If you’re ever wondering why something is so popular, ask yourself how sexy it is

Mega Man (1987)

Why do some abominable people, places and things become so popular? I see for example that Jedward are regaining a bit of popularity on Twitter, by ticking as many progressive boxes as they can and piling onto witch-hunts against other hate figures. The word incredulity was invented for those two boys, born just down the road from me. Well, it’s a metaphorical road.

But if those two can manage to win back just a tiny fraction of the fame they held back in 2009, when even yours truly watched The X Factor to build up some girl-friendly chat, prior to a wintry Saturday night on the cider, then they’ll be doing well.

Those two twins were bloody everywhere for a time, and not just in Ireland, and nobody seemed to know why. We didn’t know where they came from, where they were going, and when they’d go away. I was in the local late bar every night trying to be the centre of attention just like them, and nobody knew what to make of me either.

And on the subject of embarrassing Irish exports, what about Mrs. Brown’s Boys? By the sounds of it, that show is still winning more BAFTAs, IFTAs and biftas than you could shake a latex pair of boobies at, and all for being a cruder, stupider Mrs. Doubtfire.

You can’t help but think to yourself, as you sit there in disbelief watching the latest Mrs. Brown special on Christmas night, is this what people go crazy for? Is there something you’re missing here? Couldn’t you have just been born a lot more ignorant, thereby making you a lot more happy?

So there’s some inexplicably popular music and television for you, but it doesn’t end there. How about literature? Well, that’d be a pretty generous word to describe the braindead Fifty Shades trilogy of erotica books. I’m a pretty sexy guy, you know, so I checked them out for myself. Don’t knock it ‘til you tried it, right? Perhaps I’ll give it a proper review one day, which will be more work safe and Catholic than you can imagine.

But suffice to say, I don’t think that Dostoevsky fella will be having any sleepless nights, if he weren’t long dead already. But there you go, while you, I or someone else you know may have struggled desperately to get their life’s work published, sloppy sex sells. And so Fifty Shades became a household name, and sold a bajillion copies. Not quite as much as the Bible, but then, who gets royalties from the Bible? Or the royalties from Mein Kampf?

Then there’s Mega Man. No, he never wrote any erotica, although I should point out he has dressed as a girl before. Well, whenever you’ve got a long running series (although the jury is out on whether Mega Man could be considered ‘running’ anymore), it’s inevitable that players will take notice, and want to go way back and check out the very first game in the series, to see where it all came from.

So that leads you take a gander at Mega Man 1 for the NES, where the problems begin even before you put the game in. You’ve probably seen the wretched cover art for yourself by now, but if you haven’t… obviously it’s quickest to Google it, but I shall try to draw you a better picture than what the artist of the grim piece came out with.

It depicts a man sadly struck down with cerebral palsy, cutting about some ultra-cheap looking futuristic landscape in a heavily creased, blue and yellow Tron suit. He’s holding a pistol too, rather than the iconic Mega Buster. To say the least, that’s committing a little bit of a foo-foo on a major part of the character’s design.

It looks like this unfortunate rendition of Mega Man may have accidentally discharged the pistol as well, given how he’s visibly soiled himself. All In all, he’s not even a teensy bit like the derpy little blue Mega Man sprite, itself inspired by the classic anime Astro Boy.

At least Jedward always had stylish suits on when they went out to butcher Ice Ice Baby. They were suits cut in wild colours and they were far too sparkly, but that was fine. It all went along with their admittedly impressive hair. But who could have put their name to a piece of “art” like the Mega Man USA box?

Every time I look at it, I notice something new that had never made me nauseous before; this time, it’s the fact that Mega Man seems to be jumping from giant arse to giant arse. Last week it was the fact that the game promised state of the art technology and high resolution graphics.

State of the art? You’ll have rarely played a platformer so glitchy, or quite so unforgiving as the first Mega Man. You might remember Sonic 1 let itself down by forgetting to make Sonic invulnerable to spikes after he’s been hit. Well, Mega Man has the same problem here, and golly are there a lot of spikes in this game for the little blue boy to stub his toe on.

Only six Robot Masters show up here as well, though I can hardly criticise the game for this fact – after all, the many, many sequels later improved this number. Well, that’s not true either, is it: Mega Man 2 upped the number to eight, and then that was as far as they went.

We’re on Mega Man 11 now, in case you lost track. Yes, the series made it to PS4, Xbox One and Switch.  And there’s still only eight levels plus a few sundries at the end. Even E. L. James made the Fifty Shades books bigger and better as they went on, or so I’m led to believe.

Anyway, fights against the Robot Masters in Mega Man 1 are odd, like a lot of things in this game – those guys will mess you up in such a hurry that it’s not even funny, unless you happen to possess the weapon that they’re weak to, in which case the joke is on the other foot.

There’s also a glitch that’s ever-present in the game, and using it is a near-must: you can stack damage against the enemy by passing and unpausing, letting them get electrocuted or frozen or burnt or cut up dozens of times in a split-second. Now that’s some Mega torture.

Nobody wants to cheat, unless it’s absolutely necessary – like if a random, female singer of the month who’s popular for two reasons decides to dangle them in front of you. That’s called ‘forgivable cheating’. Even with that, Mega Man 1 is bloody hard, as hard as it is to avoid this week’s Netflix series, Trump’s twitter, Reddit, and other such undeservedly popular things, so you’ll want to exploit every advantage you can get.

But there’s all kinds of game design no-nos here, such as an item that you absolutely need to pick up before you pass the point of no return, otherwise you’re completely buggered. That’s compounded, naturally, by the fact that there’s no password or save feature of any kind, so you need to do everything here in one sitting.

Then there’s numerous collision errors, as I mentioned. A very uneven difficulty level all over the game. There’s not much length to it. A points system that’s good for nothing, not even a high-score table. And crucially, the control is slippier than anything you might expect from later Mega Man games.

I suppose what this game did nail are the different themes and environments with their varied, colourful graphics – there’s something so compelling and brilliant about something as simple as going to take down Fire Man or Ice Man. Not sure what Guts Man is, but he’s got a great level and character design too.

Then, there’s the real reason why we tolerate Mega Man, and though we’re loathe to admit it, the likes of Jedward as well: the typically great, catchy soundtrack. Finally, there’s the famous Mega Man gameplay loop of fleecing the enemy of their weapons, and using them for yourself.

I suppose there had to be something to Mega Man 1, to warrant a sequel of some kind, or seven hundred of them as it turned out. But you probably need not bother with this one if you can, because Mega Man 2 and 3 pretty much made out the original game to be the old, knackered embarrassment it truly is. Brendan O’Carroll, take note.

18 December 2020

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