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Mega Man 2

Mega Man: the whole series is basically run-‘n’-gun action. Move around an unsettlingly calm blue robot, shoot white pellets at odd creatures that pop up and fight a boss robot if, and when, the conclusion of the stage is reached. Not exactly an all-star premise. One of the draws, though, is the ability to choose the order in which you want to complete the stages. Another is the satisfaction of seeing that particular piece of the stage-select puzzle blank after returning from a glorious victory. And then there’s the final showdown in the center of the board, which of course is only available after beating — in the case of Mega Man 2 — eight robot bosses. This leads to three more stages of mayhem, a reprise of the robot bosses and, finally, the disposable doctor himself.

The solution is, for the most part, pretty straight-forward. Mega Man himself begins with the more-than-serviceable energy cannon and later acquires several other utilities/weapons from bosses he defeats. With these he bounds along through all manners of stages, from the vertigo-inducing heights of Air Man’s to the tangled woods and burrows of Wood Man’s, knocking off what he can and making jumps when necessary. It’s only slightly complicated by the addition of utilitarian items. These are introduced at set intervals(say, 2 boss defeats or so) and each serve unique purposes ranging from reaching previously inaccessible items to rocketing across areas of certain death. The catch is that certain robot stages — in particular, Heat Man’s — are made infinitely less frustrating with certain tools in hand before entering. And when the more complex stages of the codgerly Dr. Wily come along, it’s simply how you make progress.

But, like robot weapons, the batteries on these things run low after multiple uses and must be replenished. This is of course done through the usual process of shooting down monsters. But the possibilities can be humorous. For example, since most monsters are easily dismissed with a single shot, it’s quite possible to navigate your way to a spawn point and simply scroll the the screen back and forth while killing the same monster over and over blindly. And quite lucrative, too, as the piles of item and life energy pellets will grow to towering proportions. Critics may argue that this, among several other chicken-switches, renders MM2 a bit on the easy side, but judging by its predecessor which resided well-off on the flip-side, it seems the only logical route to take in a sequel. The difficulty would be incremented back up to par with most NES games in future installments.

One major thing that always impresses players of the series is the engaging sound programming. In a day when the head coder, designer, artist and composer of a video game were often one and the same, Capcom never failed to awe its faithful with high-energy tunes that constantly pushed the bounds of the dinky NES sound-chip. For example, melodic toms, things the average NES sound engineer didn’t know what to do with, were used to surprisingly quaint effect in several songs, creating the aural image that MM2 was somehow running a chip of its own. When, in fact, it was running on the same old three channel clunker that your average “Rad Racer” or “Dig Dug” sputtered along on. This was mostly due to Capcom’s abnormally large and interchangeable staff. Whereas, say, Koji Kondo would cover all of the Mario games, Mega Man might be headed up by an entirely unique three man team from installment to installment. The real shocker is that it’s all consistently thematic; you wouldn’t see that when swapping out novice composers.

There, too, lies the explanation for several other outstanding elements of Mega Man 2 in particular. While it’s doubtful artists are as expendable, the series has always been known for the visual clarity it brings to the sometimes obscured world of NES pixel images. Shading is a serious sink-or-swim factor when doing graphical design for the NES. Too much could blur the line between effective and offensive. But what the artists here have done is limit it to a very minimal amount while still creating some extremely persuasive backdrops. This isn’t easily accomplished all things considered. Also, it’s a wonder how much time went into some of the special effects and animations. It raises the question of why Capcom didn’t experiment more in their 8-bit days. So much wasted talent was put into trying to rekindle this fizzling series.

In fact, I’d argue that the line should have been drawn long before the number ever reached anything as ludicrous as six.Two would have been a good starting point. It built upon everything the first had engendered, fixed the obvious problems and added several features where they made sense. Later installments(4+) would only call into question the need for changes or, worse yet, tread on what was already model material. In this respect, it’s not the greatest idea(financially or otherwise) to invest much into the Mega Man lineage beyond where it shines: installments two and three in particular. One might be worth picking up to see how it all started, or four for fanatical continuation, but steer clear otherwise. Old dogs can be taught new tricks it seems, but it’s not always worth the time and often doesn’t amount to much.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2004.

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