Monday, March 8, 2010

March of the Megamans - Megaman 2

With the sequel Capcom managed to fix every flawed aspect of the original game and in the process delivered a classic. The levels are more consistent in their design yet they also contain more variety and situations that are better balanced as well as more challenging. Furthermore the bosses have been revamped so that damage done by both parties is more balanced and the fights themselves are more creative and unique.

This time around there are eight new robot masters to steal powers from and a brand new Wily castle to conquer. The level designs are more centered around creating some absolutely brutal situations. The one that everyone remembers is Quickman's stage. Practically the entire level is a vertical drop where the player must evade giant lasers that roll across the screen. Contact with these lasers is instant death and most of the time getting away isn't as simple as a straight drop. The Megaman series handles vertical scrolling differently than most other action-platformers in that it is screen by screen. It's kind of like the original Zelda where the screen scrolls in and then the enemies appear. Here it isn't any different as Megaman has a brief moment to scan the area for anything he should look out for before he starts moving and the traps start to appear. In any case these lasers are the deadliest part of the stage(though Quickman himself is also a real jerk) and quite a bit of dying will be involved until the player figures out how to navigate the section. Thankfully a weapon can be used to circumvent this but it's a weapon Quickman is weak to. This usage of vertical scrolling is also explored in one of the Wily stages. After jumping into some water Megaman will come to a vertical shaft lined with spikes. Contact with spikes is of course fatal and the shaft will shift ever so slightly from screen to screen.

The weapons vary in usage though in this game some are far more useful than others. The buzz-saw for example can be fired in eight directions and is so cheap on the energy cost Megaman can use it in lieu of the mega buster. Some others like the tornado are great for the walker-type enemies as a direct hit will destroy them instantly. Then there are weapons like the crash bombs. These can blow up walls certainly but the main reason anyone remembers them is for that lousy Wily stage where the boss is nothing more than a bunch of orbs taking shots at Megaman that he can't avoid. The only way to kill this boss is to blow up each orb with a crash bomb. Most of the orbs are blocked by walls and there are also walls that must be circumvented by using the items that help Megaman get around(like a platform that moves upward a short distance). This fight has zero room for error so one wasted crash bomb and it's all over. This is a terrible battle.

The hop(tap the jump button) is a more essential part of Megaman's repertoire in this game. A platform in Quickman's laser section requires it while Bubbleman's stage features a spiked ceiling to punish players for holding the jumping down. These sections are good since Megaman's hop has other applications as well(like dodging smaller attacks that are fired in quick succession). It wouldn't be good game design to have these sections in otherwise as it would come off as gimmicky. Granted for a series that has spawned over 30 games a gimmick can slip by every now an then but at the same time no matter the level all of the features it puts to the test should also be applicable in other scenarios.

This game also marks the inclusion of energy tanks. These are an interesting staple in that when used they replenish all of Megaman's health. The catch is however is that since completed stages can't be repeated in this game that means one must conserve the tanks for the longest battles. All of the fights in this game can be beaten without energy tanks so it's more of an easy out for players having a hard time. Getting a game over causes the player to lose all of their energy tanks. The following sequel rectifies this which is a good thing because it offers a more accessible experience to gamers who like the series but find it too difficult as well as others who seek more ways to challenge themselves.

The biggest problem with Megaman 2 is that while the level design is more consistent the challenge isn't. One example is the dragon boss of the first Wily stage. He's an impressive guy certainly and his appearance will definitely catch first-time players unaware but when it actually comes down to fighting the guy he goes down in seconds. I guess I should be thankful for this as the platforms Megaman is standing one are of the one block variety so it's very possible one hit could knock him into a pit. On the other hand tacking on an extra block to each platform could have made a dramatic difference in how the fight plays out. It might have been worth trying to fight the Dragon fairly as in by not using Quickman's weapon to get it over with in a hurry but since one mistake could send me back to the beginning of the stage I figured it isn't worth the trouble. The hardest part of the dragon boss is really the auto-scrolling section with all of the one block jumps. Some of the Wily stages are also rather shallow in that they are more geared to replenish Megaman's energy stock rather than to create a good challenging stage. Why this game simply didn't restock all of Megaman's weapons after each stage never made any sense to me especially since it's a constant throughout the series. The absolute final boss is also a bit of a joke but I think that's because it was actually supposed to be a joke, a way to ease off all of the pressure from just getting through an encounter with all eight robot masters plus a Wily ship with two forms.

I should also point out that sending the player back to the beginning of the stage on Wily or other related stages is kind of a bad idea. While the bosses of these sections are more reliant on certain ideas instead of established patterns like the robot masters it's still unexpected what's going to happen and kicking the player back to the beginning of the stage even if they have lives remaining is unnecessary. I'm well aware that these stages are only a couple minutes long but it still takes the player out of the moment. On the other hand some bosses can only be damaged by a certain weapon so being stuck at the boss fight without any way to kill it isn't good at all.

A lot of this is just nitpicking although many of the aspects will continue to persist in future games. Thankfully it never gets to the point where it completely overwhelms the game and ruins it. Of course as sequels are wont to do Capcom will continue to make additions that may or may not be beneficial to the series. But we'll save all that for the look at Megaman 3.

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