Mega Man 8 – Retro Games Review

Disclaimer – This review is part of a 5 part series of reviews for the the Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 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 8.

Mega Man, furious at how obsurdly difficult Wily’s Capsule was to defeat, lost it. He pulled out his Mega Buster, began the arduous task of charging a full blast and declared Wily’s life forfeit. The fortress collapses, Wily escapes and Mega Man is left feeling like his character has actually developed. Capcom then erased all of that, turned him into a 10 year old girl and pretended none of this actually happened. That’s right, we are finally looking at Mega Man 8.

Mega Man 8 is a legendarily contentious sequel coming hot off the tracks of an already pretty contentious sequel. Oh and that kind of leap frogged off the back of another contentious sequel. Oh dear. Not wanting to stop on the SNES for much longer, Capcom made a leap to the fledgling PS1 and its very impressive CD technology and cutting edge 32-bit graphics. It’s now or never I guess. Lets jump straight into the thick of it.

Popping your disk into your fancy new PS1 will result in a small girl shouting “MEGA MAN 8!” as a satisfyingly bland title screen emerges and you hit the start button. A fancy anime cutscene plays showing two intergalactic super robots – ‘Duo’ and ‘Sinister Purple Dude (SPD from now on)’ – duking it out in space. SPD gets his metallic derriere handed to him, then both crash land on Earth. Meanwhile a small girl dressed as Mega Man is fighting Bass (of Mega Man 7 fame), before flying off to check out the disturbance caused by the space robot’s bonce’s colliding with the planet. Bass then swears revenge before vanishing for 99% of the game. It’s a great introduction in terms of visuals, and I will refrain from mentioning the voice work until the obligatory Sound section later on. Needless to say, for early PS1 anime, this is pretty top notch stuff.

The story continues to be fairly important, with Duo escaping, Dr Wily harvesting the soul of SPD to fuel his new legion of Robot Masters, Proto Man does his usual nothing and Dr Wily eventually gets defeated. It is honestly great. Those sweet anime cutscenes are scattered intermittently throughout the play time and help convey a story that is cheesy, but surprisingly endearing. All the characters are likeable, some of the Robot Masters have some really good dialogue that hints at character (shock!) and Bass is just there, doing Bass things. Ok, Bass is just being mopey and suffering from a serious inferiority complex. He looks cool though.

As with any Mega Man game there are a fair amount of changes to be had between sequels. Mega Man 8 is the exception to this rule It has a boat load of them. I will therefore try to cover them all as quickly as possible. Mega Man is small again, his slide does not go as far, his jump is significantly higher, his charge shot charges faster and he can fire his Buster whilst using a boss weapon. Controls aside, Rush has been changed (yet again), you can upgrade Mega Man directly through bolt expenditure that vastly change a number of statistics, gimmicks are rampant, E/W/M/S-Tanks are completely gone, Beat is no longer a thing (kinda) and the difficulty has taken a nose dive. Why you may ask? More changes. Stages are split into two halves and upon starting each half your health and ammo is restored. Death is meaningless because the same thing happens if you die. If you game over, it means nothing because you simply restart at the start of whatever half you were in, fully restored. So yeah, a lot has changed in one year and we will touch on a few of these in more detail in a wee while.

What hasn’t changed is the stage select. Once again opting to stick with the tried, but not really tested – four Robot Masters, intermission stage, four Robot Masters formula. Everything that was wrong, and right, with this carries on doing exactly what they did in Mega Man 7. Namely making it easier for new players but stifling replay value. Very much a double edged (flame) sword. Once again your selection of Robot Masters is truly top notch, with immediately interesting designs before you even select your first victim. Special shout out to Frost Man who is absolutely massive, and I love him.

With eight new Robot Masters, you get eight stages themed around their unique element or quirk. Mega Man 8 excels in this department more than any Mega Man before it. Each stage is lavishly detailed from top to bottom with colours so bright, you might actually go blind. Clown Man has you fighting through a theme park, a gift shop and even playing a deadly game of Jack-in-the-box Hopscotch. Grenade Man’s stage has explosions literally everywhere resulting in some tense time sensitive platforming and Frost Man is uniquely set on a frozen highway with a beautiful cityscape in the background.

Theme’s aside, we need gimmicks. Things that change gameplay in new and interesting ways. Mega Man 8 is packed with them. Traditional water stages of course exist, but so do bizarre hamster-ball bubble puzzles, side scrolling shoot em’ up sections, puzzle dungeons and labyrinthine hallways. These are all great distractions and keep the game feeling fresh. Until you hit Frost Man’s stage. His stage is part boring platforming and part Snowboarding. These snowboarding sections are so unbelievably bad that I almost stopped playing the game. They control awfully, the camera is not good enough to keep track of where you are going, you have to make constant leaps of faith from platforms you can’t see the edge of, to platforms you can’t see at all and there is a significant amount of input lag that will kill you more times than you could ever feasibly count. Frost Man could be the first stage you pick to play. I imagine many people quit the game thinking the whole game was like this. Luckily it is not, and if you manage to climb your way out of hell, you have a mostly enjoyable selection of varied stages.

The highlight of Mega Man 7 were its wonderful boss fights…providing you used your Mega Buster. Mega Man 8 continues this trend and even goes as far as making their weaknesses a bit less exploitable. Heck, they made the flying dude who zooping around the stage 99% of them time, weak to the ice attack that can only travel across the ground. I did find that most bosses fell into two distinct camps however – Tengu or Clown (named after their respective Robot Masters). Tengus are thrilling fights against enemies who require a fair amount of skill and precision to beat. Clowns are frustrating to fight, but you can face tank them and nab a free win. That split is also around 50/50, so enjoyment may vary.

Luckily their weapons are universally awesome. For the first time ever, every single weapon is great, with many of them having multiple uses that go way beyond the environmental interactions of 1 and 7. You can create a gust of wind that is both an impenetrable wall of death, as well as a jump extender. Produce a lightning whip that also lets you swing from certain objects. Throw nuclear bombs made from sheer magnificence. Launch ice spikes that will continue to travel across the ground, up walls, down ledges, whilst murdering everything it touches. Heck they even made melee a viable strategy (finally!) with the undeniably snazzy Flame Sword. These weapons are amazingly fun to use and thanks to the incredibly generous ammo drops, your ammo refilling on death and refilling upon starting a new section, you can play with them practically none stop.

I briefly mentioned Rush, and now is a perfect time to mention how sweeping his changes were. Rush is no longer a battle suit, a coil, a jet or a submarine. Instead he is a situational powerhouse that arguably surpasses any other variant, but only in the context of this game. Rush has four forms – Bike, Item, Bomber and Health, with each being able to be used once per life/stage half. Bike turns you invincible for a variable length of time, increases your movement speed and lets you fire rockets – it’s uses in bosses and difficult gauntlets should be obvious. Item generates a random consumable of questionable worth. Bomber has Rush carpet bombing the screen, killing practically everything, although its damage is negligable against bosses. Finally, Health has Rush dispense a seemingly endless supply of ammo and health, acting like a delayed M-Tank that is vital against bosses. Since your weapons give so much utility, Rush filling these roles just feels right. A welcome change to our loyal doggo.

The final change to your arsenal is from Roll’s shop (Auto is too busy helping your destroy Whales in space). There you can buy upgrades that can massively change how you play. These range from firing a giant laser, increasing your charge speed, removing knockback entirely, increasing your rate of fire and/or how many lemons you can fire at once amongst other things. You purchase these upgrades with ‘Bolts’ which are the hidden collectable in Mega Man 8. There are not enough in the game to buy every upgrade, plus you have an upgrade limit piled on top of that, so this really helps push “builds”. Different builds for different playthroughs just help add replay value. Even more so when many Bolts require specific weapons and Rush forms to acquire, resulting in backtracking if you want to max your potential.

As is the norm, once you beat the bosses and successsfuly asserted your dominance, you can go and face Wily in his “Tower” (I prefer Fortress personally). This is where the game falls apart. I was able to endure Frost Man’s rubbish. Barely. Wily Stage 1 is Frost Man’s snowboarding – but longer, harder and has lava to make you think it’s different. I spent more time playing this section than I did completing the rest of the game combined. Everything wrong with the last section is here and exacerbated to ludicrous heights. If you didn’t give up with Frost Man, I reckon you might here. Oh and the boss of this stage is equally awful. If you manage to get through this, the rest of Wily’s Tower is actually really enjoyable in the same way the rest of the game was – not particularly difficult, but fun. Wily himself is fairly straight forward and a welcome improvement over 7 and helps end the game on a high note.

As is to be expected with a 32-bit title, Mega Man 8 looks absolutely stunning, providing you enjoy an almost garishly bright aesthetic. Even if you don’t enjoy the art direction, this is still leagues above Mega Man 7. Animations are incredibly intricate, with a surreal amount of clarity when anything is in motion. Enemies designs, new and old, practically drown you in charm and personality and the stages are all a visual marvels to behold. 32-Bit pixel art at its finest.

This might be a bit contentious, but the music in Mega Man 8 is a little bit naff. Not necesarily bad, just not at all memorable. When playing it’s fine and dandy, with many tracks having a really distinct and bloopy bass that really appeals to me. Once you leave that stage though, it is like it never existed. What you will never forget though is the absolutely phenominal voice acting. It is on a level mere mortals could never comprehend without experiencing it themselves. It transcends awful and manages to loop around and land on perfection. Dr Light’s hilarious stuttering and mumbles, Mega Man being a literal small girl, every word from Bass’ mouth – flawless.

Mega Man 8 is a pain in my backside. I have spent hours pondering over it’s quality and in the end, had to reread my own review to truly get an understanding of my thoughts. This is a very good game almost entirely ruined by two stages that are perfectly spaced to cause the most amount of damage humanly possible. If these stages were left out, you would have a game that could easily be considered one of the best in the series based on fun factor alone. This is made even worse due to passwords not being a thing, so you can’t just skip them on your first run through, instead needing to setup dedicated save slots after the fact. A thing nobody should have to do to enjoy a game.

It pains me to say, but the negatives had me on the brink of quitting the game twice. I simply can’t rank it with the rest of the series. A heartbreaking low point of the series that could have been so much more. Let me know in the comments what you thought of Mega Man 8.

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