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Mega Man

Year released: 1987
Company: Capcom
Genre: Action

I hold no reservations when I say that the Mega Man series is quite possibly the best to come out on the NES. Most of this comes from playing such hits as the second and third installment, but from a broader perspective the series as a whole influenced the video game industry quite a bit. It had loads of innovation from the word go, and that's what helped propel it to the status of a classic. Let's address those quirks first before we go into the game itself.

First off, and probably most importantly, was the concept of being allowed to set your own stage order. This was the first time that a game such as this one gave you such independence. Instead of having a set order of stages, each one a little harder than the last, now you had 6 stages (for the first game, all later ones would have 8), all of moderate difficulty, but you were given the choice as to which stage you wanted to play first, second, and so on. This idea was made even more remarkable with the addition of the weapons you could acquire for beating each level. This added leagues of strategy into the game. You not only had the choice of stages but the choices of what weapons to use in each stage. I think these factors were presented at their best in Mega Man 2.

But let's get back to the first installment. Sure, the plot was a wee bit hokey. Two scientists create robots to do tasks that would benefit humankind (although it would probably lay off countless workers). One scientist goes nuts and programs said robots to do evil, and the ball gets rolling. Anyone who's been playing the NES for any amount of time can tell you who these characters are, and knows that this plot would become a staple for all NES Mega Man games to come. However, it is a good launching point. It gives itself room to maneuver. Need a revenge plot? There's MM2 for ya. Long lost brother? MM3. Long lost brother impostor? MM5.

As a whole, the presentation is satisfactory. The graphics work well with most of the levels, including the frigid environment for Ice Man, those light-bulb-looking buildings in BombMan's stage, etc. However, the backgrounds don't stand out that much. A lack of real perspective for much of the backdrops make everything look like cardboard cutouts. The really impressive feature, however, is the animation. The enemies move very well, the wave by the Elec Beam is superb, and Mega Man's blinking his eyes is a feat I have not seen duplicated in any other NES game. The sound effects and music for the game are a bit hot-and-cold: A few of the tunes are pretty good, while others are less so. The effects themselves are definitely among the best in the series, especially considering the age of the game. Here, when the Blue Bomber gets hit, it actually sounds like metal's hitting metal, unlike the whiny sound of games 3 and onward.

The play control is a characteristic of this series often overlooked by the serious gamer. Indeed, Mega Man has had some solid movement throughout the entire series. However, this isn't as prevalent in the first game. The player skids a little upon stopping, and most of his weapons are difficult to time against the movement of the enemies. Nothing too serious, of course, but certainly worth a mention. The primary fault with the game is its hit detection. While nowhere near the level of other games with similar problems, there have been times when I land onto a Foot Holder, only to come down too low, get hit, and plummet to my grisly death.

There is certainly a high level of challenge in the first game of Mega Man. Not so much because of the actual difficulty of the game, but because of the features that this games lacks, such as a password or Energy Tanks. I realize that the folks at Capcom probably never thought of the latter until MM2, but the absence of the former really makes this game more difficult because it forces you to beat the game all in one sitting. While the game is quite short in comparision with the rest of the series (only 10 levels), it doesn't mean a password isn't necessary. One other thing that makes the game difficult later on is that unlike later Mega Man games, you have no choice as to the villain order when you're in the last level. Even worse, the bosses don't cough up any bonus energy when you beat them, forcing you to beat four bosses with one life. Finally, if you die while trying to fight any of the four bosses, you have to fight all four over again. The problem arises when you've lost a couple lives and your weapon energy has dwindled; since there's no way to recover any lost energy once you face the bosses, you're essentially screwed.

However, that doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment of the game too much. It's certainly fun, especially because of the added quirks of the stage select and the diffierent weapons you can use. It's not as flawless as other games in the series, but it luckily had enough quality to hold its own. It does get somewhat frustrating late game because of the weapon shortage, but apart from that you'll have a lot of fun playing it, and chances are you'll being playing it quite a bit.

Overall, Mega Man is a great beginning to an excellent series. It started a legend, and all of us NES gamers are certainly happy about that. While not the best installment of the series, it certainly does make its mark.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 12
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 20
Overall Score: 76%