Video Game Review: Mega Man I and III for DOS
Back in the late eighties and early nineties, the NES was taking off as the home console system everyone wanted, and seemed to come out with great games almost every month. While this was going on, PC gaming was slowly developing in the background. With many memorable titles over the years and their larger capabilities for graphics and memory, they were gaining success.
However, PC games never reached the level of popularity of the NES and some companies saw this as an opportunity to make money. They ported their NES games to this smaller market with seemingly less games going for it, especially in terms of action games. Some of these companies decided to go the extra mile and make new games with the same idea, but completely revamped levels and enemies.
Capcom did this with their blue cash cow, Mega Man, back before he became as popular as he is today. You might think that this sounds like a good idea: Mega Man games were good and there were no spin offs vaguely connected to the series coming out every month. But they managed to do it wrong. Everything good about the game was thrown out, stepped on, set on fire, and what was leftover was violently raped by an 800-pound man. What they did put in the game in its place makes you think that a blind child with cerebral palsy made it.
Before I go on, I will say that I love the Mega Man series. It’s a bit overused in recent years, but it’s always been one of my favorites. So I’m not just saying these games suck because I don’t like the series, I’m saying it because I hold it in such high regard.
I’m also saying it because these games really suck.
I’m reviewing both Mega Man I and III at the same time for a few reasons; They both have the same problems, I’m lazy, and I’m not writing about this crap twice, because that means I’ll have to play it twice. I’ll note when they differentiate. Oh, and as a side note, I have no idea why they skipped over Mega Man II, so don’t ask.
You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of these games before. The story goes that Capcom decided that their game should be on a PC, but wanted something new. The only problem though, was that the series creator, Keiji Inafune, was busy. So instead of waiting for him, or even giving it to someone else within the company, they outsourced it to a small company called Hi-Tech Expressions, which made mostly games for younger children and anything with the word “Barbie” in it. So their previous experience was making games that wound up in bargain bins for fifty cents, and were still passed up. And god does it show.
One of the first things that will catch your eye and violate it are the graphics. These games look terrible. Mega Man looks like someone took the Pillsbury Doughboy and stuffed him into a blue suit against his will. The backgrounds are usually bland and boring with some things you need to see blending in, like ledges or enemies, often causing you to fall or take damage without warning. I know older graphics aren’t going to be that good, but if I can’t see where I’m supposed to go, or I don’t know what’s shooting at me without just walking forward and hoping I don’t die, then you’ve failed at level design. Even enemies themselves are bland and uninteresting, including the robot masters.
Now, the robot masters themselves are an interesting point. In previous games, you had six or eight different robots to choose from, each with their own stage where you fight them at the end. Well, not in these games. Mega Man I goes all out and has three robot masters, while Mega Man III has six. All are original, sort of. They have new names like Shockman, Dynaman and Bitman, and new sprites, but for some reason their portraits in III are clearly re-colors of robot masters from other games and their sprites barely have any animation. None of them are particularly challenging either, usually having a pattern of shooting then jumping across the room. Standing still and continually shooting will usually be enough to kill them, as there’s no need to wait between shots. The mechanic of shooting an enemy, then having to wait while gains a few seconds of invincibility, is not in this game. This might sound good and makes the game easier, which, god, it needs to be, but it also applies to you. More on that in a bit.
So what might have been the game’s only redeeming quality, the new robot masters, completely fails with re-colors, and terrible, barely animated sprites. The weapons acquired by beating them are nothing special either, but I can’t speak for all of them. I didn’t get far in either game because the game is so frustratingly difficult I had to stop playing before I punched my monitor in an effort to get revenge on the unfair mechanics.
Now, I’ve spoken about the levels looking poor, but the gameplay itself is terrible. Like I said, you barely get a respite after being hit. If something continues to shoot at you (and it will, especially unstoppable guns built into almost every wall), you will just keep getting hit, continually going through the “I’ve been hit” animation, and your invincibility stops the second you get control of your character again. You can hardly fight back before you die by suddenly disappearing (this is fixed in MMIII somewhat), so you spend a good portion of the game watching yourself slowly die.
Aside from this, major errors in the design will cause all kinds of glitches, like getting hit will commonly make you fall THROUGH the ledge you’re standing on. Getting hit while on a ledge will usually push you off it if you don’t fall through, right into lava or an endless chasm, since for some reason, when hit, you defy gravity and fly horizontally much further than necessary. And commonly, there will be instances where you have to jump from ledge to ledge going up a shaft. Even better, usually more than one enemy or projectile object flies at you when you have to make a jump, making it impossible to dodge. This is probably the closest thing we’ll ever get an E rated sadomasochism simulator.
On top of that, there is no password or save system. You’d figure the PC version would build in something, but no. Once you die or turn the game off, that’s it. No restarting from a certain point, it’s from the beginning or nothing. This isn’t too bad with MMI, where there are only four levels. But MMIII has seven levels total and getting through one seems like a damn miracle, so the absence of any way to continue is unforgivable.
The two games differentiate a few ways with level design, but each is equally frustrating. MMI is set up with a lot of obstacles that will usually push you back a few feet when they hit you, not only possibly killing you by pushing you into a hole, but also resetting the animation by pushing the same obstacle off screen, so you keep walking forward, making the animation for it start over, continually hitting you. Which is a good analogy to this whole game: you know you should stop because it hurts, but you just keep pushing forward. Many times you will get stuck as a bug hits you on a moving platform, pushing you back, or a rat on the floor of a hallway with a low ceiling (which you can’t shoot because it’s under the range of your blaster, and can’t jump over because of the low ceiling) keeps running into you.
MMIII fixes some of these problems, but adds its own. The designers though they were clever and decided to make the levels non-linear. While not a bad idea in theory, it doesn’t work in practice. Since the level design is so dull, everything looks the same and you get lost easily. Or it’s unclear where you can go, because there’s no way to differentiate between background and foreground objects, so you can’t find the entrance you need, because it looks like a wall is stopping you. On top of this, when you die, you usually start at the beginning of the level again, causing you to slump over and curse god for letting something like this game to exist. Oddly enough, anything you killed stays dead. So if you die and go back to the beginning, you can run through places you’ve been, unhindered. Then the game just becomes a dull maze that you still get easily lost in.
In both of these games, Mega Man can swim. Not the usual jumping higher underwater, but literal swimming. I imagine they went completely over the budget making the two frames of animation for it. However, for a metal robot, he is extremely buoyant. If you don’t continually hold down, he will shoot up to the top of whatever he’s swimming in, and most ceilings have spikes on them (They don’t kill you, but you’ll commonly take damage two or three times before you manage to get away). And of course, getting hit means instantly shooting straight up. The underwater level design wouldn’t be so bad if swimming wasn’t like trying to steer a go-kart while drunk and on fire. You’ll always go further than you want, and shooting something underwater is near impossible because everything moves and you’ll miss you target when you try to move an inch, and instead move halfway up the screen. Add to this the vast amount of spikes, and you’ve got one of the most frustrating experiences ever.
Mega Man games have always been known for good, catchy music. Some of the themes from the original games are still favorites of gamers today. So what did Hi-Tech Expressions do to liven up to this auditory standard? Nothing. That’s not an exaggeration or figure of speech or anything, there is literally no music in this game. You hear the sound effects of various jumping, shooting, getting hit, but that’s it. No music accompanies it through the whole game. You are playing in an aurally barren wasteland.
I saved the worst part of it for last, the controls. There isn’t really a word I know of that could describe them, but I imagine that the word would mean something like “Punching yourself in the groin until you bleed.” There is an option to use a gamepad or joystick in the beginning, and I suppose a gamepad might make it a little better, but not by much. So I used the keyboard for controlling, which has the worst setup ever that cannot be changed. You move with the arrow keys, jump by hitting J and shoot with space bar. Put your hands on your keyboard and try and figure out how hard it is to jump and shoot, or jump and move forward, then multiply that by 50 because of the unresponsiveness of the controls.
When you do get them to respond, everything is exaggerated. Jumping forward, you go too far, often overshooting your target. This can be insanely frustrating when jumping from small ledge to small ledge, just above a pit or lava. You don’t die instantly from falling in lava, but thanks to poor level design, you often can’t jump back out and are forced to watch yourself slowly die. You see a theme to this game yet? Everything you do seems to cause you to watch yourself die. The programmers had to be suicidal, just slowly wishing they could waste away and projecting that onto the game avatar. The biggest offenders though, are those blocks that disappear and reappear. Aside from the fact they’re half the size of your feet, they disappear so fast you don’t have time to think about your jumping, you just have to jump forward and pray, because hesitation sends you plummeting to your doom. On top of this, often when jumping, something is shooting at you. The whole experience got me to a point of frustration and rage I haven’t felt since I was younger, ready to throw my keyboard across the room.
I can not recommend these games to anyone. It is a stain on the Mega Man series, and gaming in general. This article can’t convey the amount of frustration playing them brings. If you absolutely must see for yourself, out of curiosity, because you’re a huge Mega Man fan, or you just plain hate yourself, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Once you obtain the games, whether through ebay or other means, you’ll need a program like DosBox to run it. Just don’t forget to turn the joystick option off if you’re using a keyboard. As for me, I’m going to forget this game and format my drive, so there is absolutely no proof that it ever was on my computer and I can live easier.