Darren is a scientist and an educator by day, and a writer and reviewer by night. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. Additionally, he produces the Zero Cool Podcast, and he plays board games quite a bit.
I've been meaning to write this up for awhile now, not to change any of you retro-goggled people's minds, but just to defend my position. I hate Mega Man. I think he's worthless, and I wish the whole franchise were just ended. I don't say these things just to get a reaction (though I'll admit, it's an amusing side effect), and I don't say them because I've never played the original NES games, I say them because I truly believe them.
Chad told me that we need to have an intervention regarding my feelings toward Mega Man. This is my message saying that if hating Mega Man is wrong, then I sure as hell don't want to be right.
So why do I hate Mega Man? First, a bit of background is in order.
The original Mega Man game was released on the NES in 1987. The Dexter345 was released on the southern California in 1984, so it was only three years old when the game came out. I don't remember when I got my own NES, but I feel like I was four or five, so I would estimate it wasn't until '89 or so. I had my share of NES games, but Mega Man was never one of them.
My earliest memory of a Mega Man game was during a barbecue over at some people's house when I was eight or so. The children of the family could not stop talking about how awesome Mega Man 3 is, and I watched them play it for awhile. It looked cool to me, the graphics were great (for the time), and the concept was something I thought I'd really enjoy. Unfortunately, I was really shy when I was a wee one, so I never once asked if I could have a turn.
Fast forward to somewhere around '95. I had just moved to a new place, I had literally no friends in the area, and so I spent a TON of time and money on rented games from Blockbuster. I found some great games that I would have never otherwise played just because they were on the shelf at Blockbuster (like Earthbound and Uniracers), and one day, while browsing the SNES shelf, I saw Mega Man X. At the time I thought it was Mega Man 10 (and actually, considering how quickly they were pumping out rehashes of the game, I wasn't too far off).
So I picked it up, took it home, and played it. By no means did I dislike it. It was fun running and shooting, but it was really hard. I didn't get too into it, and so I didn't convince my parents to get it for me like I did with the games I really loved. This would be the last time I would play a Mega Man game for about ten years.
In college, I was the one with the consoles and the nice TV. My roommates knew I had a bit of an addiction, and so they would be the ones convincing me to buy games that they would end up playing. One day, we were in our local GameStop, and we see the Mega Man Anniversary Collection there for relatively cheap. The two of them (we'll call them Andy and Tom, since those are their names) go crazy, saying we should pick it up, talking about how much they loved the original Mega Man games. Though I had had little experience with them, I'm a bit of a retro enthusiast, so I gladly obliged. I plunked down some cash, and we took the game back to our apartment where I planned to give myself a crash course in a classic game that I had missed along the way.
That's where things went badly.
Playing the Mega Man games was one of the most frustrating, annoying gaming experiences I have had.
What was it? Was it the graphics? No, I realize that these games were released on the NES and the PSX, and for their respective platforms, they actually had at least decent (Mega Man 1), if not great (Mega Man 3) graphics.
Was it the music? No, the music from Mega Man 2 is lauded even today as some of the best video game music ever composed, and as a bit of a chiptunes connoisseur, I don't disagree.
Was it the structure of the levels? No, I really appreciate the innovation of being able to go to any level in any order that you care to. And heck, I really like that each of the bosses' special attacks works well against one of the others; that's classic rock-paper-scissors, and I love that stuff.
Was it that your roommates kept making fun of you because of how badly you suck at Mega Man games? Yes, partly. But not entirely.
Well then, what is it that makes you hate Mega Man? Briefly, the reason I hate Mega Man is Mega Man. That is to say, the character Mega Man is one of the most inept video game protagonists ever.
Mega Man is only ever charged with doing two things: jumping and shooting. Mega Man's problem is that while he does both of these, he doesn't neither of them well.
Jumping The easiest comparison to make when talking about 8-bit jumping is obviously Mario. The early Mario games were built for jumping. It's what the man does for a living (nevermind that plumber shtick), and so he's gotta do it well. Mario can walk or run, he can jump high or low, he can change direction mid-jump, and he comes with a sense of acceleration/deceleration that gives controlling him an overall feeling of confidence within the laws of the universe.
Mega Man moseys along at about the speed of my grandmother while she's briskly walking, jumps with very limited height, and is given platforms that are exactly at that height, which are moving, disappearing, and more-frequently-than-should-be glitchy enough that he falls straight through them. Given the world he lives in, Mega Man sucks at jumping, but perhaps not so much as, say, an elephant.
As long as he can shoot, I think things should be all right. Oh wait...
Shooting Some of you may not know this, but the origin of "pew pew pew" (which I believe was coined by Ron Workman) comes from how pathetic Mega Man's blaster is. It shoots these tiny little charges that have about the effect and speed of throwing wadded up paper towels. It takes at least three shots to kill anything in the Mega Man universe, and since your bullets have no stopping power, the enemies frequently just charge straight through them to step on you.
That is nothing when compared to my biggest complaint about Mega Man as a character: he cannot fire upward. Hell, he can't fire in any direction other than left or right. Let's compare him to his contemporaries for a moment.
NES: Samus came out in Metroid just months before the first Mega Man game. Like Mega Man, she has a blaster attached to her arm, but unlike Mega Man, she had the ability to point said arm toward the ceiling and shoot the things that would attack from above. Bill and Lance showed up on the NES with Contra in 1988, and they could shoot in all eight directions, though admittedly, to shoot down they had to jump, and to shoot at a diagonal they had to be running.
SNES: In Super Metroid, Samus took a page from Bill and Lance's book(s), and learned how to shoot at diagonals, and downward while jumping. Jimbo and Sully of Contra III fame were now able to fire two weapons at once, while flipping through the air, in between a series of goddamn moving missiles. Also, they learned to fire in all eight directions while standing still. Newcomer Earthworm Jim was advertised to be able to shoot in 64 directions, which to this day I don't even understand how it was possible using the SNES D-pad. What was Mega Man doing in Mega Man X while his contemporaries were off being total badasses? He was firing left and right, and only left and right.
PSX: What, seriously? You mean to tell me that by Mega Man 7, the little blue bastard still doesn't know how to point his gun upward? Come on.
Proof that I do own the Mega Man Anniversary Collection. I'm not a very good photographer though, so I kept accidentally getting my hand in the frame.
Why am I making such a big deal out of Mega Man's inability to fire upward? Well, not only does it just make sense to give the player that option, but the jerks at Capcom thought it would be funny to not only disallow shooting upward, but to include enemies that flew overhead, dropping bombs on their protagonist. Not only can he not jump high enough to shoot them (see: section on how Mega Man sucks at jumping), but they would also frequently place these enemies near bottomless pits or beds of spikes, so that when Mega Man gets hit by said projectile, he plummets like rock straight into oblivion. It's level design at its most sadistic.
I can't help but wonder if Mega Man were a more able individual, would the levels be so unfair that they cause indignance? Probably not. But the Mega Man games suck because Mega Man sucks, and Mega Man sucks because he's just plain inept. I understand that you love the guy, but I urge you to remove the retro goggles and see him for what he is: a sad excuse for a robotic hero.