Alright, in a recent thread here on Negative World, I made the claim that I think the Gameboy Mega Man games are better than the NES originals. Of course, that was met by some skepticism, so I'm here to explain myself. So without further ado, let's get this thing started.
One of the first things we look at in video games are the graphics, right? Of course! Because what else are you going to look at? Nothing, that's what. And if we were doing that, then why would we be playing video games? We wouldn't, because looking at nothing is not playing video games. Following my logic? Good.
So. With that in mind, we must also take into account that the Gameboy's tiny, monochrome screen is going to have some trouble in the "looks" department when comparing games on the portable to games that would be displayed on your living room's glorious 19" Zenith television set. (because that was top-of-the-line in the '80s, I think?) Knowing this, Capcom squeezed as much as they could into the visuals in their Mega Man titles on Gameboy. It may be monochrome, but the level of detail and overall visual fidelity is astounding. Especially considering what they had to work with. Check out these screens:
Not too shabby for the ol' Gameboy, eh? And I know still images are not the best way to experience the graphics, because what you're not seeing here is that everything is animated. That giant snake enemy from Snake Man's stage above? The tree leaves are swaying in the wind (and maybe to the beat of the music?). The "cutscenes" that show Mega Man about to enter Dr. Wily's castle or Ocean Fortress? Those aren't just still images like you'd see on the NES games. They show the castle, lightning flashing in the background, and then Mega Man teleport in. Or fly in on Rush Jet, after watching the Ocean Fortress rise out of the water. My favorite is probably the cutscene battle between Dr. Wily's mobile Skull Castle (!) and Mega Man's short battle with it before he teleports on to it to take it down piece by piece. Check it: (also take note of the parallax scrolling in the clouds during Dr. Wily's flight. It's neat!)
Okay, so Dr. Wily is an incredibly poor marksman, but back in the early '90s when the game first game out, that cutscene was amazing. Did you get that kind of epic showmanship in the NES titles? No. No, you did not.
Also, check out some of the intros to the games. You didn't get this kind of thing in the NES games. On the console versions, we mostly got some static images or some limited animation for intros. But on Gameboy? Other than not having color, some of this stuff is SNES-level tech. Huge images, fully animated, (by early '90s standards) and even sprite scaling. Check out the intro to Mega Man IV on Gameboy:
And check out the "Weapon Get!" animation from Mega Man III. It's by far my favorite "Weapon Get" animation from the entire franchise. The animation and the music just hit that perfect spot of showmanship and choreography, IMO. Soooo good!
The level of quality outclasses what was seen on the console titles, and I believe the examples above prove that.
Another advantage the Gameboy had over the NES was the fact that you could plug headphones into the system and get stereo sound. The NES was forever stuck with mono audio output, but the Gameboy was able to overcome that. Being able to really immerse yourself in the game with the music and sound effects coming through so crisp and clear was something that was unique and special to the portable system. It really had its benefits. Those of you with a 3DS, go ahead and download Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge from the eShop. Plug in some headphones, and go to Elecman's stage. Listen to the music without headphones (or earbuds), then listen again WITH them. The difference is staggering.
Or just listen via YouTube. Whatevs.
Speaking of Elecman...and other Mega Man villains...yeah. The Gameboy Mega Man titles had something of a controversial point in that for the first four games on the handheld, the Robot Masters were a mix of the bosses from past NES Mega Man games. Some saw this as a weak point for the series. Disregarding the games because they've "played them" before, and saying the bosses were just being "recycled." But such statements are made out of ignorance. At least generally speaking.
You see, even though the bosses were ones you may have seen before, Capcom took the opportunity to create all-new stages for the bosses. They had already taken a "pass" on the stage design on the NES games, but now they could take that formula and refine it to something new and unique. It played on the knowledge and memories of the veteran players to trick them with new layouts, new obstacles, and new enemies in these stages that were similar and familiar, but in the end, different. The bosses may have been the same, but getting to them was a different trip.
But even then, things were different. Because the Gameboy games took only HALF of the bosses from one game, then filled out the remaining four slots of bosses with another four bosses from another game. (so you'd get 4 bosses from Mega Man, then another 4 bosses from Mega Man II for the first game. Then you'd get the remaining 4 bosses from Mega Man 2 in the second game, with the remaining four bosses being made up of bosses from Mega Man 3. And so on in that fashion.) This not only kept things from becoming too predictable for returning players, but also switched up Robot Master's weaknesses and what weapons worked on which boss.
It was a great mix of the familiar and new, and it worked wonderfully.
The Gameboy games were unique in that they seemed to follow their own storyline...while at the same time running parallel to the NES games. Each game on the portable got bigger and more expansive, as Dr. Wily's plans got more and more elaborate. Where the console games got predictable after... the second or third game, handheld games kept you guessing as to how long they were. They switched it up with extra bosses, new stages, and entirely new ways to play Mega Man. (ever wanted to take Rush Jet into space and take on a Wily craft in a SHMUP-like experience? The Gameboy games make that happen!)
We got to see a bit into how Mega Man himself works, too. Actual dialogue from the robot himself, engaging and talking things out with characters he meets, for the first time in the franchise. Some of the stuff is strangely touching and poignant, too. (R.I.P., Ballade! We shall never forget you!)
And of course, the surprise final boss in Mega Man V. The remaining will be blocked for those that haven't played the final Gameboy game yet. Because the surprise was actually worth it.
As I said, the Gameboy games seemed to run parallel to the NES games. When Mega Man V came out on Gameboy, it was just after the release of Mega Man 6 on the NES. In the conclusion of that game, Mega Man had successfully stopped Dr. Wily (theoretically once and for all) by capturing him and placing him in prison. Several months later, when Mega Man V came out, the intro explained that Dr. Wily had not been seen for quite some time, the world had returned to peace, and the robot wars were a thing of the past. Suddenly, a new threat came from outer space, and with some new alien technology, rendered Mega Man's weapons useless. The interesting thing about this was, all the other Gameboy Mega Man games made it clear that Dr. Wily was behind everything. There was no "Dr. Cossack" or "Mr. X" to try and fool the player - it was always Dr. Wily. But Mega Man V not only didn't show Dr. Wily, but clearly showed the new threat (Stardroids) coming from outer space. The fact that Dr. Wily was under lock and key, this new threat with alien technology showing up out of nowhere, and for the first time in the Gameboy series, the Robot Masters were NOT "repeats" from the NES games. It was an entirely new set of bosses, and their own unique stages, themes and weapons. It appeared that this new game was going to take things in an all-new direction. Of course, for those that have played and beaten the game, we know that Dr. Wily was actually behind it all...but for the first time since probably Mega Man 4 on NES, his appearance actually felt like a surprise. It simply wasn't expected. And to be completely fair, he wasn't the FINAL boss anyway, sooo...Capcom kinda went through with their little plan after all.
The Gameboy games in general were a hotbed for new ideas and innovations. Lots of games series, such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and even Castlevania tried all new things for their portable adventures. Capcom's Mega Man was no different. Not only did it switch up your progression during the game (fight 4 bosses, then unlock the other 4 later) but it also introduced new obstacles such as floating landmines, and new enemies like the entire Stardroid crew. New weapons like the Mega Arm, and new allies like Tango. Also new ideas like the SHMUP action stage mentioned above. You didn't get that kind of stuff on NES. Lots of new stuff!
Not to mention P Chips. Introduced in Mega Man IV, P Chips were new collectibles for Mega Man to pick up from destroyed enemies. Collecting enough of these and bringing them back to Dr. Light would allow Mega Man to purchase new items, weapons and extra lives. Sound familiar? Yup, this was the proto-type for Screws, which were introduced in Mega Man 7 years later. Buying new items and abilities from Dr. Light's lab was a first for the series, and it originated on Gameboy.
The Gameboy Mega Man games weren't just remixes of the NES games. In addition to all the things mentioned above, there was always new bosses, too. Enker, the sword-wielding, 9th Robot Master in the first Gameboy game. Quint, the extra-terrestrial pogo-stick wielding weirdo in the second. Punk, the spiky, morph-ball aping boss from the third. And my personal favorite; the conscience-burdened badass, Ballade, with his awesome exploding weapon and sense of justice, from the fourth game. Mega Man V had an entirely new cast, and the entire Stardroid crew was awesome.
The 9th Robot Masters had great weapons, and it was always a joy to add their abilities to your arsenal.
Gameboy Mega Man also introduced some new weapons for Mega Man himself, besides the ones he'd get from defeating the bosses. The powered-up Mega Buster from Mega Man IV just "felt" more powerful - a fully-charged up shot would even give Mega Man a little "kick-back" when the blast left his arm cannon. The Mega Arm was a great new alternative to the Mega Buster, and allowed you to grab enemies and do combo attacks on them, as well as being able to reach and collect far-off items.
Mega Man has always had great music, and the Gameboy games are no exception. Check out the examples below and rock out!
Okay, so new characters. This is going to apply mostly to Mega Man V, as it is the first Gameboy game that is 100% original. Not only do you get 9 all-new Robot Masters, but there's...well, I don't want to spoil anything for those that are unfortunate enough to have not yet played the game. The Stardroids are an imposing group, and their leader, Terra, is a force to be reckoned with. The enemy designs for these new baddies I thought were well-done, too. Some of the best character designs the series has seen.
This game also introduced a new ally for Mega Man - Tango the Cat. Rush may be Mega Man's most loyal companion, but Tango is a worthy partner as well. Fierce and powerful, Tango was able to help clear the screen of baddies, and was an excellent weapon to use against the final boss. It's a shame Tango never returned in a later entry in the series, I would have liked to see him used in other ways, too. Regardless, he was much better and more useful new character than what we got later; which was Auto in Mega Man 7. Blech. (but I digress, I'm talking about the NES games here)
Finally, I'm glad that the Gameboy Mega Man games put the spotlight on Dr. Light. We never really saw him in the NES games, outside of a few scenes in Mega Man 3. But he's an active team member in Mega Man IV and Mega Man V, and seeing him working with and aiding Mega Man in the battle against Wily was a cool addition that helped flesh out the world of Mega Man, in a way that the NES games never really did.
All of the above, with the awesome option of being able to play it pretty much anywhere! Inside! Outside! In the car! On the bus! At a friend's house! At church! On the beach! Underwater!
So those are my reasons why I love the Gameboy Mega Man games so much. They are excellent action/platformer titles, a showpiece for what the Gameboy hardware was capable of, and absolute classics in every sense of the word.
I'll admit a lot of my feelings are due to nostalgia, but I assume that would apply to those that prefer the NES games, too. I think we can agree that Mega Man is an awesome series regardless of what hardware you're playing the games on. But I must remind everyone that even though the portable games were "just Gameboy games" - they are not less than what the console games provided. Sometimes they are even more.
Thoughts? Comments? Cries of anguish? Sound off below!
I haven't played enough of the GB games to make a judgment against the NES six, but I'D SURE LIKE THAT TO CHANGE, HINT HINT CAPCOM HINT WINK NUDGE
Looking forward to the post-launch patch. Sometimes your handheld-vs-console franchise preferences seem nuts to me, but I had a good enough time with Dr. Wily's Revenge and Mega Man II that I can see the GB five being near the level of the NES games.
I just have the first and second games. I don't find them better than the NES series, but they are good games in their own way, and definitely worth playing. I've wanted to try the rest, but they're all a bit too expensive for me, I guess they didn't sell well. Numbering the games like the NES games probably didn't help matters, people probably thought they were the same game as the NES ones, which of course isn't true.
I've played most of the Mega Man games for gameboy and nes and I've got to agree. I've was never able to figure out why but I always enjoyed them more. Maybe because they were challenging but still beatable where the nes games I tended to struggle with them more
I enjoyed reading your list Grant, I just haven't played enough of the Game Boy Mega Man games to know if I would agree or not.
I did play the first one on my old Game Boy back in the day (I plan to buy it for 3DS as well), and yes, I love the music. The Game Boy sound is just awesome, for sure. Whether it sounds better than the NES games, I can't say (though I agree it sounds awesome in stereo with headphones)!
I also owned Mega Man V when the game had released (wish I still had it!), and Tango the Cat was pretty neat, like you mentioned in reason #2, though I don't remember preferring Tango to Rush (Rush is a legend, kind of hard to usurp that role no matter what). I also liked the Super Game Boy enhancements they added to MM V (not sure you would have appreciated it though, Grant, since that defeats the purpose of a portable game, right? ). I do appreciate what Capcom did with MM V, especially in terms of your reason # 7.
In conclusion: Capcom please release more Game Boy Mega Man games on eShop!