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 8, (in)famous for succumbing to the late-90s illness of oddly placed and completely unnecessary full motion video. Yes, Mega Man 8 is the only proper 32-bit installment of the Classic series and yes, it has fancy graphics and some not-terrible music and sound. It even has the best attempt at an ongoing plot of any of the original series' games. But these are really just superficial elements of the game. Beneath its shiny and sometimes hilarious surface is a game that is the most radical rethink of the Classic series yet released.
Mega Man 8 ditches the item-a-thon that is Mega Man 7 in favor of making weapon versatility the central part of gameplay. The Tornado Hold replaces any need for the Rush Coil or the multitude of other aerial items. The Ice Wave’s unique characteristic of plowing through any enemy makes it enormously useful in the more crowded sections of the game. The Thunder Claw doubles as a grappling hook (take that, Wire Adapter!), and the Flash Bomb illuminates dark areas.
Furthermore, the game forces the use of weapons far earlier on, with some of the second set of Robot Master levels requiring their use-- something the Game Boy games never attempted. The game is tighter, while the stages are more thought-out and challenging because many of the weapons have dual uses. Ingenuity is rewarded and creativeness with the weapons encouraged to a level only exceeded over a decade later with Mega Man 9.
The levels themselves are interesting in that many of them rely on interesting design elements, some new and some old. Tengu Man and Wily Tower 2’s Rush Jet sections build upon the Wave Man Jet Ski and the Mega Man V Rush Space Jet level. Frost Man and Wily Tower 1 utilize the infamous jetboard. Sword Man’s level has branching paths, Astro Man’s a maze, and Aqua Man’s a swimming section. Perhaps most radical is the introduction of mini-bosses in half the Robot Master levels, and the reward of a new Rush Adapters. While some of these aspects work out rather well, some of them are simply terrible (looking at you, jetboard). The end result is sort of a more than decent, yet bizarre, product that turns Mega Man level design on its head.
Facilitating both the new focus on weapon versatility and radical level design are the small changes made on the margins. The game jettisons several long-standing traditions that long influenced how players went about playing Mega Man. Players could now fire the Mega Buster while also utilizing any other weapon, and could in fact switch weapons on the fly while weapon shots of any weapon were still on-screen (particularly useful with using the Tornado Hold to elevate Mega Man in the presence of numerous enemies).
Additionally, all weapons received complete refills upon death, levels are divided in half and losing all your lives in the second half of any level puts you back at the halfway mark, rather than at the end. These small adjustments encouraged risk-taking, especially with unprecedented level design innovations, and lessened the risk to the player of losing all lives. To balance out these adjustments, Capcom decided to ditch E-Tanks, forcing the player to rely on the random mercy of Surprise Boxes and Rush Health.
In the face of such radical adjustments, the items in the game are largely relegated to the sidelines. These items are mostly conveniences rather than game-changing items that become necessary to completing the games as in earlier installments, thus forcing the focus on creatively utilizing the weapons. Shooting lasers that plow through anything and getting more lives when you select “Continue” is hardly as useful and important as the Rush Jet, Item 1, or the Super Adapter. Obtaining the items from the shop is unnecessarily clunky and uncharacteristically not user-friendly (with both a limited number of bolts and limited number of item slots). MM8’s incredible recalibration of so many of the series’ integral aspects means that the items get far less focus than in its predecessors, but the whole shop aspect is puzzling.
While Mega Man and Bass would serve as the true coda to this era of Mega Man games, it was Mega Man 8 that served as the last installment of the main series for over a decade. Despite its bold moves and radical rethinking, Capcom turned its back on Mega Man 8, eschewing not just its more modern surface but also the meat and bones of its design.
One can wonder what would have happened if Capcom met this 1997 relic half-way, with 8-bit skin and its somewhat more daring design decisions. Or one can stop wondering and try the wonderful Rockman 8 FC demake, an achievement that brings new meaning to the phrase “Back to the Future.”
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.