The lights are on
In issue #238 of Game Informer, we celebrated Mega Man's Anniversary, which turned 25 last December. Here is a full reprinting of that article.
Fresh-faced Capcom employee Keiji Inafune was just finishing up his work on character art for the company’s fledgling fighter, Street Fighter, when he was asked to help create something new. The game would combine a radical weapon-stealing system, rock-paper-scissors strategy, and challenging-yet-rewarding platforming. It just needed a hero to bring the whole thing to life. Inafune and the rest of his team at Capcom didn’t know it at the time, but their hard work on the 1987 Nintendo title, Mega Man, would begin one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.
Born to Rock
Originally released as Rock Man in Japan, Mega Man is about a little blue robot’s quest to stop the evil doings of a mad scientist named Dr. Wily. Saving mankind involves destroying six Robot Masters that possess powers varying from fireballs to metal-sheering scissors. In a clever twist, Mega Man could steal his fallen foes’ powers to turn the tables. Fighting Fire Man armed with only your Mega Buster is a difficult task, which makes figuring out that he’s weak against Ice Man’s ability all the more satisfying. Cracking the ideal boss battle order is a unique experience to the Mega Man series, and something Capcom nailed right out of the gate.
Despite its progressive game design, the first Mega Man was met with lukewarm sales. Keiji Inafune attributes the poor reception to the game’s notoriously awful box art. The game did earn enough money for Capcom to release Mega Man 2. The sequel released one year later, and improved the winning formula on multiple fronts. Stage tunes are catchier, enemies are larger and more colorful, and the levels are even more varied. In one stage Mega Man plummets through a sci-fi fortress while dodging instant-death lasers, and in another he battles robotic apes in forest treetops. Mega Man 2 establishes the classic series’ charming Saturday morning cartoon vibe, something that entranced gamers of the time.
Mega Man 2’s success paved the way for four more NES sequels, three of which released after the Super Nintendo’s 1991 launch. The Mega Man series was still profitable enough for Capcom to keep making new adventures for the Blue Bomber on a last-gen console. While the core formula and visuals remained largely the same, the successive titles introduced game-changing features like a charged Mega Buster shot, slide ability, and a transforming robo-pooch named Rush. Five more classic-style Mega Man games hit the original Game Boy. These portable entries nearly matched the quality of their NES brethren, despite the monochromatic color scheme and zoomed-in camera.
Like any ‘80s video game worth its salt, the demand for more Mega Man prompted brand expansion. Mega Man joined the ranks of Simon Belmont and Pit on Captain N the Game Master, and eventually earned his own cartoon series. Fearing the heroic robot’s Japanese anime-style design would be too cutesy to gain traction in America, Mega Man made the characters taller, meaner, and pumped them up with muscles. Bandai also released a line of action figures for kids to dream up their own battles between Mega and Wily.
While the official war against Dr. Wily raged on via the NES and Game Boy in the early ‘90s, one of Dr. Light’s other creations was fighting a new battle. Mega Man X released on the SNES in 1993 and became a hit. The series reboot set a high water mark for 8-bit franchises making the move onto 16-bit consoles. The game evolved the series’ power-stealing gameplay with upgradeable armor, a slick wall jump, and a darker story. Years after the collapse of civilization due to an uprising of renegade robots called Mavericks, Mega Man X is activated to clean up the mess. A mysterious red robot with long blonde hair and an energy sword eventually teams up with X. Zero became an instant fan-favorite, and eventually becomes playable in later SNES and PlayStation sequels.
Next, read about Mega Man's post 16-bit adventures