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Great Game Design: What I Learned From the Mega Man Classic Series
I’ll admit it; I’m a total newbie to the whole Mega Man scene. Growing up, I played the hell out of every Nintendo franchise on the SNES and the N64, but I never really branched outside of that into the other gaming companies until I was older (mostly because I was a kid with a meager allowance and played whatever people bought me for Christmas and my birthday). So, I never really played any Mega Man at length until I was in my twenties.
Which is kind of sad, but in a way, I’m glad I was able to play it much later in my life. Why? Because there’s no way I could have appreciated the masterful game design of Mega Man when I was ten years old.
The blue bomber’s franchise is definitely an interesting one. All of the classic games I’ve played have a clever, yet tongue-in-cheek-like story and feel to them, making them feel both serious and endearingly goofy at the same time. As a kid, I’m sure it seems pretty awesome to be helping Mega Man save the world from Dr. Wily and evil robots. But as an adult, you can recognize some of the more ironic and clever bits of story that make it both funny and meaningful. (I’ll admit, I actually laughed when I played Mega Man 10 and they cited humans as having no ability to perform tasks without the aid of robots. Why does this seem eerily like a future we’re headed towards?)
Even the bosses in Mega Man are genius. Robot masters have ridiculous names that are both creative and satirical, be it Snake Man, Wood Man, or Solar Man…they should be lame and unoriginal, but its their sheer oddness and quirky qualities that make them interesting. On top of that, their unique powers and Mega Man’s ability to gain their attacks to use as his own is a mechanic I’d love to see implemented in games today.
Probably one of the most innovative and interesting parts of the Mega Man classic games is the level design. Each stage is unique to a robot master, and the level itself will take on a personality that mimicks the end boss. Smaller enemies throughout the level will share similar qualities to the level’s robot master while retaining their own unique attacks, be they melee or ranged. There are platforming puzzles to be solved to earn additional items and health, different weapons to explore, multiple platform designs and routes to clear the level, and different strategies required to clear enemies out of your path. Add to that a fluid and responsive control scheme, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a platformer that feels unique and original while providing hours of satisfying and fun gameplay.
The music for Mega Man is something that shouldn’t be overlooked either. It’s brilliant in all its bleep and bloop glory, with a unique tone that is even fun just to listen to. Like any good soundtrack, it adds a sense of heightened excitement and heroism to the game that, when coupled with the vibrant graphical style, creates something fresh and unique in the retro gaming landscape.
In nearly every way possible, the classic Mega Man series is game design genius. It uses every facet of its mechanics so well that it creates a solid experience that all action games today would do well to take note of. With the use of fantastic platforming, great presentation, and a story that resonates well without taking itself too seriously, we’re left with a masterful creation whose legacy deserves to last for generations.
While I’m sure I would have loved it as a kid, I’m glad I waited until I was older. It’s taught me something about what a great game could and should do.
And even more important than that, it’s helped me remember why I love video games in the first place.
(Featured graphic provided by Benjamin Sawyer. To see more of his work, visit benbrush.com or benbrush.deviantart.com)