There is no question that Mega Man is one of the most iconic characters in the history of video games, deserving of a place in the highest echelon, alongside Mario, Link, and Sonic the NoLongerRelevant. His quiet and heroic demeanor, slick blue suit, and awesome weapon acquisition method all contribute to his status as the very best.
The structure of Mega Man games pretty much remains unchanged from the first installment – Mega Man fights his way through a series of stages in any order, defeating Robot Masters and taking their powers, then battles the evil Dr. Wily across multi-level final dungeon (WITH AWESOME MUSIC), and saving the day. It’s a comforting and familiar formula, like Pringles “potato chips;” they all look the same, taste the same, and when you finish one, you immediately want another.
Note, while reading this article, feel free to listen to this sick rock cover of the tune linked to above.
cool hat, btw
This cover is way better than this article, and maybe even better than some of the later Mega Man games.
Another characteristic of Mega Man games is that the worlds (or levels) of the Robot Masters are thematically tied to the bosses themselves. In the first game, this was accomplished logically and with ease. Unlike in subsequent titles, the first game featured not psychotic death machines constructed by Dr. Wily himself, but rather handy helper robots that were created, like Mega Man, by the compassionate scientist (and also dead ringer for Richard Attenborough) Dr. Light.
So it made sense that when the helper robots were commandeered by Dr. Wily, they would rampage through whatever areas they were previously working in as jolly roboslaves. The lightning-throwing Elec Man was in the shock-filled power plant. The boulder-throwing Guts Man took over a quarry. The scissor-headed Cut Man ransacked a… I don’t know, OfficeMax Headquarters or something?
FUN FACT: Howard Gutsman is a well-known reconstructionist rabbi and presided over my Bar Mitzvah.
In my expert opinion, the best installment in the series is Mega Man II, and not just because it was the first game that I bought with my own hard-earned money, which I received as a bribe from my parents for sleeping in my own bed. But a year later, when I was seventeen, and Capcom released Mega Man III, it was already apparent that Mega Man II was an impossible act to follow. The bosses were cool, the power ups were awesome, the music was fantastic (hence linking to the same song twice already in this post. Here’s it again, this time, as composed in Mario Paint)!
But the logical narrative continuity you would expect from a story about robots killing robots to save humans from robots quickly falls apart in Mega Man II. Sure, there are some levels that link as closely as in the first game. The fiery Heat Man is in a level full of fire bots and molten lava, and the aquatic Bubble Man is in what appears to be an underwater base of some kind, with killer anglerfish and deadly sea monkeys. But then there’s Quick Man, who is fast and throws boomerangs, and his level is filled with laser beams and dark hallways. Huh? Also, take Crash Man, whose stage takes place at night, apparently. Is this because his bombs look like fireworks, and people shoot off fireworks at night? That would be a stretch even for Dhalsim. (HEY-OO!)
Perhaps this is simply NES logic at work. The initial conceit of the series is that Dr. Wily’s evil Robot Masters are on a rampage through Monsteropolis and Mega Man has to stop them. But who would want to live in a place with jumps like this?
It makes more sense that the levels are a kind of home base for each Robot Master, a compound that feeds them thematically unified power and from which they can send thematically unified underlings to wreak havoc on the city. So like with most video games and sequels to The Matrix, you pretend it’s something it’s not and the story is better as a result.
But the truth is that much of the time those crazy game designers just throw in stuff that makes no sense. Take Wood Man, the Mr. Pink of Mega Man II. Seriously, can you imagine the conversation when Dr. Wily was handing out weapons to his robots?
DR. WILY: Wood Man will control the robot forest, and upon him I bestow, THE LEAF SHIELD.
WOOD MAN: A… shield?
DR. WILY: A LEAF shield.
WOOD MAN: It’s a shield. I thought you were handing out weapons. Air Man throws freaking tornadoes at people.
DR. WILY: It is a weapon.
WOOD MAN: You expect me to deflect bullets and lasers with a shield made out of soft, combustible plant matter?
BUBBLE MAN: Hey at least you didn’t get stuck with a bubble that rolls along the ground. A bubble.
HEAT MAN: You keep that bubble away from me, snorkel-face.
Wood Man fights in a forest level, populated with robots made to resemble woodland creatures. There are bat bombs and robo-rabbits that shoot explosive carrot missiles. But then there’s this thing.
It’s a Hot Dog. Get it? Hot… Dog? It’s a giant blue robot dog that shoots chains of fire out its mouth. I can’t remember the last time I hiked through Yellowstone and saw a 30-foot long hellhound. But there it is, the signature enemy in the level.
But perhaps these random flourishes in Mega Man levels are a good thing. Isn’t this exactly what critics of George Lucas claim the Star Wars movies lack? There’s the ice planet, the desert planet, the swamp planet, each with a total lack of ecological variation. On Kamino, it’s all rain-on-the-ocean all the time. Monsteropolis is just one city, but it has stony areas, snowy areas, and urban areas. Mega Man II has crystal caverns, high tech factories, and smelting plants. There’s no arguing that the landscapes aren’t diverse, even if they occasionally throw in something that makes no sense, like a Hot Dog, or this thing.
What the hell is that thing anyway? It’s like a demon cherub shooting babies out its ears.
Maybe the geography of a world like this doesn’t make much sense, but there is one place where geography of the level makes total sense. It’s the multi-stage climax of Mega Man II. As the Blue Bomber storms Dr. Wily’s skull castle, he starts on a field outside, breaks through the outer defenses, and then scales the outer wall, finally punching his way inside, slaying the defenses, and venturing deep into the heart of the castle, eventually taking out the castle’s well-defended power nodes at the core, and dueling with Dr. Wily himself. You can even track Mega Man’s progress between stages as he moves from level to level. Sure, Dr. Wily turns out to just be a mad scientist disguised as an alien disguised as a mad scientist, but who’s counting?
Oh, and the best part about this multi-stage awesomeness? The music.