We played through 5 last night but the beer was flowing and we really weren’t in a blogging state of mind. We do have a lot to say about it, both of us feel that it is one of the most unfairly maligned games in the series. We’ll come back with our notes on it soon. But for now, 6!
I like 6. I think it’s a good, if not great game. BZ actively dislikes it. The first thing we notice is the low quality of the music for the intro. It also fade’s out before the intro is over leaves the story to play out with no audio. At least the title music is half-way decent (not as good as 5 though).
We start on Flame Man. In 6 the robot masters are the finalists of an international robot competition and each one represents a different county. Flame Man is Iraq India. His level features oil fields and a kick ass arabian theme. I argue that this level has a good gimmick. When oil fields are hit with fire they turn into instant-death flaming pits. The level introduces the concept with an oil pit that’s out of the way so the player learns about dynamic without being put into danger. BZ is forced to agree that the level is much more interesting and well designed than he remembers.
BZ: Already the game strikes me closer to 4 than 5 in terms of graphic. The colors are much more garish over-saturated. The purples that I was so glad were gone from 5 are back. Also, talk about the most overly busy robot master introduction screens!
Loki: I like them. They’re fun and whimsical.
BZ: Mobile 85? What’s that? A phone company?
Loki: It’s how fast the robot is.
BZ: Than why not show that in the gameplay?
Loki: It’s not really how fast he is. It’s just windowdressing.
On to Plant Man. BZ says he hates this level but like Flame Man he is finding it’s much better designed that he remembers. The way the level introduces both springs to bounce off of and cannons and then later, cannons bouncing on the springs; the powerups hidden in the background as parts of flowers; and most importantly baddies that require the charge shot to hit.
BZ: I feel like the game is designed to force you to use the charge shot tactically rather than it just being another power-up.
Loki: I agree. Some baddie, like the frogs that are low to the ground, force you to use them while others, the gorillas that will advance on you if you’re not knocking them back with a spam of regular shots, will beat you if you are only relying on the charge.
BZ: One thing graphically that is really impressing me is how the background flows. While fighting the mini-boss gorilla the screen is black (a trend for mini-bossed since 4) but then the background stays black afterwards. But then some silhouettes of tress break through and the black becomes a representation of dense forest. Foliage creeps in from the top of the screen and the power-up flowers start appearing. It’s very organic.
Loki: Appropriate for Plant Man. Onto Blizzard Man, the Canadian skiing robot. This is the first stage in MM history to have the timed bomb platforms that are so common throughout the rest of the series.
BZ: Why Blizzard Man though?
Loki: They’re all over Canada in real life.
BZ: Loki here begins playing Tomahawk Man’s stage. The background, with its old west looking sunsets and cacti, strikes me as immediately being out of place for a Mega Man game. The oranges and purples are back. The graphic design major in me is crying out for mercy. The stage also feels devoid of interesting gameplay elements. Loki returns to the stage after beating it to pick up the weapon energy equalizer thing, and I immediately notice that the stage colors are different: the cacti at the beginning, once a dark forest green, are now an olive brown. Has the level changed now that we’ve beaten it? Sure enough, further on, the sunset background has changed, making it look later in the day. The gameplay feels the same, but it’s an interesting visual touch.
Loki mentions that he likes how the Robot Masters are divided: there are four elemental masters (Plant, Wind, Flame, and Blizzard, representing earth, air, fire, and water) and four “warrior” masters: Yamato, Centaur, Tomahawk, and Knight. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the warrior-themed bosses have branching paths in their stages leading to “fake” and “real” versions of the bosses, which behave the same but give you BEAT letters if you destroy the proper one. It’s an interesting dynamic- and quite possibly the dynamic that lead to Tomahawk Man’s stage appearing differently upon completion, as we found the “real” version. We’ll investigate this further as we play.
Loki begins playing Yamato Man’s stage. The stage opens with an image of Mt. Fuji in the background, which is an interesting visual touch that makes a unique concession that this game takes place in the real world and not in Monsteropolis. Loki remarks that it’s one of the first times the series have done this, and I gently that Dr. Cossack and indeed Dr. Wily’s castle in Mega Man 4 clearly take place in Russia.
Upon completion of the “true” branch of Yamato Man’s stage, we notice that, like Tomahawk Man’s level, this stage has also changed color to indicate our success: the hideous purple-orange-green color palette that the game loves so much has been replaced by… well, by an equally hideous green-pink watermelon color scheme, with some of the enemy graphics changing color to match. We try a different route this time, and notice that the other route also incorporates the laser walker robots from 5.
Centaur Man’s stage immediately jumps out at us as having the most consistent visual design thus far in the game. The color scheme is remarkably subdued, and the background uses a series of Greek columns are diagonally staggered to give the illusion that they are receeding into the background. It’s really quite an impressive visual trick for the NES, and the consistent color palette makes this the most graphically accomplished level in the series since Toad Man’s beautiful level in Mega Man 4.
The stage also features its own interesting bit of level design: one room has a waterline that rises and falls in real time, forcing you to time your jumps in accordance with the water level. Enemies, too, abide by this rule making for an environmental gimmick that goes above and beyond the level of the typical NES game.
Loki tries using Yamato Man’s weapon on Centaur Man, failing miserably. I mention that Knight Man’s weapon is the right one, the logic being that the warrior is felling the mythical beast. He asks why Yamato Man’s weapon wouldn’t work, and we discuss how Yamato actually refers to “Japanese culture” as a whole, and not any sort of warrior element. Does Japanese culture thus trump British culture, but not Greek culture? We make an escalating series of racist jokes.
Upon completion of the level, we return to see if the color changing dynamic holds true. It does, and it has ironically ruined the visual design of the level, seeing a return to the creamsicle-orange that the game loves so much. Ancient Greece has never been less appealing.
We finally begin the final robot master: Knight Man. His stage is interesting in that you begin the level outside a giant castle, in a Symphony of the Night-esque single screen of forest. You then proceed inside the castle. You emerge again onto the ramparts outside several screens later, and in a beautiful touch, it has now changed to nighttime. We discuss how the game has a staggering amount of gorgeous background design which is unfortunately ruined by terrible color choices. We return to the level afterwards, and sure enough, the initial sunset background has been replaced by a series of grey clouds, giving the impression of the level being overcast. It’s a fantastic touch with is soon sadly devoured alive by creamsicles in short order.
If nothing else, the varying color schemes and branching routes have given us a reason to return to several of the stages. It’s also worth noting on our return to Knight Man’s stage that there’s an interesting segment near the end where the floors and ceilings catapult you around the room at a high velocity.
We begin Wind Man’s stage, and immediately notice the panda bear enemies. Continuing the cultural theme, the level is clearly set in China. I remark that the panda bears were also featured in Yamato Man’s stage, and Loki says that he thinks they’re actually Tanookis. I remark on the irony that they shoot giant balls at you.
The stage also features a fun environmental gimmick in the form of giant fans that blow you upwards. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s been fantastic so far to see the gameplay being as varied and involved as it is in this game. It’s absolutely clear that the game is better than I’ve been giving it credit for.
Earlier in the game, Loki and I discussed how the series is unfairly maligned as being the same thing repeated across dozens of different sequels. While this holds true to a certain extent, I also don’t think it’s entirely fair to write it off for that. In NES games, it was, frankly, a motherFUCKING blessing if a game had manageable controls and wasn’t buggy and janky as hell. The Mega Man series features perhaps some of the best controls implemented in one of the most impressive game engines of its time, and it’s no wonder that Capcom chose to reuse it so many times: it’s a true thing of beauty that eclipsed nearly everything else available. Furthermore, while the core of the games remains the same (defeat 8 robot masters, acquire their powers, go on to play several Dr. Wily levels), the level design is constantly inventive and varied, and playing the games back to back illustrates how differently the games look, play, and even sound within their established framework. Between the radically different graphical styles of the games (yes, they ARE different, as reading the entire blog up to this point should attest), the vastly varied musical themes, and the constantly innovate level design elements, the series changes and experiments far more than its given credit for.
I tell Loki that I’ve just written the “money paragraph.” I read this aloud to him, and he agrees: this is the thesis of our entire weekend.
We go on to discuss how the Mega Man series began with a very precise balance of design. The series typically upsets that balance when it tries to add exteranneous elements: see the additional intro and midpoint levels in 7, the shop, the ducking feature in X5, the Axl character and 3D elements in X7, and the screen-filling super attacks in X8. While people constantly harp on the series for not changing, I’d like to argue that the series, varied and innovative as it is inside its own design, already strikes the perfect balance that it needs to. There’s so much creativity going on already going into the constant variations on the theme. The theme itself doesn’t need to change, and history has shown us that it fails whenever it tries.
Using the Power Suit, which gives you a giant fist for a weapon, Loki cracks that there’s nothing like punching a panda bear. I nod and smile. He knows where I sleep.
We defeat the Wind Man, and make our way into Mr. X’s first level. The music is beautiful (driving, as the endgame levels so often are, but with a certain level of minor-key melancholy as well), and the visuals are consistent (no sugary confections here; just blues and grays that perfectly match the introspective music). This level also has its own hidden branching path, allowing us to bypass a large portion of the level by taking a huge risk on a dangerous spike-covered jump. This branching paths element is something the series largely abandoned after this game (until 10, so I hear; we’ll know for sure by tonight, if all goes well).
Loki: Wily 3 has that old platforming trope of a platform that raise when you stand on a corresponding one lowers. At first BZ claimed that the Rush Jet Pack might break the section/game by making it too easy to bypass sections like this. Immediately afterwards spikes start lining the celling making it hard to navigate with the jet pack. The game showcases good design with level layouts that take the jet pack into consideration.
BZ: LOL. Wily’s japanese castle. You know, I thought Mr. X’s castle looked ethnic too. Like a neo-toyko kinda deal.
I like how the game requires you to use Jet Pack/Punch armor a lot.
Loki: Yeah it does but it almost never requires you to use Robot Master weapons.
BZ: That is disappointing. It would be better if it required a lot of both. I guess that’s a failing of the whole series. Aside from 2 there’s not a levels designed for specific weapons.
Wily 1, I like this falling spike gauntlet that requires you to use the jet pack to get through it. It subverts expectations.
Loki: Ahhh! Wily 2! So pink! It’s neat how there’s level of detail of frost on anything but that color scheme ruins it.
BZ: The colors of this game remind me of 3. Not in the colors themselves but in how the game has such a strange color pallet. 1 and 2 have colors you expect. Like, they are the colors you would think would in the location are what’s on the screen. Both 3 and 6 have crazy colors that do more to define the game that reprsent the level. More branching paths. It’s cool how the X and Wily levels all have the branching path and that they didn’t drop the gimmick once the robot masters were finished.
Loki: And that’s it! Wily levels, easy but fun. Wily Capsule goes down easy (though Beat doesn’t work it. “Might as well just take it out,” BZ says, “then have it be useless against the boss.”) and Wily now rules over only a jail cell.
BZ: Ultimately, there’s a lot I like about 6. If only not for the horrible colors. Also, I’m not enamored by the Robot Master designs. I’m really attached to the ones from 5 and here they just kind of fall apart. I like the game’s mechanics but the game’s aesthetics are just awful.