Is Mega Man 1 any good?
This is a question my friends and I toss around on occasion. I used to be an avid defender of Mega Man 1, because it’s Mega Man, stupid, so it must be good. There really isn’t that much of a difference between Mega Man games, so what’s the confusion here? Run, jump, destroy Guts Man, the end. It’s good stuff.
Then Mega Man Legacy Collection was released. This wasn’t the first compilation of Mega Man games ever released, nor was it even the first time we’d seen a Mega Man rerelease in a while (seriously, I feel like I downloaded the 3DS Virtual Console version about two weeks before Legacy was announced), but it was the first time I played through the entire Mega Man NES library in rapid succession (almost like I was trying to get something done). Previously, I had always let Mega Man games “breathe”. Despite the fact that some of the entries can be completed in an hour or so, I always tried to space Mega Man games out by at least a day, either to properly enjoy and digest the experience, or perhaps just because I didn’t want to be reflexively reaching for a metal blade while tackling Toad Man. So, in my rush to play through all of Mega Man Legacy Collection as quickly as possible, I played through Mega Man, and, within a few hours, also played Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3.
And from that day forward, I have not been quiet about stating, in no uncertain terms, that Mega Man 1 is crap.
This is something that I’ve touched on in my own thinking for years. I maintain that Mega Man games are only ever “great” by the second or third release. Mega Man 2 is obvious, but its descendants like Mega Man Battle Network 2, Mega Man Zero 2, and even Mega Man ZX Advent are all great games primarily because they scrapped or reformatted features from their ancestors until only an impeccable play experience remained. The only Mega Man game that bucks this trend is Mega Man X, and I’d argue that that only happened because it’s much more of a direct Mega Man descendant than any of the spinoffs. Like Miyamoto and Yoshi, I can totally see Inafune implementing a number of brilliant ideas for Mega Man X that had been kicking around his noggin for years, but were unable to be realized on the NES hardware. Something like Mega Man Battle Network, though, needed a few tweaks before it hit that same echelon.
And that’s why I think Mighty No. 9 is doomed. …. Wait, what was I talking about?
Oh, right, Mega Man 1. So, yeah, while I always acknowledged that Mega Man 1 was no Mega Man 2/3, it’s only recently that I’ve come around to the concept that Mega Man 1 might be just plain not worth it. Like, it’s not a bad game, but there’s a reason every one of these articles ends with “Would I play again?” I can acknowledge that Final Fantasy 2 (JP) or Dragon Warrior are games that set the standard for genres that are still healthy(ish) today, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to tromp through Palamecia ever again. You’ve seen one monster closet or cursed belt, you’ve seen ‘em all. By the same token, every second spent fighting Guts Man is time I could be spending with Guts Tank, so why play the “lesser” game?
Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to objectively look at a video game. Even the simplest NES titles have so many moving pieces that I am completely incapable of looking at one piece of a game as overwhelmingly terrible (glitched, floating, shooting Ice Man platforms) without also comparing it to something that I enjoy (nothing like a slippery hallway full of penguin bots). At best, I can compare a game to other games like it, and hope that a certain level of “no, I like A better than B” will take hold.
So, I can compare Mega Man 1 to Mega Man 2. No, that’s a terrible idea. Mega Man 1 is a band’s first demo tape, Mega Man 2 is the studio album with an experienced producer. You can see the influences, but comparing the two objectively is going to be a pretty inevitable curb stomp for one party. No, comparing Mega Man 1 to its remarkable successor is a poor choice. Hm… perhaps I should compare Mega Man 1 to other… ones.
Mega Man wasn’t the only hero to start an empire on the NES, so maybe we can take a look at other “first” games, and see how Mega Man 1 compares. Let’s start with…
Super Mario Bros. singlehandedly revitalized gaming… and it’s basically the reason I’m even considering giving up Mega Man 1. Super Mario Bros. is a great game! It is masterfully crafted and designed from top to bottom to be not only fun, but also teach 2-D platforming in general. It’s iconic for a reason, and, what’s more, it sold about a million Nintendo Systems, too.
It also contains the Hammer Bros. Without a fire flower handy, I have snuck past the Hammer Bros unmolested… maybe twice? And that one bro guarding (final) Bowser? Bane of my existence.
That’s not any fun. What is fun is transforming into a flying raccoon, riding a dinosaur, or even hurling vegetables. I’d argue that every single other Mario game is more fun than Super Mario Bros, so why waste my time on the original? This doesn’t make SMB a bad game, simply an unnecessary one, as it has a complete lack of cat suits.
(And “The Lost Levels” doesn’t count, as that’s clearly an expansion pack for SMB.)
The Legend of Zelda sits on the other end of the Nintendo spectrum. Despite all later Zelda games improving on LOZ’s gameplay, the original is still a damn fun experience. While one could argue that much of the LOZ franchise has gotten away from the original’s overhead sword ‘em up adventure model, we’ve still got A Link to the Past, which really is “Super Legend of Zelda” in every way. Regardless, LoZ still offers an unprecedented level of freedom completely absent from its descendants, and a few bosses/challenges that have not been reprised in later editions. I’m basically down for a game of Legend of Zelda whenever, and I’m a lot more likely to hit its delightful aesthetics than some of its 80 hour brethren.
Speaking of which, there’s Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy is an odd duck, because, were you to ask me if I would ever play the NES version ever again, I would immediately deny any and all impulses to fire up that old clunker. I’ve only ever played through Final Fantasy, start to finish, once. That said, I’ve also played through Final Fantasy Origins (PSX), Final Fantasy Advance (GBA), and Final Fantasy (PSP). And I think the PSP version got a second play as a Vita download. Aside from Final Fantasy 4, I’ve probably played through more versions of Final Fantasy than any other Final Fantasy game, and, given I seem to keep doing it, I must enjoy something from the experience.
But, all that said, I don’t want to deal with “spell charges” or “no saves in caves” ever again. Even if I felt like relying on aging Nintendo hardware to preserve my game progress from Garland to Chaos, I doubt I’ll ever play the original Final Fantasy again, because it’s another game that was only improved in later versions… just, in this case, the later versions are a cavalcade of remakes. Mega Man 1 only seems to have one or two remakes (Genesis and PSP), and neither particularly “replace” the original game.
Speaking of games that are remade constantly, there’s Castlevania, the eternal story of a leather-clad sadist and his clearly masochistic partner. He just keeps coming back for more! The original quest of Simon Belmont has been remade in a number of ways over the years, but those games may as well have been sequels (or actually are?). Pre-Metroidvania days, Castlevania heroes were generally interchangeable, and, ultimately, it didn’t matter if it was Simon, Richter, or Eric battling the legions of batness. So the original Castlevania established a template that would be used for years… but Castlevania III is right there. Like, there is not a single way that Castlevania III doesn’t improve over the original Castlevania, and it has a pirate! And, if you want to game the password system, you can play 90% of the game as a bat. Castlevania is another great start, but it was eclipsed by Trevor Belmont faster than some sort of flying mammalian creature escaping an inferno of some kind.
Arguably, there’s one franchise on the Nintendo that’s phenomenal and probably contains the gameplay closest to a Mega Man experience. I’m talking about Wizards and Warriors.
Hahaha, no, that franchise sucks. I’m not playing any of those ever again.
No, a game that really hues closest to the Mega Man formula and also started on the NES is Contra. Contra is unmistakably a game I will play again, and primarily because there’s nothing like it, even within its own universe. Yes, on the surface level, Contra is a simple, run ‘n gun game where you’re tasked with destroying an army of alien backpackers, but on a deeper level, Contra is a perfectly calibrated game where your offensive and defensive tools are seamlessly suited to the task. With the possible exception of the proto-flamethrower, there is not a piece out of place in the original Contra. Whether you’re battling a wall with a glowing weak point or Ocular Fire, you’ve got the right tools for the job available, and it’s just a matter of you using all your skills to get there with Spread intact.
So… maybe that’s my answer? Like, I can safely say that I’d rather play Mega Man than Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy, or Castlevania, but Contra? Contra just nails it in every conceivable way, and it’s primarily because every round hole in that game has a matching round peg. I’ve been battling those Hammer Bros. for thirty years, and I still can’t find the exact solution for those dorks. Same for the Marsh Cave. Same for Drac’s Catacombs. There are chunks of those classic games I’d rather avoid, and I don’t feel that way about Contra at all.
Mega Man is a great game, but it’s also got CWU-01P, boss rematches without life refills, and far too many reasons to exploit the Magnet Beam. It also has Wily and his Yellow Devil, two (2.5?) bosses that, without the Elec glitch, are just slogs. And let us never forget Mega Man’s terminal velocity drops. Mega Man 1 has got a lot of problems, and almost all of them are fixed almost immediately in later games.
It’s all steak, but Mega Man has a lot of fat. I think I’ll stick to the lean cuts.
FGC #139 Mega Man
- System: NES. Also available on every console generation that has ever been.
- Number of players: There are enough color variations of Mega Man as is, let’s not add a Luigi into the mix.
- Favorite Robot Master: Ice Man is one of the few RMs to “blow” his signature weapon, which was very popular in the NES days (Bowser breathes fire), but doesn’t make much sense when a number of your characters have obvious “arm blasters”. Ice Man has also always looked adorable in his little parka, too, so bonus points there.
- Least Favorite Robot Master: Bomb Man took, what, seven seconds to design? He’s a guy holding a bomb! Awesome! Let’s go to lunch.
- Did you know? Keiji Inafune did not invent Mega Man, he simply “inherited” the Blue Bomber from the previous project lead. He was primarily responsible for the best Mega Man games, though, so you’d be forgiven for not making the distinction. If you want to credit Inafuking with creating a character, you may look no further than his beloved Zero.
- Would I play again? Go read the article again!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Actraiser for the SNES! Ah, I promise not to forget all the little people when I ascend to the heavens and start accidentally earthquaking civilizations back to the Stone Age. Please look forward to it!