Lemme tell ya about the Sega Channel.
It was this beautiful star that burned ever so bright. Though I only had access to it for a few months in 1997, it opened my eyes to wonders that weren’t available in the States like Alien Soldier and Pulseman (aka the greatest Genesis game). Perhaps the most notable relic from that time was The Wily Wars, a remake of the first three Mega Man games made specially for the Genesis.
A result of the same agreement with Capcom that lead to Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, the development of the game was… problematic if the reports I read were correct. Work on the game was outsourced to the same team responsible for the generally okay Game Boy ports and the end result often feels like someone simply fulfilling the terms of a contract, which is probably as good a reason as any that it never came here. It’s not bad, per say. There are actually a few inspired level redesigns that I quite like and the games you remember are mostly intact, but the paint job done over the original games seems to be in constant struggle with their original programming. Mega Man is now taller and slower, the timing of jumps changing dramatically. Shots come out once every few frames instead of every other, which makes all of the enemies feel like bullet sponges when in reality you’re just not able to hit them as often. Playing the PAL version via an emulator also comes with the lovely side effect of being roughly 16% slower due to the how signals differed by region, so unless you have a Japanese version or a reproduction cartridge, the only version of the game you can play now often feels like it’s taking place in a sand pit.
So it was fine for those Sega plebs that didn’t have any other options but outside of that it was totally skippable, right? Well, not exactly. There was a little thing called the Wily Tower.
I didn’t know about the Wily Tower as a kid and the discovery of its existence likely would have blown my young mind. It’s for the best though, because the Sega Channel would erase your progress whenever you turned it off, meaning I would have never seen it anyway. To get access to it, you need to beat all three games on one save. You will then be taken to a new set of levels created exclusively for the Wily Wars, all of which mix enemies and layouts from the trilogy to create this greatest hits album of Mega Man. The best part is that you can pick a loadout for each level; any eight weapons and three items you want to mix and match from 1-3. Frankly, it’s incredible. There’s this surreal quality to the whole experience, as if you were playing an unlicensed romhack or something. For as many re-releases and compilations that they’ve made, no one has stolen this idea and that’s a shame. Even now you could see the potential in a Mega Man Maker or even just a new mode in the most recent and wholly unnecessary Legacy Collection.
Would I say that the Wily Tower solely justifies playing it? Yeah, actually. It’s that cool, but even outside of that, I do think there’s value, especially if you’re like me and have most of those early games committed to memory. It’s why game remakes, at least the ones that still harbor a shell of their originals, can be appealing even if not a complete success. It’s still Mega Man, after all, and that’s the best compliment I can give it.