The Black & White Blue Bomber Returns
Mega Man II
The first Game Boy game in the series, Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge, was a surprisingly solid entry despite the small screen. Sure, the adventure was short, and a touch compromised all things considered, but for a first attempt at translating the NES series down to the hand-held form-factor, Dr. Wily's Revenge was a pretty solid title. Certainly it did well enough to warrant a sequel, which is where Mega Man II (Roan Numerals, not Latin) comes in.
Despite debuting after Mega Man 4, this second Game Boy adventure hews close to the style of the first game, picking a selection of Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 villains for the Blue Bomber (well, Black & White Bomber) to battle. Of course, the bosses from Mega Man 2 are the ones that didn't show up in the first Game Boy adventure, but when that set includes Metal Man, who else do you really need? Sure, Air Man and Wood Man are still strange guys and not my favorites of the Robot Masters, but the game at least does a good job of translating them to the small screen. The first half of the game is quite enjoyable to play, blasting through enemies with your Metal Blades, and everything feels faithful to the original NES adventure with just enough added and remixed.
The second half of the game is were things get more interesting. As in the first Game Boy title, once Mega enters Wily's Castle, the hero has to fight four more Robot Masters. In this game, though, Mega won't just battle the evil robots, but he'll also have to fight through their stages first. These four stages take the place of not only the traditional levels of Wily's fortress but also the capsule re-fight stage as well.
On one hand, I appreciate that all the Robot Masters get full stages. This answers one of my big complaints from the first game since now Mega not only earns new Robot Master weapons in Wily's fortress but he gets a good chance to use them as he continues to battle through more stages; if you're going to get more weapons, you should have a chance to really enjoy them, a lesson the developers thankfully learned.
That said, because the second set of Robot Masters (all taken from Mega Man 3) appear in Wily's Castle, the player won't get the benefit of weapon ammo refills between stages. That means players will have to conserve some ammo, and hope for plenty of refills, in the later stages. While it did feel like refills were plentiful enough, the difficulty of this ammo balancing and using your weapons more conservatively could be too much for some players.
I will note that dividing the Robot Masters up into two sets of four is an interesting design choice. I get that the Game Boy had a small screen so for the sake of the opening stage select four Robot Masters was easier to fit instead of all eight. It does change up the formula in interesting ways, though, to the point that some later games (Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8 as well as, to a lesser extent, Mega Man and Bass) went with this design choice as well. I can't say if I like it more or less than just giving us all eight to choose from up front, but the whole formula for the series is so rigid most of the time I can appreciate the little things designers do to mix it up.
I'm curious about the choices made for the Robot Masters. I get that the developers used all the leftover Mega Man 2 bosses and that's fine, but the Mega Man 3 choices are curious. The third game in the series didn't have a single weakness order, but two sets of weaknesses with a couple of soft weaknesses to join them. Magnet to Hard to Top in this game makes sense as that's part of the original weakness order, but Needle wasn't weak to any of those weapons originally. Using Shadow Man or Spark Man would have made more sense, a more seamless fit. Admittedly perhaps that's me being too picky, but it did stand out as something a little odd to me since it changes the continuity of the weapons slightly between games.
That said, the worst offender on the strange and useless weapon circuit is definitely the Sakugarne, a new addition for this game. Effectively a pogo-stick, it's like a ridable weapon that does damage with it's point. It's also really stupid and pretty unwieldy, so of course it's the end boss's weakness. I hate this weapon so much and just don't understand why it was even included in this game. Like, seriously, who thought this weapon was a good idea, really?
But then, the whole game does kind of fall apart by the last section of the adventure. The final stage of the game is the last Dr. Wily fortress, and it's a long, boring slog. Sure, at least the stage is long (as we've seen plenty of short Dr. Wily stages in this series), but it's just not enjoyable. Most of the challenges in the stage are seen in prior sections of the game, but instead of coming up with anything new, or ingenious reinventions of the traps and enemies, the game just adds in more and puts in longer stretches of them. The last stage quickly grows tedious and before long you just hope it'll all be over so you can enjoy the end credits.
Just the actual end credits though, and not the music that goes with them. Or, for that matter, the music in any section of this game. While the first game tried to redo the classic NES tracks for the Game Boy hardware, and did a pretty decent job of it, this new game has an entirely new soundtrack for it. This soundtrack is, without a doubt, awful, full of hard chirping songs and entirely too much in the way of piercing bleeps and terrible riffs. I don't know why the designers went with a new soundtrack instead of just giving us more of the same from the NES games (since that worked so well the first time around). Whatever their reason, this is the first Mega Man game where I actively muted it just so I could play the game itself.
So where does that leave us with the game? I certainly have mixed feelings about it. The early half of the game is great, and I do enjoy the later Robot Master stages even if I find the increase in difficulty to be a bit much at times. The last section of the game, though, is pretty terrible, a sad end to a decent game. Mega Man II certainly had promise, but it just can't quite carry it to the finish line. I think, really, I want to like it more than I actually do, which leaves me at a crossroads trying to justify enjoying a game that stumbles so badly at the mid-way point.
As an occasional play, Mega Man II can sustain my attention, but only in short bursts. It's not great, especially if you try to play it with the soundtrack on, and it wouldn't rate anywhere on my list of top Mega Man games. But who knows, maybe the next game in the Game Boy series will do better?
Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
- Metal Man's Metal Blade (ME): When will this item not be useful right? As on the NES, this weapon has good ammo and good strength along with being aim-able. While I do feel like it might have been nerfed slightly from it's original incarnation, being a little less strong and with a little less ammo that on the NES, it's still over-all a fantastic weapon.
- Needle Man's Needle Cannon (NE): A solid weapon, and a good backup to Metal Blade. As you'd expect, the Needle Cannon does solid damage with plenty of ammo, and can auto-fire at will. If only you could aim this, it'd be even better than Metal Blade.
- Air Man's Air Shooter (AR): Although in function this weapon works the same as on the NES, because of the small screen-size on the Game Boy makes this much more effective. Three tornadoes will come out of Mega's gun and move upwards at an angle, and with the coverage provided, this weapon becomes quite handy. Ammo still isn't great, but it's a good weapon when you don't need to conserve it.
- Magnet Man's Magnet Missile (MG): While homing missiles are always useful, the small screen size of the Game Boy actually hampers this weapon's effectiveness. Enemies can cross the screen much more quickly, causing the missiles to lose their track and fly off without doing anything. It's still a strong weapon, but in practice there are better items available to use instead.
- Top Man's Top Spin (TP): While admittedly I am amused by Top Spin more than I should be, I will note that this weapon is much more effective in this game than it has any right to be. Small passageways about in this game, and Top Spin can do solid work against the weak enemies within. It's still not the greatest weapon for all occasions, but it's oddly effective in many situations in this adventure.
- Hard Man's Hard Knuckle (HA): As in its first appearance, Hard Knuckle is both good and bad. While it packs a strong punch (pun intended), you have plenty of other weapons that can do as well that don't consume as much ammo or move as slowly. I want to like this weapon, but I always end up going back to Metal Blade and Needle Cannon.
- Crash Man's Crash Bombs (CL): If only this weapon had more ammo. As before, the Crash Bombs (well, okay, "Clash Bombs" in this game) are strong and can damage both with their initial impact and their follow up explosions. You just don't get enough of them to make them more useful.
- Wood Man's Leaf Shield (WD): Ugh, this weapon again. As before, this shield-type weapon can be good if all Mega has to do is stand still. The second you move, though, the shield flies off, negating it's overall utility. Good in specific situations and not anywhere else.
- Quint's Sakugarne (SG): My gods why, Capcom. What were you thinking with this weapon/utility. Essentially a pogo-stick for Mega Man to ride, this is a weird, dumb, largely useless weapon that you'll try once and then only use against the final boss. The best thing that can be said about it is you only get it for one level, so you don't have to suffer it for very long.
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
- Rush Jet (RJ): Due to the small screen size of this Game Boy adventure, it's hard to argue that any of the utilities are truly necessary. Still, of the three, Rush Jet is once again the best. Like it's Mega Man 3 counterpart, this Rush Jet is fully controllable, more of a hover-jet than a jet plane. Useful in just about all situations.
- Rush Marine (RM): I wouldn't call this item entirely needed, but at this this second Game Boy adventure does a good job of building sections for it. Two, specifically: an area in Wood Man's stage where you can skip an entire section of the level by going underwater, and another section in Wily's final stage where you have to use it. That's not a lot of uses for the item, but its more than I expected.
- Rush Coil (RC): Poor Rush Coil. Sure, you might need it in the beginning of the game, but once you get your hands on Rush Jet, you have absolutely no use for this item at all.