A look back at 25 years of PEW PEW PEW
Exactly 25 years ago today, my favorite videogame hero of all time was born. Exactly 25 years later, my passion has never been stronger. He may have had some rough patches in recent times, but I've never forgotten the joy he's given me.
For my final anniversary celebration feature, I partnered up with LBD "Nytetrayn" of The Mega Man Network for a massive list of 25 "mega" moments in Mega Man history. Such a large undertaking couldn't possibly fit in a single article, thus we've split the duties between ourselves and each posted a portion of the list. Below you'll find a set of 12, while over on TMMN you'll find a set of 13.
Enjoy this trip down Blue Bomber lane!
[Header by Hitoshi Ariga for LEVEL magazine]
Tony: You're just marching along, pew pew-ing mechanical minions into oblivion as you make your way the boss' chamber. Suddenly, you find yourself in a room with no visible way to reach the exit in the top corner. You're given but a couple of seconds to process your predicament before...
BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN!
What in the blue hell are those things!?
BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN!
Are you serious!?
BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN! BUUUUUUUUUN!
There's no escape from the Appearing Blocks -- they are sprinkled throughout most every Classic Mega Man title as well as several from the other sub-series. They force you to stop and learn patterns like a sadistic game of Simon. Sometimes, the sequence extends beyond the edge of the screen, and you end up hopping blindly over bottomless pits, only to plummet to your death because the level designer trolled you with a block that spawned just above your head.
For this reason, we have support items. I mean, what kind of a masochistic freak would willingly cross Heat Man's infinite lava field without the use of the Item-2 jet board!?
LBD: While this may not seem like much today, it was mind-blowing in 1989. So much so, in fact, that this late-game boss was often previewed in gaming magazines of the day as something of a selling point!
But even if you saw the screen, nothing could prepare you for what was to come as you scaled the walls of Dr. Wily's fortress and began leaping from one platform to the next. The pace changes to a slow auto-scroll, and you know something is coming. What you don't expect, however, is to have the enormous Mecha Dragon suddenly teleport up from below and begin chasing you across a precarious series of blocks, with one false move meaning instant death.
Truth be told, this battle is one of the easiest in the game -- perhaps in any Mega Man game, for that matter. But as the saying goes, "It is not the destination, but the journey," and just reaching the point of confrontation is a journey no Mega Man fan is likely to forget.
Tony: Five simple notes. That's the calling card of the enigmatic Proto Man.
Is he friend or foe? He insists on testing your abilities during every encounter, yet he always opens the path to the rest of the stage once he deems you worthy. Whatever the case, he looks pretty sweet rocking that shades-and-scarf combo!
How many of you paused the game right when the whistle starts blowing just so you could listen to the extended version of Proto's theme? I did that all the time! It's just that good! So good that I made it my "incoming text message" jingle on my phone!
And once you beat the game, you were treated to that glorious ending song as you learned the shockingly awesome truth -- Proto Man is Mega Man's super cool older brother!
LBD: The original Mega Man series is a group of games with a very simple premise: run left and right, climb ladders, and jump across platforms while shooting just about anything that moves. Simple, effective, and fun, it worked for seven console installments, five Game Boy titles, and even a spin-off series -- there was no need to question it.
Yet question it Capcom did in Mega Man 8. In Frost Man's stage, things start as normal, but then you come to an odd device which looks like the offspring of Back to the Future's hoverboard and the DeLorean. Unfortunately, this device neither hovers nor travels through time; instead, it speeds you ahead to a portion of the game most would rather forget.
It begins well enough, as you're basically doing the same old platforming while moving forward automatically. Then the obstacles start coming, and Capcom gives you helpful hints on what to do as beacons appear, telling you to "JUMP! JUMP!" or "SLIDE! SLIDE!" And it's okay, for a while.
But then the level speeds up, and the beacons come faster and faster. Your reflexes are put to the greatest test Mega Man has ever faced, and the jumping and sliding are coming so fast that the beacons are literally talking over each other, not even allowing one a chance to finish before the next prompt is issued. The section soon ends, however, and you're able to put it all behind you.
Or so you think. As it happens, the second half of Frost Man's stage also includes a rocket-powered snowboarding section, complete with irritating, nagging prompts in a voice so grating that even Microsoft Bob would tell it to put a sock in it. And if you're lucky, you'll make it through and be done with that -- just defeat Frost Man so you'll never have to worry about that part again.
That is, until you reach Wily's volcanic lair, which inexplicably opens with the accursed device despite a complete and utter lack of anything so much as resembling snow around.
Tony: Trying to fool our heroes into thinking he isn't responsible for the current Robot Master outbreak is so typically Wily that it's now something of a running gag. Like how Inspector Gadget's mission assignments keep self-destructing in Chief Quimby's face.
Wily attempted something a little different for the fourth outing. Right from the opening cutscene, we are lead to believe that a new villain by the name of Dr. Cossack has decided to try his hand at this whole world domination business. There seemed to be no mistaking who was running the show this time when we defeated the Robot Masters and were greeted by Cossack's Citadel rather than the usual Skull Fortress.
Something was amiss when there were no boss rematches in the final Cossack stage. Our suspicions were confirmed when Cossack gave up the fight once he learned his daughter Kalinka was safe and sound. Turns out Wily was controlling the Russian doctor via extortion.
Instead of battling you right then and there, Wily escapes to a second castle! Damn, another one!? This makes the "endgame" almost as long as the main Robot Master stage sequence!
Wily pulled this stunt again in Mega Man 5 and 6, but after that the developers at Capcom decided to scale back to a single castle. Two castles is too many castles!
LBD: You knew this one would be here -- it's the moment that has been burned into many a fans' minds for over a decade.
At the end of the game, Mega Man Volnutt ventures to Elysium to save everyone on the world below, to fight for their right to survive and to honor the wishes of an old friend. As it so happens, Mega Man's trip was apparently one-way -- despite Data finding a way to get back (hmm...) -- and now he and his new friends are stuck waiting for anyone to find a way to get them down.
The credits roll, and we're treated to a stinger which shows Teisel and Barrel looking on as Tron and Roll work together / fight over how to rescue their shared love interest from an eternity of MoonPie, Moon Shoe, and moonwalk jokes. Data has some ideas, but they aren't interested -- they would rather wreck many more rockets than have him make a monkey of them.
And that's where the Legends series ended, remaining that way for over a decade -- save for a few prequel side games. It's a moment we won't soon forget, one which makes us want to spit whenever Capcom -- or any publisher, but especially Capcom -- chooses to "end" a game series on a cliffhanger. Yes, we're looking at you, Mega Man X8 and Mega Man ZX Advent!
Tony: In the Classic series, Wily is always the main villain. Always. And the final battle is always against one of his contraptions. Always.
Except that one time...
Mega Man V on Game Boy flipped the script by pitting Mega against an army of alien Robot Masters called Stardroids. Though Wily was pulling the strings as usual, the Stardroids actually were aliens that he dug up one day and reprogrammed for his own purposes.
Deep within Wily's Death Star knockoff, you confront the madman for yet another ultimate showdown. But Wily has one last trick up his sleeve -- a final Stardroid more powerful than all the others combined. A literal doomsday weapon.
Sunstar is in a league of his own and can't be controlled, as he demonstrates by trying to kill Wily immediately upon activation. Wily escapes, realizing that his plans have once again ended in failure, but Sunstar remains and targets Mega Man as an inferior being that must be eradicated.
What follows in an epic showdown in which Sunstar fires massive "Final Flash" laser beams, zips around the room as a giant fireball, conjures acidic rain, and destroys the floor multiple times, bringing the fight to the levels below. The battle itself isn't all that challenging by series standards, but it's the first time Dr. Wily isn't the final boss, not to mention a refreshing way to cap off one of the more unique installments in the franchise.
LBD: It's like that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, only Arnold is a computer program and DeVito is a boy in the fifth grade!
In the first Mega Man Battle Network, we're treated to a series of self-evident world-building facts. Everything is hooked up to the Internet, and almost everyone carries a Personal Terminal (PET) that houses a sophisticated artificial intelligence that interacts with a virtual reality environment, because this is 200X and clicking links and stuff is so 1999. Oh, and they like to fight a lot, making "virus-busting" a rather literal term.
Over the course of the game, you see the relationship between MegaMan.EXE and Lan develop. By the end, when they really need to pull together in order to save the world from devastation, you learn that MegaMan is actually Lan's stillborn twin brother, Hub, who died from a rare, fatal heart condition. Lan's father managed to merge the DNA and soul of his brother with a NetNavi computer program so that he could still live in some fashion.
That's some heavy stuff, especially for a game series aimed primarily at kids. Too heavy for companies otherwise interested in licensing it, it would seem, as this little facet seems to have remained exclusive to the games. While the anime and manga based on Mega Man Battle Network -- released here under the MegaMan NT Warrior banner -- still depict MegaMan and Lan as sharing a very close link, they not only avoided the whole issue of Hub's death, but also didn't make the duo related at all. The former is just a simple NetNavi -- an exceptional one, yes, but not in the way the games portrayed.
Tony: When the Mega Man series made the jump to the PlayStation, it got spruced up like it was going to the prom. Best of all were the new full motion video sequences that made kids yearn for a brand new Mega Man cartoon. Fully voiced cutscenes are a dime a dozen these days, but it was still a fresh concept in the mid-90s and worth getting excited over.
But that voice acting? UGH!
Both Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4 have their share of facepalm-worthy blunders -- Elmer Fudd as Dr. Light, anyone? However, it's the infamous "Death of Iris" scene in X4 that encapsulates everything that was wrong with the early years of videogame voice acting.
What should have be a pivotal moment in Zero's development is marred by poor casting and even worse delivery. Just like that, tragedy becomes comedy and an Internet meme is born.
Thankfully, the Legends games were far better in the voice acting department, a necessity for such a character-driven series. Shame that the team in charge of localizing the X games couldn't pick up a few pointers.
LBD: If there is one thing that the Mega Man franchise largely is known for, it's not knowing when to quit. Granted, opinions will vary on that front, but the fact is that many of the Blue Bomber's games feel more episodic, ready to continue in perpetuity, than part of any sort of overarching narrative.
Hey, remember Mega Man X5, the game designed to hastily wrap up the X series to make way for Mega Man Zero? Yeah, that worked out really well. Capcom delivered a new X game after a bit of a gap and people flocked to it, but rather than going out on a modest note -- the game seems to have about an equal number of lovers and haters -- the company decided to keep that ball rolling.
Inafune's plan? Pfft! Not when there's money to be made!
Then of course, there was Mega Man Legends 2, whose open ending left us knowing that there was meant to be more, whether or not we ever see it. Strangely enough, Capcom is far less interested in that money, but I digress.
And then there's the Classic series, which simply is. Maybe Mega Man has more adventures, or maybe he doesn't. Things weren't left hanging wide open, nor was the book closed, leaving it so that the series could go either way.
This is what made Mega Man Zero 4 and Mega Man Battle Network 6 such a surprise, as for the first time ever, an actual end had been penned to not one but two different Mega Man series, and they looked like they were going to stick.
Zero had "died" before, sure, and for a while, people thought this was just another one of those instances where he's somehow able to escape the law of probability and return to fight anew. But he didn't. Not exactly in such a way that anyone expected, anyway, but that's another story... which was entirely the point.
Meanwhile, Mega Man Battle Network 6 offered a look at what happened to the characters we had come to know and love over the course of the series. Granted, there is still room for some adventures in the intervening years if Capcom so chooses to explore, but just about everything regarding what had come before felt nicely wrapped up.
Tony: Two years ago, Chad Concelmo wrote a wonderful feature entitled "Six completely irrational things I do in videogames," and first in his list was "Jumping through boss doors in Mega Man."
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge such a vital element of the Mega Man experience.
Unlike the other moments on this list, this isn't something you encounter in the normal course of play. Rather, it's an emergent event to you trigger on your own, and it has no bearing on absolutely anything. Ever.
But it's so much fun!
Maybe it's the pointless thrill of seeing Mega frozen in the air as the gate opens, looking all the world like Trinity at the start of The Matrix. Maybe you think it'll improve your probability of victory, sort of like mashing the A and B buttons in Pokémon to supposedly improve a Pokéball's successful capture rate. Whatever the case, you've got to jump through those doors!
Let's not forget it's close cousin: sliding through boss doors! For some reason, this doesn't always work, as Mega Man 3 demonstrated. Why kill our fun, Capcom? And for the X series fans, there's dashing through boss doors! Oh, what fun we're having!
LBD: Mega Man ZX Advent was released in 2007, marking the 20th anniversary of the Mega Man franchise. To celebrate, developer Inti Creates decided to include a little something extra in the game. Behold "Mega Man a" ("a" for "ancient"), an 8-bit styled mini-game which featured ZX Advent's heroes going through classic-styled stages in pursuit of Master Albert.
Of course, this treat came before the releases of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 and may have even helped serve as a proof of concept, though Inafune had stated before that he hoped to go more old-school with the downloadable titles. Nonetheless, at the time, "Mega Man a" was a unique experience and a suitable way to give a nod to the origins of the franchise on its two-decade anniversary. Even now, seeing the style applied to other characters, enemies, settings, and themes is fun, and it sets the mini-game apart from its fully-developed successors.
Incidentally, if it really was a proof of concept that helped get Inti Creates the job of making Mega Man 9, then it's a bit of a shame they didn't manage to sneak in a similar mini-game based on Mega Man Legends, isn't it?
That's it from me! Don't forget to check out The Mega Man Network for the next set of 13!
Happy 25th birthday Mega Man!
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