Retro Review: Mega Man (NES)

The central idea of Mega Man is pretty basic: you choose from among a list of bosses to pursue, and you get their weapons when you defeat them. It’s such a good premise that it’s not surprising just how large the series eventually became. But the original Mega Man hadn’t quite perfected the formula yet.

Mega Man is actually an incredibly short game, with only 10 levels in total. Unlike its successors, this game has no password system, so you’ll need to finish it in one sitting. This will take a lot of practice, because while the levels are short, they range from moderately to extremely challenging.

The single biggest problem with Mega Man is its uneven difficulty. The platforms in Guts Man’s stage are famous for being unforgiven, though fortunately they are the first thing you’ll see so you won’t waste time replaying the rest of the stage. The Yellow Devil (don’t look at me, that’s its official name!) is one of the harder bosses in the series… unless you cheat.  You’ll also need to defeat four of the six bosses in the same stage as the two-part final boss, which is appropriately the greatest challenge in the game.

Some of the basic six bosses are quite difficult unless you have the right weapon for them, but then, that’s the point, isn’t it? There is a pretty distinct order you should fight the bosses in, though you’ll only discover it by trial and error. It mostly makes sense, though I’d expect Fire Man’s weapon to be better than it is against Ice Man. Still, the satisfaction of finding the right weapon for a boss is what makes Mega Man Mega Man. The weapons are (almost) all useful outside of exploiting boss weaknesses as well, expanding your gameplay options in a most satisfying way as you progress through the game. That said, you may never actually use Guts Man’s powers, except to save energy for Elec Man’s.

The game even offers a utility ability, the Magnet Beam. It’s required to complete the game, and you’ll most likely need to revisit a stage you’ve already beaten to get it (which seems odd). It’s pretty cool that they would add something like this, though if you start the final stage without it you’ll just have to kill yourself to get back to the stage select. It’s kind of a half-baked (or maybe 3/4-baked) idea, much like the rest of the game.

Capcom hadn’t perfected the Mega Man formula yet when the first game came out, but it’s nonetheless a pretty fun one. It gets docked a few points for having unimaginative bosses and severe difficulty spikes. It’s a game you can skip if you want to, but is fun to look back on.

Review Score: B−