Game Overkill – Mega Man
The original Mega Man is the red-headed step-child of Mega Man games and I don’t understand why. Besides working as a graphic designer on Street Fighter, this is Keiji Inafune’s first game! Plus, in a series with 6 games (on the NES), it is far from the worst and you’d think the fact that it was the one to launch the series would temper criticism of its flaws. That is, if you can even find people willing to bother criticising it. Most people seem to forget about it completely. Honestly, I was surprised the game made the list based on this.
But it did make the cut, so people must love it and my impression that it is unloved is thus proven false, right? Well, out of all the people who listed the game, not one bothered to send me the reasons why they listed it. Two of them had completely forgotten they had listed it. Maybe this will help remind them of why they did have it listed.
Released in 1987 in Japan and North America (but in 1990 in Europe for some reason), the game established just about 95% of what you love about Mega Man 2 or 3. You play as Mega Man, choose which Robot Master’s level you want to play, fight through a “Nintendo hard” level by shooting things with your Mega Buster, fight a Robot Master, take his weapon, and repeat until you defeat them all, which unlocks the even harder Wily Fortress levels that culminate in a boss rush and final battle with Wily. It controls and plays essentially the same as the subsequent Mega Man games, minus additions like the charged shot, slide, Rush, etc., which not everyone likes anyway. The platforming, level design, gameplay, whatever else you want to call, are all done just as well as any of the other Mega Man games. Sure, it doesn’t have the Metal Blade, but Super Mario Bros. doesn’t have the Tanooki Suit and The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have the Hook Shot. It doesn’t have a unique level like Gemini Man’s, but, again, SMB and LoZ’s level design is pretty basic when compared to their sequels as well. Despite this, the original Mega Man gets far less respect compared to its sequels and, I repeat, I don’t understand why.
The music is certainly not to blame. The track above, from Cut Man’s stage, is a definite stand out and all of the tracks on the soundtrack would have been at home had they found themselves featured in any of the games that followed, to the point that the ending theme (below) is reused (slightly remixed) for the opening them of Mega Man 2.
If it’s not anything with the game itself, why is Mega Man 1 the Rodney Dangerfield of Mega Mans? (…Mega Men?) Well, the game apparently didn’t sell very well. Inafune seriously blamed the game’s now infamous North American box art, at least in part. That might explain why people didn’t buy the game when it came out, but I think I finally have some form of an answer as to why it isn’t fondly remembered like the first game in other classic franchises: nostalgia.
Without much marketting and poor sales, I never played Mega Man as a kid. I played the crap out of Mega Man 2 and 3 though. Rented them repeatedly and eventually bought Mega Man 2. I even beat both as a kid. The feeling of accomplishment was incredible. I played some Mega Man 4 and, as mentioned earlier, fondly remember the Gemini Man stage. Those three games have stuck with me over the last couple decades. But with the original, as well as 5 and 6, I never played them before I reached my late 20s. There is no nostalgia tangled with them. Worse still, at least with 5 and 6, I knew some people who had played them. I even saw the games at the local rental store, but I never saw a copy of Mega Man. I have a feeling that for most retro gamers, when we think of Mega Man, and his origins, in our heads, at least emotioanlly, the series kind of starts with Mega Man 2. The original just wasn’t around in a meaningful way. It wasn’t because the game was bad. We just didn’t know it was a game. We played Mega Man 2, so we must’ve known that there was a game that came before it, but we didn’t really give it much thought. People remember Super Mario Bros. because EVERYONE owned and played it. We remember The Legend of Zelda because most of us played that one as well. We grew up on those series from the begining (I even remember SMB from before it was SMB, thanks to Mario Bros. on the 2600), but with Mega Man, we discovered him with his second game, not the first.
So, maybe the original Mega Man isn’t disrespected, but rather forgotten. It fell through the cracks of our nostalgia, which is a shame, because it really has all the elements that made the games we grew up loving great. Mega Man deserves to be a game everyone plays at least once and I’m glad it made the list. It ended placing 128th, which is very respectable for any game, but all the more impressive considering how overshadowed it is by its following installments.
For the next game, I still don’t feel like picking up Skies of Arcadia Legends again yet, so I’m going to go with a game I don’t exactly love: Metroid. Anyway, let me know what you think of Mega Man and where it placed on the list. I’ll be starting Metroid in the coming weeks. Hope to see some of you playing along with me.