A brief bit of history on Mega Man & Bass. A few years after Mega Man 8 notoriously became a Playstation and Sega Saturn game, Keiji Inafune - the series' creator - felt that he still owed one more game to children that had not yet upgraded to next gen hardware and still owned only the Super Famicom. Technically a spin-off featuring Mega Man's rival - Bass - as an additional playable character, Mega Man & Bass was only released in Japan, later receiving a remake on the GBA that was also its début in the west. The GBA remake is the version that's now available on the Wii U Virtual Console, and while it does have some problems with level design and unfair difficulty, it's ultimately a worthy entry in the series and is recommended for longtime fans.

As the title suggests, players are faced at the beginning of the game with the choice of playing as either Mega Man or Bass. While each have their own unique abilities and movesets, this is a clever way of masking an easy mode and hard mode. While playing as Mega Man you're given a charge shot and a slide move, but as Bass you're given a rapid fire, seven direction buster, a dash move and a double jump. Given that the levels are designed with relatively unforgiving enemy and hazard placement, it doesn't take long to realize how much handier it is to be playing as Bass.

Whichever character you choose to play as, the story still unfolds in roughly the same manner. An evil robot named King wants to take over the world, and while Mega Man wants to save the day Bass wants to prove that he's the strongest robot. In a break from the classic series' convention, only three of the robot masters are available to be fought at the beginning; upon defeating one, two or three more are unlocked in a somewhat linear fashion. This helps to distinguish which bosses are weak to which weapons and also ensures that the harder levels are generally played after the easy ones.

Level designs are typical of the Mega Man series, but unnecessarily large sprites make many situations needlessly more difficult and frustrating. The old-school "Nintendo hard" difficulty is still present, with plenty of spike traps, death pits, and cheap enemy placement there to frustrate you, but the controls are as tight as ever and it never loses the "one more try" feeling. Unfortunately, the sprites are a bit too large, making many deaths feel like its the game's fault rather than the player's. Occasionally, blind leaps of faith must be made or an enemy pops suddenly onto the screen and unavoidably shoots you off of a platform. Instances such as these can be alleviated somewhat by usage of Virtual Console save states, but it's a frustrating problem that shouldn't have to be dealt with.

Robot Masters are also a bit of a let-down, often resorting to spamming cheap or unavoidable attacks. In previous Mega Man games nearly every Robot Master had complex yet predictable attack patterns. It may have taken a few tries to learn the tells, but the feeling of satisfaction from conquering a Robot Master was unparalleled. Here, it feels more like the result of luck than of skill. The problem of the larger sprites often contributes to this and makes the arenas in which these bosses are fought feel cramped, rendering many of the attacks unavoidable as there's simply nowhere to go.

Fortunately, the graphics and presentation make up for these oversights in the design; every stage is vibrant and colourful, with plenty of detailed sprites and environments. Level themes are diverse and creative, with a particular highlight being a trip through a toy factory, and there's lots of charm in the enemy design. The soundtrack is only slightly above average; it has a few catchy beats, but nothing that will have you whistling the tune long after the game is over.

There's a surprising amount of replayability as well, far more than the usual Mega Man game. Scattered throughout are 100 CDs that can only be collected by using specific weapons or character traits, essentially requiring at least two playthroughs to ensure that everything gets collected. Each of these CDs unlocks a short character bio on different Robot Masters and characters from the series' history, a neat little diversion that'll keep completionists busy after beating the final boss.

Conclusion

Mega Man & Bass certainly lives up to the reputation of the Mega Man series and does enough new things to shake up the well-worn formula. While there are occasions where unfair gameplay can bog down the experience, the surprising amount of replayability and overall solid game mechanics make this one worth a recommendation.