Mega Man 2 (NES) Review

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Mega Man 2 Review by tankMage (May 2016)

Score: A- (9.4/10)

    I generally prefer to give games I review a simple letter grade without a numeric scale, but there are times where I feel it is necessary to make an exception. This is especially true for titles that score in the “A” range (9-10), because each tenth of a point is that much closer to perfection. A game that scores this highly is the product of true inspiration, talent and enthusiasm. Mega Man 2 expanded and improved upon the original title in just about every way imaginable, taking a rough prototype and honing it into a classic. MM2 isn’t perfect and still suffered from issues that persisted through much of the series, but it possess a certain energy and charm that is undeniable. Capcom was reluctant to fund another Mega Man title after the first attempt performed rather poorly in the sales department, but Inafune (the series creator) convinced his superiors to allow him and his team to work on the game in their free time, often putting in twenty hour days to compensate. Inafune stated that his time working on the second Rockman game was the happiest time in his professional life and it shows. 

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Wood Man LOL

  Mega Man 2 was the next to last game I played in the original series. The first time around, I played on “normal” difficulty, not knowing that the second option, “difficult” was the original Japanese version’s default challenge level. After playing on normal, I felt that the game was a lot of fun and had some great ideas (being able to freeze time), but was also really unbalanced in terms of boss/level design. Years later, I tried “difficult” out for the purposes of this review and found the game not only to be slightly tougher, but a good deal more balanced, though not perfect.

Graphics

     There are plenty of visual improvements over the previous game; bosses are more stylized and have a sort of anime look; the same goes for regular enemies as well. There are even animations in the background of some stages that give the world a life of it’s own. Some of the bosses found in Wiley’s fortress are huge for an NES game and really push the system to it’s limits. The Dragonbot is an especially famous example of MM2’s uber-bosses that helped catapult the title into legend. Ironically the great graphics cause a good bit of trouble with this title, since the NES struggles to render video at times, which results in some truly dire slowdown. In fact, my copy of Mega Man 2 would sometimes crash when the dragon boss spawned, though I’m not sure if this was due to the cart being damaged or the NES had problems loading a hot chunk of dragon sprites.

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Still my favorite Mega Man boss.

Story

    None of the classic Mega Man games are known for great storytelling, in fact the series was often poked fun at for its predictable and formulaic plot lines. While such criticisms were not entirely misplaced, they often eclipse the fact that the series boasts quite a bit of lore and features more narration than many of it’s peers. Aside from the opening scene (which has a written prologue that scrolls by), there is little narration, but the game still holds a sense of emotion and character development that can be seen in the final cutscene.  Without spoiling the ending (not that there is much to spoil), I’ll just say there was a sense of melancholy to it that would follow the Blue Bomber throughout his adventures and even carries into the Mega Man X series. Interestingly, this most likely came about from the circumstances under which the title was developed; it’s possible that Inafune and his colleagues believed there would not be another Rock Man title after this one, which may be why the ending is rather wistful.

Gameplay

    I wasn’t terribly excited to play this game when I got it years ago, but walked away from it impressed nonetheless. It was clear that the development team tried their best with this one, maybe even too hard, because they went out of their way to make it more accessible by adding things like energy tanks, which can refill your health. Of course, I only played the game on “normal” difficulty at the time and got a watered down version of the genuine experience. This time around I tried the  “difficult” option out. The difference in gameplay was subtle, but it revealed MM2 to be more carefully designed than I originally thought, especially in terms of boss balance which felt obscenely out of whack on normal difficulty. 

   Team Rockman really expanded on the ideas found in MM1. Not only are there two extra bosses from which you can acquire a weapon, but there are also tools known as Items 1, 2, & 3 that make life easier by allowing the Blue Bomber to reach power ups or fly over traps, which built upon the concept of the magnet beam. If that’s not enough, the famous “E Tanks” make their appearance for the first time in the series and make life a bit easier during tough fights by allowing the player to refill the Blue Bomber’s life. There’s even a password system that allows players to pick up where they left off. These new powers make many of the game’s challenges seem trivial and the bosses seem ridiculously unbalanced on normal difficulty, as I pointed out earlier. That didn’t make the game unenjoyable (MM2 became one of my favorites), but I missed out on some of the game’s true subtlety the first time around.

  Playing the game on “difficult” didn’t make it super hard, but it did balance the gameplay out a bit. There were several instances where I was happy to have an E Tank to refill my life, because the bosses often hit harder than on normal and I had to be more careful about how I used special weapons since they did less damage. The need to use special weapons with care (lest you wish to see the continue screen) became more evident in the final stages since the player must run a marathon of traps, bosses and enemy robots before facing the final boss, who is fresh while you are probably hurting for weapon energy. Fighting the eight robot masters in quick succession, then having to face Wiley’s machines was also far more climatic on difficult. While I preferred playing the game on a higher difficulty, I really appreciated the fact that it featured two modes to begin with. Not everyone likes tough games or easy games, so being able to tweak things a bit makes the experience more pleasant for everyone.

Of course there’s more to MM2 than just difficulty and much of the fun this game offers comes from it’s level design. The stages in this one are even more diverse than its predecessor and offer a variety of obstacles and enemies; my favorite being the notorious Quick Beams found in Quick Man’s domain. The development team also built upon the idea of the player being able to manipulate the environment a bit by adding walls that could be destroyed with the Crash Bomber and allowing them to freeze time (and consequently enemies/traps) with Flash Man’s weapon. Speaking of weapons, the arsenal available in MM2 is even more varied and imaginative than that of Mega Man 1. Weapons like the Metal Blade can be fired in eight directions or charged up for supper damage like the Atomic Fire (a glimpse of what was to come in later games).

  Mega Man 2 offers some of the most interesting boss fights in the series, but as with every game in the franchise, they often feel flawed. Some bosses take practice and strategy to master while others can simply be plowed through blindly. This is especially true for bosses like Metal Man who present themselves as easy targets. The problem is exacerbated somewhat by the ability to look enemy weaknesses up online these days, so it’s not entirely Team Rock Man’s fault.

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  At the end of the day this game is fun to pick up and play or master, because it offers so much variety. The extra bosses make the freedom to choose stages more meaningful while the arsenal of strange and powerful weapons give the player plenty of options. There’s also an undeniable sense of energy that shines through in this title that makes it that much more entertaining.

User Interface

     There weren’t any significant changes to the UI that we saw in this title’s predecessor, in fact it seems exactly the same. If something works, why mess with it? Just as in the first title, the controls are nearly perfect and the menus are easy to access and navigate. The inability to change weapons while one is still active remains a feature in this game and is more noticeable thanks to weapons with long durations, like the Crash Bomber. The were a few situations where this became a bit frustrating and I found myself asking why they made this choice once again.

Music

The sound track is amazing from the opening scene to the final credits. Once again MM2 carried the legacy of its predecessor brilliantly and features some of the best video game music ever burned into media. The sound effects are creative and stand out on a system where there was a sense of sameness in this area.

Final Thoughts

    This game came so close to getting an “A” rather than an “A-” that I had to add the numeric score. A game reaching perfection, is like an object trying to reach the speed of light: neither will ever attain their goal (sorry I don’t believe there was or ever will be a perfect game), but the closer each one gets to it, the more impressive it becomes. The 9.4 I gave Mega Man 2 is just a tenth of a point off from an “A”, but it means a lot. This game has a certain magic to it that I rarely encounter. And to think, it almost didn’t happen. The modern gaming industry, which has become so risk averse, could learn a thing or two from Inufune’s triumph.

Recommendations

Mega Man 2 is a must play for any Mega Man fan. The only reason I can see for avoiding it is if you hate 8-bit games or platformers, in that case you probably aren’t reading this anyway.

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