Fancy collecting retro games? Try hard drugs instead

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Mega Man 2 (1990)

Let me tell you something for nothing, something that may very possibly render any future “insight” I offer absolutely worthless: getting into game collecting is probably the worst thing I have ever done in my stinking little life. I’m telling you, hard drugs would be far cheaper a habit to maintain. I’d probably get much more long-term enjoyment out of a hefty supply of beak as well.

Even if you wanted to save yourself on aggro and just confine yourself to a single console, like some sort of loathsome povver, you’ll still have a job trying to bag yourself every single title available for the blasted thing – especially if the console rhymes with Phony Greystation and has a number at the end. I’ve got DVD cases, big cardboard boxes, small cardboard boxes, tin cases, manuals, big cartridges, small cartridges, discs and everything in between, and I’m still nothing but a lowly beginner collector. Not quite yet eligible for the swankier, more salubrious retro game dinner parties, the strictly high-roller ones that I keep pretending I actually attend.

In the same way that upright people would look at a drug like heroin or crystal meth and immediately give their self-discipline a pat n the back by saying “there’s no way I’d ever touch that” (speedballs may be an exception), collectors just about universally agree that trying to build up an enviable, headline grabbing collection of Mega Man games is far too cost-prohibitive. You might just as well set your sights on an entry level yacht and some of the more upper class harlots instead.

Every collector is agreed on that. Well, maybe they aren’t, I mean God knows what my enemies think, but I’m an alpha enough dog to speak for all of them. Seeing Mega Man games in the wild here in the PAL region is exceedingly uncommon, if not the dreaded R-word. So when I received Mega Man 2 as part of a big joblot an awful long time ago, I was a very willing player: finally, it was my chance to see what exactly this, and I do need quotes, “famous” and “classic” 8-bit series was all about.

I’d done some old research on the subject of the Blue Bomber, as it turns out he’s almost never known as, but I was still surprised when I knocked on the game and found there to only really be eight stages, with bosses as imaginatively titled as Air Man and Heat Man. I picked some level at random, probably something as torturous as Quick Man’s stage knowing my luck, and was left distinctively unimpressed.

Alright, so it was an early entrant to the series, and an 8-bit one at that, but it wasn’t exactly blowing me away. My hopes at hotfooting through each level like a headless chicken who’s forgotten to pay his self-assessment on time were dashed when I was getting caught by every enemy and taking far too much damage for even my special little blue boy to withstand.

But there was something there, under the cracks – it was clear to anyone with eyes and ears, and even to those without gorm, like me. What I had to adjust myself to was the fact that the gameplay really could not have been much simpler: you can run about, you can jump, you can shoot, and there’s not an awful lot after that.

It wasn’t until Mega Man began to grow hairs in places where hairs had never grown before that he could suddenly slide, charge his beam and even ride flying dogs. And yes, subsequent games have been marketed and sold on these features, these throwaway bouts of Friday afternoon programming – that’s how often they were churned out, once upon a time.

Each level of Mega Man 2 was teste-breaking tough to me, but my reflexes and understanding of the game was lessening the crisis of gaming confidence I was suffering; it became clear that all I needed to do was to beat one boss and the rest would fall into place from there. From there, Id be able to take their weapon, which rather conveniently batters another specific robot in the evil Dr. Wily’s eight Man army.

And I also knew that if I stopped quantifying other platform games in terms of Mario (96 exits! crikey!) and instead recognised that each of Mega Man 2’s eight stages plus later fortress stages had different themes, music, looks and enemies, I’d be just a smidgen more appreciative. It meant that each level had a uniquity to them, with enough individual elements to compel the player to get through them and also to keep replays of the game going strong. Which is pretty important when you consider that you can get this game over and done with in about an hour, especially if you take up the most unusual offer of the easier difficulty level.

All the same, it should be a shootable offence to release one game and five sequels each on one single console and outfit them all with something like 12 levels each. There may be personality in each game, and that’ll get you so far, but an overall lack of content always becomes glaring – particularly if the quality is actually high all throughout. It leaves you wanting more, which in turn leaves you out of pocket.

Still, in one of my rare bouts of applying fairness and sensibility, that lack of content for the prices demanded (even back in the day) is a problem that’s always affected Mega Man. Of course that’s not something that Mega Man 2 itself is fully culpable of – indeed, this second game of the series improves on just about every aspect from its now Cro-Magnon predecessor. And Mega Man 1 did prove quite popular and was a breed apart from other games at the time, so what harm was a very similar sequel? It’s just, when you’re weighing up the threats and benefits of banging down three figures on the Super Nintendo’s by-the-numbers 16-bit entry Mega Man 7, you’d be far better off taking a step back and looking at the series at a whole.

With so much repetition and similarities between the games in the series (six mainline games on one console, don’t forget), you’re best off only taking four or five of the best. The rest, you might as well not bother with. With Mega Man X and X3, do you really need X7? Why drop the hammer on Mega Man Zero 3 when you can get Zero 1 or Zero 4? And so on.

That’s why it’s important to take the classic Mega Man series as it’s known, the one numbered one to ten, and pick out the best game from there.  I like the series, don’t get me wrong, and I’d love to have them all. But then I’d love to have a yacht, a hotel in Vegas and an infinite supply of yatties, wouldn’t I?

So you’ve got to be canny with your money, and pick out the gems. Some may disagree, but Mega Man 2 is the finest of the classic Mega Man games. And that makes it one of about five worth buying to those game enthusiasts who prefer not to be wallet inspected.

15 November 2014

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