The Angry Gamer 10.30.03: The History Of Mega Man (Part One)

Happy Halloween, and all that crap. Rather than going on and on about mindless “horror” games, as many are wont to do this time of year, I’m going to babble senselessly about robots. Specifically, the robots from Capcom’s much-loved Mega Man series! Yes, I’m well aware that Mega Man’s got quite a history, and there’s currently five (count ’em, FIVE) different Mega Man storylines. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at each of them in some semblance of order. There’s also many games that never made it to the US…but we’ll get to those, don’t worry.

We’ll begin at the beginning, with the original Mega Man himself, known as Rockman in Japan, since MM’s real name is “Rock”. Created by Dr. Light as a lab assistant, Rock and his sister, Roll, lived in peace in the year 20XX AD. That is, until Dr. Light’s former partner, Dr. Wily, decided to reprogram 6 other robots and try to take over the world. And so, the “Blue Bomber” first appeared on US shores in 1987, with the absolute worst boxart known to man. However, the game itself was unparalleled; classic platform design, but the ability to beat the crap out of a boss, then steal their powers for your own? That was a radical idea back then. With the release of Mega Man 2, however, gamers were in for a real treat. Not only were there 8 bosses now (rather than a measly 6), but Capcom added a password system, 3 special items, the ever popular E-tanks (to completely refill your life), and more. MM2 tops the favorite list for many Mega Man fans, with good reason.

Mega Man 3 raised the bar even further. 8 bosses, check. 3 special items? Well, now we were introduced to Rush, Mega Man’s robotic dog, who could transform into various helpful items (like a jet, submarine, or springboard). E-tanks were still there, too. What set it above the rest? After beating the initial 8 bosses, you had to go through modified versions of previous levels and fight all 8 bosses from Mega Man 2! 16 bosses in one game! And just to make it more sadistic, you didn’t get special weapons from the second set of bosses. Finally, some “old friends” from the very first Mega Man game showed up, just to complicate things further.

Three more Mega Man games were released on the NES, each following the standard formula. A whopping five were released on the original Game Boy; while the first four reused bosses from Mega Man 1-5 on the NES, each one had at least one brand new boss character to fight. Mega Man IV also added “P-Chips,” which enabled you to buy items for Mega Man. Mega Man V had completely new bosses, and is notable for two reasons: a) the boss names don’t end in “Man” (they’re all named after planets instead); and b) this is the ONLY original series Mega Man game where Dr. Wily is NOT the final boss!

So that was the 8-bit era. Mega Man broke into the 16-bit age with Mega Man 7 on the SNES. Aside from the later levels being notoriously tough, this game introduced 3 new characters to the MM universe: Auto, Bass, and Treble, all of whom would become fan favorites later on (especially Bass). Auto came in especially handy, as he’d sell you all manner of handy upgrades. We also got Mega Man Soccer, an abomination if there ever was one. Poor design, and the game itself seemed unfinished, due to numerous glitches! Much later, US audiences got Mega Man & Bass for the Game Boy Advance, a port of the Japan-only Rockman & Forte title that appeared on the Super Famicom (SNES). Any MM fan will tell you that the original version is far superior; the GBA port was cropped far too much, and much of the gameplay suffers as a result. That was about it for the original series; during the 16-bit age, a different Mega Man series was in the spotlight. We’ll get to that in another column.

Once 32-bit gaming came about, Mega Man was brought back once again for the candy-like Mega Man 8. Released on the Playstation and Saturn, this game annoyed some MM diehards due to the pastel colors, cutesy sound effects, and horrible dubbed anime cutscenes. Aside from the silliness, the game was quite good, especially the superior Saturn version, which had extra bosses and better music for some levels. (Maybe it’s just me, but the control seemed tighter on the Saturn version as well.) We have yet to see a Mega Man 9, on any platform. At least Mega Man’s stayed busy. He’s made cameo appearances in games like Cannon Spike, Capcom vs SNK Cardfighters’ Clash, Pocket Fighter, and both Marvel vs Capcom titles.

There’s ugly redheaded stepchildren in every family. In this case, we’ve got the “unofficial” MM games, which were NOT made by Capcom; they just carried the license. There was Mega Man and Mega Man 3 (yes, they skipped 2) for the PC; both featured all-new levels and bosses, but the gameplay was terrible. LCD handheld versions of Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 were produced by Tiger Electronics, but they failed to capture the spirit of the original games. Finally, US Gold ported bits and pieces of Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 to the Game Gear, with some slight graphical upgrades, in their simply-named Mega Man (sometimes referred to as The Best of Mega Man, which it’s clearly not). Just like with Mega Man & Bass on the GBA, the cropped screen caused all manner of problems.

Finally, to round things out, we’ll briefly discuss the games we never got in the US. On the Famicom (NES), the Japanese got Rockboard, which is very much a precursor to the Mario Party games. However, it had slot machines, so the anal Nintendo of America killed any US release (NOA was also responsible for removing any religious references from the early Mega Man titles; i.e., “Yellow Devil” became “Rock Monster”). Then there was Rockman Battle & Chase for Playstation, released in Japan and Europe. Picture Super Mario Kart with Mega Man characters; this game kicks plenty of ass. On the Playstation and Saturn, Japanese fans got an interactive movie of sorts called Super Adventure Rockman. Mega Drive (Genesis) owners in Europe and Japan got Rockman Megaworld (aka Mega Man: The Wily Wars in Europe), a 16-bit upgrade of Mega Man 1-3, with an added “Wily Tower” stage at the end. Rockman & Forte got completely redesigned and ported to the Japanese Wonderswan handheld console, though Capcom themselves had nothing to do with it except handing out the license. Even arcades got in on the action, with two MM “fighting” games: Rockman Power Battle and Rockman Power Battle 2: The Power Fighters. We’ll be getting those in the US next year on Capcom’s upcoming Mega Man Anniversary Collection, thankfully. If you can’t wait, there’s an excellent Japanese port of the game on the NeoGeo Pocket Color called Rockman Battle & Fighters. To top it all off, the Japanese got Playstation rereleases of all six original Mega Man titles, with all manner of added features. Why didn’t we get them here? Sony put the kibosh on that, while hyping up the Playstation 2. Fuckers. Fear not, though…Mega Man 1-6 will be on the aforementioned Mega Man Anniversary Collection as well.

Next week, we jump 100 years forward to the year 21XX, where the archaeologist Dr. Cain unearths a strange robot known only as…X.