Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?
So I’m undertaking the questionable but personal challenge of writing the lengthiest, most elaborate reviews possible for the entire Mega Man ennealogy. An “ennealogy” refers to a series of nine, according to random strangers on Yahoo Answers. My motivations for bothering with such a primitive series that makes so few changes from installment to installment? Because each game is short enough to beat in a few hours tops. Because I’m somewhat of a Mega Man fanboy. Because it pads out my review number count in a very cheap manner. And because there is oodles and oodles of fun to be had.
Like all great 8-bit games, Mega Man has a story that only makes itself present when the player beats the game and receives a congratulatory still image and text message. This is my impression of the canon storyline for Mega Man 1, based largely on the flabbergasting children’s cartoon; Dr Light created a series of advanced robots out of the kindness of his heart and beard to help mankind. But his jealous Harvard roommate, Dr Wily, steals six of them and makes them evil for his plans of world domination. To stop the wacky-haired Wily, Dr Light turns his pansy manservant robot, oddly named “Rock”, into the mighty robot warrior Rockman….errr, I mean Mega Man!
And my what wonderful robots Dr Light has created! Time for a roll call of the six robot creations-turned-evil robot masters.
Cut Man: He’s a robot with a giant pair of oversized safety scissors on his head. I’ve been lead to believe that Cut Man was designed to be a high-tech forester. Clearly, Dr Light has no idea of the implications his creations could have on the economy, with the many, many laborers in the lumber industry poised to lose their jobs when the Cut Man unit hits the assembly line.
Bomb Man: Unless Dr Light secretly harbors terrorism, then its safe to assume Bomb Man was intended to be a demolitions robot, capable of pulling an infinite supply of explosives out of his ass. I can also believe that Dr Light designed Bomb Man under contract to the Acme corporation, because his weapon of choice are the black spherical cartoon bombs that detonate by wick or only when Wile E. Coyote holds them.
Fire Man: No, he doesn’t sport a hose, a fire helmet and sexy suspenders. His hands are flamethrowers, and the only practical use I can think of for Fire Man is as either an advanced cremation robot or a weapon to use in Vietnam, 100X years too late. And what’s the strategic purpose of having a mini-fire on top of his head?
Guts Man: Sadly, his superpower isn’t the ability to hurl internal organs at his enemies. No, one can quickly assume by his appearance that Guts Man was designed to be the construction worker of the future. Once again, Dr Light threatens the global workforce by rendering human construction workers obsolete. Computers continue to take the jobs of honest, hard-working Americans.
Ice Man: He throws shards of frozen death. And the guy’s so small that I’m sure most people can take him in a fight. Forget Mega Man, Ice Man should worry about the schoolyard bully. My original belief was that Ice Man was designed to be a futuristic…refrigeration robot? But I’ve since been told that Ice Man was designed as an “arctic exploration robot”, which is as close to an explanation as I can think of as to why a robot would need a parka. But what use does an “arctic exploration robot” have for throwing icicles? Where he’s going, using ice as a weapon is like throwing urine at T-1000.
Elec Man: The very first time I heard the name “Elec Man,” I assumed that he was some kind of evil master of the electoral process and battled Mega Man by throwing ballets of doom. No, he’s the more predictable master of electricity. And he may as well be Dr Light’s most ingenious creation; a walking source of perpetual energy! That’s right kids, Dr Light has solved the world’s energy crisis with a single machine, and it’s both bipedal and wearing spandex to boot.
All nine Mega Man platformer games follow a slight variation of the same chemical formula for platform shooting hijinks. Mega Man is a robot capable of running, jumping, climbing ladders and shooting his Trademark Yellow Dot Gun…but only horizontally. For all of perpetual energy sources advanced deforestation techniques that Dr Light has created, he was never able to digitally recreate movable joints. Thus, Mega Man can only look directly in front of him, and can’t point his gun anywhere but in a line parallel to the ground. I would not trust this robot behind the wheel. But gosh darnit, at least Dr. Light can claim mastery over the orbicularis oculi and levator palpebrae superioris muscles, for Mega Man can blink! Why a robot needs to blink, I do not know. Why does a robot need a parka?
Before you get to the platform jumping and non-angled shooting, you choose which robot master’s stage you’d like to attempt, rather than progressing through a pre-ordained series of levels. Other games like the recent Prince of Persia update failed at attempting the same concept because it eliminates the gradually increasing slope of difficulty that keeps the player feeling tested. But the choose-your-own-path approach works with Mega Man because, well, all of the levels are all so damn hard to an uninitiated player that the option to give up and try your luck can feel a bit appeasing.
And what challenging stages they can be. The construction stage requires Mega Man to leap on small, moving platforms on top of a Grand Canyon-caliber bottomless pit, having to leap in the air during parts of the track where the platforms drop down. (Going back to “no joints”, you can’t possibly expect Mega Man to grab a ledge with his hands.) Some of the actual “enemies” in the game include miniature gun turrets and Roombas modified with spikes and evil intent, all of which are too short to be hit by Mega Man’s inability to point his gun at a 45 degree angle. And who could forget the teleporting blocks. Who doesn’t want to forget them? For a select few segments, a series of blocks will appear and disappear, two at a time, above some kind of pit that may or may not be bottomless. To overcome this peril, the player must study the teleportation patterns of the blocks in order to determine when and where to make leaps of faith. These segments always struck me as annoying, yet they became some kind of grand franchise tradition that must appear in every freaking Mega Man game!
Fortunately for Mega Man 1, a hidden power-up allows the player to create temporary, badly-flickering-for-some-reason platforms to help navigate difficult sequences. It’s helpful, but it’s begging for a seizure.
At the end of each stage awaits the reprogrammed evil robot master. Each of them follow some kind of basic pattern that the player would pick up on and subsequently turn against them if not for the gosh-darned life limit that thrusts the player back to the start of a level after enough deaths. But once you defeat one boss, you earn the ability to use his special gimmick weapon. Some of these are obscenely overpowered (Elec Man’s perpetual electricity gun fires large screen-filling blasts of energy in 3 directions, great for destroying the evil spiked Roombas) while some are obscenely useless (Bomb Man’s Acme bombs take about 5 seconds to detonate. Any robot master you try using these against will laugh at your flawed strategy by kindly walking away from each projectile.) However, each of the robot masters will clench their chests, kneel forward and DIE when presented to one specific weapon. If you’re like us back in the late 80s, you could try and discover each robot’s weakness through a long and drawn out trial-and-error process of replaying each level hoping that your newly acquired flamethrower will quickly thaw out Ice Man (shockingly, it doesn’t), or you can just look up the answers on the internet.
Once you’ve completed the six robot master stages, there’s a set of levels leading up to the final battle with Wily. Along the way, you’ll battle all six of the previous bosses in two mini-gauntlets, a few anti-climatic new bosses (like the weird submarine…thing) as well as the Brock Lesnar of pattern-memorization-based boss fights, the blob-like Yellow Devil. Who in retrospect may be the walking incarnation of my T-1000/urine joke.
Generally speaking, the biggest issue with Mega Man 1 is that it feels a bit primitive compared to other games, and that’s like calling one specific kid in Caveman class that he’s “special”. The next 8 Mega Man games have 8 beautiful stallions for robot bosses instead of 6, and are set in levels that are longer and feel more refined. As helpful as the stroke-inducing platform gun is, it’s not missed in comparison to the other platforming aides seen in later games such as the manservant Rock’s manservant dog Rush. And if you’re playing the dirty NES version with its extra dirty box art, then you’ve got no password system or in-game save to cover your backside when your unplugs the system and enforces curfew. The one notch that Mega Man 1 has over its successors? It’s the only game in a franchise with a points system. Capcom quickly realized that nobody gives a damn about points and dropped it since.
It’s the least polished Mega Man game in the set, largely by default of being the first. But even with that in mind, there is still some decent and challenging jumping and horizontal gunning to be had. If you do find yourself intrigued by other games in the series, than this one is worth playing if just for historical perspective. Finally, a note on some of your options for playing Mega Man 1. You could fork over a lofty sum on eBay and buy an NES cart with its dirty box art if you’re so damn focused on getting the most original experience possible. Or, you can spend about $10 on the Wii Virtual Console, get Mega Man 1 and still have enough Wii points to buy another game (like, say, Mega Man 2?) Or, the smartest option in my book would be to go hunting from game store to game store until you a copy of Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the PS2, Gamecube or big-ass-green-Xbox, which includes this and the next 7 games. Finally, the most questionable and yet the strongest option would be “Mega Man: Powered Up”, a PSP remake that Treehouse-TVifies the cast with big heads and huge, adorable eyes…but also revamps the game. Included is a level editor, playable evil robot masters and Dr Light’s greatest creation, Time Man! A robot that can freeze the very course of time! That’s a game that begs to be played in a chemically-altered state.
3 ½ stars