Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mega Man Marathon: A Reflection

Yesterday I gave an extensive recap of my 16-hour Mega Man Marathon, which covered all ten games in the main series. While yesterday's post primarily focused on that which was observable--timing, stage order, and performance--I wanted to spend a little time going over some of the realizations and musings I had along the way.

It may surprise you to know that after 16 hours of almost nonstop Mega Man, after applying the final blow to Dr. Wily's final diabolical machine and saving the world for good (at least, until the next sequel), I didn't feel the sense of completion I had expected. You watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there's a sense of accomplishment and finality. You play the ten main Mega Man games, and you feel like there should be more.

Aside from the fact that there's plenty more games you could add to the mix, the Mega Man games don't have the continuity that Lord of the Rings does...at least, not at first glance. As I played through the whole series in a day, I came to see more continuity than previously realized.

The first game sets the stage: Good robot vs. mad scientist. Good robot wins. From there, the story keeps building. Mad scientist wants revenge; he's defeated, and turns good. Except he's not really good, and turns traitor on you. His castle is destroyed, and he is presumed dead. A mysterious mad Russian scientist steps in, and it's revealed that the old mad scientist was manipulating him all along. That's a nice little 4-game plot arc right there.

Then, once things are going well again, the hero's mysterious brother from the past two games shows his true colors and kidnaps the hero's creator, a good scientist. Turns out the old mad scientist is at it again, and the real mysterious brother steps in to set things right.

Then a big robot tournament is held where a mysterious old guy claims he's been manipulating the mad scientist all along--everything that happened from the very beginning of the series has been according to this guy's plans. Except... it's just the old mad scientist after all. He's finally captured and thrown into jail, but his robots break him out.

The hero is then betrayed by a "good" robot who's secretly working for the mad scientist, and when the hero's creator is almost killed in the process, the hero swears to settle the score once and for all. Just seconds before the hero can violate his own programming and kill the mad scientist, the traitorous robot rescues the mad scientist and escapes. The hero returns home in frustration as the mad scientist's castle writhes in flames.

For the first seven games, there is a clear story progression, and the gameplay follows suit. Gradual improvements are made--audio quality increases, graphical errors disappear, and the visuals become more and more detailed. The mechanics become more streamlined with each installment, and new features are introduced at a steady pace while old features are phased out as necessary. As you marathon Mega Man 1-7, you can truly feel the games growing and evolving.

To that point, try playing any given Mega Man game from 1-7, then skipping one of the sequels and trying the next one in line. For example, play MM4 and then jump to MM6. There'll be some differences, but the games will be similar enough that it won't be too jolting an experience. However, if you skip two or more games in the sequence, things will be different indeed. The jump from MM4 to MM7 is a big one, and there's been so much plot and gameplay devolpment between the games that it can be jarring to play that way.

I bring this up because I realized for the first time that we're missing two games between MM7 and MM8. Barring MM9 (which is an exception because of its return to the series' 8-bit roots), no sequel in the entire Mega Man franchise changes as much from its predecessor as MM8 does. I understand now that part of my distaste for MM8 stems from the fact that there's no gradual transition into MM8 to prepare me for the sudden gameplay changes and the non-sequitur plot that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, and is virtually never heard from again.

The way MM9 was handled makes much more sense to me now--the changes in MM8 were out of control, as far as I'm concerned, and MM9 attempted to return the series to a place that everybody could relate to. The plot was all very self-contained, and it was a nice introduction for new fans.

This leads me to what I now understand to be my biggest problem with Mega Man 10: Instead of capitalizing on the fresh start that MM9 offered, the game did absolutely nothing to advance the broader Mega Man storyline, and the changes that were made weren't innovative or helpful so much as different for the sake of being different.

That's why my Mega Man Marathon didn't end on that accomplished Lord of the Rings note: A seven-game story arc followed by three games that pretty much stand alone is like watching Star Trek I, II, III, and IV, and then popping in a random episode or two of TOS to cap off the event. The real climax of the event had already passed, and I was just playing through what was more or less filler.

If Capcom makes a Mega Man 11 that meaningfully links back to MM8-10, then that "filler" feeling will surely dissipate. Don't get me wrong; I still really enjoy MM9, and the ending is one of the most satisfying endings out of any Mega Man game, but it's surrounded by my two least favorite games in the main series, and does little to influence or be influenced by them.

Part of the downshifting shock also comes from the last two games being significantly shorter than the ones before them. If you're playing at a consistent skill level across MM1-8, you'll find that each game is as long as, if not a little longer than, the one before it. MM7 borders on being too long for a single-sitting Mega Man game, but as I mentioned yesterday, MM8 crosses that boundary. Suddenly having two games in a row that can be completed in an hour was a welcome break, but the games felt that much more episodic and not as epic in scope as a result.

Overall, though, the marathon was a success. I enjoyed myself, I learned some new tactics, I got more practice on the games I don't play so often, and I got to share parts of my crazy day with other people. This was also a good warmup for the next marathon, because it was proof that, by sheer force of insanity-powered will, I can survive 16 hours of Mega Man.


A Philosophical Nerd said...

And make sure to tell us how your next marathon goes. It was a nice change of pace to hear your thoughts on a more philosophical level than simply the gameplay aspects of your marathon.

Flashman85 said...

I will, thanks!