It's been two days since Mega Man was announced as a playable character in the new Super Smash Bros.
and I still feel adrenaline left over from the excitement. I know I'm not alone in this. Go to just about any Mega Man
related video on Youtube and the comments section will still be on fire with enthusiasm over the news.
It goes without saying that Mega Man is one of gaming's most memorable icons, but have you ever asked yourself why that is? At first glance, the answer is obvious. The classic Mega Man
games have tight controls, great music, polished graphics, and a nonlinear level progression that was revolutionary for its time. Combine that with Mega Man's popularity and the power of nostalgia, the question seems kind of silly.
On the other hand, one could say similar things about many classic side scrolling games, and yet Mega Man
seems to garner a certain enthusiasm that other franchises don't. There's something about the series that makes us sing about our childhood to a level tune from the game
, for example. So I ask again: what is it about Mega Man that sets him apart? My personal answer is simple: Mega Man is a hero that appeals to everyone, and I don't mean that in a self-insert kind of way. We're given just enough from the games to interpret our hero in either basic or fairly complex ways, allowing him to take on a personal meaning for each player.
Series director Keiji Inafune was passionate about letting fans shape the Mega Man
universe since the early days. From fans submitting ideas for robot masters in Mega Man 2
to the ill fated structure of Mega Man Legends 3's devroom
, fans have had numerous ways to connect directly with the franchise. I believe this fan emphasis is what prompted Mega Man
to divert into so many spinoff series throughout the years as well. Gamers looking for a dark and edgy Mega Man had Mega Man X
, younger gamers had Mega Man Battle Network
, Mega Man Legends
offered a quirky Mega Man
world, and the list goes on. Everyone had a version of Mega Man to relate to, which was a concept that inspired the (also ill fated) Mega Man Universe
Yet the original classic Mega Man remains a bit nebulous, as players can see the origins of each direction the spinoffs went in this one character. Coincidentally, I think this is why the original Mega Man remains the most memorable. Whether you think Mega Man
is about reveling in the silliness of the series
or playing the role as the most awesome robot in the world
, there's just enough given to us to support each interpretation without ruling out the other. In a gaming climate that seems to emphasize excess in every direction, Mega Man
is a gentle reminder that less can be more.
To give an example, my personal interpretation of classic Mega Man
is more along the lines of how he's portrayed in the music of The Megas
. To me, Mega Man is somewhat of an understated tragic hero.
To explain, let's go right to the premise of the series. Mega Man, formerly known as Rock, is a lab assistant robot for Dr. Light. He's created along with numerous other benevolent robots that are designed to assist humanity with basic tasks, such as moving large objects (Gutsman) or being a glorified pair of scissors (Cut Man). This all goes well until Dr. Wily reprograms most of these robots to go berserk, prompting Rock to ask Dr. Light to transform him into a super fighting robot
in order to stop the others. This establishes Rock as not only selfless, but as sentient as a human might be. He's able to care about others outside of how he is programmed to act or feel.
This is important because of how it relates to the main gimmick of the series: absorbing the power of boss robots once they're defeated. While it's unclear how exactly this works mechanically, it's generally described as "taking the robot master's data." The Robot Masters are confirmed to also be at least somewhat sentient, even in spite of Dr. Wily's meddling. This leads me to believe that, when Mega Man absorbs a robot master's power, he's also carrying that robot's memories with him as well. Mega Man learns the inner workings of whoever he destroys, which must weigh heavily on him given his selfless personality. After all, these robot masters were once kind allies of humans until they were reprogrammed. Mega Man has to destroy brother after brother because of Dr. Wily, and not only does Mega Man carry the guilt of eliminating robots that may not be inherently evil, but he carries their most intimate memories around through his journey. It's the equivalent of being forced to murder someone and then reading their biography immediately afterwards.
This puts a spin on the surprisingly somber ending of Mega Man 2.
Instead of celebrating his second victory over Dr. Wily, he walks alone for months while wearing the colors of those he defeated. With my interpretation, Mega Man is reflecting on all the memories he has acquired as a sort of tribute to the ones he had to kill during his journey.
I'm fond of thinking that this introspective Mega Man is what prompts Dr. Light to go out of his way to create Rush for Mega Man's next adventure. After all, Dr. Light had already made tools that generally do what Rush did already, but he purposefully retools them into a companion to help curb Mega Man's trauma over his struggle. Seeing Mega Man respond positively to Rush, Dr. Light would proceed to create additional companions such as Beat (who had some actual functionality) and Auto (who is kind of useful but is primarily comic relief).
Regardless, this all comes to a breaking point during the ending of Mega Man 7
, in which Mega Man threatens to kill Wily on the spot for what he has done. Wily tells Mega Man that robots are not capable of killing humans, and Mega Man, charging his weapon, screams "I am more than a robot! Die Wily!"
This is uncharacteristic of Mega Man to this point in the series, but it makes sense given a tragic interpretation. Mega Man has had to kill 54 of his fellow robots through his battle with Wily, and by carrying their data he is unable to become desensitized to the violence. Wily waving Mega Man's inability to kill humans in his face is an assault to all the suffering Mega Man endures to that point, as it implies that robots aren't as worthwhile as humans are. "I am more than a robot!" is a line that I take to mean that Mega Man acts, thinks, and suffers like a human does, and this enrages him because Wily is clearly unable to see this as he continues to manipulate robots for his own desires.
I could easily go on, and I'm sure there are certain bits in the series that might contradict this particular interpretation, but that's part of the appeal. While this may be "my" Mega Man, the same character doing the same things can mean something completely different for another player. This is what keeps Mega Man relevant as a character, and the fact that the games tend to be fun to play certainly has a lot to do with it as well. Mega Man is more than a robot. He's an icon made up of equal parts awesome, nostalgia, and ourselves, and I can't wait to be able to throw metal blades in Donkey Kong's big goofy face in 2014.