In this age of on-line games, iOS distractions, enjoyable browser-based playthings and freeware, a certain kind of game has made something of a comeback. You can see it in VVVVVV, Boshy or I Wanna Be The Guy – all titles that feature classic gameplay whilst presenting an absurd challenge to the player. If you’ve played any of these games, then you’re already accustomed to struggling through leaps of faith, spike pits and traps that you didn’t know about until falling victim to them at least once.
If you want to go back to the roots of this kind of gameplay, you’ll find that the Mega Man series arguably helped ‘popularise‘ this kind of sadomasochistic madness, and with the help of the recently released Mega Man Legacy Collection, that realisation is available for many more of today’s gamers.
In fairness, the Mega Man games weren’t ever as ruthless as the more modern examples. Revisiting its games today, Capcom’s series at least tries to offer short relief in the form of some straightforward platforming or shooting. However, it isn’t long before you’re faced with long drops through insta-death laser beam patterns or find yourself struggling to figure out sequences of disappearing and re-appearing blocks placed over lethal pools of lava Or maybe you’ll be in Bubble Man’s stage on Mega Man 2 and find yourself jumping just high enough to negotiate a reduced-gravity underwater segment… but also high enough to propel you into a ceiling filled with spikes.
Mega Man Reloaded
In this 2015 compilation, Mega Man Legacy Collection does allow you to save your game at any point in a level for each of its games. Nevertheless, even when a player is handed this safety net they can (and will) die countless times before they have enough knowledge of a level to progress through it with confidence.
Even with the luxury of save states you can still make irreversible mistakes that set you back. When I first played the original Mega Man through the Legacy Collection, I had reached Dr. Wily’s castle without picking up the Magnet Beam – a special item that lets you create platforms for Mega Man to walk on, and an essential tool required for completing some of the later stages. Since I had been regularly using my save state to progress, my oversight meant that I had no choice but to start over and remember to collect the Magnet Beam. And even when you’ve learned to be more careful at choosing your save points, you’ll still have to be competent enough to make it a few feet without blundering into countless obstacles – and with Mega Man games that’s not as unlikely as it seems.
Harsh… but fair
Despite all of the pitfalls and obstacles, Mega Man has always had really well-defined movement. You always know what your jump height and arc will be, and the platform collision is generous enough to allow you to land on the edge of a platform, rather than fall through that edge and drop to your doom.
At a time when other game designers might have ruined a successful formula, the Mega Man series continued to work in small tweaks that added to the experience. For instance, the slide move introduced in later games offers the right amount of speed for the right amount of time to be useful, and the charge shot helps against stronger enemies. This attention to refined and precise gameplay is a big part of what makes the instant death drops and rooms of spikes acceptable, because you‘re always aware that you have enough control over Mega Man to be able to deal with these absurd obstacle courses.
Whilst it would be easy to accuse Capcom of milking the series over the years, there isn’t too much I would change about the Legacy Collection’s six NES games now that I’ve experienced them again. Maybe if it wanted to go towards a more VVVVVV-style format, infinite lives could have been added to compensate for the difficulty (whilst also allowing less skilled players to complete each game through dogged persistence) but some would argue that such a game wouldn’t be Mega Man. Instead, we can appreciate what we have in this in this selection of games – if you like well-designed platform shooters, nice sprites and plenty of memorable music, Mega Man Legacy Collection is recommended. Just don’t write in complaining if a laser beam sequence or wall of spikes causes your DualShock 4 to be propelled towards the TV…