The first Mega Man hit the NES in 1987 when I was five, the perfect age to grow up with Capcom’s classic series. It's hard to overstate how much the game blew us away at the time, how truly innovative it was. In a time of linear platformers, a game that lets you pick any level you wanted to play, that lets you face multiple bosses and steal their weapons for you own use? Well, this was absolutely amazing, and I got hooked - hard. Every Friday my friends and I would take turns trying to beat levels, gradually finding out which bosses were weak to which weapons and slowly progressing through whatever game hit that year. I had birthdays where the only gift I can remember getting, the only one that mattered, was a copy of that year’s Mega Man.
Playing through the series now via the Mega Man Legacy Collection with a five-year-old of my own is a bit surreal. It helps me realize how perfectly these original games hold up, but also how bad I’ve gotten at playing them. I don’t really remember ever getting frustrated at them as a kid. The game’s notorious difficulty was a joy, a challenge to overcome. But today, older and with much less time in my day? Sometimes you just want to get through things.
This isn't the first Mega Man compilation ever released, as there was the Mega Man Anniversary Collection that hit for PS2, Xbox and GameCube back in 2005 that included Mega Man 1-8. But that was a far from perfect adaptation, including changes to music and controls that drove fans nuts. The Legacy Collection is as close to playing the originals you can get short of picking up the original cartridges, but it only combines all six of the 8-bit NES installments- sorry for anyone hoping for any of the SNES games.
This is old school Mega Man through and through. Ostensibly, it's an HD remastering of the series, but all that means is that the old sprites are a bit cleaned up. Capcom's new Eclipse Engine reproduces each game faithfully, which means that every graphical glitch, every bit of slowdown when the screen gets cluttered with too many sprites is still included. If it somehow looks too clean, you can change the graphical settings to add TV lines. You can watch it in stretched widescreen or the original 4:3, as well. Calm down, purists!
Having all six original games in the series lets you see the progression of the series, such as it is. Cranking out one game a year is never a good idea for creativity or quality (a lesson publishers have yet to learn) and later installments seem to show Mega Man’s nemesis Dr. Wily running out of parts and ideas, cobbling together his robots haphazardly, but there are a few things introduced (and a few abandoned) in each game. Having not played these games in almost 25 years I forgot things like the high score on the top of the screen of the first Mega Man, or that his slide ability wasn’t available until the third installment, the Mega Buster in the fourth. While the second Mega Man is clearly the pinnacle of the series - with the best music, bosses, and levels - the others are really no slouch, either. I’m surprised to note I’d never played the sixth game at all. I didn’t realize until I started it up that it was all brand new to me, the result of jumping on board the SNES by that point and never looking back, even as Capcom put out the series’ 8-bit swan song.
But each and every game holds up remarkably well today, even the clearly lesser fourth and fifth games in the series. They’re so classic that the recent Mega Man 9 and 10 installments merely copied their style, confident that it would hold up over time. It completely does - these games are just as thrilling and inventive now as they were back in the 1980's. Good design is just good design.
My kids don’t really understand the game’s age, of course, even though I let them know I had played it as a kid myself. But they (try to) play it differently. When a level is too challenging they want to try another, or maybe just try to start up another Mega Man installment instead. Why keep plunking away at one game when there are so many to try? It’s not like when I was a kid, when I’d get two or three games a year if I was lucky- there’s a plethora of games available in this house.
Fans of the series will be pleased to see that in this collection we are given a Museum Mode that allows players to enjoy hundreds of vintage concept sketches and piece of production art. This is nice, but info on each game’s production is sorely lacking. There’s also a music player that lets you listen to over 100 songs from the series and it'd be perfect if only there was some sort of play-all feature. As it is, you can only select one song at a time, perhaps preventing folks from leaving the game on in the background just to listen to the wonderful songs for hours, something I could see doing.
Another big addition is the new Challenge Mode, which is for those masochistic players who don’t find enough challenge simply beating the games. Many of the challenges have you playing through one small section of each level in the game, one after the other, racing against time to get a medal. They’re fun but absolutely brutal, or perhaps that could just be my deteriorating skills.
I had this game before release, and trying to play through all six titles for this review proved fruitless. I never like publishing reviews unless I’ve experienced everything a game has to offer, but here I realized after a while that I was trying to rush through the games, and that you simply can’t with these. They’re too hard to get through as it is, without the looming threat of embargo hanging over your head. No, Mega Man only rewards those with the patience to keep learning enemy patterns and disappearing platforms, to decide whether to keep pushing on with one hard boss or attempt to start up another one entirely. You don’t simply play through the game, you learn it, and there’s no one that gets to the end without becoming a master.
It’s why the Dark/Demon's Souls series is so remarkable among recent games, as it’s truly the vein of these old-school titles, an experience that only gives you back as much as you put into it. Trying to plow through them is only an exercise in frustration, as you can’t learn enough of the game to advance in it.
But I’ve got a review to write, a deadline looming. I’m reminded of countless nights in my youth spent replaying levels, trying to beat that one last boss who was standing in my way. Late nights would be the absolute worst time to get through a hard section, as exhaustion would cause you to lose your cool, get out of the zone, and fail. You’d inevitably pick it up in the morning and beat it one try. Here, there’s no time. I’m jumping from one game to the next, eager to consume the next one I can get my hands on. It makes me worry that I simply can’t do this anymore, that I can’t take the time to fully experience a game as fully as I did when I was 25 years younger. I worry my kids never will at all.
But I determine that things will change with this. I’ll show them the joy of mastering a game and appreciating the (admittedly-brutal) level design. We’ll take our time and play through these deserving classics one by one, appreciating them for what they are and becoming better for it. The Blue Bomber deserves it.
Mega Man Legacy Collection is now available for $14.99 for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Physical releases of the games are planned for early 2016, as well as a a Nintendo 3DS digital release.