Why Mega Man's Staples Work

by James “GS Edgeman” Riser Every game has its staples, the constant elements that are carried over from one game to the next. These are the reasons why players will come back to a certain series over and over again. Staples are an odd thing for a game developer to deal with, because it can define a game and make it memorable among other franchises, but it can also make a series repetitive and put off long time fans if used too often.

For example, Resident Evil has always included zombies and a variety of other Bio-Organic Weapons. Eventually the formula evolved to include the Las Plagas (which still fit within its parameters, since they are also B.O.W.s) and a more action oriented, over-the-shoulder view point. It played differently, but the staples were still there.

The Street Fighter series has gone through a few different tweaks in its fighting systems: Alpha 3's A-ism, V-ism, and X-ism; being able to parry in 3rd Strike, and the Revenge Gauge in Street Fighter IV. In every game, however you can expect Ryu to perform a Hadouken when the quarter-circle punch input is entered.

The Mega Man series is no different. Its staples that have survived the test of time and don't seem to be going away in any future iterations of the franchise (if there are any in the near future). These core staples include the ability to select your stage and to take a boss's weapon upon defeat.

Stage Select

Fallout, Red Dead Redemption, The Elder Scrolls, and Grand Theft Auto all have one thing in common that help make them hit, award winning games: An open world that the player can explore in almost in way they wish. It may sound like I'm reaching pretty far for a comparison, but I believe my point is valid. The classic Mega Man games allowed players to choose which stage to begin the game with, letting them pursue the game in many different ways.

While having a choice on how to start and end the game wasn't brand new in that era (see: The Legend of Zelda and Metroid), it was an interesting way to structure a 2D side-scroller, as it was more defined and limited than Metroid, but still gave the players many options. If they wanted to play the game the “correct” way, they could beat one boss and then, through trial and error (playing Rockman, paper, scissors), find the boss who was weak against that weapon and continue. Another option was to blaze through the whole game with only the Mega Buster equipped.

There was no one way to defeat all of Wily's minions. Players eventually began to talk about and compare their strategies. Some stages in the later games even held bonus items that could only be obtained with a certain bosses weapon, beckoning the player to revisit past stages to make sure everything was found.

The stage select is something that is present in the majority of Mega Man games in one way or another. Players loved to be able to choose which boss to fight first and eventually discover all of their weaknesses, and many fans even have the boss order of the games memorized. It one of the features that made Mega Man unique among many other side-scrollers of its time, and perhaps encouraged them to pick up the other games and stick with the series. Either way, the stage select is one of Mega Man's most important staples.

Get Weapon!

This is a phrase that rarely need explanation; you beat a boss, you get their weapon.

As I mentioned before, this unlocks a lot of options on how to complete a game. If one was to watch a player performing a speed run of a level, they would see the player switching back and forth between weapons for different situations.

The interesting thing about this is that the game never dictates which weapon would be best for a certain situation; it's all done through discovery. It lets the players become creative with their choices. Again, back to my open world analogy, I think that good games let the player choose how to beat a level, rather than the game telling the player that there's only one solution.

In some of the games, a new upgrade to Rush is applied when you defeat certain bosses. This type of upgrade system is reminiscent of an RPG game: the more enemies you defeat, the stronger you get. In the Mega Man X series, X can also get armor upgrades which pushes the “leveling up” aspect of the game up a notch.

While I don't know if the developers of the aforementioned, open world games had the Mega Man series in mind at all while they were creating their titles, I think the makings of a good game transcend time and genres. When broken down to its bare elements, a good game should let players be creative and challenge themselves.

This is why people play video games, because it doesn’t feel like work. Even though most of the Mega Man games don't sport a massive open world, they do provide the player with many different ways to save the world.

The other element would be the ability to build up your character. As you get further into a game, the characters should be able to upgrade or get stronger. More options should be unlocked so that it feels like your virtual alter ego is experiencing some growth.

The reason why this works so well is because it makes the game dynamic. For example, in a novel or short story, a dynamic character's attitude or personality will change throughout the course of events. This is what makes the reader interested in continuing. On the other hand, a static character stays the same and experiences no meaningful growth.

I think this idea can be applied to video games as well in the context of character abilities; something should be gained from all of the fighting. I'm not saying that this is a strict requirement for making a good game, it just helps if the player feels like he is actually shaping the game's protagonist by playing well.

Odd metaphors aside, the Mega Man series's staples work for several reasons. They create more options for the player, allowing them to be creative by choosing how they go about completing the game. They also let Mega Man become stronger as he goes further along in the game, instilling a sense of growth and making the adventure more meaningful. The formula changed as the franchise matured, but the ideas of openness and growth are always embedded in each title in some way.

Thanks to M Sipher for the Mega Man diagram at the top of the article!