With Mega Man 11 set to release on October 2nd, the Blue Bomber will be starring in his first core series game since 2010. Despite the countless spinoffs, nothing holds the hearts and minds of fans quite like the good old original series. To celebrate its impending return, I’m taking a gif-laden trip down memory lane to break down games 1-10 and enduring the hardships so you don’t have to (unless you want to).
There’s no question that Mega Man 2 is where the series really took off. The original title wasn’t successful enough for Capcom to consider making a sequel until director Akira Kitamura went to the higher ups himself asking for a green light – one he was only given provided he and the team worked on other projects concurrently. Thankfully, he and his team agreed, and a legend was truly born. Boasting more levels and bosses, better graphics and an unbelievable soundtrack from composer Takeshi Tateishi, Mega Man 2 became the standard-bearer for the series and has arguably never been bettered. Why, you ask? Let’s get into it and find out.
The optimal boss order for Mega Man 2 is the subject of much internet debate, but I’m going with the ‘beginner’s method,’ as the manual for Mega Man 2 actually has a walkthrough of Air Man’s stage in it. Maybe the developers wanted you to play this stage first so you can hear that aforementioned amazing soundtrack burst into life. Air Man’s stage is the quintessential introduction to the more layered soundtrack of this sequel. Additionally, the first large sprite of the Goblin platform and the layered cloud effects that permeate the stage are instant indicators of the graphical improvement in the game. All the ‘bigger and better’ boxes are ticked, but you can’t stand around admiring things for long.
There’s a really tangible juxtaposition in how you’re supposed to play this level vs how it lets you play it. You’ll want to quickly hop across the Goblin platforms but if you don’t want Mega Man to do his ‘injured moonwalking’ party trick to his untimely death during your first jump of the entire game, you should probably adopt a little restraint lest the ‘horns’ that emerge from the corners of the platform stab you in the foot as soon as you land. The Super Mario Bros. piranha plant trick of “if I stay standing on top of where this enemy comes from, it can’t come back out” definitely doesn’t work here. I tried. So, wait you must, but waiting will attract dozens of the Petit Goblin enemies who will constantly spawn with the sole purpose of hounding you into an inevitable mistake.
One of MM2’s more obvious improvements over its predecessor is its commitment to flesh out the characteristics of the robot master as a theme for his level. Air Man’s stage sees you taking a Lakitu-style ride on a stolen enemy cloud, having your vision obscured by the cloud scenery in the foreground, and fighting off big fat dudes (Matasaburo) blowing gusts of wind at you as you try to traverse platforms. You’re even faced with the first (of many) appearance of the Pipi enemy – angry little birds who fly onto the screen and force you to play god by shooting their dropped offspring in egg form. It’s pretty dark, and means you’re serving as some kind of back-street abortionist. If you miss, then the new babies instantly know to hate and murder your face. Mama-bird would be so proud if she hadn’t totally abandoned them all.
Air Man himself takes double damage from the standard Mega Buster and is definitely the one to start with, as you also get Item-2 which is almost mandatory for a later level in the game. His screen-filling gust attacks are a pain to try and avoid, but considering he takes way more damage than you do it’s easier just to absorb damage and keep shooting, which may or may not be my standard tactic for everything in every Mega Man game.
I reckon it’s probably a controversial declaration, but Crash Man might have my favourite music in the game. It takes a bit of a departure from the standard ‘chiptune 80s metal’ genre you could usually dump Mega Man music into, and its jaunty melodies and steady beat make it one of the more calming soundtracks to a game that is anything but calming. I whistled this almost solidly during my playthrough, and that was largely due to the fact that this level is relatively pedestrian in pace.
Crash Man’s stage sticks its neck out regarding your enjoyment of climbing ladders and standing still on slow-moving platforms, but never has climbing a ladder been so hard as right at the start of the stage thanks to the Telly enemies. Typically, one of them will aim DIRECTLY for the ladder you’re climbing, almost as if it’s climbing down it, while its mates swarm around you for extra annoyance. Classic pincer movement.
Following the ladder and platform extravaganza of the early level, your reward is to climb even bigger ladders. This time your ladderversaries (see what I did there?) are yet more promiscuous Pipis arriving to drop their offspring off at murder school. The problem with them this time is that the eggs will drop so far away from you and hatch while you’re near the bottom of the ladder, rendering you helpless to do anything to stop them coming at you. Helpless, that is, unless you are either quick with some cheeky ladder swapping, in possession of a weapon you won’t be getting until later, or a proponent of the pause glitch that enables Mega Man to avoid damage if you just hammer the pause button like a maniac.
As in the previous game, once you’ve got a robot master’s weapon-based kryptonite in your possession, he will go down like a sack of spuds with very little time or effort required. Exhibit A: Crash Man is an absolute synch now you’ve got your new Air Shooter weapon to wreck his fun.
In support of my earlier observation that Mega Man 2’s levels adhere to the characteristics of the robot masters they house, Flash Man’s stage flashes! Subtle, right? The gameplay of the level is a rather mundane exercise in trial and error. It’s at this point that I’m realizing I’ve been quite a lot harsher on Mega Man 2’s levels over those of its predecessor, but mundanity may be a symptom of a lesser degree of frustration and difficulty in these stages compared to MM1. It could also be a realization that the incredible soundtrack of the game lives longer and stronger in the memory than the content of the levels it accompanies.
Trial and error need be less error-stricken if you just stick to the bottom platform and own your decision. Just head out on a stress-free jaunt along the bottom of the screen and enjoy yet another musical banger. For some reason, the flashing platforms are also slippery, so a slight degree of care is needed, but any challenge in the majority of this level is very easily avoided if the correct path is taken. In fact, the correct path will often dish out lovely health, lives, ammo and even E-tanks more often than not. I suppose I should be thankful.
The Sniper Armour – regular Sniper Joe in giant, stomping mechs – pose the level’s biggest threat as they attempt to squish and shoot you into dust. This enemy seems to take the place of the annoying Big Eye from MM1, and as with them it’s definitely best to just run away after slipping under the arc of their jump attack.
Flash Man is weak to the newly acquired Crash Bomber, but an issue with this weapon, that will become even more evident in the later game, is that ammo runs out incredibly quickly. Subsequently, every shot counts, and you really don’t want to miss any on Flash Man and, provided you don’t, he’s a dead manbot in no time.
Ah, what a false sense of security the beginning of this level is. Everything smells of roses when you’re using the newly acquired Item-3 for a nice extra life to start the stage, but it is the falsest of dawns. Quick Man’s stage lives up to its name and requires some incredibly fast reactions and muscle memory to avoid its insta-death laser beams, that act as an assault course of pain, and prove to be one the game’s toughest challenges.
The majority of your time, and lives, spent on this level will be learning the best way to rush through laser land, especially in the second section, but there’s also the series’ first attempt to mess around with lighting to deal with. The irony of the whole situation is that you, the player, is the one turning the lights out. With murder. You may be killing the Changkey Makers who light the room, but let’s be fair – they will kill if you don’t kill them, so “hello darkness, my old friend” it is.
The final screens before your showdown with Quick Man teach you a valuable lesson – never run too far backwards to escape enemies in a Mega Man game, because you’ll only make things double hard for yourself, literally, by respawning an enemy you just killed. Logically it’s completely nonsensical but antagonistically, on the developer’s part, it’s genius. Once you’ve ran past the both versions of the Sniper enemies, you’re ready to undertake what is possibly the funniest boss battle in all of Mega Man.
Obviously, the best way to defeat someone with Quick in their name is to slow them down, but the Time Stopper goes one better. It’s pretty hilarious to simply hit the shoot button and watch ol’ speedy pants completely freeze in mid-air while his life slowly drains away. The Time Stopper won’t deal enough damage to kill the boss, but it’s a much simpler task to pick the bones when he lands with only a quarter of life left.
If a comedown was needed after the difficulty of Quick Man’s stage, then Metal Man’s is the perfect tonic. Arguably the easiest stage in the game, Metal Man really doesn’t make you work too hard to get your mitts on one of the most useful weapons in Mega Man history. The early stages can look daunting as you’re supposed to avoid the Press machines while running on conveyors belts that almost always face the wrong way, but using the Time Stopper renders them completely motionless and allows you to render the conveyors about as difficult as those flat ones at the airport.
Depending on your speed in the early moments, you may find yourself having to run through a seemingly endless section of Moles that will attack from above and below, but there should never be enough in the way to actually kill Mega Man even if you’re basically headbutting them the whole way to the end. The level’s main threat is the Pierobots – weird jester-like enemies standing on giant cogs. They really grind my gears, but shooting the cogs rather than the enemies will see them fall to their death. Naturally, in my playthrough I forgot this and was shooting them off the cogs. If nothing else, I’m here to teach what not to do.
When the Metal Man door approaches you’ll be able to almost feel the glory of acquiring that Metal Blade, even if Metal Man himself will make it seem pretty weak when he puts up his feeble attempt at guarding it from you. Some Quick Boomerangs are right at the top of his list of fears, and will deal with him incredibly easily.
In keeping with the theme of Mega Man 2, Bubble Man’s stage features yet more irresponsible parents sending their kids out to kill or be killed – this time it’s the giant Kerogs frogs. Normally, a giant frog spitting ravenous baby frogs out of its mouth and in your immediate direction would be a nightmarish experience, but this all happens to some properly chilled music. Again, Mega Man 2 may not have the hardest levels or bosses, but my word is its soundtrack an absolute beauty.
Bubble Man’s stage serves as our first real experience of ridiculous water physics in the Mega Man series, and it still makes no sense. Have you ever jumped in a lake underwater and realised it’s exactly like being on the moon? Yeah, me neither, but it’s a lot of fun. The idea, I assume, is that you will be so overcome with this new uber jump ability, that you’ll fail to realise there’s some death spikes right at the top of the screen just waiting to impale your careless bonce. Don’t let the Metroid-like M-445 enemies distract you and it’s all good.
I love the constantly cascading waterfall backdrop of this level. It’s actually pretty overwhelming if you spend too long focusing on it, but it again shows the increased effort on the developer’s side to try and give each level a more distinct personality and tone. Of course, what cascading waterfall is complete without randomly falling crabs (or Claw as they’re called) to avoid?
I don’t want to speak too harshly on the robot masters in the early game, because they’re definitely more difficult in the obligatory section later, and they’re not exactly the hardest thing the game will throw at you, but Bubble Man is yet another total pushover. His weakness to the Metal Blade and said weapon’s aiming versatility are the perfect match for tracking the boss and laying waste to him before he’s barely even started.
The pulsating pseudo-metal chiptune beats are telling you something as soon as this level kicks in: It’s time to be brave and head out. Put on a full head of steam and don’t stop for anything. Pushing on like a (mega) man possessed is clearly the way the devs wanted this stage to be played, and the way this is almost tangibly encouraged through the soundtrack feels exhilarating as you hop over tight jumps and fight an infinite onslaught of annoying enemies.
Unquestionably another facet of Mega Man 2 that makes it easier than its predecessor is the new items 1, 2 and 3 that Mega Man can use to make life so much easier. Granted, at times they are necessary to progress, but in the case of Heat Man’s stage, you can use Item 3 to completely ignore those annoying disappearing blocks from Mega Man 1. If you want the challenge to remain you can try tackling it without the items but, again, I’m the kind of scumbag who doesn’t even think twice about taking the easy route.
Item usage permeates the whole of Heat Man’s stage, and almost every area would be a complete and total pain without them. There’s something inherently satisfying about watching the hardest stage in the game go by from your safe little platform, but even with items the level is no cakewalk. Item 2 can be used to bypass a frankly ridiculous timed platforming section over a pit of lava, but it only has just enough juice to get you through in one go.
The Bubble Lead works wonders as it hurtles across the floor at Heat Man, it just won’t work when he’s surrounded by fire, which is usually after he’s taken one hit. His pattern is pretty easy to manipulate, and if you manage to jump over his kamikaze attack, you can get a hit in on him before he fires, forcing him to kamikaze again. With only three hits needed to extinguish him, this fire has very little chance to spread.
Difficulty: 5/5 without items, 3/5 with
The early segments of Wood Man’s stage give the impression that it’ll be a walk in the, well, woods. There are no difficult platforming sections, no unavoidable enemies – just some slow-moving bats you can easily ignore and some Robbit to kill without too much stress. It’s all hunky dory until, seemingly out of nowhere, a GIANT FIRE-SPEWING DOG enters. Actually make that three of the bastards. Oh, and they’re named Friender. How ironic.
Dispatching the Friender can prove to be tricky, and I don’t exactly have the pro tip tactic to offer here. I choose to get as close as possible, stand just below the Friender’s raised platform and spam the Metal Blade as fast as possible. The Blade is such a good weapon for the rest of the level too as there are so many enemies, like the Monking and returning Pipi, who are either above or below you. Again, the control you have over the angle of the weapon fire is perfect, and they will cause you nowhere near the level of fuss that those bloody dogs did.
Wood Man’s crappy suit is definitely a diversion tactic. He looks like a fat guy cosplaying a tree, and it wouldn’t be wrong to expect an easy fight based on appearances. He might not be ready to be processed into a book just yet, but judging by the cover is still as mistake, as he’s a really awkward opponent. He soaks up Atomic Fire shots better than most of the other bosses do against their respective weaknesses, all whilst dealing annoying attacks that leave very little room for manoeuvre and evasion. They smashed through my health bar time and again, and Wood Man’s durability meant I ran out of flames before the end of every attempt. He looks dumb, but he’s the toughest Robot Master boss by far.
After some creepy music and an establishing shot of Wily’s lair, the series’ most iconic music hits and the beginning of the end gets underway. Surprisingly, Wily 1 is one of the shortest and easiest levels in the game. Any challenge the beginning of the stage could present is basically negated by the presence of Scworm enemies that can be used to farm back any health you lose. There’s little left to get through other than a few ladders and some savvy Item-1 usage, and you’ll be at the Mecha Dragon showdown before you’ve heard more than two licks of that funky bassline in the soundtrack.
The visually awesome Mecha Dragon fight is, to me, a lot harder on paper than it is in practice. There are some small block platforms to navigate as the fight starts with an attempted escape sequence, and the eventual fight can be a precarious affair as you only have three small platforms on which to stand. Even the non-Robot Masters in Mega Man games have weaknesses, though, and MD’s is the Quick Boomerang. His fireball attacks can cause issues and require some nifty dodging on the limited floorspace, so his quickly-draining health is a very welcome sight. The bigger they are and all that, eh?
I definitely don’t want to sound like an egomaniac here, but Wily 2 is another easy and short level. Its defining set piece is yet another example of classic Mega Man risk/reward. Using Item-2 to fly above a spike pit will see you end up with two ladders to jump to. You can either take the easier jump (easier, not easy) or risk it all for the more difficult leap and pick up an E-tank. The rewards for the harder jump don’t end there, and it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at your own self-schadenfreude as the game parades the items you could have won like some kind of sadistic game show (hey, it was developed in Japan).
The rest of the level is best described as ‘fiddly.’ You run through the tunnel of Moles which can be a pain if you don’t/can’t use the Leaf Shield to make them arbitrary, and then you have more Presses to deal with. The last two of these are very difficult to avoid getting hit by, with only a Mega Man-sized gap as a safe zone between them. Breathe in!
After making your leaps of faith into its domain, the Picopico-kun starts bringing the ruckus. This fight is, once again, all about the glorious Metal Blade. It all boils down to concentrating on where the boss will materialize next and shooting quickly enough to avoid getting hit. I don’t think I’ve ever managed it, but I’d say this may well be the easiest boss in the game to do without taking damage.
After some tricky faith leaps, our intrepid hero lands in what can only be described as a lake of piss and spikes. The jumps are incredibly easy, though, and even the Big Fish at the end should be no trouble to avoid. What follows are some twisty-turny faith leaps where you need to neatly avoid the spikes that line both vertical walls as you plummet downward. Luckily, the way the game pauses ever-so-briefly when transitioning screens makes manoeuvring through the spikes a lot easier than it should be.
The Guts Tank design is fantastic. It rolls in slowly with dukes up and giant gurning face, that functions as much for comic relief as it does a very blatant weak spot – the cure for which is the Quick Boomerang. Hey, I’ve got one of those…
After some nice ammo replenishment, I spy an extra life, but…oh look! A fake floor! Oh, Capcom you little rotter. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, the gimmick for this bastard of a level is established. Fake floors permeate almost every screen of the level’s first half and will do all they can to punish you for seeking out delicious items and lives – sometimes even dropping you right onto spikes. You can use items to avoid some of them altogether, and the Bubble Lead’s floor-skimming trajectory will help you spot where the lies are.
The level’s second half is one of the most tedious platform track sections ever. There are so many of them, they are all so long and they all carry the annoyance of respawning enemies and death pits underneath. Using items can speed up some of them, and the Metal Blade at least allows you to pick off the enemies on the journey.
Yet another Sniper Joe and Sniper Armor gauntlet finishes the level and leads to a boss which is basically a puzzle, and not a very good puzzle at that. The boss is made up of several Sentinels that will all fire at you simultaneously, and are all guarded by walls. It sounds easy, but the only way to destroy the walls is to use the same ammo that is the Sentinels only weakness. I genuinely couldn’t figure out a way to make it through all the barriers and then still have enough to kill the Sentinels, but it can be done with some expert Crash Bomb placement.
If a perfect run sounds like more effort than it’s worth, the easiest (which I use in the loosest possible sense of the word) way to do it is to destroy the barriers and then purposely die, as they will still be gone the next time you go in, leaving just the Sentinels to destroy. Of course, this requires 2 lives to pull off – something I didn’t have! Off to the continue screen for me!
Wily 5 is a straight up, no-frills boss rush stage. Each Robot Master returns slightly harder than in their previous incarnation, and ammo conservation is a must. The real key to success is to plan your route and manage your inventory correctly. Mega Man 1 spaced out its boss rush over several levels, but the sequel began the trend of just sticking Mega Man in a room with teleporters leading to each foe and having you take down all eight in one go, and one life.
If that wasn’t enough, once all 8 Masters are down, you’re not done. It’s then on to Wily in his ship, and arguably the toughest boss in the game. To be fair, if it wasn’t then I’d have been disappointed. I took an absolute battering in only the first phase during my playthrough and had to use an E-tank to have any chance of victory. Amazingly, it seemed as if I glitched the game and managed to finish Wily off despite being dead. Seriously, check this gif out, and wind your memory back to the double KO that I lost a fight to in the last game. How the tables have turned.
Wily 6 – Final Boss
The start of this level feels so eerie without music. There’s almost nothing to the level aside from a run of avoiding acid dripping from the ceiling. It’s not too tough, but three acid hits will kill Mega Man so caution, or the Time Stopper, are required for safe passage.
Little time is wasted on the level before the main event begins, and Alien Dr. Wily is our foe. His only attack is a Buster shot and some loopy flying, but the only weapon that works against him is the Bubble Lead. You have to wait until he lowers down on top of you to get your shots in, making sure you are ready for a quick jump after landing to avoid the inevitable return fire from Wily. He’s surprisingly easy for a final boss, and is arguably less of a challenge than the previous one.
With Wily’s true form revealed and then dead, Mega Man is free to, er, walk around for an entire year. Whatever, people relax in different ways. The credits roll on another Mega Man game – arguably the most popular of all the main series – and thus ends our second in-depth game breakdown. Only 8 more to go!