When Mega Man 9 was released in 2008, the game freaked people out with its ability to emotionally transport thirty-something gamers back to the late 1980s. The game’s graphics, music, and design choices were all straight out of the Mega Man 2 playbook, a playbook that hadn’t been used much in the past 20 years. Experiencing this style of game effectively made me feel like a kid again. The design missteps of Mega Man 7 and and Mega Man 8 were erased from my mind, and my love of Mega Man was back in full force.
With that love rekindled, you’d think I’d be pretty damn excited for Mega Man 10. Problem is, I’ve been excited for Mega Man sequels before, and I’ve been burned more often than not. Despite being generally well-made games, Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6 were all disappointments in their own ways. It was easy to imagine that Mega Man 10 would join those four amongst my least favorite games in the series. Not only does Capcom have a track record of making less-than-stellar Mega Man games, but with Mega Man 10, they can’t rely on nostalgia either. Where Mega Man 9 worked to remind me of the games I grew up with, Mega Man 10 only reminds me of… Mega Man 9, and it’s a bit early to be nostalgic for 2008.
To justify the existence of Mega Man 10, the game has to do more than remind me of how much I used to love Mega Man. It needs to give me a reason to keep loving Mega Man, by outdoing the past games in the series, or, at least, equaling them.
Does the game pull off everything that’s expected of it? Hit the jump to find out.
Mega Man 10 (WiiWare [reviewed], PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade)
Released: March 1, 2010 (WiiWare) / March 11, 2010 (PSN) / March 31, 2010 (XBLA)
MSRP: 1000 Wii Points / $9.99 / 800 Microsoft Points
More than any other Mega Man game in recent (as in, twenty years recent) memory, Mega Man 10 becomes more enjoyable the more you play it. Unlike Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 9, which feel fantastic the first time you play them, but gradually get less exciting after beating them, Mega Man 10 only got more fun after the first time I finished it. Part of that has to do with the way the game is paced, but more than anything, it has to do with the need to drop one’s expectations.
What does one expect from a Mega Man game? Well, the answer to that is likely to be different for everybody, but for me, I expect a game that gives me the most powerfully sweet-and-sour experience that it can. My two favorite games in the series, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 9, both work to blast the player with as much joy as possible, through both a catchy, vibrato-packed soundtrack and a multi-colored, surprise-filled visual world. That’s the sweet.
The sour comes from the death: the many, many, many kinds of death that Mega Man games are known for. Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 9 are both unafraid to kill the player. Instant deaths are commonplace, but instead of being frustrating and game-killing, the instant deaths in a Mega Man game should make the player smile and even laugh. If the game is doing its job right, the music, visuals, and design choices should be so much fun that you won’t mind being forced to play through a level again. It should get more and more fun the more you play it, like a pop song that gets more catchy the more you hear it. That’s what I’ve come to expect from a Mega Man game.
Mega Man 9 seemed to be made specifically to meet those expectations, even at the risk of alienating Mega Man non-fans. Mega Man 10 goes in the opposite direction. With its easy mode, multiple playable characters, branching levels, and fewer instant deaths, Mega Man 10 makes an effort to please those who didn’t “get” Mega Man 9. By proxy, people who did “get” Mega Man 9 might be initially taken aback with how different MM10 is.
Level-specific traps and obstacles aren’t as Mega Man-centric than those found in 9; the music often fails to initially impress, and most of the weapons feel a little boring on the first try. When I first got my ass kicked by the increasingly brutal ball-tossing elephants in Concrete Man’s stage, or heard Tornado Man’s stage music, or used Jewel Satellite to reflect back Uzi fire from a Sniper Joe in Mega Man 9, I was genuinely impressed. Those moments don’t happen as often in Mega Man 10. Don’t get me wrong: they still happen, but they’re not as frequent. It takes a little more time to find the joy of Mega Man 10.
The soundtrack feels generally less inspired. An exception to that is Solar Man’s stage theme. It doesn’t sound like traditional Mega Man music, but it’s still really catchy, like a chiptune crossbreed between Led Zeppelin and a the final minutes of Metallica’s “One.” It’s immediately infectious, while most of the other songs in the game take longer to grow on you. As for the weapons, they grew on me too. I’ve actually found that Nitro Man’s weapon is pretty amazing. Not only can you use it to launch little wheels of death down paths or straight up walls, but if you hold the button down after selecting it, you can use it to go straight up walls yourself. Level designs are also easier to appreciate after you’ve played them a few times. There is a particularly annoying castle mid-boss in Blade Man’s stage that’s actually a lot of fun to fight after you’ve acquired Pump Man’s weapon, but you might not discover that on the first play-through.
I’ve also had a surprising amount of fun playing through the game again with Proto Man. At first, getting through the game with his abilities was just too hard, even for a life-long Mega Man fan like myself. Even though he’s got a shield, a chargeable shot, and the ability to slide, he’s still quick to die, mostly because he takes a lot more damage than Mega Man. Take three hits from a boss like Commando Man, and he’s gone. That didn’t work too well for me the first time through, but now that I’ve had some experience with the game, playing through with Proto provides both the added challenge and gameplay variety necessary to keep things feeling new. In many places, playing Mega Man 10 again with Proto Man feels like a whole new game.
If you don’t like playing as Proto Man but you still want new challenges, you can always start up a game on the unlockable Hard mode difficulty. In Hard mode, enemies move faster and are placed in more challenging arrangements, and bosses have all-new attacks. It’s a genuinely fresh and foreboding task to try going through the game again on the new difficulty.
Speaking of foreboding, Mega Man 10 may have my favorite final castle of all time. It doesn’t have my favorite final battle of all time — no, that spot is still held by Mega Man 2. However, everything leading up to the final battle in Mega Man 10 is pretty much perfect. The music, the boss battles, and the level design are all surprising, challenging, and joy-inducing. If you’ve just started playing Mega Man 10 but aren’t sure if you want to keep going with it, I implore you to get through the last stages before judging the game as a whole.
Probably the greatest source of replay value in the game comes from its challenge and time attack modes. Challenge mode works a lot like the mini-levels found in Mega Man Powered Up. They do a good job of both training newcomers to the Mega Man series and giving pros extra levels to deal with. Time attack is like it was in Mega Man 9, but now you can upload video replays and your best times to online leaderboards. It’s pretty damn inspiring to see some of the tricks and exploits that others have used to rush through the game’s various stages. I’ve watched Not Sure’s run-through of Blade Man’s stage at least three or four times now, both to pick up techniques and for sheer entertainment value.
Overall, Mega Man 10 doesn’t have as many high-water moments as Mega Man 9, but it is still consistently fun, while providing more overall content than the Mega Man games that preceded it. Though they may be disappointed with some of the music and levels, fans of Mega Man can’t afford to miss Mega Man 10. The game includes a little something from every game in the original Mega Man series (including the oft-forgotten Game Boy entries), and even makes a few references to the Mega Man X games. Though it puts in more effort to convert non-fans of the series, Mega Man 10 is still 100% Mega Man. Its mix of classic Mega Man style, weird new stuff such as bosses shaped like baseballs, and multiple gameplay options should please just about everyone. The truly amazing moments are fewer and farther between this time around, but this is still a great game.
Score: 8.5 — Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won’t astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)