I’ll confess. Before playing Mega Man Legacy Collection the only experiences of Capcom’s iconic blue bomber came from playing a NES round a friend’s house in 1992, and two bouts of beat ‘em up fun in Marvel Vs Capcom 2 and Street Fighter x Tekken (regrettably). But I know much of the series’ culture from simply being around games for so long. I was SEGA through and through as a young ‘un, so much of Nintendo’s early console offerings passed me by, only picked up on later platforms and ports as the years went by.
Mega Man remained off my radar for a long while until I happened upon a video series discussing the gameplay arc from sequel to sequel. Suddenly I was intrigued to see what I missed, and as luck would have it, the Legacy Collection appeared; a compilation featuring the first six games in the series. And now here we are with a revered set of games from gaming’s golden age being assessed by someone still fairly in the dark about their appeal.
The basic plot of all six games in the collection involves Mega Man; originally an android called Rock who serves as a lab assistant to the scientist Dr. Light, tooling up with his ‘’Mega Buster’’ cannon and becoming the titular battle machine to foil the dastardly plans of the nefarious Dr. Wily. Each game’s core directive is to take on eight different levels that are themed on the powers of the boss ‘’Robot Master’’ found at the end of them before confronting their creator Dr. Wily at the end. You can take on these levels in any order you wish, but certain powers gained from defeating one boss will be very effective against another.
The system is very much reminiscent of the old ‘’Rock, Paper, Scissors’’ game and indeed features Robot Masters themed on those three as well as others. This gives you a small sense of freedom of choice, the game is basically saying ‘’do what you want, but know that you’ll probably make the game harder if you go that way first’’. It’s something that seems insignificant in the present day gaming world, but the system used in these 20 plus year old games is ridiculously well done and has clearly been a touchstone for many games since. It still, however, remains horribly, horribly punishing and while that will certainly appeal to a particular crowd, it makes for a hair-rippingly frustrating slog for the rest.
The key thing to know about Mega Man for the uninitiated is that it’s bloody hard. Split second timing is required for making jumps, avoiding enemy fire and shooting the enemy yourself. Like all good platformers of the 80’s and 90’s Mega Man relies on repetition to teach you how to spot the solution to your problems. The adorable styling of the pixel-based environment, enemies and Mega Man himself are a mere facade for the brutal, cruel-hearted and ugly monster that lurks beneath. Enemies have a habit of respawning if you take a few steps back, meaning that nervy, twitchy firefights can be rendered fruitless because the area that beastie spawned from went offscreen for a second.
This means you are always pushing forwards, treating each level like an obstacle course. That of course leaves you prone to making knee-jerk decisions and walking into a bunch of bad guys and/or misjudging a large pixel-perfect jump. Consequently it can (and will) be aggravating enough at times for you to hurl your Dualshock 4 at the nearest family member or pet (Top Tip: aim for the hamster as it will at least be safe from the impact).
The reward for perseverance is that fist-pumping satisfaction of beating that level and reaching the boss. The kicker is that should you not be in possession of the right abilities then you could end up in a very anti-climatic situation where the Robot Master hands you your tin behind in seconds. Cue more pitched peripherals and more traumatised pet rodents. Then, however, if you are like me, you go and tape up that controller and try a different strategy because despite this seemingly endless loop of sheer frustration there is something about these games that kept me coming back, an almost primal instinct to conquer the Robot Masters and put my boot (slipper) into Dr. Wily’s annoying face while victoriously bellowing ‘’Huzzah! I am the King of Games!’’ at the end credits. A strong reaction? Sure, but it is entirely justified after enduring failure after failure.
The levels may be tough, but they are quite short by modern standards and that helps a great deal towards dusting yourself off after each horrid demise and pushing on. Even more forgiving is a proper save function. Being borne of the arcade-era these games give you a limited amount of lives (though the later games are a bit more generous) and in this Legacy Collection Capcom has seen fit to allow saves at any point. It is entirely optional if you want to be a sadist and have no respect for the life of anyone who walk into the range of your throwing arm, but for normal, well-adjusted folk like myse…well, like other people, it is a godsend. As rewarding as they can be, the games are undeniably cheap on many occasions and this takes the edge off that and allows you to appreciate all that is done so well. Be it those instantly memorable levels, the soundtracks that match the greats of that era or even the way in which the games are designed compared to other side-scrollers of the time.
There isn’t a duff entry in the Legacy Collection (the weakest by a small margin I found was Mega Nan V, but this was a really small margin), all six titles stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best 2D platformers in gaming history. The fact that can say that having experienced these games over twenty years after their peers is a testament to how exceptional the design is. It won’t be to everybody’s tastes and the formula remains pretty similar in each iteration, but If you’ve enjoyed games like Shovel Knight, Rogue Legacy or Spelunky in recent years and you’ve yet to have a taste of Mega Man goodness then I implore you to seek out the Legacy Collection as a starting point.
Though the absence of the latter half of the series may irk some, there is still incredibly good value for money here. There are special challenges in addition to the games that remix parts of the series into treacherous new hell for you to endure (I mean enjoy!) and each game has a collection of artwork and the ability to listen to the glorious soundtracks separate from the game. There are other neat touches like filters that recreate playing on an old TV or a monitor and I played the majority of the games in old telly mode – it loses nothing by doing so and spread a nostalgic warmth within me for games I’d barely formed any lasting memory of twenty five years ago. I may have to invest in a new hamster though.