In 1987, Capcom released the original Mega Man. It was well-received by both gamers and critics, but it was not much of a financial success. Over the course of the next year, however, Mega Man 2 was developed as a labour of love by Keiji Inafune and his team, alongside other projects that were expected to be more profitable. Little did Capcom realise the masterpiece it had on its hands.
To put it flatly, Mega Man 2 was a worldwide smash. Its extraordinary soundtrack, colourful comic-book graphics and plethora of fun weapons and items cemented the Blue Bomber's place in video game history; playing it again now, all these years later, it's impossible not to see why.
Mega Man 2 builds upon the sturdy foundation of its predecessor, yet makes improvements at every step of the way. You can still choose your own path through the game, but now you have eight main stages to choose from rather than six. You still acquire weapons from defeated robot masters, but now they are more versatile and fun to use. And of course you still spend the bulk of the game jumping over pits and blasting robots, but legendary twists complicate that formula surprisingly well, such as Flash Man's maze, Quick Man's mandatory speedrun, and Air Man's patience-demanding floating platforms.
It's a fantastic experience, every bit as challenging and compelling as it was upon release, and every bit as rewarding to master.
As in the previous game, each of the robot masters are weak to the weapons you earn by defeating other robot masters. This means that even though the bulk of the game is non-linear, there's always a sense of gradual empowerment as every completed stage makes you that much more capable of handling the others. And that's a good thing, because many sections are brutally hard.
Take, for instance, the disappearing blocks in Heat Man's stage. While you get to practice a bit over firm ground, once you take that fateful leap forward over the lava you're in it for a long and difficult haul. Savvy gamers will of course know how to skip the sequence entirely, but that's one of the best things about Mega Man 2: its difficulty is customisable.
On the title screen you'll be able to choose between Normal and Difficult modes, but Normal is actually unique to the Western markets, and is easier than the standard Japanese difficulty. But what's more, you can use items and special weapons to either make the most challenging sections of the game easier, or avoid them entirely. It's this versatility that has helped this game — and the Mega Man series as a whole — to retain such a rabid fanbase for so long. After all, with so many ways to play the game, so many weapons to try, enemy AI to master and challenging sequences to either power through or avoid, you never have to play through Mega Man 2 the same way twice.
Fans of the first game will be happy to see that there are more stages, weapons and items here to enjoy, as well as a brilliant and complex soundtrack that easily ranks among the best on the NES. They'll also be happy to know that this game introduces E-Tanks, which are one-time use items that allow you to refill your health. Our hats come off to you, by the way, if you manage to complete this game without them!
What's more, the sequel refines the sometimes slippery and dodgy physics of the first game, making for tighter and more fair gameplay...as well as allowing for even more harrowing battles and evasions.
The 3DS Virtual Console release makes the game portable, which is something we're absolutely happy to have, and also adds restore points, which will give struggling players the opportunity to retry difficult segments without having to start over from a checkpoint, and will allow advanced gamers to try over and over again to master some of this game's very satisfying boss battles. Go ahead, try to beat them all without taking damage!
Mega Man 2 is often cited as the best game in the series, and we certainly can't argue very hard against that. It's fun, quirky, and endlessly replayable. And if you don't find yourself humming these songs long after you take down the persistent Dr. Wily, you've got no soul.
Mega Man 2 is the textbook example of a sequel done right. It retains the best features of the first game, tightens up the physics, retools the enemy AI, and adds a slew of new features and challenges. Its front-to-back brilliant soundtrack doesn't hurt, either. Having it on the go is even better, as the short stages are perfect for quick bursts of frantic gaming, and the restore points give you the perfect opportunity to square off again and again with these bosses, practising until you learn their patterns inside and out. That feature alone makes this version of Mega Man 2 worth a download for long-time fans, and if you've never played it before, prepare to fall in love with one of the all-time NES classics.