
Despite a dinner break between MM8 and MM9, the latter was still a shock to my system: simple graphics, streamlined controls, minimal options... and for the first time, I found myself fully approving of the decision to "reboot" a franchise, in a sense (even though continuity stayed intact in this case).

I still complain a bit about not having the slide and charge shot in MM9-10, but this is first time where I didn't mind. You have to rely on the special weapons that much more when you've got nothing else at your disposal, and as I found especially in MM3 and MM6, fighting the bosses in an unsual order forces you to be that much more creative with the weapons to succeed.

MM9 was the most fun it's been since I first played it, if not more so. As with MM2 (from which the developers clearly drew a great many ideas), I let go of all my misgivings to just play the game.

I was certainly in for a challenge—Concrete Man and his stage are particularly unfriendly to visitors without special weapons, and there was no chance for an E-Tank unless I got a Game Over and bought one from the shop with whatever screws I had gathered. I'm unaccustomed to fighting Tornado Man without the right weapon, and his stage is a PAIN to go back and replay after a Game Over. I've never beaten Plug Man using just the blaster without at least one E-Tank.

Turns out that all that practice of dodging between falling projectiles in the fights with Astro Man and Bass in MM8 paid off: dodging between Tornado Man's namesake projectiles has never looked nicer. I finally learned a good strategy for fighting Plug Man, so I was able to take him out without using an E-Tank. As for Concrete Man... well, that's the one battle that I truly regret not taping.
A few lives to spare, but not enough to get lazy. Failure is an option, but not a preferable one. First attempt brings Concrete Man down to low health, but still not enough to off him before he offs me. Each attempt is better than the last, but I'm still basically trading him shot for shot, and he always just barely gets the better of me. Then, in a tense moment, he has one bar of health left, and I've got only one hit left on me, and I turn to shoot him... and he freezes me in concrete. I frantically struggle to break free before he rams into me. Success! I turn and fire off the final shot...

...and then we both explode. Simultaneous explosion. It was the most brilliant death I've ever seen in a Mega Man game. And yet he still won! I got him the next time around, but boy oh boy did I earn my victory... Hey, and another spectator unexpectedly showed up late in the game to watch 'til the end of my marathon, so I had somebody to share the rest of the cool stuff with.

Mega Man 10 ~ 10:32 PM - 12:16 PM (1 hour 44 minutes, no breaks)

Readiness to count sheep instead of Sheep Man: Not as much as you'd think

Boss order: Blade, Pump, Commando, Chill, Sheep, Strike, Nitro, Solar
Jeez, save the worst for last. Blade Man first!? And then my arch-nemesis Pump Man, who caused more deaths in Hard Mode than any robot master should? Followed by Commando Man, whose stage is frustrating and whose boss battle I still can't do sans weapons without at least one E-Tank? Whoa, let's not get overwhelmed here. Just focus on Blade Man...

Nah, it's hopeless.

There were only two things saving me from giving up on the first level. For starters, I've played MM10 on all three difficulty modes as all three characters—the challenges in each difficulty mode, and how challenging they really are with Mega Man, have all gotten muddled in my mind, so imagine my happy surprise when I occasionally found a bottomless pit where something didn't pop out and kill me. More importantly, after beating all three Special Stages, it turns out you start off the game with the special weapons you collected there—they're not limited to the Challenges and Time Attack levels.
A weapon that deflects projectiles? Two weapons that shoot upwards? Suddenly I had a chance!

...I still died a lot.

Yet I prevailed! Somehow! It took a while to fell Blade Man, but things progressed progressively faster after that. Those fancy new special weapons were a nice, nice addition that saved my bacon, especially considering how lousy this particular boss order is. Does not come recommended; it's just not fun.

So there you have it. Ten Mega Man games in a day. I think I'll need to do a marathon of the five Game Boy games next, or possibly try my hand at the X series once I've gotten a bit better with the later games. This could become a tradition, you know.

Especially if they keep making more games. Mega Man 1-11 in 2011!

I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughtful reflections on the whole experience.


zharth said...

Congrats on Needle Man. Are there really any diehard MM8 fans in existence? I bet this would be fun to do with the X series. (Some of those fights with Sigma are tough, though.)

Michael Gray said...

Ice Man was definitely the hardest part of Mega Man when I did a run in that order. It took me a few days of recording to even _get_ to him.

I'm surprised Needle Man was a problem, though. As I recall, he was easy to fight first, but that could just be because I had discovered the wonders of Easy Mode. Getting used to the sliding ability on the GameCube Controller gave me more trouble than Needle Man.

Flashman85 said...

zharth: Thank you, thank you. Judging from my YouTube comments and a few of the reviews I've read, MM8 actually has a fan base, and Inafune himself said that he really liked the game. Baffles the heck out of me.

I'm thinking about doing the Game Boy games for my next marathon, then going after the X series (just 1-5, as those are the only canonical ones) once I've gotten some more practice on the later games.

Michael: If those floating platform enemies are uncooperative, there's just nothing you can do to get through Ice Man's stage.

Easy mode has something to do with it, I'd wager, but I was also having trouble getting the controls to respond to me. Those split-second fumbles cost me at least a quarter of my health, if not more.

A Philosophical Nerd said...

Congratulations on getting all the way through! I wouldn't really consider myself a huge fan of Mega Man 8, and it definitely ranks pretty low on my favorites list, but I still like it for what it's worth. The game itself (the parts that you play) are pretty fun -- except of course for the snowboarding section. And I don't mind the long cutscenes -- but then again, I love the Final Fantasy series so I love games with a huge story. But of course, the voice acting is just offensively bad, so it does make the cutscenes kind of hard to sit through.

I'm guessing you didn't include Mega Man & Bass because it isn't on the Anniversary Collection? Or did you just want to stick to the basic 10 games anyway?

Also, I was watching a video on the That Guy With the Glasses website, by a reviewer named Lord Kat. He actually said something very interesting. He said that platforming games are just puzzle games in disguise. Next time I play through a Mega Man game, I'm going to play through with that mindset and see how different I view the game.

A Philosophical Nerd said...

Oh, additionally, I tried to vote in your poll but it didn't register my vote. I voted for something sci-fi related. :D

Flashman85 said...

APN: There are parts of MM8 that I like well enough, but the parts I don't like, I REALLY don't like.

I love a good story, but it has to be integrated well with the gameplay. I want to PLAY video games, not WATCH them, and I especially don't want the game to flip-flop between half an hour of game and half an hour of movie. (I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy VIII!)

Chrono Trigger is a wonderful example of story and gameplay integration. It rarely feels like, "oh, it's time for a cutscene"; the dialogue and story elements flow naturally from the events of the game, and there are few places where there's more than 30 seconds of talking without being able to move around or do something.

Mega Man & Bass was left out of the rotation because it's arguably the hardest Mega Man game that would have belonged in that lineup, and I didn't want to risk a series of game overs so late in the run. Plus, the unexpected errand between MM3-4 ate up half the time it'd take to beat the game; if it had been earlier by the time I beat MM8, I might have considered it.

Next time, though... I intend to practice a little more so I can be ready to add that to the list.

Not all platforming games are puzzle games in disguise, but I generally agree with the sentiment. Platformers and puzzle games are my two favorite game genres, and I realized the connection... somewhere along the line.

Mega Man is especially puzzly, at least without being a bona-fide puzzle game like Braid, because there's a good deal of problem-solving involved in figuring out how to effectively use the special weapons, and where. MM2 and MM9 are probably the best examples.

Lastly, I voted in the poll on your behalf. ;)

TMNTgrl25 said...

After reading this, part of me really wants to tackle an X-series marathon (I can't even begin to try the classic series, because I've only beaten 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, and I'm pretty sure me beating 7, 8, and 9 were all flukes), though it'd have to be X-X6 because I haven't actually finished X7...and have little desire to do so...
Problem is, I've only beat X3 once, and X6 is not only the last, it's the longest, and the hardest, and by then the fatigue has set in....imagine trying to play MM8 last instead of MM10! Yeesh.

Even still, I like the note-taking during the marathon, helps to better reflect on things later. I approve. :D

Flashman85 said...

TMNTgrl25: The note-taking was key; I've done marathons in the past, but I really enjoyed making this a full-blown event.

Having recently replayed X1-4, I'm beginning to think I'll need more practice before tackling an X series marathon. I've beaten X1-6 at least a couple times, so it's not so much a question of being ABLE to do it so much as being able to EFFICIENTLY do it.

Item collection is a huge time-drain if not mapped out well in advance, and I'm not confident enough yet to be able to tackle most of the Sigma stages with fewer powerups under my belt, though I've been gradually pushing myself to make do with less.