Playing the Mega Man series is cathartic in many ways. You get to listen to great music, appreciate the impressively cartoony visuals Capcom wrung out of the NES hardware, and experiment with many unique and varied abilities. But overall, we tend to like it because it's mindless. It's a platformer with clear rules and obvious (though difficult) goals. We don't need to think too much.
But that doesn't mean we can't be enriched by the experience. In fact, if you keep your brain switched firmly on as you battle your way through the endless waves of Robot Masters, you're liable to learn a thing or two about the world around.
To help you on this quest of video game-assisted self-discovery, we've compiled a list of ten life lessons we've learned from playing Mega Man.
1) Master a Trade
One of the first things any newcomer to the series will notice is the clear and deliberate specialisation of the Robot Masters. They all have unique appearances and tools, and it's often easy to see how these would serve them in their daily (read: non-megalomaniacal) lives. Cut Man was a timber-felling robot, Snake Man was designed to explore narrow passages and crevices and Dust Man was a gigantic self-motivated vacuum cleaner, a sort of far-creepier ancestor of the Roomba, one who would probably stand at the foot of your bed and watch you sleep.
The trades of which these robots are masters are not always obvious, but it's at least clear that they do specialise. At first glance it might not be obvious what Needle Man and Plant Man do for a living, but it's at least clear that they do very different things. That's the beauty of the Robot Masters, and what gives them personality.
The Robot Masters aren't just mindless bosses or obstacles on your way to Dr. Wily. They have roles in the larger universe around them, and that's what makes them memorable. It's also what gives them their edge; they've been using their tools and weapons throughout the course of their lives. When you defeat them and take their weapons, you nearly always receive an underpowered approximation. Why? Because having a tool isn't the same as knowing how to use it. Mega Man might have access to all the tools in the game, but he doesn't specialise in any of them. He's a master of none.
2) Work Smarter, Not Harder
Dr. Light may have been kind enough to outfit you with an arm cannon and infinite ammunition, but when even rabbits and dragonflies take a barrage of shots to bring down, you know you're underpowered (the fact you resemble a toddler in blue Spandex doesn't help with the confidence, either.) That's why there's no shame in exploiting the myriad quirks, gimmicks and glitches of the Mega Man series in order to get ahead.
Go after Metal Man first and sling that over-powered blade of his around like there's no tomorrow. Double back to scroll Hard Man's bees and Spark Man's electricity traps right out of existence. Hop repeatedly on the Rush Jet to keep it from eating fuel. Keep pausing the game during the Yellow Devil fight so that you can kill him with a single Elec Beam (he'd do the same thing to you, you know...) And, yeah, you could memorise the long pattern of disappearing blocks over Heat Man's various death traps, but don't you have a nice, shiny rocket sled you've been meaning to try out?
It can feel like cheating to exploit a few of the shortcuts that the games (not always knowingly) offer up, but sometimes, in a world full of evil robots and death spikes and waves of enemy projectiles, you need all the help you can get. And besides, the ability to out-think one's opponent is at least as valuable as the ability to outfight him.
3) Never Judge a Book by its Cover
If there's one thing the Mega Man series seems to stress over and over again, it's this: the biggest, scariest looking robot master in the first game is also the simplest to defeat. A robot called Hard Man is laughably easy, and Ring Man, a robot designed for the specific purpose of brutally slaughtering our hero, is totally pattern-based and easy to avoid.
The Gemini Laser should be the coolest weapon in any game — just look at its name! — but instead it's cumbersome, inaccurate and instantly transforms any room into a laggy mess. The Dive Missile is a homing torpedo that never hits anything, the Search Snake is incapable of finding whatever it's looking for and the Power Stone deserves to have neither of those words attached to it.
You might have thought these things were frustrating, but really Capcom was trying to teach you an important lesson about having reasonable expectations in life.
Just... trust us on that.
4) Less is More
Mega Man 3 taught Mega Man how to slide; Mega Man 4 taught him how to charge his buster shots. Mega Man 2 didn't teach him much, aside from how not to suck. Somewhere around here is when things got out of hand, because by Mega Man 6 he was pulling his dog apart and snapping pieces of it onto himself like some deranged LEGO warrior in order to accomplish things he was able to do in the past without such tomfoolery. By Mega Man 8 things were even worse, as the Blue Bomber was now starring in sub-standard anime dramas with a voice cast that sounds like it only took the job for booze money and some bus fare home. Things had really gone off the rails by that point.
It's debatable how much was "too much." Players do enjoy the ability to slide, and some enjoy the charge shot. (Absolutely nobody, for the record, enjoys the Rush-as-cummerbund absurdity of Mega Man 6.) But there's no question that, at some point, the series overcomplicated itself, and the magic and fun was gone forever.
Or was it? 12 years after the last numbered entry, Capcom wisely decided to scrap everything and start fresh, and the result was, surprisingly, one of the best-received Mega Man games ever. Mega Man 9 reminds the world that bigger doesn't always mean better — there's a genuine magic to simplicity, and the step back was a welcome one. In a world where games are measured by the number of hours it takes to walk from one end to the other, it was refreshing to see Mega Man 9 announce itself as deliberately smaller and less complicated than the series has been in ages. It was more important for Mega Man 9 to be fun than to be enormous, and it's a trade-off that gamers and critics alike appreciated.
5) However Much You May Fight, Your Family Loves You
Throughout Mega Man 3, you find yourself followed around by an unwelcome, similar looking tagalong. Sometimes he just stands there and watches you. Other times he tries to beat you up. He repeatedly gets in your way while you try to accomplish your goals, and seems to want attention more than he actually wishes you harm. At the end of the game the big secret is revealed: he's really your brother!
Some secret. Aren't all brothers like that? It's in their genes. It doesn't mean they don't really love you, and considering how many times Proto Man has saved your bacon throughout the series — and how few times you've saved his — that love really is unconditional.
Even Dr. Light, the closest thing you have to a father, keeps sending you into battle to die, because he's too old / fat / lazy to slap Wily around in person. But give him a break; he's got a full-time job as a scientist and sometimes he just wants to come home and rest his eyes on the couch for a while. And really, is that too much to ask? Do you really need to complain about the guy just wanting a quiet night to himself? He sure works hard enough to keep a roof over your head and food in the refrigerator. The least you can do is pull your own weight every once in a while, you know. And would it kill you to clean up your room? Sheesh.