Back in 2008, did anyone think we’d be playing a brand new Mega Man game in the style of the 8-bit NES classics? If so, could you fathom that we’d be getting another one just like it less than two years later?
Despite concerns that it would feel too dated, Mega Man 9 was warmly received by gamers and press alike. It was a return to form after being lost in a forest of chip-collecting RPG tedium and bloated, plot-hole ridden drama. This was how Mega Man was supposed to be!
Solid in its own right, it’s possible that Mega Man 9 rode by thanks to nostalgia. On the other hand, Mega Man 10 has to justify its existence.
The formula should be familiar. Visit eight themed levels in any order, defeat the Robot Master guardians and acquire their weapons to be used against other bosses in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, storm Dr. Wily’s fortress, square off against the eight bosses once again, then tear apart Wily’s skull-adorned space pod.
This time around, Wily has unleashed the Roboenza virus, making otherwise peaceful robots go bonkers. He decides to feign innocence until Mega Man willingly retrieves his medicine-making machine. Pulitzer material.
As in Mega Man 9, Mega’s skills are limited to jumping and basic fire. As a welcome treat, you can also choose from the outset to play as Proto Man, equipped with a slide, charge shot, and a shield that activates while jumping. The drawback? He takes more damage than Mega. Your choice depends on whether you prefer the classic style or the expanded battle strategies offered by the added techniques.
The stars of the show are undoubtedly the Robot Masters themselves. Mega’s rogues gallery includes Strike Man, a giant baseball with legs, Blade Man, a giant sword with legs, and Pump Man, a giant water pump… with legs. There’s Commando Man, a desert mine-sweeper, Nitro Man, a motorcycle Transformer, and the hot-and-cold duo of Solar Man and Chill Man. Rounding out the cast is Sheep Man, a circuit board factory worker who attacks using static electricity built up in his wool and perhaps the most cleverly designed character in the franchise’s history.
Acquired weapons are supposed to serve practical purpose during normal gameplay, but the ones here fail to demonstrate such outside of boss battles. For example, the Thunder Wool from Sheep Man launches a cloud that hovers a few spaces in front and above you and shoots lightning after a slight delay. Should an enemy touch the cloud before it positions itself, it dissipates. This renders it nearly useless against any non-stationary foe, especially against the boss who’s supposed to be weak to it.
Visually, the environments range from bland to mesmerizing. Nitro Man’s highway stage is a purple mess, while Chill Man’s icy domain is blocky and boring. Levels that fare better include Sheep Man’s, which looks like the innards of a computer, and Strike Man’s: a sports stadium with AstroTurf-lined floors and basketball hoops whose rims can be used as platforms. The minimalist 8-bit style shouldn’t be an excuse for such inconsistency.
Music is central to the Mega Man experience, so I was disappointed by how weak the soundtrack turned out. Mega Man 9‘s tunes were upbeat and infectious, while Mega Man 10‘s are more moody and atmospheric. Decent in their own right, but not as memorable, aside from a few notables. At worst, some tracks sound extremely sour.
What baffles me most is that Mega Man 10‘s score was a collaboration among composers from the entire series history, all the way back to the original Mega Man. This meeting of minds should have produced something legendary, but the result is merely okay.
Despite these shortcomings, the core platforming has never been stronger. Each level is an arrangement of inventive obstacles, from speeding trucks to vision-impairing sand storms. Some even have branching paths, offering incentive for future replays. My favorite is definitely Solar Man’s vertical tower, heavily reminiscent of Elec Man and Fire Man’s domains from the original Mega Man.
Mega Man games are notorious for their high difficulty and this one is no different, but at least the frustration level has been toned down since its predecessor. Mega Man 9 was criticised for its surprise traps that required trial-and-error memorization, but here the hurdles are better telegraphed. If the road is still too tough, there is an easy mode that scales back enemy aggressiveness, covers up many pits and spike beds, and scatters generous amounts of health and ammo pick-ups.
After whomping Wily, you can try your luck at hard mode, or pit your speed-running skills against the world on the time attack leaderboard. Most likely, you’ll want to take on challenge mode, consisting of achievements earned during the main campaign or bite-size events that test the limits of your gaming prowess. The latter set sees you breaking targets with only a specific weapon, carefully navigating spike-laden chambers, or facing the game’s bosses without getting hit.
Beyond that, there is DLC that adds an extra playable character, an endless stage to test your endurance, and three bonus stages with unique bosses. Some may be turned off that these aren’t free and should have been included from the start; in any case, the extra content won’t drop until April and can’t be reviewed at this time.
For such a short game, there is plenty to do. First-time customers can easily put several hours into the main mode, while long-time fans will enjoy the various supplementary activities. It may look like a remnant of the NES era, but it’s quite the robust package.
Ultimately, I can’t say that Mega Man 10 was necessary. It doesn’t accomplish anything that its predecessor didn’t already, and in many areas it falls short of the bar set in 2008. Nonetheless, it provides the hallmark thrills we’ve come to expect from the series, while carving its own little space. It’s solid, fun, and a testament to high quality platforming action.
Now, an SNES-styled Mega Man X9… that’s necessary.
Environments are bright and colorful, but some are just too simple and underwhelming. The boss ensemble, especially the amazing Sheep Man, is cheesy and inventive at the same time.
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Mega Man games have always featured tight controls and addictive rock-paper-scissors mechanics. Why change a good thing?
Features one of the weakest soundtracks in the entire series. It's more of an acquired taste.
Veterans may blow through this in under two hours, but the extra modes extend the life of a series that has always welcomed repeat plays.
It's a solid, if rather unnecessary, sequel in a venerable series. If only more franchises' "average" efforts were this much fun.