Well... getting better, anyway. Mega Man looks like a grizzled old cop, but other than that, pretty solid.
Fantastic cover art, yet again, for the Famicom version.
RELEASE DATE: June 1989
The original Mega Man may have kicked off the series, but the success of Mega Man 2 ensured its longevity. Because the sales of the original Mega Man were pretty weak (GEE WONDER WHY IT DIDN'T SELL WELL IN AMERICA, CAPCOM), Capcom wasn't exactly thrilled to greenlight a sequel. They eventually agreed to it, but only if the development team used their spare time to work on it. Basically, Mega Man 2 would never have been made, if the developers didn't have the drive and motivation to work extra-long hours to complete it. But they did. After three-to-four months of brutal twenty-hour work days, Mega Man 2 was born and the still-burgeoning gaming world had a new classic.
Mega Man II takes the original's gameplay – beat bosses in any order you want, then go fight Wily – and streamlines it for an all-around smoother experience. Much of this has to do with the well-balanced and significantly reduced difficulty (unless you're playing on Difficulty mode – more on that later). In the original, some stages (Cut Man) would be a cakewalk, while others would be a nightmare (Ice Man, Dr. Wily Stage 1). There's difficult moments in Mega Man II, certainly, but they're moments: elements within a stage that are easily conquerable with a couple extra tries. On the start screen, there's a Normal Mode and a Difficult Mode; the latter is actually the original Japanese version of the game. In Normal Mode, which is what I played through this go-round and what I imagine most players have beaten, Mega Man's attacks deal twice the damage against the Robot Masters, and regular enemies hit points are halved*. These are the only differences I could find between the two modes, but there might be more. Also, Capcom really goes over and above with the power-ups on this game. E-tanks (in their first appearance) and extra lives are scattered everywhere, it seems, while extra health and weapon refills, are freely given from the corpses of enemies. The prevalence of the power-ups is certainly welcome after the stinginess of the original. New features include the aforementioned E-Tank, a life refill, and three items designed by Dr. Light to use throughout the levels; these items have power meters, and the more you use them, the more power drains, just like the boss weapons. The first item is a little helicopter you can use to stand on and take you upwards to unreachable items or ladders; the second is a propulsion platform that you can use to fly across chasms and spikes; and the third is a weird little bouncy elevator that acts exactly like the helicopter. These items were later refined into the design of Rush, Mega Man's adorable, transformable robot dog.
*I have also vanquished Mega Man 2 a couple times on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the Gamecube, and apparently, "Normal" difficulty on the Collection is actually "Difficult." This would explain why Mega Man 2 on the Nintendo seemed incredibly easy to me. The more you know!
I should mention the intro cinema, as it's one of the greatest video game intros of all time. A city at night, covered in oppressive black. One tall building stands out in the foreground, while the history of Mega Man, Dr. Light, and Dr. Wily is told via text below. A slow lullaby plays softly in the background. Suddenly, the camera scrolls up the tall building, and the music changes to a questioning tone. The camera reaches the top, the music explodes into a mission statement, and there's Mega Man, helmet off, black hair blowing in the wind, and a ever-determined visage. How could anyone resist Mega Man 2 after such a build-up?
In Mega Man 2, eight Robot Masters await to bring about your demise: Metal Man, Flash Man, Quick Man, Wood Man, Air Man, Crash Man, Bubble Man, and Heat Man. The order in which I listed them is the particular order in which I beat them, but like the original, there's no set standard. If you're Mega enough, you could beat them in any particular order.
Metal Man... isn't that a little redundant? If Metal Man is a robot, one could conclude that there is some metal in him somwehere, and certainly if he was built in the earth-ravaging, go-go Eighties. Unsurprisingly, Metal Man's stage is an Industrial Facility, which means cogs and gears and darkness oppress you at every turn. The majority of the level is made up of conveyor belts that either push you forward faster or make it more difficult to progress. The music propels you immediately, despite the conveyor belts. It's an intense dance number where there is no happy ending - unless you keep moving. Spike stompers are the first enemy you see, then an entire alley of drillbits that come at you from the ceiling and the floor. Just keep shooting and collecting that delicious blinking life. Next come a series of goofy Jugglers riding cogs, but this ain't no sideshow. Blast 'em! Blast 'em all! A couple more serious jumps, while avoiding the slinkies and you're ready to, woo hah, light this boss on fire. Metal Man throws saws at you – presumably metallic – and jumps around a fair amount, but he's nothing a warm meal of Plasma Cannon can't fix. Afterwards, you're rewarded with the Metal Blade, one of the greatest weapons in the game.
Flash Man's stage, the Crystal Caves, brings Mega Man further down into the rave. Every inch of the stage sparkles and gleams different shades of blue, while a harsh two-step beat and a throttling melody give life to the dancing robots within. The Caves are slippery and Mega Man can slide for days, until projectile spewing robots stop him. Eventually, you run into your first of many Mech Robots. It's a robot within a robot. Once you take down his legs, all that's left is a brief plasma thrashing. Falling further into the caves can lead you in one of two directions. Fall to the ground and face the wrath of too many Mech Robots. Fall to the ledge slightly above the ground and you have a chance to hop your way across precariously placed pulsating blue bricks to Flash Man. Speaking of Flash Man, he resembles a football player with a grinder for a hand. He's slow, he doesn't know how to use his weapon properly, and he'll take all of the plasma abuse you've got. He's the easiest boss of the game. His Time Stopper will come in handy for the next stage, and you've also gotten the third item, the elevator.
Quick Man's Underground Laboratory continues the theme of glitchy techno, while adding a grindhouse background. Seriously, this place feels less like a laboratory and more like a robotic slaughter-mansion. It doesn't take long before the pain begins and Quick Man's laser beams of horrible, cleansing death shoot from the sides. It's not that the lasers are one hit kills or that they're as fast as lightning. It's the precision with which Mega Man has to avoid them. One misstep and you're orbs in the sky. Thankfully, you have the Time Stopper, which you will want to keep as charged as possible for this entire level. Once you start the Time Stopper, it goes until its energy is depleted, which means, once you reach the Flaming Torch guys, you should shoot them until they give you enough weapon energy to re-charge it. The second half of the level, with beams flailing akimbo, is the hardest part of the game. In this section, I recommend getting as far down as you can without using any of the Time Stopper. Then, right before a beam nails your face, use it. If you descend far enough without using it, the Time Stopper should give you a safe journey the rest of the way. After dealing with a couple of Mech Robots (and hopefully, recharging your Time Stopper), engage Quick Man and his mighty boomerangs. He's fast, but if you get his life down about half way with your plasma cannon, the Time Stopper will take care of the rest, and his Boomerang will be yours.
Wood Man's Preserved Forest Base is a gentle respite from the previous nightmarish world. Gentle Bubble Bats and Robo-Rabbits pretend as if they're as scary as Quick Man's beams, which will forever haunt your dreams. Every forest deserves a good jungle beat, and Wood Man's theme only half-delivers. Certain notes that echo through the forest are haunting, but the rest sounds like recycled motif from previous themes. Thankfully, this stage is cool enough to cancel out the sub-par ditty. You descend downward into what appears to be a carved out tree (or trees). Awesome! You also run into a wave of initially intimidating Heat Dogs, who spews lines of curved fireballs at you. Thankfully, their fireballs have a pattern and it's easy to jump over them and shoot directly at the dog. Once you're back outside, you're crossing bamboo stick paths and shooting obnoxious Mecha Monkeys and even more obnoxious birds who drop eggs at you. Shoot the eggs before they hatch or you'll get a swarm of baby birds in your grill. More rabbits, more Heat Dogs, and a wave of Atomic Chickens are all on your plate before Wood Man shows up to dole out some leafy greens. I've never liked Wood Man, but not because he's difficult. His design is as ugly as a station wagon with faux-wood paneling: chunk of wood for the body, two squatty legs, and a mug only Mother Earth could love. Ah well. Naturally, he can't stand the Metal Blade so pump him full of that and acquire his Leaf Shield.
Welcome to beautiful Sky Ridge. Please watch your step as you can fall to your doom at any given moment. Mind the giant Air Tikki heads that eject their horns and mini-Tikkis at you. Air Man's theme is the soundtrack to a fighter pilot duel in the sky. There's zig-zags, sudden turns, and an all-around sense that the music could go anywhere – and it often does. Indeed, this stage is all about timing. If you can jump from Tikki to Tikki, and steal the Lightning Lord's clouds so you can get across the wild blue yonder, then you're pretty much set. More birds will show up to hatch their eggs on you (what horrible mothers to just leave their babies behind), and giant Fan Fiend's will try to push you off platforms... and FAIL because you're Mega Man. Air Man is a saucy one, a giant fan who blows mini-tornadoes at you for fun. If you can equip your Leaf Shield and touch him a couple times, he's dust in the wind. You've now got the Air Shooter and Item #2, the jet platform. Giddyup.
Crash Man's approach to stopping Mega Man is a little more... unorthodox. His Pipe Station is a swirling mess of pipes and ladders and those adorable hard helmet guys! At no time during this stage will you ever feel threatened. The goofy, carnival theme lends itself well to the non-threatening atmosphere, although it's a throwaway track compared to the mechanical beauty of, say, Flash Man's theme. When you begin the stage, it's obviously day-time in the background, but the farther up you climb, it turns from dusk, into a starry night. Birds drop eggs on your face as you climb and Prop-Tops (helicopter robots that jump incredibly far) await you at the top. Crash Man has drills for hands and shoots out bombs (what is a Crash Man anyways?) and he has a distaste for little tornadoes. Once he's had enough of the wind gusts, he'll submit his Crash Bomber to you, and away you go.
Bubble Man is a controversial figure. Not many people are fond of the fact that his Bubble Lead is the weapon used to defeat the game, nor are they fond of the reduced gravity in the underwater portions of his stage (those spikes...). As weird as this sounds, I kinda like him, but I'm also a fan of the Outcast Robots (just wait until we get to Tomahawk Man – boy howdy!). Underwater portions aside, Bubble Man's stage is one of the most entertaining, and the serene, melancholy music is perfect for a deep sea dive. Look how cool the waterfall background is too! That's 8-bit pixel art in serious action! Mind the large Lantern Fish who want you to taste their shrimp and the ever-present spikes underwater, and you should be breathing fresh air in no time. And by that I mean, fighting Bubble Man like the boss that he is. Bubble Man also can't stand the fresh taste of metal as it slowly rusts into his mouth. Pump him full of saw blades and call it a swim.
The dueling melodies and rump-rattlin' beat really turn up the thermostat, in this, the last Robot Master fight before the ascension of Wily's Castle. Heat Man's stage is aptly named the Furnace, and with a river of lava everflowing at the bottom of the stage, it's easy to see why. Bouncing from platform to platform while shooting those ridiculous twirling heads is your first challenge. Eventually, transient bricks get thrown into the melting pot, though they're not nearly as obnoxious as the fickle ones in Ice Man's stage. Finally, you approach the last river of lava. You could hop along the line of disappearing bricks above the lava or you could just equip Item #2 and fly across the lava in style. I'd choose the latter, so as to live and live well. One mo' Mech Robot and then it's Heat Man, looking every bit like a flaming trashcan thing (what is his body supposed to be, anyway?). Heat Man gets weighed down by the Bubble Lead, so toss a couple of those bad boys his way. He'll cool off and you'll get his Atomic Fire and Item #1, the helicopter.
DR. WILY'S CASTLE
Stage 1's music is a timeless work of art that amplifies the weight of fighting Wily once again. It suggests that the last eight bosses were but a blip and that Wily's castle is where the real adventure begins. There would be other great Mega Man themes to come, but none so perfectly captures the hardship and sadness that Mega Man carries with him every time he goes to defeat Wily. The stage itself is standard fare. Shoot, rinse, repeat. There is one section where you need to use several helicopters to reach a ladder, and once that's over, you're in a dark room. You begin to bounce brick by brick, wondering why, until an enormous dragon comes from behind you and starts chasing you. Eventually, you arrive at three bricks, each higher than the other. Jump to the top and Quick Boomerang the dragon's face in. If you're quick enough, he'll be dead before you are.
Stage 2 contains nothing less than a bed of spikes that you must fly over, a plethora of energy tanks, lives, and energy refills, spike stompers, and most strangely, a Killer Wall that attacks you with pieces of itself. The stage is a mess of contradictions that only goes to show how insane Wily really is. The best is yet to come...
More perfectly timed underwater leaps await you in this short, but deadly stage. Everything tastes like wine and smells like roses (check the out of place metallic fish thing – begone from here, you worthless vagabond!), until the part where you have to manuever Mega Man through waves of spikes in sewage water. It's a disgusting and difficult drop, but once you land, you're basically at the third boss. It's Guts Dozer, an insanely modified Guts Man who... spits out pellets. He's more intimidating to look at than to fight. One hot batch of Quick Boomerang pancakes ought to upset his guts all over the place.
Deep purple is one of my favorite colors (though not one of my favorite bands...), thus my eyes look upon this purple-colored level with great joy. Riding the platform as it wanders hither and yon, while twirling head jerks constantly re-appear is somewhat of a nuisance, but easily conquered. Keep your head down, don't fall on the spikes, equip the Leaf Shield if you have to. Once you're at the Boobeam Trap (yes, that is the bosses' actual name), use your Crash Bomber to take out the barriers and the Boobeams themselves. It's obvious the programmers are very tired, as this boss makes little to no sense. Once a winner is you, it's off to...
The bosses again? Of course! It's a time-honored Mega Man tradition. Beat them, and then get ready for Wily. Equip the Metal Blade to shoot Dr. Wily's machine and expose him for the jerk-face we all know him to be. Once his glass shield is destroyed, he'll deliver bouncing balls of light your way. Try to avoid them and keep hitting him with the Metal Blade. His machine will be destroyed, but he will fly away, safely ensconced in his UFO. What a bastard.
Mega Man wanders silently down a cave-like hallway, filled with dripping acid and narrow corridors. He reaches a black room. Wily is there. He jumps in the air and morphs into... an alien? None of us saw this coming back in the day, I'll bet. Forgoing all logic, Mega Man equips his Bubble Lead and gives the alien his fill of heavy chemical bubbles. It does the trick. Wily was controlling a hologram of an alien all along, and now, like last time, he begs for your forgiveness. Mega Man does it, begrudgingly, and the game is over.
Mega Man contemplates letting Wily go. He said he was sorry, but that's what he said last time. Who knows if he actually means it; if the destruction of his castle and his eight robots is enough to prevent him from unleashing a new reign of terror. As the seasons pass and Mega Man continues to ponder, he can only be thankful that, for now, his journey is over.
What can I say. Mega Man 2 is a fantastic game, and one worthy of the classic status. It has epic music, much-improved graphics, tighter control, and more dynamic bosses/stages. The inclusion of two difficulty levels adds replay value to a game that already has it in droves. The passwords, E-tanks, and special items are all worthy inclusions; nothing that was added into the sequel was unnecessary, unlike later entries. All in all, Mega Man 2's development team once again deserves massive props for being able to craft such a timeless game on little to no sleep. Let us hoist our E-tanks in thanks!