Jump ‘n’ Shoot Man: Mega Man (NES) Flashback Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 19, 2018
Jump ‘n’ Shoot Man: Mega Man (NES) Flashback Review

Now that the Blue Bomber has officially turned thirty and we’re counting down the months until the release of the first classic series Mega Man title in almost eight years and I think it’s high time we go back and look at the games that preceded Mega Man 11. As someone who grew up with the classic Mega Man series on the NES, it’s crazy to think that the original games turned thirty years old just a few weeks ago. I still have vivid memories of renting this game for the first time, and while I fell in love with the game, I couldn’t believe just how difficult it was.

As I struggled to learn the Nuances of Mega Man, I slowly developed the muscle memory for the title that I would still use to this day. Of course, it would still be a long time and numerous rentals before I would finish this game or any Mega Man game, but I was determined to master the game at the time, no matter what the cost.

The story of Mega Man is basic enough, with the plot revolving around six advanced robots being created by renowned designer, Dr. Thomas Light for industrial use. One day, after the robots begin to run amok, Dr. Light realizes that the robots have been tampered with by his rival Dr. Wily who wishes to use them in a bid to take over the world. As Wily begins a plot to mass produce the six robots from his base in the Pacific Ocean, Dr. Light takes action and converts his lab assistant Rock into the fighting robot, Mega Man, who uses his newfound abilities to stop the rampaging robots and put a stop to Dr. Wily’s bid for world domination.

Since the story is never actually mentioned in the game itself, it’s superficial and doesn’t have any real effect on proceeding in any way. In fact, the original Western release has a largely different story where the game took place in the city of Monsteropolis and has the six robots co-created by Dr. Light and Dr. Wily before Wily would turn on Light and use the robots to create the seven empires of Monsteropolis. It was a silly plot but was likely meant to appeal more to kids in the 1980s. Neither plot means much in the grand scheme of things, and neither is especially noteworthy in terms of creativity.

Obviously, the plot from the Western release has long since been retconned to match that of the Japanese version, but the game itself cares little about any of this. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the concept of the Mega Man franchise, you control the titular character and make your way through a series of stages in an effort to confront and beat the six Robot Masters controlled by Dr. Wily. The game will test your platforming skill with a mixture of jumping challenges and fighting off enemies with your attacks. So be prepared to do a lot of jumping and shooting as you make your way through the game’s stages.

The basic premise of Mega Man is simple enough, however, the game clearly wasn’t as polished as it should have been before release. There is a clear lack of difficulty balancing throughout the game. The opening moments of Guts Man’s stage, for example, has one of the most difficult platforming sections in the game. This unbalanced difficulty also extends to the game’s boss fights where Elec Man can beat Mega Man in just three hits, making him one of the the hardest hitting bosses in the entire franchise. Finally, the first stage of Wily’s Factory is unbeatable without the Magnet Beam, which is an option weapon in Elec Man’s stage which can only be picked up if you visit after obtaining Guts Man’s weapon, but there’s nothing in the game to indicate this, meaning that your game will simply grind to a halt in an impassible room in Wily’s Factory if you didn’t know to pick up the Magnet Beam during your playthrough.

There are plenty of other examples of the game’s unbalanced including the first boss of Wily’s Factory, the Yellow Devil, who’s incredibly difficult without making use of a pause glitch in the game. While the game does feature unlimited continues, the fact that this game has the fewest extra lives of any of the classic series games also adds to the difficulty, especially since a game over will result in you having to replay the stage where you died. Add to this some of the worst stage design in the series, where you’ll even see rooms repeated within a single level, and it all adds up to a game that simply wasn’t given enough time to be finished properly. It a shame too, because the core gameplay is fun, it’s simply not as refined as it could be and it’s due in large part to a simple lack of proper difficulty balancing. It’s something that really holds this title back, but ultimately something that will be fixed in the later entries in the series.

In terms of presentation, the first game is also a lot weaker than later games on the NES. The designs of the enemies and stage sprites feel uninspired and fall flat when compared to other NES titles available at the time. Coupled with the bland stage layout doesn’t help to do much to truly standout when compared to other NES titles. This weak presentation also extends to Mega Man‘s audio, where it’s obvious the franchise hadn’t quite hit its stride just yet. The music in the game is probably the weakest of the classic series and features only a small number of memorable tunes. Many of the sound effects, on the other hand, would become staples for the series in the future, but it’s quite obvious when you look at the presentation as a whole that Capcom was still sorting things out when it comes to the Mega Man franchise.

Looking back on the first entry in the Mega Man series has me quite conflicted. On the one hand, I love this game and it’s importance to this now thirty-year-old franchise can’t be overstated, after all, this is where Mega Man got his start. On the other hand, however, it’s not a very well polished game. The egregious issues with the game’s difficulty balancing stand out as the biggest problems with Mega Man in my mind. While the uninspired designs, layouts, and music are a hindrance, it’s not surprising that Mega Man would experience some growing pains in his very first outing. I think the biggest issue with the first Mega Man is that is simply wasn’t given enough time to cook. It stands out as the weakest entry in the classic series and it’s hard to recommend revisiting this title, especially when the game has effectively been replaced thanks to its superior PlayStation Portable remake, Mega Man: Powered Up, which I highly recommend you track down if you have access to a PSP, as it is a far better introduction to Mega Man than the NES original.

This post was written by
He is a senior editor at Kulture Shocked. A seasoned gamer, Zach has been playing video games since the early 90s and have owned everything from the NES to the Xbox One. Aside from video games, Zach is a nerd of all trades and dabbles in everything from collectible card games to Gunpla.
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