When Mega Man 9 was announced last year, many old-school NES gamers (myself included) rejoiced at the Second Coming of the Blue Bomber, in all his simulated 8-bit glory. Then, once it came out, a great many people were reminded that, like its much older NES brothers, Mega Man 9 was really hard. Too hard, some might say, but the game still received a positive reception with both critics and fans.
A year later, Mega Man 10 arrives, and it looks like Capcom and Inti Creates were definitely listening to their audience. Mega Man 10 is every bit as hard as its predecessors — but for those of you who don’t like rage-quitting while reliving the nostalgia of your 8-bit youth, concessions have been made for you. There is now an Easy Mode that puts floating platforms above the spike pits, which have long been the bane of Mega Man’s existence, repositions the enemies in the level, and nerfs their damage a bit. Having marinated myself in Mega Man games for over 20 years I found the Easy mode way too easy. However those who are having trouble or who just want the nostalgia without the high challenge level will likely welcome this feature. There are a couple other nice new additions as well. Once you finished Mega Man 9 you could play through the game again as Proto Man. This must have been a very popular feature last time, because in the 10th game you have the option to play as Proto Man right from the start. You can also play as Bass if you buy the downloadable content pack.
The new Robot Masters are well-designed and naturally lend themselves to having interestingly themed levels, but I do have to wonder what was going through the mind of the guy that designed Sheep Man (who sends wool-clouds up into the air to shock you with lightning). Trying to figure out which weapon is the counter to lightning-fleece was quite a challenge. For that matter, figuring out the appropriate counter-weapon for any boss was not easy. Used to be, if you found a weakness, it was over in 3-4 hits. In fact, some previous games would show the boss being affected in a special way by its weakness (like Morph Moth in Mega Man X2 catching fire). Not in Mega Man 10. You know it’s the right weapon if it did more than a tiny sliver of damage. You still have to learn the boss’ patterns, and be expecting a fight every time. It’s changed a lot since you could just smash Cut Man’s face with a Guts Man rock twice and be done with it.
Mega Man 10, like 9, does have a slightly different feel to its level design than the old games used to. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as Mega Man 6, the last 8-bit game in the series before 9 came out, came out in 1993 – seventeen years ago. I’m certain this provided some difficulties in getting the old gang back together for a reunion. The “new” guys, Inti Creates, have actually been making Mega Man games since 2002, with several lines of titles for the DS. There are a couple levels in the game where the player can choose between several alternate paths, which is kind of nice if you find one of the choices too difficult or just want to see some new stuff.
I believe a lot of the frustration people have been experiencing with these new “8-bit” sequels has a lot to do with the fact that this developer tends to put problems in the player’s way with a very narrow range of solutions, and harsh consequences for failure. For example, there are lots of pit traps with enemies that pop up just as you jump so you will certainly fall to your doom if you get hit. Some enemies, especially bosses, take negligible damage if you don’t use the right weapon. This differs from the other games somewhat in that you can usually muddle your way through the older games’ levels without figuring out the exact solution. You either figure out the timing on those pit traps, use the right weapon, or you don’t get past. Also, the default Mega Buster used to hit a lot harder compared to its peashooter-like performance in these newfangled games. I can remember making it all the way to the Dr. Wily stage in Mega Man 1 using only the Mega Buster, mostly because the place I rented it from didn’t give me a manual and I didn’t know I could switch. (This is a feat I have never been able to reproduce, sadly.) There is an achievement in Mega Man 10 for beating the game using only the Mega Buster. I believe this, along with the “Mr. Perfect” achievement (beat the game without ever getting hit) to be the Mega Man equivalent of completing Dragonforce’s Through The Fire and Flames in Guitar Hero III on Expert level. Ridiculous.
Strangely, though, the game leaves you a way to arm yourself to the teeth even on the hardest modes. You collect screws as currency throughout the game, from killing enemies or as bonus level items, which you can spend at Dr. Light’s lab to get items. These include extra guys, and energy tanks that can refill your life and/or weapon energy. There’s no penalty for death, so if you collect a bunch of screws in a level and then die and do that over and over again and, provided you have nothing better to do for an hour, you’ll eventually wind up with a huge stockpile of E and W tanks. It is really hard to be nervous about a boss fight when you quite literally can fill up your health bar 9 times. I did not exploit this feature, of course. Just like I never exploit the Elec Man bug in Mega Man 1 when it’s time to fight the Rock Monster. I blame Nintendo Power.
This “specific solution” design philosophy has been continued in a somewhat more official fashion in the form of Challenge Levels, much like the ones featured in Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Shadow Complex. Usually it’s a small room with specialized obstacles and a specific goal (“get to the exit” or “kill everybody” are frequent examples) and generally only one way to accomplish it. Having these mini-levels applied to a Mega Man game is a welcome addition to the same format we’ve grown to love (or get bored with) over two decades.
I’m sticking to my guns. I’ve loved Mega Man since the first game, and every game I’ve tried in the series since. (Well, except Mega Man Soccer.) After 120+ games(!) in the series, I’m glad they’ve returned to their roots. Mega Man 10 fits nicely into the original series, keeping everything oldschool while incorporating some more modern features and even accomodating non-hardcore gamers. While nothing in Mega Man 10 completely blew me away, I don’t think doing so was ever the point of these new “8-bit” sequels. It feels like an old friend come back to play with you again, though it does sometimes feel like he hasn’t aged and I’ve grown fat and weak. Regardless, he can still come over anytime. I’m making spaghetti-O’s.