There are certain games and characters that are synonymous with particular eras and consoles. Take Capcom’s Mega Man, a chap who has featured in scores of games since his debut on the NES. The popularity of the Blue Bomber has endured for years but he will always be most closely associated with Nintendo’s big grey box from the 80s. If you want proof look no further than Mega Man 9 and 10, modern downloadable iterations of the series presented in nostalgic 8-bit style. During the NES’ lifespan no fewer than six Mega Man games were released, each with fresh ideas that built on the original’s solid framework of run n gun platforming but popular opinion singles out the second as arguably the best of the bunch.
For the uninitiated here’s how it goes down. As Mega Man you must make your way through a number of tricky stages in any order you choose and beat the resident Robot Master whereupon you will acquire a new weapon. With each Robot Master bested it’s time to face off against the nefarious Dr Wily. Platforming is smooth and easy to control and enemies are plentiful. The Mega Buster is your primary weapon but you can switch it for any other abilities you have acquired on the pause menu. Each new toy comes with its own meter representing its energy that can be refilled from pickups. It’s simple, easy to pick up, difficult to master and a hell of a lot of fun.
Mega Man 2 ups the stage count from six to eight and offers a wide variety of offensive power-ups including the Leaf Shield, Atomic Fire and Quick Boomerang but as anyone who has played the game will attest it is the Metal Blades that steal the show. The rapid-fire weapon can be pinged off in all eight directions, is super effective against a number of Robot Masters but uses up energy very slowly. If truth be told it’s pretty unbalanced and can make portions of the game a little too easy but it’s too much fun to use for that to be a genuine flaw in the design even if the notion of players immediately making a beeline for the Metal Man stage just to get it first is something of a gaming cliché.
The stages themselves offer plenty of welcome variety of their own whether in the disappearing-platform jumping peril of the Heat Man stage, the underwater passages of the Bubble Man stage or the Quick Man stage’s laser dodging thrills. The design is often pretty fiendish and new players will have to undergo plenty of trial and error to make it through all of them. Having a choice makes meeting roadblocks a lot more manageable as you can put a tough stage on the back burner while you tackle others, possibly picking up weapons that might make things easier upon your return.
The gameplay itself remains unchanged from the original and that’s a good thing because it didn’t need any improving. Movement, jumping and shooting all control fluidly and the programming nails down the fundamentals of a game being fun just to play. Taking out swathes of enemies whilst dodging damage never gets old and the pace is fast and urgent. The graphics are simplistic but colourful and clean, featuring some of the biggest, clearest sprites on the console but the soundtrack is truly memorable if a little erratic. Sound effects range from nails-on-a-chalkboard unbearable (Dr Wily’s ship) to satisfyingly cartoonish bleeps and bloops but the catchy 8-bit music takes centre stage with a number of enjoyable tunes, none more so than the legendary theme of the first two stages of Dr Wily’s Castle, to this day one of the absolute most popular video game tunes ever written and rightly so.
Mega Man 2 gets so much right it’s difficult to fault it. Okay it’s on the short side and doesn’t quite offer the depth of the NES’ other science fiction game about a warrior with an arm cannon (that would be Metroid in case that was too subtle for you) but when it comes to pure, quick interactive fun there are few that can beat what is regarded as one of the signature games of a beloved console.
Design – 9
Gameplay – 9
Graphics – 8
Sound – 9
Longevity – 7
The Blue Bomber’s second might be his best. A combination of action, platforming and robots with fun names so perfectly judged it makes you wonder why we ever needed the 16-bit era at all.