Saturday, August 27, 2011

Megaman 1

In the year 200X a super robot named Megaman was born…

In the early 1980s Capcom hit its stride in arcades across the world with classic mega-hits such as 1942 and Gun.smoke. The popularity of these games allowed Capcom to expand their sights from simple shooters to other genres. 1987 brought fourth several new, ground-breaking titles for the company - an arcade fighting game called Street Fighter, the Famicom action-platformer Makumura (Ghosts n’ Goblins) and probably the most significant for that year for the Famicom, the run-n’-gun platformer Rockman. Unbeknownst to even Capcom at the time, they had just created what would become one of their most iconic characters and one of the longest lasting franchises the video game business would ever know. This is the groundbreaking title known to us in the west as Megaman 1.

THE STORY: It is the year 200X.  World renown robotics engineers Dr. Wily and Dr. Light have created the world’s first humanoid robots capable of human-like responses thanks to a complex AI and advanced artificial brains.
Dr. Light dreamt of a world where these intelligent machines and mankind co-exist peacefully, each helping the betterment of the other. When the world hears of this amazing achievement, Light received endless praise and admiration, while co-creator Wily is largely overlooked. Jealous of his pupil’s success on the world stage, Dr. Wily grew more and more hateful until darkness completely consumed him. Using his access to the lab, Wily secretly stole six of Light’s robots and reprogrammed them to attack the massive city known as Monsteropolis, hoping the chaos of his army of super machines would wreak enough havoc to allow him to take over the world.

Hearing of Wily’s tracery at the cost of his robotic brothers, Rock, a small household cleaning robot built by Light, volunteered to be converted into a fighting robot to stop Dr. Wily. A pacifist, Light reluctantly agreed knowing that the world’s police and armies were not yet prepared to take on such a threat as the robots posed. After the modifications were done, the super fighting robot Rockman was born. Rockman set forth on his first adventure to stop Wily and bring the world everlasting peace. Would he be able to bring a stop to Wily’s evil plans? Truly epic for a Famicom plot.

THE GRAPHICS: For its time, Rockman boasted some of the best graphics the world had yet seen (that time). Whereas most games receive a total facelift for sequels, the core graphics engine of the Rockman games was only slightly tweaked and reused for another five additional games that followed on the Famicom, as well as five Gameboy adaptations. As if an additional ten games were not enough, Capcom has recently used a modified Rockman 1 engine yet again with the downloadable games Rockman 9 and Rockman 10 for all three modern consoles.

Why use such an old engine over and over? Is it just simply that Capcom grew lazy? Well, I think that’s a paper thin answer for what seem an odd choice. In reality, the engine of Rockman was astounding, sprites are large, surprisingly detailed and more colorful than many other games at the time. In an age where most character sprites consisted of only two colors, Rockman more than doubled that and used five – Rockman himself was black, white, blue, cyan and peach. Although the NES could only handle four colors per sprite, Megaman used an ingenious technique to allow for five - Megaman’s white eyes are actually another sprite themselves! This is why Megaman’s eyes suffer from sprite flickering during the rare times when there is too much going on at once for the NES to handle. Enemies also showcas a lot of detail. Backgrounds and objects are easily identifiable and sprites animate very well for NES standards. As Megaman 9 and 10 prove, even today the Rockman graphics engine still holds up well as one of the best looking 8-bit game engines.
THE SOUND: Rockman is perhaps best known for its remarkable soundtrack. Unlike so many other games with forgettable soundtracks, Rockman’s tunes are catchy and never get old. The tracks are varied and distinctive. The music for every stage seems specifically tailored for that stage and everything is always fast and upbeat. As a testament to the high production value in the audio, Rockman 1 remains a favorite amongst videogame remixers and videogame cover bands alike even to this day. Capcom even has CDs featuring both the original and arranged tracks from Rockman 1. Not too many NES games can claim that.

THE GAMEPLAY:  Rockman is a linear platformer-shooter unlike most.  Sure, it does have a clear starting and ending point, but there are several factors that separate Rockman from other games of the genre. The first is that you can choose the order in which to defeat the six bosses. Depending on the boss you chose, you can make the game either easier, or more difficult, as some stages are easier to converse than others,  and some bosses are easier to fight with your default weapon than others. Secondly,  once you achieve victory over any given robot master, you gain the ability of the robot you destroyed. Best Bombman to gain his Hyper Bomb that explodes a few seconds after you toss it. Slice down Cutman and gain his boomerang-like Rolling Cutter. Melt down Iceman to gain the Ice Slasher and fear fire hazards no more. I could go on but I think you get the point. The additional weaponry you gain adds much more than just variety. Every robot in the game has a strength and weakness to one of the others, like in the widely recognized hand game Rock, Paper, Scissors.
THE CONTROLS: Rockman’s controls are tight and well executed. The + pad moves Rockman .  B fires, A jumps, Start brings up the weapon change menu (and pauses the game) and Select simply pauses the game. It is interesting to note that Rockman 1 is the only game of all 6 Famicom titles that the Select button does anything at all.

FUN FACTOR: Rockman is a true classic players will want to return to again and again if not for the music or graphics, then for the gameplay. Even though it’s the oldest of all Rockman games, anyone who has ever played a game in the series will feel at home here, as absolutely every Rockman game uses the exact same formula first established here. There are very minor differences like the inclusion of an arcade-like score board at the top of the screen, but by and large this will be playable to anyone who has ever played any of the others.

FRUSTRATION: While nowhere near as frustrating as some of the games that came out in the late 1980s, Rockman still has its moments. First, there is no password system. There aren’t any energy tanks in this game either. Power ups are for the most part few and far between. There are plenty of bottomless pits to fall into, and spikes kill you instantly regardless if you took damage prior to hitting them. The game features very tough bosses and the Yellow Devil Rock Monster stands out as one of the most difficult bosses in any Rockman game to date.

THE HISTORY:  The plot, characters and overall atmosphere of the original Rockman has many similarities to Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy. Like Astroboy, Rock is a robot made to look like a young boy, has a strong sense of justice and is somewhat naive. Dr. Light closely resembles Dr. O’Shay and the plot of robot rebellion was one of the manga’s arching themes. Up is one of the many Rockman manga made over the years. According to various factual data gathered from interviews, artbooks and of course the games themselves, the best estimate for the exact year that the original Mega Man takes place is the year 200X, which is most likely 2008. This game takes place before Mega Man 2, which mentions the year 200X in its official story. 

After 2, the year is mentioned as 20XX, which puts the events of the third game somewhere around 2010.In 2006, Capcom released an enhanced  remake of Rockman 1 for the Sony Playstation Portable strangely entitled Rockman Rockman. The game was later released in the west as Megaman Powered Up. Rockman Rockman refines the original experience to be much more similar to the newer Rockman games and thus more modern. Along with a graphical change to the super deformed art style seen in such as games as Gem Fighter, the remake added two new bosses, Oilman and Timeman, bringing the total number of robots to 8. There are many other differences, but I’ll leave those details for a future review of Powered Up.

SOMETHING WENT WRONG???: I suppose I should also quickly mention that the original box art is among the worst of the worst. Not only is the artwork ugly, it features no similarity to the game itself. Even the European cover (shown at the start of my review) is vastly superior. Why Capcom didn’t just use the Japanese artwork is beyond me. Oh well, as they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the same goes for videogames too.

GOOD: Great graphics, audio and gameplay. You owe it to yourself to play through Megaman 1.  Its fun as hell. Unless you don’t like platformers or have a phobia of blue robots, you’re guaranteed to love this game.
BAD: Although the first game in the series, its not as newbie friendly as its sequel. There’s no password save. You have to play the entire game in one setting, and the game is quite difficult.
CONCLUSION: Twenty two years, countless gaming platforms, six series and well over 60 games featuring the iconic name later, Rockman has become one of the most successful videogame franchises and is almost as well known and loved as other giants such as Mario, Zelda or Final Fantasy. Rockman 1 is a timeless classic that belongs in any retro gamer’s collection, as well as any fan of great action games. The original has been added in several collections such as Playstation’s Rockman Complete Works and last gen’s Megaman Anniversary Collection, and even remade entirely for the Playstation Portible with the odd title Rockman Rockman. Dispite everything though, nothing can come quite close to the charm the original cartridge can bring.

Fight Rockman! For Everlasting Peace! 




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