In the annals of history and everyone’s “which is the greatest Mega Man game?” list, the original game doesn’t get a lot of love. Perhaps rightfully so in most cases; it’s quite a bit more unforgiving than later entries and some of the stage designs literally feel cookie cutter in comparison. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a good time. And if it didn’t lay down the foundation for the eventual rise to greatness the series had…well, gaming wouldn’t be quite the same, now would it?
I have a small disclaimer: I used the Wii U’s ability to create save states heavily to get through Mega Man. There’s a lot of discussion surrounding the legitimacy of it’s use, and in my case it shrank what would have been some serious frustration. Quite frankly, I doubt I would have made it to the end otherwise. But that’s neither here nor there because I still enjoyed the game. Even if I cheated.
When anyone talks about a Mega Man game, it’s immediate game play hook seems to always be about how the ability to gain weapons from bosses begets a complex game of rock/paper/scissors. Rightfully so, I suppose; it’s an easy thing to latch on to when trying to explain it. But more so than that, I feel like Mega Man’s verbose arsenal is more useful in the more mundane traversal of levels.
In a lot of cases that means using them to access areas that you couldn’t otherwise, like using Gutsman’s ah, block pick-up thingie (still pretty unique after all this time) to open passageways. But even using the weapons for specific situations or certain enemy weaknesses is pretty gratifying. Elecman’s beams shoot up, down and ahead of you, which is helpful in clearing out places so you don’t get knocked back; or that you can use Iceman’s beam to freeze those frigging annoying Big Eyes so they don’t demolish your health bar before taking on a boss.
Maybe it was only me, but back in the day I hoarded my ammo so that I could use my guns on the bosses and the bosses alone. Using it to make the levels easier is a pretty liberating thing.
Which is a saving grace for Mega Man, because whenever I describe it to anyone, the world unforgiving comes up often. It’s a game that single-handedly became synonymous with the the instant death spike traps. And the monsters that hit you, causing you to fall to your untimely death into said spike traps. And those blocks that appear and disappear in a pattern…which often results in yet another death on those Goddamned spike traps!
I still haven’t forgiven Capcom for Yellow Devil yet.
Perhaps it’s a bit more noticeable as the level design in Mega Man is by far the weakest in the series. There are great moments to be had, for sure, but in a lot of cases it looks like someone at Capcom bought a how-to book on design that included a mold. There are many sections that repeat in their design verbatim. Under most circumstances that probably wouldn’t be very noticeable, but when you’re making repeat visits because the game is so hard, it becomes glaringly obvious.
Another interesting and often overlooked aspect of Mega Man is that it had a gun that was specifically used for creating momentary platforms, which is a Godsend for when you begin to tackle Dr. Wily’s lair. Most people took for granted that it doesn’t exist because Mega Man 2 had nothing like it and they made it a bigger deal in later games with the introduction of Rush. It’s innocuously hidden in Elecman’s stage, barely dwelt upon and infinitely useful. Very strange that it’s so forgotten about.
Then again, maybe it’s not; because Mega Man on the whole still feels like a b-side or oddity to the much grander games that people hold up as a shining example of 8-bit platforming done right. However, if Dr. Wily didn’t create those first six, super goofy robot masters, the ol’ Blue Bomber wouldn’t be where he is today.