The evil scientist Dr Wily (sure) is threatening the world and must be defeated! Who best to do it? Step forward Mega Man! And thus, our review of Mega Man on the NES. Originally an android called Rock (hence the Japanese name Rock Man) created by Dr Light, he’s transformed into Mega Man, a battle robot capable of tackling Dr Wily’s (vast) robot army.
Mega Man is unlike any platformer I have ever seen. Comprising six instantly accessible levels, the player can clear them in any order. The twist? Each level has a theme and an appropriately themed end of level boss. Complete the level and not only do you get a handsome points reward, so also get a special ability related to the boss you’ve just killed – which comes in very handy as you go through the game.
The presentation is nice without being over the top and that theme continues into the level design which is simple but bold. The sprites and stages are detailed but some levels have a solid single colour for a backdrop. However, this does mean that there’s more memory available so that the fire stage for example, can throw out some pretty special effects (and we love the flames with faces on them, hello).
The music is good, but perhaps a tad too inspired by Mario, there were times I was convinced I’d heard a level theme before in the predecessor’s repertoire. Another small qualm – the boss theme is a bit chipper and slightly overused (I did say it was small). The sound effects are adequate and make decent use of the hardware. Some variation with the special moves FX would have been welcome.
So, how does it play? The test with a lot of NES games is whether it would work on something like the Spectrum ZX (limited colours, frame rate etc…) and Mega Man passes this with flying colours. It’s unbelievably fast and fluid which means that you could easily take the added sheen provided by the NES off and still have a very enjoyable game. Some levels do feel a tad claustrophobic (the Electricity level where you’re constantly moving upwards, being one) and you will see a lot of repetition with the enemies and enemy AI (grrr, those annoying mine things). The collision detection with some of the moving platforms can be unforgiving sometimes and the disappearing/reappearing platform puzzles will take you ages to memorise. That being said, it’s so enjoyable you’ll keep on going until you negate these “flaws”.
For a game consisting only six levels, the difficulty level is understandably high (there is no difficulty mode select), even more so given the slight gameplay flaws previously mentioned. This can be mitigated somewhat by the order in which you defeat the bosses and gain their powers. The discovery is part of what makes this game so special, finding out which powers can defeat certain bosses (don’t ignore the obvious clues…) is a joy. Personally, I’ve found it’s better to start off with Gutsman – a Neanderthal who can throw large piles of rocks, and then take it from there. This also opens up hidden rooms and power-ups. Extra lives can be found everywhere (especially with certain respawning enemies) and the continue feature is generous. Despite this, the difficulty curve is pretty steep.
Couple all of this with the relentless and highly innovative final stage (we shan’t give away anything else!) and you’ve got a great package and a must for your NES collection.