Features: 10 Life Lessons Learned From Mega Man
Posted by Philip J Reed
6) Get a Dog
Rush is probably the best known of Mega Man's assistants, and for good reason. He's versatile, useful and, above all, loyal. Whether he's vaulting Mega Man to greater heights, carrying him over seas of death spikes or helping him manoeuvre underwater, Rush is the self-sacrificing Tonto by your side.
Whenever you call him, he will come. (Provided you haven't worked him to complete exhaustion already.) If you tell him to teleport down into a pit and vanish, he will do it. If you tell him to teleport into a wall and back out again just because you think it's funny, hey, he'll do that too. What's more, if you tell him to stand quietly on some spikes so you can bounce around on him for a while, he will do it for you... and as you know from personal experience, that can't feel very good.
Rush comes back game after game, no matter how badly you mistreat him or neglect to thank him. (When's the last time poor Rush got to suck down an E-Tank when he was thirsty, anyway?)
That's loyalty. What's more, that's the kind of love only a good dog can provide.
7) Life is Unfair
Every enemy you killed at the beginning of the stage dropped energy capsules. Now that you're about two hits from death, they're refusing to drop anything but weapon refills.
You're trying to make perfectly timed jumps from the falling blocks in Gyro Man's stage, but you accidentally touch an energy capsule just as you're about to jump, and the resulting pause in the action throws off your timing and you die.
You're fighting your way through Wily's castle, and you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you'd beat it this time if you only had another life in reserve. And, sure enough, a minor enemy just dropped a 1-Up for you.
Right on the spikes.
Right on the death spikes.
And you have to watch it, sitting there, smiling. Mocking you. Eventually it starts to flicker and it disappears. The game has taunted you.
Life is unfair. In 10 games, that fact has never changed. It never will. Get used to it, bub.
8) Evil is Innate
You want your games to have a strong philosophical bent. You want something that can measure up to the utopian deconstruction of Bioshock. You want something like Half-Life 2's meditations on free will and the power of the human spirit. You want Braid's brainbending dismissal of the reliability of your own perception. Well, good, because Mega Man has a grand theme to explore as well: "evil" is not a learned behaviour, or even a desire. Evil is innate.
Consider it. Dr. Wily can never reform — whenever he is given a chance to (like at the end of, uh, every game), he comes back to torment the world some more. The only reason he stops by the time of Mega Man X is due to his passing away and even death can't keep him from reappearing, arguably, as Dr. Weil in Mega Man Zero. He's beyond redemption. He cannot change.
Of course, the obverse observation to be made is that good is also innate. Despite Wily's attempts to turn Proto Man or Dr. Cossack evil, neither of them can resist the urge to fight for the side of good when the final battle is at hand. And however old he gets, Dr. Light still devotes his energies to suppressing any evil schemes that his chief antagonist might hatch. Like Wily, he doesn't quit until he is dead and, like Wily, his influence extends beyond the grave, thanks to the power-up capsules of Mega Man X.
The good will fight the good fight, the bad will try to try to take them down. There's no changing sides; at heart, you are always who you are. Maybe you won't admit it (or realise it) until the guns are drawn, but, in the end, your ultimate affiliation is written in the stars, and there's no escaping destiny.
9) Spend Some Time Outdoors
What are you doing inside on a lovely day like this? You're reading some silly article about a video game series?! Go get some sun already! Even Mega Man takes some time to enjoy the great outdoors each time he's called upon to save the world from some villain or other, be it Dr. Wily or, er, Dr. Wily in Groucho Marx glasses.
It's amazing how free and open the stages of Air Man, Wood Man, Slash Man and even Skull Man feel simply because they take place outdoors. It's a simple design choice, but it opens up the game world to hazards and enemy types you'd never experience if you spent the entire game crawling around power stations or sewage treatment plants. There's also something rewarding about clearing enemies out of these natural environments, where they could do the most immediate harm to the human and animal population of the world. It's a good deed, and we're sure people would much rather see their forests restored to safety than some robotic sheep thing expunged from whatever the heck cybernetic nightmare it's meant to inhabit.
It also says a lot that Mega Man spends several of the games' closing sequences outdoors, perhaps most notably that of Mega Man 2. In that sequence, Mega Man chooses to walk home (rather than teleporting, or choosing it from a stage-select menu) through various environments, thinking back upon everything he's been through and how relieved he is that it's over. It's a time for reflection, and perhaps even meditation. It's a respite from the danger and destruction he's single-handedly sealed away from the rest of the world. It's precisely the kind of insight and appreciation for the world around him that only a breath of fresh air can bring.
10) Death is Not the End
Perhaps the closest thing the classic Mega Man series takes to a religious stance is its hearty endorsement of reincarnation. Without reincarnation, we'd never have the traditional endgame boss rush to contend with. And if Mega Man 9's glorious ending sequence is to be believed, death doesn't stick even the second time you defeat them. (Yeah yeah, they're robots, we know... just go along with it.)
After all, who among us has completed a Mega Man game, in its entirety, the first time through without dying? Heck, how many of us have even beaten a single robot master stage the first time without dying?
Mega Man is brutal by design. Every level is composed of a merciless series of traps, many of them instantly fatal. Each corridor is designed, if not to outright kill you, then to wear you down so that the next corridor can.
Dying is a part of all classic platformers, but the Mega Man series elevates it to an exquisitely torturous necessity. Many hazards and enemies won't even reveal themselves until you've walked right into them, requiring a certain amount of failure before success is even possible.
But death isn't always a punishment; sometimes it's the way forward. Consider the infamous Wily's Castle boss in Mega Man 2 that's all too eager to get you to use up all your Crash Bombs on its barricades, leaving all but the most careful players without enough ammo to defeat the boss. There's only one option: suicide.
If you have an extra life — and you'd better hope you do — you'll find that any barricades destroyed by the ghost of Mega Man past will still be gone. Yes, far from a magical second chance at life, you're living in a world that's already been passed through — and affected by the actions of — an earlier, and now deceased, version of yourself.
Did anyone else just get chills?
Goodness gracious, Capcom. Lighten up!