Sunday, March 21, 2010

Deja Blue All Over Again

When Mega Man 9 appeared in 2008, most fans were pleasantly surprised by developer Inti Creates' decision to craft the new game in 8-bit NES style. Mega Man 9, Capcom promised, would not repeat the mistakes of its predecessor: Awkward "2.5D" platforming, an over-elaborate plot involving space robots, and awful forced scrolling levels. Mega Man 9 was a critical success, and I doubt it cost much at all to develop, so I was hardly surprised by the announcement of Mega Man 10, once again a faux-NES downloadable game.

I grew up on Mega Man games; I like to think I know the series' myriad trips pretty well and that I'm pretty good at running and gunning. Still, I don't have the patience that I had as a ten-year-old. So, I was very glad to see that the new game included an Easy Mode, where many instant death pits and spikes are covered, there are fewer enemies, and our hero has more health. Thus far, I've only completed the game's lower difficulty; my ventures into Normal Mode have made me sure that the new Mega Man game is just as difficult as past adventures.

While I found Easy sometimes painfully simple, it's still significantly harder than many of today's action games. Even on this most merciful of settings, there are dozens of pits and spikes to put an end to the Blue Bomber. There will be occasional screams and curses, but in my experience, almost all of my deaths were my fault. Only very rarely did I feel that the game was unfairly laid out. This is quite a relief, especially when I remember some of the cruelties Inti Creates has inflicted on Mega Man fans in the past (note the copious spikes).

I was initially disappointed to see that Mega Man 10 had dropped Mega Man's classic charge shot and slide moves, but Inti Creates has very generously given us a second playable character, Proto Man, whose moveset almost replicates my preferred Mega Man. As with most traditional entries of the series, Mega Man 10 features eight different "Robot Master" levels followed by a jaunt through final boss Dr. Wily's "castle" and a final multipart duel with the evil doctor.

As I haven't played all the Mega Man games, I can't necessarily offer an authoritative opinion on the quality of this game's Robot Master bosses, but I tended to like them. Sheep Man, for example, is wonderfully campy – a robotic sheep with lightning attacks who presides over a math-and-computer themed level. It may not make much sense, but it's exactly the sort of oddity one expects from an NES game. Another example: Strike Man specializes in sports, so of course there are spiked rocket soccer balls all throughout his level. Mega Man 10 is weird, but it's weird in the right way.

Mega Man 10 is a very short game – there's a Trophy unlocked for beating it in under an hour – but it's one that demands replaying. Right after I finished up Easy Mode with the default hero, I decided to try Proto Man. Later I might very well go through Normal Mode with both. In a few weeks, a third playable character (who can double-jump and shoot in eight directions) will appear as DLC. And even aside from that, Mega Man 10 features dozens of short challenges, everything from navigating tricky rooms without shooting to defeating bosses.

Capcom has even included online leaderboard support; it's very funny to see such a "modern" institution as the PSN leaderboard portrayed in 8-bit style with pixelated and hard-to-read type. Mega Man 10 almost never drops its "old school" facade; one can almost believe this game is twenty years old. When the game does drop its pretense, it's usually in service of the player – the NES didn't have shoulder buttons, for example, but Mega Man 10 lets you shuffle through your acquired weapons with L1 and R1.

I enjoy Mega Man 10, but I wonder what will come next for the series. I wouldn't mind a few more NES-style games, but I'd be more impressed if Inti Creates tried to create a good SNES- or PSX-looking Mega Man. With their four Mega Man Zero games and their two Mega Man ZX installments, the company has shown that it's very good at making more "modern" platformers. I should love to see a downloadable game with the graphics and mechanics of Mega Man X4 or Mega Man ZX Advent. Nostalgia and returns to the past are great, but I somehow think that this developer can do more with this franchise.

Whatever my reservations, I'm still very happy with my purchase of Mega Man 10. For $10 it's a fantastic deal, unless of course you simply must have shiny graphics. And while Mega Man 10 does cater to the nostalgic, the introduction of Easy Mode and the two different heroes help make Mega Man 10 accessible and enjoyable for those who might not have spent large portions of their childhood playing Mega Man games. Who knows, maybe I can convince Mr. Hollis-Lima to give it a shot?

I should really get back to playing the game... My ten-year-old self is ashamed of my use of Easy Mode. I should really try and mollify him.

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