“Mega Man” had a rocky start in terms of sales, having sold at a lackluster rate. The publishing company, Capcom, was willing to allow the developers to make a sequel to “Mega Man” so long as the developers were willing to work on other Capcom projects at the same time, meaning “Mega Man 2” was a passion project made on the developers’ free time while still working full time on other projects.
The game released in December of 1988, just one year after the release of the first “Mega Man” game. It was met with critical acclaim, with many still hailing this game as the best in the series. All of this served to catapult the series and its title character into prominence, bringing the developers and Capcom great success.
Dr. Wily returns in the second installment of the “Mega Man” series, having built all new Robot Masters with the sole intent of defeating the robot that thwarted his first evil scheme. Rock must dawn his helmet once again to stop Wily for a second time. Interestingly, many theorize that Wily based a few of his second group of bosses on the designs of the original Robot Masters.
“Mega Man 2” borrows its structure from its predecessor by making Wily’s Fortress inacessable until all of the Robot Masters are defeated. Looking at the design of Mega Man’s Robot Master stages, one thing is made very clear: all of their levels, with the exception of Crashman’s, start in an open room area with no enemies in sight. Given that any of these levels would inevitably be someone’s first, the designers wanted each of them to have a place where the player could get used to the controls. Once the players feel comfortable, they can proceed into unknown. Crashman serves as an exception in that enemies do appear, but they are slow to move and give the player ample time to see them and act accordingly. While this was present in the first game, Fireman’s stage begins with Mega Man under a low ceiling, making the maximum possible jump height a mystery until the player moves into a more dangerous area.
In addition to being able to acquire new abilities earned by defeating each of the Robot Masters, items one, two, and three are up for grabs after completing certain stages, each of which gives the player a new the capability of making temporary platforms that hover, fly, and climb respectively.
Much like the rest of “Mega Man 2,” the gameplay draws and refines much from the original. For example, Energy (E) Tanks were introduced, serving as a storable item that fully heals Mega Man when used. Up to four of these may be held at a time, however a game over will result in the loss of all stored E Tanks. Additionally, the level design shows more thought put into it as the game is much better about indicating how the player is to progress, resulting in far less unfair game overs. A password save system was also introduced, allowing the game to be completed in more than one sitting.
“Mega Man 2” also touches on a theme that was present in its predecessor but was not fully explored, that being the mind of Mega Man. After thwarting Wily’s plans for a second time, Mega Man can be seen walking with an unreadable expression while the seasons change around him and somber and reflective music plays in the background. The final scene ends with a still image of Mega Man’s helmet resting atop the rest of a green hill, undisturbed.
This raises a number of thematic questions, the foremost of which is of the impact that these adventures have had on the protagonist. While it is true that Rock is a robot, the narrative shows that he is free to make his own choices, such as how he willingly volunteered to become Mega Man for his first mission. The audience is left to ponder the nature of Rock, ending Mega Man 2. A third installment would soon offer more on the subject of the nature of machines.