I lived in the age of the original Megaman games, and I also own the Megaman Anniversary Collection. In playing through the Megaman franchise, you see a little love lost for the game and level design. All the NES titles are good to excellent, but as the series moved on to other consoles, it seemed to loose something. To see what I mean, pull up YouTube and watch a playthrough of Frostman’s stage:
There doesn’t seem to be any of that “spark” that you find in the earlier titles. The stage doesn’t throw any tricks at you, it just seems to be a straight line through a bunch of enemies with some rocket-snowboarding tossed in as a minigame.
I like to think that this is what Capcom realized when they set upon the creation of Megaman 9. The graphics are retro, for sure, but so is the spirit. Megaman 9 brings back the wonderful level design of the earlier games with some of the lessons of today to make what may be the best in the series.
What makes a good Megaman game is the level design. In the older games, the levels were tests of your memory, reflexes, and (basic) intellegence. Megaman wasn’t about tossing different enemies on the stage, it was about adding enemies as an extension of the stage. It isn’t about destroying tons of enemies, it’s about finding your way to the boss with as much health, lives, and weapon energy as possible.
Level design in Megaman 9 seems to have had as much thought put into it as it was in Valve’s Portal. Level obstacles are introduced gently: in Galaxy Man’s stage, you walk into an empty room with two portals. Hopping into one flings you out of the other one (so I guess the game has a little more in common with Portal than I originally stated). Then, the challenge is ramped up: after this room, the player finds spots in which they must hop in and out of portals over a bottomless pit. This is repeated in every level, players encounter a safe example of what’s to come to learn what to do when the real challenge comes up.
You might argue with me on this point that there are plently of levels in which something will come flying out of a bottomless pit without warning, causing you to fall in yourself. To that I say… well, yeah… but even these instant-kill situations pop up at the beginning of each level before the player has gotten too far. If the player dies towards the end of the level by this means, it’s not because it hasn’t happened before.
Megaman does have a reputation as a game in which you have to die multiple times to know what to do. I’d say that for Megaman 9 this isn’t quite true, though you’ll die a few times for sure.
Well, I still have plenty of game to finish, but it seems like the guys at Capcom have put some real love into this.