Review by Mariner
"It just keeps going, and going, and going..."
There's a scrumptious triple fudge sundae in front of you. Take a bite. Delicious, isn't it? Take another. Each taste is seemingly better than the last as you enter a state of fattening nirvana. But eventually, the your brain decides enough is enough and starts to override your taste buds. Each new bite will become a chore, each new taste will start to sicken you. Besides, by this point all the ingredients have run together to create some sort of gooey sludge anyways. Something that was once delicious is now bland. See the analogy here? Of course you do; we're talking about Mega Man, the most famous case of rehashitis in the history of gaming. Six games on one system is overkill by anyone's definition, whether it's a cherished franchise or not. People tend to forget that the final installment was still good - just like our sundae was still good - but that still can't save it when we've been saturated by these games already.
Yes, this is a good game. We have the basic gameplay of Mega Man: shoot your way through a bunch of mechanical monsters while jumping across a bunch of platforms. It's one of the best loved franchises for a reason, as this setup works. Unlike Castlevania, the controls are practically perfect, and you'll never find yourself falling off cliffs based on the inability to jump correctly. Unlike Contra, there's there's more than just shooting, insuring that the game never gets frustrating. The diversity of the levels - minibosses, timed jumping, long stretches of minor enemies, vertical shafts, areas tailor-made for specific weapons - always keeps things interesting and always make you want to come back for more. Being able to use the bosses' abilities and choosing the order of levels were both clever additions to the core gameplay, and just make this series stand out even more. This is a Mega Man game. It plays like the rest of them. If you want more of the same, you got it.
But therein lies the problem... more of the same. The plot revolves around eight robots stolen by the mysterious Mr. X, forcing our hero to seek and destroy them. Yep, that's never been done before. And do you think there might be some crafty, wily mind behind this X? Just try not to be too shocked when you see the sudden twist that, y'know, hasn't happened 5 times in the past already. But moving onward, these robot bosses include Wood, Air, and Flash Man. Oops, excuse me, I meant Plant, Wind, and Centaur Man. My bad. There's also [insert fire synonym here] Man and [insert ice synonym here] Man, as well as Generic-Replacement-for-Mega-Buster Man (also known as Yamato Man). Yep, a full 3/4 of the bosses will either give you the same weapons you've had in previous games or are simply updates to overused ideas. That leaves Tomahawk and Knight Man, the only two completely original ideas Capcom had in this game. I guess after having to think up 38 previous bosses, I'd be starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel as well. But you'd think that would be a hint that it's time to quit.
Sadly, that seriously brings down this game. Part of the fun of the series is experimenting with your new toys, from dancing your way around your enemies with the Top Spin to mowing them all down with Metal Blades. What is there to experiment with when you've seen them all before? None of the weapons you receive are all that useful in an everyday setting, and none of them are as downright cool as snakes and gemini beams and shadow blades. Rather than seeing how playing the level changes when trying out a new weapon, you're stuck with your boring Mega Buster the entire time. And your two new weapons aren't that much fun anyways. Yep, one of the prime reasons for loving the Mega Man series just isn't present here. What a shame.
It's also a shame that a good portion of the game is so darn easy. Fighting Plant Man consists of standing in a corner and occasionally jumping. Staying on the opposite screen as Tomahawk Man means he can't hit you. I guess this game still follows the Mega Man tradition of each boss being weak against some weapon, but the bosses are so easy anyways that it doesn't really matter what order you fight them in. Practically all of them can be taken out using your trusty Mega Buster, completely killing the need for these secondary weapons. The fact that you still have the ridiculously overpowered charged shot, a shot that can take out most minor enemies in one hit, makes the levels rather simple as well. Couple that with a Flying adaptation that requires no energy to use (it automatically recharges once you land) and a Power adaption that gives you an even stronger shot, and you have stages that are pretty simple as well. I'm not a fan of ridiculously impossible games, but it's nice to have some challenge. Fortunately, things do pick up once you finish the robot bosses and start moving your way through the castles, and the challenge level is fine there. But that still leaves the first half of the game as far too easy.
Speaking of the final two castles, Capcom only gave a password for the start of the first one. Yes, you will have to play both castles in one sitting to beat the game. It's not that big of an issue, but it's just so blatantly stupid. Would it have been that difficult to program in one more tiny little password?
That's not to say the game is all just a bad rehash. For all of its lack of imagination in the realm of bosses, Capcom was nice enough to include some neat ideas when designing the levels. Wade your way through a pit of oil, but make sure you get out before someone drops a match. Watch as those puddles of petroleum turn from a nuisance to danger as they burst into flames. Got to Centaur's stage and see water above you. You'll have to time your jumps in order to make the most use of its buoyant force, or else you'll never cross the gaps ahead. Wind Man's stage is filled with giant fans that will toss you around like a rag doll, and Knight Man's castle is chock full of medieval goodness. There's generally two different paths to take through the level, plenty of cool secrets, lots of new enemies and even some new minibosses, and some genuinely tricky areas. As easy as it is to pick on this game, it's just as easy to praise it.
The question then becomes whether it was worth making to begin with.
Try to imagine, if you will, a world where this game never existed. Heck, let's make it a world where Mega Man 3 was the last MM on the NES. Can you imagine how the series would have changed? The series would have still been fresh and new when it debuted on the SNES; we would still have been excited about it. Rather than waste resources racking their brains to come up with semi-new bosses, Capcom could have thought up new ways to split up levels (how about 2 groups of 6 robots each?), saved some of that great level design I mentioned above, tweaked the gameplay to its perfection, created plenty of bright new weapons and designed levels with them in mind, implanted giant minibosses, tightened up controls, and basically created the best darn action/platformer in existence. Instead, we got a bunch of "pretty good" sequels on the NES to prepare us for one slightly better game on the SNES. Instead of being forced to reinvent itself in the X series (before that one became stale too), the original series could have shined on, retaining its status and competing with the big name games. Imagine how much better that sundae would have been if you saved some of it instead of eating it all at once. I know it's kind of fruitless to pine for what might have been, but I still feel a vague loss over Capcom's decision to run this series into the ground.
Which means that I find it very difficult to rate this game. On its own, it is clearly a solid game, with only a few difficulty issues and boring weapons to bring it down. But we can't just look at it in a vacuum, as there is that whole matter of five other games before it. If you're new to the Mega Man series, you might as well play the better games (namely MM3). And if you're a big fan of the series, then you'll likely be disappointed with the repetitious bosses and worthless weapons. So I guess this is a good game that just doesn't appeal to anyone. On the other hand, you might as well play it anyway if you like the MM series; it's not going to kill you. Even if it's not the best, there's still a few new ideas and a few new bosses. Sure, maybe the series would have ended up better if all these sequels didn't exist, but we might as well enjoy what we have.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/22/04
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