Review by Kakihara

"Heartbreaking"

What the hell do I even say? It's Mega Man. The Blue Bomber. Capcom's little boy wonder who must fight for everlasting peace!!! and who makes up roughly half of his company's freakin' catalogue, appearing in everything from Zelda 64-inspired RPGs and Street Fighter-juiced arcade games to his own cart racer. He's everywhere. His spin-off games have their own spin-off games, for crying out loud. Though no doubt everyone wishes Capcom would be a little more choosy about what next to put him in, the cute little pursuer of justice means something to you and me. Instead of wasting time with nonsense like baseball or homework, you and I spent our youth mastering his games on the NES. Fighting through complex and vicious stages, slugging it out - bullet to bullet - with the cruelest of bosses, blowing away Dr. Wily and his damned shuffling eyebrows. You and I grew up on these action-platformer classics, fought for Dr. Light in those wild 20XX years, and now they're all here in one package, all eight original Mega Men as well as those aforementioned arcade games - a first for Western audiences.

Capcom never really tinkered with the basic Mega Man formula when working on this series. Sure, it's gone through newer moves and newer systems, but the core was always the same: select a boss, make your way through his stage, fight and defeat him so you can absorb his weapon to use against the next bad guy. It's simple, yes, but flawless. Which boss must you take out first? Which boss will fall victim to the other's weapon? What secrets are hidden throughout these stages? Who the hell decided to have Wood Man decked out in a Davey Crockett-like hat? Well, anyway, this formula - part Mario with a cannon, part trial and error - was never changed. It didn't need to be. It was a winning formula, one of video game's finest ever, and countless classic moments were spawned from it.

The first two installments to this mighty series remain its best. Not to dismiss their sequels, of course, but Capcom gave these first two games their all. The first Mega Man, in fact, is still one of the most underrated games ever made. It has none of its sequels' lengthy levels, none of their extra moves or fancy graphics. It had nothing to rely on but level design, and Christ, is it stellar. Death-defying jumps, ruthless enemies, tricky platforms, disappearing blocks, colorful stage design and catchy-as-all-hell music. It did it all, and it did it first. Most favor the deeper sequels and ignore this for not having enough meat on its bones - indeed, it is short and offers the fewest bosses - but this is as well-rounded an 8-bit package as you could ask for. I'd even go so far as to say that these bosses, are the finest line-up of the entire series - I mean, who doesn't love Cut Man and crew? And Yellow Devil and a Mega Man clone? As classic as classic gets.

More so than even Mario and Sonic's first outings were, Mega Man was a grand slam. And somehow, someway, Capcom managed to top it. Mega Man 2 is everything Mega Man is, but faster, stronger, harder, better. The levels are designed to rape you senseless - witness Quick Man's stage, instant-kill beams flying at you from everywhere - and the enemies are absolutely nuts. Visuals are prettier and more detailed (clouds fluffing were quite stunning back in '88), and the soundtrack was unparalleled for years. Wood Man's stage, a driving little ditty with an echoing effect during its breakdown, still remains as effective and rocking today. The addition of platform weapons - shoot out a stepping stone here and there when needed - was absolutely brilliant. One could sing the praises of this masterpiece all day long - the fantastic themes, tricky boss patterns, insane jumps - and it still wouldn't be enough. Mega Man 2 isn't just queen of the series, it isn't just one of Capcom's or the NES' very brightest gems, it's simply one of the very best games I've ever played.

Some will argue that Mega Man 3 is the true best of the series. It's not too hard to see why: our hero earns a new slide maneuver and a very cute robo-pooch by the name of Rush, a couple of these bosses are some of the best in the series (Snake Man and Gemini Man, namely), it's the lengthiest game on the disk, and Proto Man is first introduced here, a mysterious red and scarfed robot whose unmistakable flute melody will never leave your head. But the reality is it was a big misstep. The game can be conquered with ease, there are far too many open stretches of nothing going on and the length just ends up dragging the overall experience down, as you asininely have to plug your way through four barely-altered stages twice and all of Mega Man 2's bosses. It was unquestionably still a solid outing, but one with big faults.

The communism-charged Mega Man 4 ratcheted up the difficulty, cut off the fat, made actual good use of the slide feature and even added a charge shot to the mix. At this point in the series Capcom simply ran out of ideas regarding bosses (they in fact started holding contests in Japan for bosses, where little kids would send in their crap creations like Dust Man), so they are mostly pretty laughable, but the excellent level structure and run and gun thrills are all alive and well.

By the time Mega Man 5 and 6 came out, most gamers pretty much stopped giving a damn. Their difficulty is uneven, the boss designs are beyond laughable and nearly painful, and the exciting music just wasn't as catchy as it used to be. Most that were faithful (i.e., didn't have a Genesis or SNES yet) cried failure. But despite said problems, and their many detractors, the magic was still there. Mega Man 5 is especially fantastic, as you jumped around in reduced gravity, zipped across the waters on a jet ski and flipped lights on and off by way of the enemies. These neat tricks are admittedly very gimmicky, but never let it be said gimmicks can't be fun: Mega Man 5 is third only to the first two installments - even if Plant Man was an actual foe in the game. Mega Man 6 was kicked out just in time to take a seat at the NES' funeral. It's largely treated as the worst on the system, a very simple affair with some decent ideas and attractive level themes (the Old West was especially nice), but none of which were fully fleshed-out. I still happen to enjoy this last chapter of the NES saga, but its shortcomings are unavoidable.

Like most esteemed franchises that made the jump from NES to Nintendo's then-new 'super' machine, Mega Man 7 was flacid, practically a self-mockery. Our blue wonder supported a new, more serious look on his face that clashed greatly with the cutesy enemies and brightly-colored environments. Dumb, and trudging through incredibly sloppy levels and dueling with bosses only memorable for their horrid design renders this game worthless. How anybody could find such asshats as Turbo Man, Junk Man and Beast Man engaging is beyond comprehension. Though it did introduce the very cool Bass character, Mega Man 7 didn't even feel like its predecessors; it was just another crap action-platformer. Easily the worst of the series. And Mega Man 8 would easily be the oddball of the bunch - bizarre bosses with even stranger patterns, a new kickball attack and upgradeable moves, a very cartoony tone and Duo, a powerful robot that crashed on Earth. Critics and gamers alike didn't know what the hell to make of they game, but it was soundly throttled by most. I found its unique enemies and shop system, as well as the wonderfully varied levels - a Klonoa-like puzzle stage, a non-linear stage that sees you unlocking doors and a battle down a gorgeous waterfall - most endearing.

The last two games on this package - Mega Man Power Battle and Power Fighters - were only released in Japanese arcades. They're essentially just souped-up boss battles with a Street Fighter tint to them. You clobber various foes through the first seven Mega Man games, acquire their powers and move on to the next bad guy. They're neat, very fast-paced little diversions, and battling the giant dragon from Mega Man 2 while his rad theme blasted away was absolutely awesome, as was finally getting to play as Proto Man. But ultimately, they wear thin rather quickly, even if you bring a friend along.

While a best-of set would've been preferred to an anthology, this is still a pretty fantastic line-up of games, and further proves that dynamic action is ageless. The slowdown and flicker that would muck things up a bit back on the NES have even been erased - well, aside from MM7, but never mind that game. The slide and an auto-shot are assigned their own buttons, too. What's more, there are some neat little bonuses to be unlocked, a history of this fine series being chief among them. One couldn't ask for much more.

Except, that is, being able to properly control the games. I knew when purchasing the GameCube version that I'd have to adjust to the tiny d-pad again - that was fine. I'd also have to sacrifice all those sweet remixed tracks the PS2 rev received - but the old tunes were still fantastic, I thought, so those weren't that big a deal. (They are, actually.) What I didn't know, though, was about the jacked-up button layout. See, Capcom farmed out this collection to Atomic Planet, a studio who earned its chops with ... well, the hell if I even know. But for reasons I'm entirely unable to grasp, these geniuses placed the jump button to the left of the fire button. This might sound absurdly nitpicky to some, but this was a very unnecessary change. It's always fire to the left of jump. Always always always. This button layout is seared into my thick head, and I can't for the life of me adjust to anything different. This wouldn't have been so frustrating if we were dealing with adventure games instead or something, but since all you ever do in Mega Man is shoot and jump, it's crippling.

Picture some clowns dicking around with your car, your brake and gas pedals now responsible for steering and your steering wheel now dictating speed. Past ridiculous, past inexcusable, past unacceptable. There's no button configuration either, a feature included in just about every ****ing current game on the market. I mean, just try to jump and use the auto-shot simultaneously - you can, sure, but only if you crane one of your fingers over the face of the controller.

It's cruel, having these spectacular games and being unable to play them. Of course, newcomers won't have a problem, and as such should just ignore this caveat. But for those of us who grew up saving the world from Dr. Wily, those of us who bought sequel after sequel after sequel, those of us who helped make Mega Man such a blockbuster success, we get slapped in the face when it comes to the GameCube version of Mega Man Anniversary Collection.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 07/25/04


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