I go back and forth a lot on what my favorite game series of all time is. From a lore perspective, Myst and Silent Hill are the front-runners. If we’re talking pure hours spent, then it has to be Street Fighter, but when considering the games that have had the most influence over me, Mega Man is the clear leader.
It’s no coincidence that I tend to excel at tricky 2D platformers above other genres. Mega Man, especially the first game, is a trial by fire, ready to squash anyone foolish enough to test it. I’d say it’s easily the hardest game in the original series (1-6) and a lot of that has to do with the context in which it was originally released. Mega Man innovated level design and even game design as a whole through what we now recognize as its tropes, but imagine being a kid in 1987, completely unaware of how the boss order or special weapons worked, never figuring out the rock-paper-scissors format and trying to conquer the game “normally” or even worse, being like 9 year old me and originally not knowing that you could use other weapons at all. It’s actually sort of amazing that I stuck with it, utterly convinced that the Yellow Devil was the last boss of the game and being mortified when weeks of effort just lead to another Wily level.
Of course, it’s a bit easier for me now, being older and wiser. I can beat the game in roughly 45 minutes, no longer haunted by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles from my youth. The pause glitch certainly helps, but there’s also the accumulated knowledge gained from repetition. Considering my general discontent with continual sequels and iteration, the thing that forgives Mega Man to me are those moments of discovery that exist throughout the entire series; realizing the one weapon or trick that makes each run just a little easier, whether it be the ability to freeze certain enemies or using the magnet beam to cross large annoying areas. It’s that balance of tough but fair that games like Dark Souls try to recapture now, beating your head against a wall until something clicks. It’s the sort of reverence for a bygone era that I still welcome, less interested in exploiting nostalgia than in learning why things worked.
Even if it’s probably my least favorite of that original batch, Mega Man should be studied for its approach to design; the use of enemy placement, safe spots, how far you can go before something respawns and how you can use that to farm items, perhaps little things you’d never notice but would certainly feel off if they weren’t there. At no point in the game are you ever left out to dry. There’s always an item refill where you need it, even if you don’t know which item you should be depending on (probably the overpowered Thunder Beam). There’s a thoughtfulness there that I often miss now, but the good news is that I can revisit it whenever I want. Today marked probably the dozenth or so time that I’ve beaten the first Mega Man, now committed to that same muscle memory where Castlevania lives.
It’s amazing to think that the game actually wasn’t a success initially, leaving me to wonder how Mega Man would have been remembered if not for its blowaway sequels. It’s weird to consider that it would have been spoken of in the same breath as obscure gems like Startropics or Little Samson.
I’d rather not think too much about a world where Metal Man doesn’t exist.