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.
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.