Mega Man & Bass is an extremely difficult game with a strange history. It began life as a Super Famicom game that came out after Mega Man 8 had been released on PlayStation, but didn’t make it to the U.S. until it was ported to Gameboy Advance many years later. It’s an interesting historical curiosity, but unbalanced design makes it a tough game to get into.
The title of the game refers to the fact that you can play as Bass as well as Mega Man. Each has to play through the game independently, though the collectable CDs the game offers are collected across multiple saves. Indeed, you need to play the game as both characters to find them all. Bass is much more agile than Mega Man, with a double-jump and the ability to fire upwards or on any diagonal. He has a rapid-fire shot instead of the ability to charge his main weapon, and has a variety of limitations such as the inability to move while firing. He also has a dash instead of Mega Man’s slide, a move that’s harder to execute reliably and does not let him fit in tight spaces. However, much of the game seems to be designed with Bass in mind, making him the easier character to play as in most (but not all) cases.
The structure of Mega Man & Bass is unique to the Mega Man series. After an intro stage, you can choose from only three bosses. Defeating any of these unlocks 2-3 more bosses, until you’ve unlocked all 8. You need to beat them all to complete the game, and they are ordered in such a way that you can always get the proper weapon to defeat any boss you’ve unlocked. However, starting the game is brutally difficult. Only one of the opening three bosses can be reasonably beaten with your base weapon alone, and even if you manage that, the next boss in line is incredibly difficult even with the proper weapon. It’s very easy to get stuck and frustrated early on. Once you’ve collected various weapons and unlocked some nice upgrades, the difficulty of the game generally comes into line with the harder games in the series, but the early going earns this game the title of perhaps the hardest Mega Man game.
The difficulty of Mega Man & Bass comes from two aspects. First, the game is just kind of unfair. One-hit kills and other death traps are incredibly common, and the game is filled with normal enemies that will force you to your death if not dealt with immediately. You’ll have to just plow through enemies, taking tons of damage, to avoid some obstacles early on before you have many tools to use. The game also suffers from its conversion to Gameboy Advance. The GBA screen has a lower resolution than the original Super Famicom version, and the game was not adjusted to account for this. As a result, the edges of the screen will often hide enemies, obstacles, and other important information. Fortunately, the game is based on Mega Man 8 sprites, so at least your characters don’t take up a huge amount of the limited screen real estate.
All that said, Mega Man & Bass can be pretty fun once you start to master it. It features six new bosses as well as two bosses making a return from Mega Man 8, though the art style of all 8 stages are also taken directly from that game. It seems almost like it was intended to be an alternative version of Mega Man 8. The puzzles and enemies that won’t leave you tearing your hair out in frustration can be pretty interesting, and the 100 CDs hidden across the first nine stages give you a good reason to explore. You can buy fantastic upgrades with bolts, though most of the good stuff doesn’t unlock until you’ve defeated a majority of the eight bosses. You’ll have to toggle between several of these, and in the long run Mega Man & Bass becomes a highly strategic game. It makes better use of your arsenal than most Mega Man games of its time.
The simple truth is, if you’re not a skilled, hardcore Mega Man player, Mega Man & Bass is not for you. The difficulty is often unfair and will leave you wanting to throw your GBA at times. But as with most difficult games, mastering it is highly satisfying, and the game gives you the tools to show off that mastery. There’s a bit too much randomness involved in certain boss fights for the game to ever feel easy, but that’s what some people are looking for.