A Mighty Reminder
The Mega Man series has long held a reputation for a perfect blend of incredible level design, diverse arsenal of weapons, and challenging platforming and combat. As Capcom let the franchise wither on the vine, creator Keiji Inafune took matters into his own hands with the inarguably terrible Mighty No. 9. After spending a weekend with Mega Man 2, the most fondly remembered of the original NES series of games, I fully comprehend the extent of the injustice that Mighty No. 9 did to the Blue Bomber and am reminded of what true gameplay supremacy looks like.
Originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1988, Mega Man 2 is as close to pure gameplay perfection as I have experienced, completely validating the incredible expectations that were heaped on the game by retro enthusiasts. The famous formula of eight stages, each with their own robot master, provides a compelling combination of diverse enemies and mechanics. Every stage provides unique challenges that push the player through varying challenges exclusive to the levels that contain them. Metal Man’s conveyor belts, Quick Man’s lightning pace, and Heat Man’s disappearing blocks each test your platforming mettle and stretch your understanding of the Mega Man language.
Make no mistake, there is a language to Mega Man that must be learned in order to successfully navigate the difficult obstacles that the game presents. The game requires a precision rarely found in modern games, and with it a healthy dose of patience. Mega Man 2 is difficult, and while Mega Man experts may say that it is the easiest of the series, those without retro sensibilities will find themselves struggling to advance. Memorization and practice are key gameplay mechanics, often requiring you to repeat tricky sections multiple times before you can find the perfect solution. In addition, Mega Man himself handles differently than most other platformers, having a bit of slipperiness to his movements that can take some adaptation from those weaned on Mario. Often, in order to successfully complete a section I had to hit my jumps at incredibly precise intervals while anticipating and preparing for future movements.
However, once the language clicked, the euphoria I felt by finally emerging victorious from a stage that had given me nightmares was among the most satisfying gaming experiences that I have had. This feeling can be easily characterized by the second section of Quick Man’s stage, which forces you to guide Mega Man through a series of lasers that shoot across the stage in sequence, causing instant death at the slightest hesitation. After dozens of attempts, the feeling of escaping the grasp of that final laser was incredible. I then proceeded to be killed by Quick Man, but getting through the section once gave me the knowledge and confidence to repeat the feat without issue.
The most incredible aspect of Mega Man 2 is how it never feels frustrating. Even as a player without the mindset of a NES master, the gameplay loop was so fun that I didn’t mind working through challenging sections. Every death was fair and avoidable, giving me lesson after lesson on how to improve my skills. As my arsenal of robot master weapons grew, the options available to me to move through the stages and defeat enemies only made the game more manageable. I guess there is a “correct” way to move through the stages, which can be completed in any order, but I strongly urge you to forge your own path. Each boss has a weakness to the weapon of another, and the discovery of this weakness is an additional source of elation integral to what makes Mega Man 2 such a joy to play.
Every weapon has its uses and gives an additional wrinkle to the fantastic combat. The base Mega Buster can put three projectiles on the screen at a time in a straight line, which leads to thoughtful encounters with the game’s colorful enemies. In addition, planting Crash Bombs, defeating looming enemies with the Bubble Lead and the aerial mastery of the Air Shooter all contribute to the multifaceted combat and allow you to strategize your way through anything the game throws at you. While each weapon has its place, the one problem that I have with the game is that there are some balance issues concerning them. For example, the Metal Blade is a multipurpose weapon that serves to make most encounters vastly easier, while the Leaf Shield always seemed to have its use superceded by another weapon. I wish that I could have been able to use every weapon rather than cycling between my usual four, but those with limited utility still get a memorable moment to shine.
These elements make Mega Man 2 the classic experience that it is, but it is the style of the game that has given them a lasting vehicle into our collective consciousness. Many of the robot masters have iconic designs, and the common enemies that you come to blows with range from aggressive animals to animated springs and pumps. The killer lighter Heat Man and and fighting desk fan Air Man are my personal favorites of the bosses, but there isn’t a bad design in the bunch. The graphics in general are incredible considering the 8-bit limitations, with a vibrant palette of colors bringing Mega Man’s struggle to life. Actions continuously flash across the screen that push the classic system’s capabilities to the limit with minimal slowdown.
As beautiful as the game is, the music is really what sends it into the stratosphere. I mean, wow. Are you listening to the track I embedded at the beginning? You would have a hard time convincing me that a better top-to-bottom soundtrack exists anywhere. What sound designers were able to accomplish with such a limited range of sounds is simply astounding. Every track gives a fullness to the themes of each stage whilst simultaneously urging you forward. Each death has the silver lining of giving you a few more seconds of this sweet, sweet soundtrack.
If you are looking to experience the joys of Mega Man 2, or the rest of this wonderful series, look no further than the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Featuring faithful emulation of the 6 NES games in the series and available on PS4, Xbox One, PC and 3DS, there has never been an easier way to experience the Blue Bomber. Adding a new quick save feature as well as a slew of bonus features and challenges make this collection a fantastic re-release. If your own a Wii U, Mega Man 2 can also be found on the virtual console.
The Verdict: 9.8 out of 10
Today’s gaming landscape is littered with cinematic shooting experiences and grand open-world adventures, but sometimes I feel that the triple A space gets wrapped up in the bombastic spectacle to the point where it forgets that gameplay is king. And if gameplay is king, the Mega Man series is the heir to the throne, with Mega Man 2 sitting as first in line. The incredible mix of precise platforming and combat, first class level design and one of gaming’s best soundtracks makes this a must play game for gamers of all ages and sensibilities. There are no exceptions; everyone should experience Mega Man 2.
Brett Williams is an Associate Editor for MONG who only broke two of his four PS4 controllers in frustration during Quick Man’s stage. You can find his nonexistent ramblings on twitter.