Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Gamers Love Mega Man 2

In preparation of Mega Man 9, I've been replaying the classic Mega Man series. Let's take a look at a true classic, despite this site's premise of reviewing "lesser-known," "obscure," or "forgotten" gems. If you aren't familiar with Mega Man, well, you should go buy the Mega Man Anniversary collection for PS2, GameCube, or XBox, and learn about the Blue Bomber the hard way.

Ask any Mega Man fan which is their favorite, and 4/5 times he or she will answer Mega Man 2. Hell, ask Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune and he'll reveal its his personal favorite.

The reason, like Mega Man's weapon, is multifoliate. I would, however, like to look a a few very specific reasons why Mega Man 2 simply rocks. I could list them... but Mega Man 2 has so many redeeming qualities and so few shortcomings I'd sound like a crazy.

Instead, I'll skip out on the usual review, and relate some of my experiences playing the game. Most recently, I was playing the game an hour ago preparing to write this review. It's extremely difficult to get inspired to write after playing such a great game, which may sound contradictory. It's almost disheartening to experience a piece of art as good as Mega Man 2.

I brought my copy of Mega Man Anniversary Collection over to a friend's house. He seemed decently excited so we started to play. He asked which one I recommended, and, to be fair, I said that most people consider Mega Man 2 to be the best of the best, but others prefer Mega Man 3 and it's really good too. He decided to start with 3, and we fought through Magnet Man's stage and I breezed through Snake Man's stage and died using only the Mega Buster.

Which is an interesting side note: a fun Mega Man challenge is to beat each robot master with only the arm cannon. Some are more difficult than others, obviously. I'm currently working on this particular challenge and actually managed to beat Quick Man on my 3rd try. Usually I have trouble most bosses, but to beat one of the hardest was pretty fucking sweet.

And eventually we tired of Mega Man 3, and he wanted to check out Mega Man 2. We started playing, and he got through Metal Man's stage and I beat Metal Man (I can regularly beat this guy without getting hit. It doesn't take a kid long to realize that the Metal Blade is fucking awesome and beating Metal Man, if one has to beat a robot master without exploiting a weapon, while, perhaps not the easiest, is surely the most useful. Armed with the Metal Blade, you'll buzzsaw a path straight to the center of Skull Castle). And after playing a few more levels, I inputted the code (which I have memorized) starting at Dr. Wily's castle with 4 E tanks. I didn't beat the game, because I was frustrated at the bomb-wall boss... that one boss that is completely impossible unless you do it exactly right. I didn't even die, I just ran out of bombs. Protip: if you rapidly pause and un-pause the game at this boss, you will change to and from a beam of light, and become invulnerable to their attacks while in the shape-changing animation frames. This glitch can also be used to slow your fall in the underwater corridor of spikes.

Then a few days after that, two friends and I were playing Mega Man Anniversary Collection (and drinking). I was attempting Heat Man's stage without Item-2. It wasn't working out very well. Care to guess? That's right: the magnetic blocks. BVOOOM. BVOOOM. BVOOOM. GRAH! DEATH! I gave up and beat Air Man to get Item-2 and surfed my way over the pit. I cleared the remaining levels (and of course I had to use the Flash Weapon to get through Quickman's devious beams. I tried and tried without using the Flash, and finally gave up. Frustrated, I looked up the pattern on the internet today, memorized it, and beat the beams without it!) and showed my friend (who had never seen Dr. Wily's Castle) my favorite stage in the game. The music, obviously, which has been remixed more than any other song on the internet, and, secondly, the Dragon!

I remember the first time I got to the Dragon. I had rented the game, and was probably 6-8 years old. I would write down every password in marker on a giant poster board. I had different variations too. No surprise, really, before the internet and FAQs most people took notes or wrote down passwords when playing games. Video Game hobbies really do require a significant amount of paperwork.

But the Dragon! Jumping on the blocks, in time to the music, even though we only jump for 10 seconds before the music stops, and the boss music starts, and everything stops as his life gauge appears, where death and awesome are opposite and very near, and certain destruction flies forward, and we face those incredible mechanical odds, there are moments of pure reckless abandon as we heroically jump towards an almost certain death, and then emerge victorious with cool non-emotion on our 8-Bit sprite's face while we watch our enemy explode and fade into nothing. It's code cycle in the NES's cpu complete... The castle successfully stormed.

That's why so many gamers love Mega Man 2.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bit Watch: Mega Man 9

I thought 8-Bit gaming was dead and gone. Then came Mega Man 9. Capcom announced Mega Man 9 on Nintendo's Wii Ware service.

The kicker: it will be in 8-Bit.

Finally... FINALLY, game developers are beginning to understand. You can thank Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune for the breakthrough. Graphics don't make a game, and the less powerful systems had amazing games partly because they were given a framework in which to work.

The analogy is comparable to structure in literature. Sometimes free verse is the way to go, sometimes a sonnet. A novel, or a short story. The limitations inspire and force creativity. "Bit" graphics can offer the same structure and variety to video games. The text should dictate the form used. It's a simple question: would this game work better in 8-Bit. In the case of Mega Man, the answer is, most certainly, YES.

Form should not be picked at random (and, most often it isn't: video game form is tied directly to $$$), it should be carefully chosen. Video games have constantly moved toward "new is better" which is a result of professional reviewers having an extreme bias toward game that don't have a billion-dollar budget. Re-released games will often receive scores in the 4-6 range simply for being "outdated," and crappy shovelware titles might squeak by with a 6.9. See their review of Metroid. Now take a look at TV Show King. I'm not making this up.

It's 2008 and the developers had a wide variety of forms to choose from. They chose 8-Bit because Mega Man just works in 8-Bit. And this is a major victory for 8-Bit. 2D gaming never expired, it just migrated to the handheld market. But even there, the insistence that games be 16- or 32-bit was overwhelming. 2D gameplay was okay, but only if you had tons of bells and whistles to justify not being a 3D game.

Finally, someone had the balls to say "fuck it," and just made an 8-Bit game. Hopefully, their vision and inspiration (and profits) will inspire other companies and developers to do the same. Capcom are making an argument for 8-Bits, but the implications are further-reaching. This isn't about 8-Bit, i'ts about form and video games and art. If video games are going to progress, then they must have the option to use whatever form they feel appropriate, even if that requires technical limitations. The gaming community should embrace this mindset.

I do know a few tidbits about the mechanics of Mega Man 9. Not much is known at this point, but the robot masters will be: Magma Man, Galaxy man, Jewel Man, Concrete Man, Hornet Man, Plug Man, Tornado Man (wait a minute, didn't the already do that?), and Splash WOMAN (ZOMG)! The slide move and the charge-shot will be purchasable via Dr. Light's shop (a la Mega Man 7). Mega Man 9 launches in September, in Japan. Other releases to follow.

Also interesting: I'd bet that most gamers excited about Mega Man 9 have played a Mega Man rom hack (I've even made one myself)? Or an unrelated rom hack? After all the internet is teeming with romhacks... wait a minute. Why the fuck didn't developers catch on to this before? Because the people handing out money are idiots, obviously. However, have no fear, I am sure Mega Man 9 will be a smash hit, outselling everything else on Wii Ware. Devs will jump on that cash cow like a trampoline. Expect a slough of crappy 8-Bit games, but don't worry, we'll sort the good from the bad.

This is history in the making folks. Enjoy the gallery.