Released: June 1989
US Cartridge ID: NES-XR-USA
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (256k PRG)
Despite the original game not selling enough copies to warrant an immediate follow-up, Mega Man 2 saw its initial release on the Japanese market a mere twelve months after Mega Man‘s initial publication. Completed over a hellishly short four month development cycle, Mega Man 2 was to become an industry-wide symbol of the passion and dedication that went into many early NES projects: Capcom would not fully support the production of the sequel to a fairly recent, modestly-successful title, but it would allow for the development team, already fully engaged in other “official” projects, to develop the title on their own time. In retrospect, granting this boon to the passionate creators of the franchise was one of the smartest decisions Capcom made in console-development during the 1980s – Mega Man 2 stands today as the best-selling title in the series with over 1.5 million copies sold across all regions, Capcom’s #2 best-selling title released for the NES (following Ghosts ‘n Goblins), and their 33rd best-selling game of all time (as of 5/2013).
Having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Mega Man in the concluding scenes of the previous game, Dr. Wily continues to follow the pernicious path that led to his ultimate fall. Vengeful and ambitious, Dr. Wily creates eight new robot masters, intending to destroy Mega Man and his peace-loving creator, the renowned genius Dr. Light. The good doctor recommissions his agent of justice, the blue bomber, to once again put a stop to the reprehensible scientist’s plans.
Though the plot is recycled wholesale from Mega Man, Mega Man 2 improves on nearly every aspect of its parent game and establishes precedent for several features that would become iconic series staples in later installments. Following a dramatic introductory sequence and difficulty select, Mega Man is confronted with a new set of eight robot masters standing between him and Dr. Wily. Like in Mega Man, the player may chose the order in which he or she tackles each of the initial stages. The recommended order, however, largely depends on the vulnerabilities of each of the robot masters, and which weapons are already in Mega Man’s possession: while Metal Man’s spinning saw blades are extremely effective against Wood Man’s arboreal exterior, Bubble Man’s aquatic Bubble Lead attack is the most efficient way to counter Heat Man’s Atomic Fire weapon. There are several viable ways to approach the first eight stages, and this need for strategy extends the game’s replay value significantly.
Also new to Mega Man 2 is the addition of special power up items that are received upon beating certain stages. After destroying Heat Man, in addition to Atomic Fire, Mega Man will receive Item-1 from Dr. Light, granting the ability to place up to three floating platforms in mid-air. When Air Man is destroyed, both the Air Shooter and Item-2 become parts of Mega Man’s arsenal, with the new item allowing Mega Man to use a hover board to fly over hazardous terrain. Finally, alongside the Time Stopper, the defeat of Flash Man brings on Item-3, which will provide a platform that will scale along walls. All of these new items provide opportunities for new puzzles throughout the stages – without the use of these items, some power-ups and paths will remain inaccessible in the early stages, while areas in Dr. Wily’s castle require the judicious use of each to make any progress whatsoever. This unfortunately introduces one of the game’s few major stumbling points – without a lot of trial and error, Mega Man will inevitably become stuck and unable to progress due to running out of energy for a required item or weapon – the most egregious example being Wily’s Castle’s Stage 4 boss, requiring that every shot of the Crash Bomb (the only effective weapon for the fight) connects to be able to complete it without running out of energy. Energy tanks are also introduced for the first time in this sequel, allowing Mega Man to refill his life gauge when nearing death from a menu screen.
As Mega Man 2 is a much longer game than the first was, a new password system has been introduced. After completing a level and receiving a power-up, a password is given that will record which weapons, items, and energy tanks have been acquired thus far. This password system, in addition to the new difficulty selector and the energy tanks, has earned Mega Man 2 some criticism for being much easier than the original game; while this is true, it also makes the game accessible to a wider range of players. Mega Man 2 is certainly not an easy game, despite its lack of the hair-pulling frustration than the first was known to elicit at times.
Of all the changes made for the sequel, the most immediately notable area of improvement in Mega Man 2 is its aesthetics. The broad splashes of texture-less color provided as backdrops are gone for the sequel, which each area’s environs being carefully detailed and tailored to suit the theme of the boss robot. Bubble Man’s initial area begins with a constantly moving waterfall that fills the entire screen without any hint of slowdown or break-up, the suspended platforms that make up Air Man’s stage are surrounded (and sometimes obscured) by huge cumulus clouds whose edges are constantly being blown about in the wind, and Heat Man’s stage makes some particularly clever use of shading to create the illusion of depth in the fiery recesses of his lair.
The sprite work has been equally improved, as the enemies have given several more frames of animation to better convey a sense of personality (the gear-riding clowns, fire-breathing blue dog robots, and the gyro-copter robots pulling their own wind-up strings are notable stand-outs). The true technical tour-de-force, however, lies as a reward to the
most sedulous players in the final areas – bosses become huge mechanical monstrosities filling between 1/3 and 1/2 of the screen at any given time: the huge fire-breathing dragon chase, the Guts Man tank, and Dr. Wily’s spaceship all meaningfully convey an exciting sense of danger, making the play fields feel frantically claustrophobic due to the immense amount of on-screen real estate being taken up.
The soundtrack, like in Mega Man, is upbeat, catchy, and often shifts gears to appropriately convey the desired atmosphere. The quality, however, is slightly less even than that of the series’ original entry. While the majority of the songs are insanely memorable, loaded with heavy bass beats and driving synth leads, some fall completely flat, at times verge on annoying. Quick Man, Wood Man, and Bubble Man’s stages all feature music that effectively drives the action with a sense of urgency, and Dr. Wily’s castle stage theme is widely recognized as one of the best NES Mega Man level themes ever written. Air Man and Crash Man’s themes, however, are irritating and inappropriate, their stylings far better suited to Capcom’s lighter-hearted DuckTales, as the bouncy high-pitched leads and heavily arpeggiated harmonies fail to convey any legitimate sense of tension.
Minor qualms on the quality of some of the tunes and isolated instances of unfair situational difficulty aside, there is very little to dislike about Mega Man 2. The graphics are fantastic, most of the music effortlessly evokes romanticized nostalgic feelings of “the golden era” of the home video game market, the difficulty curve is reasonable but never too easy, the controls are spot-on, and the game is an outright blast to play, regardless of how familiar the player is with it. Few games ever reach the iconic status that Mega Man 2 enjoys, but most games aren’t this polished, fun, nor memorable. While not the perfect game, nor even the best Mega Man NES game, the massive evolutionary step Mega Man 2 takes over the original’s already solid base makes this sequel one that deserves a fair play by anyone who appreciates quality play and fun.
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|Mega Man 2
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