Mega Man: the two words that defined my childhood. Many of my early memories can be traced back to a Mega Man game. As a wide-eyed ten-year old, experiencing Mega Man 2 in 1990 transformed me from a casual game player to a hardcore, action-platforming junkie. From then on, birthdays and Christmas usually featured a guest appearance from little man Rock. The Blue Bomber was a silent observer as I grew up.
Almost any gamer over the age of 20 can fondly remember playing a Mega Man game on their dusty NES. But a new generation of gamers is being raised on EXE , Mega Man Zero, and the (deteriorating) X series. With no update to the original series in sight, Capcom decided to celebrate the blue man’s 15 th anniversary by going back to his roots. A little late for the festivities, Mega Man Anniversary Collection is a welcomed guest for nostalgics and newbies alike. Featuring Mega Man 1-8 , the 2D graphics, memorable tunes and time-tested-game play hold up well today. A few flaws bubble up from the transition to 21 st century hardware, such as some questionable edits and additions to the titles. For those new to the series and those wistful for the challenging games of the past, this is one of the best game collections in memory.
The Mega Man games were always lean on creative storylines (unlike the darker X series), but they are continuous. Sometime in the year 200X (it’s like we’re living in the future!), Dr. Thomas Light and assistant Dr. Albert Wily created helpful, peaceful robots. But like all doctors with expressive eyebrows and a devious-looking moustache, Wily went maverick and stole the machines. Wily’s robots created havoc in the city, and no end appeared in sight. Seeing the destruction, Dr. Light’s helper robot Rock volunteers (what justice!) to be converted into a crime-fighting robot. Thus, the legend of Mega Man was born. Over the course of eight games, Mega Man battled Wily and his horde of simple-minded (and created) robot masters. And time and time again, Wily was defeated, only to miraculously escape to fight another day. Only the slow-witted would wonder if Wily was really beaten, but each game had a new tale that led to that comforting climax.
For those new to the Mega Man series, the graphics of the games in MMAC may create a mediocre first impression. On the surface, the two-dimensional visuals may not hold up well against a Halo 2 , but the colorful sprites are a testament to the times. The later games in the series fare better in hand-drawn quality. From the nimble robot masters to the huge bosses, the games look great after all these years. The few stabs at 3D- all in the opening sequences- are second-rate, but never get in the way. The always-excellent animation still manages to compliment the solid visuals. The trademark eye-blink and Dr. Wily eyebrow twitch are here and authentic, bringing up those warm fuzzies. And the little graphic imperfections are intact, like glitchy sprites and background clipping. The menu system- with a MM8 -era Mega navigating doors and hallways- looks excellent, as does the game-specific menu screens (although MM4’s Toad Man on the MM7 loading screen raises an eyebrow).
There can’t be a review of a Mega Man game- let alone a whole collection- without mentioning the sound. The music in the Mega Man series is a hallmark for gaming franchises. Unlike the standard beeps and electronic noises in Nintendo games, each MM game featured lively techno soundtracks that would make your head bob as you gripped the controller. From the digital franticness of Quick Man’s stage and soulful organs of Toad Man’s stage, to the club-ready rump-shake of Search Man and heroic strain of the Mega Man 2 theme, the imaginative instrumentals saved even the bleakest additions in the series. All of them are here in nostalgic excellence. Sound effects don’t fare as well. The quality seems to differ in comparison to the music tracks, and this is especially noticeable during boss battles. It was a little distracting that the effects sounded slightly muffled compared to the originals.
For the PS2 collection, Capcom added the option of remixed themes during the game in the Navi Mode. Many of the redone tunes are ripped from the Mega Man arcade games, but are of outstanding quality (some put the originals to shame). Others are from the PS1 Japanese-only re-release of Mega Man 1-6 , and fare well. In Mega Man 1-3 , the PS1 versions only featured a handful of recreated songs (unlike the overhauled 4-6 ), leading to unevenness. It would have been nice to be able to switch between the original and new music tracks during the game. However, the biggest blunder involves the remixed tunes. For whatever reason- my guess is alcohol- the developers decided to substitute the themes from stages in later Mega Man games into the first few. So imagine my surprise when hearing Cloud Man’s theme ( Mega Man 7 ) in Magnet Man’s level ( Mega Man 3 ), or the Mega Man 7 theme in Top Man’s stage. Whoever let that happen should be banned from their liquid lunches. Luckily, the incidences are rare.
Another oversight will only be noticeable to the hardcore MM fans. Developer Atomic Planet decided to convert the soundtracks to audio steams, which loop each music track after it ends playing. Unfortunately, this is vastly different from the approach of the originals, which would repeat ad nausea. The streaming has a twofold effect. After a certain time, the music track fades out and restarts. Also, the opening themes stop to load the next song instead of flowing into each other. Most may see this as being anal, but for those who grew up memorizing the songs, this is a momentum killer. In a way, it separates you from the experience- making you feel like you’re listening to a recreation of history instead of fully experiencing it.
Another highlight of the Mega Man games is the control. Mega Man games always feature tight handling over your boy-bot. Until Mega Man 8 , control was relegated to a three-button format: the digital pad controlling movement, a jump/slide button and a shot button. MM8 added buttons to finally toggle between the assorted weaponry. Atomic Planet made the clever decision to include this in the first six MM games, as well as some new tricks. They also wisely didn’t add too much, like a chargeable Mega Buster in the first game, or the slide in part two. Along with the typical jump and shoot buttons, there is a separate button for sliding as well as a rapid-fire Mega Buster burst. Movement is also handled with the left analog stick. You can also switch weapons with the L1 and R1 buttons. The design is simple but ingenious, and if Capcom had ?gDual Shocks?h to play with years ago, they would have done the exact same thing. It’s too bad that these features are absent in Mega Man 7 , but Atomic Planet gave it the shaft in other ways.
The game play of the Mega Man games has long been the main draw of the series. Its longevity can be traced to the fantastic level design, run-and-gun action and ?gwidow maker?h jumps. MMAC perfectly translates every nook and cranny, with a few extras thrown in for good measure.
The Mega Man games- much like the Mario Bros. and Castlevania games of their time- trace their roots to arcade-like game play. Originally designed as an arcade game, the original Mega Man – and each following game- emphasized lighthearted action over excessively-strategic battles. No ducking or aiming; just straight-up gunning. Conquering a tough level would require repeating the stage until you memorized it. Robot master battles boiled down to a combination of memorizing attack patterns and choosing the right weapon for the job. Capcom milked this formula, and the cow was pumped dry around MM6 . Although the series had its ups and down, the game play remained tried and true. MMAC nails all of this flawlessly. Every nail biting jump and towering boss battle cross over with no noticeable hitches.
For this anniversary package, Capcom and Atomic Planet decided to toss the new players a bone. The Navi Mode is a helpful hand for those cutting their teeth. Guide arrows, helpful tips and redrawn menu and energy meter artwork (and the previously mentioned music remixes) add a freshened look to the games. It’s a great way to become acquainted with the man in blue. If it’s too easy, turn it off and do it like gamers used to do.
Also introduced for MMAC is the option to save via memory card. After each level- win or lose- the system will save your progress. The option to pick up and play as you wish is a godsend for gamers on the go. And if this knocks the nostalgia factor down a notch, you can input the passwords for each game (old-school!).
But what about the glitches and translations, you ask? For the maniacal Mega Man fans, some changes in MMAC may irk some devotees. Atomic Planet somehow managed to nip and tuck many of the bugs that plagued- or helped- the NES games. Say goodbye to the ?gsuper jump?h from Mega Man 3 , for example. However, a few tricks managed to slip through, such as the ?gpause glitch?h in Mega Man 1 . Some bits of the translation process are questionable, though. In a few games, the opening credits have text changes that stand out to the trained eye. Oddly, the translated text in Mega Man 7 (I swear Atomic Planet barely did anything with this game) and 8 still contains the poorly-translated phrases ( ?gYou better tell me who you are??h ). Oh, and the ending to MM7 was butchered.
Another staple of the series is the high level of difficulty from start to finish. The NES and SNES installments were among the tougher games of their time. Thankfully, the ports are as tough as ever. You won’t make it through Quick Man’s deadly beam maze ( Mega Man 2) in the first try, but that’s the essence of these games. For gamers just starting out, there is an Easy Mode and Navi Mode to help dip your toe into the pool. In the past, the replay value for the series was nil unless you wanted to further memorize the stages and boss patterns. For MMAC , there are a ton of reasons to keep playing. Beating certain games unlocks the two previously unreleased arcade games- Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man: The Power Fighters , an episode of the cheesy yet endearing U.S. Mega Man cartoon (PS2 exclusive), various sets of pictures and several music tracks. Personally, I would have wanted the GameCube exclusive interview with Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. Still, for Mega Man enthusiasts and novices, these are the icing on a retro-licious cake.
Mega Man Anniversary Collection is hands down the best compilation of games in years. With eight full games on one disc- and two arcade games thrown in for kicks- you will find yourself reliving some of gamings best for a long time. The vibrant graphics, spectacular soundtracks, patented game play and challenge carry over intact. Many of the additions aimed at the new generation of players are appreciated and long overdue. A few hiccups aside, no true gamer should be without this in their collection. And for $30, it is an incredible bargain. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few robot masters to bring down. My PS2 and rose-colored glasses await.