Mega Man Masters Monotony
It took me four different Mega Man games, all of which I played in order, to realize that they’re pretty much identical to one another. In an era where consumers rip franchises like Call of Duty and Mario Kart for a lack of innovation, it’s easy to experience a little whiplash if, like me, you play the Mega Man franchise decades after its inception. Here’s a brief rundown of what every Mega Man game looks like:
Former robotic servant Mega Man battles a series of eight different “Robot Masters” developed by the evil Dr. Wily, who is attempting to take over the world with his villainy. Mega Man begins the game with an energy gun that shoots out a small ball of light, and acquires the Robot Masters’ weapons as he defeats them, adding to his arsenal of weapons. Then, once the world appears to be saved and the Robot Masters defeated, Mega Man is faced with the task of taking down their creator: Dr. Wily. Once he makes his way through a smaller series of levels, Mega Man has to defeat all of the Robot Masters again in quick succession. Once that’s done, the robot is finally able to take down Dr. Wily in an all-or-nothing final boss fight. After Dr. Wily’s defeat, I move on to the next Mega Man game and do it all over again. Literally.
There are so many questions about the game’s mythos – which simultaneously acknowledges its past and forgets it. Why does Mega Man lose all of his gained abilities between games? How does Dr. Wily die and come back to life? Why are the Robot Masters not getting any better at defeating Mega Man? None of it makes a lick of sense, but as all great classics do, it leaves a lot open to interpretation.
A theory has been floated that perhaps Mega Man, despite all of the robot killing, is actually a pacifist. It may not seem plausible, or perhaps it’s just an easy answer for a game that is too lazy to provide them on its own, but maybe you find yourself a non-violent person, or, in an effort to be inclusive, a robot. If this is the case, I have little doubt that you too wouldn’t make an effort to save the world, would it need saving. You too might ditch your hoard of weapons when you think the world is in an era of peace and that the world’s mightiest villain has been defeated once and for all.
More realistically, I think that Mega Man is a game that treasures its formula. There is no rhyme or reason to it, Capcom was (and perhaps still is) good at what it did: creating the same game with very small variations over and over again. The game franchise develops really slowly, like the charge shot added in Mega Man 4, or the slide from Mega Man 3. They are incremental changes to be sure, but they are extremely well implemented.
To gain a better understanding of this, I played the “Cut Man” level in Mega Man and then immediately followed it up with “Spark Man” level in Mega Man 3. Jumping from one to another is familiar enough that – even with some modest artistic enhancements – I could have easily been playing the same game. The first thing I noticed is that Mega Man felt uniquely difficult in comparison. After assessing each level, this didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If anything, the enemy design is more complex in “Spark Man” than in “Cut Man” – where most enemies move stagnantly from one side to another. With projectiles being the primary issue in both levels, the most significant difference was the ability to slide underneath projectiles rather than being forced into jumping over them. Not only did it feel like a natural progression for Mega Man, whose skills (like the charge shot and slide) are the only thing to carry over between title, but it felt like the franchise recognized a pivotal flaw in Mega Man (jumping over projectiles often led to jumping into others) and crafted a simple mechanic to rectify it. This isn’t just good game design, this is good franchise design.
Perhaps most importantly, Mega Man rarely strips features from its games. It has a core set of mechanics that really work (namely the energy blaster, your pet robot dog and helper Rush, the singular jump and the eight different boss weapons you collect as the games progress) and it builds off of them. As we talked about on our “What Makes a Good Sequel” episode of the Epilogue Gaming Podcast, the best franchises take what works from a previous game and stacks some new blocks on top of it. That’s Mega Man in its entirety, except instead of “blocks” it’s usually just a single block. And that’s okay. Mega Man mastered its own redundancies and turned it into one of the best franchises of all time.
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