Despite the iconic horrendous box art, Mega Man is a true classic even if it’s a little rough around the edges.
To Beat: Reach the ending credits
My Goal: Beat the game without Game Over
What I Did: Beat the game without Game Over
My Difficulty: 3/10
Like many other popular long-running game series, Mega Man got its start on the NES. The series would become a behemoth spanning over 100 games across multiple consoles for almost 30 years, including six installments on the NES alone. Mega Man to date is just barely hanging on to life which is a huge shame, but for now we will look back to brighter days with the game that started it all.
Mega Man was born out of an effort from its developer, Capcom, to make a game specifically for the home console market. Capcom to this point was primarily developing arcade titles and their NES efforts were all ports of existing arcade games. Mega Man was the sixth NES release for Capcom so they were pretty busy churning out these ports to this point. By making an original game the development team was able to create a gameplay style that caters to home play. This led to the decision of having the first set of levels available to the player to play in any order they choose. Mega Man is believed to be the first game to utilize a non-linear level selection.
Mega Man is a run and gun style platformer. The game starts out with a choice of six different levels highlighted by the Robot Master boss at the end of the stage. Mega Man starts out with just a basic shot but upon defeating each boss Mega Man gains that robot master’s weapon and adds it to his arsenal. So Mega Man gets stronger as you go and he develops quite the repertoire. These additional weapons prove to be extra useful because each boss has a weakness to a particular weapon and it is up to you to figure out how to exploit that weakness and turn the tables to your advantage. Think paper-rock-scissors on a bigger scale. Once all the robot masters are taken out and Mega Man is fully powered up, you then take on a series of final stages as the ultimate test. This formula is very well known and spans all of the mainline Mega Man titles.
Mega Man also collects some powerups along the way to help out. His special weapons each have an individual gauge that indicates how much juice is left for the particular weapon. You can collect weapon energy refills to recharge the weapon of your choice simply by equipping the weapon before grabbing the refill. There are also health drops, tiny orbs for points, and extra lives in the shape of Mega Man’s head. A little morbid, perhaps, but that smiling severed head brings a lot of joy whenever you find one! There is also a bonus Magnet Beam upgrade that must be found and collected. This isn’t a weapon but it is equipped and used like a weapon. It allows Mega Man to shoot his own custom temporary platform that can be used to cross gaps or climb up larger walls that are unable to be scaled alone. This item is mandatory to complete the game but if you miss it you can go back to previously beaten stages to find it.
Let’s take a look at each robot master and his stage in a bit more detail.
Cut Man: The stage is pretty generic but briefly features some kind of machine that chucks out falling blades constantly. Cut Man throws a Rolling Cutter, which is a blade that is thrown straight and then arches upward before returning to Cut Man. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Rolling Cutter which behaves exactly the same way.
Guts Man: One annoying feature of this stage is a moving platform carried on a wire. The wire has breaks it in so when the platform runs over them it collapses until it moves back across the stable part of the wire again. You are required to time your jumps so you can land back on the platform when it becomes available again. This obstacle appears right at the beginning of the stage and it’s tough to navigate. At the boss fight, Guts Man hops around shaking the ground which stuns Mega Man. Occasionally a large block will fall from the ceiling that Guts Man will grab and immediately throw at Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Super Arm which allows him to grab certain blocks off of the ground to then throw as a weapon and optionally clear the path forward.
Elec Man: This is mostly a vertical stage that features embedded turrets that fire off timed horizontal beams of electricity. There is also an enemy that fires electricity shots fitting the theme. This level also features the disappearing/reappearing block gimmick that is present in pretty much every single Mega Man game afterward. During the boss fight, Elec Man tosses out Thunder Beams which are huge arcs of electricity that are as tall as Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Thunder Beam for himself, which not only launches forward but also splits off two shots vertically.
Ice Man: Well this is an ice level, which means slippery ground all over for Mega Man. Not only that, but it also has a couple screens of the reappearing/disappearing blocks, and it features an even worse gimmick than that. Toward the end of the level there is a huge gap that Mega Man must cross along the back of these floating platforms. The platforms are pure evil. They randomly ascend and descend as they move back and forth, but they also shoot bullets out of either side that will certainly knock Mega Man off to his untimely death. Generally the Magnet Beam is used here to skip it outright. Ice Man jumps and fires off his Ice Slasher that Mega Man must dodge through the small gaps between shots. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Ice Slasher that shoots straight but freezes enemies in his path.
Fire Man: This level has quite a few fire and flame related gimmicks in it. Most notably are the pillars of fire that slide up and down. Mega Man can freeze these with the Ice Slasher and jump on top of them to get by safely. There are also fire cannons akin to the electricity shooters in Elec Man’s stage and there is one screen with fireballs that zip along a path that Mega Man must time extremely well to get through unscathed. Fire Man launches the Fire Storm which is a tall fire shot that leaves a damaging flame behind right underneath where Mega Man is standing. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Fire Storm which features a smaller straight shot but also generates a fireball that briefly and quickly spins around Mega Man for extra damage to enemies in very close proximity.
Bomb Man: This is a generic and uninspiring stage compared to the others. The only bomb-related gimmick is an enemy that explodes when shot causing damage Mega Man if he is too close. This level does introduce the Sniper Joe enemy that will reoccur in many future titles. Bomb Man hops all around the screen and tosses out Hyper Bombs that leave that same wide explosion radius as the aforementioned enemy. When defeated, Mega Man gets the Hyper Bomb that when thrown bounces to a brief stop before it explodes.
To find out more about what happens after each of the robot masters are defeated, well, play it for yourself and find out! 🙂 I don’t want to give everything away!
The Mega Man series has always been a favorite of mine and I have owned all six NES releases since way before I started collecting NES. This was good for me since all the games now are highly sought after and will cost some money to acquire. Back in the 90s when NES games were cheap the first game was still a little bit difficult to find. I think my original copy was bought from a video store. This game may very well be the most difficult of the NES releases in part because of the lack of password option that is available in later releases. Even though there are fewer stages I believe they are harder individually to make up for it. This was a common tactic anyway to extend the time spent on the game until gaining the ability to finish it for yourself.
It has been quite awhile since I’ve played through Mega Man but it sure didn’t seem that way. I had an awesome run. The only times I got in trouble were during moving platform sections, namely in Guts Man’s stage, Ice Man’s stage, and the first Wily stage. Other than that I died a few times elsewhere, maybe 7 or 8 times altogether, but the game was very generous with extra lives and I kept pace with what I lost all throughout the game. This might be the first time I’ve beaten the game without continuing. I believe the game is quite a bit more difficult than I made it out to be.
There is a reason why Mega Man is blue that I just learned while researching this game. It has to do with the NES color palette. There are 64 pre-defined colors that can be used in any NES game. Now many of them are indistinguishable shades of black, but interestingly the most used color is blue. Nearly a quarter of the NES color palette is just different shades of blue. So for this reason, a blue Mega Man could have more detail and that was the direction the development team chose.
Each NES Mega Man game has some kind of tweak to it that sets it apart somewhat from all the others. Mega Man is the only game in the NES series to feature six robot masters instead of eight. The scoring system present here was never used again in the series, and as I mentioned above, it is the only game in the series without a password feature. The series takes quite a step forward in the second installment and it leaves the first game feeling just a bit unpolished and rough. Just my opinion!
Mega Man is a perfectly fine standalone game that paved the way for the series to take off in popularity just a few years later. You know a game does something right when other games copy it in some way so that makes Mega Man a groundbreaking game for its time. The series only gets better from here!