Until recently, it seemed that Capcom wasn’t all too interested in the Mega Man series, which understandably upset a lot of fans who grew up alongside the Blue Bomber. Though Mega Man has starred in a lot of games, it’s the original NES releases that arguably stand as the most iconic, which makes Mega Man Legacy Collection a tempting deal. Although there isn’t much here that you haven’t already seen before, Mega Man Legacy Collection stands as one of the best re-releases of the classic series, and fans likely won’t want to pass up on this opportunity. Given that we’ve already reviewed each of the original games several times over, we’ll just be sharing our general thoughts on each game; you can find a more in-depth look in our Virtual console reviews.
Mega Man is definitely the weakest game on offer here, standing as the 'rough cut' of a formula that would go on to be used again and again. Rather than the standard eight, there are only six robot masters here, which makes an already short game feel that much shorter. To account for this dearth of content, the difficulty is ratcheted up to a place that firmly sets Mega Man among the hardest games in the series, but not for the right reasons. Though level designs are interesting, there are some enormous difficulty spikes at certain choke points in stages, such as places with cheap enemy placements or risky jumps with low margin for error.
This isn’t helped by the admittedly shoddy physics, which essentially ensures that every flat surface Mega Man ever treads on feels like it’s coated in a thin layer of ice. Mega Man certainly isn’t unplayable – we’d argue this re-release does a great job of mitigating the flaws – but when compared to the next five games that followed, it hasn’t aged well.
Mega Man 2 is where the real magic began, and famously stands as one of the high points of the series for good reason. After Mega Man received poor sales, Capcom management wasn’t all too keen to follow it up with a sequel, but eventually allowed the development team to make Mega Man 2 on the condition that work could only be done on it after the team members had worked on all their other projects. This made Mega Man 2 a ‘dream game’ in all kinds of ways, resulting in a massive success that would kickstart the franchise.
Jumping up the roster to eight robot masters, Mega Man 2 sees improvement in nearly every area over its predecessor. Level designs are smarter and fairer, weapons are better balanced and more fun to use, that track shows up in the first Wily stage, and it all combines to make for a game that was obviously a product of passion. There’s a reason that Mega Man 2 is frequently cited as the best game in the series, although the debate often swings towards its successor, as well.
After Mega Man 2 cemented the series formula, Mega Man 3 marked the beginning of iteration on that formula, infusing it with new ideas and concepts that would have a big effect on the games to follow. The development team finally threw some salt on that ice covering everything, and Mega Man controls far more tightly and responsively here than he has in the previous two games.
The slide maneuver makes its debut appearance, too, allowing Mega Man to deftly dash underneath enemy attacks with the right timing, and much like the spin dash in the Sonic series, acts as an organic and elegant solution to some mild clunkiness in the gameplay. Mega Man 3 also marks the introduction of Rush and Protoman to the series, two recurring characters who would be instrumental in helping to establish the goofy and unique identity of this series which later games would build on. Though the robot masters’ designs admittedly are a little weaker than those of the previous game, Mega Man 3 stands as another fantastic entry in the series.
Mega Man 4 is where some would say that the series began to run out of ideas, a notion that isn’t entirely without reason. After the past three games all had functionally the same plot of Dr. Wily being up to no good again, Mega Man 4 aims to introduce a new villain with the enigmatic Dr. Cossack. You can probably guess who you end up battling at the end of this one, but the new attempt at slightly deeper storytelling is a welcome inclusion.
Mega Man 4 also marks the introduction of the Charge Shot, which aims to make Mega Man’s pitiful Mega Buster a little more useful beyond your first Robot Master stage. Holding down the shoot button allows Mega Man to build up power and release a considerably more powerful blast, which is helpful for taking down Robot Masters and tanky enemies. Though the Robot Master designs are once again rather hit or miss, Mega Man 4 feels like the point where the designers had found their ‘groove’ in terms of stage mechanics and enemy placement.
Mega Man 5 is what could be seen as the ‘low point’ of the classic series, although this is naturally a relative term given the overall quality of the Mega Man games. Although the Robot Master designs are some of the strongest to be found in the series thus far, and the stages have equally interesting mechanics, this one comes off as being the point where the designers were struggling to think of what else to do with the Mega Man series. The collectable letters across the stages are a neat touch that slightly encourages extended play, however, and though that auto-scrolling portion of a certain level feels rather jarring, it’s still a fun diversion. All in all, Mega Man 5 is the game that doesn’t feel like it iterates or adds anything notable to the classic Mega Man gameplay, trading innovation for loads of polish.
As the final release in the classic series, Mega Man 6 stood as a bit of an odd duck when it was released. Launching after the SNES was a household name, and just months in advance of Mega Man X, Mega Man 6 was that game which felt immediately dated. Fortunately, the passage of time has been quite kind to this game, and it stands as one of the most underrated entries in the series. The music, stage designs, and gameplay are arguably the finest in the series yet, and the inclusion of the Rush transformations had cool benefits to the gameplay which added something fresh to the formula.
Regardless of which game you would champion as the best in the series, it’s tough to argue against the overall quality of the classic Mega Man series. There were missteps and rough patches to be found, but the original Mega Man series stands as some of the finest 2D action gaming of its era, and it holds up remarkably well even today. There’s a clear maturation to the developer's work, as new ideas were introduced and refined over the course of six games, while the stage designs and music continued to evolve and grow at a measurable pace, as well.
Now, this collection comes with a notable new feature which makes these games that much more enjoyable, and that feature is the rewind button. Simply holding down the ‘L’ button will undo everything that just happened on screen, and this can be abused as much as it sounds. Did the flinch from taking a bullet send you into a bottomless pit? Try it again, you now know exactly when and where that bullet is going to be. Did you miss a few shots with that special weapon you’re going to need for the boss later? Rewind and watch all those shots come flying back into your arm cannon.
The rewind button is such a smooth and useful inclusion that it’s difficult to believe Capcom hadn’t thought to include this in previous collections. Any issues that may arise from iffy level design or cheap enemy placement are washed away instantly when you can just infinitely try again from any second of your choosing. And if you’re a purist who insists that the games must be experienced in their full brutality, the rewind can be completely ignored.
Along with all of the content of the main games, Capcom also opted to include a series of additional challenges to entice expert players who have already seen all the obstacles the games have to throw at them. These challenges range from timed boss fights and boss gauntlets to stage mashups that stitch together portions of stages from all across the series in a continuous level. While these challenges don’t’ strictly add anything new to the overall package, they’re still a welcome inclusion for those who are looking to get a little more bang for their buck, as there’s plenty to master here. And if you happen to have the Mega Man amiibo handy, a selection of stages designed by fans in the community can be unlocked, bolstering the challenge count even further.
For those of you that are more interested in the historical side of the classic Mega Man series, there are Museum and Database collections available for viewing in each game. The Museum includes scans of both English and Japanese box art, manuals, concept art, promotional material, and more, which can make for a nice trip down memory lane for those of you that are old enough to remember. The Database goes alongside this, including entries for every character and enemy in the game with a brief bio, stats on offensive and defensive capabilities, and weaknesses for the Robot Masters. There are some good tips to be found here, and it’s a welcome inclusion for those looking for a little bit of lore.
One more thing that bears mentioning is the emulation quality of the games, which is near-perfect and includes all the quality of life amenities that you’d expect. You can choose to enable sprite flicker and scanlines for that extra retro flair, and the games are all presented in their original aspect ratio, which can be tinkered with to add cool borders featuring original game art. Naturally, the game can be saved anywhere via save states through a quick and painless button tap on the pause menu, eliminating the need to write down all those passwords.
Digital Eclipse did a great job with all the details in Mega Man Legacy Collection, presenting the original games in their best possible light, while tossing in a handful of extra features and challenges on top to sweeten the deal. The rewind feature is a welcome inclusion that helps to mitigate the difficulty of some of the games, and the overall quality of the series difficult to dispute. We would highly recommend you pick this one up, all the included extra features coupled with the ability to play these games both at home and on the go make it a no-brainer.