Mega Man 6
Based on: Being ignored because you're easy and fugly, despite having such a big heart. Love and war.
Perhaps no Mega Man game has been as misjudged as Mega Man 6. Longtime fans like myself had every right and reason to be disappointed in this game. Still, somehow, time has proved old judgments wrong.
In 1994, the days of pushing glitzy new ideas on the original NES were long past. Mega Man 6 was part of a final wave of NES games, targeted at newcomers who were attracted by the low price of Nintendo's new top-loading NES. If your parents were still on the fence about buying a video game system, Nintendo was happy to make it easier to test the waters.
Meanwhile, the older kids whose parents had watched in horror as our childhood years were consumed by video game addiction -- we had no choice but to sit down and finish Mega Man 6 in one sitting. For us it was the gaming equivalent of "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am," something to be conquered and discarded so that we could focus on the sexier, more complicated Mega Man X2? on the Super NES. How insensitve, you say! Well, let me tell you -- you don't learn sensitivity by methodically destroying legions of cute robots that look like angry children's toys.
On the other hand, the fact that it's so easy to burn through Mega Man 6 without noticing the details that make it a quality game is a flaw in itself. But while we may not have appreciated it at the time, those details added up to represent the most significant changes to the Mega Man formula since Mega Man 3. For starters, Rush is effectively gone -- his doggie powers are now built into a muscular, short-range Power Suit, and a limited-flight Jet Suit. The Jet Suit in particular is a major step forward -- it's simple but fun to use, and its gravity and acceleration are complex enough to make the player consider its usefulness and its limitations based on the situation.
Little details of physics and movement are a recurring theme in this game, one that the Mega Man games only hinted at in the past. Conveyor belts/wheels are back in style, as well as springboards and pinball-style bouncers which catapult our hero around with surprising velocity. What makes it surprising is that it comes without the cost of play-crippling slowdown. Sure, the level design usually limits action to only two enemies on-screen most of the time (whereas previous games often dished out three or more), and this makes the game far easier -- but perhaps the reason we finished Mega Man 6 so quickly was that nothing was slowing us down as they had in previous games.
Tangible physics also explain why it's so fun to punch things with the Power Suit. Mega Man's new short-range fist has a satisfying effect on many objects, from crushing walls and smashing shufflepucks back in the direction they came, to jittering Robot Masters and other enemies out of their established attack patterns. If you're ballsy enough to try the Power Suit against the final boss, the game gives you delicious incentive to get right up close and pummel Dr. Wily with your fists. Just be sure to juice up on E-Tanks between rounds, Little Mac.
With the growth in play mechanics comes an evolved sense of level design. Branching paths in Mega Man 6 are common, whereas in earlier NES Mega Man games, they had been nearly unheard of. Yamato Man's stage in particular has two branching sections, the second of which holds a connecting pit to the lower area in case Mega Man misses a jump along the high road. Half of the bosses have a hidden or hard-to-reach secondary lair, rewarding the persistent player with a final special weapon. And if you choose to return to a level to seek out the hidden lair, you'll be greeted with sunset or clouds instead of the expected daylight. It's like modern game design sensibilities in '80s clothes -- kinda cute, actually.
Platforming exercises are common, but the springs and bouncers (along with the Jet Suit) make it more interesting to avoid those inevitable bottomless or spiky pits. The most curious platforming idea has to be the pools of oil in Flame Man's stage, which become instant death when ignited by any fire-weilding foe that Mega Man doesn't dispatch of quickly. Even more curiously, Mega Man crosses these pools by blasting a particular enemy with a charged shot. Incredible -- the Mega Buster finally has a honest-to-goodness purpose relevant to gameplay!
Not only that, but all those special weapons you get from defeating the individual Robot Masters -- they're more situationally useful than they've been in a long time. Between the Blizzard Shot's wide-angle range, the controllable pitch of Knight Man's mace-like boomerang, and the upward arc of the Silver Tomahawk, Mega Man has a true arsenal at the ready. Even the dinky fire weapon makes a useful horizontal flare across shorter pits, which means if you don't like predatory fish cramping your style mid-jump, you can deal with the problem proactively. None of the new weapons are undiluted awesome like in, say, Mega Man 2, but they're certainly a step back in the right direction.
Robo-megafauna have made a welcome return to Mega Man 6 as well. What we lost from the Wily levels we gained in huge mid-stage bulldozers, spearmen, squid, hard-hat dispensers, and even a frog-riding samurai who tosses explosives at our hero.
Now, as awesome as a frog-riding samuari sounds, and despite all the thoughtful little touches Capcom added, and despite this being a fantastic place to test-drive Mega Man for the first time, it's not all daffodils and roses. The graphics and music are solid, even impressive at times, but not nearly so much as previous Mega Man games. And the game does feel rather easy and short. But Capcom should be commended for putting effort not in the presentation but rather in those little details of physics, level design, and smoothness that make a game hold up long after its host hardware is past its glory days -- that make Mega Man 6 worth playing even today.
So this is all good, right? It depends -- would you play Mega Man 6 in order to love, or to conquer? Because if it's not love, then that's not everlasting peace your Blue Bomber is fighting for. And that means you really need to consider why you're here. 'Cause love is the only answer.