Mega Man: The Wily Wars – Sega Genesis

FIsh Mega Man Wily Wars
If we think about video games as a family, Mario acts like your workaholic dad, head of the family, but he does just a little bit more work than anyone really wants him to do. Your sister Metroid went off to college and came back for Thanksgiving after discovering feminism, and while she’s learned some fascinating things about science, she can’t talk about it without bemoaning the fact that she needs to hide her femininity for anyone to take her seriously. She brought home this guy, Resident Evil, who talks about surviving the apocalypse with nothing but a lighter, a broken shotgun, a medallion with a bird on it, and some herbs, but he obsesses over guns a little too much to make you comfortable. Your cousin Link has traveled the world, but half the family won’t talk to him because he gives off a strong gay vibe, and everyone else makes fun of him, calling him by girls’ names. Grandpa Chrono Trigger can’t tell you what day it is, Final Fantasy only wants to pay Magic the Gathering all the time, and even though no one really has much control over the dog, Yoshi, Mario insists he’ll take good care of the children.

"I totally scared you, didn't I?" "Fuck off."

“I totally scared you, didn’t I?”
“Fuck off.”

In all this, Uncle Mega Man sits in a corner with Uncle Madden (who started talking about next year’s football game the minute this year’s game ended). Mega Man has some cool stories about his younger days, but they all sort of sound the same after a while. He enjoys his routine, and reacts violently any time someone suggests he spice up his life a bit. His son, X, wants to think of himself as a rebel, but doesn’t realize his dad acted just as wild in his youth. Neither one of them shows much sign of changing, and after a few years they just stop coming to Thanksgiving altogether.

They did a wonderful job of updating the backgrounds and keeping everything else the same.

They did a wonderful job of updating the backgrounds and keeping everything else the same.

Now that I’ve taken the metaphor just a little too far, I should introduce Mega Man: The Wily Wars, a little-known release for the Sega Genesis. Released in North America only for the Sega Channel, The Wily Wars serves as Capcom’s own version of Mario All Stars for the Mega Man Series, bundling the first three games, updated with minimal (very minimal) 16-bit graphics and some new content.

True story, the filename for this picture is Penguin.png

True story, the filename for this picture is Penguin.png

But here the wall I ran into when reviewing Lego Star Wars stands before me with not the slightest dent from the last time my head violently collided with it. What can I say about any Mega Man game that I didn’t cover the first time I reviewed any of them? Aside from a small list of minor alterations, most of them aesthetic, I only need say, “Mega Man still fights robots. Takes their weapons. Manages to let the villain escape for another day.” They updated his sprite, as well as a few of the robot masters’ sprites. Stage backgrounds received a makeover, but as the graphical upgrades peter out as you work upwards through the games, it comes off as a little insincere, as though Mega Man 3 subtly wanted to point out how much prettier she looked from the get-go.

Mega Man taking inspiration fPython and the Holy Grail. Ten to one odds he doesn't make it to that next block.

Mega Man taking inspiration from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ten to one odds he doesn’t make it to that next block.

But teenage drama aside, some of the changes actually make a difference, especially in Mega Man 2. Capcom eliminated easy mode and it felt like they ramped up the difficult mode in subtle yet obnoxious ways. For instance, the redesigned sprites for the wood shield make it nearly impossible to jump over Wood Man’s attacks without taking damage. Someone on the design team must have really missed the boat with Quick Man, as they toned down his speed to match the other robot masters’, turning him into Boomer Kuwanger with special needs. (He must have seriously let himself go after the series decided not to renew his contract for Mega Man 4. Depression can ruin a robot, let me tell you. No one will take him serious while crusted over in his own rust.) Probably the most obnoxious change involves the Mecha Dragon, which no longer takes damage from the crash bombs…making it the only boss in the game without a weakness. Plus you get to fight it over a giant bottomless pit. Yay. Since Mega Man games fell into the sweet spot (for me) of just the right amount of challenge, the minor increase in difficulty that these tweaks add works for the game play. Too much change, after all, might frighten Capcom.

Yeah...I don't care how much danger threatens the earth. I don't want to set one foot in a part of the jungle made out of snakes.

Yeah…I don’t care how much danger threatens the earth. I don’t want to set one foot in a part of the jungle made out of snakes.

Then I beat all three games and something wondrous happened: original content! A Mega Man mini-game, complete with Dr. Wily’s skull tower and three unique robot master levels (none of which feel the urge to assert their machismo by adding “Man” to their moniker). Plus, this mini game did something I’ve always wanted to do with Mega Man: select from a set of weapons acquired in any of the games. What? You mean he doesn’t have to reformat his hard drive every time he beats up Dr. Wily? I would think after the first few times the old man threatened the world as revenge for not letting him threaten the world, Mega Man would at least keep a few of those outdated peripherals in a box in his closet–you know, just in case.

Realizing the limitations of the original game, Mega Man pioneered the idea of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock

Realizing the limitations of the original game, Mega Man pioneered the idea of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock

This adds an interesting spin to the game. Rather than a rock-paper-scissors relationship (or rather, because no one cares about Paper Man, rock-bomb-scissors), the three bosses have a small set of weaknesses, offset by weapons useful against their attack patterns, and the player has to decide what approach to take against them. Also, their design strongly resembles characters from the Ancient Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Like the characters in Dragonball. Because when Wu Cheng’en penned his satirical allegory of Buddhist enlightenment, he really just wanted to break into the anime and video game markets.

After defeating Son Wukong, Mega Man must take his place protecting Tripitaka so that they may travel to India to receive the eight energy crystals to rescue China from Dr. Wily. I think it goes something like that.

After defeating Son Wukong, Mega Man must take his place protecting Tripitaka so that they may travel to India to receive the eight energy crystals to rescue China from Dr. Wily. I think it goes something like that.

For a unique and fairly original Mega Man game, I’d only complain about the length–seven stages in total falls terribly short of what I’d actually want to play. It’s like ordering the unlimited soup at Olive Garden, enjoying your first bowl, and then for every bowl after that the waiter just rips open a packet of Maruchan Ramen. You had the good stuff! You knew what we wanted! Maybe changing the formula a little would do us all some good. Of course, eventually that waiter stopped delivering even the Ramen, evacuated the building, and left you sitting at your table in the dark, reminiscing about your meals of old.

Baby steps, Capcom. Baby steps.

Advertisements

Mega Man 3 – NES / PS2, XBox and Game Cube (as Mega Man Anniversary Collection)

The series employs many rooms shaped like this because you damn well better start from the far left side of the screen!

The series employs many rooms shaped like this because you damn well better start from the far left side of the screen!

So I’ve gone roughly twenty months on this project, but I’ve only written about one of my favorite franchises–Mega Man–once. But do you honestly need any more than that? Capcom released six main titles, each with a Game Boy spin-off, then moved on to the Mega Man X series, changing at most a handful of tools and the line-up of characters. If any series epitomized the “If it ain’t broke” philosophy more than any other…well, Madden, FIFA and all those sports games pretty much nailed it. But Capcom did it first. And as an added bonus, Mega Man has the advantage over Madden in that you can’t easily turn the game off and go fight a legion of evil robots, taking their weapons as trophies like an Assimovian serial killer. But as the first rule of robotics doesn’t preclude the murder of other robots, our favorite blue Dexterbot has free reign–even permission and justification–to slaughter all the bad people-bots in order to save humanity. And he does, but much like his human counterpart, Mega Man faces the challenge of killing over and over again without going stale. To that end, we get Dr. Albert Wily, mad scientist extraordinaire, modeled after Albert Einstein and inspiration for Albert Wesker. As a human, Mega Man can’t harm him, which gives him license to keep throwing robotic Batman-villain rejects our way until contentment dawns on our 8-bit faces or Capcom gets bored and suddenly stops producing the games in favor of Resident Evil.

Yep. You totally beat the final boss by dropping snakes into the cockpit with Dr. Wily.

Yep. You totally beat the final boss by dropping snakes into the cockpit with Dr. Wily.

The story behind Mega Man 3 tries to preemptively answer the question of why Dr. Light keeps pumping out deadly robots if Dr. Wily will only steal them and reprogram them for evil. Well, fortunately Dr. Wily has “found his sanity,” to quote the instruction book, and has teamed up with Dr. Light to work for world peace the only way they know how: by constructing the largest, deadliest, most powerful robot the world has ever seen. That’ll keep everyone safe. However, a new batch of robots has appeared on mining worlds, holding the 8 macguffins required to get the new peace keeper up and running.  Light believes some anonymous “lunatic guy” has ordered these robots to steal the energy crystals required to activate the peace keeping robot, Gamma. Jeez, Dr. Wily, didn’t you just find your sanity? Maybe you could lend to this situation your expert advice which we obviously know contains no trace of mental instability whatsoever.

As if the kooky concept of themed villains didn't scream "Batman" enough, Dr. Wily built a giant penguin.

As if the kooky concept of themed villains didn’t scream “Batman” enough, Dr. Wily built a giant penguin.

Fans have long considered Mega Man 2 the pinnacle of the series, and I really have to agree. The game introduced a number of features that fans had never seen before, but apparently would never reach the same quality again. Except Mega Man 3 improved upon everything. How does that work? Good question! Let’s start with the original Mega Man. For those of you who haven’t had the luxury of living in Asia, I should explain that Rock-Scissors-Paper games constitute an iron clad and legally binding contract between anyone under the age of 20. Drawing on this, the first Mega Man introduced this principle in the form of a guy who chucks scissors at you from his forehead, who goes down pretty easily if you’ve already beaten the guy who gives you the power to hurl rocks back at him. But since “Paper Man” sounded lame even on his own medium of attack, and a three-level game didn’t quite justify the $50 price tag, they had to beef it up a bit. So you might imagine Capcom designed themes for their robots, carefully crafted around well-balanced and clever real-world principles…just kidding! They went for the cliched trifecta of video game alchemy; lighting, fire and ice.

So in Mega Man 2, they went all-out with the alchemy, what with water dousing fire, fire burning wood (actually the combination of Earth and Water, but hey, who actually follows alchemy these days?), wood…I don’t know…filtering air? And then the other four robots. Except that metal guy looks like he’d do a number on wood man. And bubble lead somehow damages the time-stopping robot. So that game turned out a mess in the rock-scissors-paper department. Mega Man 3 tried to restore the feeling of one weakness per enemy. Except to keep it interesting, they made two separate circuits of weaknesses, ensuring you’d have to fight at least two bosses with just your mega buster.

Capcom won an award for the design of Snake Man's stage. Then blew it by making the boss look like a green sperm with legs.

Capcom won an award for the design of Snake Man’s stage. Then blew it by making the boss look like a green sperm with legs.

Furthermore, this game marks Capcom’s foray away from the usual fire- and ice-themed levels. Instead, we get the dark, starry world of Gemini Man or the ninja-bot, Shadow Man.  One might question why anyone built robots around these ideas. The original six robot masters all had some constructive purpose to society. I can even think of some useful, productive ways to employ Mega Man 2 robot masters. But Gemini and Shadow Man don’t seem very helpful, and then…well…Top Man. Yes, this game introduces the Slippy Toad of Dr. Wily’s minions, Top Man. Who spins. And throws tops. After defeating him, you get the top spin, a weapon so difficult to use that I often deal more damage to myself than the enemy I hope to target. Seriously…I hate this guy so much I just want to punch him in the face! Wait, what? You defeat him by punching him in the face? Excellent! Who do I get that weapon from? …Hard Man? Did anyone at Capcom think these names through all the way? Seeing as how he appears in the same game as Snake Man, I’d say someone on the development team had just a little too much inspiration from bad porn.

Doc Robot gets wood. Really, did no one think this through?

Doc Robot gets wood. Really, did no one think this through?

The game also rectifies the too-awesome-to-use trope among games where you collect items. None of the weapons has a limited number of uses–you can always replenish them by camping out in front of a giant penguin or something. However, these weapons usually take too much effort, and simply blasting through levels with your arm cannon provides the quickest and easiest way to the end. In Mega Man 3, rather than going straight to Dr. Wily’s castle after fighting the robot masters, an enemy called Doc Robot appears. With as much bearing on the plot as Arwen in the Lord of the Rings films, Doc Robot merely gives you a chance to use your weapons more. He inhabits four previously conquered stages, although he alters them drastically. Facing you twice in each stage, he adopts the attack patterns of all the Mega Man 2 bosses. Because Mega Man hasn’t, apparently, proved that he can mop the floor with all of them. Meh.

Proto Man: Dick to friend and foe alike.

Proto Man: Dick to friend and foe alike.

Having a little more relevance to the story, Mega Man also faces off against the supposedly mysterious Proto Man. Of course, if you’ve ever heard the term “Proto” before, the figuring out his identity has all the challenge of pouring a glass of water. He appears in several stages, usually to fight a few rounds with Mega Man. Ostensibly, he does this as a test, but while certain things–such as practicing for the SAT–might help you out just before going in for the real thing, you may not want a practice bout against Mohammad Ali ten minutes before the fight. Unless, of course, you can move faster without all that cumbersome blood. And really, doesn’t having perfect vision only dull your other senses? Proto Man couldn’t come off as more of a dick if he had actually sided with Dr. Wily.

Man's best friend when lava pours into bottomless pits.

Man’s best friend when lava pours into bottomless pits.

Also noteworthy, Mega Man 3 introduces a new series staple, Rush. Taking the place of the items from the previous game, Dr. Light built Mega Man a dog that can morph into vehicles to increase your mobility. Rush makes a good companion; he does whatever you ask him to, never gets in the way, and he doesn’t poop so you never have to worry about where you step. Each of his three functions–two of which you obtain after beating certain bosses and the other you have from the get-go–increases your mobility, allowing you to spring to new heights, soar over dangerous ground, or swim through that one patch of water in Gemini Man’s level. So maybe the implementation could have used some more thought, but did I mention he doesn’t poop? That puts him ahead of a real dog in my book.

Otherwise, if you’ve played any game in the series, you should know what to expect. Run, jump. Enemy robots. Pew pew pew. Pretty standard stuff.

Mega Man II – Game Boy

RetroArch-0305-044755

What can I say about Mega Man that no one has ever said before? “Mega Man accurately predicted the use of drone strikes against Pakistani citizens.” “Mega Man takes his roots from an Indo-European god who would absorb other deities’ attributes after conquering them in battle.”  “Mega Man sits in the tum-tum tree of life, burbling in the tulgy wood of post-modern philosophy, calling philosophical jabberwocks to examine the nature of his soul with their eyes of flame.” It turns out, I can say a lot of things.  If you want something valuable, something worth saying, that might take a little extra thought.

While clearly a beloved series, no one will accuse Capcom of great innovation.  Consider the minute differences between the core series and Mega Man X (i.e. new end boss, upgradeable armor, and different stage select screen layout): now realize that Capcom considers those different franchises. These games epitomize the “if it ain’t broke” philosophy.  With minor exceptions from game to game, if you’ve played one, you really have played them all.

While Capcom ran all their old games through a meat grinder, spitting back the same ground chuck in a new package, injected with colorful dyes to make it look fresher and tastier, they also silently spit out the intestines, giblets, and other dubious parts of their creativity, crammed it into a small cartridge and sold it to us for the Game Boy.

Did these guys creep out anyone else?

Did these guys creep out anyone else?

I don’t entirely know what to make of the Game Boy.  I didn’t enjoy it much when I owned one, but I only had three Mario games, Tetris, and Kirby’s Dream Land–not exactly USDA choice. On one hand, it seemed to offer an experimental system to figure out how to make better sequels, flush out series with side stories, or work more with less technical space.  On the other hand, they could also simply port games from the NES, package them as portable, and rake in the dough.  In the case of Mega Man, I’d put my money on the latter.

Capcom blew their budget for this game by hiring Salvador Dali

Capcom blew their budget for this game by hiring Salvador Dali

For the game boy Mega Man series, Capcom phoned it in.  Literally.  They called in other developers to take over their flagship franchise, the character they would love, adore, and pamper like a rich, young, trophy wife (at least until Resident Evil started making eyes at them, offering more money, a younger series, and more realistic breasts…sorry, Roll.).  So what exactly happens when they pimp out a favorite game? Not much, it turns out. Following the formula for the Game Boy franchise, Mega Man II takes four robot masters from the NES Mega Man II, followed by four from the NES Mega Man III.  For the most part, each enemy’s weakness remains the same, making boss battles about as fun as playing rock-paper-scissors with someone who believes that if he keeps picking scissors, you’ll eventually fall into his trap, pick paper, and he’ll emerge victorious (sorry, Cut Man).

Psst! Rock, can you step out of the picture? You make it look less like an imposing fortress and more like an ugly SUV.

Psst! Rock, can you step out of the picture? You make it look less like an imposing fortress and more like an ugly SUV.

After progressing through Dr. Wily’s castle…er….space station, you encounter Quint, the mysterious character who appears before you to challenge you, a la Protoman in Mega Man III.  According to the additional material for the game, in the future, Dr. Wily reprogrammed Mega Man, named him Quint, and set him back in time to fight you, here, in this game. Here, the half-life of logic drops to mere seconds, like the artificial elements scientists spend thousands of dollars to create, only for them to exist for an infinitesimally small fraction of a second.  Apparently, after years upon years of Mega Man pounding Dr. Wily and an army of robot masters armed with the deadliest weapons ever devised using nothing more than the blaster grafted onto his arm, Dr. Wily thought he could finally emerge victorious….by replacing the blaster with a jack hammer.  I guess in the future, Mega Man really let himself go.  Lost his job as defender of humanity.  Maybe threw out his back.  Eventually only a 2-bit road construction company would take him in, and every morning after downing a box of donuts, he throws his gut, swollen from drinking a six-pack of E-tanks every day, over the handles of the only tool he’s capable of picking up anymore, and starts ripping away at the road. I like to think Guts Man comes out of a nearby trailer every so often to supervise.

"Sakugarne? It's not in the dictionary!" "Just run it through Babel Fish!"

“Sakugarne? It’s not in the dictionary!” “Just run it through Babel Fish!”

Anyway, not only does the jack hammer feel slightly outclassed by an energy blaster, but after defeating Quint and adding his weapon to your stash like a serial killer claiming a trophy, you only fight one more enemy: Dr. Wily. Sorry, but even lazy, witless, beer-gut Mega Man won’t take too long to figure out what weapon to use on the final boss.  And that means that the one weapon Wily thought he could use against a weapon-adaptable super-robot…also deals the most damage to Wily himself.  When Capcom named him after Einstein, I didn’t realize they meant that in the sarcastic-colloquial sense.

You closed your eyes! Great, now I have to take the picture again.

You closed your eyes! Great, now I have to take the picture again.

Because the Game Boy doesn’t offer much in the way of Real Estate on such a tiny screen, levels feel claustrophobic.  Level designs seem simpler, character sprites appear larger than they do on the NES, and as a result, less stuff can happen.  A great deal of the challenge in the NES games required you to make snap decisions based on multiple threats attacking at once, requiring quick attacks, evasive action, or clever use of a weapon. Nope! Not here.  I shot through the game in less than forty minutes on my first play-through. The game didn’t label which teleporters took you to the last four robot masters…that kinda added some challenge.  Also, your weapons don’t refill between stages at that point.  But really, I think this game shows Dr. Wily’s age.  No longer full of fiery hatred towards Dr. Light and Mega Man, he steals robots and attacks humanity just to go through the motions because he doesn’t know what else to do.  Really, if you think about it that way, Mega Man II for the Game Boy, rather than presenting a fun and interesting challenge, merely provides a scathing indictment of our prison system and their failure to rehabilitate offenders.  And I bet that no one has ever said that about Mega Man before.