IBM, Tandy, and 100% Compatibles
My imagination is a powerful thing. For example, I can conceive of several erotic situations involving Transformers. I can pretend, against incontrovertible evidence, that I am able to function in human society. However, a standard child’s imagination is magnitudes more powerful than my own. A child can believe that a dollar store knock-off Transformer is anywhere near as sexy as the real thing. They can also convince themselves that Mega Man on DOS is equatable to the NES version.
DOS gamers often got the shaft. Although we’d get games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom before everyone else, not every IBM PC-Compatible user was armed with a 386. Developers often made their games to run on older 8-bit processors. A lot of games, even ones that were on 8-bit hardware to begin with, had to be scaled back for the sake of compatibility. This rarely ever went well.
Mega Man on DOS is a pretty poor conversion for that reason and more, and you’d have to squint really hard to convince yourself it’s anywhere near the NES classic.
Stupid sexy robots
I generally hold the Mega Man series to be the gold standard for 8-bit platformers. There are better games, such as Castlevania, but none were as consistent with their formula as Mega Man. Your platformer had to be at least comparable to that series to really be worthwhile.
DOS got its share of decent platformers, such as 1990’s Commander Keen and 1991’s Duke Nukem. However, that genre was hardly the platform’s best. Many developers struggled with smooth screen scrolling on DOS and dedicated microcomputers, so while adventure games and RPGs worked well, the side-scrollers were a bit less common.
With that in mind, Mega Man was developed by one guy, Stephen J. Rozner. And while Mega Man on DOS is a visibly easy target for ridicule, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Rozner. When you frame Mega Man along with its chosen platform, the time period it was released, and the fact that it was developed solo, it’s not surprising that it looks extremely bargain bin. The fact that it exists is someone impressive in its own right.
The Gates of Hell
Mega Man for DOS is unique in the fact that it has an introduction level. You may recall that Mega Man X had the highway stage to introduce itself, but this was three years before that ever existed. Traditionally, Mega Man simply dropped you into the level select screen without any context.
The introduction level is also one of the worst parts of the entire game. It is flat and largely featureless. Right up until a robot dog pounces on you and won’t go away. Actually landing a shot on this robo-hound is rather difficult, and it takes a few hits before it finally dies. Normally, it will keep jumping on you until you are explode. Afterward, a new one will spawn and repeat the process. Pro tip: run. If you just hold the right directional button, it normally can’t kill you before you reach the end of the field.
Exclusive Robot Masters
You’re then presented with a selection of robot masters. Three of them. There’s Sonicman, Voltman, and Dynaman. None of them look particularly interested to be here. It’s amusing to me that none of these names have been used in a proper Mega Man title after the jillion that have been released since. These are exclusive to the DOS version, so it has that going for it. However, I probably don’t have to tell you that this is half as many robot masters that the NES version has, and much fewer than that later standardized eight.
The levels themselves feel more like they’re based on later Mega Man games. 1990 brought us up to Mega Man 3 on the NES, and sure enough, there’s a stage that dumps garbage on you. However, this is different than the NES because the garbage doesn’t actually do anything. I think it’s supposed to damage you, but you can run right through it without even suffering knockback. There are also water and robo-frogs, both of which appeared first in Mega Man 2.
There are also those vanishing block sections. I know that the vanishing blocks are a staple of the series, appearing in essentially every core title since the very first, but that doesn’t make me hate them less. They at least normally appear in only a single level throughout the games, but on DOS, you get those disappearing blocks every single stage. Two of the stages are at least simple enough that you can just jump on the blocks as they appear, which is good, because the sound design doesn’t make timing them very easy.
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but the level design is nowhere near as good as the console games. To be fair, it’s not terrible. It’s mostly just annoying, but there’s a reasonable amount of variety and some obvious thought in how they’re set up. However, the checkpoints are sporadic, the difficulty of them is not really well paced, and you’re still limited to three lives before you have to start over.
Each one caps off with a boss, as they do on consoles. Like the stages, the robot masters aren’t as well designed, but they aren’t a travesty, either. Mostly, they just fight like their hearts aren’t in it. They’re still weak to the weapons you pick up off of other robot masters, but that feels kind of token. Notably, they don’t have invincibility frames, so you can just get close to them and unload into their faces as quickly as you can press the button. This works for Dr. Wily, even, so I guess that’s another Pro Tip for you.
Speaking of Dr. Wily, he gets his own castle stage. Actually, in the DOS version, it looks more like a shed. It’s just a skull-shaped door in someone’s back garden. The inside isn’t particularly impressive either, consisting of one stage. At the very least, you do need to beat all the robot masters again before reaching the final boss.
Dr. Wily’s Skull Shed
Where Mega Man for DOS fails the most is with aesthetics. There is no music, which is straight-up blasphemy, even if my brain can just play much of the series’ soundtrack from memory. The graphics look like a child’s fan-art of the games, and all the sound effects may have been created to play from an internal speaker.
With that said, I still give Mega Man for DOS points for effort. As terrible as it looks, it’s hardly the most excruciating game I’ve played. I guess it was good enough to get a sequel, which against all logic, is called Mega Man 3: The Robots are Revolting. I’ll probably check that out someday soon, but for now, I need to give my heart a rest. While I’ll admit that Mega Man isn’t an effective form of torture, it’s always hard to see my little blue man twisted up and spat out as a mere shadow of himself.