Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

 


 

Mega Man

 

According to Nintendo Power, I just had to play this game. Of course it didn't say that directly to me as I read through its pages. It didn't have some sprawling banner stating as such. But what Nintendo Power did above all else was build hype in a very unassuming way. That's why that periodical existed in the late 1980s: to get kids like me to read and become aware of all the great Nintendo games that were coming out for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Every kid read it. Getting kids excited was something the magazine didn't even have to try to do. All it had to do was this:

 

 

Summer of 1989. A Nintendo Power cover page was full of all sort of wonder. 

 

That specific cover was what made me run out and rent Mega Man II. For anyone of age eight or nine, it was this type of stuff that got them excited. I know it did me. All Nintendo Power had to do was talk about something and post some screenshots. If it was on the cover, it was a must-play.

I couldn't buy Mega Man, but by this point (the late 1980s) renting was a common and viable option. Going to a rental store for videogames, a dead practice these days, was like a kid in a candy store, an equally dead practice. A wall full of games and colorful box art for the Nintendo and Atari systems, eying each one and flipping them over to squint at the screenshots could make any kid lose an hour without noticing. I always just looked at the screenshots. Who every really read what the games were about? To a kid, you could tell a lot from the amazing graphics.

 

Amazing!

 

The rental store I first frequented was as stereotypical 1980s as you could imagine. Swirl-art and purple and green carpet, neon along the walls and movie posters of all the hit1980s movies, like Pumpkinhead and Surf Nazis Must Die. You know, the classics. The big wall of games was all along the right wall as soon as you entered and were only halfheartedly alphabetized. I can remember going there only a few times in the late 1980s and only slightly remember the specifics of renting games and movies. A few kids movies there, some NES titles there. Mega Man was one I don't remember specifically, but I only remember playing and seeing the Mega Man boxes at the store (specifically the third and fourth ones for some reason).

For its time, there wasn't a whole lot like Mega Man. Considering that I was still pretty early getting into the NES library, I was easily amazed by just about everything. Mega Man, though, was pretty darn distinct. There wasn't any other series quite like it. It had the shooting fun of Contra with the intense platforming of Ninja Gaiden and awesome boss fights of Castlevania. It also had a distinct sense of style and the "choose your level" aspect from the beginning was something I'd never seen before. The controls were precise and bosses distinct (as well as their respective stages). Mega Man II just rocked.

 

 8-Bit Platforming Power!

 

Wait...was it Mega Man II? After a while, all the Mega Man games began to blend in with each other. I couldn't tell you which robot bosses were in which games, which levels I remember specifically or even the final boss fight (which I only made to twice, once in Mega Man II and again in Mega Man 8 on the Playstation). What I do remember, though, were the sensations. Out of all the videogames of the 8-bit era (and a tad in the future generations of gaming), Mega Man is less a specific memory of all the ingredients and more like recalling that excellent meal you had the night before - the texture, the aroma and the taste.

Specifically for Mega Man, it was the sounds. From the blips of Mega Man's blaster to the death tone of your little blue bomber hitting spikes, I recall all specially. Then you have the music. Capcom games were full of great, chiptune music that were the standards of the era. Here's Mega Man 2's opening title:

 

 For 8-bit gaming, this type of stuff was epic.

 

The Mega Man games were some of the best balanced titles of their respective eras. The controls were always spot-on (Capcom arguably the best platformer-developer of all time) and were consistently walking the line of fun to play, but hard to master. They were challenging, not impossibly cheap, and with those precise controls and straightforward gameplay the only person you could honestly blame was yourself.

The Mega Man games were a battle of attrition. You had limited lives and continues, had to figure out the best way to go through all the stages in a certain order and always had to write down annoying passwords when you run out of continues. They was frustrating with their large bosses, small-platforms to jump on to and instant-kill traps. It threw everything at you - but it did it with class. It never felt "cheap" or "impossible." Not like some games from the NES era. It took a little and gave a little and no matter how much you might die and have to rewrite passwords and try a different stage or three, you still kept coming back. 

 

   

One thing that changed massive is the art. In the 80s, nobody knew the wiser. On the left is the typical Mega Man boxart, but years later the actual design of Mega Man revealed itself.

 

The last Mega Man game I played, not including the Mega Man X series which I also enjoy a lot, was Mega Man 8 way back on the Playstation. I still have it, actually, as it's my second favorite platformer on that system. Like Mega Man 7 on the Super Nintendo before it, the levels and bosses just grew bigger and bigger.

Then Capcom did a fun thing. A year or so back they released Mega Man 9, and more recently Mega Man 10. Instead of going for the "bigger and better" approach, they intentionally went back to 8-bit style. Graphics, music, design...even the crappy box art.

But you know what's funny? I can't recall ever beating a Mega Man game. Yeah, pretty odd, isn't it? I've played all of them, I recall the emotion I had when I made it to the final boss in a couple and I know I beat a the first two Mega Man X titles, but I never remember beating any of the original Mega Man titles. Here I am writing a piece about my experience with Mega Man, but it's almost bittersweet. I've enjoyed the games, but I've never completed them.


In this picture, Dr. Wiley (that's Mega Man's nemesis) expresses his dissatisfaction in my gaming ability.
 

I know for a fact I could never do it today. When I was young and had the time, not to mention the better "gaming reflexes" that you have a child, I probably should have beaten at least one of them. Now I'm old, impatient and horrible at platformers. I've tried. I tried that Mega Man 9 demo and couldn't get anywhere in it. I tried going back and even playing one of the easier (that's relatively speaking, of course) Mega Man X games and had difficulty as well. You realize how much you've deteriorated in playing videogames by simply going back and playing older ones. I'm 31 and I officially suck at platformers.

At least I'm not alone, though. The challenging aspects of the Mega Man games are lost on today's younger generation used to respawns and regenerating health - a "oops, try again, no worries" approach to games that no longer have "game over" screens. Mega Man, for me, is the epitome of what a game series should be. Difficult but fun. Call it tough love if you want, you just keep coming back for more punishment.  Even if I keep dieing and have to start all over, sometimes dozens of times, I keep trying no matter the odds. Yeah, I'm awful, but with games like the Mega Man series, I'm fine with that.

 


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