Mega Man is a 2D side-scrolling run and gun platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System developed by Capcom. You play as the titular Mega Man, a robot redesigned to defend the world from the evil Dr. Wily and his army of six rogue robot masters. Well… I mean that’s the general gist of it anyway. The game itself doesn’t really explain this outside of perhaps the box or manual. All you need to know is that you’re Mega Man and you need to beat these six robots in order to get to the evil mastermind pulling the strings and stop him in order to make the world safe again. Simple stuff.
The general gameplay is also pretty simple. You can pick any of the six robot masters to fight in whatever order you’d like. First you’ll have to jump and shoot you way through their themed stages full of minions and hazards. You have a health bar that allows you to take a certain amount of damage, but beware of instant death traps like deadly spikes or bottomless pits. You start armed with only a simple gun that can have three projectiles on the screen at a time. If you make it through a stage you’ll end up in the boss room to fight the robot master. Defeating them will reward you with their weaponry. You can then use their powers freely, provided you have the ammunition. Certain abilities may be more or less effective against other bosses. In the stages you can find a few pickups as well. Some are simply there for score, but others can refill your health, refill your ammo, and sometimes even give you an extra life. Losing a life will set you back at your last checkpoint, but losing all your lives will force you to restart your stage progress or pick another stage. Once you defeat all of the robot masters you’ll then be able to access a final set of stages in a fixed order, ultimately leading to the final confrontation with Dr. Wily himself.
I ended up enjoying some aspects of Mega Man. The visuals and concept are very cool. The music is kind of catchy. The gameplay is pretty simple and consistent. I do like the aspect of trying to figure out which bosses you can beat with your standard buster and then using the other powers to find their weaknesses. It’s a neat mechanic that makes the game more easily accessible than one where you have to go through in a linear fashion because if you get stuck on one stage you can come back later with better weapons and see if that helps. I also like how the different weapons also make just generally getting through the stages a bit easier in parts if you use them wisely. You even get this cool magnet gun that just creates temporary platforms for you, which can make a lot of sections easier but is still limited by an ammo count. I also think Guts Man’s ability is interesting in that it lets you throw rocks rather than just shooting a gun. It’s definitely a challenging game that demands precision yet has short enough stages to keep it from feeling too overwhelmingly cheap upon deaths and game overs.
However, I have a variety of gripes here. It certainly sticks out from the other five NES Mega Man titles, but being the first one means you kind of have to let that slide since it was before those staples of the franchise were the staples. I still think the scoring system is odd, though. It doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. You don’t seem to get extra lives based on it or have any way to save the scores. Plus you can grind out points on constantly spawning enemies so it seems like a vestigial design element from the arcade era. It’s not a big deal, but I noticed it was odd. A more pressing issue is the game’s rough difficulty. The stages can be brutal, sometimes even with bullshit checkpoints, but they are short enough that once you get the hang of them they aren’t too bad to get through again even though you clearly can already do it. The bigger annoyance with it is that a lot of the bosses are ridiculously difficult. They have patterns of action as well as reaction that are hard to get a handle on and can kill you at full health in as little as three hits. You can try to learn the patterns, but you’ll most likely die trying to do so and have to redo the entire stage just to practice more. Some seem to be only reasonably beatable with their weaknesses, which is a terrible realization after taking your time to work your way through their level. The game also is rather glitchy. Some glitches are just visual or slow the game down, but there are a few that can be exploited to your advantage or can end up being a disadvantage. For examples, you can pause and unpause rapidly to land multiple hits on enemies with some attacks, but the same can be applied to enemies attacking you as well. Also, pausing and unpausing will send you back to the spot where you were on the screen, but if you were on a ladder you will start falling unless you hit up to grab onto the ladder again. I also had a strange glitch where I got hit while going into a boss door and it knocked me backwards out of what is usually an inescapable room, yet the boss life meter and music still started up. So the game isn’t perfect. I also have a mild complaint about the controls. They work and are consistent, but Mega Man feels very heavy and less responsive running than he does when jumping. You can adjust but it can be tough at times is all. It’s also be nice to hear a bit of a tip on the unorthodox usage of the Guts Man weapon rather than having you just figure it out yourself based on how the fight went. And would it kill you to have a password system? Without that or a way to save, you have to beat the whole thing in one go.
So even though I did cheese it a bit with saves and the built-in glitchy exploits, I DID still beat the game. Mega Man is tough. It’s certainly an interesting look at where the series began and fans of the franchise should definitely check it out, but it’s best suited to fans of more hardcore and retro style games. You can get it in some collections or digitally in some eshops for a reasonable price. I suppose I’d recommend it for fifteen bucks or less. It may not be the best in the bunch, but it’s still a classic. Besides, I have a feeling we haven’t see the last of that pesky Dr. Wily.