In this day and age, very few franchises have real “staying power,” especially those that have been around since the late 1980s. Along with Mario and Sonic, the little blue robot known as Mega Man has made quite a splash in the gaming world, and his legacy continues to this day with a library that rivals even that of a certain Italian plumber…
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! Fans will be able to relive these games in full color this spring, with the release of Mega Man Mania on the GBA. This cart will include all five GB MM titles, completely colorized, with unlockable material to boot.
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 a bit.
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. Fear not, though…Mega Man 1-6 will be on the aforementioned Mega Man Anniversary Collection as well.
Mega Man X
With the introduction of the Super NES, many gamers wondered what would become of our hero Mega Man. Aside from the original MM appearing in Mega Man 7, fans got a real surprise with the release of Mega Man X. At first, many were confused; a) they thought this was a later version of the original MM, and b) they thought the “X” was the Roman numeral “ten.” Well, neither is true.
It’s explained rather clearly in the X series that this is an entirely new robot, and the last work of the late Dr. Light. He sealed the robot in a capsule for 30 years to run diagnostic tests, as it had a revolutionary new independent thinking system. Unfortunately, this robot ended up being sealed away for over 100 years, as Dr. Light passed away. In the year 21XX, the scientist Dr. Cain found this capsule, and reactivated the robot, who’s name turned out to be “X” (the letter, not the numeral). Dr. Cain was amazed at the complexity of X, even though he was built 100 years ago. Dr. Cain used X as a template to build other advance robots, called “Reploids.” Soon, Reploids filled the globe, and became a part of everyday life. (Dr. Cain must’ve REALLY raked in the cash!) Naturally, some robots went bad, and were designated “Maverick.” To solve the problem, teams of Maverick Hunters were assembled; the unit led by the Reploid named Sigma was one of the best…
…until he fought some strange robot wielding a beam saber. The robot, Zero, was repaired and studied, but Sigma was never the same. He ended up going Maverick himself, and taking his top eight Maverick Hunters along with him. The Maverick Reploids are quite different from the “Man” robot masters of the original MM games. The primary difference is that almost all of them are based on animals of some kind. No one else was powerful enough to fight Sigma’s forces…except for X, who never wanted to be a fighter in the first place. And thus began the first game, with X fighting various Reploids to gain their weapons in true MM fashion. Also found in various levels were Heart Tanks (which increased your lifebar), Sub Tanks (much like the E Tanks from other MM games, but they could be refilled), and armor upgrades, where X received holographic messages from his late creator, Dr. Light. These upgrades gave X extra abilities, like dashing (similar to the original Mega Man’s sliding move), charging special weapons, and better defense. Another great addition to the gameplay was the ability to slide down walls, and/or jump off of them.
Zero was destroyed, but X continued his adventures on the SNES with Mega Man X2 (where Zero returned) and Mega Man X3. Even though Sigma was destroyed in Mega Man X, he was back for more in both games, in the guise of a powerful computer virus (makes sense, doesn’t it?). Both games offered new upgrades and subtle gameplay additions. The latter was extremely challenging, but also had some absolutely horrible background music. This was remedied later, when X3 was ported to the Saturn and Playstation in Japan, with completely remixed music, sound, and anime cutscenes. If you’re going to pick up X3, that’s the one to nab. Zero is briefly a playable character here, but he’s really not much use, as X is quite a bit more powerful. If you play your cards right, however, X can even gain use of Zero’s beam saber!
X returned to the Saturn and Playstation for another game, Mega Man X4, where Zero was a full playable character. In fact, to get the whole story, you had to play through the game twice; once with X, and once with Zero. With two playable characters to choose from, you also got multiple endings. This game revealed more of Zero’s backstory, and we discover that he was indeed the final creation of one Dr. Wily! Zero himself was handled quite well as a playable character; rather than earning special weapons like X did, Zero would earn special moves instead (i.e., rather than shooting fireballs, Zero would do a jumping flame slash with his beam saber. We also had some new characters thrown into the mix, like the General, the Colonel, Double, and a love interest for Zero named Iris.
The Saturn tanked (dammit!), but X reappeared on the Playstation in Mega Man X5 and Mega Man X6. X5 was probably the easiest of the series, and introduced multiple armor types, new characters that would stick around for while (like Alia and Signas), and the ability to switch to X or Zero between levels. This game also brought in the rescue system, where innocent Reploids were scattered throughout levels. Touching them would rescue them, and they’d often help you out in return by refilling your lifebar or giving you a 1-up. X5 also added a lot of plot elements, including strong references to Dr. Wily, his possible return(?), and the true nature of Zero. One of the endings in X5 also branched off into the Mega Man Zero series, but we’ll get to that a little later. Mega Man X6 was a rush-job, and many gamers were frustrated by its poor design, glitches, and crappy plot. I know I was. Plus, most of the game invalidated plot points from X5! You really only need to play this game if you’re a completist.
This got worse in Mega Man X7, recently released on the Playstation 2. This was the series’ first step into the world of 3D, and as evidenced by my review of the game a while ago, it didn’t go well. The plot’s not too bad, and introduced the Red Alert Syndicate of bounty hunters. One of their number, Axl, is a playable character in the game, and is more important to the overall plot than even he realizes. You can probably guess who’s pulling the strings…yep, our old friend Sigma. He’s really gone nuts this time, controlling the leader of the Red Alert Syndicate and waging war on humanity itself! Luckily, with Axl’s assistance, X and Zero were able to shut him down once again.
Even the Game Boy Color got some X action, in form of Mega Man Xtreme and Mega Man Xtreme 2. Both games had their share of bugs, but they were still great games in their own right, and Capcom must be given credit for successfully converting a 16/32/128-bit series to an 8-bit console. The first Xtreme title took place between Mega Man X2 and Mega Man X3, and featured recycled Mavericks from the first two SNES Mega Man X games. A few new characters showed up, too, like Middy, Techno, Geemel, and Zain. Mega Man Xtreme 2 takes place shortly before Mega Man X4, and here, Iris is just starting to work for the Maverick Hunters as a communications officer (a role Alia would fill later). Here, the main protagonists were Berkana and Gareth, known as “Soul Erasers” for their role in stealing Reploids’ “DNA” patterns; these two commanded resurrected Mavericks from X2 and X3. Zero was also a playable character in Xtreme 2, and by beating the game with both X and Zero, you’d unlock “Boss Rush Mode,” where you can fight the eight Mavericks from the first Xtreme game! Both games had a predictable ending, as you pretty much took for granted who the final boss would be.
The X series continues to grow with the most recent additions to the series, Mega Man X Command Mission and Mega Man X8. MMXCM is not a platformer like the others, but a full-fledged RPG! Not only that, it’ll be the first MM RPG that’s not a separate series. MMXCM is definitely more of a “classic” RPG, where you actually have a party of characters doing battle, rather than just one (i.e., Mega Man Battle Network). The game takes place much further down the MMX timeline; it’s in 22XX, rather than 21XX. X himself looks quite a bit different, but Zero and Axl look the same. A load of new characters join them in their quest to stop the Rebellion Army, like Spider, Cinnamon, Marino, and Massimo. There’s a huge supporting cast, too, and plenty of surprises along the way. MM and RPG fans alike would do well to check it out. MMX8, on the other hand, is back to the tried-and-true platforming that Mega Man fans are accustomed to, thankfully with many improvements over MMX7. Sigma’s back once more, and this time he’s trying to screw up humanity’s plans to fully colonize the moon. We can’t have that, so it’s off to the lunar surface for our heroes!
Mega Man Legends
In 1998, the Playstation was at large, and Capcom decided to expand the Mega Man franchise yet again. Rather than a direct continuation of the storyline (as the Mega Man X series officially takes place at least 100 years after the original Mega Man games), Capcom created an “alternate” timeline where the Earth was almost completely covered by water, and people eked out an existence on the various islands. We’re never told exactly what year it is, but I’ll speculate more on that later.
And so we have Mega Man Legends. Enter the various treasure hunters, known as “Diggers.” One such group is the Casket family. Headed by the elderly Barrell Casket, these folks explore various ruins looking for refractors–large crystals that can be used a power source, or traded for money. Barrell’s granddaughter Roll acts as a “spotter” (communications officer), while his “grandson” Rock Volnutt (affectionately known as “Mega Man”) handles the actual exploration. Mega Man’s clad in armor and carries weapons, which come in very handy since the ruins are often filled with malicious droids called Reaverbots.
Even though the series has only 3 games to date (and MM didn’t even appear in one of them!), it’s got quite a rich history surrounding it. In the first game, MM’s treasure-hunting exploits on Kattelox Island focused on the search for the legendary Mother Lode, but expanded into much more than that. MM found Sub-Cities, the Main Gate, and other relics from the previous civilization. He dealt with the notorious Tron Bonne and her pirate siblings. He even fought against Mega Man Juno, a “Purifier Unit” who was programmed to “reinitialize” (read: exterminate) the population of Kattelox Island! But who saves the day? Mega Man’s pet monkey, Data. Yeah, you read that right. Data managed to shut down the reinitialization system, and revealed that he knew everything about MM’s past and original mission. He even used MM’s real name…”Mega Man Trigger.” Naturally, we weren’t told anything beyond that. We had to wait until the sequel came out to learn more.
And learn more we did. Mega Man Legends 2 expanded very heavily upon the original story, and over the course of the game, revealed just about everything about MM himself, as well as the new characters (Sera and Yuna), his creator (the Master), and the ancient civilization. Mega Man Trigger was a Purifier unit himself (essentially a glorified guard robot) on a manmade satellite world called “Elysium.” He was charged with protecting the Master (a perfect being, most likely human) and the System (the network that controlled everything on Elysium and Terra [Earth]). The Master helped create “carbon units” (humans) to populate the Earth, and for a time, he lived among them. As his life was finally coming to an end, he instructed Mega Man to destroy the System and let humans control their own destiny. He succeeded, but at a cost; Sera, a “Mother” unit in charge of the System on Elysium, attacked him on Terra. They sustained significant damage, so Yuna (the Mother unit in charge of Terra) reverted MM to a protoform state (a baby), and sealed him away in some ruins on Nino Island. He was found by Barrell Casket, who adopted him. MM also completely lost his memory. Sera ended up sealed away on the Forbidden Island (the same place where Roll’s parents were lost). She’s freed at the beginning of Legends 2, and she planned to reinitialize the entire planet and restore the Master’s civilization. Naturally, this brings her into conflict with MM yet again. Yuna shows up, too, but in the guise of Roll’s long-lost mother! MM’s heavily damaged in a battle with Sera’s assitant Geetz, but his pal Data rebuilds his memory. As it turns out, Data was originally created as a memory backup unit for MM, which explains why he knows so much about MM’s past (and how he was able to shut down the reinitialization program in the first Legends game). Assisted by Yuna (the Mother of the System on Earth), MM finally defeats Sera and restores order…but he ends up stuck on Elysium. Sera is reawakened in Yuna’s original body; if she died, the System would automatically reset and reinitialize the planet anyway. Back on Earth, Roll and Tron Bonne join forces to build a ship to bring MM back…if only they could stop arguing!
The last game in the series actually takes place before the events of Mega Man Legends, and stars the Bonne family. In The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, you take control of Tron as she uses every resource at her disposal to loot and pillage. Hey, ya gotta earn money somehow! This game will also make you respect those annoying little Servbots.
Now then. How does all of this fit into MM continuity? Officially, it doesn’t, but hints dropped in Mega Man X5 may tie things together. In one of the endings, Earth is severely damaged when the Eurasia space colony crashes into it. During reclamation efforts, X mentions that he wants to create a haven for Reploids and humans to live in peace, called…Elysium. For all we know, this could be the very same orbital station we’ve seen in Legends. As far as the planet being mostly covered by water, that can be explained due to the catastrophic damage the colony crashed caused, complete with some heavy global warming to boot. Since the humans in Legends were found to have been created by the Master (a “perfect” human himself?), it’s possible that sometime after the Eurasia crash, the remaining humans and Reploids on Earth built Elysium, and fled there. As their technology advanced over hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of years, they were able to completely “rebuild” Earth and its population. This is all just speculation…