Ask any fan of the Blue Bomber to name their favourite game in the series and the odds are good that they will say either Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3. That's to be expected, though; both of those games are among the best on the NES, a system that had no shortage of great platformers and action games.
What's less expected is the fact that a game that mashes up components of both titles results in less of a fun reprise of the two most popular games in the series, and in more of a double disappointment.
Mega Man II, like its Game Boy predecessor, pulls elements from two NES games. It opens with four stages from Mega Man 2 (Metal Man, Wood Man, Air Man and, uh, "Clash Man"), and then zaps the super fighting robot to Dr. Wily's lair to square off against four bosses from Mega Man 3 (Hard Man, Needle Man, Top Man and Magnet Man). That sounds a lot like Dr. Wily's Revenge, but unfortunately the similarity does not extend to the game's quality.
Mega Man II plays almost like a parody of the classic NES game from which it takes its name, but it's not a joke. In any given stage, the problems will be apparent from the first screen, and everything's still downhill from there.
Visually speaking, it's wall-to-wall hideous. The Mega Man series is rightfully remembered for its excellent spritework, but that's due to a level of care and attention that simply was not given to the designs on display here. The only character that looks good is Mega Man himself, which is only due to the fact that his sprites were pulled from the previous game. Everything created for this game looks awful, including the single new frame of animation for our hero: a sliding posture that makes him look like a lifeless, microwaved action figure.
The proportions are also completely misjudged, with the formerly huge cats and giant springs being needlessly shrunken, while basic enemies like the little hard-hats and plunger enemies are significantly enlarged. Even the final boss, Dr. Wily himself, is embarrassingly out of scale, looking like a Mr. Potato Head toy lying helplessly on a platter, and not offering any more of a challenge than that would. The effect is bizarre enough to make it feel as though Mega Man is growing and shrinking like Alice in Wonderland, and it's a symptom of a lack of understanding of how Mega Man games work.
That's not an assumption; it's actual fact. Mega Man II was outsourced by Capcom to a new company that, after this, it chose never to work with again, and its lack of understanding of the flow, pacing, and design of Mega Man games is brutally apparent in the final product. The experience of playing it has not improved with age, and even Capcom seems to remember that, having the good sense to release this on the same day as the infinitely superior alternative, Mega Man III.
It's never quite clear how many small details of design shape the effectiveness of the games we love until, suddenly, they've been changed.
Mega Man II makes a lot of small changes that result in the game feeling like a title from a bizarro universe in which Mega Man was not an icon of classic gaming, but some no-name mascot for a series of cash-in cheapies. Little changes like a missing delay when picking up energy, 1-Ups making the sound of Mario's coins when they're collected, the scale issues mentioned above, and the ability to see past boss room doors all come together to remind us of how important the smallest aspects of design can be, and how they can either work together to draw us in, or clash and keep us completely un-engaged.
By far the worst aspect of Mega Man II is its soundtrack. As much as the original games are remembered for their great spritework, it would do the entire series a disservice not to also mention their legendary musical scores. While dedicated remixers have managed to bring some life into the compositions on offer in Mega Man II, their actual appearances in-game are shrill at best and painful at worst.
For whatever reason, these newer, terrible tunes take the place of the original music, and it's unquestionably a huge step down. From top-tier NES music to absolute bottom-tear Game Boy music, Mega Man II dishes out an aural punishment that gamers simply don't deserve.
The levels themselves don't offer much that's worth noting. They're not straight re-treads of the NES games, but the differences are all in service of making the game easier and less inspired. The evolving challenge of the classic series is lost here, and replaced with simplified gauntlets of minor enemies that are admittedly difficult to avoid, but who also do such a small amount of damage that there's never a sense of danger. Taking hits and walking brainlessly ahead is a much better strategy here than it should be in any self-respecting game, let alone one called Mega Man.
Even the bosses are weak. While their attack patterns haven't changed significantly, the smaller screen and slower pacing mean that you'll need to make at least some adjustment to your strategy. Or they would, except that even in boss chambers the attacks simply aren't powerful enough to require any real sense of caution. Toss in easy-to-grab E-Tanks for full health refills on command, and the game blasts well past "easy" and moves right along to "dull."
Speaking of bosses, the unique content in this game is no better, and may actually be worse. In Dr. Wily's Revenge we met the first Mega Man Killer, a boss called Enker whose defeat awarded players the innovative Mirror Buster. Here, that role is filled by Quint, who is ostensibly an evil Mega Man from the future. The big reveal, we guess, is that in the future all "evil" people hop around harmlessly on pogo sticks while you slowly shoot them to death.
The fight with Quint should be one of the highlights of the game, but it's even easier than most. He simply leaps from side to side on his jackhammer weapon, tossing up stones at an incredibly short range, allowing you to pick him off without ever putting yourself at even the smallest risk. He then leaves you with the Sakugarne, which allows you too to hop around like a harmless idiot, and seems to exist for the sole purpose of making the Top Spin look cool.
Quint's not exactly a memorable addition to the massive roster of Mega Man villains, and it's no surprise at all that when the unique Wily robots from the Game Boy series reunited for Mega Man 10, Quint was unceremoniously absent. Play this game and you'll see why nobody missed him.
In Mega Man II's defence, it can still be decently cathartic to blow robots apart, even without any kind of challenge to the activity. And while the soundtrack is abysmal, completing the game does give you the chance to hear its one worthwhile composition: a surprisingly sweet ending theme.
Beyond that, however, Mega Man II doesn't so much combine Mega Man 2 with Mega Man 3 as it does strip them of their challenge, their charm, and, ultimately, their fun. It's a rightfully forgotten entry in the Mega Man series, and we're glad to have it out of the way this early into Mega May.
Mega Man II is not just a bad Mega Man game — it's a pretty bad game, period. Removed from inevitable comparisons to the NES versions of Mega Man 2 and 3, judging the game on its own clunky, forgettable merits does it no favours, either. The level design is uninspired, the game is easy to the point of boredom, and the soundtrack ranks among the absolute worst the Game Boy has known. The unique content salvages nothing, as it's limited to a mindless new boss, a worthless new weapon, and perhaps the shortest Wily stage in history. Unless you're an absolute completionist — or afflicted with the same morbid curiosity we are — there's no reason to grab this stain on the series.
Oh well. At least there isn't a terrible game dragging Mega Man 3's name through the mud. Erm...nevermind.