Capcom's blue bomber burst onto the scene in 1987. His name (and therefore the name of the game) was and is actually Rockman in Japan, but due to copyright issues in North America, he became known as Mega Man. Don't let the completely misleading box art fool you. This game doesn't consist of wannabe Tron characters riding around with guns on invisible horses and blowing up palm trees. Instead, it consists mainly of trying to not die.
The first thing you see after the title screen is the stage select, and it definitely makes you a little wary. I'm all for keeping it simple, but this singular screen tells you that the game will revolve around defeating six robots, each of which being just a different gimmick. Thanks to the old Mega Man cartoon, enemies like Cutman and Gutsman have grown on us a little, but it feels more on the lame side here.
The good news about it is that the game is fun to play anyway, albeit a bit frustrating at certain points of stages. The gist of the story is that Mega Man is the first cyborg, or android, or whatever semi-human robotic term you want to apply to him. He was made in the actual year 20xx by the beneficent Dr. Light to help the world in peaceful ways, but mean old Dr. Wily (Dr. Light's rival) started making robots to conquer the planet. Dr. Light installed a cannon on one of Mega Man's arms, and sent him off to save the world.
This creates a gameplay environment characterized by jumping and shooting your arm cannon, called the Mega Buster. Each stage is littered with smaller robots designed by Dr. Wily to aid in his conquest, as well as various hazards. Among the hazards, two will instantly kill you. The first is the ubiquitous bottomless pit. The second, of course, is spikes. Now I'm not sure how someone with the intelligence and capability to create an android from scratch fails to solve the problem of "exploding upon any contact with a stationary pointed object," but there you have it. It makes me wonder - if Dr. Wily was so sincere in not wanting to be stopped, why not surround his entire fortress with miles of spikes? He'd be invincible. But I digress.
A nice addition is the fact that when Mega Man defeats a Robot Master, he is able to take that robot's power and use it at the cost of some special energy (refills of which are available throughout the game as item pickups). And every boss is weak to the weapon of a different boss, meaning if you find the proper weakness, you really take advantage and fight the boss in a different way. It's a clever mechanic and a hallmark of the whole series.
The stages each have a distinct feel to them, which is a nice touch. Although some of this plays on the obvious, such as having lightning shooting around on Elecman's stage, many times simple changes of scenery can go a long way to prevent the game from feeling tedious or monotonous. The game really climaxes in the visual department with what you see above. There's not really any good reason for anything that is going on in that picture to be happening. It all just sort of happens simultaneously and without explanation. And it's great.
Now most of the game's content, while often cliched, was at least Capcom's own creation in some way. But then you notice this guy flying around and everything breaks down.
What the hell is that! Who do they think they're fooling, honestly? I don't care that you can shoot them, or that they don't die by jumping on them, or that they explode instead of just plowing through you. That is clearly a Bullet Bill. At least take the face and teeth off, you know? When I saw this I was instantly on the lookout for other Mario standards - Goombas, Koopas, all of it. I'm thankful to say nothing else stood out to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if a number of the other enemies were ripped from different, non-Mario games. Horrible.
And then of course, when you finally get to the heretofore unseen Dr. Wily, you realize that this entire time you've actually been trying to murder Albert Einstein. The guy was apparently the greatest scientific genius of the twenty-first century as well as the twentieth. Greedy snob. He also rides around in a flying saucer. So if this game taught me anything, it is that Albert Einstein was responsible not only for nuclear weaponry, but also for UFO sightings, conspiracy theories, and the eventual robot takeover of Earth. What an ass. And when you finally beat him, he just sits there crying like a little girl. And you let him go. Stupid. I guess we'll see you in Mega Man II, jerk.
Then Mega Man starts running across the screen while the credits roll, as the background scenery slowly changes from a beautiful sunset to downtown Metropolis, and he sort of spontaneously sheds all his armor to star in random NES beat-em-up games. Huh?
All in all, the game is decent. The basic mechanics work well enough, the boss weakness system is good, and the levels are tough without being stupidly hard. But there are some issues hampering the game down. For one thing, movement isn't as tight as it should be. Mega Man always slides a little, as though he were on ice. Which naturally means the ice level itself is a nightmare to play. Some of the stages and bosses are far easier than others as well, which the game basically admits by assigning various scores to each stage for its defeat. Mega Man is a game with promise that falls short a little, while never being bad.
Bottom Line: 12/20