The little boy in blue screams like a girl, and Elmer Fudd is to blame

Mega Man 8 (1997)

I used to think I had a voice like the Gods. It’s deep as hell alright, or at least it rumbles through buildings – good when you want to intimidate the mice, rats, and spiders in there, but not so good if you’re doing your best not to wake people up. I always hoped I’d have what they always disparagingly call “dulcet tones”, but the first time I heard myself on playback I was mortified.

Everyone always says the same thing when they hear themselves sounding like an ignoramus on tape: “That’s not me, is it?!” And actually it’s a pity that they’re not still being recorded when they exclaim this, because that’s the most emotional range they’ll ever be able to voice.

Keep in mind as well that the first time I heard a recording of myself would’ve been on one of my best ever Christmas presents: the Talkboy, as seen in Home Alone 2. All the great things in the 90s were ‘boy’ – Talkboy, Game Boy, Ball Boy in the Beano comics, and they always talked about home boys on the Fresh Prince.

Anyway, the Talkboy was pretty cutting edge in the early 90s, featuring a re-recordable tape to store about an hour’s worth of your voice. How hi-tech is that? I’ve seen videos, from five or six years ago at that, where the most godawful zoomers you can think of are all looking at a cassette tape like it’s from the moon. Then, of course, they ask if it’s a thing you wear or something similarly brain-dead and we all have an outraged laugh.

I’m sure they really do have an idea what they’re looking at, and they’re just playing ignorant to generate hate and therefore generate views. But what I’m trying to get at here is that, even with this fairly primitive home technology, I still sounded like a pilchard on tape. Now you can get yourself a phone app where you can record your voice at 44hz, that is, CD quality. Zoomers won’t know what a CD is either, but the point is that recording quality has gotten better, a lot better.

So you can do your own stupid radio dramas on your phone, the way I used to do on Talkboy, when I wasn’t recording the Mario Kart Rainbow Road theme from the telly, and you’ll get it with far better quality. But are you a good enough actor with just your voice? Being a voice actor always sounded like great fun to me – you get to do silly voices, get paid a vast old sum if you manage to become involved in successful works, and it doesn’t even matter a jot if you’re an uggo – all great selling points to me. But is it really that easy?

Well, I’d say it’s easy enough if you have a proper command of the language you’re trying to act in, but even this barrier proved too much for the “talent” in Mega Man 8 for PS1 to overcome. In general, I can’t knock Capcom for the effort they put into this one – it’s an entirely new set of graphics, which look stunning. And they’ve also tried to put some effort into… well, it’s still a perfunctory story, with Dr. Wily and yet another mysterious-robot-of-the-day. But this time, just like in the sister Mega Man X games for PS1, there’s some classic grainy anime cutscenes for you to enjoy.

It’s only when the characters open their mouths that it all goes pear shaped – you’ve got an emotionless Bass, Mega Man sounding like a girl to an incredibly irritating degree, and the best is Dr Light with the most unfitting voice you could think of, a bad Elmer Fudd impression. He even makes several mistakes that get kept in the scenes as well.

Of course, the voice actors weren’t native speakers, at least I bloody hope they weren’t. It must have been evil Capcom, bullying them into double jobbing. And a particularly wicked voice director who took erroneous takes as the final product.

The sound design ain’t much better. There are some aspects I like, such as the Mega Buster’s new charge-up sound, even if the regular pellets sound more pea-shootery than ever. But, and I know this is probably one of the most granular criticisms I’ve ever given, when you blow apart enemy robots they make a helluva lot of noise.

Seriously, go onto Tengu Man’s stage and the sounds of explosions and things going kaput is almost deafening. I suppose it’s better than being on Frost Man’s stage where the infamous “jump jump, slide slide” sections are located. Those sections bring along more voice acting that’ll drive you up the wall, although for once it’s actually ten times worse in the Japanese version.

This game, along with 7 on SNES, again commits that cardinal sin of having only 4 of the 8 Robot Masters available to you at the start, severely restricting the freedom with which you can play the game. With that one brainless move, Capcom ensure that four of their levels are tougher to get to, and thus a lot less likely to be played and potentially regarded as classics.

There’s not even a way to enter a password or anything to access the eight stages from the start either, like you could with the seventh game. And when there are so few levels in the game, this kind of thing counts, because Mega Man 8 isn’t cheap if you want it in its original format.

It’s also damn hard to start with as well, although it gets a lot easier once you find some of the 40 collectible bolts in the game and trade them in for some nifty prizes. Bit of replay value there too, trying to track them all down, though I prefer the CDs in Mega Man & Bass if we’re talking Mega Man collectathons. Mega Man 8 is also made less frustrating by the halfway points placed in every level. With these, even if you run out of lives you won’t be put right back to the start as you would in all previous Mega Man games.

It just comes down to how much you can stomach Mega Man’s girly scream whenever he buys it. Now, I wasn’t expecting him to have a voice as deep as mine gets after a big night out and the resultant hangover, and it probably isn’t as embarrassing as X’s voice in Mega Man X4, but bloody hell.

Still, we can get past the voices, but what about the actual gameplay? Well, if the non-visibility of four of the Robot Masters from the beginning of the game doesn’t present a stumbling block to you, then the first Dr. Wily stage will provide you with the proverbial brick wall that you’re welcome to go and smash your head off.

Firstly, you’ve got more of the aforementioned jump-jump-slide-slide guff, but at turbo speed this time, which – yes! – brings back bad memories of Battletoads. This is followed by a non-intuitive, highly janky section where you use your electric beam weapon try to grapple like Samus or Simon Belmont across chasms that’ll bring you instant death, and a one-way trip back to the beginning of the stage.

It’s probably the worst stage in Mega Man history, classic Mega Man anyway as there are a few other dreadful candidates in Mega Man X6 and X7. Not to mention the DOS games Mega Man and Mega Man 3. God knows where Mega Man 2 went, but then again, God knows where Windows 9 went either.

There you go then, a real missed opportunity for the Mega Man series. And worse than that, there wasn’t a classic Mega Man for years after this, until Mega Man 9 reverted straight back to the old-school formula. It’s a real pity too because I love the graphics in Mega Man 8, they still look the biz.

And although the 8-bit tunes are probably way better, I also think there’s a nice soundtrack in here, particularly the Credits sequence if you can get that far. As it is, the game is still worth checking out for its laughable voice acting and its lovely graphics. After that, you’d be better off taping over it with something far better.

12 March 2021

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