Revisiting the legacy of ‘Mega Man’

Steven Dennis

The announcement of the eleventh installment of the famous “Mega Man” series has sparked a new interest in the Blue Bomber, as this new entry will be the first in the original series since “Mega Man 10” in 2010.

In anticipation for this new and exciting adventure, a retrospective look back is in order to celebrate a hero that first graced the video game market 31 years ago.

The first “Mega Man” game, known as “Rockman” in Japan, was directed by Keiji Inafune and released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The plot of the game is fairly simple, a robot lab assistant named Rock made by Dr. Light undergoes a transformation into Mega Man to stop the nefarious Dr. Wily’s scheme for world domination. To do this, he sets out to defeat the six Robot Masters, and finally the one pulling the strings – Dr. Wily.

The game is an action-platformer featuring a unique twist on what was typical of the genre at the time, the order in which the six main stages are completed is at the player’s discretion.

Upon pressing start on the title screen, the player is presented with the stages controlled by the six Robot Masters. Furthermore, upon completing any of these stages and defeating the boss, a new ability taken from the boss would be granted to Mega Man and, by extension, the player.

Each one of the six abilities functioned in a unique way, offering more options for any given scenario as the game progresses.

The idea of allowing the player to choose the order in which the main stages were completed was atypical of the time, as most platformers of the era moved directly from level to level. This offered tremendous replay value since repeated playthroughs of the game could sport different routes of completion.

This is compounded by Mega Man’s ability to copy the moves of the Robot Masters, since each one of the bosses has a weakness to at least one of the obtainable abilities. Multiple playthroughs are encouraged to experiment with stage design and boss encounters.

Upon defeating the six Robot Masters, the player is then sent to Dr. Wily’s castle, wherein Mega Man must utilize the many moves that he has acquired over the adventure, which is a common theme throughout the series. The necessity to use these moves, including an extra required ability found in Elecman’s stage, allows the game to present the player with a feeling of growing stronger as a result of the journey. In essence, Mega Man’s journey is, in part, one of self-discovery, as implied by the game’s implementation of required uses of the Robot Masters’ abilities.

The design of the game’s stages focuses on the player’s attention and patience. There are many instances in this game in which rushing forward will only end in disaster, so observing the upcoming obstacle or enemy before moving forward is fairly sound advice.

However, this can work against the game in the more extreme uses of this design philosophy, as there are moments that all but require repetition and memorization to overcome.

An excellent example of this can be found in Gutsman’s stage, where the player can choose to fall on either the right or left side of a platform to progress. However, the player cannot see what lies at the bottom, so a few first-timers end up falling into a bed of spikes, forcing them to retry with the now memorized layout of the map. Although these instances are present, they are not too numerous as to prevent recommending the game.

As such, the design of Mega Man offers a relaxing and satisfying experience if the player knows the game thoroughly, although the first experience may be stressful. The core theme of the game is mastery, since not only must Mega Man conquer each of the stages and realize his own potential, but the player must also master the mechanics and design of the game itself. This makes each repeated run of the game all the more satisfying.

Mega Man has endured the test of time for three decades and still stands firmly as a beloved franchise. There is much to love about this series. as well as much to learn from. It seems that the Blue Bomber still has a few tricks up his sleeve for the future.