A Critical Look at Mega Man Stages: Guts Man

Mega Man has always been the defining platformer for me, and as a kid there was no series I was more excited to buy a sequel for. Even now, they're by far my most played games on the NES and I'll run through them at the drop of a hat. However, I realized over the past few years that I've mostly been playing them on autopilot, and barely notice the things that once thrilled me or caused endless anguish. As a personal experiment I wanted to go through them once more, setting my nostalgia aside for a moment and taking it slow, giving everything a hard look to see exactly what worked and why, what stood out and what was rough around the edges. In this series of posts I'll give a quick review of each stage in turn with the help of screenshots and VGMaps.

I'm not really grading on a curve, but I'll give stages credit for standing out or doing something interesting for where they are in the series. The main things to look out for are:

  • How well does the game teach new players to survive obstacles without killing them? This is particularly important in Mega Man since any stage could potentially be someone's first.
  • How well does the stage mix threats? I'm talking about things like fighting a big enemy while a bunch of faster ones try to distract you, or fighting enemies with projectiles while jumping over pits.
  • How much of a basic platforming challenge does the stage offer?
  • How much choice is the player offered in how they approach obstacles?
  • How well do the game's weapons factor into the player's choices?

We'll be starting with Mega Man 1... *rolls die*

Guts Man's Stage and Music

If you don't remember the weapons in this one, here is a handy explanation.

I'm going to avoid talking about the Magnet Beam for the most part since it's basically a "get out of platforming free" card. It can be used pretty much anywhere to great effect.

Since VGMaps doesn't show enemies or moving objects, most of my screenshots will be for that purpose.

We start off with three... erm... *checks art book* Metalls on platforms of various heights. A nice touch here is that Mega Man starts within their attack range but not in their line of fire, so a new player can see right away what Mets do. The following platform is kind of difficult to get the hang of, but the first one doesn't have a hole in the track, so players are free to stand there and watch how the next one works.

I like that there are multiple places where one could jump from the second platform to the third, though the third one goes on a bit too long. I'd have preferred a few staggered gaps to 4-5 (depending on where you land) identical ones in a row. I don't like the last jump, as you have to already know that you're supposed to be standing on the edge of the platform to make it in time, which most people aren't going to be thinking about while they're trying not to die on the gaps. At least it's early in the level.

The next enemy we see is...Bunby Heli? A-anyway, these things fly forward and dive downward fast when they get close. Fireman's weapon is great for fast-moving things like these. This is a nice, safe place to see them initially and there's a health refill right after, so they're being pretty nice now. Next up is Pickelman (Ha! Sorry, I haven't paid much attention to the names until now), who throws picks at you without mercy until you kill him. There's four of them in a row and they can take a while to figure out (don't try to dodge, just move forward slowly while shooting). It may have been better to put that energy refill in the middle of these guys. Despite the platforms, there's no functional difference between fights. I'd have put at least one of them at a different height or something.

The following drop is a good introduction to what we'll see much more of throughout the series. The first two screens of it have more Bunby Helis, and some will be lower than you. There are two spike traps below, but both offer plenty of time to move out of the way. The large health and extra life are nice rewards if you manage to get to them or have the Magnet Beam.

The bottom pits you against one Big Eye, who I kind of hate in this game for taking so many hits and taking a third of your health bar if you touch them. The Ice Slasher is useful if you can catch them in a high jump, but it's difficult to do here since he's lower than you. Beyond this is the first boss door, followed by a hallway with a few Mets in it and Guts Man himself. I'm going to avoid taking about the bosses for now, as I'd rather save them for the Wily stages when I can look at them together with all the weapons available.

Graphics and music are serviceable for the first game, and the rocky background at least gives you the sense of being in a real place, unlike some of the others. For a mountain/mineshaft theme, it could have used more variation in the terrain during fights. The most jagged piece of the stage is where the health item is between enemy groups.

And that's it. The whole level. Doesn't seem like much, and even for the first game this was a pretty short one. Aside from that Big Eye at the end, each enemy is introduced in relative safety, and everything but the Mets are made easier with the right weapons. The main failing of this stage is that it offers each obstacle in turn without mixing threats. The closest it gets is making you fight Helis on small platforms, but you're supposed to fall anyway so they're actually less threatening than the first ones. It's a decent stage to start with if you make it past the moving platforms, but bland overall.

Next up: Ice Man!