Retro Review: Mega Man 1–6

I’ve always had a spotty memory. There’s a lot about my childhood that I don’t remember, and I’d assumed everyone else had the same degree of childhood amnesia. I remember big events, like moving, and some random moments, like taking gymnastics when I was 6, but for the most part it’s all a bit of a blur.

NES Mega Man’s Save Code System

My husband, on the other hand, seems to remember every detail. He could probably tell you what he was wearing the day he beat Mega Man 1 (so far, the only one in the series he has beaten). I remember beating at least one of the Mega Man games, but I don’t even remember which one it was. And chances are I probably used Nintendo Power codes to get there.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to try to beat all of them. I knew, based on my previous attempt with Little Nemo: The Dream Master that I needed to call in a ringer, so I enlisted my husband’s assistance. Plus we’d just finished the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and needed something to do for date night.

When we first started dating, we’d settle into the couch and play Oblivion for hours and hours. Now, we’re lucky to get 30 minutes of gaming in before one of us (me) falls asleep. Knowing that, my husband picked up the Mega Man Legacy Collection for me.

Not only is it super convenient to be able to play on my preferred device (the PS4 which is in the living room, compared to our other systems which we keep in the basement), the Legacy Collection also adds an amazing save feature that he showed me after I spent an evening taking pictures of the stage completion codes. I guess snapping a pic with a phone is still better than the olden days when I’d draw a picture or have pages of pages of “Red A2, Blue E4, Red C5.”

But this new save feature rocks. So maybe my review isn’t really a Retro Review, as I am reviewing the games but with modern conveniences. You can save at any moment in time, even in the middle of a stage.

Does the ability to save at any time make the games easier and affect the original purity of these games? 
Do I feel bad about that? 

As discussed in some of my previous posts (including Why Moms Need Strategy Guides), my relationship with video games has drastically changed since having a child. Unlike when I was growing up, I no longer have 6 straight hours on Saturday to play Mega Man 1 until muscle memory results in eventual success. The Legacy Collection means that these games are back in my rotation, and I think that’s worth losing some of the difficulty.

I started out playing the games in order, but after a while I started jumping around. After spending a few weeks playing, I’d like to share with you my overall thoughts, some tidbits on each of the games, and my questions for the development team and their relationships with their parents (‘cause there’s a lot there).

While researching this article, I was reminded that, in Japan, Mega Man is known as Rockman, and Wikipedia made the connection with rock-paper-scissors for me (ohhhhhhhhhhh). I mean, I knew that a power-up acquired from one boss is the ideal weapon against another. I just didn’t put it together that his name ROCK man was because of that. I thought it was because he was as hard as stone, being a robot and all. Hey, I was a kid! Cut me some slack.

In addition to making that connection, I also had some fun with the dates. I enjoy it heartily when games or books or movies present a futuristic world but aren’t realistic with the timeline.

Mega Man was released in 1987 and set in 200X. The latest that could be is 2009 (already more than a decade ago). They only gave Dr. Light and Dr. Wily 22 years max to develop sentient robots. Dang! I thought my deadlines at work were bad. So, yeah, that didn’t happen.

In Mega Man 2, the year is changed to 20XX, giving them another century or so to get their act together. But, honestly, these were some old men in 200X, how much longer into 20XX do we think they’re going to live? Say they both went prematurely gray in 2009. And we’re talking completely gray- this isn’t a gray hair here or there, this is all over, snow white head and beard.

Let’s imagine they have bad genes, and they smoke, and are anemic, and the stress of all the in-fighting and robot wars has contributed to their graying. Being extremely generous, we could imagine they were both 50 years old. Then in 2099, they’d be 140… hmmm. And don’t forget that I had to make them stressed-out, anemic, B-12 deficient, smokers to explain that gray hair. I’m thinking they have until maybe 2034 to make these robots happen before the tachycardia gets them. That is, unless the good dcotrs have begun replacing their own human parts with mechanical ones as well. Hmmmm.

Okay, enough Mega Man lore, let’s dive in like Wave Man.

Mega Man 1

Bosses: Cut Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, Fire Man, Bomb Man

There are tons of great guides out there about the best order to fight the bosses, but I wanted my first Mega Man experience in years to be like my naive self, like an unknowing child, I dove right in.

First up, I went for Cut Man, and I managed to beat him on the first try. Woooo-eeeee. I was pretty damn proud of myself. There were usually about 1 to 3 baddies on the screen at a time. Very reasonable. Maybe I wouldn’t need support from my player 2 after all.

Then I tried Bomb Man (made it to the boss on the first try, then died over and over), Fireman (made it to second half, then died over and over), Iceman (died pretty much instantly), Fireman (died)… also, they put bad guys in the tunnels before the bosses? That’s just mean.

Mega Man 1 was a good reminder of how brutal platformers can be. One slightly short jump and you’re on the spikes (instant death). Plus, the whole game feels a bit like running on ice. Mega Man was always sliding, which makes the Ice level even harder, like ice on ice.

You’ll love Mega Man 1 if you want that authentic challenging NES game. I didn’t get very far with this one yet, but I’m going to keep trying.

Mega Man 2 

Bosses: Bubble Man, Air Man, Quick Man, Heat Man, Wood Man, Metal Man, Flash Man, Crash Man

Mega Man 2, the sequel the world didn’t know we needed. Thank goodness for it, right? Essentially this is the game that is the reason Mega Man is still around today. Plus, we get to see in the opening that Mega Man has a very full head of life-like hair for an android. Good for him.

Mega Man 2 is the only game with 2 difficulty levels (Normal and Difficult). I happily selected Normal mode, and then I beat bottom three (Metal, Flash, and Crash). Then my husband and I took turns taking down the rest of the bosses and the final levels. Overall, a really fun experience, and a win in the books. 

Here in Mega Man 2, I noticed the start of a weird trend. In this game, Pipi is a robot bird who drops her eggs on you. They explode with small babies (copipi) who aggressively dive bomb you, when maybe they should be mad at their mom instead? Now, this was just one bad guy in one game, so I didn’t realize at the time how far down this rabbit hole goes. The truth would come out later.

Mega Man 3

Bosses: Spark Man, Snake Man, Needle Man, Hard Man, Top Man, Gemini Man, Magnet Man, Shadow Man

This game features a Brady Bunch-esque opening screen with Mega Man in the middle box looking around at whichever boss you hover over. Again another game of brutal deaths: Magnet Man (made it to the boss and died), Spark Man (made it halfway and killed by evil screws), Top Man (evil screws again but this time I was killed by giant robot cat – not even mad). Mega Man 3 is hard but in the best way. My hands are so sweaty. Like nasty sweaty. My husband won’t touch the controller after me. Even though I did terribly, I really enjoyed Mega Man 3- the only reason it isn’t ranked number one on my list is that I hate the power-ups, especially the stupid Top Spin that I could never get to work correctly.

And it is this game, Mega Man 3, when things between parents and their children get really strange. There are so many parents happily flinging their progeny as weapons at Mega Man. Bomber Pepe is an aggressive penguin who drops eggs. Have Su Bee drops her hive like a mean Queen Bee, sending her worker children to do her bidding. The Penpen Maker shoots baby Penpen’s at you from her womb. And there’s even a robot named Dada that leaps away from you when you try to talk about your day. No, dada, please come back! Come home!

I think Mega Man 3 is a manifestation of Mega Man’s complicated relationship with his two dads (Dr. Light and Dr. Wily). After your parents have pitted you against each other for so long, you’re bound to have some psychological ramifications. 

Mega Man 4

Bosses: Ring Man, Dive Man, Skull Man, Pharaoh Man, Bright Man, Toad Man, Drill Man, Dust Man

I decided to try and go for Toad first because, come on, I can beat up a toad at least, right? Then, I promptly jumped into the first space where I could fall to my death. I wasn’t even knocked in- I jumped in of my own volition. Where Mega Man 1 felt like running on ice, this level was like running in wet sand, thanks to the torrential downpour. Then in the second half of the level, I was confused over which spaces were okay to fall into and which were insta-death. Game over.

Okay, that toad was harder than expected, but I can definitely take down a vacuum. Dust man, up next! Poor Mega Man got crushed by a giant robot with a spike boot, then killed by ladybugs, and then I fell down the first hole (probably the most common cause of death for me). Game over. I tried all of the bosses, but something about Mega Man 4 felt recycled and not in a good way. Even with the introduction of the “Mega Buster,” the ability to charge up your peashooter and fire a super charged shot, was a neat upgrade, but not good enough for this one to rise from the bottom of my rankings.

Mega Man 5

Bosses: Stone Man, Gravity Man, Crystal Man, Charge Man, Napalm Man, Wave Man, Star Man, Gyro Man

Hey! Mega Man 5 was the one I beat. That’s a fun memory. I’m glad I remember beating it as a kid, because I definitely didn’t do it again this time. Replaying Mega Man 5 has given me insight into why I could beat this one as a kid: Cocco the chicken sends her easily killed baby eggs waddling at you. Within 2 minutes, I had 6 extra lives. Thanks, you terrible mom. This game also features Met-al Mommies, Mets that explode and pop out 3 Baby Metalls. Relatable. I’m at that point in my pregnancy too, where I feel like I could pop (and still 2.5 months to go).

Mega Man 6

Bosses: Blizzard Man, Wind Man, Flame Man, Plant Man, Tomahawk Man, Yamato Man, Knight Man, Centaur Man

Mega Man 6 is not my favorite. In fact, it is my least favorite. The opening stat cards about the bosses are something out of a fighting game. What does it mean that Plant Man weighs 111 and has a defense of 103? I dunno and I don’t care. And it sort of felt like they didn’t care either. The franchise had already made the jump to the SNES at this point. Mega Man 6 isn’t a bad game, but when I had 15 minutes to play in the evening, this was not the game I put on.

My definitive ranking of the NES Mega Man games from the most to least fun to play:

2 – 3 – 1 – 5 – 4 – 6

Overall, we were only successful in beating one (Mega Man 2), but my husband and I had a blast. I’m not giving up either. I plan to keep slowly chipping away at the bosses (thanks to the save feature in the Legacy Collection).

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