When it comes to third party titles on Nintendo consoles, few have had the impact of Capcom’s Mega Man. Back in its day, Mega Man was as synonymous with the NES as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Although it was Capcom’s first console exclusive title, it proved to be a successful debut. Mega Man spawned countless sequels, and its hero remains one of gaming’s most beloved characters. While the original Mega Man is not without its problems (which its two immediate sequels touched up), it remains a great game to play even today.
Mega Man was renowned for its non-linear structure, allowing players to choose between six different stages in whatever order they saw fit. At the end of each stage is a boss fight against a “Robot Master,” with each one giving Mega Man a new weapon upon defeat. Another unique aspect of the game was its rock-paper-scissors-like structure, with each Robot Master’s given weapon working especially effective against another one.
Players take the role of the titular Mega Man, a young robot boy trying to save the world from the nefarious Dr. Wily, who corrupted the six Robot Masters created by Dr. Light and repurposed them for his evil schemes. It’s the kind of simple but honest-to-goodness setup of many games of the time that adds to the game’s charm, even if plot was rarely present in the game itself.
Mega Man’s gameplay remains tight and intricate. Mega Man can jump like Mario, but he must use his “Mega Buster” arm canon, or one of the Robot Masters’ weapons, to defeat enemies. The weapon-based gameplay added a new spin on the platforming gameplay, and it gives the Mega Man series a sense of uniqueness among other retro platformers.
Also of note is that this is the only Mega Man title with a scoring system, as Mega Man is awarded points for defeating enemies, picking up items and completing levels. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience, but those who want to beat their personal high scores may find reason to revisit the game numerous times.
The level design was some of the most difficult of its age, and the game arguably remains the most challenging entry in the series. The game is fun, but some players may find the difficulty close to unfair, as some of the stages’ challenges require such precision in their platforming they teeter on unforgiving. The bosses (and even some standard enemies) can take Mega Man down in a few quick hits, and replenishing items and extra lives seldom appear. The entire Mega Man series is known for its steep difficulty, but the original is the one that may be off-putting to some players for the sheer level of its challenge.
One retrospective drawback to the original game is knowing how the sequels improved on the formula, leaving some aspects of the original to feel less fleshed out. The sequels would add sliding moves, charged blasts, and even sidekicks to the mix. The original, by comparison, feels stripped down and straightforward. A fault only in hindsight perhaps, but the comparison to its sequels is inescapable by this point.
Visually, the game is one of the more approachable NES titles to revisit. The colors and characters are simple, of course. But the game has a distinct, fun look about it, and the great character designs add to its retro charm. The music remains one of the better NES soundtracks. It may not reach the same heights as some later entries, but Mega Man’s soundtrack is still one of the most iconic in the NES library.
Mega Man remains a classic of the medium. Its sequels may have bettered it, with the two following installments still being considered the ‘definitive’ entries in the series, but the original Mega Man remains, in its own right, an absolute blast.