If there’s one thing I learned from Capcom growing up, it was never to bet against their little blue hero with a cannon for an arm. Regardless of the odds stacked against him, the valiant creation of Keiji Inafune (also of Onimusha fame) triumphed over his robotic brethren and ensured a peaceful world. He didn’t seek fortune or personal glory in his adventures; he was merely performing the job he was programmed for. Well, 15 years have passed since Mega Man took on the fight against Dr. Wily, and to celebrate the action champ, Capcom is providing the definitive historical collection for action fans everywhere. Grab your blue helmet and your arm cannon, because it’s time to take on Mega Man: Anniversary Collection.
If you don’t know the basic plot behind any of the 8 classic titles originally available in this collection, you’re either incredibly young or you’ve been trapped under a rock for almost two decades (welcome back to the real world…now dust yourself off and we’ll continue). The Mega Man series is the epitome of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” because every game essentially has the same plotline to it. In the year 200X or sometime thereabouts, two scientists, Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, work together to create mechanical marvels that will revolutionize life on the planet. Their greatest invention is known as Mega Man, a humanoid robot that can withstand any environmental hardship and fulfill its job. For whatever his personal reasons are (greed, hunger for power, overcompensation of intellectual inadequacies), Wily snaps and starts creating monstrous robots in an attempt to take over the world. The only thing capable of standing up to these threats is Mega Man, so Dr. Light gives him a cannon, the ability to assimilate his opponent’s strengths and sends him out against his former partner.
As you could probably guess, the overall format of the game hasn’t particularly changed throughout the 15 years and multiple platforms for the 8 Mega Man titles. Players are still presented with a hub screen of “boss” robots that they specifically choose to fight, beaming into that level shortly thereafter. You attempt to traverse each stage by destroying or avoiding opponents that get in your way, conserving as much energy as you can before you face off against the final robot of that mission. Defeating the boss provides Mega Man with that boss’ specific power or ability, such as the ability to freeze time, shoot fireballs or launch explosives. The great thing about this talent is that these new powers can be used to exploit the weaknesses of specific robots later on in the game, providing players with other options than their basic arm cannon.
The basics for the original 8 titles have remained exactly the same, particularly those from the old school 8-bit days. However, Anniversary Collection has imported a number of optional tweaks which players can choose to exploit or discard as they wish. First of all, players no longer need to drop to a menu screen to switch arms. Thanks to the shoulder buttons on both controllers, players can rotate between weapons at will. This is in addition to “navi mode,” a heads-up display from Mega Man 8 that gives pointers as to which direction you need to go in a level, hints on how to cross difficult areas in a stage and tips on defeating bosses. This mode also remixes the music tracks for Mega Man 1 through 7, giving these older songs fresh new legs while still retaining the flavor of the original composition. A rapid fire option has been included as well. Veterans of the Mega Man games will recall frantically pounding on the fire button to get one more shot out of the little blue guy’s gun. Now, pressing one button will release a volley of three shots is quick succession, which can quickly strip bosses of energy. Finally, players can decide upon the difficulty level and number of lives that they’ll start each and every Mega Man with, providing a larger challenge and amount of replayability once someone’s defeated a game. Purists may decide on leaving the older titles exactly as they remember them, since struggling through each title as originally designed is much more of a badge of honor. In fact, the only option that gamers can’t change is the auto-save function which keeps track of your progress between every level.
One thing that immediately comes to mind is the awesome sense of nostalgia this collection dredges up. You might just want to hold yourself back from reaching up and blowing dust off the disk like we used to do with those old cartridges. You older gamers know what I’m talking about (Yeah kids, so we were Paleolithic Neanderthals without lasers or DVDs in our video game systems. Those were for sci-fi movies or the Transformer cartoons, not every consumer. You kids have it easy, because in my day…) Each title is presented lovingly in its original format, and while some of the older games may feel dated, they are still laid out and designed as well today as when they first hit store shelves. Opting for the Navi mode doesn’t radically overhaul the visuals; instead, it merely adds pointers or icons that don’t detract from onscreen action in any way. What is impressive is that this new transfer of code has managed to eliminate virtually any onscreen flicker or slowdown that the older Mega Man games suffered through (particularly Mega Man 2). Sounds remain the same, and since players basically have the option between the original soundtrack and the remixed one, you’ve essentially got two soundtracks across 8 games for the price of one.
Collections of games these days wouldn’t be fully complete without some bonus content, and Mega Man Anniversary Collection is no different. Although it may not have as many bonus features as other games, the included ones are no less interesting to genuine fans of the series. There are two lesser known Mega Man fighting games that never made it to American shores included after you’ve beaten a number of the original titles, and while they’re not as engrossing as the 8 titles included in regular play, they’re an interesting diversion. You’ll also find some production art and platform specific extras: Gamecube owners get producer interviews, while PlayStation owners get an episode of the Mega Man cartoon series.
The Anniversary Collection essentially boils down to a simple matter of degrees of Mega Man fandom. Younger players will have to decide if they can put up with old sprite based gameplay and 2D side scrolling action titles with limited environmental details or, for those who opt out of “navi mode,” old school musical scores. Those who can’t fathom a gaming experience not entirely grounded in 3D will probably wind up passing on this disc. However, gamers with a taste for nostalgia or older gamers who remember slogging countless hours against Wily will have the definitive title to relive their glory days and nights with. This is classic gaming done right with one of the industries best heroes finally getting his just due and future compilations from other companies would do well to take heed of how Capcom delivered this tribute to fans.