The Mega Man series is built on patterns. Every time out, a robotic warrior clad in blue battles eight “Robot Masters” in an order chosen by the player. As he pushes through the game, Mega Man acquires an arsenal of new weapons from the vanquished Robot Masters. And after defeating all of them, he challenges the evil Dr. Wily in a fiendishly hard multi-leveled fortress. After delivering the final blow (usually with the game’s worst weapon), Mega Man rides off into the sunset, ready to return if the world needs him again.
I know these patterns. I first learned them in 1987 with the release of Mega Man for the NES, and I received a refresher course roughly every year thereafter thanks to the five sequels that followed. Through trial and error (and believe me, there were many, many trials), I eventually learned how to traverse each game’s set of levels with near flawless accuracy.
After ignoring the series for several years, Capcom decided to compile the first six entries into the recently released Mega Man Legacy Collection. I still know the patterns, but even two decades removed from their original release, the games included in the Mega Man Legacy Collection hold up in a way that few do.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (Version Played)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Genre: Mega Man
Release Date: August 25, 2015
ESRB Rating: Everyone
It’s impossible to look at a compilation like the Mega Man Legacy Collection without wondering how much influence my own memories have on my opinion of it. It’s not an unfair question. In my youth, I worshiped the six NES games that made up the “Mega Man Classic” universe (Mega Man, Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3, Mega Man 4, Mega Man 5, and Mega Man 6). I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever be able to think of them objectively. Has the potent mixture of childhood nostalgia and muscle memory forever clouded my judgment? But I also have to wonder: does it matter?
To someone like me, playing and replaying the first six Mega Man games is something that we will always do. Their mix of precision platforming and tense shooting sections were second-to-none in the late 80s/early 90s. And their influence can be seen in a wide swath of indie games in 2015. Even Keiji Inafune, the franchise’s steward for the first 23 years, wants to mine these patterns for a spiritual successor known as Mighty No. 9.
And yet, the pull of the original games is strong. It’s been more than a decade since I last played a Mega Man game, but my brain was still able to access the exact timing of Quick Man’s lasers in Mega Man 2 in short order. Any hope of objectivity disappeared in the
Developer Digital Eclipse, a name that has become synonymous with retro re-releases, went back to the franchise’s original 8-bit elements to painstakingly recreate my memories. All six games have been perfectly emulated, all the way down to the last pixel, and include every bit of slowdown and all the memorable screen glitches. This slavish devotion to history may not earn the Mega Man Legacy Collection any new fans, but it gives modern players the chance to experience these games exactly as I did while waiting for the school bus.
The developer’s attention to detail deserves to be rewarded, but they also added a Challenge Mode to Mega Man Legacy Collection that breaks up each of the games into bite-sized chunks that can be played a few minutes, or a few hours, at a time. Sometimes, several chunks from different games are strung together in a single Challenge to make things extra hard. While I instantly fell into my old patterns with the full games included in the Mega Man Legacy Collection, the Challenge Mode will likely fill any spare minutes I have before my 9-to-5 over the next few months. That is, if I don’t lose myself in the included Museum of concept art and Database of little known Mega Man facts.
However, we can’t talk about the Mega Man Legacy Collection without also addressing the 800-pound robotic gorilla in the room, 2004’s Mega Man Anniversary Collection. Though it was released more than ten years ago, the first compilation of Mega Man’s original adventures included all eight games in the series that were available at the time. And since then, Capcom has added to the Blue Bomber’s story with the retro-styled Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. Both of those games, along with the SNES-exclusive Mega Man 7 and 1997’s Mega Man 8, are missing from the Legacy Collection.
Does this make the Legacy Collection inferior to the Anniversary Collection? In a way. But the HD-ready presentation of the games in the Legacy Collection, and the focus on the NES originals, makes for a more cohesive package. The final four games have their moments, but they’re more slapdash than the first six. And neither collection includes Mega Man & Bass, an unnumbered SNES spinoff that wasn’t localized for American audiences until 2002.
My appreciation for the Mega Man franchise hasn’t diminished at all in the last 28 years, and any opportunity to replay these six games is a welcome one. Maybe my love for the series is just nostalgia and muscle memory, but I don’t think so. The first six Mega Man games are considerably harder on my thumbs in 2015 than they were in 1987-1994, but they remain just as well designed as ever. The first game is important as it shows the groundwork being laid, while Part 2 and Part 3 are more than worthy of their place in the pantheon of side-scrolling platformers. Even the last three games are interesting, in that they show how the franchise progressed in the NES era.
Digital Eclipse has done an excellent job bringing the Mega Man Legacy Collection to the PC, PS4, and Xbox One. And it is an important compilation to own for anyone interested in the history of game design. But the Mega Man Legacy Collection is also a compilation of some of the best platformers of all time, and how can you ask for anything more than that?
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Mega Man Legacy Collection was provided by Capcom for the purposes of this review.