With Mega Man 11 set to release on October 2nd, the Blue Bomber will be starring in his first core series game since 2010. You all know how much the little scamp likes to get around, starring in hundreds of games and several spin-off series, but it’s hard to argue that anything holds the hearts and minds of fans quite like the good old originals.
Known for their brutal, heartless platforming, wacky robot master bosses and pounding chiptune soundtracks, the Mega Man series deserves to continue its legacy into the future. To celebrate its impending return, I’m taking a gif-laden trip down memory lane to break down games 1-10 – enduring the hardships so you don’t have to (unless you want to). I want to preface this series by stating that I am by no means the greatest Mega Man player ever. I’ve beaten most of these games before – some several times – but you won’t see me annihilating them at GDQ any time soon. Trust me, my lack of skills at these games will make for a much more entertaining time. With that out of the way, let’s settle into Mega Man 1.
Bomb Man has the unfortunate title of ‘boss we can most easily take down without a special weapon,’ so it’s time to go smash him up with the Mega Buster. There is, of course, a level to get through first and Bomb Man’s stage starts off almost as the anti-platformer to anyone expecting the kind of easy ride you get in a Mario 1-1 stage. You’re not far into the level before the pesky Kamadoma will spring themselves right into your face. Doesn’t matter how high you jump or how far away you stand, their accuracy is pretty lethal.
Lethal accuracy is going to be a common theme in this game (and, indeed, series), as the next challenge is to try and traverse death pits that kill Mega Man, but are fine domiciles for the brilliantly-named Bombombomb enemies. They will come leaping out of gaps like deadly, self-destructing salmon, spraying projectiles in four directions that will knock you back and send you falling to an early robot grave if you’re not careful (and I rarely am).
Of course, even in the first entry, this wouldn’t be Mega Man without several climbing sections under enemy fire designed to send you off the bottom of the screen on your way up a ladder, and this level has a lot of that. Everything in this level is designed to knock you down gaps, it seems, and the later addition of Killer Bombs and Mambu can often make the screen an awkward, explodey mess.
As far as I can remember, and my memory is admittedly hazy, this is the only Mega Man game in which the boss doors don’t lead immediately to the boss. Bomb Man has prepared for us a nice little leap of faith before we can face him, and the enemies can be avoided if you hug the right like a tactile Republican.
The boss himself is a mix of jumping attacks and bomb throws, which hurt if they hit you and if they explode (obviously). To look at him, you can see he’s a pretty chunky guy, and this manifests in a relatively slow jumping arc. His bombs are pretty easy to avoid as well – which is some decent foreshadowing for how lame the weapon is to use – and he should be down in no time.
As I stated earlier, I’m no expert on every frame in this game. My only logical understanding, then, is that the platforms in the early part of this level are on some kind of random timer developed by Satan himself. Well, probably by Dr. Wily, actually, and he’s a close second. Honestly, I hate these and their flappy insta-death bullshit. Flapforms, that’s what they are.
After screaming the house down in frustration through the flapform section, there’s the reward of a couple of encounters with the Pickelman enemies (yeah, really). Think of them as blue-collar Hammer Bros with even better aim and a shield. Their throws are almost homing missiles, as they will adjust distance and speed if you move further away like the big coward I am.
After more faith leaps (now with added spikes!), it’s time to meet Big Eye for the first time. These big stampy bastards will absolutely drain Mega Man’s health if they connect, and connect they almost certainly will. They took a big swig of RNG before they left the house for work this morning, and they’re in the mood for winding someone up.
Luckily, after such a hellish level, Guts Man will quickly realize that his late-night prayers to not face any bombs today have gone unanswered. He hates them. Three will do it, and he’ll be done in seconds.
My word, this level is SO GREEN. Luckily, this is one of the easier levels in the game and should help you avoid the inevitable seizure that staring at the background will cause after too long. It’s mainly just a lot of ladders to climb, as you dodge Blasters that don’t have great accuracy and only fire one bullet at a time. They’re not even worth shooting.
After what seems like a million screens of ladders and Blasters comes some screens of yet more ladders – this time guarded by the incredible Adhering Suzy enemies. The only thing they adhere to is moving in a couple of straight lines, but they move fast, take a fair few hits to kill and are worth destroying to make life easier.
Towards the end of the level is the return of Big Eye, this time sporting a delightful shade of pink. Maybe it’s Mrs Big Eye? The old girl will patiently wait for you at the bottom of the platform you’re on like a hunter, and just when you think you’ve chucked a bomb down to destroy her, she’ll start coming after you. Clever girl. You can use the newly acquired Super Arm to carve a little safe space in the bottom layer of the bricks if you’re feeling cool, but I’ve no time for that.
The Super Arm is a glorious tool for the boss, as Cut Man is even easier than Guts Man if you manage to pick up and accurately hurl his convenient brick stash back into his face. The two bricks are all it takes to ensure he won’t be going home to his kids tonight.
The start of Elec Man’s level is very fiddly, to say the least. Do yourself a favour and use Cut Man’s weapon to destroy the Gabyoall (seriously, what were they on when naming the enemies in this game?), as Mega Buster fire will only freeze them and lead to mucho frustrato.
If you’re awesome, the Metal Gear Solid 3-esque ladder climb will pose no threat. If your reflexes and accuracy are on point, the Watcher enemies will be sent packing before they’ve even said hello. If you’re doing the optimized order, your next challenge is the game’s first appearance of everyone’s favorite timer-based disappearing platforms! Check out that drop if you fail! Yay!
One of the cheekiest health pickups in the game is there for the taking of the brave and the bold, and it honestly still makes my palms sweat even now. Classic Mega Man risk/reward level design right there. Another ladder climb proves the Watchers obviously heard your disparaging remarks earlier and called their mates in – now posing much more of a threat thanks to the sheer numbers game.
The end of the level almost peters out into monotony with copy and paste platforming made up of death pits and electricity (naturally). Get through all that, run under Big Eye and get ready to embarrass Elec Man. He will go down like a little bitch with a skinned knee if you have the right weapon, which of course you do. Three hits of the Cut Blade will do him in.
Ice Man doesn’t look very imposing does he? He just looks cold if anything. Bless him, he wrapped up warm just like Momma told him. His stage wins the prize for worst music, hands down; it squeals and squeaks its way right to the very depths of your soul.
Crazy Razy (honestly, not making these up) is comin’ atcha as this level starts, so make sure to go for headshots lest their decapitated heads fly towards you once their body is no more. It’s then time to enter the underwater domain of Pepe the propeller penguin and all his constantly respawning cousins.
Now the fun begins. The two slippery, disappearing platform sections are a ruddy nightmare, with several blind jumps to make, Gabyoall’s to deal with and an insultingly long wait time if you mess up and have to wait for the cycle to start over.
If you thought the previous section was hellish, the horrific platform-riding section that follows is probably my most hated part of the game. Dealing with the Foot Holder platforms trying to shoot you just as you go for the next jump would be bad enough if Pepe’s family reunion wasn’t still going on in your face. You need some serious help from the RNG gods here, as the Foot Holders will sometimes not even make the correct height for you to get to the other side!
Again, after such a hard level, it’s refreshing that Ice Man is pretty tame. It’s at this point you can use the Thunder Beam Trick to pause-scum your way to an easy win, but at this stage, he’s so weak to it anyway that three honest hits will ruin his shit easily enough.
What’s the best way to deal with fire? Ice, of course, you idiot, it’s science! Look out, Fire Man, we’re going reverse Pokémon on yo’ ass!
The level itself packs nowhere near the difficulty and frustration of Ice Man’s, even though the enemies are an instant pain. Fire comes at you from all angles, as Changkey (fireballs, basically) rain from the sky to make your traversal over the lava pits and around flame pillars just that little bit more sweaty.
It’s at this point that I realised I had the platform gun. I swear I didn’t have it before now, but it certainly makes life a lot easier for upcoming sections. Whether jumping over entire segments of the level of skipping past unavoidable fire blocks, it’s incredibly handy, if not necessary.
There are two cheeky fire pillars right in front of the boss door, which should never be entered without first doing some incredibly sneaky farming of the Changkeys to replenish health. It’s needed for Fire Man, as he’s comfortably the hardest of the Robot Masters. His fire projectiles are ridiculously fast and hard to avoid, and he laughs at your measly Ice Blaster. I wonder why…
Dr. Wily 1
My playthrough of this game was something of an epiphany for me. The Big Eyes at the start of this level can annihilate your health before you even get started. That was until I finally realized you can freeze them with the Ice Blaster. D’oh. Better late than never!
If you want to tick off ways to put a player through hell, this level has it nailed down. Flame pillars obscuring the tightest jumps ever? Check. Relentless Killer Bombs attacking as you try to leap over instadeath spikes? Check. Spike pit over the top of the shooty Foot Holder platforms? Oh, you better believe that’s a check.
Yellow Devil Boss
I hate this jerk. He’s the worst, and he wrecks me every time. I also hate him in Smash Bros. but here is his true masterpiece of pain. In the interest of actually completing this game, I decided I had to finally try the Thunder Beam cheat on him. Being wrong never felt so right. No regrets.
Boss: 5/5 (1/5 if you cheat)
Dr. Wily 2
The stupid, grinning Bunby Heli enemies make even easy jumps at the start of this level a nightmare, but the Thunder Beam is the way to go to stop them in their tracks. Once that’s done, it’s time to strap in – it’s boss rush time!
Cut Man’s first up, and this time without the use of blocks for the easy Super Arm kill. He’s still not much of a challenge with his slow weapon arc, and once he’s among the el muerto, Elec Man wades in to try and finish you off. It’s worth noting there has still been no checkpoint in the level yet.
Once those fools have been taken to school, you finally get a checkpoint, which is needed thanks to the horrible descent through a ladder, spike, and Adhering Suzy country. The Thunder Blade works for killing enemies below you but it’s going to run out soon. Like my dad always used to say when I wanted more candy, “when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
A Mega Man clone is up next, and it was at this point that I decided to go all in on the Thunder Beam trick. I get it, I’m scum, but Dr. Wily is worse. Two wrongs still feel like they make a right to me.
Boss: 3/5 (1/5 if you cheat)
Music: 0/5 (reused)
Dr. Wily 3
Wily 3 is actually one of the easier levels in the game, and the only reason for that has to be how difficult the boss is. You’re met with big drops, Blasters and Adhering Suzies, but just whip out the Cut Blade for safety and leg it! You escape down a tunnel that sweeps you forward with what I assume is water, and it forces you head-on into varying enemies like Pepe and Killer Bombs at a speed that makes things difficult, but not unmanageable.
CWU-01P is absolutely nails. I’m pretty sure you’ve got to manipulate where it comes on to the screen to help avoid it, but no such luck for me. There are some blocks lying around for the Super Arm that it’s weak to (not enough to kill it, sadly), but once you use them, they’re gone if you don’t kill it until you game over, and all subsequent tries are best done with the Mega Buster.
Dr. Wily 4
Perhaps the previous level was lulling you into a false sense of security because this level is ‘more like it’. Starting with a ladder climb where one Watcher shot is going to end you, then follows a tunnel of pain with Blasters are everywhere. I’m too lazy to do anything but soak up damage as I run through it at this point.
Oh, there’s still time for some flapforming over spikes pits, and this time you have to use the platform gun and some sexy timing to make your way to safety – picking up an extra life and equipment if you’re brave enough (or realize it’s possible).
The boss rush continues as Bomb Man returns to finally taste that fire he hates so much (we didn’t have it the first time), and he’s immediately followed by Fire Man – the last prick you want to see on low health. Whip out that Ice Beam and pray, folks. Cheat your way through Ice Man in four seconds, blow up Guts Man and you’re finally ready to take on that grey haired scumbag, Dr. Wily himself.
His first form is incredibly easy with the Fire Storm equipped, but it’s the second form where the shit really hits the fan. If you don’t use the Thunder Beam cheat to earn a hollow victory, you’re a better person than me. This stage is near-impossible to a scrub like me. But hey, cheaters prosper sometimes – I have proof.
Music: 5/5 (credits only)
The beautiful credits music makes the whole arduous journey worthwhile. Mega Man wouldn’t see true success until the sequel, which is one of my favourite games of all time. The original is arguably tougher, and a lot less imaginative, but we made it to the end and Wily is begging for mercy. Good job we spared him, we’ve got 9 more games to get through yet.