In the early days of video games the number of ‘bits’ may have been low, but the challenge was high. Trial and error, twitch reflexes, and memorization were all necessary skills for conquering any cartridge. However, even the most punishing 8-bit titles would throw the player a bone from time to time to help slow the depletion of their health bar. This week’s power-up is the gaming equivalent to the cure for cancer, offering a hopeful future in a game that aims to break any gamer’s will.
A razor sharp metal spike cuts through the air and connects with your torso, sending you flying back in a flash of sparks. Your blue battle armor has deep gouges and dark scorching all over it, and the damage meter in your arm cannon is reading four measly bars remaining. Your pain sensors are screaming as the dead eyes of Needle Man’s stumpy face is forcing you to realize the futility of this situation. He’s the first Robot Master you were sent to assassinate, and he’s already killed you five times. Dr. Light says the teleportation machine can’t take any more use without exploding, so this it. As you recover from the volley of needles, a crack in your metallic breast plate reveals the forgotten contents of a storage compartment. A small, blue canister with a big bold E on it is barely visible through your fractured frame. A small smirk spreads on your face as you quickly slide out of the way of Needle Man’s bull rush and reach in and pull out the E-tank. Time seems to stop as you crack the seal and drain the contents into your mouth. The damage meter on your arm slowly replenishes, chirping loudly in approval of the newly regained stamina. As you level your arm cannon once again on Needle Man’s jumping form, his dead eyes respond with a flicker of fear.
Items and weapons have come and gone throughout the years in the Mega Man series. There are always new powers to acquire from Robot Bosses and new functionalities for Mega’s canine compatriot Rush. One very important item has been a mainstay in the series, however, and that’s the “E-Tank.” First appearing in Mega Man 2, the tiny blue canister has been like a refreshing oasis in the brutal desert that is the Mega Man universe. E-Tanks can be found tucked away on unreachable platforms or behind unbreakable barriers, and always require skill or a particular item in order to acquire. The effort it takes to procure them is well worth it, however.
The Mega Man series has been known for its difficulty, boss fights in particular. The challenge of these bouts is exaggerated when you are ignorant to any given Robot Master’s weakness, and have to fight them cold with the mega buster. Usually knocking back one E-Tank just before the Blue Bomber goes “pe-kew-kew-kew-kew” will do the trick and allow you barely squeeze out a victory. Plus the tanks are practically a necessity when facing the menacing machinations of Dr. Wily at the end of each game, as the evil doctor is capable of forcing you to burn through several E-tanks if you don’t know his attack patterns or weaknesses.
This leads us to the main issue with E-Tanks, and a problem that every survivalist faces in their life. While collecting and hoarding such valuable gems is a must, the question of when a situation is dire enough to use them plagues Mega Man players. Sure, a rejuvenated health bar is great, but what happens if you still get crushed under the tremendous weight of a giant robot? Well, then you’re out an E-Tank and another life. This problem is amplified when in Wily’s fortress, as you then will either have to pull off an against-all-odds victory or restart and collect them all over again. When to pull the trigger on an E-Tank is almost as challenging as pulling off a no damage run in Mega Man 9.
Whether you glug down E-Tanks like Coca Cola or ration them like beef jerky during the zombie apocalypse, you’ll have to admit they are incredibly useful. Just don’t use too many or you’ll form a chemical dependency, and you don’t want to know what has to be done on the streets to get your fix.