Wednesday 3 November 2010

Mega Man (Game Gear)

American culture is an odd thing. Arriving on the internet full-time in late 2003, I was told that a FIGHTING ROBOT known as "Mega Man" was the bees knees among "most gamers". This theory was based on supposedly two decades of success and many childhood NES-related memories. Shocking, then, that I had never played nor even heard of a Mega Man game up until this point. Was I missing something?.. aside from a NES?

Well, if I had I known about the series, it might have been through this. Mega Man on the Game Gear. Other contenders are Mega Man: The Wily Wars on the Mega Drive, or something like Mega Man X3 on the Saturn... though being honest it's unlikely I would have came across any of them, and I couldn't have played this one since it wasn't released in the UK. But it's an entry to the series that isn't discussed much, so that makes it ideal for Blog Squirrel treatment.

I make this post today because of Keiji Inafune's recent departure from Capcom. The internet is saddened by these events, but I found myself in a state of indifference. Truth is I don't like the Mega Man series all that much. I find it very un-British to keep cashing in on the same recycled formulae, especially when so many games (many of which I've highlighted here) weren't allowed sequels. Whether it be the "Classic", X, Zero, ZX, Battle Network, Legends or Star Force sub-series, I feel the franchise has seen far more entries than it actually deserves, and I honestly struggle to keep track of what the hell's going on.

Mega Man isn't the only series that completely skipped the the hearts of British and European gamers. The likes of Castlevania, Contra and big chunks of Nintendo's first party lineup also failed to sell. It's only in recent years that people have decided these games were groundbreaking in Europe, just like in the US. It's just simply not true. They're great games, but nobody bought them because nobody owned the consoles they were released for, and they all came out at least a year or two late. It's something Nintendo's keen to cover up... and you ought to know better because if the next Wii doesn't sell, they'll retreat back to the motherland.

The original Mega Man game isn't terrible, but I'm not entirely sure, for example, what Mega Man 6 set out to achieve, or Mega Man 10, or Mega Mans X3 to X8. I don't find these games unplayable, but surely by this point you're merely catering for the hardcore fanbase, not the normal gamer, because not only are you expected to know the whole story, you're expected to buy these games over the latest 3D masterpieces. Was anyone really crying out for a Mega Man Zero 3 or a Mega Man Battle Network 4? Is the series truly great or is Capcom just telling us that it is? There are many sidescrolling platform-shooters that often offer more freedom so I can't say they're top of their class, and the NES-esque novelty can only last for so long.

But anyway, even when taken away from Capcom, this Game Gear game, developed by a company known as Freestyle (and published by U.S. Gold), doesn't have the confidence to stray too far away from its predecessors. It of course has the advantage of being the first and only Mega Man Game Gear title, so this is fresh stuff for non-NES fans, but it's not a milestone in innovation.

Mega Man on the Game Gear was a North American exclusive, which is a bit of a shame because it might just have sold a console or two elsewhere. Benefits of the Game Gear's hardware include nicer graphics and arguably better sound. The main problem however is that the low resolution can lead to cheap deaths, as levels are still populated with hard-to-see pits. There's ways to work around this with some emulators, but the results aren't perfect.

Mega Man comes equipped with both his slide and charge moves from the later NES games, and gameplay is probably about on-par with the home console titles. Possibly due to screen space issues, you can only select four robot masters to deal damage to, but a further two show up by the time you reach the inevitable Dr. Wily (or Dr. Cossack) stage. There's been a lot of recycling in terms of enemies and music, but it's a fine experience overall.

But as nice as this title is, it wasn't seen as "ideal" back in the day. With no save points you would struggle to finish this game before the Game Gear's battery life ran out. You'd also probably be disappointed by the lack of original content if you'd been following the NES games closely. I also don't think it plays to the Game Gear's hardware strengths too much. Though there's less flickering than on Nintendo's machine, the level graphics still look as if they only had 16 colours to choose from (instead of 32) (this is especially apparent on Star Man's stage). The game's camera also doesn't like scrolling to the left, and refuses to give you a good field of vision.

Mind you who knows, perhaps a Master System port was planned.

Like (I suspect) Wily Wars, Mega Man on the Game Gear was tossed aside fairly quickly. Not because it was bad, but because the core Mega Man fanbase were attached to Nintendo, and there five Mega Man games on the Game Boy (all of which were flushed out of Capcom themselves). There's little reason to invest in this title since it doesn't offer anything new, and in many ways it feels more like a Game Boy Colour title than a Game Gear one.

I don't mind Mega Man on the Game Gear that much, but is it a "must have" title? Not really. It's perhaps the most "solid" pre-SNES game because for once, hardware restrictions don't let the game down, but it's simply not as practical as the home console versions. Having said that though, had it shown up on the Master System the game may have given Nintendo's system a run for its money.


  1. What makes it particularly odd that this game was never released in the UK is that it was programmed there! Almost all of the credits, as listed on MobyGames, are associated with other well-known British development houses.

  2. Also, all the Game Boy Megaman titles weren't actually made in-house at Capcom. Shocking!

    But why you hate on Wily Wars? Damn it Squirrel, that one never really came to America (aside from a digital download exclusive on SEGA's downloadable games service, which is seen as the predecessor to services like Steam, XBLA, etc) and it came out on cartridge in the UK! It would have been amazing to get Wily Wars...