Mega Man
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    • JP 12/17/1987
    • US December 1987
    • UK 12/13/1989
Score: 80%

This review was published on 06/20/2013.

Mega Man is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the very first Mega Man game ever made. Up until this point, Capcom primarily specialized in arcade games, and almost all of their console releases were merely ports of their own arcade titles. Mega Man was one of Capcom's first attempts at making a video game exclusively for home consoles. In Japan he's actually known as Rockman, but that didn't seem appropriate for the West, so his name was localized as Mega Man. Keiji Inafune is credited as having created Mega Man's character design, though the man himself says otherwise. Whether the man is being modest or honest, what is true is that the Mega Man franchise owes a lot to Inafune. Nobody knew at the time that Mega Man would grow to become one of the most prolific video game franchises of all time. In fact, if you were to judge by the sales, the original Mega Man didn't do too well. It wasn't until Mega Man 2 that the robot became a huge success. Regardless of sales and acclaim, the first Mega Man was an excellent game at the time. Game design wasn't terribly advanced in 1987, so a game with the design sensibilities of Mega Man was a rarity. The first Mega Man isn't the best one, but it's far from the worst.

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Dr. Thomas Light, a Santa Clause lookalike who is the lead scientist in the field of robotics, created two housekeeping robots to help him around the house. These two robots were designed to resemble a boy and girl and their names were Rock and Roll, respectively. Rock and Roll, baby! Dr. Light is assisted by a scientist who resembles Albert Einstein named Dr. Albert Wily, and together, they built six other robots. These robots were designed to help mankind in tasks of an industrial nature, such as construction and demolition. All is not well in this futuristic paradise, however, as Dr. Wily grows jealous of Dr. Light's reputable reputation. Dr. Wily goes rogue by stealing the six robots he created with Light and reprogramming them to do his bidding. Naturally, his bidding is total world domination. After this, Rock asks Dr. Light if he can help stop Wily from realizing his evil ambitions. Light reluctantly agrees and converts Rock into a fighting robot. That's when Rock became known to the world as Mega Man. The blue bomber's adventures begin here. Mega Man's tale is one that almost every gamer is familiar with today, even if the game itself didn't push for much of a story. It's a classic tale of robots and mad scientists.

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You control Mega Man, a blue robot armed with a gun on his arm. Mega Man's movement can be controlled with the d-pad and he can jump or shoot by pressing the two available face buttons. Mega Man can even jump and shoot at the same time! He can't duck, though. Mega Man can rapid fire an unlimited amount of pellet shots with his buster, though only three can be on screen at any time. Unlike games like Mario, there is no run button, so Mega Man always travels at the same pace. This makes the jumping challenges in Mega Man a lot easier, because you don't have to worry so much about momentum. One thing Mega Man had over many other games of the time is incredibly precise controls. It's very easy to control Mega Man, both on the ground and in midair. Mega Man can control the velocity of his jumps with the d-pad, allowing you to more easily make jumps. The one downside to Mega Man's controls is that he tends to slip slightly after moving, which can be a big problem when dealing with precarious platforms. That problem is fixed in future Mega Man games, but you'll have to deal with it in this one. Other than the annoying slipping, Mega Man has solid controls.

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There are six stages with six bosses to defeat in Mega Man. Unique at the time was the concept of having a stage select available to you right at the beginning of the game. The six stages can be played in any order you so desire, though some orders are certainly better than others. In an age where almost all action games progressed in a linear fashion, it was refreshing to see something like Mega Man change things up a bit. The stage select adds a lot of replay value to the game, because you can replay the game a number of times to try out different stage orders. Completing the stages in a different order greatly impacts the game's difficulty, so it's worth it to do a lot of experimenting. As convenient as the stage select feature is, Mega Man doesn't have a save system or even a password system. The stage select slightly alleviates that problem, but it's a bummer that you don't even have a password system in this one. All the future Mega Man on the NES and SNES used a password system, and that would have sufficed here. As it is, you have to beat the game in one sitting. What a draconian concept. Also, despite the stage select, the game isn't totally nonlinear, because the stages themselves are still mostly linear affairs. There's nothing wrong with that, especially since Mega Man has some great stage design. As a designer, there are certain things you can only accomplish through linear stage design, and Mega Man accomplishes those things with flying colors.

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Mega Man's special power is that he can absorb special powers. Every time Mega Man defeats a boss, he permanently steals that boss' weapon. This is the reason why replaying the stages in a different order drastically changes things; you'll be able to take on different stages and different bosses with different weapons. In this sense, Mega Man sort of gets stronger as he defeats bosses. He doesn't actually get stronger, but having access to more weapons means he can deal with more situations. Mega Man's normal buster is fairly weak and can only shoot straight forward. This is remedied by the special weapons. Weapons like the Elec Beam can damage enemies above and below Mega Man, on top of doing way more damage than his regular shots. Some enemies can only be destroyed by certain weapons, and some weapons have a unique effect, like how the Ice Beam can freeze enemies, or how the Guts Arm can carry large blocks that block your path. The catch is that each weapon has a limited supply of ammo. You can replenish ammo by picking up power-ups during the stages, but these refills are few and far between. Proper care must be taken whenever using special weapons, as running out can put you in bad situations. Strategic use of these weapons makes the game far easier, so it's in your best interest to experiment with them all. It's this innovative concept that gives Mega Man its allure.

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The bosses are the main stars of the show in Mega Man. You have six in all; Guts Man, Cut Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, Fire Man, and Bomb Man. Out of all the bosses in the Mega Man series, these are probably the most iconic. Each robot has a unique power and weakness, sort of like rock-paper-scissors. That's one of the inspirations behind the Rockman name. Beating the bosses without utilizing their weaknesses is a tough proposition, but it's something you have to do at least once, because you start the game with no weapons. Once you manage to defeat a single boss, though, that all changes. At that point, it becomes a puzzling game of riddles as you try to figure out who is weak to what. It all comes down to trial and error, but you can try to make accurate guesses on potential weaknesses based on the boss' themes. For example, you don't have to be a genius to figure out that Fire Man is weak to Ice Man. The others aren't quite so obvious, but that's one instance where deductive reasoning can save the day. The thing about weaknesses is that they tend to kill all the challenge in killing a boss, because they die really quick. By quick, I mean like five seconds or less. It almost feels like cheating. That's why some people go for a buster only challenge, wherein they attempt to complete the whole game with the regular gun. If you're looking for a ridiculously difficult experience, then give it a go. For most people, though, the game is hard enough as is. The bosses of Mega Man are brimming with personality and are fun to fight.

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Completing all six stages will open Dr. Wily's castle. It's at this point that the game's difficulty ramps up considerably. The six normal stages have somewhat of an even difficulty across the board, but Wily's fortress will test all the skills you developed on your journey. Something else to note is that none of the six stages were designed in a manner to require the use of a special weapon, in order to prevent players from getting permanently stuck if they did stages in a particular order. That's called good design. The good design continues in Wily's domain. Because you had to beat all six bosses to gain access to Wily's domain, that means you have access to all the special weapons; therefore, Wily's place is designed with that in mind. There are many instances where you'll need to use the Guts Arm to destroy certain blocks that bar your way. By the way, you can't select the order in which you do the final stages; it's all predetermined. There are around 4 stages in a row and each one has a huge, towering boss at the end of it. These bosses also have weaknesses, but you absorb no powers from them upon their defeat. Obviously, it all culminates in you having a final battle with Wily himself.

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There is a single weapon that you don't get from bosses called the Magnet Beam. This one can be found in a stage as an item. It's more of a support item than a weapon, because it shoots platforms for Mega Man to jump on, as opposed to harming foes. There's a major oversight by the development team here: you need the Magnet Beam to get across certain areas in Wily's fortress. It's possible to miss the Magnet Beam, so if that's the case, then you're stuck. The only way out of this situation is to trigger a Game Over by dying a bunch of times; this will take you back to the stage select screen. Once there, you can revisit old stages to search for the Magnet Beam, and after you grab it, you can go back to Wily's fortress to give it another shot. While it's good the game gives you a way to rectify the matter, this is still a bad case of bad design. It's clumsy stuff like this that'll remind you that this game was made in 1987. Other than that, the final stages in Mega Man are fairly decent.

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Mega Man isn't quite as good as future entries in the series, but it's a lot better than you might expect. The first game is arguably the most memorable, sporting the most iconic robot designs and some of the catchiest music ever. Where it falls short is the controls and level design; the thing where Mega Man slips slightly after moving gets irritating really quickly, and a lot of the levels have a tendency to repeat themselves. Additionally, there is the Magnet Beam mishap that is sure to confound newcomers. The lack of a password system is also a problem, because Mega Man is a bit longer than the average NES game and it kind of needs one. Just about all of these faults are remedied in the later games, showing that the development team learned from their mistakes and got better over time. Even with these issues, though, the original Mega Man is one of the better games released on the NES, especially in 1987.

Word Count: 2,052

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