Released: December 1987
US Cartridge ID: NES-MN-USA
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)
As Capcom’s first game designed specifically with the home based console in mind, Mega Man was a pioneer in the video gaming world. Though it never reached the heights of financial or critical success that its sequels would eventually receive, Capcom’s premier original NES game nevertheless established many important staples for the long-running series, as well as providing new twists on the side-scrolling genre as a whole. Mega Man is also one of the first US released games that gained a significant amount of notoriety for its ghastly box art, which did little but to repel interested potential customers.
Dr. Wright, renowned scientist and inventor, along with his assistant, Dr. Wily, strove to create humanoid robots that one day would supplant the need for humans to perform dangerous and/or menial tasks. With the prototype Mega Man being a smashing success, six more robots were created in his image, each purposed for different jobs. Dr. Wily, wishing to usurp Dr. Wright’s authority and use the potential power of these robots for selfish purposes, reprogramed them to seize control of major assets and resources, effectively putting Wily himself in charge of the world. As the only robot left unaffected by Wily’s nefarious tinkering, Mega Man is selected by Dr. Wright as the champion that will become savior to both human and robot-kind alike.
Mega Man begins with a stage select screen, allowing the player to choose which robot master they would like to tackle first. Each of the six master’s (Fire Man, Bomb Man, Guts Man, Cut Man, Elec Man, and Ice Man) stages follow the theme of the master himself: Ice Man’s stage is loaded with slippery platforms that cause Mega Man slide uncontrollably, Elec Man’s stage requires that the hero avoid bolts of electricity that fly at him, etc. Each of the bosses are unique in design, allowing for a great deal of variety between each stage, and the choice of stages conveniently provides alternatives for the player that might get stuck in a particularly difficult part of a certain stage. Defeating each major boss robot grants Mega Man the ability to use the conquered foe’s primary weapon, which is key in deciding the order in which the stages are conquered. Each robot master has a specific weakness, and though each can be beaten with Mega Man’s stock “arm cannon,” all are significantly easier to defeat if the weapon being used exploits their weakness. This allowed for an unprecedented amount of strategy in approach for the time of Mega Man‘s release, and was something not possible with previous genre stablemate’s linear level progression structures. Finishing off the first six robot stages, Mega Man then must go to Dr. Wily’s fortress, battling through four additional stages before he stands off against the evil mastermind himself.
Mega Man‘s graphics, though not as detailed as those in later games in the series, are light years beyond most other NES games released in 1987. Each sprite has a distinct look and color scheme, and are all specifically styled after the theme of the stage in which they appear. The soundtrack is phenomenal, with well put together, heavily layered melodies that suitably complement the action. The controls are hard to fault, being tight and accurate. This level of precision is absolutely necessary, as Mega Man‘s difficulty level is quite high. Though beatable, the Blue Bomber’s first outing is a true test of a player’s reflexes: unlike many earlier games, when Mega Man is killed, the player’s frustration is rarely due to a perceived lack of control. Rather, it is telling sign that more practice and better memorization of enemy patterns is necessary to complete the given area.
Of note – Mega Man was originally named Rockman in Japan. According to Game Players magazine, Capcom USA’s then senior vice president, Joe Morici (whose ‘thank you’ message appears at the beginning of most of Capcom’s US NES releases’ instruction manuals) decided that the name Mega Man would appeal more to American audiences, but chose to leave the other characters’ names the same (for example, Mega Man’s sister robot was named Roll), despite the lack of context provided with Mega Man’s repurposed title. Another holdover from the game’s original development is that of the corridors that Mega Man must fight through to reach the boss’ lair – apparently, Mega Man was originally developed as a Famicom Disk System title, with the corridors being intended to disguise downtime while loading. Though the game was released on cartridge, eliminating perceptible load times, the corridors were left in place, and continued to remain fixtures in later entries.
As the progenitor of well over 100 games, Mega Man is a worthy ancestor to such a prolific and consistently high-quality series. Its winning combination of graphics, sound, gameplay, and fair challenge make it a game that, while not as good as its follow ups, deserves much recognition for its incredible achievements.