Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Mega Man Awards (Classic and X Series)

It's TIIIIIME to take another look at the Mega Man series (classic and X) and talk about the best and worst of the saga. Having just played the entirety of the series in the past year, my memory of it is fresh enough to make the tough calls. Let's do this.

Note: I'm including the Game Boy classic series in with the "normal" classic series. Not included: Remakes or spinoffs like Maverick Hunter X, the Legends games, Mega Man Soccer, or Rockman and Forte.

Coolest Attack (Classic Mega Man) - Metal Blade (Mega Man 2) - It isn't all that flashy, but the Metal Blade gets the job done. Being able to fire in any direction isn't something to take for granted in an NES game, and the massive amount of ammo helps too.

Coolest Attack (X) - Nova Strike (Mega Man X4 through X6) - The super R2 attack in the PlayStation X games is extremely fun to play around with, and it tends to do massive damage to bosses. Starting the game with an Ultimate Armor code to be able to use this move the entire time is something everyone should try. Fun Fact: Mega Man X2 has a sort of proto-version of this attack when you charge up Flame Stag's weapon.

Coolest Attack (Zero) - Ryuenjin (Mega Man X4) - This one is a no-contest. Possibly my favorite attack in the entire series. It's similar to the Shoryuken uppercut in Mega Man X2, except it uses the Z-Saber and covers a lot more screen area. Several of the bosses in the game are weak to this weapon, too. The most satisfying way to use it: Uppercutting the massive Frost Walrus into the air.

Best Tool - Magnet Beam (Mega Man) *Credit to ArtDragon1 at Deviantart for the image - The first, simplest tool in the entire saga is still the best. Even with all of the iterations of Rush, the create-a-ledges in the second game, and the Wire/Balloon of the fourth, the Magnet Beam endures as the most creative and fun tool that Mega Man ever got to utilize. What puts it over the top is the incredible amount of control you have over it, as well as the timing that you have to use to be truly effective with it. Fun Fact: It shows up again in The Wily Wars for the Sega Genesis.

Best Story - Mega Man X2 - Most of the Mega Man games tell odd, meandering stories that usually end up in the same place. At least this one ended up in a different place from where it started, with Zero being resurrected (possibly by the villains, depending on your choices), a trio of memorable lieutenants, and the ultimate sacrifice being made by one random Maverick Hunter on a bike. It's a meme now and doesn't seem like much at first glance, but that very first shot of Mega Man X2 set the stage for what our hero was dealing with.

Best Boss Lineup - Mega Man IV (Game Boy) - Combining bosses from the fourth and fifth games on the NES, this one picks and chooses some of the best from each.

Coolest Robot Master - Pharaoh Man (Mega Man 4) - Speaking of bosses... Pharaoh Man has to take the #1 spot for most stylish boss overall. His weapon, which channels the power of the sun, is also fun to utilize. Unfortunately, his version of the attack looks a lot better than the version Mega Man acquires. Still, this guy out-cools every other Robot Master or Maverick stage boss.

Coolest Side-Villain - Bass (Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8) - This award goes out to side-villains who weren't Dr. Wily or Sigma; the lesser Big Bads who hounded our hero throughout the series. Bass edges out Vile for this award, and the fact that you play as him in later installments only adds to his lore. You can't beat that edgy Bass theme music.

Best Powerup - Gold Chip (Mega Man X3) - Mega Man X3 has a fair amount of problems, but there's one area where it actually out-does the first two games in the X series. Get to the fortress stages without collecting any of the four special ability chips (which you can only get one of normally) and it's possible to find a fifth chip that combines the powers of the other four. This allows you to regen your Sub-Tanks by standing still, take less damage from hits, charge your shots even further, and - this is the best one - air dash twice in midair instead of once. You can even air dash upwards. This chip instantly makes Mega Man X3 a blast to play for the last few levels, and revisiting the earlier levels at max power is more fun than ever.

Best Weapon Lineup - Mega Man 9, close runners up Mega Man 2 and 3 *Credit to Dullbones at DeviantArt for the image - This award was tough to hand out. Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 have such iconic weapon sets (so much so that the developers frequently emulated them for the rest of the series) that it was tough to choose which of them has the best weapon lineup overall. But wait! One of the recent entries in the series, Mega Man 9, actually surpasses both of them. The developers put extra effort into making sure that every weapon here was useful; all of them have multiple uses even outside of the boss fights you need them for. In a series where so many of the games give you forgettable weapons or weapons you only use on a boss, this game succeeded in giving you an exciting repertoire of weapons that you frequently go back to during regular gameplay.

Best Level Design - Mega Man X - This game goes out of its way to ensure that you're always going in the right direction. Everything is placed where it is for a reason. Nothing feels out of place, and none of your deaths feel cheap. Well, mostly. This game is well-designed on all fronts.

Most Difficult Jump - Mega Man X2 - Here we see the "proto-version" of the Nova Strike that I mentioned earlier. You have to use it to make this one jump in X-Hunter Fortress 3, then air-dash back to the left once you've fallen past the spike wall. The main problem here is the spikes sticking out of the side of the ledge. The good news is that this jump isn't required to progress in the game (as it probably would be in the poorly-designed Mega Man X6). However, if you want to get the Shoryuken've got to get past this jump first. In a series with some difficult jumps, this one has to be #1.

Best Boss Theme - Mega Man X5 - In a series with tons of amazing boss themes, I have to give the nod to Mega Man X5. Rather than just a snappy tune, this track conveys the chaotic mood of X5 really well. The boss fights in this game also tend to have visual cues that fit with this track, like flashing lights in the background or various other moving parts. Not bad at all.

Best Side-Boss Theme - Dynamo, Mega Man X5 - This is referring to the usually-present bosses that show up alongside the original eight. Again I have to give the nod to X5, even though X and X2 both nailed their side-boss themes (Vile / X-Hunters). Dynamo is a weird character who shows up way too often, but he sure has a great fight theme.

Best Fortress Boss Theme - Zero, Mega Man X5 - And Mega Man X5 runs the table on boss themes...almost. The fight with Zero during one of the fortress stages here is easily the best fortress boss theme in the entire series.

Best Final Boss Theme - Mega Man 7 - The streak of X5 is broken, as the final battle of Mega Man 7 brought the thunder. This really does feel like a final battle, and it makes me wonder if this was intended at some point to be Mega Man's last fight with Dr. Wily.

Best Overall Soundtrack - Mega Man 3 - Though Mega Man X5 and Mega Man X6 are close runner-ups with their great soundtracks, and Mega Man 2 is no slouch with its composition, I have to give the nod to the third entry. Nearly every track in this game is instantly hummable and recognizable. They've aged incredibly well for an NES game soundtrack. Still, this one is nearly a multi-way tie, and completely subjective.

Most Frustrating Stage - Metal Shark Player (Mega Man X6) - Mega Man X6 is one of the worst Mega Man games, and it really shouldn't be. One of the main reasons: The nonstop frustration from the poorly-designed levels. There are numerous "what were they thinking" moments, but the one stage that dwarfs all others in frustration is Metal Shark Player. This stage is a literal junkyard where you're forced to progress at an extremely slow pace due to a collapsing ceiling and numerous obstacles. After a while it starts throwing some atrocious spike traps at you and if you die, it's back to the beginning of the section to start the slow-paced, janky run all over again. Runners Up: Wily Stage 1 (Mega Man 8) and Avalanche Yeti (Mega Man X8) for being out-of-place, irritating jet sled levels.

Dumbest Thing Ever - The Spike Wall (Mega Man X6) - While we're on the subject of Mega Man X6...what were they thinking? By the time you limp into the fortress stages, you're probably ready to bring the game to a close. Unfortunately for you, there's a giant spike wall in the first fortress level that can't be scaled by any conventional means (and even if you find a way via the ice block weapon, there are further spike walls that it won't work on). It's at this point that you have to go back and collect parts for the two new armor types that the game introduced, since both of them can scale the wall. If you got them along the way, you're all set. If you didn't, which is somewhat likely since the eight capsules tend to be hard to find, then you'll find yourself wondering what you're supposed to do at this point. They might as well put up a big sign at the beginning of the fortress stages telling you not to bother unless you've found the "optional" armors. It's a big momentum-killer and detracts from what should have been a fun addition in the new armors.

Worst Level Design - Mega Man X7 - Going to full 3D was a bad move, for starters. It could have been a positive change, but not with this design team behind it. Chances are they were so used to 2D that designing 3D levels simply wasn't their forte. Numerous camera problems and poor design choices plague every level of this infernal game.

Worst Boss AI/Fight Design - Mega Man X3 - Had to have a special category for this. While most of the series has decent boss AI, even if they're following a script, Mega Man X3 falls flat in this area. Most of the bosses in the game can be manipulated into dashing back and forth if you simply jump over them repeatedly, and it makes for a lot of very redundant boss fights. Combine this with unskippable, hidden side-bosses and playing Mega Man X3 is more tedious than it should be. Much like X6, it's a step down from its two predecessors; still, I'd rather play X3 ten times in a row than have to play X6 once.

Best Boss AI/Fight Design - Mega Man 3 - This is a tough category to pick a winner in, since most Mega Man games have such solid boss design. However, Mega Man 3 is perfectly balanced, with each boss acting and reacting in ways that a good player can predict without things becoming predictable. It has a couple of missteps, but that's about it.

Overall Rankings (Classic)
15. Mega Man 5
14. Mega Man 6
13. Mega Man II (GB)
12. Mega Man
11. Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge (GB)
10. Mega Man III (GB)
9. Mega Man 4
8. Mega Man 8
7. Mega Man 7
6. Mega Man 10
5. Mega Man 9
4. Mega Man V (GB)
3. Mega Man 2
2. Mega Man IV (GB)
1. Mega Man 3

For this list, Mega Man 4 ranks a bit lower than expected due to the massive amount of damage that bosses dish out when they bump into you. Yep, that's the main issue. It doesn't seem like much, but it detracts from the fun. Mega Man 5 and 6 have those horrific charged shot issues (as well as a stagnation effect) that keep them low on the list, with 6 avoiding the lowest spot due to the jet pack. The Game Boy series puts in a strong showing, with some compelling boss combinations.

Overall Rankings (X):
8. Mega Man X7
7. Mega Man X6
6. Mega Man X8
5. Mega Man X3
4. Mega Man X5
3. Mega Man X4
2. Mega Man X2
1. Mega Man X

I've gone back and forth on whether my favorite X game is X or X2. They're both really, really good. X2 adds the air dash and some really cool stages / stage themes, but it has a few components that are a little bit tedious (like trying to get some of the powerups in difficult places). The first game in the series is largely devoid of any tedium, and gets the nod here even though it's nearly a tie. X4 is also a fun time, and X5 is similar but with way too much text at first. X3 and X8 are both decent, while the last two on the list drop off a bit of a cliff. Much like the top two, I went back and forth on which was the worst. X7 is less frustrating than X6, but I think it's the worse game overall.

Overall Rankings (Combined):
23. Mega Man X7
22. Mega Man X6
21. Mega Man 5
20. Mega Man 6
19. Mega Man II (GB)
18. Mega Man
17. Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge (GB)
16. Mega Man III (GB)
15. Mega Man X8
14. Mega Man 4
13. Mega Man X3
12. Mega Man 8
11. Mega Man 7
10. Mega Man X5
9. Mega Man 10
8. Mega Man 9
7. Mega Man V (GB)
6. Mega Man 2
5. Mega Man IV (GB)
4. Mega Man X4
3. Mega Man 3
2. Mega Man X2
1. Mega Man X

Again, the best and worst were nearly tied, and both came down to the X series. X6 is poorly-conceived on every level, but at the very least it's still a side-scrolling X game. X7 is poorly-conceived on every level while veering off into unneeded 3D platforming gameplay. On the flipside, you can't go wrong with things like Mega Man X and Mega Man 3. Some would say that the beloved Mega Man 2 is too low on this list at #6, but consider the competition. As great as that game is, later installments did improve on it.

Thanks for joining me for the first (and last) annual Mega Man Awards. Check out my other posts on this massive saga now that I've completed the whole thing, and I'll see you next time.

Mega Man
Mega Man 2
Mega Man 3
Mega Man 4
Mega Man 5
Mega Man 6
Mega Man 7
Mega Man 8
Mega Man 9
Mega Man 10
Rockman and Forte
Mega Man: Powered Up
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Rockman 7 FC
Rockman 8 FC

Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge
Mega Man II (GB)
Mega Man III (GB)
Mega Man IV (GB)
Mega Man V (GB)

Mega Man X
Mega Man X2
Mega Man X3
Mega Man X4
Mega Man X5
Mega Man X6
Mega Man X7
Mega Man X8
Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X
Mighty No. 9

And if you want to watch me play through some of these, there's:

Classic Series Playthroughs

Speedruns of Mega Man X, X2, and X3

1 comment:

  1. I'd give the best tool nod to MM3's version of Rush Jet, but the Magnet Beam is pretty great.

    Completely agree with Mega Man 9 having the best weapon set.

    X vs Zero from X5 is fantastic.

    I agree with nearly everything here, good write-up.