Pity poor Mega Man. The little blue robot boy with a gun for a hand was one of the most popular heroes in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s heyday, starring in a video game series almost every bit as good as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros.
The original Mega Man series resulted in some great games for the original NES and the Super Nintendo. But then he dropped (swiftly) from the face of the Earth. Attempts to bring Mega Man into the 3D world resulted in games not nearly as fun as their predecessors. Most recently, the planned Mega Man Legends 3 for Nintendo 3DS managed to generate a bit of fan excitement, but the project was canceled in July 2011. Gamers moved on—some grudgingly.
Fans have clamored for Capcom to revive Mega Man for years, and it’s happened to some extent. Mega Man 9 and 10 came out in 2008 and 2010, respectively, continuing the original series with the same graphical and gameplay style perfected in the 1980s. And yesterday, something perhaps even more exciting occurred for Mega Man’s 25th anniversary: the release of Street Fighter X Mega Man, a celebration of two excellent game series that have lost their luster in the HD age.
If you haven’t downloaded and played Street Fighter X Mega Man (you can find it at Capcom-unity.com/mega_man), well, just go do it now (be aware: the Capcom servers have been getting hit hard with requests for the game). It’s Windows-only for the moment, and free.
As with Mega Man 9 and 10, the style is identical to the original NES series. While the name might lead you to believe this is a fighting game, it’s actually a side-scrolling adventure in the mode of previous Mega Man titles. The main difference is that the bosses (or Robot Masters) are Street Fighter characters.
It’s old school in ways both good and bad, but mostly good. And it’s definitely hard—Nintendo hard, as we used to say. Death in early Mega Man games came from either the swarming enemies or the difficult jumps that sent your robotic avatar plunging into an abyss; while the jumps in this newest title aren’t so hard, the enemies swarm you so incessantly it’s often difficult to keep your health level up.
As with those previous games, charging up your Mega Buster by holding the shoot button is essential, as is proceeding through the levels in the correct order in order to exploit the rock/paper/scissors weaknesses of each boss (one recommended order starts with Ryu and then goes on to Chun-li, Crimson Viper, Dhalsim, Blanka, Rose, Rolento, and Urien).
The game doesn’t totally recapture the magic of Mega Man 2 (my favorite in the series), but its level design is such that you’ll feel like you’re playing a classic Mega Man game. The music is also reminiscent of the classics, with a twist—occasionally you notice that a character’s theme from Street Fighter (Chun-Li’s, for example) has been redone in that distinctive 8-bit musical style. Some of the bosses’ fighting styles are also reminiscent of how they fight in Street Fighter, giving diehard fans a bit of a leg up in terms of strategy.
The game is so old school that there’s no way to save your progress, not even with a password—one of the very few downsides, at least in my opinion.
But it’s hard to complain about a game that’s free. And here’s another thing: a fan made it. Devoted Mega Man enthusiast Seow Zong Hui from Singapore approached Capcom earlier this year with a prototype of the game, and he and the company saw it to completion.
Street Fighter X Mega Man takes its place alongside Super Mario Crossover and Abobo’s Big Adventure as one of the best fan-made homages to classic video games. Only this time it’s being distributed by Capcom, which should be commended for helping a fan-made project flourish, instead of targeting the loyal supporter with a copyright lawsuit. It’s an example I’d love to see other companies follow—and I’d also love to see this be just the beginning of a revival for Mega Man. In an interview with Polygon, Capcom Senior VP Christian Svensson said Street Fighter X Mega Man is “a bit of a mea culpa” to fans, hinting at more to come.
In conjunction with yesterday’s release, Capcom announced that the first six Mega Man games will come to the Nintendo 3DS’s online store starting later this month. One request I’d make (and I don’t think I’m alone) is for Capcom to do whatever it takes to get Mega Man into the next version of Super Smash Bros.
Nostalgia titles and crossovers may well end up being the best way to go for Mega Man. While Super Mario Bros., Zelda, Final Fantasy, and other classic series continue to push the boundaries of gaming technology, it’s hard to imagine Mega Man in a fully modernized game—perhaps because we simply don’t know what that would be like, or whether it would be as fun as the originals.
I like to think of Mega Man the way I think about aging rock bands like The Who. Sure, he hasn’t done anything truly new in a couple of decades. But when he plays his old stuff, man, it’s worth paying attention.