The Link-Up Spell: Let’s celebrate the Mega Man dynasty!
Today we cherish the legacy of the mighty Mega Man with a retrospective of its long career on the gaming world!
A peculiar robot with a blue helmet and a blue cannon arm, walking through dystopic citadels or shooting inside underground dungeons. You may have accompanied it through hard stages, so this charismatic automaton needs no further introduction. He is the valiant Mega Man!
This series of action platform games was created by Capcom in 1987 and was praised for its imaginative design, high difficulty and kicking ass soundtrack. With the upcoming release of Mega Man 11, in order to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary, let’s walk through the “Blue Bomber” long running legacy and share our best moments defeating all the evil enemies.
Classic Mega Man
From chapter one to ten, the original Mega Man series is the barebones and very satisfying approach to the core mechanics of the franchise.
In these games, the mischievous Dr. Willy develop an army of destructive robots to conquer the world, but the heroic Mega Man, the first intelligent humanoid robot, became a beacon of justice for earth. The boss enemies were called the “Robot Masters” and all of them had their own stage, built at their own style with different hazards to conquer and master.
The first Mega Man title comprised six difficult levels with each “Robot Master” facing the player at the end. If the quest was successful, the Blue Bomber can absorb the signature attack of the boss as a new weapon for the rest of the game.
As a matter of fact, Capcom, at that time, was an arcade developer, and that is why their first batch of launches to the popular Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was ports of their best titles. Since these games, like Ghost’n Goblins and 1942, proved to sell well, the company financed a novice team of seven members, spearheaded by Akira Kitamura and the artist Keiji Inafune. Influenced by the seminal work of Ozamu Tezuka with the manga Astro Boy and Western superheroes, together created the look of the main character.
Even when the team faced numerous obstacles due the hardware limitations, the result was an evident innovation to the platform formula. The action was packed and rampant in all stages, which could be selected at free will since the very start. This level of freedom could make the player experiment with the “Robot Master” weapons and find the weakness of each boss to find new routes to complete the game.
At the time of release, the game sold OK on Japan, but very poorly overseas, but magazines and fans started to spread the word of the new game features, and even Capcom was reluctant to release a sequel. Inafune itself blamed that horrendous box art for the low selling numbers, and while Capcom has used it as an ironic resource for games like Tekken vs. Street Fighter, the marketing damage was present.
Eventually, Capcom gave a green light to the dev team for the awaited sequel, by the condition of ending two other games. Even with this pressure, the project took form with heavy work in mere four months, going quickly from brainstorming sessions and rapid tweaks to the wacky stage designs. Additionally, the bosses’ ideas were selected with the input of fanatics through a magazine contest.
The result is the highly praised Mega Man 2, considered by many fanatics as one of the best entries of the series and one of the most excellent action video games of all time. With double of memory storage, the team could exploit the weakness of the NES at their favor. The new eight stages were colorful, with different gimmicks and impressive visuals; meanwhile soundtrack was hot rock solid and the gameplay saw the introductions of a password system to continue, the Energy Tank item to restore health and special movement items.
The game sold over 1.5 million copies, cementing Mega Man as a mascot for Capcom and one of its more recognizable characters.
From this on, the series continued on the NES until the sixth chapter and saw some ports to the Game Boy. Onwards, Mega Man 7 was released on Super Nintendo (SNES) and Mega Man 8 on Sony PlayStation, this one as a celebration of the tenth anniversary. As a surprise, producer Keiji Inafune resurrected the classic line and developed the 9 and 10 titles to the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation 3 eShop services with a total NES treatment.
In 2018, the classic Blue Bomber will return to the new systems with new traits, let’s hope it is a good!
Mega Man X
1993 saw the advent of a new style for the Mega Man franchise. After so many sequels, Capcom had to transform the formula and adapt it to the new 16-bit era and the result was the highly acclaimed X saga.
The SNES console proved it could enhance the gameplay and graphics, and with it a more mature story was created in order to match this change. 100 years after the classic Mega Man series, an archeologist, named Dr. Cain, finds a highly advanced robot buried in the ruins of a research building. Named Mega Man X, the being was the template for a new line of androids, called the “Reploids” that could think and feel like humans.
However, the free will given to the Reploids was also a danger for society. Many of them fall into criminality and branded as “Mavericks”. By advice of the Dr. Cain himself, the government created a special force unit called the “Maverick Hunters”, which could disable the bandits or help with the disasters that they could cause. Cain also created a leader for this military organization, named Sigma, who eventually went mad and turned his back on humanity. The new tyrant occupied an island, killing every habitant and gathering a group of Reploids to commit a global genocide. Our hero, X, accompanied by the sole remaining of the Maverick Hunters, Zero, set the goal to stop Sigma and the renegades.
This cool plot was supported by a radical departure of the cartoonish look of the classic series. The protagonist X and all the different enemies were treated with a manga aesthetic that gave it a more stylized look. Music also had great tunes that are still covered by many, constructed with heavy metal melodic phrasings.
The core game still had the basic aspects of the NES and Game Boy titles, like the boss weapons and the run-n-gun gameplay, but the team added some new movements and items, too.
For instance, players could slide or jump off from walls, and, when found, X could dash in plain terrain. There were some hidden equipment to improve the character, like armor parts that gives new abilities and improve attack or defense, energy tanks and heart tanks, that could extend X’s maximum health.
After Mega Man 2, the beginning of the X saga was another solid inclusion to the legion of fanatics. The combination of crisp gameplay, unlockable features, secrets to find, kicking ass music and the novelty plot made this inclusion another highlight of the series, still loved by many and setting the dispute of preference between the fun era and the more mature era.
The game was followed in the SNES with X2 and X3. The PlayStation welcomed the X4, X5 and X6. Later, X7 was launched along with the final chapter on the PlayStation 2 (PS2). Two Game Boy Color titles, the Xtreme 1 and 2, were available as a re-enact of the SNES era, meanwhile the Nintendo GameCube and the PS2 had a JRPG named Command Mission.
Mega Man Legends
For some fans it was a shot of geniality, for others it was an utter disaster. With the revolution imposed by the 3D games, the action packed 2D formula was becoming retro, so, once again, Capcom invested in order to modernize their mascot.
Criticized by game controls and also praised by its imaginative setting, Legends is an adventure series stuffed with quirky humor and a large wild world to explore. According to the story, it takes place on a flooded planet where humanity got extinct and with a serious energy scarcity. Scattered in islands, there are plenty of ancient ruins with hidden artifacts called “quantum refractors”, which could be used as energy sources, but the main treasure in this Earth is the “Mother Lode”, a mysterious infinite power source.
The robot that enters these dungeons are called “diggers”, a Mega Man Volnutt is one of them. Travelling with his best friend Roll Caskett, Barrel Caskett and Data, the party sets forth to discover the secrets of the ruins and find Roll’s missing father. In their journey, they will have to face the Bonnes, a band of pirates which release chaos in the islands.
Even with the new genre, Legends employed a lock-on system, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which makes use of the Mega Man long range attacks. The buster arm and the armor could be improved in the towns with all the money and parts found in dungeons or shops, giving the game a more strategic feel, because it had different stats and effects.
Producer Keiji Inafune assembled once again a development team with the premise of fusing 3D platformers, RPG and adventure genres. With the first game release, on PlayStation and Nintendo 64 (N64), the series got a loyal fan base following, which praised the entertaining aspects of the title, heavily influenced by Japanese animation.
With the N64 version receiving a huge backlash for its technical flaws, Capcom created a prequel, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, and the sequel, Mega Man Legends 2 . Sadly, for those fanatics, the third part was cancelled, with no plans to continue.
If Legends was a hard pill to swallow for the hardcore fans of the Blue Bomber, the Game Boy Advance (GBA) saga of Battle Network could probably be the final hit.
Conceived under the fever of the Pokémon era, Capcom set to engage with the new consumer’s trend and redesigned Mega Man once again, with a total anime makeover. The story ran as a spin-off, in which robots are transformed into AI programs, called “NetNavis” that surf inside the Internet and serves as companions to people in many activities.
Eventually, the web became a dangerous place where criminal organizations try to control the net with viruses. Then, ”NetNavis” were used as personal virus cleaners in all the electronic devices they could jack into. While the premise was not too bad, the story about kids that battle with “something” for their own glory (literally, every Pokémon rip-off in the beginning 00s) was definitely selected for younglings. To further push the concept to the target audience, Capcom marketed an animated series to cater the children and young gamers.
However, gameplay mechanics were praised in the first titles for its innovation. The game was a strategy RPG in real time, which followed the life of teenager Lan Hikari and his “NetNavi” MegaMan.EXE. Players could control Lan in the real world to find new ports to navigate the Internet, and its digital friend to surf the net and fights the enemies. All the battles were done as random encounters within the cyber world, which was modeled like a huge maze. These skirmishes take place on two three-by-three grids, one for MegaMan.EXE and one for the enemies, and players have to control the character attacking at distance or short range with the regular attack, made with the Buster Arm, or with the “Battle Chips”, collectible power ups and support skills that acted like cards.
Ignoring the lighthearted story, the gameplay had a couple of good twists and a decent presentation, with a solid and fun battle system that could be the main reason to check it out. Nevertheless, the shameless exploitation of the formula was overwhelming. Six games, three of them with dual releases with exclusive content on each a la Pokémon, and two spin-offs. The series continued under the moniker Mega Man Star Force, for the Nintendo DS.
Mega Man Zero
With Zero, Inafune and co. tried to restore the traditional action after the previous experiments. Working once more under the GBA framework, Capcom teamed up with Inti Creates in a four chapter following to the Mega Man X storyline.
The reploid Zero is re-awakened a century after by a human scientist named Ciel. Although amnesiac at first instance, the development of the plot showed what happened during the 100-year span and what happened with humanity and the robots.
While returning to the 2D action platformer genre, the Mega Man Zero series innovated with the stages design on each entry, ranging from large areas, similar to Metroid, to the classic individual levels. The main character had a smooth movement and was gifted with the abilities of both Zero and X, along with new weapons and attacks.
The action was packed and every type of player could adjust the experience to their skill with a rating system on each mission, which depends on the performance and health left. Also, Zero could get equipped with the Cyber-Elves, little helpers that could assist him with buffs and passive enhancements.
The major complain to these games were the stage system, but it got generally good reviews, based on the return of the roots to the franchise, thanks to its high difficulty, good plot and rapid gameplay.
These four GBA games were compiled into one Nintendo DS title. Capcom continued the plot with Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX: Advent for the NDS, which followed the success of this storyline and a new exploration system.
So, that’s it! Which is your favorite Mega Man series? I hope you can tell us your favorite memories, prefered soundtracks and your opinions of this long, yet fun saga! Remember to share the content on your social media and gather with us in the comments. Expect more retro gaming goodness here!
Most of these games are available through different digital video game shops in form of collections.
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.