Looking Back: Mega Man: The Wily Wars

Mega Man: The Wily WarsAs 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 at the somewhat obscure Mega Man: The Wily Wars, the "All-Stars" compilation game of the first three installments. Originally released only on the SEGA Channel for the Sega Genesis in North America, it was released elsewhere as a regular Mega Drive console title and finally found a kind of domestic release just last year.

Though it seems odd saying it now, the embryonic gaming culture of the early 1990s tended to equate greater graphics and processing power with greater games. Maybe due to more distinct shifts in processing power between the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, or because we did not have the time to build our nostalgia for the fading era, but the advent of 16-bit technology was embraced by gamers with abandon. Our old games were left in the past and were generally isolated for play on the older consoles.

Of course, there were some exceptions. The Ninja Gaiden Nintendo Entertainment System games saw a consolidated re-release as Ninja Gaiden Trilogy on the Super NES and the old SEGA Master System Sonic the Hedgehog titles were re-released for the portable Game Gear system. These were generally straight ports with minor enhancements or modifications, nothing like the grand remastering that the original NES Super Mario Bros. games received for their port to the SNES in the form of Super Mario All-Stars. While gamers are used to such efforts these days, after the generations of remakes of every classic game from Final Fantasy IV to Metal Gear Solid to Kirby's Adventure, back in the early 1990s such works were a complete rarity.

Bubble ManFighting the Bubble Man Doc Robot

It was in this context that Mega Man: The Wily Wars was released. Following Super Mario All-Stars' lead, The Wily Wars contains the first three NES outings completely remastered in 16-bit graphics and sound. Unlike its Mario fore bearer, The Wily Wars appeared exclusively on SEGA hardware and included a completely original set of levels in the short extra mode, "Wily Tower." 

Like other spin-off games, The Wily Wars was developed by an outside team that struggled to maintain certain elements that made the original installments some of the best games of the era. While many members of this team at Minakuchi Engineering cut their teeth on the Game Boy Mega Man sub-series, it's clear that those games received more attention than did The Wily Wars, and was most likely a contributing reason for the latter's tortured development.

In the end, the three NES ports are decent recreations. There are only a few glaring problems–- larger bosses such as the Yellow Devil and Mecha Dragon suffer from massive slowdown, and there's a weird delay in MM3's Break Man level–- but overall they are faithful recreations of the 8-bit outings.

The small differences and the imbalances caused by porting the games to a new console that make The Wily Wars a bit more troublesome to play, especially for those well-versed in the original series. Mega Man is drawn a bit taller vis-a-vis his surroundings and other enemies and characters, but for actual gameplay purposes he is still two-blocks tall, making much of the sprite work and graphics in general seem inconsistent.

Cut ManTop Man

There are also strange results in converting the relatively under-detailed NES landscapes to the 16-bit platform, a phenomenon that continued for years. Cut Man's level now occurs inside what seems to be a scissor factory and Top Man's level downplays the greenhouse theme and looks like a generic, spike-filled level. While such porting issues are not unique to The Wily Wars, it is still puzzling.

In some ways, these facelifts channel a feel more akin to the final Skull Castle levels of the final NES installments than they do their source material. However, those are just cosmetic issues, with the most most significant problem is simply that the game runs too slow. Most of Mega Man's weapons–- including his regular shots–- are simply too slow and because of timing differences, rapid-fire is not possible. Mega Man himself moves sluggishly and so do many (but not all) of the Robot Masters and bosses.

More frustrating still is that this lag is not universal; for example, the Big Eyes from Mega Man 1 move much closer to their original speed than do the Mega Man 3's Parasyu. Not all the changes in the ports were for the worse, most notably the numerous gameplay adjustments to MM1 to bring it line with its sequels.

Mecha DragonShadow Man Doc Robot Level

While the graphics and sound are obviously better detailed than the 8-bit originals, neither has their charm. The graphics are clean enough, but at times suffer from the aforementioned issues of putting the wrong emphasis on the ported material and the random oddities of relative sizes. The music is uneven at best, with some tracks sounding like decent remakes of the old tunes and others sounding absolutely terrible, while others still just sound like most SEGA games not composed by Michael Jackson

The sound effects are grating and many sound like they are in some weird echo chamber. The sound chip on the Genesis/Mega Drive might not have been the best, but it is hard to stomach considering there were better amateur MIDI remixes on Geocities fan sites at the time of this game's release. The audio issues in the ports are an interesting case in musical interpretation and hardware limitations, but I will not belabor the point any further, especially since this guy has done a fantastic job at identifying the issues.

Buster Rod G. LevelHyper Storm H.

By now, most folks know about "Wily Tower." An odd, original extra mode/game unlocked after beating the three NES ports, "Wily Tower" features three new robots inspired by Journey to the West (see also: Dragon Ball) and a jaunt through, well, Dr. Wily's tower.

At only seven levels in length, it is one of the shortest Mega Man games, but one of the most unique. Between levels, players can choose any eight weapons and three items from the original three NES games. Each level has certain paths and items that are only accessible based on what inventory you chose, rewarding those players who are more familiar with the series and the patterns in its level design.

The levels themselves are fairly interesting in how they use enemies from all three ported games, as well as utilizing design aspects from later games in the series-throughout many levels there are hidden rooms and some even feature branching paths. Better still are some of the boss fights, with the double energy bar of Hyper Storm H., the tumbling rematch against Buster Rod G., and the Dr. Robotnik-esque Wily fight.

Mega Water S.The Wily Tower Level 3 Buster Rod G. Rematch Dr. Robotnik...er...Dr. Wily

Across the board, there are signs that The Wily Wars suffered from a rushed development cycle, despite the infamously long development process that Keiji Inafune once called "a nightmare." Some larger enemies such as Tama (the large cat from MM3) are lacking in animation, the dramatic entrance of the Guts Dozer was cut, the Mecha Dragon battle is even slower than on the 8-bit NES, and the epic deaths of MM2's Skull Castle bosses have been replaced with generic explosions. Furthermore, some sound tracks such as the MM1 final victory fanfare have been cut in the conversion, and MM3's final victory fanfare was mistakenly left out of the sound test.

Most telling of all, there are substantial amounts of data within The Wily Wars that indicate there was originally a Wily Tower-like option to pull weapons from any game and use them in MM1, 2, and 3. Given Inafune's public dismay about troubleshooting and the amount of leftover data, it is not much of a stretch to think that a lot of work went into that cancelled option before it was finally cut.

Fighting the MM1 Mega Man Clone with the Metal BladeFighting Magnet Man with the Thunder Beam

In the end, The Wily Wars is an interesting experiment that has been made mostly redundant by the waves of virtual re-releases across modern platforms, to say nothing about the prevalence of emulation among fans since the late 1990s. While most fans were clamoring for The Wily Wars' 16-bit rehashes of old NES classics at the time of its release, times have changed substantially and this obscure anthology has not aged well.

In hindsight, Capcom was in some ways blessed to be forced into designing the Classic series to fit within the constraints of the 8-bit Nintendo. As we know now, some of the best modern game design is design by subtraction, the beauty that comes with working with less. Porting issues and a wide embrace of the 8-bit aesthetic has rendered this love letter to SEGA fans unnecessary, especially today.

That being said, The Wily Tower is one of the most unique gaming experiences in the series and any fan of the series should not pass it up. For all of its issues, The Wily Wars was a valiant if uneven effort to expose the Blue Bomber to the most unfortunate folks of that era–- the SEGA enthusiasts who grew up without the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

The CastThe End

James is a features contributor for The Mega Man Network. He is now back in the United States. Sometimes he updates his Tumblr.

The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.