“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” –Albert Einstein.
I start my day with a cup of coffee, a quick glance through latest gaming news, and my most comfortable slippers. Finishing the last sip, I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs to my office. I open the box next to my television and pull out an old dusty Nintendo Entertainment System. Today, I start the journey of revisiting older games to help teach me about the industry as we know it. Each week I will take a new classic game and break it down for nostalgia and analysis. What I hope to find is a better understanding of what makes games so appealing at the basic level and then apply that understanding to the complexity of today’s modern titles.
To start the process I thought of a million ways that I could choose the first game. I could pick the most popular titles or the game with the largest cult following. I could choose something obscure or browse the greatest hits list. Turns out it just makes things easier to turn your head and grab the first cartridge you touch. The result was Mega Man 2 and it arguably fits in all those categories save obscurity.
History and Mechanics
Mega Man 2 was originally release on the NES system in Japan during 1988. It didn’t quite make it to the US till a few years later. The original Mega Man was nothing amazing and failed to strike a chord with the consumer. However, Capcom allowed for the development of a sequel as long as the development team agreed to work on other projects concurrently. The result was a game with more features, better musical scores, and a lot more sales. Mega Man 2 is still largely regarded as the best of the series to this day.
The game is divided up into 9 stages. Each stage has a specific theme associated with the final boss. Airman zone takes place in the sky, while Quickman zone requires you to use those reflexes or die. The setup is simple and flexible allowing you to choose whatever zone you wish first. The catch is that once a zone is defeated, mega man acquires the power or weapon specific to the final boss. These powers can and do give you advantages through the game. Depending on what order you defeat the stages decides how difficult the last few stages become. Upon defeating the eighth stage, you acquire all the abilities needed to take on the infamous Dr. Wily in stage nine.
Powers/weapons in hand, the player is also forced to navigate semi-complex areas utilizing jumping, control and his standard blaster. All the elements combined give a very action/adventure type feel to the game. The menu system is simple, and switching weapons gives the game an almost pre RPG element.
My Experience and Nostalgia
I pull out the Mega Man 2 cartridge and put it in the NES system, push power, and get a beautiful gray flashing screen. This column would not be complete without the fun idiosyncrasies that plagued the old console. A few slaps to the side and a good blow to the cartridge and the welcome screen heralds the sound of the classic Mega Man theme. I get goose bumps.
In my youth, I was somewhat a master at most of the games I owned. I would play them over and over until I had perfected the 2 hour game into an 8 min mission. I soon found out those days are long behind me. I started with the Woodman stage and died. I switched stages, and died. I could see that this was going to take more time and effort than originally anticipated. Several continues later, I was starting to finish a few of the zones with a haphazard excuse for skill.
I am amazed at how difficult such a simple game can be. During the first few zones of Dr. Wily’s final stage, a few curse bombs could be heard echoing through our house. At one point I had to walk away. I guess it has been awhile since I have tasted failure of this caliber in a game. However, the challenge kept bringing me back.
Finally at the end of the week, several retries and a beer or two later, I manage to eek out a win on Dr. Willey. The protagonists dead, my success complete. I watch the final sequence as the credits roll and my body disappears leaving a shiny blue helmet behind in the grass. The music fades, and I turn off my TV.
Analysis and Conclusion
I can see the early elements of today’s games even in the simplicity of Mega Man 2. Each zone could be seen as different geographical locations that you can find while running through modern MMOs. Heatman Stage is like World of Warcraft’s Burning Steppes and Woodman like the Forests of Guild Wars Pre-Searing Ascalon. Well with the exception of graphics and three dimensions.
Something else I found interesting was the hybrid style of action and rpg. Mega Man 2 gave you skills as you progressed further in the game. These skills helped aid you in further progression. In some cases, they were required for you to continue. Yet despite these skills, the core of the game is action and shooting the baddies in the face with your arm blaster. This paragraph could easily be read as a description of a modern day mmo or action adventure title. It is this hybrid style that can be attributed to the growth of games into multi faucet experiences rather than strictly linear design and progression.
Most importantly, Mega Man 2 makes you realize the power of music. Good music can make a game tenfold more interesting than a game without it. Each level of Mega Man 2 has a unique feel and design that can be heard in every note. Don’t believe me? Check out this link to a guy who made a full electric guitar album based off the Mega Man 2 experience. While this is his take on the soundtrack, a lot of the original score is intact and highlighted on guitar, and it shreds.
So what does Mega Man 2 tell us that can help make better games? Hybrid experiences, unique level design, and good music go a long way to making a game epic and memorable. Even in classic 8bit form, this game exemplifies quality design. I mean how many other games can you throw saw blades at evil doctors? Ok well maybe a few, but Mega Man 2 was the first.