Mega Man 8 veers further from the traditions of Mega Man than any other game in the series. While Mega Man 7 was a bit of a departure, Mega Man 8 throws much of the rulebook out entirely. The result can feel very odd if what you’re looking for is that old school Mega Man feel.
Taking a cue from the previous game, Mega Man 8 once again relies on two sets of four bosses rather than presenting all eight at once. The bosses are divided into two separate cycles of weapon weaknesses, and several are beatable with the basic Mega Buster and a bit of strategy, making for a well-balanced group. The weapons range from the useful to the completely redundant, but the game changes the way special weapons works in a fundamental way: the Mega Buster remains your default weapon even when you have another equipped. A separate button fires your special weapon. The effect of this is that weapons with odd firing patterns are much more usable than they have been in previous Mega Man games, but it also encourages use of the Mega Buster as your primary offense.
While the bosses are interesting and well-balanced, the stage design in Mega Man 8 is what sets it apart from the rest of the series. Mega Man stages are generally short, difficult platforming challenges that encourage practice and memorization. Here, the stages are very long and frequently contain gimmick sections that are not always enjoyable. (Veterans of Mega Man 8 will likely have painful flashbacks upon hearing “Jump jump! Slide slide!”) The stages are so long and involved that the midpoint is now the continue point when you get a game over, with per-life checkpoints interspersed throughout both halves of the level.
An interesting decision Mega Man 8 makes is to change up how the bolts introduced in Mega Man 7 are handled. Rather than being common drops with which to buy items, there are exactly 40 bolts in the game, most often found in secret areas. You can spend these bolts to get up to 8 of 16 upgrades, though there’s no way to change your choices later. These upgrades are pretty significant, often making significant changes to how the Mega Buster works or how Mega Man moves. Unfortunately, in addition to removing energy tanks and the like from the shop, they removed them from the entire game. The closest thing you can get to an Energy tank is a one-use-per-life Rush summon that will bombard the screen with powerups. With such long stages, the lack of energy tanks can be a real drag.
On the whole, Mega Man 8 is a pretty fun platformer, but it’s not very good at being a Mega Man game. You still get special weapons to use on other bosses, but the game design is so fundamentally different that it can seem like a disappointment to Mega Man fans. Still, the game offers some fun stages and some memorable anime cutscenes (albeit cutscenes mostly memorable for the hilariously terrible English dub). It does a better job of translating Mega Man to better-than-NES graphics than Mega Man 7 did, and the various secret bolts are fun to search for. It just would perhaps have been better served as an entry in a different series.