Mega Man 9: The ‘Last’ “Word”

DISCLAIMER: Not actually the last word on Mega Man 9, because the last, first and only word on Mega Man 9 is of course “HORSEFUCKINGGAME“, emitted in a tone somewhere between outrage and a pathetic orgasm.

So last winter my flatmate made fun of me for playing Mega Man 9. His prosecution was that I was embarrassing myself by being hooked on a NES game as if it was something new and exciting. My defence was that although Mega Man 9 resembles an NES game, the design of it is smarter and more enjoyable than those games ever managed. At thas point I called an indefinite recess in the court which is still in place to this day. UNTIL… TODAY!!

Today I went back and actually played those NES Mega Man games in the name of finding out who was right, me or that sap.

The results…. will astonish you!!

Mega Man (U)_011

First up, Mega Man 1.

Boy, is this game ever a blowjob from a blender. The levels are so full of chaff. So many brainless rooms and pointless or poorly placed enemies, so many new elements within those levels being introduced thoughtlessly. The game features both way more tiresome, easy sections and rote memorisation of tedious, non-fatal traps than Mega Man 9. No contest. Looks like I’m in the clear. I do like how the bosses recoil back in the same way as Mega Man does when you shoot them, though. Makes boss fights feel more like duels.

Mega Man 6 (U)_010

Next, Mega Man 6! The final Mega Man game on the NES and therefore potentially the most impressive.

After a troubling start with 6 boasting superior visuals than 9, I begin to relax. The level design is yards better than 1, but still a little awkward and boring compared to 9. It tries way too hard to be clever and zany without having quite so much success at being intelligent. Your collision box is still fucked, too. The most exciting things on offer here are branching paths through the levels and a hip little dash move.

Mega Man 2 (U)_001

Last in is the popularly-considered best Mega Man game on the NES, Mega Man 2. And. Yeah.

My first warning sign is that the stage select music is the same as Mega Man 9. From there it only gets worse. The level design here is phenomenal. Funny and varied with a consistently challenging difficulty that gleefully punishes you the moment you forget anything. The game seems to take joy in dicking around with you and take even more joy you getting wise to its tricks or out-thinking it. The music is great. The bosses are great. Look at this fucking guy!

Mega Man 2 (U)_001

If it was Mega Man 2 that appeared on Xbox Live and the PSN instead of the current Mega Man 9 homage thing I’d have been every bit as smitten. So, I mean, shit. I guess I lose. As do most modern level designers, who don’t seem to have perfected their craft any more in 20 years.

The cruel humour in the levels is a thing, though. I can’t get over how much fun the game creates from tripping you over or playing with your preconceptions. You can tell why I Wanna Be The Guy chose to riff off Mega Man 2’s main menu for its own.

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Stranded Marine

Game idea, stitched together in eight minutes with roommate:

The game opens on a picturesque vista of a lush and sweaty-looking alien planet. Far in the distance the player can see the streak of some kind of spacecraft as it comes roaring down through the atmosphere. The camera is steady and unmoving as the crashing ship disappears out of shot and lands with a crash.

The player controls a solitary space marine who’s landed on the planet in an escape pod. The reasons for this can be alluded to in the game, possibly leading to a twist (he… ran away from battle!! he is… the saboteur of his ship!!). What’s important is that the landing goes fine and all of the pod’s survival equipment is intact. There’s your ridiculous armoured power-suit, multiple guns, climbing equipment, computer, radar, cutting torches, food-purifiers, air-purifiers, grappling hook, portable turrets, jetpack,  everything. It’s all yours from the very beginning of the game. But the batteries, ammo, filtration sheets and so on that are in the pod when you start are all the supplies you ever have access to. You run out of jetpack fuel, you’re grounded.

There’s a contradiction in the design of most videogames- they feel the need to offer a more intense, complex challenge as you progress, yet in the name of keeping the game from growing stale they drip-feed give you new tools, toys and abilities which make the game easier. These two trends conflict. We propose a game where the player starts with everything, and it all gradually gets taken away.

It might start with the player running out of ammunition for the auto-aiming smart gun, followed by them breaking their radar by going for a swim with it. Quickly they’ll start looking at all of their equipment in terms of the power-drain, going into their battle-suit’s menu and shutting down the amplified strength on the arms and legs. But it’s just putting off the inevitable. Eventually your suit will stop working, and you’ll have to take it off and leave it wherever you were standing.

The player would be constantly re-examining his environment and enemies in a reverse-Metroid style. Instead of “OK, I have this item now, what can I do with it?” you’re thinking “Argh not NOW, okay, no more of that, but how am I going to get up that cliff/survive those horrible predator aliens now?” You’d also have a game in second-guessing what it’d be worth keeping in the name of finding a way off the planet. Have the otherwise-useless communicator use the same kind of battery as the food purifier, or hint at an abandoned and locked research facility somewhere on the planet while making the cutting torch a badass melee weapon that doubles as a torch.

I also really like the idea of an incredibly lonely protagonist talking to himself throughout the game. Have him swearing alongside the player as equipment sputters and fails, and have him emit a whoop of joy followed by insane giggling as the player stumbles across a new power brick for the battlesuit they left behind so long ago. Have him talking rhetorically to his wife and children. And probably have him bitching ceaselessly about the horrible planet he’s stuck on, about the humidity and the weight of the cutting torch and the stupid fucking idiot creatures that keep trying to bite his knees off.

Yeah. I think it’d all work.