Level Up: Mega Man 2
We’ve all heard tales of evil corporations fattening their wallets by forcing artists to be more commercial. Many great bands have fallen to the evils of the 3-minute pop-song. But isn’t it great when an artist meets commercial success while maintaining their artistic integrity? The process behind Rush’s 2112, Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory, and many others share this underdog story-arc, but this narrative is not exclusive to the music industry.
It’s hard to imagine now, but the original Mega Man was only a modest success. Maybe because it had the worst box-art ever. Capcom allotted a small budget to Mega Man 2 and the team working on it had to squeeze it between prioritized projects. The game is a labor of love, and it shows.
Like all the numerical entries to the series, Mega Man 2 allows you to choose which order to tackle the stages. When you beat a boss, you gain their weapon. Experimenting with the weapons and stage order is a big part of the fun. Using the right power against the right enemy is key to survival. Protip: Just get the Metalblades from Metal Man first; they rule. Japanese game developers from the ’80s respect the metal.
Even with the right gear, the game isn’t easy. Between disappearing platforms, varied enemies and deadly pitfalls Mega Man 2 has tricks around every corner. But the game never feels unfair. Controls are precise to the pixel and no obstacle is impossible to pass. You’ll die a lot, but it’ll be on you.
Keiji Inafune’s anime-influenced character designs have an undeniable charm. Simple yet irresistible, the googly-eyed baddies and thematic levels/bosses were perfectly suited to the limitations of the NES. This visual style is so well-loved that Capcom returned to it, palette limitations and all, with 2008’s Mega Man 9.
Mega Man 2’s music is beyond charming. The bleeps, bloops and white noise drums of these up-tempo themes will stick in your head for weeks. The songs are repetitive, but enjoyable and over time these chiptunes, imbued with the power of nostalgia, have become emblematic of the 8-bit era.
Dream Theater and Rush were spring-boarded to long-lasting critical and commercial success with their respective labors of love. What’s more, they proved that the success was dependent on them having full creative control. Mega Man’s career has been a bit more rocky. Rather than grant Inafune and his team full control over the series, Capcom has bled it dry with well over 100 releases bearing the Mega Man name. Cult favorites like Mega Man Legends have been neglected while countless spin-offs and cash-ins flood the shelves. Since Inafune left Capcom in 2010 this treatment has only gotten worse. The game industry is brutal. Truth be told, there’s plenty of great Mega Man games. It’s just a pity to see the blue bomber whored out so excessively in recent years. To use another metal metaphor, the existence of Reload doesn’t ruin Master of Puppets, so Mega Man X7 shouldn’t stifle your adoration of Mega Man 2 either.