Mega Man 2 – Retro Games Review

Disclaimer – This review is part of a 7 part series of reviews for the the Mega Man Legacy Collection for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. Due to a full review of the collection coming soon, I will not be mentioning everything the collection brings – only mentioning those that pertain to Mega Man 2.

One year has passed since Mega Man took down Dr. Wily and his six stolen Robot Masters. Undeterred by his defeat, Dr. Wily rebuilds his forces, his holdings and constructs eight of his own Robot Masters in an attempt to defeat Mega Man and Dr. Light, once and for all.

Whilst received well by critics, the original Mega Man saw very little success in terms of sales. Despite this, Capcom greenlit a sequel, under the pretence that they only worked on it in their spare time. One year after the release of Mega Man, the world was once more given the reigns over Rock with Mega Man 2. As always, how does it hold up by today’s standards?

Mere seconds after booting up Mega Man 2, you immediately see a boost in production value. Before you is a sprawling city engulfed in the nights cold veil. A building in the foreground draws your eye, before text begins to lay down the foundations of the games story. As the final words fade out, the camera rapidly pans upwards, revealing the Blue Bomber himself, wind billowing through his hair. The games title appears, the game can now begin. This introduction is beyond iconic and lands squarely within the realms of legendary. Considering the NES’s hardware limitations, the short development cycle and the conditions in which they were working under, this is seriously impressive stuff that 100% holds up today.

Hitting start presents you with a familiar screen – the level select. Unlike the original however, Mega Man 2 gives you a whopping eight stages to pick from, as opposed to six. As can be expected, you are given very little information on what each stage entails, instead being presented with a mugshot of the boss. Once again your choice in first stage will determine the route in which you will take through the game. Like before, enemy weaknesses are a mixture of obvious and nonsensical. Fire beats wood, spikey things pop bubbles and obviously bombs beat time (duh). The main difference here is your Mega Buster. Whilst not strong against any enemy inparticular, it’s much more efficient at dealing damage to bosses, making your first encounter a tad less daunting.

Once you jump into a stage you will quickly realise that there have been some minor tweaks to Mega Man controls. Namely, his movement is nowhere near as slippery as before. This not only makes Mega Man feel more grounded, but it also instils a greater sense of confidence when you are shooting your lemons on the move, or landing on a precarious platform. Complementing this is the reduction in the rate Mega Man hurtles towards ground when completing a jump. In the original, it occasionally felt like Mega Man weighed several metric tons when he descended. Combined, these very subtle adjustments give a much greater sense of control. Other than that, Mega Man is still limited to two-directional shooting, can still adjust his trajectory midair and still gets knocked back when he collides with any form of hazard. Typical Mega Man goodness.

The arsenal in the original title was diverse, powerful and very much open to experimentation. Mega Man 2 manages to follow suit for the most part. Each weapon Rock acquires vastly expands his ability to tackle his enemies. Whether that be a shield of leafs that can be launched with a hit box the size of a small village, a line of hurricanes that rapidly ascend destroying aerial foes, or a hyper charged fire blast that does ludicrous damage to all in its path. All the weapons feel great to use and each of them can be used in a variety of scenarios. Unfortunately there is one notable issue when referring to this new array of destructive implements – the Metal Blade. Firstly, it can be fired in all 8 directions, giving you an unprecedented amount of reach. Secondly, it can be fired rapidly, quickly generating a wall of destruction. Add a crazy damage stat, low ammo consumption and an incredibly small pool of enemies that are immune to its razor-sharp touch, and you are left with a truly monstrous weapon. This not only replaces the need for most other weapons, but it also completely invalidates the Mega Buster. Once you experience Metal Blade, there is no going back.

With or without the aforementioned Metal Blade, Mega Man 2 takes a few steps back in the difficulty department, at least when it comes to combat. Whilst enemies are more numerous with harder to avoid attacks, the number of health drops has increased quite substantially. In addition, ammo drops have also seen a marked increase meaning you are rarely left with low health, or limited munitions. Finally Mega Man 2 introduces the E-Tank. These miraculous consumables are accessible through the Weapon Select Menu and allow Mega Man to fully restore his health at a moments notice. The only restriction is that you can only hold four at a time. These are a brilliant addition to the series, and quickly become a staple in later entries.

Where Mega Man 2 ramps up the difficulty is with its platforming. Instant death pits and spikes are more than abundant in this entry, with enemies that are more than happy to smack you into them. The diverse arsenal in combination with the improved controls effectively prevent these hazards from being overly punishing, leaving Mega Man 2 feeling incredibly satisfying to hop through. One cannot mention platforming challenges and not mention the notorious ‘vanishing blocks’ however. These little buggers are introduced in Heat Man’s stage, and can very quickly sap your lives should not come prepared. Let’s just say instant death pits and leaps of faith don’t tend to mesh together very well.

Luckily, Mega Man 2’s stage design as a whole is varied and brilliant, with many of them testing different aspects of your platforming prowess. Bubble Man’s stage is submerged in water, increasing your jump height – but beware, the ceiling is covered in instant death spikes, forcing you to use your new found mobility wisely. Metal Man’s stage contains conveyor belts that take away aspects of your movement, forcing you to make quick decisions under pressure. Even the most egregious platforming sins can be overcome with patience, or if you are not the patient type, through alternate methods and clever use of your ever expanding tool belt.

Mega Man 2 introduces three bonus utility items…called Items. These allow you to create platforms out of thin air, summon a hover board, or even create slightly different platforms. A platforming section giving you bother? Make a platform. Fly over it. Make a slightly more awkward platform. Whatever you want. Suddenly Heat Man’s stage becomes that much easier when you can zoop over it. In order to acquire these tools, you need to complete a specific stage. So like anything in Mega Man, the order in which do things can drastically change how difficult your run is. These items successfully provide inventive solutions to problems should you need them – all the while, enhancing the games replay-value. An excellent addition to the Mega Man formula.

Providing you had the correct weapon on hand, the original Mega Man’s bosses were fairly straight forward affairs. You could beat them with a little bit of pattern recognition and a steady hand. Mega Man 2 takes this concept and goes a little bit overboard. If you hit an enemy with his weakness, they tend to die in one or two hits. Heck, your Mega Buster is so powerful that you can usually just tank their damage, whilst wailing on them with lemons. On one hand, the power trip this provides is immensely satisfying, as you are being rewarded for planning your Stage order. On the other, these seemingly powerful robots fold like paper, leaving you somewhat disappointed. A potential negative for veteran Mega Man fans. A likely positive for newcomers to the series.

Once you have brutally slaughtered all eight Robot Masters, you will unlock Wily’s Fortress. As per usual, your mastery of the game will be tested. Unfortunately this is where the cracks in Mega Man 2 really start to appear. The first couple stages are fairly easy to beat, with satisfying, but not particularly challenging, platforming sections, all topped off with a fairly easy boss. Then you encounter Sentry, a boss impervious 99% of your arsenal. A boss that if you miss single shot, you will be unable to beat. A boss that will burn through your energy tanks like no tomorrow. Once you know how to beat Sentry, it is not too difficult, but it never stops being frustrating, and your first blind attempt will almost certainly end in failure.

Once you bypass sentry, you are greeted with a soon-to-be-tradition boss rush. You must beat all 8 Robot Masters, although this time you are fully decked out, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. You are then expected to fight 3 more bosses, with only one instance of healing, whilst a fair amount of unavoidable, or downright cheap, damage is thrown your way the whole time. If you ran out of E-Tanks earlier, then you are probably better off punching in a password and trying the stage again, or save stating before you attempt it. It is a shame that the difficulty makes such a U-turn, as your eventual victory is tarnished by a distinctly sour taste. It doesn’t quite manage to retroactively tarnish the experience, but it is a noticeable dip in quality.

I mentioned earlier that the introductory cutscene was leagues above anything the original could muster. In short, the same can be said about the games entire presentation. Gone are the more generic enemies, opting instead for more googly eyed wonders that help tie the art style together. Pickups have been overhauled to look more distinctive. All eight Robot Masters have incredibly memorable designs – rivalling that of even the original six. Even the bland backgrounds have been given a face-lift with the vast majority of stages packing an extra layer of spit and polish. They even updated the weapon acquisition screen. NES be damned, Mega Man 2’s style is indisputably timeless.

Not only does the game look and play great, but it is packing an absolute corker of a soundtrack. From the moment the game starts, to the second it ends, you are bombarded with a medley of outstanding music. Some of these tunes have went on to define what a Mega Man soundtrack should be, and rightfully so. This easily one of the best soundtracks the NES has to offer, and can easily be ranked amongst the best soundtracks of all time.

Mega Man 2, like its predecessor is not without its flaws. However, what it manages to do right, it does so well that any niggling issues I have are almost entirely washed away. If I am ever in the mood to blast robots with lemons, this is the Mega Man game I boot up. They took the simplicity of the original and polished it to an almost mirror sheen. A perfect game for veterans and newcomers alike.

Flaws aside, this is an absolutely cracking game that deserves to played by anyone with a pulse. What do you think of Mega Man 2? Do you agree it is one of the greatest games of all time? Did you find the difficulty spike at the end to be a bit ludicrous? Let me know in the comments below!

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