I wanna Rock n roll all night (and party everyday)
So there’s a long-standing debate amongst fanboys that care too much (like me) over which of Mega Man game stands at the top of the class of identical Mega Man games. The two forerunners include 1989’s Mega Man 2 and 1990’s Mega Man 3; two games from two entirely different decades; one representing the Reagan era, one representing Bush Sr’s tyranny. Now, there’s not much of a point in glorifying this battle of games that reuse the same danged Mega Man sprite (9’s the best one anyways) so lets take a look at Mega Man 2; the series’ equivalent to The Godfather Part 2 if spandex-wearing robots can be considered Oscar-worthy.
Mega Man 2 is a textbook example of why I enjoy storylines in 8-bit games. The plot briefly appears, shuts up, goes away and lets you play the damn game. Here is, quoted verbatim from the game’s introduction, the entire storyline for Mega Man 2.
“IN THE YEAR 200X, A SUPER ROBOT NAMED MEGAMAN WAS CREATED. DR LIGHT CREATED MEGAMAN TO STOP THE EVIL DESIRES OF DR WILY. HOWEVER, AFTER HIS DEFEAT, DR WILY CREATED EIGHT OF HIS OWN ROBOTS TO COUNTER MEGAMAN.”
And you never hear another word of dialogue again. The player is allowed to jump headfirst into the fray (and subsequently jump out of the fray after getting a laser beam up the ass courtesy of the Quick Man stage) with no lengthy tutorials or exposition. Therefore, Mega Man 2 trumps Grand Theft Auto 4 in every story-related aspect, except for Grand Theft Auto 4’s ability to use lower-case lettering.
Mega Man’s innate abilities include run, jump, blink, climb ladders and release yellow drip-like projectiles from his erect Mega Man-Cannon. On his arm. Dr Light, a scrawny little nerd in high school, never had much of a knowledge of human muscles and was thus unable to develop mechanical deltoids necessary for Mega Man to raise his gun in any direction besides parallel. But Dr Light will ultimately prove to be the scientist than his…ehhh…wily foe. By defeating one of the robots designed to counter Mega Man, the former Rock Man can obtain their gimmick attack and use it to counter another unassuming robot.
And in another historical footnote, Mega Man 2 was the first game in the series to feature a password system. You know the system; the one with a grid of squares that the player filled with circles like they were playing a failed remix of tic-tac-toe. The ones that we’d waste napkin upon napkin writing down numerous updated passwords with the upmost sloppiness, not remembering which password grid was actually our latest. To the benefit of serviettes everywhere, most of the re-releases of Mega Man 2 have some inserted form of save feature or another.
But before Mega Man can turn from hunted to hunter and assault the robots designed to “counter Mega Man”, he must first overcome their gimmick-laced obstacle course stage. Mega Man 2 shines if you play it directly after playing Mega Man 1 in that the stages feel bigger, mightier and more dangerous. At least in contrast to the primitive ice block puzzles and construction site elevators of doom from the first game. Giant floating heads with drills sticking on top, evil robot monkeys and ostriches, bipedal mechs with powerful bigger yellow-drip man cannons, giant orange laser beams capable of destroying Alderaan and evil robotic SHRIMP will stand in Mega Man’s way. Why Dr Wily bothered with anything other than the death rays for his assault on humanity, I don’t know. Maybe he likes taking animals and household items, mechanizing them and adding a cute set of eyes. But like any Mega Man game, the ability to choose stage order is critical. If one stage is giving you problems (probably Quick Man’s), you can simply try your luck at an different, hopefully easier level (probably Metal Man’s.) The enemies may consist of unlikely threats to say, a trained human combatant, but the stages are all difficult and require practice, skill and a bit of resourceful use of the robot master gimmick weapons for Mega Man to succeed.
It quickly becomes apparent that Dr Wily has put his greatest efforts into designing eight robot masters designed to counter Mega Man with the effectiveness of a counter-kick to the groin. Dr Wily is the Bas Rutten of mad scientists.
Metal Man: Cut Man was deemed too inefficient as a deforesting machine, what with his single boomerang-like safety scissors. So here comes Version 2.0, Metal Man. With an infinite supply of buzz saws, Metal Man is poised to lawnmower rainforests and scare the crap out of Captain Planet. The fatal flaw in Dr Wily’s plan for Mega Man hindrance is that Metal Man is kind of an intellectual flop (he just jumps on the spot and throws his razors.) Mega Man can gain his razorblade weapon which can be aimed in 8 directions (thus overcoming Mega Man’s mechanical shortcomings), has a large ammo cache and defeats MANY enemies.
Crash Man: Designed in tribute by Wily to David Cronenburg’s “Crash”, a movie about auto-accident survivors who develop a fetish for crash-induced injuries. Dr Wily has upgraded the Bomb Man model from “big, dumb, ugly and throws enlarged cherry bombs at the enemy” to “nimble, armoured, throws lethal time bombs with great accuracy.” Crash Man strikes me as the only Mega Man 2 villain designed for combat purposes and would hold his own against actual armed forces. On the other hand….
Wood Man: …is begging to be blown to splinters. Forget Mega Man, this boss fears the lumberjack. The first truly obese evil robot master of the Mega Man universe, Wood Man is a giant tree…thingy who beats his chest like a botanical King Kong. Perhaps a throwback to Wily’s hippie days where he’d stick flowers in the gun barrels of riot police, Wood Man attacks his adversaries with a barrage of lethal leaves. Or perhaps designed by Wily to discipline his children with a machine that would take the kids to the woodshed for a country whoppin’.
Quick Man: Designed to be an inside joke about Dr Light’s sexual prowess. Quick Man is also the only robot master I can buy as a means of countering For you see, he jumps in less predictable patterns than his thick Metal counterpart, thus taking advantage of Mega Man’s inability to lift his arm in a 45 degree angle. Quick Man could only be used to counter Mega Man and no one else, for pitting him and his Boomerangs against, say, bullets, is not a wise idea.
Air Man: Designed with the intent of destroying ’s trailer parks, Air Man has the lethal ability to summon tornadoes at will. But these aren’t the kinds of Twisters worthy of cinematic films about 2012 but rather diminutive tornadoes that would feel inadequate at your child’s science fair. Like your lawnmower, the blades swirling in Air Man’s chest are vulnerable to clogging up from the leaves of the Wood Man shield, but the punk is so damned hard to hit with these leaves that he may be the only robot design to have been field-tested.
Flash Man: Presumably a piece of photography equipment transformed by Wily into a force by which humans and gods cannot hope to contain. Flash Man can legitimately freeze time with his digital camera flash and 32 megapixels of death. Now if only Wily gave him an AI chip capable of taking advantage of this power to say…kill Mega Man, instead of bumping off the walls aimlessly.
Heat Man: As a child, I never made the connection of “Heat Man” and “a lighter”, and thus never assumed he was a giant, walking Zippo. Rather, I assumed that he was a giant, walking AC control box, the kind with knobs that regulate the temperature in your home. And I kind of like my idea more anyways. I can believe that Dr Wily ripped the box out of his wall and weaponized it into an instrument of terror. Heat Man looks both cute and capable of murdering your loved ones.
Bubble Man: And last and certainly least is Bubble He looks like a robot designed to help kids have fun at bathtime. I’m withholding an obvious Michael Jackson joke. Wily’s pool cleaning robot-turned-weapon of mass destruction, Bubble Man assaults our hero with slaughterous suds and lethal lathering power. If Bubble Man’s attacks can damage the Rock Man, then Dr Light needs to hit the drawing board.
The special gimmick weapons that you gain for defeating these mechanical machinations can be quite useful, to tell the truth. I found myself regretting the gobs of Wood Man jokes I made over the years when I discovered how handy the “Leaf Shield” can be when Mega Man is exposed to attacks from all directions whilst sitting on a moving platform or ladder. Likewise, you’ll eventually pick up Assist weapons that may remind you of a robot dog, but are most certainly NOT canine in any way, shape or form. “1” creates a floating platform, “2” is a horizontal jet rocket, “3” is a moving platform that can scale walls. I like having these assist-thingys to help make challenging sequences more forgiving or to collect hidden power-ups.
But where I feel Mega Man 2 falls apart is in the later stages, where Mega Man begins his trek through Dr Wily’s . Certain sequences require the use, sometimes too-frequent use, of the Assist power-ups. But each of these power-ups have their own limited ammo supply for Dr Light can only care to store so many floating spider platforms in his lab before his claustrophobia kicks in. Should you run into a challenging sequence and run out of energy, then you need to either backtrack to a spot where enemies respawn indefinitely to collect those blue orbs that work as the game’s munitions, or commit suicide and start the level over.
And here’s a sequence so annoying, it’s worth docking at least half a star off the game’s final score. One “boss” is a collection of orbs scattered around the room. A bit anti-climatic visually, but we’ll run with it. Assuming you have a full supply of Crash Man Death Bombs, you have exactly enough bombs to defeat the boss, provided you use the Assist platforms to avoid unnecessarily wasting bombs on destructible walls. If you die or accidentally slip and waste even a single bomb, the battle is lost and you’re better off visiting the Game Over screen and starting the level over. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.
While the game has its annoying and even broken segments during the end, the initial eight stages and subsequent robot masters are all at least interesting enough to render Mega Man 2 as one of the better 8-bit platformers. It’s currently available on the Wii Shop for 500 points, so for 10 dollars, you’ll have enough points for that and Mighty Bomb Jack, and still have plenty of time to scorn yourself. There are also cell phone and IPhone ports, but I can’t wrap my mind around playing a game with the intricate platform sequences of Mega Man on anything but a red-blooded American controller. Your best bet is to look for Mega Man Anniversary Collection, a set of the first eight Mega Man games, available on all the last-generation consoles. Sure the Playstation 2, Gamecube and green Xbox are all dated pieces of equipment, but for Pete’s sake, what does that make this game?