NES Review #2: Mega Man

Title: Mega Man
Publisher: Capcom
Year: 1987


Today we will cover the first game in the Mega Man series, aptly named “Mega Man”. (We’ll cover all 6 Mega Man games for the NES eventually). I have to confess, the first Mega Man was not MY first Mega Man. I started with Mega Man 3, when the series was already popular, and Mega Man himself had entered the collective consciousness of the Nintendo community. Hence, when I first picked up this game, I was surprised in two ways – first, that so many of the capabilities of future entries were missing, and second, how many were actually there. But more on that later.

First, let me just say, as an initial entry into a series that has spawned an incredible number of sequels, spin-offs, and other memorabilia, Mega Man delivers the goods. This was one of the first (if not THE first) game where the player had some control over the flow of the game – being able to select the level you wanted to play was entirely new, and the fact that there was a clear “best” order, was even more revolutionary. The game is still fun to play, although it remains passably difficult, especially with some of the jumps (I found myself on the edge of my seat with some of the crazy jumping required to progress), and there is some unevenness in the levels themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, and would play the game again any time.

But there is one shocking problem that could prevent your 1987-based counterpart from picking up this game and giving it a try (not knowing the future popularity, of course) – and that is the hideous old man pretending to be Mega Man on the cover. As we all know, Mega Man is a robot. But this hoary old gentleman on the cover dressed up in what I can only imagine is some backwoods interpretation of TRON is disturbing, and I find it difficult to identify with the fellow. Frankly, the Mega Man on the cover is NOT Mega, in any sense of the word, and worse, has some sort of yellow accent vest over the traditional blue armor, which makes me wonder if perhaps this Mega Man is a crossing guard, or perhaps security at a particularly nerdy concert. In any case, this was the first, and the worst, of the cover Mega Man images, and we’ll shudder and move on.

Who the heck is that?
A Hoary Old Gentleman Pretends to be Mega Man

To touch on features that were present from the very beginning, and became staples of the series proper:

– The Choose-Your-Own-Path to get through each boss’s world.
– The collection of new weapons from each defeated boss.
– The fact that there were two power-ups you could get from killing a random enemy – the energy power-up and the weapon power-up. Careful management is a key strategic point here and in all the games.
– The musical tendencies towards greatness are present here. Mega Man, at least in my mind, has some of the best 8-bit proto-techno game music that can be found in the world of the NES, and honestly, any current DJ spinning electronica at the club would make a killing coming up with modern remixes and interpretations of the Mega Man music library.
– The crazy jumps required to progress.
– The Appearing-And-Disappearing blocks that take that jump difficulty to 11.
– The Special Tool you could collect in a particular level.
– The iconic Extra Life Mega Man Head.

Why is he so happy? It's a decapitated head!
It's a head!

But then there were the stark differences!

– Mega Man doesn’t stop on a dime! In all the other games, if you release the control pad, Mega Man STOPS. Here, he kind of drifts around for a step, as if to assert some level of independence that he simply doesn’t deserve.
– Mega Man can’t slide! The slide is a key move in so many ways in this franchise, and the lack in this game was simply appalling.
– No Energy Tanks! There’s no way to recharge your hit points if you are low, making every boss battle that much more difficult.
– The icons for the different energy pills were really different.
– There are points. Like almost always, the points, they don’t matter.
– Only six bosses, not eight.
– Some of the stages are very different than others. Guts Man, for example, has a short but tough stage, while Ice Man has a ridiculously long stage. This unevenness is smoothed out in future titles.

Boss Round-Up!

– Bomb Man. Bomb Man is, I assume, the inspiration for Rage Against The Machine’s band name as well as “Bombtrack”. What I like best is that the bombs are classic Black Circles With Fuse, which are endearing.
– Guts Man. Nope, not actually a squirming mass of robotic organs, Guts Man is instead some sort of strong man, able to pick up anything large and square at will. Most amusing is his slow leaping around during the boss fight, making the mighty Guts Man look like he is trying out for Black Swan.
– Cut Man. Ironically he was NOT cut from the game. More ironic that his weakness is Guts.
– Elec Man. Not enough letters available, I guess, to make him Electric Man or Electricity Man. Elec Man has the dubious honor of the best headgear in the game.
– Ice Man. The best part of the Ice Man stage is that he apparently froze some sort of tropical paradise, as the stage is full of frozen palm trees and icy swimming pools.
– Fire Man. Actually would be better named as Furnace Man, but hey, I wasn’t this witty back in 1987, so don’t blame me.

Just follow the instructions, man...
Choose Your Own Robot Destruction Adventure

Then of course there is the perennial nemesis, Dr. Wily. (He didn’t go to Wily Medical School for 12 years to be called Mr. Wily). One would think that Dr. Light would have guessed that Dr. Wily was no good, if only by the sneaky eyebrow wiggle that is his signature move, or that everyone in this world seems to be named after their innate characteristics, but whatever. (Ironically, Dr. Light is an alias for the good doctor’s real name, Dr. Right. That’s right ladies, Mr. Right has competition now). I feel bad for the poor Dr. Wily, but not sorry enough to avoid kicking his sorry butt.

In summary, Mega Man is a great game, worth the play, as long as you ignore the box.


I always enjoyed the Mega Man games as a kid, even though some of my most frustrating childhood gamer moments have stemmed from them. The original Mega Man in particular was difficult for me. I’m pretty sure I never made it past the six evil robots. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never made it past half of them, at least not without some type of assistance. I recall one time in particular where I was trying really hard to defeat one of them and just could not do it. Shaun was laying on his bed reading, and I remember badgering him for a solid 15 minutes to try and get him to come beat up the bad guy for me, which he eventually did, all the while radiating annoyance (as I’m sure anyone who knows Shaun knows, it is unwise to disturb his reading).

Because I was continually thwarted by these robot bosses, I spent a lot of time in the main menu, where I would stare at the little guys that I just couldn’t beat. They looked so small and cute. Why were they so hard? I remember several thoughts I had about each boss:

Bomb Man – He looked so tan and angry. Also, is he wearing a one piece swimsuit? He reminded me of a cranky mid-life crisis wrestler.
Guts Man – Severe underbite. He seemed like the Neanderthal of the bunch, good only for hurling chunks of trash around. Kind of felt bad for him.
Cut Man – Obviously in a perpetual fury, judging from that beet red face. Perhaps he is angry about being forced to wear his undies on the outside?
Elec Man – I was never sure if he was wearing a yellow mask or if someone had flattened his face, painted it yellow and stretched it out.
Ice Man- My favorite. I liked his hoodie. Although in his little pose on the main menu he looks like someone just scared him and he’s about to cry.
Fire Man – I’d be mad if someone stuck a big metal plate over my mouth and set my hair on fire too. Poor guy.

After reading Shaun’s review, I suddenly also remembered the horrifying old guy on the cover of the Mega Man box. His facial expression seemed to be a mix of determination (“These robots are going DOWN!”) and extreme discomfort (“Why am I wearing this ridiculous outfit? What has happened to me? Where is my pride?”). I felt it was so very wrong to make the little Mega Man sprite in the game so adorable and then allow this….this THING to represent him on the box. Shame on you Capcom. Shame.

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