I've been confessing a lot of things lately concerning my history with gaming, so I'm going to follow my own trend and admit that I never did beat the original Mega Man for the NES. I was born in 1986 and started gaming when I was only two and a half years old, and the first major game that I played to completion was Mega Man 2. It was the first game I ever considered my favorite, and to-date remains one of my coveted top ten. Mega Man 2 is rightly seen as a bona fide classic, and not just through my appropriately rose-tinted glasses. From 1988 onward, I proceeded to play and beat Mega Man 2-6 at least once a piece, proclaiming myself the king of Mega Man, happily carrying on the tradition when Mega Man 9 and 10 came out for the seventh generation digital services. The truth is, the first time I'd ever played the original Mega Man was upon the release of the Mega Man Collection on PS2 and Gamecube, and I'd never beaten it.
Perhaps it was the fact that Mega Man was classic 'Nintendo-hard', or maybe it was just that I'd lost the patience to play and replay a game ad nauseam like I'd done as a child, but I just couldn't come to beat Mega Man. I played it dozens of times, never even getting so far as to beat all 6 robot masters (or 8 in the case of Mega Man Powered Up for PSP). However, now that I've had a chance to play Mega Man on the Wii U's Virtual console with the aid of save states (for science, I promise... mostly), I come to you truly humbled. I may have given up on it multiple times throughout my life, but now that I have beaten it I can say with utter certainty: “#^*& Mega Man”. Yes, I'm using profanity to describe a beloved classic, and I feel completely justified in doing so.
You see, my path had led me from its sequel onward, and the series continued to grow and evolve throughout (though 2 and 3 remain the peak). Mega Man 2 – 6 (especially 3) were all hard games that required precision, memory, skill, and determination to beat, but never did they feel truly cheap. Enemies were tough and bosses were an all-out assault on the blue bomber, but none of those games (in my memory, which could come to prove to be inaccurate as I continue on with this series) felt cheap or unfair. As long as you learned how an enemy acted or reacted to your actions, you could predict a pattern and subsequent angle of attack. Metal Man may have been all over the board, slinging a never-ending wave of metal blades at you from every angle aboard a moving platform while jumping around the screen, but in time it became clear that every action of his was a reaction to your own moves and location. Now I can beat him without getting hit, and it's a truly invigorating triumph. I cannot say the same thing about the stages, enemies, and bosses in Mega Man.
To be fair, Mega Man was developed in a time when games were still in a phase where developers had to struggle to find ways to make a game have good value and replayability despite grossly inadequate storage space. Most companies had to resort to cruel levels of difficulty or borderline barbaric systems wherein a loss of lives or continues would result in restarting the whole game. Mega Man was a forerunner of the former. While the controls were tight and responsive, almost every aspect of Mega Man was designed to be excessively hard or unforgiving. Some puzzles or obstacles such as the waves of flame travelling through the pipes at the end of Fire Man's stage or the electrically pulsating blocks in Elec Man's stage required pixel-perfect timing to avoid, and in some cases immense luck to pull off. I abused the Wii U's save state feature to practice each of these obstacles dozens of times each, and only a few times was I able to get past the electric shock-blocks; I was never able to avoid the flame bursts. I also know that Mega Man isn't the most polished game, but there are few things more frustrating than trying to step on a platform only to phase through it and land on insta-kill spikes. I lost many a life to that sort of glitch, especially in Wily Stage 4.
To make matters worse are the enemies. In some stages, and especially Wily Stage 1, there are these beefy, bulky machines that hop around on one leg in one of two patterns: a high jump that gets hang time but barely shifts to the side, giving you plenty of room to run under; and a long jump that is too low for you to run under but would launch itself at you. There is no way to predict which of these two jumps an enemy will perform at any given time, so planning your actions isn't something you are afforded. Normally, I'd say it could be killed with enough skill, but I found myself in situations where it'd either corner me or back me up so much that by the time I had killed it I another would spawn before I had a chance to bypass it. It has too much health and it lacks any form of a pattern, so you could either be too close to avoid its lunge or too far away to safely travel under its high jump. Sadly, there's too much random chance to feel like my skill played any part in my advancement. I almost always either got lucky or got hit. This wouldn't be so much of an issue if it didn't drain about 40% of your total life in a single hit. To ensure consistency and fairness, I tested this theory dozens upon dozens of time with every encounter to ensure I wasn't talking out my ass.
Sadly, there are many enemies in the game that have similar issues. The green balls in Elec Man's stage sometimes will wait until they're at the perfect height so that as long as you're not moving both bolts will miss you, other times they'll hit you no matter what you do. Some of the seeker enemies (4-sided suction cup things that go back and forth) don't stick to a pattern or set timing schedule. Not all of the enemies are like this, but there are enough strewn throughout the game that it can be frustrating if you're going for a no-mistakes run through or if you're trying to save your health for the inevitably tough boss. Which brings me to my next point: Bosses. As stated above, I was sure to test dozens of times, taking samples to ensure I wasn't just lacking experience. I'd test the same area many, many times in succession, and the timing of the enemies would fluctuate wildly, and my actions did nothing to impact the patterns and timing.
As mentioned before, bosses in Mega Man 2 through Mega Man 6 (as well as 9 and 10) tended to appear chaotic, but had patterns and behaviours that you could predict and manipulate with enough practice and experience. The same cannot be said for the original. Take Fire Man, for example. His only move is to walk towards you and shoot character-height waves of fire at you, occasionally leaving a little flame under your butt to catch you if you should land on it before it burns out. This is all he does, and the only way to avoid them is to jump up as high as you can. Seems simple enough, but there's no apparent pattern to his waves of fire, and he often shoots two, three, or even four in rapid succession, which is literally impossible to avoid. When I say 'literally impossible', I mean it. You can't move fast enough to give yourself space, they don't have limited range, and there's no way to predict what times you'll need to jump towards him to avoid two or more waves of fire or when simply jumping straight up will do. Not to mention there's almost always a fire lit under your ass when you land.
After watching dozens of walkthroughs on YouTube and reading FAQ's, I'd come to the conclusion that the only way to beat him was to stand still and spam ice at him, effectively playing the tank game. Oh, there's supposedly a pattern he follows if you catch him in the right rhythm, but in my dozens of attempts I could not get him in said pattern despite emulating the videos I'd watched. Random chance: it can be a bitch. Not all of the enemies are this frustrating – Bomb Man in particular reminded me in some ways of Metal Man from Mega Man 2 – but even the ones that have an apparently easy-to-predict pattern have some movement inconsistencies that put them in a position to corner you and kill you before you can react.
The absolute worst boss, however, is the Yellow Devil. Any gamer worth his e-peen knows how ridiculously difficult the Yellow Devil is. After making your way through the first Wily stage, you end up fighting a blob monster that basically only attacks you by throwing parts of itself at you across the stage, some of which you avoid by standing still and others that you have to avoid by jumping. Returning to the “pixel perfect timing” issue I mentioned concerning stage obstacles, the Yellow Devil is a series of over a dozen repetitive pixel perfect obstacles and each movement of the blobs required a series of precise jumps, wherein being imperfect has you hit for 20% of your total life. If, by chance, you are able to avoid each and every blob well enough to attack the eye once it unveils itself, you have a split second to hit its eye on a random location on the Yellow Devil's body while simultaneously avoiding a shot... for only two measly ticks off his health. This is an incredibly difficult series of perfectly timed jumps that must be repeated literally dozens of times in a row without fault (though you can limit the required repetitions by using the electric wave attack). While this fight doesn't rely on random chance, the sheer perfection it demands of you is just plain inhuman. This boss alone defeated me, or would have had I not spammed the Wii U's save state feature. While I can certainly appreciate this kind of skill-based challenge, the tedium and repetition makes it an absolutely punishing chore, and that saps the fun from it.
I'm not trying to say Mega Man is a bad game, it's just showing its age. The design philosophy is a relic of its era, and its era was one that spawned a specific term in 'Nintendo-Hard', and Mega Man remains one of the purest examples of such a moniker. Mega Man had an impressive but not entirely memorable soundtrack (excluding Elec Man's stage theme) and some of the best graphics at the time, but it was beaten by its sequels in every possible way. Mega Man is hard, and I like hard, but it's also cheap and frustrating. Had I not spammed the hell out of the save state feature to practice, re-practice, test, experiment, and abuse, I'd have never beaten it or come to any of the above conclusions. I know this may put my classic credibility to scrutiny, but I felt the need to finish it and this was a prime example of how not to do difficulty in a game. Being demanding and unrelenting can give the best types of highs upon completion, but cheap, random chance based gameplay is just low.
I am so glad the sequels came to understand this.