Monday, March 14, 2011

Stop Loving Mega Man 2

A few weekends ago I got together with a large group of friends from my college video game club for a gaming reunion. There were board games, and card games, and video games, and there were enough people for multiple games to break out at once. At one point, someone booted up the Wii and started playing Mega Man 9. Naturally, I couldn't resist getting in on the action, so we played through to the end and had a small audience for most of the time.

We went on to do other things afterwards, but there came a time when this same small group wasn't engaged in anything specific. I booted up the Wii again and we started through Mega Man 10. Later in the evening, someone else busted out the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the GameCube and played through the original Mega Man. Followed directly by Mega Man 2.

I had no idea we'd be doing a spontaneous mini-marathon. I swear it wasn't planned.

This is the fourth time since the summer that I've watched or played through Mega Man 2 with someone. This is highly unusual, even for me; playing the same game twice in a year is pushing it, even for Mega Man. Repeated exposure over a short period of time has brought me to realize something about this game, which is so often cited as the best game in the series and the greatest NES game of all time: Anyone who makes such claims has forgotten what it's like to play Mega Man 2 for the first time.

There is no good place to start--all the easy bosses have tricky stages, and all the easy stages have difficult bosses. A Game Over will destroy your entire stockpile of Energy Tanks, which can be particularly devastating in the final two stages, which are nothing but boss battles. Sprite flicker is problematic, making one key boss battle almost impossible for a newbie to figure out what's going on. Several sections require some puzzle solving with one particular special weapon, and if you run out of energy while trying to figure things out, those areas are ALWAYS the worst areas of the game to grind for powerups.

Without exception, all four of my recent exposures to Mega Man 2 prominently suffered from all four of these problems, and all were nearly derailed entirely by at least one of these problems. It's striking to me that The Greatest Mega Man Game of All Time and The Best NES Game Ever contains such critical, game-ruining flaws that are apparently so routinely encountered, yet barely recognized in the reviewing community--it's not even that they're glossed over and forgiven; sprite flicker notwithstanding, they're not mentioned at all. Not even by the haters, of which there are about five (who evidently don't have a high regard for NES games in general).

There are games such as Chrono Trigger that have received universal acclaim and--after frequently being hailed as The Greatest Game of All Time--intense scrutiny. Even the most cynical and nitpicky reviewers, who have torn the game apart, called out every possible flaw, and stooped as low as to give Chrono Trigger an 8 out of 10, seem to agree that the game is at least "pretty good." After considering all the angles, the matter of Chrono Trigger being The Greatest Game of All Time comes down to little more than personal gaming preferences; inherently detracting design flaws or technical issues are nonexistent, or minimal enough to be overlooked.

How, then, does a game like Mega Man 2 go so long without anybody noticing its potentially game-ruining flaws? I've read or skimmed through numerous reviews on GameFAQs, GameSpot, IGN, and assorted other gaming websites and blogs, but I can't find any evidence that anyone else on the planet has ever dealt with these issues. This leads me to several possible conclusions, the most likely of which are:

- My experiences with the game in the past few months are just an improbable series of flukes, the likes of which have never been experienced by anyone else
- The reviewing community has been playing Mega Man 2 for so long that experience and nostalgia have blinded them to the presence of two decades of better games

I might be willing to accept the first conclusion if my only issue with Mega Man 2 was that, on at least two occasions in recent memory, someone ran out of energy for the only weapon that works against the final boss, and had to resort to standing under slow-dripping lava until they had died enough times to get a Game Over, and could restart the stage with full weapon energy (losing all their E-Tanks in the process). Unfortunately, I also take into account sound quality, graphics, play control, game balance, replayability, and overall polish, and Mega Man 2 is outclassed by too many of its successors in these areas for any truly objective fan to not take notice.

If we were looking solely at the first three Mega Man games, then I would tell you that, yes, without question, MM2 is the best in the series. It improves on its predecessor in almost every way, the weapon selection is excellent, the enemies are memorable, the music is immensely catchy, there's a lot of nice little touches, and it's just plain fun. Later games in the series manage to clean up and fine-tune any inherently detracting design flaws and technical issues present in MM2 so that one's opinion of the game can come down to little more than one's personal gaming preferences...but we're not counting those. We're only looking at the first three.

It's apparent to me that most of the reviewers are, in fact, only looking at the first three Mega Man games when deciding which one is best: MM3 is the only other game in over two decades of Mega Man to receive anywhere close to the number of votes for Best Game in the Series (I.e. more than one or two votes), and as anyone who's suffered through my whiny video playthrough of MM3 can tell you, that game is even less qualified to hold the title. Only nostalgia and lack of exposure to other Mega Man games can explain such allegiance to a game with so many unhelpful weapons, widespread glitchiness, and an incredible level of repetition--roughly 25% of the game is spent replaying old stages and refighting old bosses.

On a whim, I decided to hold a Mega Man-related poll on this blog. If MM2 and 3 are universally agreed upon as the two best games in the entire Mega Man series, then please explain these numbers to me:

I only voted once, I swear.

Join me next time for my analysis of these shocking results.


JoeReviewer said...

I think what happens a lot with MM2 is people confusing "Favorite" with "Best", which are by no means synonyms. Several of my favorite games I am perfectly willing to admit that they are not the best games out there, but that's where nostagia comes in. Yoshi's Island, Mega Man 5, Kirby Squeak Squad all have thier flaws, but that doesn't mean they can't be my some of my favorite games over possible better ones. However, nostagia should not play into the rating given in a review unless the factor is clearly shown and displayed for the audience. I think some people forget that.

There's also the fear of shunning if for disagreeing with a widely held claim, but I support you. These nostagic gamers will eventually be replaced by ones with no previous experience to these games and will have a fresh outlook on it.

Though, these are the same people who think that Haloz iz teh best game EVAR!!!1! lolz. Oh boy... :)

A Philosophical Nerd said...

I love Mega Man 2, sure. But I love every game in the series for different reasons (even 7 and 8). However, my favorite game in the classic franchise is Mega Man 3. I don't necessarily say it's the best but it's definitely my favorite. A couple of factors can account for this.

Mega Man 3 increased the size of the game with new types of stages to play. After beating the eight robot masters, you they revamped four of the robot master stages and re-introduced the Mega Man 2 robot masters that you had to beat (albeit more difficult due to increased size and speed in the Doc Robots -- and disappointingly, you didn't get the robot master weapons for defeating them). Then you had to fight one-on-one with Break Man (aka we all know who). Mega Man 2 didn't really offer anything new in terms of gameplay, just two additional robot masters you had to destroy overall.

Secondly, I don't generally tend to fixate on robot master weapons. They're just a utility to me. The fun comes in the variety of challenges you have to overcome, not necessarily in how cool the weapons are. Now believe me, I completely understand someone who loves the weapons and will enjoy the game that much more if the weapons are great and varied. However, it's not really been that way to me.

Now, I know you've said that Mega Man 4 is your favorite game in the franchise. If I had to choose, my three favorites would probably be 3, 4, and 2 (in that order). Mega Man 4 introduced a new gameplay mechanic in that there were now two fortresses you had to fight through, thereby also increasing the length of the game. Mega Man 5 and 6 just kind of feel like re-hashes of 4 because you had two fortresses to fight through, and Dr. Wily was still behind everything (framing Proto Man and dressing up as Mr. X).

Perhaps Mega Man 3 just offers the best source of nostalgia for me, also explaining why it's my favorite in the series.

Matt Link said...

It sounds like what you've experienced with MM2's popularity is much the same as what I've experienced with MM3's over the years, and I'll even point out that we even share some of the same background as far as how we experienced Mega Man games go. Namely:

1). MM2 was the first MM game I heard of.
2). MM4 was the first MM game I ever played.
3). After much play of all the games, MM4 definitely comes out on top as my top pic, and has been ever since :)

All that said, I recall renting MM4, absolutely loving it, and wanted more. Then came MM2, which I rented and also loved (albeit for different reasons), and again yearned for more.... Then one day I ended up with MM3 for a long time, and it was the only one I had access to for years. I played it to death, loved the inclusion of Protoman and the epicness of the ending, although something definitely did seem off about it... something that I didn't experience with either 2 or 4. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was, although you've done an excellent job explaining it in your videos.

Many years later, I was surprised to learn that so many people find MM3 to be their favorite one/best game of the series (3 is not exactly in my top 8... seriously). I also encountered a fair number of MM2-is-GOD fans as well, although I'm much more understanding about that game than 3. In addition, a heartbreakingly alarming number of people I encountered hated MM4 (most reasons I've seen by reviewers are simply variations of "MM1, 2 & 3 were here first, older is better, and MM4 has nothing new to offer... which we both know is total bologna.)

Nostalgia is a very powerful drug, and it's both a great and bad tool for these games. Great because it shows just how much charm these games really have and it gives light to their true lasting power in our minds and hearts. And bad because, like you pointed out, it paints rose colored gloggles over some detracting rainy sky spots in our memories... which in MM's 1-3 are quite a few. MM2 does hold a special place with me, although you're absolutely right, it does carry quite a few red flag flaws.

I guess for me, what it all comes down to is how our experiences with each game shape our view and the impressions they leave on us.... for better or worse. While it's a shame that more MM fans don't acknowledge the amazing twists and turns the series has taken since its early "prime", everyone's definitely going to have their own preferences, albeit like you said, many will be only looking at a select few. I'm glad to have come across someone who shares this insight in the MM games and doesn't let the widespread opinions on the series stand unchallenged. Backlash or not, I think it's well worth it!

Anyways, excellent post, can't wait to read your followup on this when it comes :)

Flashman85 said...

Joseph: ..."Kirby Squeak Squad"?

I think you're exactly right about favorite vs. best, and that's a point I was going to bring up in this post, but decided to hold off on. I get the feeling the reviewing community is heavily biased and usually makes no attempt to be objective. Not that they have to, but still.

APN: See, I've got no problem with people who love a game despite its flaws, or who acknowledge what one person perceives as a flaw, but don't mind it. (Case in point: Random battles in RPGs.) Nostalgia plays a part in why MM4 is my favorite, but even from a more objective standpoint, little to none of the criticism I've ever heard about it seems very valid to me, because it's more about personal preference than actual flaws.

Matt Link: Uncanny! Thank you, and I think you're right on the money and/or reading my mind.