Hoo-boy, I feel like I'm going to catch some hell with this one. Alas, this is the life I chose.
The iOS and Android ports of the six Nintendo Entertainment System entries in the Mega Man Classic series, rebranded under the name Mega Man Mobile, were released yesterday. And as I'm sure many of you are no doubt aware, the reception to them has been anything but kind.
I've tried to keep eyes forward, as Capcom reached out to me with the offer of codes with which to review the games -- codes I was happy to accept in the interest of providing this very review, as I honestly had little interest in purchasing the games myself otherwise (some of which I own a good five or so times -- I'm pretty well covered if I need my fix whether at home or on the go, and the lack of the Rockman Unity app and its tied-in bonuses didn't provided further enticement).
In the interest of further disclosure, I will admit that I have not played through any of these games in their entirety. Given how many times I've played them over the years, I played through roughly 3-5 stages per game with the belief that I can get enough of a feel for them from that -- though there is one exception, which I will get to when we come to it.
Also, I don't know whether it makes a difference or not, but the versions I played were on iOS through an Apple iPhone 6s Plus. All screens in this review were taken from each game's respective Google Play pages.
Anyway, here's what popped out at me as I played the games -- note that this is by no means a comprehensive list.
Where better to start than the beginning? It was my first Mega Man experience way back in the day, after all.
The first game in the series pretty much sets the stage for the rest of these ports, but that by no means indicates that all these ports are equal. Some truths are reinforced, while others are turned completely on their head, but we'll get to that as we go along.
The graphics and sound are by and large like what you know on the NES (or re-releases). Maybe not quite as good as you'd find pumping through your television, but it would take a keener ear than mine to really pick apart the problems. I will say that the videos released beforehand had me worried, but those fears were unfounded when I played, though there is an issue with the music restarting when you pause.
In terms of when things are actually moving, well, that's where things begin to falter a little bit. The frame rate is a bit sluggish, which Capcom says is because "each game has been optimized for the mobile devices with adjustments to game speed." There is an option to speed it up, which helps the overall flow, but as you'd expect, kind of makes everything move a bit faster in general, and so a bit more difficult to keep up with.
Among the other options you're given are whether holding the Fire button will have your weapons shoot constantly, or if you need to tap them for each shot (I went with auto), and a choice between Normal and Difficult settings (I mainly stuck to Normal), each with their own save files. Near as I can tell, Difficult is closer to the original NES games, while Normal softens things up a bit in terms of how many hits enemies take to be defeated and the like, as well as granting infinite lives (you're taken to the Continue/Stage Select screen after each death, though).
You can also change the arrangement of the three buttons at the right of the screen for jumping, firing, and cycling through your weapons one way. At the top right, there's another which isn't configurable, but brings up your pause/weapons screen.
Sadly, the Dpad at right cannot be moved at all, and its placement so close to the screen's edge (as seen in these screenshots) made moving left rather difficult in this game. For some reason, they moved it a bit in the rest, but this results in movement being more difficult in an already tough game. The result is that getting around usually took a much more concentrated and less immersive effort. Even climbing the ladders wedged into narrow spaces in Cut Man's stage took a bit more effort than normal, and I had to be overall more cautious.
Despite this, I was able to get through Cut Man, Bomb Man, and Elec Man's stages with relative ease. Guts Man was where I stopped, as even the Magnet Beam -- already a tricky item to use -- could not save the day this time, and the Dpad is just not good for quick, nuanced back-and-forth movement.
In a way that's nothing short of amusing, Mega Man Mobile 2 is perhaps the best game in this entire lot. That's not simply a judgment of the game as a whole against the others throughout the series' history, but it is the one I found perhaps the most playable of the lot.
The big change is not reflected in the screens, which is that from this game forward, the Dpad at left is moved just a bit to the right, enough so there's room between the Left direction is not touching the edge of the screen, and it makes a world of difference. I surprised myself when I took on Quick Man's stage and not only got through the beams on my first try without using the Time Stopper, but I might have even done so in record time for myself.
I couldn't believe it, though I suppose it's possible that playing on Normal assisted in the feat.
Speaking of which, a funny peculiarity about this game: Normal here is not like Normal in most versions of Mega Man 2, as enemy behavior is not changed. For instance, Tanishis in Bubble Man's stage lose their shell regardless of difficulty, and Blockies found in a few stages fly to pieces when shot in the face, rather than being destroyed outright. But regardless of difficulty, you can now jump through the chains of the Presses in Metal Man's stage.
The Metal Blade is still potent, but is unfortunately difficult to aim in diagonal directions. It's possible, but not quite as intuitive as in other versions, so it's not quite the "win button" it has become in other versions. In fact, in a replay of his stage (which you can do now), I fought Metal Man himself with it, and he actually took a good two or three hits with it!
One other thing I noticed in the time I spent playing was that enemies and such that were previously hidden by foreground objects no longer are. You can see Moles burrowing through the walls in Metal Man's stage, or the Pipis in Air Man's stage without any real difficulty.
Oh, and that reminds me: It may have been my own fault, but of the stages I played (which was everyone but Crash Man and Heat Man), the one that gave me the most trouble was -- quite amusingly -- Air Man. Sort of like when a movie is made about a song instead of the other way around, except I did eventually reach him, and he went down quick.
Emboldened to think that maybe things weren't quite as bad as I'd heard, I soldiered on to Mega Man Mobile 3, and... oy.
This is where I first really noticed the choppiness come into play. I took on Top Man's stage first, and ended up using the faster speed option (which you can toggle at any time via the options menu button at the upper left), and that helped a bit, but as noted before, that kind of speeds everything up. I can usually clear the spinning tops at the end of Top Man's stage with no hesitation, for instance, but they gave me pause when sped up.
I think the other stages I played ran a little better, but only just so. Incidentally, there were other... well, I won't call them problems, since it was exploiting the program to begin with, but there are things you could do in other versions of the game that you can't here, such as scrolling away the Have "Su" Bees in Hard Man's stage. Also, with no password screen, no easy E Tanks.
Of course, this is also the game which introduces the slide, but sadly, there is no slide button. I can't help but think that it would have helped quite a bit in the long run, as I find pressing down and jump while being sure to turn the right way first a trickier proposition here than on consoles. When you just need to get through a gap, it's fine, but when you need an evasive maneuver is when it falls flat.
After Mega Man Mobile 2 and Mega Man Mobile 3, I figured things had maybe evened out. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Good ol' Mega Man 4. For what it's worth, I've always found that of the NES games, this one challenged me the most short of the original, but I've gotten better at it over the years. Sadly, whatever skill I've gained in the years since its release did not translate over to Mega Man Mobile 4 at all.
That exception to the number of bosses I'd beaten in each of these games I mentioned earlier? This is it. I went to Toad Man's stage first, as I normally do, and while the stage was good enough (though it felt like it was really slowing down and I was struggling with the jumps in the wind and rain), it was the boss who handed me the most humiliating defeat of my entire Mega Man playing career.
Toad Man pretty well flattened me at least ten times in a row -- the maximum number of lives you can carry at once to battle in a normal Mega Man game. I was pulverized, thanks in part to not being able to reliably evade with the slide. And if I can't beat Toad Man, I don't even want to rate my chances against the rest of Cossack's crew.
This game is, of course, the debut of the Charge Shot, and as such, a new option is added to the menu which allows it to charge automatically, or you can hold it down as per tradition -- though this obviously can't work in conjunction with the turbo-fire, and the latter overrides it.
The Mega Buster's charge meter is shown beneath Mega Man's health meter when a weapon is not selected, maxing out when it's fully charged and ready to be let loose. This also results in what may be a divisive, but what I feel to ultimately be a positive change.
Mega Man himself no longer flashes while charging, but he also doesn't make any noise, meaning that the sound of the Mega Buster charging no longer drowns out the great music heard throughout most of the game. It's a bit of a trade-off, I think, but ultimately a positive one that carries forward with the remainder of these games.
Something else that carries forward from this game on is bound to irk some people. Whenever there's a screen-scrolling transition, whether it be Mega Man dropping from one screen down to another or entering the corridor to a boss, the screen fades to black before fading in on the next screen.
Mega Man Mobile 5, I really don't have too much to say about, except that it's what I wish Mega Man Mobile 4 was. Quite a bit easier and more fun to play, as things don't feel so hopelessly one-sided.
Seriously, I think Toad Man might have had a hand in development, if nothing else. He's clearly been itching for some payback.
Likewise, I don't have too much to say about Mega Man Mobile 6 in itself that hasn't been a general truth about this series of re-releases as a whole.
But, between Mega Man Mobile 5 and Mega Man Mobile 6, this where the other of those great truths (such as they are) about the NES Mega Man games gets turned on its head. Most generally consider Mega Man 5 and 6 to be the bottom tier of the releases on the platform, if not the series as whole, but here, I found them to be two of the better and overall more playable releases!
The simple truth of the matter is that none of these is the ideal way to play any of these six games, and that Capcom released them after putting such effort into creating definitive versions in the Mega Man Legacy Collection is almost confusing. And that's not even going into the work done by others, such as Taxman and Stealth, who created the nigh-definitive versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog CD on the same platform.
Still, these games are playable, if only adequately so when compared to other versions that have been released. I believe I've shown myself in the past to be a fairly capable Mega Man player, but I'll admit that even when I went through this, I don't think any of it (save the Quick Man beams) would ever wind up on my highlight reel; the stages were usually easy enough with but a few exceptions, while the boss fights were more or less slugfests to see who could last longer -- with little to none of the usual finesse I'm able to perform. That said, someone who hasn't been playing these games for the last three decades might find themselves having a more difficult time than intended as well.
If you find you need Mega Man on your mobile device, then I would most strongly recommend going with Mega Man Mobile 2, 5, or 6. Mega Man Mobile 3 is kind of okay, if you don't mind it seeming to chug along a little more than the others, Mega Man Mobile 4 I would advise keeping away from unless you really want to challenge yourself, and Mega Man Mobile itself is mostly just Mega Man, but a little bit less so, for better or for worse.
If you're interested, the six games are all available right now on the iOS App Store and Google Play for $1.99 USD each, or $2.79 CAD in the App Store and $2.89 CAD on Google Play.