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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new entry in the ongoing logs of the GameSpite Journal has been published, and as many in the past have seen fit to do, this one takes a look at Mega Man. However, the 12th edition of GameSpite Journal features a particular focus: SEGA. As a result, talk of Service Games and Capsule Computers colliding can only lead to one inevitable result: Street Fighter. But if you want to narrow the field by using Mega Man as a qualifier, then you're bound to end up discussing either the terrible Game Gear game, the superior version of Mega Man 8, or the focus of this article: Mega Man: The Wily Wars, the 4-in-1 game cartridge which put its own Mega-spin on the Super Mario All-Stars formula and was never given a proper release in North America.
The piece isn't very long, but does a nice job of hitting the high and low points which came from bringing Capcom de facto mascot to Nintendo's rival for the first time.
Good News: Mega Man: The Wily Wars is finally seeing a re-release in the U.S.!
Bad News: You have to buy a new portable system from SEGA in order to play it.
Good News: The system only costs $60, and comes pre-loaded with 79 other Genesis games! That's less than a dollar a game!
Bad News: According to Sonic Retro, manufacturers At Games and Blaze are not known for their hardware producing quality emulations, with sound and graphical emulation errors reportedly being common among their releases.
Bad News: It won't be released for Mega Man's 25th anniversary on December 17th.
Good News: If you're still interested, it will instead be released on November 13th.
Further details from Siliconera note:
More games will be released for download on the Ultimate Portable Game Player, and you’ll be able to load them onto an SD card (not included with the device) that goes into an in-built SD card slot.
The Ultimate Portable Game Player will come with a 2.8” screen and a built-in rechargeable battery that you can charge with the included USB cable. If you have an AV cable (not included), you can plug the device into your television as well.
You can find the full list of games at Sonic Retro, including the other two Capcom games (hint: They're both Street Fighter II).
Thanks to Rey A. Pilaro, Zakattack982, XD375, and HeatPhoenix for the tip!
Watch live video from AWD! Stream on TwitchTV I'm presently visiting the US, and seeing my good pal Andy (who sometimes joins us on the podcast). So what they hey, let's stream some Rockman Mega World. We'll be trying to clear through the entire set of games, including the unlockable Wily Tower. Hope you enjoy!
UPDATE: Well the show is over, but you can still catch the replay! We have it split in three parts, mainly due to technical difficulties. You can find the other two stream replays after the break.
Over on GameTrailers, ClanOfTheGrayWolf has produced what could be seen as a rather timely and topical video. With the common perception of Mega Man Universe being a sort of "Mega Man 2 Powered Up" (to which Capcom would seem to rather us wait before making such judgments), it seems like a good time to turn back the clock and look at the first remake of the original three Mega Man games in a well-known but rarely-experienced title from the 16-bit era. Warning: some mild vulgarity within.
What makes this video even more topical than the slight relation to Mega Man Universe is that The Wily Wars has been known to rank high among the most-wanted Virtual Console games listings in Nintendo Power. While this in no way seems to directly affect what games are released on the service (or else we'd have a lot more titles by now), it does bring to mind another similar case and how it is being handled.
Fans of Mario know that Nintendo has recently begun celebrating the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., and in Japan, they are commemorating the occasion with a special retail Wii release of Super Mario Collection, better known to us in the West as Super Mario All-Stars. And for those still unfamiliar with the title, it preceded The Wily Wars and gathered the four NES Super Mario titles, upgraded their graphics, sound, and features, and released them on one cartridge for the Super NES.
Since the debut of the Wii and the Virtual Console service, Nintendo has released the original NES versions the four games to the service, including the 8-bit version of The Lost Levels, also known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan (and which was never released in 8-bit form in the West prior). This left people to wonder how Nintendo would handle the release of the 16-bit upgrades of the games-- and if they were to do so.
Typically, NES games would run for 500 Wii Points on the Wii Shop Channel, with Super NES games running 800 a piece. To get the full contents of Super Mario All-Stars in 8-bit form would cost 2,100 Wii Points (The Lost Levels was 100 more, as it was an "import"), but how should the 16-bit forms be priced? Since they were all released on one cartridge, some believed that is how they would come to Virtual Console, retaining the 800 Wii Point price.
On the other hand, it is comprised of four games which could be released individually. And being 16-bit, they could in theory charge 800 Wii Points each, bringing the total to 3,200 Wii Points. Or perhaps just charge more for the four collectively.
As one can see, there are numerous factors to consider, to say nothing of consumer reaction. As a business, Nintendo would need to figure out a way to release the games in such a way that they would not undercut the value, but also not rip-off/enrage their potential customers.
In Japan, Nintendo has apparently found a solution to the problem by taking advantage of the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. to release the Super Mario Collection Special Pack, which not only includes a Wii disc containing the 16-bit versions of the four classic games, but also a special anniversary booklet and soundtrack. So far, this limited-edition package has not been announced for a Western release, but fans remain hopeful.
Naturally, this now calls into question how Capcom might approach a Wii release of Mega Man: The Wily Wars, especially now that a clear precedent has been set. It seems unlikely (though not impossible) that it could be used to mark his silver anniversary as Mario's does; Mega Man is only 22, turning 23 later this year.
Of course, it's possible that Capcom could simply just release it anyway, though we are left to wonder if they would have the inclination to. They could also just go the Virtual Console route, but that would lead to the issues noted above, not to mention the factors involved with Wily Tower in the mix.
It's hard to say what plans, if any, Capcom has had for a re-release of The Wily Wars, or if Nintendo's Super Mario Collection Special Pack has simplified or complicated matters. At the very least, we can continue to hope that it does eventually happen, as it is a neat set of remakes of the original three games of the franchise. Plus, the joy of getting to customize your arsenal from those three games as you prepare to fight three new and exclusive bosses is one no Mega Man fan should be denied.