Capcom’s Mega Man was released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System -NES- (Rock Man in Japan, but changed in the U.S.). It was a sleeper. The box art was horrible and unrelated to the game, and there was not really a serious marketing campaign. In Japan, the work into Rock Man was serious, as the creators were fresh, young, and ambitious. Rock Man’s designs were based on Astro Boy, and some of the robots were based on comic books. For its time, the graphics were good, but more importantly the gameplay was innovative for action side scrollers- you had the ability to choose the stages, win weapons from the bosses, and select these weapons from your inventory. Each boss had a specific weakness to a weapon. Other levels required you to have a specific weapon to go pass a certain spot efficiently.
Rumors are that the game was designed to feature Astro Boy, but the company backed out of the deal, so Capcom made Rock Man. The American Mega Man manual has a different backstory than Capcom of Japan. Gone are any references to Rock and Roll, and the U.S. version had this continuity:
It’s Mega Man versus the powerful leaders and fighting forces of Monsteropolis – that strange multi-faceted land of robot-like humanoids.
Brilliant scientist Dr. Light conceived the construction of fully operational human-like experimental robots to perform specific everyday duties. Dr. Light and his assistant Dr. Wily, encouraged by their very first near-human robot – Mega Man – proceeded to develop six additional Humanoids, all programmed to perform prescribed rituals.
But with the exception of Mega Man, all of Dr. Light’s near-human robot experimentation went awry. Assistant Dr. Wily turned disloyal, re-programming Dr. Light’s humanoids, now bent on destroying opposition so Dr. Wily can control the world and its resources.
Resisting re-programming, Mega Man is chosen as the defender of the universe and its inhabitants. Mega Man dares to single-handedly penetrate seven separate empires of Monsteropolis, eliminating the leaders and followers of these sovereignties.
For a generation of young kids in America, this was the true continuity, even though it was changed a bit in later spinoffs. Therefore it could be said that any changes to this story in the U.S. could be considered retcons. I mean, if you can’t believe the manual, what can you believe, right?
Back to the game: Mega Man 1 is hard. Whereas everyone knew the Super Mario Bros Warp Zone trick and eventually you could figure out how to beat Mike Tyson in Punch Out!, Mega Man 1 was very difficult even with a guide. One of the toughest bosses of all time is The Yellow Devil- or Cyclops. (To this day, I have to cheat to beat him.) Throughout the game, Mega Man has a vertical energy bar and can find some power ups, but he’s pretty vulnerable to many of the robots he faces. Many jumps need to be timed perfectly. It’s instant death if Mega Man falls into bottomless pits or the dreaded spikes. To make matters even more frustrating, even though Mega Man can’t be damaged after a couple of seconds after getting hit, if he lands on the spikes, he’s dead instantly. There is no password feature or save point. As long as you play the game and beat the levels, you can access them and the game will remember what you did, but once you power down or restart, it’s gone. It takes hours and hours of practice, and even with practice, it still may not be possible to beat The Yellow Devil or even the last boss, Dr. Wily. You only get 3 lives, and when you use them, you have to restart your level.
More hard stuff: there are blocks that appear and reappear; you have to memorize the pattern and jump FAST or use your Magnet Beam to get passed these rooms. The robot bosses are rebuilt and ready to destroy you again in the Dr. Wily castle stages, this time without obstacles you can hide behind. You also have to fight a Mega Man CLONE. What’s weird about Mega Man’s clone is that his blaster is STRONGER than yours and he can hurt you by jumping on you, while you get damaged by trying to jump on him.
There is one saving grace for Mega Man 1 when it comes to difficulty: there was a glitch on the original NES that allowed you to get unlimited hits by pressing SELECT with your cutter boomerang. However, it was a programming bug. The only way to beat Mega Man 1 *unless you are a GURU* is with a strategy guide or Game Genie.
Mega Man1 Robot Masters: Only six in the original Mega Man game-
Cut Man (Scissors)
Guts Man (Strength)
Ice Man (Ice bolts)
Bomb Man (Bombs)
Fire Man (Fire)
Elec Man (Electricity)
Mega Man 1′s background music are okay- they are much better Mega Man soundtracks in future games. Some of the songs in the Dr. Wily castle stages are okay, and Elec Man’s music is probably the best, but it’s not that memorable. The end music is cool, and it gets remixed in future versions.
There’s no a lot in terms of personality for our hero: Mega Man doesn’t speak. There’s no dialog in the game, so Mega Man seems mute. None of the special robots (like The Yellow Devil or Copy Robot) have names. For that matter, during the end sequence, we see Mega Man take his uniform off and visit an old man and a blonde girl. As this was the first appearance of Mega Man, and we only had the English version of the video game manual, we could assume the old man was Dr. Light, but there was no evidence that the girl was Mega Man’s sister, or that Mega Man = Rock and his sister = Roll.
Heck, to me, just watching the ending of Mega Man 1, it seemed like Mega Man was a Pinocchio robot who becomes human the end, and lives with his wife/girlfriend happily ever after.
Speaking of the ending, besides watching Mega Man take his clothes and helmet off and going home to Dr. Light and Roll, we get this epilogue:
MEGAMAN HAS ENDED THE EVIL DOMINATION OF DR WILY AND RESTORED THE WORLD TO PEACE
HOWEVER, THE NEVER ENDING BATTLE CONTINUES UNTIL ALL DESTRUCTIVE FORCES ARE DEFEATED.
FIGHT, MEGAMAN! FOR EVERLASTING PEACE!
It seems like perhaps Capcom was leaving the door open for a sequel, but not with Dr. Wily. Little did we know that Dr. Wily could NEVER be defeated! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!
More Mega Man 1 Trivia:
- The manual allegedly says “Dr. Wright” instead of, or in addition to, “Dr. Light”. That’s because “R” and “L” sound the same in Japanese. In Japan, he’s “Dr. Right” most of the time.
- This is the only Mega Man game that has a point system/score. Scores were pretty much staples of all video games at the time, so it’s not surprising.
- Mega Man doesn’t kill- he just blows up robots. You have to wonder if Capcom was being kid-friendly.
- Many of the creators used nicknames in the end credits.
Anyway, let me discuss my opinion and experiences of Mega Man 1 when I was a kid. I never owned Mega Man 1 and never rented it. I played it over my friends houses- Todd and Jeffrey. To me it was impossible to beat, and there was no real way of knowing which levels to choose first. I read about the suggested Robot Master order to beat the game with, but without the ability to save progress, I was forced to beat the game in one sitting, and that wasn’t happening. Mega Man 2 was the game that hooked me. I played all of them and the Mega Man X series when it first came out. I never went back to Mega Man 1 until fairly recently in my post-gamer career as a real citizen. I finally beat Mega Man 1 for this article, but had to cheat.
Some final words about Nintendo and Capcom’s Mega Man 1: it was a great start of the franchise, and all the concepts have been refined and made better in later sequels. Mega Man 1 could have easily been a forgotten 1980′s NES cult game if it wasn’t for the huge success of Mega Man II. Mega Man 2 put Mega Man on the map here in America, and made it a multi-million dollar franchise that has spanned into 2010 and is still growing. It should be noted that series producer Keiji Inafune went out on a limb to make the sequel, because Mega Man 1′s sales didn’t justify it.