Looking Back: Mega Man & Bass

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As part of our celebration of the Mega Man series hitting its 25th anniversary, we are featuring a look back at many of the games of the Classic series. For this entry, I’ll be looking Mega Man & Bass,  a game that was the chronological last game in the Classic series until the end of the hiatus with 2008's Mega Man 9. Beyond featuring Bass as a playable character, MM&B has a number of innovations and features some of the most difficult levels in the series.  

Like Mega Man 7  and Mega Man 8 , Mega Man & Bass features some dramatic changes from the previous games. For starters, players must choose between Mega Man and Bass from the beginning of the game, offering different stories and gameplay. Second, Capcom ditches the level selection setup of the previous two games for a branching path setup. Initially, players are given the option to choose from three levels, and defeating any of these three opens up more levels. Third, the selection at Auto's Shop is not only dependent on which character was chosen but also grows in inventory depending on the number of Robot Masters defeated, with new rows of items becoming available after defeating three and then six of the eight bosses. Finally, each level contains collectible CDs that contain pictures and information on every major character from the classic series up through MM&B  and requires a full playthrough of both characters to complete. Numerous other changes and features make this game one of the more overlooked installments of the Classic series.

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Most people know by now that  MM&B was originally released in Japan in 1998 for the Super Famicom and later released worldwide on the Game Boy Advance in 2002 and 2003. While obviously we all love to play any Mega Man game in our native tongue, the conversion to the GBA is beset with several issues. Not only is the translation lacking compared to the fan translation hack, but the conversion to the small screen makes gameplay a bit more difficult. After all, it's harder to play video games if you cannot see things like enemies and bottomless pits and the like. In total, players lose about 30% of the screen size (in pixel area) due to the porting process. For that reason, this article features screenshots from the Super Famicom version rather than the GBA port.

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In terms of presentation, Mega Man & Bass pushes the SNES' graphical capability by essentially presenting a lower resolution version of Mega Man 8 's spritework. Many of the enemies from MM8, such as Big Telly, Bunby Tank DX, and Crunchran are also carried over to this installment.  The backgrounds follow in the MM8 styling but are obviously a bit less detailed and complicated than their PlayStation predecessors. The music is also great, varied and befitting many of the levels. Unfortunately, the sound effects are carried over from MM7 , which is a bit grating.

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As mentioned, Mega Man & Bass marks the first time in the Classic series that a player can go through an entire game as another character. While the story itself is mostly the same, the gameplay is fairly different. Bass can double-jump, dash, and uses a rapid-fire, eight-directional buster. While this gives him an edge in many areas, he cannot fit in small passageways like Mega Man using his slide. The rapid-fire Bass Buster lacks the ability to charge, and he cannot walk while firing. While official word about the nature of MM&B 's design is mum, it is easy to see that many of the levels were designed with Bass in mind rather than Mega Man.

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The difference in gameplay between the two characters goes a bit deeper when examining Auto's Shop. Similar to Mega Man 8, these items are either automatically equipped or are items that must be equipped one at a time, giving a character new abilities. Items unique to Bass are more focused on offense, making up for the shortcomings of his normal Bass Buster. Players can buy the ability to shoot more powerful bullets or through walls. Other items allow for faster dashes and ladder climbing. But the most important item of all is the Treble Boost, allowing players for the first time to use the Bass and Treble Super Adapter first seen in Mega Man 7 . 

Mega Man returns mostly unaltered from his Mega Man 8 incarnation, with the only major difference being that he no longer swims. He has a wider selection at Auto's Shop that helps make up for his fewer abilities. Beat now drops invincibility shields, Eddie can be called to drop items, and Rush Search returns to not only dig up power-ups, but CDs as well. Other items play on the Mega Buster, with MM8's Hi-Speed Charger making a reappearance and a new automatic charger (similar to Mega Man X3's Hyper Cannon) that helps bolster Mega Man's offense. On top of all these items is the Auto Recover, which automatically refills Mega Man's life bar if the player remains still (and is another MMX3-inspired upgrade). Taken all together, these items help close the substantial ability gap between Mega Man and Bass, a gap that makes so much of this game far more difficult for the former than the latter.

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Bass and the Blue Bomber navigate the same levels in their quest to defeat King, a new robot who has stolen and reprogrammed eight Robot Masters and seeks to rule the world. So, standard fare. While the real big bad is who you'd expect, the ending is a bit different depending on the character. Given King's complete absence since this installment, one could make a strong argument for Bass' ending being the canonical conclusion to the events of this game.

Speaking of Robot Masters, MM&B has a particularly eclectic group of bosses. As everyone knows by now, Tengu Man and Astro Man are carried over from MM8  to MM&B 's roster. Both fight differently than their previous appearances and both give up new weapons. The other six each share characteristics with the original six Robot Masters from Mega Man  while presenting new challenges. Some, like Cold Man and Magic Man, throw additional enemies at the player during the fight. Others like Pirate Man and Ground Man become invulnerable for periods of the battle, forcing players to memorize patterns and dodge their fast-moving attacks. Still some fights feature more innovative use of weapons, as Burner Man is most effectively defeated by using the Cold Wall to push him into his own spikes and Dynamo Man's health restoration process is much easier destroyed using the Copy Vision.  

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Following its immediate predecessors, the weapons in MM&B are some of the most versatile of any of the installments. The Cold Wall can not only be pushed into enemies, it can be used as a kind of step to reach higher ledges and used as a platform to cross spiked pits. The Spread Drill can be split into multiple smaller projectiles and can destroy certain blocks. The boomerang Magic Card can grab items. The Copy Vision creates a duplicate character that repeatedly shoots, freeing the player to dodge other attacks. The Wave Burner can destroy ice blocks, blow up explosive boxes, push certain floating enemies around underwater, and light dark areas. The Tengu Blade not only functions as Charge Kick/Break Dash type sliding/dashing weapon, but it also fires off a projectile that bounces off walls. The Remote Mine destroys ice blocks and sticks to enemies until the player detonates it. And finally, the Lighting Bolt is the full-screen attack that we have known to love so much. Many of these secondary uses tend to be more useful for the under-equipped Mega Man, but they also come in handy during the CD hunts for both characters.

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The way in which Mega Man & Bass concludes is interesting and unique in the series. Perhaps due to rushed development, space constraints of the Japanese Nintendo Power system of downloaded games, or maybe just because of intentional design decisions, the game wraps up far quicker than most of its predecessors. Following the defeat of the eight Robot Masters, players can clear an odd level that consists solely of teleporting hatches and single rooms that force the utilization of the various weapons, each leading to 100 screws each. While a little strange, that level is useful in both illustrating how useful each weapon can be (and provides clues to grabbing more CDs) as well as providing the capital to clear out Auto's shop.

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The first level of King's Tower is fairly long slog through numerous enemies before ending in a rather odd fight against a pod and robot monkey that is as much a puzzle as it is a battle. The second level features features small bits of platforming but is mostly five different boss battles against King and his his toys. The third and final(!) level is a Mega Man 1 -style marathon of the eight Robot Masters in a predetermined order, leading directly into the final two-part boss battle. That's it.

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In terms of pacing, Mega Man and Bass is a strange animal. It features numerous items to make the game easier and nearly all its weapons can be used in other ways, and yet it ends with little chance to really utilize either character with all these additional abilities and powers. But that's because the full enjoyment of this game comes not from defeating Dr. Wily but from getting all 100 CDs by playing as both characters and mastering the uses of all weapons and items. In that respect, this game was a bit of a love letter to fans, a scavenger hunt to fill the database of Classic characters at was, for a time, the end of the Classic series.

Mega Man & Bass is the last game that followed a particular formula that began with Mega Man 7  and continued with 8.  Each of the three games significantly changed the balance of gameplay, with a relative re-emphasis of weapons over items, redesigns of the shop, embrace of new technology to introduce new game concepts and an emphasis on elements outside the base of run, jump and shoot. Ten years later, Mega Man 9  would refocus the series and take it in both a very differently direction, yet one that owes a great deal to the innovations introduced in Mega Man 7, 8, and Mega Man & Bass.

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James is a features contributor for The Mega Man Network. He is now back in the United States. Sometimes he updates his Tumblr.

The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.