In 2015, the original Mega Man Legacy Collection showcased Mega Man as a product of a single, 8-bit era. Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 presents Mega Man across three divergent generations of hardware. Its housing of Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8, Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10 completes the core of Mega Man and follows a model established by the previous collection. Value and responsibility, however, are its weakness. Legacy Collection 2 rarely strays outside of expectations.
Mega Man is a set of rules common across, at the very least, ten core games. Eight (usually) Robot Masters must be defeated before Mega Man can tackle a more dynamic gauntlet in Dr. Wily’s fortress. Each Robot Master has a unique ability that can be collected and used, to great effect, against other Robot Masters. Some of these abilities will also aid Mega Man’s platforming abilities.
But you probably already knew this. You also may have known these four games individually. If you don’t, or you just like reading some guy’s estimation of these games, please enjoy longer-than-necessary summaries of each game.
Mega Man 7
Mega Man 7’s existence was almost unaccountable. When it released to the Super Nintendo in early 1995, it followed two of Mega Man’s presumed successors, Mega Man X and Mega Man X2. The late-blooming X series seemed poised to mature across the Super Nintendo in the same manner six Mega Man games ran through the Nintendo Entertainment System. X‘s mechanical evolution and aesthetic departure was a suitable fit for new hardware, and both left Mega Man’s austere origins in the past.
A dubious premise further complicated Mega Man 7’s birth. Reportedly developed in just three months and then shelved for over a year, it’s hard to interpret its emergence without cynicism. Reviews were not kind and marketing was unsupportive, inducing Mega Man 7’s infamy and petrifying its incredible asking price on the secondary market. Enthusiasts wanted to own Mega Man 7, but few actually wanted to play it.
Twenty-two years down the road, it’s easier to appreciate Mega Man 7’s earnest attempt at spreading its venerable thesis across a new(er) generation of hardware. Bright colors, boisterous animation, and the unmistakable trill of the S-SMP sound unit act as a nostalgia induction apparatus. This is cheating, most Super Nintendo games retain those unique qualifiers, but without its olden baggage Mega Man 7 is allowed to shine brighter in 2017 than it ever could in 1995.
Immediately noticeable is the realignment of Mega Man 7’s robot masters. Just four are presented at the outset, all with corresponding weaknesses. Eight are still there in total (four more appear after the original four are defeated), simplifying Mega Man for a pre-internet world. Other than brief interstitial sequences, a run through Dr. Wily’s fortress with its requisite Robot Master gauntlet, punctuates the eight core levels. Each phase of Wily’s fortress also has its own mixture of trial-and-error level design and pattern-reliant bosses. Structurally, not much changed.
Mechanically, however, Mega Man 7 draws inspiration from its X counterparts. Finding a few hidden powers or Rush parts neatly tucked inside levels returns, as does a suite of special abilities. Meeting up with Proto Man in Cloud Man and Turbo Man’s stage leads to a hidden confrontation inside Shade Man’s level, earning Mega Man Proto Man’s coveted shield. Finding all of the R-U-S-H letters reissues Mega Man 6’s Super Adaptor, and the Energy Equalizer is tucked away in inside Shade Man’s stage. Only Rush Search, where Rush is summoned to sniff out currency bolts or extremely hidden items, feels like a gimmicky waste of time.
Mega Man 7 also featured a deep appreciation for context-sensitive secrets. A tree in Slash Man’s stage can be set on fire with the Scorch Wheel ability, revealing a hidden ladder. Cloud Man’s menacing weather bot could be offset if blasted with Freeze Cracker. Platforms that were once opaque become clear and the pitch-black rain is replaced with a bright snowy afternoon. It’s an entirely different color pallet, which is easier to appreciate when you understand the development strain of 16-bit ornamental assets.
Mega Man 7 suffers in familiar places. With eight games and 46 (somewhat) unique abilities behind him, there isn’t much ground left to cover. Spring Man and his Wild Coil are novel but practically useless. Junk Man’s Danger Wrap is the expected shield power while Shade Man’s short range Noise Crush is conceptually inventive but mechanically ineffective. Bass, a new enigmatic rival for Mega Man to oppose, fills the role abandoned by a less mysterious Proto Man. Mega Man 7 is consumed by escalation, but development had neither the time nor the power to properly follow through.
Mega Man 8
Within two years, traditional Mega Man would abandon Nintendo platforms. Mega Man 8 was one of the few 2D games Sony literally allowed to latch on to the PlayStation’s accent. The impact of proper 3D gaming couldn’t be overstated, and Mega Man 8’s timing, just a few months after Super Mario 64, didn’t do it any favors. Contemporary 2D peers, like The Adventures of Lomax, had incredible sprite work but remained unable to confront the onslaught of a polygonal future. Even in its battle-tested refinement, and just a few months away from Symphony of the Night, 2D gaming was unattractive and unrecognized.
Mega Man 8 responded with appendages to its presentation. A few enemies rotate 3D objects around their sprites and scene transitions offers a few flashes of polygonal text. Mega Man 8 also features some of the worst voice acting ever recorded, ranging from the fatigued taunts of the Robot Masters to Dr. Light’s mid-sentence amnesia. I get it — it was 1997 and voice acting was still a relatively new field, but it cements Mega Man 8 as the reason why you don’t get people around the office to handle the English dub. Oh well, at least the animated scenes still look fairly nice.
The strain of a generational transition is also visible inside Mega Man 8. While the levels are, overall, much longer, their performance falls off balance when it walks between old and new. There are classic, single screen segments full of ladders, disappearing platforms, and Sniper Joes. Joining them are example of raw power, like when a dozen Mets are deployed simultaneously or Kemumakin lays neon smoke across the screen. Capcom tried to pay Mega Man 8’s debt to its heritage while simultaneously embracing modern hardware and results were, at best, mixed.
There are other instances where creativity clashes with repetition. Clown Man’s stage is ripe with background toys that affect the foreground. Astro Man’s stage contains two legitimate mazes with switches and doors. One of the more forward-thinking segments is found in Sword Man’s stage, where Mega Man must complete four tiny puzzle rooms to lift four gates. Only Aqua Man’s stage, where Mega Man’s price control is stripped in favor of a sloppy swimming mechanic, seems to go off model.
While Mega Man 8’s Robot Masters are often subject to paralysis, their powers are better integrated into each level. Thunder Claw effectively turns Mega Man 8 into Bionic Commando, allowing Mega Man to swing across specific grapple points. Tornado Hold’s ability to displace enemies doubles as replacement for Rush Coil, and Flash Bomb’s delayed detonation leaves room for timing and strategy. There doesn’t appear to be as great an emphasis on mid-level secrets, and Wily’s fortress isn’t especially adept at testing every ability, but it’s still a step ahead of Mega Man 7.
Mega Man 8 also attempted to simplify the in-game economy. Bolts, Mega Man’s currency, function as hidden objects. Only a finite amount exist and most are well hidden. They can be spent on traditional upgrades like the Exit Part and Energy Balancer but also feature the Power Shield (Mega Man won’t get pushed back when he’s damaged) and a pair of Mega Buster-affecting options. It was difficult to know if Mega Man 8 was evolving at a glacial pace or just, well, didn’t care about progression. Mega Man 8 felt more like a product of its lineage than a product of its time.
As a part of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, it’s unfortunate that this version of Mega Man 8 doesn’t feature content from the Sega Saturn edition. Both Cut Man and Wood Man were a part of Duo and Search Man’s stages, respectively, and their absence is disappointing. Given the relatively light extraneous content of the entire Legacy Collection 2 package, missing original content, in any form, is indefensible.
Mega Man 9
Few games were as perfect for their time and place as Mega Man 9. Downloadable game services for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were searching for identity while “retro” inspired games, like Capcom’s own Bionic Commando Rearmed, were justifying their place in the market. Even 8-bit inspired chiptune music, via bands like Anamanaguchi and Crystal Castles, was gaining popularity. Twenty years is a sensible amount of time to ignite an interest in the past, qualifying Mega Man 9’s visible commitment to a bygone aesthetic.
Capcom and Inti Creates made a faithful, or at least faithful looking, 8-bit game in 2008. In 2017 it’s hard to relate what shock that was, especially to those of us whom held Mega Man dear. Not only were they finally making a sequel to Mega Man 8, but they were doing it like Mega Man 2; No sliding, no Chrage Shot, and no Rush armor. There was even an option to enable screen flicker. Mega Man 2 was the legend Mega Man 9 was aiming for, and even though you couldn’t really hope to kill the king, any attempt with this measure of devotion was admirable.
Mega Man 9 wound up splitting its time between old and new. Included were expected disappearing/reappearing platforms, vicious underwater sequences, and dastardly gotcha-style enemies. Joining them were Galaxy Man’s momentum teleporters, Tornado Man’s wind-powered jumps, and Hornet Man’s Mega Buster-adjusted platforms. Robot Masters, as expected, conformed to an organized list of weaknesses and deployed their patterns effectively.
Difficulty, somehow, quickly became Mega Man 9’s brand. While a generous economy and purchasable E-Tanks helped ease the pain, an onslaught of well-placed spikes, enemies appearing off screen, and bastard-hard fake-outs were a rallying cry for the return of “proper” difficulty. This was novel (again) in 2008, but feels like a novice maneuver in 2017. Super Meat Boy and Spelunky, in the years that followed, embraced this concept without the baggage Mega Man 9 was forced to carry. Mega Man 9 was everything a Mega Man revival needed to be, but tenacity was sacrificed for novelty.
While I was delighted by Mega Man 9 in 2008 (it even made my top ten that year), I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in 2017. It made me wonder what Mega Man could have been had it continued on the path of Mega Man 8. The ideas, the colors, and the pixel art deserved to evolve. And maybe they did—Mega Man Zero and the latter X games carried Mega Man’s ideas further than 8 did—but, in retrospect, the official brand of Mega Man 9 has a debt to the past and no concern for its future.
Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, either by beating the game or entering a secret code, contains all of Mega Man 9’s downloadable content. Endless Attack, Hero Mode, and Superhero Mode are accounted for. Proto Man is also available as an alternate character, although he kind of throws Mega Man 9’s stages out of balance. The Special Stage and Fake Man are there, too. There’s no word yet on whether or not that still-undiscovered mystery, referenced by Capcom when promoting Mega Man 9, is inside this package.
Mega Man 10
With its binding aesthetic and risk-adverse obligations, Mega Man 9 was positioned to reboot the classic Mega Man franchise. Mega Man 10, on the other hand, presented an opportunity for Capcom and Inti Creates to address Mega Man under the lens of the 21st century. The tenth entry in a series full of (at this point) god knows how many games doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a sequel, but, in its own way, Mega Man 10 was only keeping score against Mega Man 9. We knew what Mega Man could do, but we didn’t know how far he’d be willing to go.
Options and expansions are immediately available. Mega Man 10 offers an easy (and hard) mode that adjusts platforming demands and damage values. It also provides the opportunity to play as Proto Man from the very beginning via an alternate save file. Neither sliding nor the charge shot return, keeping Mega Man 10 closer to Mega Man’s origins. The item department is largely the same as well, carrying over Mega Man 9’s economy and bolt currency.
As expected, each stage has its own thematic gimmick. Pump Man’s drab colors and slime shooting Mets relive the thrill of travelling in a dank sewer. Chill Man introduces breakable ice platforms and Nitro Man deploys homicidal buses. Commando Man’s screen encompassing sandstorms walk an unstable line between skill and luck, although at least his sand theme makes more sense than Sheep Man’s sentient mouse cursors.
Mega Man 10’s stages and Robot Masters feel closely knit together. Strike Man, with the stadium backdrop, pitching machine enemies, and sentient gym lockers is the most delightful theme in a modern Mega Man game. It’s corny, sure, but the playful features highlight Mega Man’s latent gusto and charm. The art for the Mega Man always retained a certain cuteness unfound in the actual game. Regarding boss weapons, it’s also fitting that Chill Man’s spike attack is used to damage Nitro Man’s motorcycle ability (it’s a spike stripe! for a car!).
Mega Man 10’s deep allegiance to twenty-year-old design principles continued to be a paralyzing weakness and a source of power. I would have preferred Capcom to push it harder, to retain the NES style while performing in ways an NES never could. Mega Man 10, other than its overzealous themes, never seeks to go beyond its rules. At the same time; give the people what they want. Even two games in, the idea of another slavishly faithful 8-bit Mega Man was satisfying for an aging market.
Like Mega Man 9, Mega Man 10’s downloadable content is available via beating the game or entering a code. Bass, along with Treble, is by far the greatest addition. His shots don’t hit as hard and he can’t fire while running, but god is his rapid fire and multi-directional aiming satisfying. Treble essentially allowing 360 degrees of flight is good too. Mega Man 10’s DLC also deployed new special stages and Robot Masters resurrected from Mega Man’s suppressed Game Boy entries. Deep cuts, for sure, but that’s exactly Mega Man’s audience deserved.
Mega Man 10 is seven years old and, technically, still the newest entry in the official Mega Man series. Whether it’s creatively spent or technically proficient (or both!) is open to interpretation, but it’s easily the best game inside Mega Man Legacy Collection 2. It owes its performance to every single game that came before it, sure, but because of that it also neatly avoids common pratfalls. If you had to play one game divorced of time and place, none operate better than Mega Man 10.
Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 carries extras similar to the original Mega Man Legacy Collection. Included are separate art galleries for each game, as well as game-specific extraneous challenges. You can also halve the damage values of each game, making a notably “hard” series a touch easier. New display options are present too, including a light scanline filter and widescreen mode if you want to make every game look like shit. Legacy Collection 2 doesn’t have frame-specific save states, but it is generous with its checkpoint/reloading system.
It is insane that Mega Man & Bass isn’t included in this set. 1998-issued Super Nintendo games are an intense rarity, but even a version of the Game Boy Advance port would have been appreciated. Mega Man Soccer, Rockman Battle & Chase, or even that PC-only Mega Man X Street Fighter freebie would have helped boost Legacy Collection 2’s game count. I understand that Legacy Collection 2’s games appearing on more advanced systems creates a theoretically better value proposition than six NES games, but, as a tome of Mega Man deployed to satisfy 2017, it’s disappointing that a sequel, technically, has less content. At least Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 now exist in the physical universe.
Legacy Collection 2 captures Mega Man both embracing and resisting time. Both models are valuable, although which one is more attractive—either fight against the tide with Mega Man 8 and Mega Man 9 or roll with it alongside Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 10—is subject to personal taste. Legacy Collection 2, while imperfect, provides a suitable direction to follow four mainline Mega Man games across modern hardware.
(This review of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is intended to cover the Xbox One version of the game. For a look at the PlayStation 4 version and a profound focus on wordplay, please enjoy Steve Schardein’s more timely review)