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 Mega Man series. This time, I’m examining the first installment of the Game Boy sub-series, Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge, a short but tough monochrome romp.
Capcom and the outside team from Minakuchi Engineering they entrusted to develop these games took an interesting approach to the Game Boy sub-series. As most people know by now, each of the first four Game Boy installments reused Robot Masters from two NES games. Players were given the chance to see what effect Rolling Cutter had on Quick Man, what the Air Shooter did to Needle Man, and so on.
Generally speaking, the Game Boy games generally inherit whatever gameplay innovations were featured in the games they mix and match, thus Dr. Wily's Revenge has no slide or Mega Buster. Unlike the NES installments, the player can only choose from four Robot Masters at a time. On top of mixing and matching the Robot Masters, each game threw in a new robot (most of the time, a "Mega Man Killer") to fight with a unique weapon. While these games started out fairly simple, it eventually led to some of the best and most influential games in the Classic series, leading to significant change in the main installments.
Dr. Wily's Revenge, or Mega Man I, to use Mandi Paugh's naming convention, is sort of a miracle. Considering the other Game Boy games released in 1991, it pushed the Game Boy hardware pretty hard. The size of the sprites remained unchanged from their transition from the NES, and the speed of the game is only slightly affected. The music is nothing to write home about, but most of the tracks come close to faithfully recreating the music from the NES games. MMI nails it in terms of aesthetics and staying true to the solid play control of the console installments, making an easy transition from TV screen to the dot-matrix playing field.
One element of gameplay that suffered from this transition, however, was the room given to the player to maneuver due to incredibly small size of the dot-matrix playing field. Retaining the NES sprites makes the game look good but its easy to see how this can be problematic for the player. While the game does not punish the player with frequent off-screen antics (which would later be the chief complaint of a number of NES-to-Game Boy Color ports), it means that there is simply not a lot of room to dodge enemies and move around obstacles.
The game makes some omissions for the smaller screen-- the Yoku blocks are now Yoku bars, for instance-- but for the most part, the game is NES graphics with less about the third the playing room. It's unfortunate that more changes were not made to accommodate the platform, especially considering that Minakuchi Engineering made serious revisions to the game, as the prototype features a number of differences and changed content.
This leads to a dramatic change in how the game is played. While on the NES one can move fairly quickly through the levels, the lack of maneuver space means that it is far more advantageous for the player to engage enemies from a distance and tread a bit more carefully. This is doubly true considering that Mega Man's life meter is reduced from its NES total of 28 bars to 19 for the Game Boy outings. How the developers managed the gameplay with these restrictions would change over the course of the sub-series, but it made for an incredibly tough first outing.
The first four levels feature two-thirds of the lineup from the original Mega Man on the NES. While Ice Man and Fire Man's levels and boss behaviors more or less resemble their console counterparts (Ice Man adds melting blocks and falling icicles, Fire Man adds the Hothead enemy from MM2), Cut Man's level is completely different, featuring moving walkways from Mega Man 2 and an all-new enemy, the Cutting Wheel, while Cut Man himself is a terror due to his speed and no room to dodge. Elec Man also underwent a change, with new propeller boxes that generate gusts for Mega Man to leap over larger chasms and battling Elec Man is a bit simpler, with the Thunder Beam being less powerful than its NES incarnation.
An interesting note: The gates leading to the Robot Master all feature a drop down into the arena, and in fact this is one classic game that completely omits normal, horizontal gates.
After the first four levels, Mega Man gets to navigate a fairly lengthy Wily level that utilizes the one and only Carry item. Carry generates a platform under our hero, allowing for a bit more variability in how the final levels are structured.
Following the end of the first Wily level, the player finds himself in front of four teleport hatches that lead to Robot Masters from... Mega Man 2. The boss fights themselves are a bit slower and take place in empty rooms, but overall not too different from the NES incarnations. In the end, Mega Man faces off with Enker, the requisite unique robot for this Game Boy installment.
The final level takes place in the orbital Wily Station, beginning another Game Boy tradition that goes nearly unbroken. With a stirring 8-bit version of the Popcorn Song and armed with the interesting-but-not-always-useful Mirror Buster from Enker, the player navigates another incredibly long level. The Wily Machine fights are less than fun, with dodging an incredible amount of Cutting Wheels and in the end using the Mirror Buster, this game's unique weapon, to defeat the evil doctor (which, of course, becomes another sub-series tradition).
Looking back, some of the design decisions are curious: Was it truly necessary to even include the four Robot Masters from Mega Man 2? Why give the player five new weapons with only one level to use them in? Given that this game was developed in 1991, why not give Mega Man the slide and the Mega Buster?
One can only wonder now, but it is likely that the game was developed on a tight schedule and was treated an experiment in what was possible on a platform most wrote off as one more given to puzzlers and simple arcade ports. Overall, Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge is an enjoyable game but has been overshadowed by many of the portable games that came after it. It is a solid but short distraction and a good first effort, but the transition from NES to Game Boy meant a far more difficult game, even if it was a measly six levels.
James is a feature contributor for The Mega Man Network 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.