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Blast from the past

Mega Man goes retro
By MITCH KRPATA  |  October 22, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Mega Man 9

Mega Man 9 | For Wii Ware, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network | Rated E for Everyone | Developed by Inti Creates | Published by Capcom
Playing Mega Man 9, you feel you’ve stepped through a wormhole and emerged in 1988 with an NES controller in your hand. Although it’s an entirely new game, it’s been built to eight-bit specifications, even appearing to lift visual and audio assets directly from the earliest games in the series. If you were a child of the 1980s, as I was, Mega Man 9 isn’t just like reliving your childhood — it’s as though your childhood had never ended.

Capcom’s decision to go this route makes sense in light of the franchise’s spotty history over the past 15 years. Few games are canonized as Mega Man 2 and 3. The newest installment seems to take its cues mostly from the second game: Mega Man’s advanced moves, like the ability to charge his primary weapon or slide under enemy attacks, are absent here. He can jump and shoot — only two buttons required.

The gameplay is more complicated than that, however. You battle eight Robot Masters, one at a time, in any order you choose. Each Robot Master — they’re colorful characters with names like Galaxy Man, Jewel Man, and Magma Man — awaits you at the end of a short level filled with brutal environmental hazards, like moving platforms, bottomless pits, and, of course, rows of spikes that kill Mega Man on contact. Mega Man earns a new weapon from each boss he defeats, and each boss in turn is susceptible to one of those weapons.

This description applies to all eight previous Mega Man games, and if you were a fan of any of those, you’re likely salivating by this point. Indeed, the level design and the weapon balance in this ninth installment rank with the best the series has offered. No one weapon is overpowered, as was the Metal Blade in Mega Man 2. The platforming challenges vary between levels — there’s no blatant repetition of tricky sequences. The whole game fits together with the precision of a Swiss watch.

And yet, Mega Man 9 seems like a pocket watch in a wristwatch world. The nostalgia factor is hard to resist, but the gameplay often feels anachronistic. It’s an extremely difficult game, and difficult for reasons that aren’t always fair. Sequences in which Mega Man must cross a chasm by jumping onto blocks that appear and disappear in tricky patterns can’t be completed through reflex or strategy, only by rote memorization. Sure, this is how games were made in the 1980s. There’s a reason they’re not made that way now.

Consider the emphasis on treating the continue function as a precious commodity. You begin the game with three chances to make it through a level, with the possibility of picking up the occasional extra life. Each level has one checkpoint at its midway point, plus the opportunity to restart at the door to the Robot Master’s chamber. Given the innumerable instant-death scenarios, the need to have foreknowledge of each map’s layout, and the mystifying logic behind each Robot Master’s weakness, you’ll be seeing the game-over screen more often than the stage-selection screen.

Well, why? Where’s the fun in doing the same things over and over, advancing just a screen or so farther into a stage with each attempt? Who wants to be punished by a video game? Mega Man 9 is a relic of the era in which players were encouraged only with the stick, never with the carrot. That’s the game’s obvious goal, and one that the designers achieved. It’s easy to idealize the past, but there’s a reason we leave it behind.

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  Topics: Videogames , Culture and Lifestyle, Games, Hobbies and Pastimes,  More more >
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