Ahh, Mega Man. I still remember playing Mega Man 3 on the morning of my 8th birthday. It was waiting for me on my bed at my Grandparent's house when I woke up that morning. The cover art on the box was epic. Ever since then, when I look back to my childhood video game days, the first thing I see is Spark Man.
Even though I already had Mega Man 2 (one of my favorite all-time games now) it was Mega Man 3 that solidified my obsession with the Blue Bomber. With clean game play, beautiful level and boss designs, an engaging story and epic music, Mega Man 3 defined what was great about the 8-bit video game era.
Was there anything greater than deciding which stage you wanted to play first? Was there anything greater than winning a new weapon when you defeated a boss? And finally, was there anything greater than finally figuring out which weapon each boss was weak against? When I look back at my NES days, no there wasn't.
While the original Mega Man (released in 1987) is somewhat basic compared to more modern Mega Man games, it set the standard for the classic NES Mega Man games to follow. It was a simple formula, but it worked to perfection.
To start the game, the player gets to select any level he or she chooses, each of which has a distinct theme. These levels are represented by a picture of that levels' particular boss, who always had a name based on the corresponding theme (shown below).
Once a level is selected, the game play is in the classic side-scrolling style and Mega Man is equipped with only his Arm Cannon, a weapon on his arm that shoots unlimited bullets. He fights through various enemies and obstacles, including pits, spikes and other rough terrain until he reaches the end of the stage, where the boss awaits. On his way, Mega Man can pick up items to restore his health and replenish boss weapon ammo, as well as find scattered 1-Ups. The boss typically wields a weapon characteristic of the stage (for example, Fire Man uses the "Fire Storm"). One of the coolest things about a Mega Man game, is that after you defeat a boss, you can use that boss' particular weapon for the rest of the game.
After all the stages have been cleared, Mega Man moves onto Dr. Wily's castle (or some adaptation of it). This generally consists of several smaller stages, with a few new bosses, as well as a rematch with all of the original bosses before ultimately battling Dr. Wily himself, usually in some crazy contraption (shown below).
Another staple of the Mega Man series is the modification of items, weapons and general game play from one game to the next. Mega Man 2 (released in 1988) featured three different "items" that are received at the end of three designated stages (a floating platform, a rocket and another platform that rises when used against a wall). Energy Tanks were also a new feature in Mega Man 2. When the player grabs one of these, it is stored in their inventory (up to 4) and can be used at any point throughout the game to replenish Mega Man's energy supply.
Mega Man 3 (released in 1990) featured the addition of Rush, a robotic dog companion, who assisted Mega Man in a similar way the three items did in the second game (Rush Coil, Rush Jet and Rush Marine). You would gain these abilities after completing certain stages in the game. The player was also able to make Mega Man "slide" in this game, an ability that enabled the player to slip under tight openings and reach hidden items and areas. A password system was utilized, which was first introduced in Mega Man 2, so players could save their progress.
Admittedly, with the release of the Super Nintendo in 1991, I seemed to lose interest with the NES, and never really bothered to play the subsequent Mega Man titles on that system. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I finally sat down and played through the 4th, 5th and 6th installments of the franchise. While these three games are absolutely wonderful, featuring the classic Mega Man game play, I just didn't have the same nostalgia while playing through them.
Mega Man 4 (released in 1992) featured an upgrade to Mega Man's Arm Cannon, called a Mega Buster, allowing the player to hold down the B button (to shoot) and charge up his shot. This allows him to shoot much more powerful bullets (or whatever come out of that thing). Two new optional items were also included in this game. The balloon adaptor and the wire adaptor are hidden in 2 of the stages, and must be found by the player before completing that particular stage. If they are not found, then the player cannot go back and retrieve them.
Mega Man 5 (released in 1992) added the "Mega Tank", an item similar to the Energy Tank that not only refills Mega Man's energy, but also all of his weapon/item ammo. There were also 8 letters scattered throughout the game (1 in each level) that spelled out "MEGAMANV". If the player collects all of them, a bird named Beat can then be used. Like the two adaptors in Mega Man 4, once a stage is completed, the player cannot go back to get a missed letter.
Mega Man 6 (released in 1994) added the "Energy Balancer", at item that would replenish the power to whichever weapon was lowest. This game also modified the use of Rush, as Mega Man and Rush would morph together to create "Jet Mega Man" and "Power Mega Man".
Even though the last 3 NES Mega Man titles didn't give me that warm and fuzzy feeling I get when playing the first three games in the series, they were still amazing games, and a wonderful addition to the franchise. Even playing these games over 15 years after they were made, on an 8-bit system, I was very impressed how they kept each game so similar, yet still kept each one fresh and new.
Mega Man went on to star in lots of SNES games (Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8, as well as the Mega Man X series) as well as handheld and PlayStation games, but I have never really got into those. While I'm sure those games are great, I really prefer the classic 8-bit games.
Aside from maybe a few other famous video game franchises, Mega Man would be at the very top. With gaming today getting more and more complex and real, I still prefer sitting down with the old NES and spending a few hours with Mega Man. Luckily for me, Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 have been developed and released as WiiWare over the last few years and have gone back to the classic, 8-bit side-scrolling style of the good old days, when Mega Man was the centerpiece of my video game childhood.