If it wasn't obvious from the many musical references throughout the series, the Mega Man games are as much about excellent tunes as they are about tried-and-true action gameplay. He's not called "Rockman" for nothing!
But despite the ocean of quality jams spanning two and a half decades, people tend to only talk about the soundtracks of the more popular games, especially Mega Man 2. Do we seriously need another "Dr. Wily Stage 1" from Mega Man 2 arrangement? C'mon, guys! Expand your horizons!
With that in mind, the erudite Jayson Napolitano and I put our heads together to compile a list of ten awesome tracks from ten games that aren't Mega Man 2. Or Mega Man 3. Or even the first Mega Man X. Instead of a definitive "best of" list, we would like to offer up our choices as a primer to the expanded wold of Mega Man music.
Jayson: If you read my staff bio, I talk about having hummed videogame music and driving my friends nuts as a kid. This was one of those tracks. The snappy percussion and decisive bass will have you bopping your head as the synth guitar and pads kick major ass. It actually gives off a rather spooky vibe that is only heightened by the lengthy and awesome buildup that features bell tone arpeggios -- one of my favorite things in life -- and some ethereal pads that seemingly call out from beyond.
Given the highly over-remixed nature of "Dr. Wily Stage 1" from Mega Man 2, this has long since taken over as my personal favorite Wily stage theme, and you should consider it for yours as well!
Tony: I've regularly professed my love for the Sega Genesis' FM synth audio. As a Sega child, I have a fondness towards the raw, crunchy sounds of games such as Comix Zone, Thunder Force IV, and Konami's Genesis line. Include Mega Man: The Wily Wars in that list as well.
The Wily Wars was to Mega Man 1-3 what Super Mario All-Stars was to Mario 1-3, so the soundtrack for the most part consisted of arrangements of older tunes. However, there was a bonus fourth game called "Wily Tower" that included original bosses, levels, and music. And "Wily Tower 4," which sets the "this party's goin' down tonight" vibe for the final stage, is definitely the standout of the lot.
Jayson: This one has the typical bell tone trappings of an ice stage then throws in smooth saxophone, galloping electronic percussion, and a bumpin' bassline that are pretty damn cool. I certainly wasn't expecting that. This "cool" atmosphere is supposed to go along with the hip rocket snowboard segment of the level, although the computerized "JUMP! JUMP! SLIDE! SLIDE!" directions get in the way of the music.
You may also be interested in checking out Joshua Morse's remix, "Frost Bossa," which is actually how I first became aware of this track.
Tony: Hands down, this is the best boss theme in the entire series.
Whereas Wily stage bosses in most Mega Man games have an element of "cute" about them, like ginormous goofy eyes or bright color schemes, the ones from Mega Man IV are surprisingly cold and faceless, with detailed designs that contrast with the simplicity of the Yellow Devil or Mecha Dragon. And the music that plays during their encounters is every bit as dark and grim as their appearance; you've gotta love the intense keyboard section that runs from 0:21 through 0:47.
Jayson: Two ice stages? Yes!
This one takes a different approach to the stereotypical ice stage by laying a foundation with a subdued chugging bass and a rather solemn melody. There's something foreboding and moody about it, and I appreciate the fact that it's not forcing itself upon you by going all-out rock. I think that definitely makes it memorable in my mind, although some out there may have forgotten about it. It's time to get reacquainted!
Tony: The creepy, imposing tune from the first three endgame levels gives you the impression that this will be X and Zero's final stand against Sigma's forces -- and it would have been had Capcom actually respected Keiji Inafune's wishes and ended the series with X5. Then for the final level, the music changes to an electric dance number that gets everyone up out of their seat. And just when it couldn't get any better, cue the guitar solo at the minute mark!
Have you even seen what the final level looks like? It's literally a robot rave!
Jayson: Okay, this one is amazing. The epic brass in the intro actually made me chuckle as it sounded like I was listening to a Rocky anthem -- or perhaps Europe's "The Final Countdown" -- but the rock quickly rolls in with chugging bass, wailing electric guitar, and some great bell tones. It's all somewhat laid back, giving off a cool vibe as you battle your way through one of the most interesting Mega Man stages of all time. Check out a playthrough of the level to get an idea of its awesomeness.
There are a couple great tracks from this game, and I admit that I didn't get far enough in the X series to enjoy it -- I got tired of all the additional characters and voice acting. But given some of the great music from the game, I may need to go back and give it a chance!
Tony: This recurring piece of music from Mega Man Legends has been used as Legends characters' themes in Namco X Capcom, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Project X Zone. But considering how next to nobody played Legends, to call this song "popular" would be like calling an ant the strongest in its colony.
Which is a shame, because it's an excellent song. Just as Legends is a vastly different Mega Man game, "Flutter VS Gesellschaft" is not your typical Mega Man jam. It's got a very Caribbean vibe that sticks with you. I especially love the We are ROCK-MEN cover version, which goes in a slightly more chill but -- in my opinion -- superior direction.
Jayson: Call me crazy, but this could very well be my favorite Mega Man tune of all time, and I just recently discovered it! The Network Transmission soundtrack, composed by electronic guru Shinji Hosoe and his team at SuperSweep, was never released until SuperSweep Records came to the rescue just last month.
This track in particular blew me away. There are snazzy arpeggios, smooth bell tones, and crazy synth sweeps that accent an incredibly catchy melody and bassline. It's pure aural heaven! As I'd never played the game, I took a peek at StarMan.EXE's Zero Gravity Area to get a sense of the track in context -- it's funny how great of a track this is for such a boring area. Then again, the entire game looks slow-paced and uninteresting compared to SuperSweep's hip electronic score.
Tony: From the gradual buildup until 0:39, this song makes you feel the weight of Zero's lonely struggle. Then the main melody kicks in and it's all like, "There's the badass Zero we all know and love!" Definitely among the better opening stage themes in the entire franchise, second only to that of the original Mega Man X.
I'm not a fan of the GBA's sound capabilities, and I don't think it does this song enough justice. Thankfully, Zero developer Inti Creates has released several arrange albums of its game soundtracks, and the version of "Departure" off Remastered Tracks Rockman Zero Mythos may just be the definitive one.
Tony: Surprise! Bonus eleventh song! I didn't include this among the original ten because it's never actually heard in any game. It was only used in commercials for Rockman's Soccer, known out West as Mega Man Soccer.
It's also the secret best Mega Man song.
Why is the song so good? Take the lyrics of Japanese comedy singer-songwriter Tatsuo Kamon, toss in an English rap by a non-Japanese artist who -- to the best of my knowledge -- has never been acknowledged, then compose a duet about breaking down the walls between Tokyo and New York City so that our people can come together as one. That would be a very positive message, if it weren't for a very "special" moment at 0:46 -- you'll know it when you hear it.
"We Are Rockman" raises many questions, the least of which is, what the hell does any of this have to do with soccer? But that's what makes it so great! It's the perfect encapsulation of Japanese weirdness, with only a tenuous connection to the Mega Man series.
A true masterpiece!