Why So Anime, Mega Man?
Mega Man 8
While it would be gross over generalization to say that the Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world. series was a Nintendo exclusive franchise -- Mega Man: The Wily Wars and the Game Gear Mega Man were two titles released on Sega hardware -- it certainly felt like when it came to the Blue Bomber, Nintendo and Capcom walked hand in hand. That all changed with the release of Mega Man 8, the first game in the series to not only release on multiple systems, but also the first one to completely ignore Nintendo's systems in any capacity. For some fans of the series who had grown up with the games on the NES, this felt like a betrayal by the company.
That's very hyperbolic, of course, and I certainly wouldn't go that far in my own discussion of the series. In 1996, when Mega Man 8 came out, the game market was in something of an upheaval. The Super Nintendo was an aging system by this point, still beloved by many fans but no longer the "next big thing" as Sony's own PlayStation had recently come out. That system could support 32-bit graphics over the SNES's 16-bit capabilities. That, coupled with the cheaper production costs of disc-based media (versus the SNES's cartridge-based requirements) and the fact that even Nintendo was eventually going to move on from the SNES with the at that time in development Nintendo 64, made it an easy choice, I'm sure, for Capcom to ditch the SNES and move on to greener pastures. That meant releasing Mega Man 8 for the PlayStation (and, a year later, an enhanced port for the Sega Saturn).
The thing is that while I understand the desire to move on to more capable hardware, the game actual produced for the PlayStation feels oddly regressive for the series. Let me state up front that there's nothing specifically awful about Mega Man 8, but there's also nothing game changing about it either. It's a fine title in its own right, but nothing about it really screams "new hardware, new abilities". Honestly, at times it even seems hampered by the hardware it's own, a curious fact indeed.
Before we get to the problems with the game, let's at least lay out the groundwork for Mega Man 8. Taking a page from the games that came before, this eighth iteration of the franchise does very little to break from convention. Like with Mega Man 7 before (and the Game Boy titles as well), mega Man 8 presents an into stage before giving us four Robot Masters to fight. Bolts are hidden through the stages and Mega Man can go out, collect those (along with the Robot Master weapons and Rush adapters), purchase upgrades, and battle through the first half of the game. From there, a second, mid-point stage is presented before the other four robot master stages are handed out. Then it's onto Wily for four more stages in his castle and then it's roll credits, game over. If you've played any of the games over the course of the main series, there won't be anything to surprise you here.
If anything, the game feels too stodgy, too set in the ways of the games that came before. Most of the bosses feel like retreads of enemies we've seen before -- how many aqua, snow, and flame themed enemies have we seen at this point? -- and their special weapons granted to players aren't all that different from what we've been handed before (see below for a breakdown of all of them). There's nothing in the level design or enemy attacks that makes it feel like the game was crafted for new hardware. This is a very basic, same-y Mega Man game at it's core.
It's really strange that this is the case because you'd expect Capcom to go out of its way to try and give the game a new level of spit and polish for the brand new hardware. Certainly the system was capable of upgraded graphics and sound, but it never feels like the PlayStation (or the Saturn after) are really cranking out better detailed, more lustrous graphics. If anything, the new art style for the game actually feels more muddled, less bright and crisp. While I certainly have my issues with the change in size between the classic NES games and the later SNES sprites -- it's a stark transition and players that have worked through all the NES games will have to relearn how Mega Man handles in the newer, larger environments of the SNES -- Mega Man 7 looked so much better than Mega Man 8. It's crisper, brighter, and more vibrant.
It also had better music, this despite the fact that Mega Man 8 could have disc-based, CD audio whereas Mega Man 7 had to crank out its tunes through the SNES hardware. The lackluster tunes are at least partially the fault of the PlayStation hardware -- the internal MIDI mixer was apparently used for this game. But the bigger issue is that the tunes crafted this time around are just so boring. I did like a couple of tunes -- the intro stage is a catch toe-tapper, and a couple of the later Wily songs are decently constructed -- it's just that on the whole there aren't any really memorable tunes, not like Heat Man's song from Mega Man 2 or Shade Man's theme from Mega Man 7.
And that doesn't even get to the biggest innovation of the game, the animated cut scenes, and just how terrible they are. At the time this game came out, animated FMVs were coming back into vogue in the gaming industry. You might recall the special animated videos put into the intros of the Final Fantasy collections on the PSO, or the special cut-scenes stitched (superfluously) into that edition of Chrono Trigger. The gaming industry was really in love with adding FMV to its games no matter how unnecessary they are. Certainly the Mega Man games had been flirting with animated cut-scenes for a while, and Mega Man 7 had its share of in-game animated interludes. Mega Man 8, though, takes it to a whole new level with anime FMVs, and they are utter garbage.
The first issue with the cut-scenes is just how awful they look. Anime can be a very beautiful format (and I say this despite how much I hate anime in general), but the anime in Mega Man 8 is not attractive at all. It looks like bad, 1980s anime produced by animators putting in the least amount of effort, the kinds of anime you expect now from a z-grade anime house to be cranked out on Hulu for cheap filler. That, combined with how the game has to compress all the video, leaving a lot of artifacts in the artwork, means the anime is pretty dreadful to look at.
But beyond that is the voice acting; my god is the voice acting terrible. The worst offender is Mega Man himself who sounds like he was voiced by a screechy 10-year-old girl (and, if rumors are to be believed, that's exactly the case for the English dub). Along with Megs, Rush is mush-mouthed mess (and all he has to do is bark) while Dr. Light sounds like he was voiced by Elmer Fudd. New character Duo is actually voiced half-way well, but his audio was recorded so quietly that you often can't hear him over the music. The only good voice actor is the guy that voices Wily, and he has the least amount of screen time. So whenever you get to one of the many cut-scenes in the game, you suffer.
You also suffer from the writing, which is atrocious. This I would chalk up to the translation team as the script they cranked out is utter trash. I suppose its entirely possible that the Japanese version has the same clipped lines and half-baked hero/villain dialogue, but I'd like to give the original writers more credit than that. Whoever is responsible for this trash, though, it leaves us with a story we can't invest in and minutes of videos we hate watching every time we get back into the game again. It's so bad it goes from laughable right back out the other side to unbearable.
If you can get past the same-y villains, the terrible story, and the muted graphics, there is a core game in Mega Man 8 that's actually halfway fun to play. The game does sport some attempts at innovation, not all of which are good but certainly are all interesting in the attempt. For starters, Mega Man has picked up a few new moves he can use while exploring levels. This is the first game where Mega Man can actually swim (although he's also free to run, gun, and jump through water stages as well so swimming isn't always a necessity). It's also the first game to allow Megs to fire and charge his buster while also having a special weapon selected, giving you more options for how you want to attack. These are neat additions and, at least in the case of the two-weapon firing, upgrades that should have continued through the series.
Other parts, though, are less tolerable. The game sports a few auto-scrolling sections, with the snowboarding stages and the rush jet shooting sections being the most infamous. Certainly I wasn't looking to get Gradius crammed into my Mega Man game, but that's what happens when Mega Man hops onto Rush Jet and starts blasting away. In both cases, these sections (which, most gallingly, are the only times Mega Man is allowed to ride the Rush Jet in this game) just go on for so long they stop being fun, especially when you have to take out one of the Wily bosses in this mode and it just takes forever to whittle it down. By comparison the snowboarding sections are at least faster-paced, but they feature obnoxious prompts ("jump jump" and "slide slide") with terrible audio that makes me giggle every time at how dumb it is. Every time.
Other decisions in the game are stranger, and actively hamper the game play. For instance, in this game the designers decided to limit the number of bolts available across the game. Enemies don't drop bolts, and the only way to get this currency is to find bolts scattered throughout the stages. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that there aren't even enough bolts in the game to buy all the available power-ups in Dr. Light's store; even if you 100% the collecting in the game, you can only get at max eight power-ups from the store. It's an annoying, obnoxious decision that just makes the game needlessly more challenging.
The issue I hated the most, though, was the fact that the PlayStation hardware was clearly not able to render out complete Mega Man stages in one run, so every stage is broken up into two halves in the game (with a load screen in between). This breaks the flow of the stages, leaving every area feeling weirdly disconnected from what came before. As if to try and make up for this the designers than give Mega Man a refill at this halfway mark, which means players essentially have two health bars to play with in every stage. So they then made many of the sections even hard, with more enemy spam and long, annoying challenges. It leaves the game feeling very unbalanced, disjointed, and uneven in all respects.
I really would love to have been involved in the conversations that went into planning this game out. Did it really start with just a desire to get a Mega Man game out on completely new hardware, one year after a pretty decent SNES game was released? Did they think that was a solid idea, that they could make a full, fun-to-play, classic entry in the series, the first Mega Man title across all the sub-series, in that time span and it would be a good game. The final product is clearly compromised, a messy game with a lot of things that just don't seem right. Sure, the core elements of the game are perfectly adequate, and Mega Man 8 is a fine, serviceable entry in the series. But this is Mega Man; "serviceable" and "adequate" shouldn't be descriptors of any game in the series, especially not the main-line titles.
It's hard to like Mega Man 8. It's a game that came out too quickly on hardware the team was clearly not entirely ready for, and it should have spent another year in the hopper. If anything, this game taught the designers that maybe classic Mega Man should remain on classic hardware -- Mega Man & Bass would appear two years later on the SNES once again, and it would use the classic engine and art style from Mega Man 7 to pull it off. Meanwhile, other games in the greater franchise would continue on the PlayStation, such as the Mega Man X and Legends series, but it's hard to argue that any of these games were better than the NES and SNES iterations that came before.
Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
- Grenade Man's Flash Bomb: Nice and powerful. Mega shoots out the bombs in a straight line in front of him, and then when they hits something (and enemy, a wall, whatever), they explode dealing damage over time. Pretty darn handy.
- Frost Man's Ice Wave: This is a pretty decent floor clearing weapon. Mega Man will drop an Ice Wave on the ground, and it will travel all along it, curving along and doing damage to anything it touches. It moves at a decent clip, and as long as Mega Man is on screen with it, it keeps moving. Not a bad version of the floor-clearing weapon type.
- Clown Man's Thunder Claw: A decent weapon that allows you a throw quick, strong, melee attack in front of you. The important part, though, is that you can also use it to swing from horizontal poles. Later in the game this utility becomes mandatory, making the weapon more useful, but also a tad annoying.
- Sword Man's Flame Sword: Another decent melee weapon, this one allows Mega to attack in front of him with, naturally, a Flame Sword. It can also be used to destroy some blocks, making it essential to getting to some of the secrets. It's about as useful as Thunder Claw, all things considered.
- Tengu Man's Tornado Hold: This weapon isn't really strong. Although it can be used to hurt enemies, and some bosses, it's much better used as a utility, giving you height on jumps and letting you move things around. As a weapon, though, it sucks.
- Search Man's Homing Sniper: A homing weapon that should in theory, work really well. Unfortunately it's aim isn't that great, and that coupled with a low ammo count and weak damage makes this missile less useful than it should be.
- Aqua Man's Water Balloon: This one isn't the best. It's essentially a grenade-type weapon, one where Mega tosses a water balloon in a fast, shallow arc. To get the best range you have to jump before throwing it otherwise the balloon isn't going to travel far before it splats on the ground. it doesn't have great damage output, and limited utility, making it a weak weapon for use in stages.
- Astro Man's Blank: Like many that have come before, Astro Crush is a screen clearing weapon. It's low on ammo, high on flashing screen-clearing damage, and you have to use it up to really kill off the bosses weak to it. I hate these kinds of weapons.
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
- Rush Jet: No longer a doggo you can summon. Rush appears in a couple of auto-scrolling sections of stages. On the one hand this sucks because the dog is no longer as useful. On the flip-side, at least here we basically get back the classic, Mega Man 3 version of the jet. Plus, you can get helper allies to aid you while on the jet (ala classic shooter games), and even use your Robot Master weapons while on the jet. It's really an improved version in all regards, I just wish you could use him more, so I kind of consider it a wash, really.
- Rush Charger: Rush flies across the screen in jet form and drops health all along it. Useful, and good for players in need of health since there are no E-Tanks in this game otherwise; Rush, instead, basically acts like a one-time-use per-stage E-Tank in this form. helpful, but I'd rather have E-Tanks.
- Rush Bomber: Like the Rush Charger, Rush will fly across the screen in his jet form and bombard the screen. This version, though, deals damage to enemies instead of healing the hero. Useful when in a pinch, but not something you'll use all that often.
- Rush Bike: I don't know if anyone was dying for another form of Rush vehicles, but this game delivered one regardless. Here, Rush turns into a bike that mega can ride in. He gets a boost of speed in the bike, and can pull off longer jumps. Rush also comes equipped with a weak power buster so Mega has some offensive capabilities. I personally never used this item, but I know speed runners like it for certain sections.
- Mega Ball: Essentially a limp version of the Rush Coil. You can drop it on the ground and then jump on it to reach slightly higher areas (even dropping it in mid-air), or you can kick it to use it as a weapon. It's generally pretty lackluster, although I do know speed runners can use it for some decent tech, like stringing together air-jump juggles, but most of us aren't that good.
- Rush Item: Also known as the Rush Question, this summons Rush to Mega Man's spot to delivery a bit of quick healing. At least, that's the plan, essentially making this into another one-time use E-Tank per stage. That said, sometimes Rush comes in with a ton of healing, and then other times he gets confused and doesn't do anything. This minimizes how useful he is, ruining a perfectly serviceable upgrade.
Dr. Light's Shop Parts
In addition to all the basic weapons and upgrades Mega Man can use, there's also a full shop with all kinds of bonus upgrades to earn. Instead of listing them above, since they are numerous in this game, we're breaking them out into their own section. Just bear in mind there are only so many bolts (currency) in the game, so you won't be able to buy more than eight upgrades in a run, which sucks.
- Energy Balancer: Always one of my must haves. As before, when you pick up a spare ammo pellet (and you aren't needing any ammo on the weapon you have equipped), this upgrade automatically directs the ammo to any other weapon that needs it most. So nice, and really speed up game play.
- Arrow Shot: Upgrade for the charged shot that changes it into a arrow blast that also splits into a piercing spread shot. This is such a great weapon, a must buy for any player.
- Energy Saver: Reduces the amount of ammo you spend with special weapon. Lovely to have, especially if you like spamming the specials.
- Shooting Part: Instead of only having three buster pellets on screen, this part allows you to have five. Extra nice for people that love to motor on their attack buttons and really wail out the damage.
- Auto Shot: If you want Mega Man to be able to auto fire while charging a shot, this is the upgrade for you. I like it, and I'll get it after I've already grabbed my other must-buys.
- H Spare Charge: Decreases the charge time of the Mega Buster. Couple this with the Arrow Shot and your gun gets insane.
- Rapid Part: With this part, three Mega Buster shots will be fired when you shoot off the charged shot. Crazy.
- Boost part: Speed up your Mega Buster shots. Fire as fast as you want.
- Exchanger: Converts unneeded life drops into ammo. A great item also if you love to spam special weapon shot.
- Power Shield: This upgrade eliminates Mega Man's knock-back, which is great if you're a scrub like this reviewer. I suck at these games and this upgrade is super helpful.
- Hyper Slider: If you're a speed runner, this is probably a must buy. Sliding is faster and gets you farther. Dangerous if you don't know what you're doing (and I never do).
- Laser Shot: An upgrade for the charged shot that changes it into a piercing laser. This is a nice upgrade, but the arrow shot is better.
- Super Recover: If you need to get an extra boost out of the energy pellets that drop, this is a great upgrade. Health doesn't seem that bad in this game, though, so your mileage may vary.
- Spare Extra: When you start the game, four extra lives will be added to your base pool. If you hate restarting stages over after losing all your lives this upgrade can be nice, but it's not one I ever felt the need to grab.
- Exit: Once you beat a stage, if you go back into it Exit will allow you to leave early. If you really want to explore and get everything, maybe you want this, but with the limited number of upgrades available, I'd skip it. Plus, in the Mega Man X
- Spare Charger: I've honestly never figured out what this is supposed to do. I never buy it, so who knows if it's actually useful.
As noted, a port of Mega Man 8 was released on the Sega Saturn one year after the game originally came out on the PlayStation. Fundamentally the two games are the same, with only a few minor differences. In some stages extra enemies were added in, and some graphics were upgraded or tweaked. The bigger additions were the inclusion of Cut man (as a secret boss fight) and Wood Man (as a forced mid-boss fight). These bosses didn't appear in the original PSO edition at all.
Along with these inclusions, the Sega game also added in newly remixed versions of many of the songs (done using the Saturn's PCM hardware), as well as a Bonus Mode to explore music, artwork, and other extras from the creation of the game.
Sadly, the biggest knock against the Saturn version is that the anime cut-scenes look even worse in this version (even more compressed and muddied) than on the PSO game. Personally this wasn't a deal breaker for me since I hated watching them anyway, but for fans of the game this might be enough to make them choose the PSO version over the Saturn.