Mega March Madness

I'm no sports fan. I mean, I like watching sometimes, I can be entertained and I know the gist of rules, but I don't follow anything. My entertainment comes from stories; movies, television, books, comics, video games. But I know what March Madness is and I'm aware it's a big deal. Which is why I'm completely ignoring college basketball (as I normally do) by marching through March Madness by playing Mega Man!

Since the 1st of the month, I've been playing each Mega Man game in sequential order. In the interest of pure entertainment and fluffy enjoyment, I've been cheating with Game Genie codes, at least, on entries 1-8. That's not to say there hasn't been a challenge. The stages' platforming puzzles and weapon-use gimmicks are still just as frustrating as they are inspired.

Mega Man games 1-4 I knew pretty intimately, having played them the most as a kid, and was still pretty aware of what lay after every screen. Everything else has been fresh territory. Five introduced the character Beat, a bird that attacks enemies on the screen. That little robot bird is a beast and instrumental in finally defeating Dr. Wily. Six has some fun bosses reflecting world cultures and racial and culture stereotypes aside, it was fun to see the Mega Man-world take on familiar tropes. Seven however introduces some new elements, like the eight robot masters separated into groups of four, one after the other, and a lot more story elements. The ending, however, was actually shocking. Mega Man is willing to commit murder in order to stop Dr. Wily once and for all.

Seven is the only entry on the Super Nintendo in the main Mega Man sequential games. Mega Man X ("ex" not 10) had already come out on the SNES was received better critically, and from my own memory of MMX, I'd agree. Maybe they were trying to make the original Blue Bomber edgier like X. Even though as Mega Man you tear and shoot your way through endless robot hordes, threatening to kill even the vile Dr. Wily was unsettling.

Eight, the only 32-bit entry, originally came out on the first Playstation. It's also the only entry to get the animated cut-scene treatment with notoriously bad voice acting with botched takes and bizarre accents. It fails to deliver on some of the cinematic ideas introduced early on, and some of the stage elements are controller-breaking hard (on-rails level segments on par with Battletoads). However, there is also some really interesting decisions in level design that force you to use the weapons you've earned so far and test your platforming skills in legitimately interesting ways, not just hard for the sake of being hard.

Today, I beat 9, which I played on the Nintendo Wii. No cheating there...well...I did take advantage of a place in the game where I could just stand still with a certain shield on and it would kill an endless stream of enemies with power-ups, "money," and extra lives just dropping on my head. I had to fight my way through taking every hit and sticking to where the game would drop me if I died, or starting a level over if I lost all of my lives. Here again were stage elements that forced you to use the weapons you had gained from defeating the bosses in interesting and thoughtful ways. Thankfully, YouTube is loaded with walkthrough videos when I was too boneheaded to figure something out on my own.

That leaves only 10 in the original series left, a game I have on my PS3. Once I boot that up, it will be my first attempt ever at the game (9 I had already owned and played a few times prior). Hopefully the level and boss designs continued to be inspired.

Pending I beat that before the end of the month, I may cheat my way through Mega Man X for the SNES...just for fun.

UPDATE, 3/27/16:
I've successfully beat all the numbered Mega Man games and 10 has the best, most endearing ending. Mega Man 2 is still probably the very best of the bunch but each strongly brings something to the table. Nine and ten have the benefit of years of experience and there are some interesting mechanics. Eight and nine probably use weapons to greatest effect. But ten, for having an ending that's just three screens and a few lines of dialogue is so stinking charming it's a wonderful cap to the legacy. I hope Mighty Number 9 lives up to everything that's come before.

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