Hardcore Gaming 101

Mega Man


This entry is part 1 of 36 in the series Mega Man

Since the release of Vulgus in 1984, Capcom had steadily built its legacy as a major publisher and developer in the arcades. Many of their titles, like 1942Commando and Ghosts’n Goblins would later see ports on home computers and consoles like the Famicom/NES, which became a powerhouse in homes across Japan and the world. However, what the company lacked was a game for the popular system divorced from the arcade scene, one that felt more suited for home play, like the mega hit platformer Super Mario Bros.. Such a new kind of title needed fresh talent. So Capcom put together a team of new recruits into Capcom’s workforce, with a few of them arriving straight out of college. It was a risky gamble, but it paid off, and cumulated in a franchise that would last more than 25 years spawn multiple series of games.

The team consisted of merely seven members. Keiji “Inafking” Inafune joined Capcom in 1987 as an illustrator, with his first work creating portrait shots and adapting them for sprites in the original Street Fighter arcade game based of Bengus’ character designs. Together with Naoya “Tom Pon” Tomita and Yasuaki “Yasukichi” Kishimoto, they laid out the design work and created the art assets under the planning supervision of Akira “A.K.” Kitamura. The game’s engine that would lay the groundwork for the series was heralded by Nobuyuki “H.M.D.” Matsushima. Music was composed by Manami “Chanchacorin Manami” Matsumae and programmed in by Street Fighter (1) composer and all-around sound tech guru Yoshihiro “Yuukichan’s Papa” Sakaguchi.

Keiji Inafune

Even though he wasn’t the initial driving force behind the project, much of the series’ accomplishments and dedication owe to Inafune, who came to serve as an overseer for the franchise for decades. On the first game he was a character designer, and Inafune himself is quick to point out that his design for Mega Man is a refinement of Kitamura’s orginal model and deems himself co-creator in that respect, even though he himself gave the character the iconic look and the 8-bit sprite. His influences for the design came from both sides of the Pacific. Aside from the obvious parallels to Astro Boy (though with a lot less darker overtones than the Osamu Tezuka classic), Inafune borrowed from anime and manga he read growing up, mostly early Tatsunoko Productions’ works like Casshern and Time Bokan. Inafune also drew from American superhero comics like Superman and Wolverine, giving many of the robots the de facto Underoos over the tights costume design, complete with boots and gloves as accents. The reason the Blue Bomber became blue in the first place was due to the NES’ limited palette having more shades of that hue compared to any other, therefore making the character stand out from the background, at least in his default color scheme.

The name for the game went through many changes, ranging from “Mighty Kid” to “Rainbow Man” (because of the character’s shifting hue from powers). Ultimately, the Japanese title was settled on Rockman, both to signify the music motifs within the game and its characters, but also the Rock-Paper Scissors aspect of the gameplay. Even though a countless amount of games were made under this monicker, one of the most well-known traits of the Mega Man franchise is the open-ended choice of choosing the order of the levels. It was a radical idea during its era of development – rather than to frustrate players with one difficult obstacle, it enabled them to choose another stage to tackle, which they might be more capable of finishing. Completing a stage also grants the player a power, which can greatly assist in beating the stages that were problematic before. This is another one of the most well-recognized tropes of the series: earning bosses’ weapons. These weapons not only give Mega Man new tools to take down foes, but each boss has a particular weakness to one of them. This gave the game a fresh (for the time) gimmick and helped lengthen its replay value, allowing players to make their routes as easy or as hard as they please. Even as this gimmick was replicated and reused over and over and even shifted away from in spin-offs and some later games, the lovable blue robot became a mainstay as one of the most memorable video game mascots for over 25 years.

Heroes

DLN-001 Mega Man / Rock Man / Rock

Created as the first fully working intelligent humanoid robot, his model became the template for the rest of the Robot Master designs and serves as Dr. Light’s assistant and all-around adaptable tool user. When Dr. Wily started terrorizing the populace, Rock willingly allowed himself to be altered into a battlebot for justice – the super fighting robot Mega Man. His mimicry and versatility would prove useful, as he is able to gain and use the powers of the Robot Masters he defeats. His only limits and weaknesses are his strict following of Asimov’s Law of Robotics, his heroic naïveté, and his utter inability of shooting directly upward. And spikes.

Dr. Thomas Light / Right

Santa Claus in a lab coat and without the hat. He holds a PhD in robotics, was a winner of the Nobel Prize for physics, and is generally an all around nice guy. He built Mega Man, Proto Man, Roll, Rush, and many other robots for the industrial complex, seeking harmony with his creations and their kind with humans. As Mega Man X and its series would show, he sealed X away hoping that his last robot would have complete free will yet still seek to do good in the world in the future. Plus he loves to cosplay as Ryu from Street Fighter in his spare time.

DLN-002 Roll

A housekeeper robot who acts like a little sister to Mega Man, serving as a parallel to Astro Boy’s Uran. She rarely fights (mostly in spin-offs) but provides support throughout the series, such as manning the in-game shops. For a brief time she had a slightly altered look and dress in Mega Man 8. She appears on the final credits screen in the first game but isn’t mentioned by name until the third, where she and Mega Man complete the “rock’n’roll” pun together. Her role was minor if not almost absent throughout the NES era, before she began showing up in cutscenes more often in every game past Mega Man 7.

DLN-000 Proto Man / Blues

The prototype sentient robot created by Dr. Light. Rebels against his creator after finding out his energy core was unstable and takes off on his own. He was found by Dr. Wily when the mad scientist was in exile and had his core repaired along with other modifications to make him a combat robot. An independent soul, his cool helmet and scarf conceal his true identity from Dr. Light, whom he still distrusts. Proto Man shows up to help Mega Man out from time to time, or challenges him to test his strength, but tends not to meddle when he can, so he’s sort of like Racer X to Speed Racer. His first reveal in the series occured in Mega Man 3.

Rush

Loosely based on Casshern’s canine companion Friender, this dog bot is able to transform into various tools to assist Mega Man. His usual forms are a jet board to ride on and a springboard to reach high places, but he can also traverse underwater and in space, and lots more. Later on Rush serves as adapter suits for the Blue Bomber. The robo pooch debuted in Mega Man 3.

Auto / Rightot

A goofy hulking green bot built by Dr. Light to lend a hand around the lab. He hangs around as comic relief and mostly does shop duty since he first appeared in Mega Man 7. Along with the occasional wacky comment, he generally ends his sentences with a “-dasu” suffix in the Japanese versions. His design is based on the classic blinking, walking beep-boop robot toys of yesteryear.

Eddie / Flip-Top

A walking item transporter that first showed up in Mega Man 4. He appears in stages to deliver the player a helpful item from his container body: possibly 1-ups or E-Tanks, but mostly health or weapon energy.

Tango

A feline support robot that appeared in the Game Boy Mega Man V and a scant few other titles. Unlike its canine brethren, its only ability is to roll and bounce around on the ground like a buzzsaw dicing up enemies. Clearly not as helpful since this attack has a long start-up delay and can barely be directed towards threats.

Dr. Mikhail Sergeyevich Cossack

A Russian robotic engineer who created the Robot Masters in Mega Man 4. He’s not really bad, but was forced to try and take down our hero in order to get back his kidnapped daughter. He’s rarely seen or mentioned after his debut game, outside of comics and manga.

Kalinka Cossack

Dr. Cossack’s daughter, named after a classic Russian folk song. She serves as a playable character in RockBoard and a kidnapping victim in Mega Man 4, and little else besides cameos. She does have the distinction of being one of the scarce few female characters in the classic series.

Beat

A little blue bird built by Dr. Cossack to aid Mega Man once he finds all of its parts in Mega Man 5. Its main uses are diving into enemies Mega Man can’t reach, saving him from pits, and rarely shielding his allies from attacks. Oddly enough it gets plenty of screentime in Super Adventure Rockman, even though it rarely actually assists the Blue Bomber.

Duo

A robot of justice from outer space out to purge evil from the cosmos. First appearing in The Power Fighters to hype Mega Man 8, Duo crash-lands onto Earth along with an unnamed evil space robot after a fierce battle left them incapacitated. He is huge and slow but throws a powerful fist, able to cause shockwaves or hand-shaped projectiles with his punches. His original intended creator was to be Dr. Cossack, hence his more outwardly Siberian design.

Villians

Dr. Albert W. Wily

Einstein-looking comically mad scientist with a skull motif and main antagonist in the original series. Former colleague and bitter rival to Dr. Light, he was always 2nd best, so he strides to prove himself via taking over the world with his evil robots. Of course his schemes are always thwarted. Insane as he is, he seems quite cunning into manipulating others into his doing, or at least playing off others’ naïveté time and again. It’s probably how he gets his funding for his army of bots or his giant skull fortresses. His dirty work leaves an impact throughout the future sequel spin-offs, particularly in the Mega Man X series.

SWN-001 Bass / Forte

Wily’s own take on Mega Man, emerging on the scene at the start of Mega Man 7. If Proto Man is Knuckles to Mega Man’s Sonic, then Bass is Shadow the Hedgehog. Bass is a tough and arrogant anti-hero, who tends to butt heads with his master, wanting to fight Mega Man on his own terms. At best he’s a sort of evil mega clone, serving as a mid boss in the later games’ fortresses. There are many games where Bass is playable alone or even alongside Mega Man, able to take down his creator as a sign of his own pride. His original name from Inafune’s sketches was Baroque.

Treble / Gospel

Bass’ own Rush-like companion, though not as versatile a handy-dog. It is a lot more offense-based than Mega Man’s pup and can fuse with Bass to super-boost him with the power of flight. In fact, Treble is rarely used for anything else other than to combine with his master, which was only made possible by stealing plans from Dr. Light. His name was changed stateside to curtail any possible religious connotations. Perhaps they should have stuck to the beta name Crush instead.

Reggae

A seldom-seen support robot Wily built based off an Oriental Stork. An annoying and mocking birdbot that constantly repeats its master’s quotes or laughs at his screw-ups. First appeared in RockBoard.

 

Met / Metal

The mascot baddie of Mega Man that’s been a foe since the very first game and has shown up in every title and almost every subsequent series (aside from Legends) with multiple variations like scuba gear or rocket packs. They are impervious to almost all weapon shots when hiding in their construction hard hats, and kind of cute in an infuriating sort of way.

Sniper Joe

Mass-produced humanoid robots created by Dr. Light and made into armed soldiers by Dr. Wily. Canonically based on Proto Man’s design, they serve as formidable opponents since the first game, able to block Mega Man’s buster shots with their shield before firing back. It didn’t take long for specialized Joes to crop up with newer weapons and manning many vehicles. Similar enemies appeared in the Mega Man X and Zero/ZXseries.

Devil

A recurring boss that almost always appears in Wily’s fortresses. This blob-like beast breaks up into fast-moving pieces of itself that Mega Man must dodge, until it reforms its body on the other side of the screen. Started as a yellow monster but takes on other colors and shapes as the series went on. Its only weak spot is its eye or core, depending on the game.

Appearing / Disappearing / Buzzing Blocks

A staple obstacle in Mega Man’s path. These platforms pop in and out of existence in a set interval, mostly above spikes, bottomless pits, or other instant death areas. Often the next block would appear right above Mega Man’s head in certain situations, much to the player’s frustration. Thankfully they can be bypassed using Rush or other items in many of the games.

The fact of how much of Mega Man‘s graphical style, sound effects, and gameplay stuck with the franchise for over 7 years completely intact speaks volumes about the first game’s degree of perfection. Aside from background tileset complexity, there’s little change in terms of the game’s aesthetics compared to many of the future titles. The one major difference compared to its successors is the number of Robot Masters to fight. The memory space limitations with a mere 1-megabit ROM meant the originally planned number of 8 main stages that would match the rest of the series were reduced to 6. All of the Robot Masters were conceived as having been co-created by a partnership by Light & Wily before the mad doctor stole them and reprogrammed them to serve him in his quest for world domination.

Robot Masters

DLN-003 Cut Man

A rather dopey-looking lumberjack robot with with big handle-like ears and big cleaving scissors on top of his head made to slice through trees. He flings his sharp boomerang-like Rolling Cutter weapon from his head at Mega Man whenever he’s not bouncing about. He’s a really easy boss to take down. You know, Rock beats scissors. [Weakness: Super Arm]

DLN-004 Guts Man

The first in a long line of big guy Robot Masters. Built to aid with constructions to reclaim land, he causes earthquakes whenever he lands from his jumps and tosses huge boulders at Mega Man with his Super Arm. He has a tendency to emerge in many Wily Fortresses in rebuilt forms in later games. [Weakness: Hyper Bomb (Time Slow in Powered Up)]

DLN-005 Ice Man

A robot built for extreme sub-zero temperatures, this parka-clad boss skates gracefully on slick surfaces and breathes Ice Slashers capables of freezing anything in its tracks. He, Fire Man, and Elec Man are the first of many Robot Masters to be based on the traditional elements. [Weakness: Thunder Beam (Hyper Bomb in Powered Up)]

DLN-006 Bomb Man

Originally created to handle explosives in aiding mining and Guts Man, he now uses his big black cartoonish Hyper Bombs he pulls out of hammerspace to make anything standing in his way go kablooey. His orange mohawk is rather stylish, too. [Weakness: Fire Storm (Rolling Cutter in Powered Up)]

DLN-007 Fire Man

A walking incinerator made to burn flammable trash away. Possibly one of the hardest of the original Robot Masters to take down due to his ability to whip up a flurry of Fire Storms. The flame burning from the exhaust port on top of his head never goes out. [Weakness: Ice Slasher]

DLN-008 Elec Man

A robot heavily inspired by American superheroes (his mask is stated to be modelled after Wolverine’s). He’s perfect for generating electricity for power plants. Once turned villainous, he fires off Thunder Beams that zigzag vertically up and down as well as straight ahead. They can destroy Mega Man in just three hits. He is one of Inafune’s favorite robots and the first original Mega Man character designed by him. [Weakness: Rolling Cutter (Oil Slider in Powered Up)]

Another element that was removed after the first game is the inclusion of a point-based score system, a holdover from Capcom’s arcade-centric days. Enemies tend to drop tiny pellets that add to the score total more than any other pick-up in this title. Every selected stage lists the points earned for beating the boss, and it’s possible to re-battle each Robot Master or even fight through Wily’s Fortress over and over again. It’s rather pointless outside of bragging rights, since the game doesn’t track high scores and has no save function. There aren’t even passwords to save progress, so every Robot Master has to be fought every single time the game is fired up.

That game is also more difficult than its sequels. Though many of the stages are rather short, the game predates most of the luxuries and fail-safe mechanisms that have become staples to the series. There are no E-Tanks to refill energy. Post-hit invincibility won’t save Mega Man from the instant death touch from spikes. Health energy pick-ups come few and far between in many stages. The pre-boss shutter door areas are longer than a single screen and have enemies inside, and are not merely continue point safe havens right before the upcoming boss. A couple of these pre-boss corridors are even vertical, a rare sight in the series. The Robot Master rematches have a set order in the Wily fortress levels, broken into 2 segments in 2 stages, and they don’t drop large life energy capsules like in later games, making the 2nd boss rush a dangerous affair and a struggle of conserving health as much as possible. Not to speak of the more frustrating platforming segments in certain stages, most lives lost being attributed to the fast-dropping conveyor platforms in Guts Man’s lair, or the pellet-firing propeller-powered Foot Holder enemies in Ice Man’s stage where Mega Man tends to glitch through and fall to his death after he takes damage. And that’s not factoring in the Yellow Devil. His super fast pattern of blob pieces flying back and forth across the cramped quarters pose possibly the most challenging part of the entire game.

Defeating all 6 Robot Masters unlocks Dr. Wily in the middle of the stage select menu, setting a course of 4 levels where heavy use of special weapons is required to traverse. Again, the stages themselves aren’t too long, but there are many hazards and enemies in the way that will whittle Mega Man’s health before reaching the bosses. Smart weapon energy consumption is a must in many sections of the Wily stages to reach the end unscathed. Fortunately, the majority of the acquired arsenal is useful for its intended purposes. The Rolling Cutter slices through many enemies that are immune to the standard Buster, and hits a little above and below the regular shooting range. Fire Storm creates and nice damage-dealing barrier around Mega Man. Thunder beam shots in 3 directions, able to destroy enemies far above or below. A well-placed Ice Slasher can freeze a hopping tank-like Big Eye in the air to safely walk under. The Super Arm clears away gravely rocks, which can also be tossed to obliterate groups of enemies. Sadly, Hyper Bombs are hard to use properly due to the time-delayed detonations, even though their explosions at least cover a sizable section of the screen.

Another item imperative to completing the game is the temporary platform-making Magnet Beam nestled in Elec Man’s stage behind a layer of tossable rocks. Though it’s easy to eat through its energy quickly, it makes it possible to walk over many pits or bypass obstacles like the disappearing block puzzles. Unlike other required special items or Rush parts in later games, this necessary special item is not just handed out to Mega Man, but needs to be earned. Unless Elec Man’s stage is entered with the Super Arm in Mega Man’s Arsenal, it becomes necessary to visit the stage again later.

One little cheat involves mashing the select button to pause and unpause the game, making certain weapons hit enemies multiple times. Suddenly that Yellow Devil falls quickly with one Elec Beam, and Wily’s machine can be beaten in seconds. Sadly, this exploit is removed in subsequent ports and remakes of the game.

While Mega Man is already an excellent game in concept, the memory limitations are apparent throughout. Aside from the previously mentioned axing of 2 Robot Master stages, many layouts are recycled in the levels, akin to the repeating screens in Metroid and its sequel. The Wily stages reuse many of the same graphic tiles with palette swaps. The repeating layouts do pad many of the levels out longer than they should, particually Cut Man’s and Elec Man’s stages. These looped sequences merely add tedium and do not any boost in the challenge.

The game was given a lower print run initially, due to Capcom’s apprenhensiveness of the new IP. They were surprised to find that while it didn’t fly off the shelves as a huge blockbuster in Japan, it did exceed the low expectations to become an average seller for its first few months. The game garnered a fairly decent sales climb over a period of time in the US as well, once word of mouth spread about the revolutionary gameplay hidden behind the hideous boxart. As far as bad video game packaging goes, Mega Man‘s American cover is highly infamous, one that was illustrated quickly by a peer of Capcom USA’s marketing manager to make the game appear not as cute as the Japanese box. With the bad anatomy, awkward posing and expression, and wildly inaccurate costume and tangential background, it was an eyesore at best, leaving the blurbs and screenshots on the back of the box serving a better purpose at selling the product. The laughably awful design of the cover has been placed on an ironic pedestal in recent years, cropping up in a few venues released or planned with Capcom’s titles, officially recognized within the company as “Bad Box Art Mega Man”.

The first Mega Man game has the most remakes, ports, and re-releases in the entire franchise. The first came in 1994: a 16-bit remake alongside the third and second game and a bonus segment in The Wily Wars. The second port kept closer to the original, with some extras, as part of the PlayStation Complete Works and later on the North American Anniversary Collection in 2004. 2004 was also the release year for the first mobile device port that was developed by Lavastorm. The first mobile port has very scrunched up sprites, MIDI versions of the music but no sound effects, shortened redesigned level layouts for the Robot Master stages that sticks the Magnet Beam in Bomb Man’s stage, and truncates Wily’s Skull Fortress down to a mere boss rush. The game can be played in an easier Capture Mode that grants the player unlimited lives and a save feature at the mode’s cost of being unable to keep high scores. A Japan-only 2007 re-release for mobile devices stayed truer to the original NES version, at least graphically. The newer port keeps the MIDI music and Robot Master stage layouts, but adds sound effects and a fully renewed Wily Fortress. A later update added the ability to play through the game as Roll, whom maneuvers the same as her older brother, except she can fire charged buster shots at the cost of weapon energy. A glasses-free 3D version of the port was released for Japanese Android devices in 2011. A fully revised enhanced remake called Mega Man Powered Up came out for the PSP in UMD form in 2006, followed by a digital download version on PSN. It turns the graphics into polygon models and adds new enemies and even two new Robot Masters. Finally, the original NES version is available on the Wii and 3DS Virtual Console services and the Complete Works port is also available on PSN.

 

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