Monday, October 24, 2011

I feel it necessary to recuse myself on two counts before beginning this first chapter on my quest to become
Mega Maniac!
lol. U jelly, bro?

First--my name is Keith G. and I am a  Mega Man-iac. I started with just a few Robot Masters, I tried Wood Man in 1989 and haven't stopped since. You can see my collection (proudly displayed) at right.

Second--for my years of Mega-Love, not once have I played through the original Mega Man. Released by Capcom in 1987, Mega Man 1 was like reading the Illiad and the Odyssey--I'd start with the best of intentions, but break off my pursuit one Robot Master in. Without passwords, each time I restarted my Mega education, I'd start at square one, get one Robot Master in... et cetera.

Mega Man Stage Select
One Ring to Rule them All
So it was with a certain glee that I loaded my beloved cart and circled the Original Ring of Six. Knowing how the Mega Man titles work, I knew each Robot was critically weak to the weapon of another and that choosing the correct level first can make or break a Mega Man session. I COULD have simply Googled the Robot weaknesses, but that borders to close to cheating, so instead (perhaps still buzzed on a Top Gun high) I chose Ice Man [chomp].

In retrospect, I realize this ranks among the worst ideas in the history of mankind, on par with Greedo Shoots First and Credit-Default Swapping.

Mega Man Stage Select
You'll learn to welcome death.
I had vague memory of Iceman's stage: slippery as hell with flying penguins. This was spot-on; however, I'd forgotten that  the Iceman stage births a standby of the Mega Man series: the disappearing block puzzle. Having faced these in Mega Mans 2-6 already, I figured, "no problem." Wrong. Your jumping point for these two puzzles are water, changing the physics of movement. To further complicate the matter, each has a baddie sliding about the floor, doing a smashing job of effing up your jump timing.

After the two block puzzles, not much separates Mega Man from Iceman's lair. Inside the chain-looking door thingies is an ante-chamber (thankfully) filled with flying penguin drones. Depleted from my run-ins with the floor spikes, I refilled my energy and went to face Iceman.

He killed me almost instantly. Thrice. Even at full-strength, three shots from his ice gun make for one dead Blue Bomber. Their spacing makes it possible to jump, but such a strategy requires perfect timing and perhaps a bit of luck. When given the option between Continue and Stage Select, I quickly chose the latter and, thinking him most likely to be the weakness of Iceman, tried my hand at Fireman.

Mega Maniac!
Hope you like getting burned.
Compared to the Slip 'n Slide that is Iceman, Fireman is a cakewalk. The key here is slow and steady: avoiding the pillars of fire and jam on your mega buster. Near the end of Fireman's stage is a screen with laser-fast arcs of fire. If there's a way to not get hit here, it's beyond me. I just ran through, took my licks, and went into Fireman's ante room ready for a fight.

It wasn't much of a fight, really. I killed Fireman on my first try by repeatedly shooting him in the face. His main attack does little damage; so long as he doesn't physically touch you, its in the bag.

With Fireman's weapon in my arsenal, I returned to Iceman, ready for another fight. Iceman again kicked my ass. Apparently the laws of physics in the year 20XX are slightly different; fire does little against ice.  Beaten again by the nefarious Iceman, I decided to face him last and switched to Bombman's stage.

Mega Man Stage Select
Hey Joe / what you doin'
with that / gun in your hand?
Bombman's level is some sort of futuristic metropolis, except instead of citizens, there's lots of gun turrets and bombs. The one notable thing about Bombman's level (and this is including another ridiculously easy boss fight) is the first instance of everyone's favorite Mega Man baddie, Sniper Joe. He's actually quite devious here as he's on a flat plane (rather than a higher platform) meaning you must both avoid his attacks and hit him once he moves his shield. Later in the series, Sniper Joe manages to put himself on platforms, making his gun practically useless. Not here.

The other lesson I learned from Bombman is a minor tweak which makes the first Mega Man much harder than its sequels: Mega Man is NOT invulnerable to spikes while blinking. In later games, intentionally getting hit can get you over tricky spike jumps. In Mega Man 1, it gets you killed faster. After a tricky antechamber of ladders and baddies, Bombman is a major disappointment ("Major Disappointment" [salute]). His bomb attacks are easily jumped, and I killed him before I even remembered to try the Fire cannon on him.

Mega Man Stage Select
Seeing this guy was like Dr.
Frank-n-Furter showing up in
Rocky Horror.
I went next to Gutsman. His stage is a giant unfinished construction site, complete with infamous hard hat guys (apparently called mettaurs) and gaping pits. There is a devious section involving moving platforms which drop from beneath you, but Gutsman's stage is remarkably short, and passing the platforms is the biggest challenge.

Gutsman himself (always my favorite of the Original 6) doesn't offer much in terms of challenge. The giant bricks he throws are dodged with a simple jump. He shakes the earth when he jumps, but timing your own moves accordingly doesn't require much skill. I pumped him full of Fire and was on to the next stage before I could say "In the year 20XX..."

Mega Maniac!
I believe you have my stapler.
Since he seemed coolest, I went next to Cutman. His stage (whatever it's supposed to be) reminded me of scaling the burned-out shell of the Initech building from Office Space. It's mostly like Bombman's stage: lots of guns. Additionally, many screens involve moving block-type enemies, which, as long as you take it slow, are rather simple.
Cutman himself is painfully simple: the two Gutsman blocks in the corner are a dead giveaway. Two attacks and Cutman snips loose the mortal coil.

Mega Maniac!
Many Bothans died trying to get that capsule.
To hell with this guy and his damn stage. There are random bolts of electricity. There are long sections of  ladder with enemies flying at you. And most of all, there's the most deceptive powerup in the entire history of the Mega Man series. See that energy capsule? LEAVE IT. Aside from Wily Stage 4 (which I'll rant about discuss later), Elecman is the hardest stage in the game.

Also notable is that late in the stage, if you have the Gutsman power (which I certainly did), the Platform power-up is available. It allows Mega Man to create platforms in mid air. Despite seeming very useful, it is, in fact, (almost) worthless. Pick it up and then shuffle to Elecman's antechamber: two screens of ladders and electricity. If you're chomping at the bit to reach the boss (which I was), you'll most likely waste half your energy before you even reach Elecman...
Mega Man Stage Select
This guy still kicked my ass.

...which is fine so long as you have the Cut Blade. Three hits and its bye-bye-bye (bye-bye) to Elecman  and his seemingly misspelled name.

Which left me again with Iceman. Oh, Iceman--you sick sonofabitch. Trial and error (and a few wasted lives) finally landed me on Iceman's (rather unlikely) weakness: Electricity. Thee jolts from the 'ol Elecman gun and I was dancing on Iceman's grave. Literally. I danced.

Mega Maniac!
Wily should have invested less in
Bombmans and more in Clay Monsters.
My celebratory dancing proved perhaps premature. Wily's stage starts with three of the jumping eye-robots and gets worse with pillars of fire which are quite difficult to avoid. You're rewarded for passing these obstacles with platforms which shoot at you, spikes, and the only room requiring the Platform power-up. The level isn't long, but compensates in difficulty, capping it all off with the most difficult boss in the game: The Clay Monster.

He breaks down into small blocks which fly across the room, injuring Mega Man if hit. Once re-constituted, his eye opens for a fraction of a second. If you miss that fraction of a second, sucks for you. After a few deaths, I found the Elecman weapon effective and was on my way to...

Mega Man Stage Select
Mega Mega!
As much as I bitched about the first Wily Stage, the second sucked about a hundred times more. Punctuating sections of platforms-and-pits are the re-emergence of Cutman and Elecman. Its the genesis of the Mega Man standby: defeating each Robot Master a second time. What make Mega Man 1 much (read: MUCH) more difficult is that the Robot Masters, instead of being in stand-alone rooms, are integrated into the level. This means if you die anywhere in the level, you must defeat each Robot Master again. The final boss of this section (rather than an expected Robot Master) is a clone of Mega Man. The Clone uses whatever weapon you use and doesn't seem to have a particular weakness. Fire works the best, and after half a dozen tries, I finally defeated the Clone and moved on to...

Mega Man Stage Select
Fish in a barrel, my friend. Fish in a barrel.
Ahhh... a nice, relaxing stage. No real baddies to worry about, plenty of drones to power up. You're pushed through some calming waters into a room with some Guts blocks and a series of Bubble-Robot things. The key to this guy is to beat some of the preliminary robots with your mega buster before moving to the Guts Blocks. By the end, he's moving too fast to accurately shoot with your buster. This level was, rather literally, like shooting fish in a barrel.

EFFING DAMMIT! If this Nintendo wasn't vintage, I would whip this controller straight through the TV. This stage, in addition to having the remaining Robot Masters and Dr. Wily himself, has THE MOST DIFFICULT SINGLE SCREEN IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF ALL ELECTRONIC MEDIA!
Mega Man Stage Select
This is just evil. The 1-up and "refill everything" power up are nice, but the rest is evil.
Mega Man Stage Select
My name is Mega Man. You hurt my father.
Prepare to die.
Passing the above screen rewards you with, in order: Bombman, Fireman, Iceman and Gutsman. Again, die during any part of this and you must defeat each of these four robots all over again. If you manage to get through those four with your energy (much less your sanity) intact, you'll face off against the grandaddy of evil robot creators: Dr. Wily.

Measured against the difficulty of the level preceding him, Dr. Wily is (thankfully) tame. The attacks of his giant Machine are both predictable and easy to avoid. In its first form, simply running around the screen will avoid the pellets. In its second form, there's a safe spot directly under the gun. I used the mega buster for the first and the Cut Blade for the second form, and had Wily bowing to my potency on the second try. The ending sequence for Mega Man, setting it aside from the previous entries on this list (Karate Kid and Top Gun), is actually pretty decent for an 8-bit cart released in 1989. Mega Man runs home to Roll and Dr. Light, shedding his blue armor as the sun sets behind him.
Mega Man Stage Select
He's jumping for joy, not because he's won, but because he'll
never have to face that damn impossible jump again.
I'd heard a lot of chatter that Mega Man wasn't a deserving title on the Top Ten Hardest NES Games of All Time. I think this mostly owes to gamers' familiarity with the platform. Having never played it start to finish, I found Mega Man much more difficult than any of its successors; it's levels are downright devilish at times, there are no E-Tanks and the game lacks a password system. Infinite continues made this managable, though. If Mega Man had been programmed like other titles on this Ultimate NES Hard list, with a finite number of continues, it would seriously vie for the hardest game of the lot. That in mind, I give it:

Controller Icon
Two controllers out of five. Some portions had me pulling my hair, but ulimited continues meant, with patientce, one could eventually master even the trickiest of jumps.

NES MONSTER!So one down, nine to go! Next Monday we move onto title number 8 in the Top Ten Hardest NES Games of All Time, and blast into alien territory. 

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