Review by Snow Dragon
Livin' in the past
For a lover of the classic Mega Man games endeavoring to find inexpensive copies on eBay, the search can be long and arduous. Carts are strewn all about the open market, to be sure, but one can never be too confident even with a picture of the Mega Man 6 cartridge sitting right next to an immaculate pairing of its respective box and instruction manual. The casual old-school gamer hoping to relive the Blue Bomber's glory days with a lucky, capricious bid is often overwhelmed by crazed bidders willing to shell out twice a game's market value just to own a copy of the game that in all likelihood has suffered several beatings and dents. Mega Man Anniversary Collection, the recent anthology containing Mega Men 1-8 and the two arcade games that switched the focus from platforming to Capcom's benchmark style of 2D fighting, will allow frustrated eBayers and devoted flea market rummagers to bypass these fears completely. Retailing at the modest price of $30 - a solid average of $3 a game - it's definitely one of the more enticing retro bundles on shelves today.
So you put $30 down on the counter for a copy of the game expecting all the beauty of the old titles to be restored pixel by pixel on your television. This is a reasonable enough expectation - as another reviewer's tagline gushes, "Ten classic games for thirty dollars. How can you lose?" - and if you keep an open mind about it and are willing to ignore any minor quibbles, it will probably be met. But the analytical side of me has a story to tell you - a story about this very website.
Many frequent users of GameFAQs likely recall the site's most recent design change with clarity and emotional memory. Unwilling to blow with the winds of change, several staunchly defended the simplicity and unique look of the predominantly blue design, but the new look was still unveiled over the summer despite the cries of the huddled Internet masses. A CSS selector quickly became available along with a GameFAQs Classic stylesheet. No doubt, the worrywarts were sated, and even yours truly was unable to resist the temptation to return to the style of days long since past. But as soon as I saw the blue glory of God gracing my monitor, something inside me winced. Something was off kilter.
Not only off kilter, but wrong. Direly wrong. It was like ordering a supreme pizza and having it delivered only to open the box and find a pepperoni pizza in there. It just didn't look right, and immediately I was able to spot flaws all over the place.
Whoa, hold up, stop the presses! I ordered a supreme! Something just ain't right here! You want a tip, Mr. Delivery Boy? Stay in school and don't do drugs.
I told that story to tell this one, because playing Mega Man Anniversary Collection, one gets the exact same feeling as I did viewing the GameFAQs Classic stylesheet for the first time. There isn't much that is wrong with the games, per se; I don't think "wrong" is the proper word to use in this context. But in old games like this that were meant to be a true litmus test of one's gaming ability, developers used to make sure the control was tight as a Speedo on a fat man so that any mistake was sure to be the fault of the player, not the game. So when I fired up Mega Man 2, started with Bubble Man in accordance with my tradition, and sent Mega Man plummeting down a bottomless cascade the first time I attempted a simple jump to the second platform, it surprised me that I had to step back and re-examine my skills. I had just played Mega Man 2 just days before on the old trusty NES, and made all the familiar leaps without nary a death to my hero's good name, so it couldn't have been my fault. So I stand on that first platform pressing buttons to make sure I'm not a stark raving loony, and what is it that I slowly discover? B ... jump .... A .... shoot .... must my entire world crumble before my feet so quickly?
For newbies, the disparity in button mapping will be a relatively easy hurdle to leap over. If you were playing these games in the years when they originally came out, this is cause for rioting in the streets, which my friends and I would have done if we didn't look so singularly idiotic in our sparsely populated rural burg. What's the point in messing with tradition? Are they consciously making an effort to alienate their thinning fan base? Worse yet, an exhaustive search reveals nothing in the way of button customization. This leaves you with three choices; hunker down and live with it, buy the PS2 version, or get your money back. If you choose the first option, you'll be rewarded for your determination, if only slightly so.
Superficially, the games remain the same as they ever were, and a lot of them even emulate the flicker and slowdown that occur when the screen gets bogged down with sprites, giving the game a touch of nostalgia that might even make you grimace at points. If you play the games as God intended them, what you saw back then is more or less what you get now, with the exception of the screen that allows you to save your game (which will cause diehards to rebuke the new age of gaming as they wave 15-year-old sheets of notebook paper in the air detailing arcane red- and blue-dotted passwords). If you play with the newly installed Navi Mode in full swing, get ready for the belly laugh of a lifetime.
Included in the well-intentioned but inherently misguided anthology is a feature called Navi Mode. This takes the helper function from the Battle Network RPGs - games where its presence could conceivably be justified - and applies them to two-dimensional side scrollers where the most complicated task asked of you is to jump and shoot simultaneously. (Actually, those accursed buttons....) Aside from young players who can't be bothered to decipher the simple logic behind the individual Robot Master weaknesses, no one is likely to get any appreciable use out of Navi. However, if you're an old-school gamer who is interested in seeing just how far gaming has been forced to devolve in order to cater to the sensibilities of the average American adolescent, the Navi is likely to send you into a conniption fit from which there is no easy recovery.
Taken at face value, however, MMAC is nevertheless worth the low initial retail price, most especially for the first three games in the saga and for the two arcade fighters that must be unlocked. As far as disposable entertainments go, the arcade games rank toward the top of the list, providing you with a cheap thrill and a refreshing break from what will undoubtedly become a redundant quest to plug through all eight games in the side-scrolling majority of the game. The first three games are masterpieces of action platforming that always see completion in one sitting once the magic spark has been ignited once again, but as you get on down the line, the mediocrity and sameness that began to plague the series springs up, and the arcade games make for an interesting getaway from the repetition of it all. Following the same basic pattern of finding which weapons work against which bosses (tweaked ever so slightly to allow weapons from one game to work on bosses from others), Power Battle and Power Fighters are lightweight but enjoyable. Add to the fact that one of them was never released in America and the diehards are sure to take the bait.
While the collection commits some unforgivable and easily preventable errors, it's hard to deny its worth, especially in times when retro releases of games are either lacking in presentation or not worth the price in question ($20 for Mario Bros. on GBA with a squished-in screen or 50 cents for the original NES cart at a flea market - gee whiz, that's a tough one). Apparently the best way to make an anthology is to not try and fix things that aren't broken, and if MMAC is to be likened to a hot rod, the only thing out of place are a few unnecessary decals and not enough power under the hood - that is to say, the secrets. Most of the unlockables, like concept art, random sketches, and remixes that bear little semblance to anything Mega Man don't cut the mustard. The biggest value to be found here is in reliving the saga itself, tackling it in a new light with a controller that isn't particularly suited to Mega Man's brand of utter simplicity, although like tuna fish it becomes easier to digest as your intake increases.
Mega Man Anniversary Collection will ultimately stand as a document of the blue hero's rise to fame (1-3), his walk through the valley of the shadow of mediocrity (4-7), and the shameful moment that dare not speak its name lest we hear its six-year-old girl's voice (8). With two fun Capcom-style fighters thrown in for the heck of it, the package is darn near irresistible. Face it, Mega Man's bad days are more often than not better than some characters' good ones, and with this nugget of truth in mind, any money put toward this purchase is cash well-spent. I'm not telling you how to spend your money, exactly, but I will make wild flailing gestures and suggestive grunts in its direction, and whether you choose to listen to me or not is up to you.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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