For part one of GeekPiphany’s Mega Man retrospective, we’ll be starting with the first three games in the series, Mega Man 1, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3. This first trio of games is perhaps the most venerated of the classic series. And rightly so! That’s not to say, of course, that the later Mega Man games are inferior. Far from it! As you’ll see, it’s my humble opinion that just about every Mega Man game in the classic series has something interesting and unique to consider. But without the foundation provided by the first three games, well…let’s just say that I wouldn’t be here today sharing my thoughts with you on a series that’s got three decades under its belt.
Alright, that’s enough of that. With no further ado, let’s start with…
Mega Man (NES, 1987)
As I suspect is the case for many thirty-somethings that grew up with an NES gracing their living rooms, Mega Man was not the first Mega Man game they played—that honor likely went to Mega Man 2. It was certainly the case for me. Still, even as a boy that experienced the refinement of Mega Man 2 and 3 before playing the original, I did enjoy the progenitor Mega Man back in the day. So what did I think in 2018?
Despite all the bells and whistles added by later iterations, the basics of literal running and gunning were laid out in Mega Man to great success. Many tropes such as the infamous disappearing/reappearing blocks, selecting one’s own stage order, and the acquisition of robot master weapons were introduced in Mega Man. The game’s whimsical, Astro Boy-inspired world is endearing even now—the spherical skyscrapers in Bomb Man’s stage are a personal favorite visual, for example. The game looks and plays well to this day, even if it is one of the series’ more difficult entries.
One sees in Mega Man vestiges of the “arcade mentality,” so to speak, held by the gaming industry of the early 1980s. Mega Man had a point scoring system, for example, offering points to players for defeating baddies. The feature was dropped in Mega Man 2 and never picked up again, to no great loss. As noted before, Mega Man is a difficult game—another reflection of the industry’s arcade roots. This isn’t necessarily a mark against the game, particularly in an age of infinite lives and quick saves, just an observation of how games have evolved since those heady days.
As for the best robot master? Guts Man, hands down. Why? One, I’ve got a soft spot for the bruiser types and Guts Man is Mega Man’s archetypal bruiser. And two, the robot masters in Mega Man were supposedly designed by Dr. Light for everyday tasks, right? To my mind, only Guts Man really looks the part. Burly robot with a construction helmet? Makes sense for land reclamation. But sure, Doc, you keep telling yourself the robot that literally has a flamethrower for a head is a garbage man. That tracks.
Mega Man 2 (NES, 1989)
Ah, the perennial favorite of the classic series, for better or for worse. Better, in that Mega Man 2 takes the foundation given by Mega Man and refines the hell out of it. Worse, in that the eventual reverence for Mega Man 2 would arguably hold back some of the later entries in the series. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the “perennial favorite” status I mention is hotly debated among the fan base, with Mega Man 2 and 3 jockeying for that honor. In the case of Mega Man 2, why is this so?
Mega Man 2 improves on the original in just about every way. The graphics are sharper and more colorful, and the stages more animated (Flash Man’s stage of vibrant glossy blocks is an excellent example). There are now eight robot masters instead of six, and they’re a bit more creatively inspired than the original lot—such as the Super Sentai-inspired Quick Man, or the delightfully anachronistic Wood Man. Not to mention the game’s legendary soundtrack—tired as one may be of hearing remixes of the first Wily level music, for example, there’s a reason that the driving, dire tune is so beloved. And the trio of Items that replace Mega Man’s Magnet Beam diversify the Blue Bomber’s movement options.
What else is there to say? If you know Mega Man, you know that Mega Man 2 is the sequel that just about every other game wishes it could have. About the only thing that wasn’t iterated on was the core gameplay established in Mega Man—that would come later in Mega Man 3. My opinion didn’t change much from childhood to now: Mega Man 2 is a seminal run and gun platformer.
Regarding the best robot master, I’m going to go with my childhood favorite and declare Metal Man the best of Mega Man 2. While my adult eye recognizes that other robot masters may have tighter or more iconic designs—Quick Man handily wins here, I think—there’s just something undeniably cool about Metal Man’s style. Whether the brokenness of his acquired weapon is a strike for or against the robot master is debatable, but let’s just say that the folks on my side of the debate are better-armed.
Mega Man 3 (NES, 1990)
If I’ve come to appreciate anything about Mega Man as a series, it’s that just about every game has tried something new. Some things stuck, and some didn’t. Mega Man 3 introduced what are, to many fans, the last true staples of the franchise: Mega Man’s faithful canine companion Rush, and the venerable slide maneuver. Rush greatly improves on the Item trio from Mega Man 2, not only in personality but function. In fact, the free-flying Rush Jet of Mega Man 3 will never be the same in the series’ later installments, with Rush’s freedom of movement curbed to a slightly steerable forward, well…rush. I recognize this as a perfectly valid decision in the name of balance, but c’mon Capcom—the Mega Man 3 Rush Jet was way more fun.
But to boil Mega Man 3 down to these points, important as they are, would do the game a disservice. Mega Man 3 improved on the series’ admittedly light world building, with the story of a not-really-reformed Dr. Wily and the introduction of Proto Man, Mega Man’s too-cool-for-school younger brother. When Dr. Wily inevitably turns on you, we’re treated to the first instance of a pre-Wily Castle set of levels in the series. Mysterious skull-faced robots have razed four of the previous stages, and they take on the powers of their slain compatriots from Mega Man 2 to boot! As a kid, I imagined the ghosts of robots past were getting a chance for vengeance, which I admit makes little sense. But hey, it was cool as hell.
I could go on. The music of Mega Man 3 isn’t as iconic as that from Mega Man 2, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good. In fact, I’d argue that the moodier tunes, particularly in the Wily Castle levels, suit the game perfectly. As much as I love Mega Man 2, I think Mega Man 3 is the stronger package all around. I can’t say that I felt that way as a kid—I think I was spoiled by Mega Man 2’s “normal” mode that made replays a breeze—but with this most recent replay, I really appreciate the new ideas that Mega Man 3 brought to the table.
The game’s robot masters are great, too, ranging from goofy bots like Top Man to super-serious ninja Shadow Man. In fact, I’ll just call it now—Shadow Man is the best Mega Man 3 robot master. Hardly a unique pick, but what can I say? Ninjas are cool, turtles or otherwise.