For many gamers, there are certain games that instantly come to mind when they think of “old-school” video games. While that term might evoke many memories of squashing 8-bit Goombas in Super Mario Bros. or smacking turn-based Slimes with a sword in Dragon Warrior, a multitude of old-school gamers think of the Blue Bomber’s classic 2D side-scrolling shooter/platformer series, Mega Man.
With the release of Mega Man Legacy Collection on Nintendo 3DS, die-hard fans of the series and newcomers alike can now take a trip down the memory lane of gaming history with a handful of classic NES Mega Man games. With developer Digital Eclipse handling the collection’s foray into the 21st century, the preservation and reverence for the original games couldn’t be in better hands. As their website states: “Great games do not need a new coat of paint to be appealing … warts and all.”
Mega Man Legacy Collection contains the first six entries in the Mega Man series — all of which appeared on NES: Mega Man, Mega Man II, Mega Man III, Mega Man IV, Mega Man V, and Mega Man VI. And each game in the collection has been emulated as closely as possible. However, while gaming purists are sure to get a kick out of it, some players may not be so inclined to embrace the games’ intentionally preserved frame rate slowdown, glitches, and sprite flickering.
Even with the “warts and all” of the individual games considered, there is no denying the inherent brilliance, challenge, and entertainment of the original Mega Man games.
Just as Digital Eclipse’s philosophy states, the Mega Man games were great for their time, and they continue to captivate to this day. Providing the basic blueprint for action-oriented platforming games, Mega Man expertly blends precision based platforming, shooting mechanics, difficult boss battles, and weapons upgrades. As the titular and ironically named lab-assistant-robot-turned-weaponized-robot-for-justice, Mega Man, players must traverse each stage, defeating hordes of other robots programmed with evil intentions until the final showdown with the comically sinister Dr. Wily. Along the way, players earn various extra weapon upgrades to beef up Mega Man’s arsenal in unique ways to help him thwart Dr. Wily’s plans of world domination.
A trademark of the series is the player’s ability to freely choose levels in any order they wish, and each level is aptly themed after the flamboyant boss at the end. Not only does each boss attack and behave differently, but once defeated, players earn the ability to add that boss’s unique weapon to Mega Man’s expanding repertoire of weaponry for use in other levels. This revolutionary gameplay mechanic opens the door for many different strategic approaches to level selection, as well as the player’s personal taste. Finally, after beating all eight initial levels, you are granted access to the final stage in pursuit of defeating Dr. Wily.
The gameplay of all six games is pretty much the same across the board. When moving around the screen, Mega Man feels a little heavier than your typical platforming mascot, such as Mario. The shooting from Mega Man’s Mega Buster arm cannon is smooth, rapid, and responsive, but its range varies slightly between each game. The real draw of the gameplay, however, is in the varied weapon upgrades the player assembles. In addition to Mega Man’s cosmetic change with the different weapons, each one is also unique in its use. For example, the Leaf Shield provides a thin layer of protection before being thrust at enemies, and the Metal Blade slices through multiple enemies in a single, powerful shot. As an additional layer of gameplay, enemies and bosses have their own unique strengths and weaknesses to each weapon at Mega Man’s disposal.
In terms of content, each Mega Man game is relatively short. With only eight main levels and variable final stages, most of the levels themselves are also relatively brief. However, the games justifiably rely on extreme difficulty and replayability to keep players sufficiently engaged and entertained for hours on end. For many players, it might take just as many hours to beat a single Mega Man game as it does to beat a lengthy RPG.
Not only does the Mega Man series pride itself among old-school classics in the hearts of gamers, but it also boasts old-school difficulty sensibilities. Most of the respect and fondness of Mega Man has been earned through its punishing level of challenge, which is the result of the culmination of difficult enemy attack patterns, rare and unpredictable item drops, relentless level design, brutal boss fights, and harsh penalties for failure. Some enemies are better off avoided than fought, and full-on assaults on bosses without a battle plan in place are sure to result in Mega Man’s quick demise. Each level features substantial segments requiring expert precision platforming and timing, with a misstep potentially costing the player severe hardship of losing a precious life and starting over. Luckily, each stage contains the occasional hidden checkpoint to offer a rare but helpful commodity. Adding an extra layer of difficulty, enemies instantly respawn after getting scrolled off-screen — whether the player intentionally did it or not — and this old-school respawn mechanic was just as frustrating in the late 1980s as it is today.
In an effort to slightly ease the difficulty of the original games, the Mega Man Legacy Collection offers a welcome new save mechanic as an optional alternative to the series’ typical password system by allowing one overwritable save state per game.
While the Mega Man games in the Mega Man Legacy Collection are largely similar to one another, each one successfully contains its own identity through unique levels and defining bosses, generally causing the fanbase to be divided on which entry is “best.” Over the course of the series’ development from 1987 to 1993, each game generally built upon the mechanics of the one prior, with the later entries becoming slightly more refined and complex in both gameplay and graphics. These differences, while fascinating in their own right in the context of the games they are found, also provide a noticeable and very interesting study on the evolution of game developers’ ideas and abilities during the NES era.
In addition to superbly dedicated emulation of the original Mega Man games, Mega Man Legacy Collection goes the extra mile by digitally preserving the original games’ packaging, promotional material, and developmental art for each game in a sub-menu called the Museum. In the Museum, players can casually browse through a gigantic collection of box art from all regions, promotional posters, game cartridges, game advertisements, illustrations, Japanese game manuals, concept art, and even old coupons and stickers. Each item in the Museum can be selected and zoomed-in on in order to view the piece’s detailed artwork or fine print, although the 3DS screens are not optimal for viewing this content. Digital Eclipse clearly attempted to gather as many Mega Man artifacts as possible for the collection, and with roughly 200 items per each of the six games in the collection’s Museum, Mega Man Legacy Collection is a goldmine of information for anyone interested in the history or development of the series. As an additional bonus for those interested, all of the Museum content is made available from the beginning without having to unlock it during gameplay.
The Mega Man Legacy Collection also offers a sub-menu for each game called Database. The Database, which functions similarly to the trophies featured in Super Smash Bros., provides information on every character, enemy, and boss in their respective games. Of course, the Database also goes above and beyond by not only providing information, but also giving tips on defeating enemies in addition to showing their hit points, attack damage, and weaknesses. If that’s not enough, players can also play each of the eight boss fights per game via the Database, which serves as an excellent way to practice fighting them without limit and without having to play entire levels.
Gamers can also freely listen to every single music track — from stage themes to boss battles to game over jingles — for each of the six games in a section called Music Player.
Also thrown into the extra content euphoria mix, players have the option to play either the English or Japanese version of each game.
The extra content doesn’t end there, however.
The Mega Man Legacy Collection heaps on extra gameplay content in the form of challenges. There are 50+ challenges to attempt, with some of them being outright bonkers in difficulty. The objectives of the challenges vary between speed runs, remixed level sequences, specially made stages, and boss fights, which all bring a fun extra degree of excitement to the typical Mega Man formula and plenty of additional content to play. All challenges are visible from the beginning; however, the more challenges you conquer, the more challenges are unlocked to attempt. As an extra bonus for the 3DS version of the game, there are around ten additional challenges unlocked for players who own a compatible Mega Man amiibo. While there may be higher resolution versions of the collection on PC and consoles, these additional challenge levels, the portability of the system, and the packed-in gold Mega Man amiibo with the Collector’s Edition make it hard to resist.
On the subject of the 3DS version, it should be noted that while there is a 3D effect in the collection’s menus and the optional border around the top screen, the actual gameplay itself has not been enhanced with 3D. Also, touch controls are delegated solely to menu navigation, which is just as effectively completed with button presses.
The overall presentation of Mega Man Legacy Collection is wrapped up appropriately in a nostalgic package. The menus and logos outside of the emulated games are in the classic 8-bit NES style, although the music is updated with a more modern sound. However, one of the few areas where I felt the collection could have been a little stronger was in its presentation of information to the player. With so much content included, it took me several hours of playing to stumble onto the fact that I could actually play boss fights in the Database — since it is never mentioned in a menu and the only notification is a low-key button prompt at the bottom of the screen when reading a boss bio. Also, I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to figure out how to quit a game in order to try out another.
If you have ever enjoyed a classic Mega Man game, entertained the thought of trying one out, or enjoy difficult old-school 2D action platformers, do yourself a favor and play Mega Man Legacy Collection. The fantastic emulation of some of gaming’s best games is enough to warrant a purchase, and the extreme attention and care that Digital Eclipse gave by providing such an exhausting amount of extra content gives it that much more value. However, you must make no mistake: the Mega Man games in this collection are just as difficult as you remember or have heard about. While the majority of the difficulty provides great satisfaction once a segment or entire game is beaten, gamers who want a more casual experience will probably get frustrated pretty quickly.