Jun 7 2016
A Brief History of the NES Mega Man series
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In 1987, Capcom brought us Mega Man, a game that blossomed into a long running series lasting decades. It was the game that had the most sequels on the NES, with six different titles appearing on Nintendos 8-bit platform. He is known as Rockman in the Japanese market, which is a fitting term, as the music in all the games is very much a style of 8-bit rock and roll. Today, we are going to take a short journey through these six games.
The first game in the series, Mega Man, introduced us into the run and gun mechanics the series is known for. Mega Man himself got his "blue bomber" moniker due to the fact that the NES has many more blues in its color palette than any other color, allowing the designers to give him more detail if they made him blue. It also had the unique feature of allowing you to choose which stage to take on first, featuring six bosses to select from. The gameplay also had a "rock, paper, scissors" system. When you defeat a robot boss, you gain its weapon that you can use at any time, at the expense of using the weapon energy of that particular weapon. Different bosses are weak to different weapons. This gives the game a tactical feel in the middle and late game. However, the first boss you don't have any special weapon, and have to take it out with your standard buster cannon. While all bosses can be beat with the standard cannon, it requires memorization of boss movement and fire patterns. Certain bosses can take you out in as little as two hits. After you defeat the six inital bosses (and picked up a special hidden weapon in one stage that will be required later), you move on to the Wily Castle levels, where you re-fight the six bosses as well as some new bosses. The Yellow Devil is also fought here, considered the hardest boss in any Mega Man game to beat normally. However, there is a cheat you can use to tear through him if you find him too hard. While the original title wasn't wildly popular, it did sell well enough for Capcom to make a sequel.
And what a sequel it was. Mega Man 2, while significantly easier than the first game, also tightened up the controls just a tad and featuring a jump in graphics and stage design. The robot bosses have been boosted from 6 to 8, and the music quality and composition is absolutely outstanding. Instead of having a skippable special item, Mega Man 2 features three different items you collect in addition to the standard boss weapon when you beat certain bosses. The weapons are also a lot more varied than in the original game, however there is a flaw where the Metal Blade weapon is incredibly overpowered. Wily Tower is greatly expanded, and you fight an odd enemy at the end only to find Wily behind him as well in a lackluster final boss fight, although the journey is amazing.
The third game is another huge expansion in the series. Mega Man is given a slide ability, and the new stages are built to take advantage of this new ability. Also, the game has more flavor than the older games. Instead of the generic 3 items in the second game, you are given a robotic companion that transforms into three new items for you to use. You are also given a mysterious antagonist in Proto Man, who becomes more of a companion as the story goes on. However, even this early in the series, some of the bosses and boss weapons begin to feel weak. Top Mans special ability in particular, which Mega Man uses to ram his spinning body into foes (and take damage in the process!) is particularly strange. However, the games pros more than outweigh its flaws. After you beat the 8 new robot masters, you don't go to Wily castle. Instead you go through 4 remade levels of the 8 original ones, having to fight two robot masters from Mega Man 2 in each stage. This was an awesome moment that greatly expanded the game and was also a great throwback to the second game. Than you get to Wily Tower and fight some unique bosses that in some cases take up the whole screen. Of course, Wily is behind it all and is defeated at the end.
The fourth game is where things start to feel very stagnant. Mega Man gets a new ability, now able to charge his primary cannon. This ability is overpowered, and you can do better damage to many bosses with your cannon than with enemy weapons. However, they also bring back the ability to re-enter beaten levels that was only previously in Mega Man 1, which is a plus. The plot tries to give us a new villain in Dr. Cossack, but of course Wily is again behind it all. While still a fun romp, this game felt weak compared to other titles in the Mega Man series. That being said, it is still one of the best games on the NES, only weak when compared to its peers.
Than we have the fifth game. This game was surprisingly released on the NES, which seemed like a strange choice at the time considering the SNES had been on the market for a bit at this point. The new special ability in this game was hidden letters in each stage, which when collected, gives you the robot bird Beat. Beat was overpowered, doing massive damage to anything it targeted. However, the Mega Buster was powered down, which needed to happen as the overpowered buster made the game far too easy. The game attempts to paint Proto Man as the new villain, but yet again Wily is actually the main antagonist. The robot masters were improved over the previous game, however, at this point fans were clamoring for a 16 bit release for Mega Man.
That's not what they got though. Six was also released on the NES instead of the SNES. However, Capcom did not want to bring the game to the United States. Instead the game was brought here by Nintendo of America. The game was another leap forward, with a great new ability allowing Mega Man and Rush to fuse into one of three different forms. These forms were all very useful and allowed you to go through each stage in new ways, sometimes opening up branching paths, another first for Mega Man. Two of the bosses in this game were actually designed in a fan contest via Nintendo Power. Unfortunately, Capcom tried to give us a new bait and switch antagonist, with "Mister X" being in the forefront before revealing, guess who? That's right, Wily again behind the scenes.
That concludes the original six NES games. Capcom finally brought Mega Man to the SNES with Mega Man 7, and even started a new generation of titles with Mega Man X, but the original six games on the NES live on as a great legacy. While I may have been critical of certain aspects, all six games are a blast to play today, and are leaps and bounds ahead of much of the other games available on the NES. They are a challenge, but rewarding. If you haven't taken it upon yourself to play one of these games, load up Mega Man 2 and start with Wood Man, or Mega Man 3 and start with Top Man, and learn why this series became the legacy it is today.