Queen of Robots concludes Mega Man December by ending where it all began: the original Japanese release of Mega Man 2 on this date, December 24, 1988.
Mega Man 2: The One Everyone Knows
The evil Dr. Wily has created 8 new robots to take over the city! Mega Man sets off to defeat Wily’s schemes for a second time. Wily hadn’t learned anything from his previous defeat, but Capcom had; the game designers worked hard after hours to put together a game that was truer to the original vision of the series.
Today, Mega Man 2 seems spartan and almost aggressively minimalist – perhaps a reason for its lasting appeal and replayability. It features no conversations with the bosses before you fight them, no cutscenes, no sliding, no super jump, no Rush Adapters, no gimmicky special weapons moves, no Bass or Treble, no Bolts, no Proto Man. It’s just you and 8 evil robots in the dark windy passages of Wily’s fortresses. Simple mechanics, easy to learn but hard to master – you jump, you shoot. But everything about Mega Man 2 is a massive improvement over its predecessor, and it’s for that reason that this game rather than Mega Man 1 is the one that become the iconic mental image of the series for most fans.
What Was New Or Different About This Game?
Visual upgrades: Mega Man 2 is the one that really transformed the Mega Man series from a sleepy too-hard and stiff-feeling platformer to a cultural icon. Visually, the game bypasses its predecessor in the first 10 seconds. Mega Man 2 opens with a stunning and evocative vertical scroll up a high building to reveal its protagonist on the roof, wind ruffling in the breeze. The game gives a terse running exposition as the camera climbs up the building, creating an invocation of rising energy; a sense that the game is “going somewhere” and taking you the player along for the ride. The previous game leapt straight from start logo to boss selection, with no explanation; nothing was presented to the player to ground them.
Improved controls and game balance: Control-wise, the game is a massive improvement as well; gameplay elements remain tough and uncompromising, but the toughness feels fairer – unlike in, say, Mega Man 1 with Gut Man’s level leaving you throwing controllers at your screen over the flappy platforms or Ice Man’s infuriating combo of disappearing blocks and slippery ice elements. MM2 has its gotcha moments (much of Quick Man’s level, argh! The disappearing blocks! argh!) but feels less ‘cheap’ about it, overall. Much of the series’s overall playability derives directly from the crazy math Capcom did for MM2 to figure out how to just piss off the player enough to keep them playing when they die. Whatever black magic they did, MM2 works for the player in a way MM1 doesn’t.
Additionally, choose-your-own-path play really only came into platforming because Mega Man 1 had introduced it in the previous year – this continued to be a phenomenal innovation that would have long-term consequences for the industry’s approach to game play staging as a whole. Mega Man 2‘s popularity further drove the concept home – give players more control over what they do in a game.
Stunning Special Weapons – The weapons are as iconic as the Robot Masters in this game. The murderously overpowered and glorious 8-direction capable Metal Blade, the seemingly silly Leaf Shield; the screen freezing Time Stopper; every weapon in this game basically spawned a huge number of knockoffs along the course of Mega Man’s adventures.
Sound and Music: Mega Man 2 put a lot of thought into its sound design as well – even extended down to rethinking the sound of picking up health items and powerups. No more of that warbly watery noise when you collect health pellets – a much cheerier and brighter blip sounds instead. The music, less atonal and hardedged than Mega Man 1‘s, became instantly iconic – especially tracks from the Wily Stages, which have gained long post-game lives of their own as remixes, fan parodies and homage projects.
While it’s true the game has to some extent become a victim of its own success – the game’s winning formula quickly became a straitjacket for its own designers, leaving future installments to make small tweaks to the core rather than take giant leaps forward equal to those between MM1 and 2 – there’s no denying that Mega Man 2 was an important game then and still holds up strong now.
Even in a world of hyperrealistic 3d graphics and cutscene-driven gameplay storytelling, there will always be a place for a little blue robot jumpin’ and shootin’.