Sometimes nostalgia can be a bad thing– It has a tendency to exaggerate and mystify the things we loved during childhood or days past. I came to this realisation today as I devoured a packet of Space Raiders (a pickled onion maize snack that I used to consume regularly as a boy) and was left brutally disappointed. In all honesty, they weren’t that great. Maybe it’s because the giant alien face on the packet is no longer sufficient for me to, if only for a second, believe I’m an astronaut, or maybe it’s due to the simple fact that things are never quite as good as we remember them to be.
Once in a while, though, everything just comes together perfectly. The stars align and the result is a video game of such incredible quality that it can truly withstand the test of time– and that game, dear readers, is Mega Man 2. Playing it today is every bit as exhilarating as it was when I was eight (that’s right, I’m old), and while the Mega Man series has been updated and re-imagined a number of times across many different consoles, this is the very pinnacle of the series. I know the awful, much maligned box art to the right may have you believe otherwise, but hear me out.
Released by Capcom in 1988, Mega Man 2 is quite rightly still regarded by many as one of the greatest games of all time. At its heart, it’s a classic run ‘n’ gun platformer hybrid, but it’s a game that’s able to transcend these simplistic origins and obtain a timelessness that evades so many other games that simply fall by the wayside.
I’m sure you all know the story by now but suffice to say Dr Wily has created a team of eight robot masters in an attempt to take over the world or some other, equally terrifying cliché. To be honest, the story is neither here nor there– it’s the core gameplay that’s the reason many fans return to the title time and time again.
One aspect of the game that made it stand out from the competition was that it gave players the option to select the order in which they tackle the stages and corresponding bosses. Beating these end of level guardians allows Mega Man to utilise their special weapon or power. In addition, each boss is particularly susceptible to one of these weapons, so deducing the best order to tackle the levels through trial and error is one of the games strong points. In these heady days of open worlds, freedom of choice and multiple objectives, this may seem underwhelming but back in 1988 it was a massive deal, as it allowed the player an increased sense of autonomy and control.
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the 8-bit graphical look and still think the game looks fantastic today, but the reason Mega Man 2 has stood the test of time is the fantastic level design and variety. From a frantic battle in the clouds during the Air Man stage to a wonderful forest setting that frames the Wood Man level, the consistency and relevance of the design is tremendous from start to finish. You may be just running, jumping and shooting most of the time, but the variety in each level will keep you engaged and excited for what’s to follow.
Yep, that’s Mega Man… and a giant robot fish. Who said this game had to make any sense?
Another stand-out feature is the music. It would not be hyperbole to describe the soundtrack as one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. Each level has a distinct, equally memorable theme, and even if you’ve never played the game before, a number of the tunes will be instantly recognisable– such is their legendary status within the gaming community.
Which brings me to the final reason why I love this game– it’s capital ‘H’Hard. That’s right, Mega Man 2 is a considerable challenge that belies its somewhat cutesy aesthetics and will have you regularly shouting expletives at the screen. The great thing about this is that, whilst the game is rock hard, it is never unfair. Mega Man 2 does not patronise; it does not cradle you in its arms and offer words of comfort or encouragement with luxuries like a Mario style Super Guide– when you die, it’ll be because you made an error in judgement or mistimed a vital jump, not because of poor collision detection or game design.
The controls are incredibly tight, too, and the levels continually throw new obstacles at you, with moving platforms, disappearing platforms, and laser beams to name just a few. Many game mechanics that we would soon take for granted were introduced, or at least perfected, right here, and it made you rely on nothing more than lightening quick reflexes and pure, old skool skills. Triumphing over one of the levels brings you a genuine sense of achievement as you have to truly earn your stripes in order to emerge victorious, and I must say that playing the game through again recently, it’s not as controller-breakingly difficult as I remember. It’s still a hefty challenge, there’s no doubt about that– my poor Classic Controller was fearing for its life on a number of occasions!– but it’s manageable.
To conclude, I am sure that the majority of our readers are fully aware of just how awesome this behemoth of a game is and the impact it had on the industry as a whole. If you’ve never experienced the perfection of Mega Man 2, I really do urge you to do whatever’s necessary in order to obtain a copy, whether it’s via the Virtual Console or going the whole hog and dusting off a NES– it really is an experience that’s not to be missed. I would like to think that ten years from now, I will be able to introduce my children to Mega Man without fear of it being labelled archaic or redundant, and for me, that will always be the true acid test of a game’s legacy.