Retro Review: Mega Man 2 (NES)

mega man 2

Release Date: December 24th, 1988

Developer: Capcom Co., Ltd.

Publisher: Capcom Co., Ltd.

When I saw the announcement that Capcom was resurrecting the Mega Man franchise for the Blue Bomber’s 30th Anniversary, you bet I was aware. As a result of the news, I scrapped the Retro Review I was working on and started this one.

Simultaneously, I worked on my write-up for the Mega Man 11 announcement. I was still a bit light-headed by the news, mainly because I’m still pissed at Capcom for how they have handled many of their IPs, Mega Man included. My anger showed in the article. I know this because Grumpy Joe called me out on it.

“There at least 5-6 fuck capcom drop and I  might be underestimating.” That’s a direct quote from our WhatsApp room.

Grumpy Joe doesn’t get it. He may get it If Activision were to nearly completely abandon the Call of Duty series. He may get it then because of his love of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. To him, and many others, that is the absolute best Call of Duty game to ever exist. He still speaks reverently of it. He LOVES that game!

Well, I love the Mega Man series more than he’ll ever love Call of Duty. And Mega Man 2 is the absolute pinnacle for me. For me, it’s my version of Modern Warfare for him. And Capcom had abandoned the entire franchise for years. If Activision had done that instead of turn Call of Duty into a worthless annualized cash grab, he’d understand for sure.

In my eyes, Mega Man 2 was the game that truly immortalized the character. It took everything learned from Mega Man, fine-tuned it, polished it to a high sheen, and presented it as the absolute pinnacle of run-and-gun gaming.

Mega Man 2 picks up exactly where the original left off. Dr. Wily, evil scientist extraordinaire, escapes from prison and creates eight new Robot Masters. His plans are the same as before: use the Robot Masters to take over the world.

As the titular character, players must take on the Robot Masters. When one is defeated, Mega Man adopts their abilities. He can switch between those abilities at will, using them to traverse later levels and defeat other Robot Bosses more easily. Eventually, Mega Man enters Dr. Wily’s fortress, blasts through his challenges, and takes on the Doctor himself.

The original game was fun, but it was unfair to a level that robbed the fun out of the game. It’s the prototypical “Nintendo Hard” game, one that ruthlessly beats players down with unforgiving difficulty and near-impossible circumstances. Unlike difficult games like Super Meat Boy and Cuphead, however, the game design itself was part of the problem. The run-and-gun gameplay was overly punishing, often the result of unfair platforming. The action often necessitated taking cheap hits in order to progress.

The designers at Capcom took the lessons learned from the original and applied them to the sequel. Though the gameplay was still challenging, players had much more control over the deaths dealt. The cheap hits players had to deal with in the original were gone. Yeah, the gameplay can still be challenging, but it’s more forgiving.

Thankfully, the controls are spot-on. The original game never had spongy controls, and they’re carried over here. That means that precise jumps and attacks are easily performed. The Mega Man series has always been about tight controls, and they’re at their peak here.

Mega Man 2 is a looker as well. Though not the absolute pinnacle of 8-bit graphical design, the sprites here are very well animated. The backgrounds are also very vibrant and indicative of the Robot Master who players are heading towards.

The levels all have themes that fit the Robot Master that lords over it. Air Man’s stage consists of platforms high up in the sky. Wood Man’s stage, meanwhile, consists of tunnels carved out of huge trees and trunks. Every stage has a similar style, and they all look gorgeous in a way only 8-bit sprites can manage.

The Robot Masters don’t just fit their stage aesthetically. True to their names, each has a special attack that fits their name. The aforementioned Wood Man, for example, has a Leaf Shield that deflects attacks from Mega Man’s signature weapon, the Mega Buster. Heat Man, meanwhile, uses Atomic Fire to turn Mega Man into cinders. The Robot Masters all possess signature weapons, and part of the progression involves learning how each of their attacks works.

When a Robot Master is defeated, Mega Man gains the ability to use their special attack. That’s useful because later Robot Masters may be weak against a certain Robot Master’s attack. You can still dispatch Wood Man using the Mega Buster, but he’s particularly weak against Atomic Fire. So if you dispatched Heat Man before you take Wood Man on, you have an advantage.

All of that is backed up by what I consider to be one of the greatest soundtracks in the 8-bit era. Seriously, Mega Man 2’s music is top-3 on my list of all-time NES chiptune soundtracks. The only other tracks on my list that come close are Super Mario Bros. 3 and Silver Surfer. Mega Man 2 still blows them away. Each Robot Master stage’s theme is ingrained into my head, not from repetition but from sheer awesomeness.

Put all of that together and you have a game that is an absolute pleasure to play. Every time I pop the game in, I plan to play for an hour but end up playing five. Progressing through the stages is a rush, and reaching Dr. Wily’s fortress is a thrill.

Once inside Dr. Wily’s fortress, however, a minor flaw shows up. The fortress is a multi-stage affair that really tests a player’s mettle. It also pulls a cheap stunt that’s been common in gaming for decades. Near the final showdown, players are met with the same eight Robot Masters again. This time, however, players need to dispatch them all in one shot, without continuing. Being armed with all their abilities and knowing their weaknesses helps. But having to revisit old bosses has been a slog. Still, the trope wasn’t overdone by this time, so I can forgive it here.

Fortunately, Mega Man 2 pulls out one last trick the original never had: a password system. When players are spent and need a break, the game gives them a simple password system that allows them to pick up where they left off. It won’t save the progress made on the Robot Masters near the end, but at least it lets you start from there next time you play. That’s leagues better than what the original Mega Man offered. As if that game wasn’t punishing enough with the cheap hits and bad level design, players had to beat it in one sitting. I beat the game by skirting that requirement. I did so by leaving the NES on overnight.

No matter what the original game did, Mega Man 2 improved it. From the gameplay to the sights and sounds, to the final presentation, everything has been dialed in to perfection. If there is a better run-and-gun platforming game on the NES, it’s either another entry in the series, the Super Mario Bros. series, or the Contra series. Others get close, but not by half.

Essentially, I already answered the question I always ask at this point. Does it still hold up? YOU BET YOUR ASS IT DOES! The gameplay is tight, the visuals are eye-popping, and the soundtrack is almost without peer. I listened to Bit Brigade’s excellent live rendition of the soundtrack as I wrote this review, and it amped me up so much that I paused the article to play some more of it.

Playing it now is an absolute breeze. The easiest way is to pick up Mega Man Collection for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. All six NES games are present in the compilation, and it includes save states, something the original never did. Mega Man 2 can also be played on just about every console released in the last ten years, including Android and iOS mobile platforms. In Japan, it was also available on the O.G. PlayStation.

Gamers that fire the game up will be able to play a game that helped define a generation. Just like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare defined the FPS for the seventh generation for Grumpy Joe, Mega Man 2 defined the run-and-gun platformer in the third generation for me. Maybe now Joe understands the impact of the game and why I’m so passionate about my disdain for Capcom’s recent dealings.

Because FUCK CAPCOM! You may be throwing Mega Man 11 at me now, but ya ignored the series long enough for Kenji Inafune to try to peddle Might No. 9 at me! All fans of the series ever wanted was for you to respect the series’ roots. If Mega Man 11lives up to the expectations, I’ll hold my tongue. If not, I will burn you in effigy for the seventeenth time this year.

And Joe, if Activision abandoned Call of Duty and some random Sledgehammer programmer did a Kickstarter for Yell of Mission: Today’s Combat, you would understand better.

Good: Spectacular gameplay; extremely tight controls; visual splendor; ONE OF THE BEST 8-BIT SOUNDTRACKS EVAH!!!

Bad: Cheap “fight them all” mechanic before final boss…and I’m really nitpicking here

Final score: 10/10

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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