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. This time, I’m looking at the original Mega Man game and what makes it a notable and fun game so many years later. As I look back on the ten numbered installments of the Classic series, I will attempt to focus on what aspects of that particular installment brought innovation to the series while also touching on the negative elements as well as the downright strange. Most of all, this series will hopefully remind fans why they fell in love with the series to begin with, as we count down the days to the 25th anniversary of the original Mega Man game's release.
Longtime fans of the Mega Man series already know that Mega Man 2 was the game that tends to get the most credit for giving the series its staying power and fine-tuning the unmolded clay that is the original Mega Man game. If sales figures and review scores are anything to go by, Mega Man 2 is superior to the original in every way, but of course without the original Mega Man there would have never been a sequel. Beyond that simple fact, there are a number of strengths and oddities from the original that tend to be overlooked.
Just about everybody knows that the original Mega Man only has six Robot Masters, that you die instantly when you hit spikes, that it has a score counter, and that it has a Yashichi. But one of the underlooked aspects of the game that was not carried over was how the end of each Robot Master level was fairly unique. Not only did this game have the only instance of long entry chambers (a holdover from its development history as a Famicom Disk System game), but Mega Man drops down on Bomb Man, climbs up to Elec Man, slips and slides while fighting Ice Man and can throw boulders that sit in Cut Man and Guts Man's lair.
Mega Man also has unique pacing in terms of how the game ends. In contrast to just about all later games in the series, the game does not pad its length with near-empty levels during the wind-down of Wily's fortress. Each level, even the last one, keeps up the pressure on the player. In fact, the finale features a gauntlet of fighting four Robot Masters, fighting through enemies, dealing with the roller coaster platforms from Guts Man's stage (with, of course, bottomless pits and spikes everywhere), and then at the end, fighting both forms of the Wily Machine. In short, the end of the game is a marathon that creates a real challenge to conclude the game.
Beyond the level design and pacing, the art direction and graphic design (limited as they were) is also fairly unique for the series. While there are no shortages of comparisons between Mega Man and Astro Boy, one of the underreported influences that old 1960s manga and anime had on Mega Man was in the world he inhabited. In these early games especially, the details of Mega Man's world were either non-existent or poorly translated (Monsteropolis, anybody?), leaving the gamer to interpret Mega Man's world as based on the limited detail of the levels.
This first installment had some absolutely wild architecture both in the background with Bomb Man's wild orb... tower... things, Ice Man's weird iced-over palm trees, and all absolutely bizarre water tunnel in the third level of Wily's fortress. Though Capcom was only working with 8-bits in 1987, they sure made all the processing power work for them crafting a world of a 1960s-style future.
Nearly 25 years and dozens of games later, it is remarkable that such a simple game could spawn such an expansive series. But despite laying down the foundations for all that followed, the original Mega Man is scarcely remembered as the game that was the quintessential Classic series game. In a rarity for the video gaming world, it was the sequel that truly launched what has become one of the most storied franchises in gaming.
Screenshot Credits: VGMuseum
James is TMMN's Features Contributor and world traveler. He is currently in a faraway land, but he occasionally sends messages in a bottle. If you require more of his love, he left behind a sentient Tumblr account that updates all on its own.
The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.