This, ladies and gentlemen, was the spark.
Before I stumbled upon Mega Man, I gave little thought to the dynamics of video games, the impacts they had on culture, and pretty much any remotely interesting thing I ever would have had to say about video games.
Now before I get into this, let it be known that I’m only referring to the classic Mega Man series. No X series, no Battle Network, and definitely no Mega Man Soccer. Just the classic blue bomber in all his Wily-stopping, lemon-popping glory.
My first brush with the series came from Mega Man 10, a 2010 reboot of the classic NES series (although Mega Man 9 had come out only two years before). What I noticed immediately was the cast of interesting characters; each boss (referred to as “Robot Masters”) boasted a completely unique design, fight pattern, and weapon that you were able to steal from them upon their defeat.
I then quickly learned about the “weakness” mechanic, where each Robot Master took far more damage from specific weapons, making it worthwhile to tackle each level in a specific pattern based on which boss is weak to which weapon. These neat little gimmicks really grabbed my attention and kept me mind-numbingly happy for a couple months.
However, it wasn’t until I tried its predecessor, Mega Man 9, that I really started thinking about video games.
You see, before purchasing Mega Man 9, I only had the demo version. This demo only allowed you to play through one single stage and fight its corresponding boss. In Mega Man 9, our lucky winner for “demo stage” was a robot named Concrete Man.
So I jumped right in to his level, a large, construction-themed site in the middle of a forest, and began my demo of Mega Man 9. I lasted about 12 seconds before dying, but I just deemed myself unlucky and continuing trying exactly what I tried the first time. This inevitably led to the exact same death, and so on and so forth.
You see, right around the beginning of Concrete Man’s stage, there’s a small pitfall that can easily be jumped over. If you get too close to the edge, however, an enemy will spring up and attempt to attack you. If you constantly kept running and tried to jump over it right away, the enemy’s body would hit you in midair, which would stall your momentum and make you fall to your doom as a result.
This particular part of the level tormented me for weeks. But then I actually sat myself down and thought about it.
These stages have no time limits, so there’s no reason for me to do things so quickly/recklessly. What’s more, it wouldn’t make sense for the enemy to spring up as soon as I was over the pit, since it would be impossible for me to attack it or avoid it, so it must begin its rise only when I get close to the pitfall.
This hypothesis of mine turned out to be correct; I stopped in front of the pitfall and brutally murdered the enemy that had done the same to me so many times before.
In my triumph, I kept running forward, tried to leap over the next pitfall, and was killed by an enemy that sprung up from that pitfall. It did this by stalling my momentum and sending me plummeting to my death.
I was fairly salty, yes, but in that moment I knew that this was going to be the norm until I started taking the game seriously.
Because these were throwbacks to the old NES-era Mega Man, they weren’t particularly a walk in the park on the surface. Each level brought about a new challenge that required you to actually watch the game and deduct how you can overcome it whilst taking as little damage as you can muster.
These deductions would have to be made by watching how the enemies move, where you’re able to move (whether it’s making progress or avoiding damage), and how/if the various weapons and tools you’ve collected along the way would be of use. Analyzing your environment and arsenal became crucial to success very quickly.
Additionally, while the Robot Master weaknesses are an interesting concept on their own, I think the more strategic aspect of this gimmick really shines through in the game’s mini-bosses. You see, each Robot Master takes more damage from a specific weapon, as I mentioned before.
Mini-bosses are also weak to specific weapons, but rather than take more damage, these mini-bosses are weak to said weapons because of the way the weapons operate coupled with their own movement patterns.
For example, in Mega Man 9, there’s a mini-boss in Magma Man’s stage that consists of a large dragon covered in sentient fireballs. These fireballs drop off the dragon’s body as projectiles and harm Mega Man. If Mega Man had defeated Galaxy Man prior to this stage, however, he would then be equipped with the Black Hole Bomb, which is a weapon that absorbs and kills any and all enemies that are near it when it detonates.
By shooting the Black Hole Bomb in front of the dragon’s flight path, its body will move along the hitbox of the weapon, absorbing each fireball as it goes along, thereby completely nullifying any attack that the dragon has, making for an easy win.
It’s little tricks like these that made me fall in love with the Mega Man series. Even though it’s not uncommon for enemy and game patterns to play a crucial role in your success, I just find that the Mega Man series mixes so many different elements into their patterns, making for a game where you really have to think about what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. From boss and mini-boss weaknesses to the common stage gauntlet to considering the array of weapons at your disposal, Mega Man games are quite the alternative to puzzle boxes.
After my brush with the readily accessible PS3 titles, I decided I’d go back to the NES era and give the other games a try. Indeed, I had a blast dissecting each individual part of the level as I made my way to each stage’s Robot Master. From Elec Man’s daunting vertical tower to Gravity Man’s Mario Galaxy-esque gauntlet, the gimmicks and puzzles in these games were just straight up fun!
But there is one game in the NES era that stood out to me more than the others, and anyone who plays Mega Man already knows what’s coming up.
Call me unoriginal, but I just can’t get enough of Mega Man 2.
Mega Man 2 is widely agreed to be the best game in the series, and with everything considered, I find it hard to disagree. Everything I’ve said about the series so far rings true to this game too, of course, but there’s a few extra things about Mega Man 2 in particular that, for me, ups the quality tenfold.
I found that this game pushed me to my absolute platforming limits. Where I’ve praised the series so much for its analytical components, there’s a fair amount of reflex-based challenges that are present in the games as well, and I found Mega Man 2 to be the best for these challenges. Quick Man’s stage, for example, is littered with several insta-death lasers that fire at you from all directions, requiring you to move through the level as quickly as possible by using frame-perfect positioning, and it was exhilarating!
Then there’s Heat Man’s infamous block puzzle gauntlet. In Mega Man games, its common for at least one stage to have a block puzzle where you have to jump across blocks to progress across an area without a floor, but the challenge is that the blocks appear and disappear right from under your feet, and you typically need to analyze the pattern while also standing on these precarious platforms. Heat Man’s stage in particular has one of the most gruelling block puzzles in the series, expanding for what feels like half the level. I and many others are guilty of using Item-2 (a flying platform tool) to skip this particular part of the level, but if you died afterward you would need to take on this heart-racing puzzle blocko e roboto.
Crash Man’s stage, meanwhile, is home to the obligatory “vertical level,” which means that you progress in the level mainly by climbing ladders and platforms to the top of the stage. It’s not particularly difficult, but if you fall down then it’s one hell of a setback.
Finally, there’s a certain area in Dr. Wily’s Castle that requires you to utilize Item-1 (pictured) as a means of reaching the next area of the stage. The only problem is that you need a certain amount of energy to deploy enough platforms to reach the top. As such, if you don’t have enough energy, you won’t be able to reach it, and so you’ll have to farm for energy in prior areas of the stage in order to refill it and try again.
This is tough on its own, but you need to place them far enough away from one another in order to reach the ladder that leads to the next area. This requires you to be as close to the edge of each platform when placing the next, hoping that one slight mistake doesn't cost you the entire setup. It’s pure, pixel-perfect madness.
Puzzles and challenges in games like this are some of my favourite things in gaming, Mega Man 2 just happens to have some that I enjoy most of all. That said, each game has their own array of impressive level design in their own right, so the puzzles alone aren't enough for me to place the second entry above the rest.
But out of all the Mega Man games, only Mega Man 2 is home to the Metal Blade, which I consider to be yet another one of Mega Man 2’s catalysts.
The Metal Blade is the weapon obtained from defeating Metal Man, one of the Robot Masters. It is without a doubt the most overpowered weapon in the Mega Man series, as it can kill anything in a maximum of three of hits (bosses not necessarily included), it can fire in all eight directions for maximum coverage, and it hardly uses any energy.
Plowing through everything with the Metal Blade is fun on its own, but I’ve also come to foster another reason for the appreciation I have for it.
In the NES era, games had a reputation for being painstakingly difficult. They were often designed to be unforgiving commitments that would take the average gamer a good chunk of time to complete. And yet, in Mega Man 2, you had components like the Metal Blade that made the game far easier than it would normally be.
It almost feels like the Metal Blade is rebellious against the NES difficulty culture, smirking in the face of the hard mode gods as it partners with you instead, encouraging you to make full use of the tools that this deviation of a weapon gives you.
This may have quickly turned into “Why I Love: Mega Man 2,” but let it be known that my appreciation for the entire series is unwavering.