A New Robot Menace, the Same Ol' Wily
Mega Man and Bass
After Mega Man 8 was released on the PlayStation (and later Sega Saturn), it's fair to say that no one expected another classic series entry to grace the SNES (at least not one that wasn't just a port or compilation). And yet, two years after the eighth game arrives on consoles (and also two years after the Nintendo 64 debuted in Japan), a new Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world. game arrived on the aging SNES console: Mega Man and Bass. It was an odd decision, supposed chalked up to ensuring gamers that didn't have newer hardware could still play around the the Blue Bomber's universe. Whatever the reasoning was, the SNES edition of the game never left Japan's shores. No matter how good the game was, porting it and selling it outside of Japan was a hard sell for such old hardware.
It's a pity, too, because Mega Man and Bass (known original as Rockman and Forte in Japan, as per the naming convention of the series over there) is a solid game that deserved vastly more attention than it received. Considered a spin-off of the main franchise, the game isn't like most other spin-offs and side-adventures. It's not just a compilation of previously released stages (although it does share artwork, assets, and two bosses with Mega Man 8) but it's own, fully-realized platforming experience. Mega Man is called into fight a batch of eight Robot Masters (six new ones plus Astro Man and Tengu Man) who are all working for a new robotic leader, King. Joining Mega Man in the fight is Bass, a robot designed by Wily but who, over the course of the previous two games, gained his own free will. Together, these two will have to run, jump, slide/dash, and power their way through the stages all to put an end to King's plans.
Let us not undersell just how important Bass is to this package. This was the first platforming game in the series to feature different playable characters -- both the Power Battles and it's sequel, The Power Fighters, had multiple playable characters, but it wasn't really a platformer, and while the features was continued in ninth and tenth entries in the series, that was as DLC so the playable characters weren't available at the start. Mega Man and Bass was designed with both characters in mind from the start, crafting stages that complimented their differing abilities so that playing through the game with either character never felt like the exact same experience.
Mega Man, of course, plays just as you'd expect in this game, with his standard run, jump, and slide mechanics. Bass, though, adds a couple of twists to the proceedings. While Bass can't charge up his shots (lacking a Mega Buster), he can rapid fire in all eight directions (although he can't fire while moving). He's also able to perform a double-jump (and dash-jumps), giving him more maneuverability than the Blue Bomber. The two characters really do have enough differences between them that they both feel essential to the package. Personally, I loved playing as Bass since he had more maneuverability, but I know plenty of people who prefer to tackle this game as Mega Man because he's the classic hero. It's a nice fact of this package that it can be played both ways and feels like a complete experience.
Also changing up the formula some is a very different stage select menu. While the previous games had either given you all eight robots to fight at the start (six in the very first game), or broken things up into two waves of four (a variant started with the first of the Game Boy games), Mega Man and Bass gives you a selection of three bosses to fight at the start, and then lets the menu evolve from there -- as you defeat bosses, other stages unlock, making for a more organic, varied experience. Sure, you still have to fight all eight Robot Masters to get to the end portion of the game, but just this little change makes the process of selecting stages feel very fresh.
Sadly, the part of the game that feels somewhat less fresh are the stages themselves. At this point, through eight main titles and six portable ports, we've seen many of the basic mechanics and stage quirks the series had to offer. While Mega Man and Bass does a good job of implementing all the basic hazards and enemies we'd expect, it really doesn't add a whole lot to the proceedings. If you've played any of the recent games (including Mega Man 7 and especially Mega Man 8) you've seen all this before. The game doesn't even have any really wacky things like the auto-scrolling shooter stages or snowboarding sections from the eighth game; this is a very rote, standard Mega Man experience.
Not helping that feeling at all is the fact that so much of the game reuses elements from Mega Man 8. While there are six new Robot Masters in the title -- Dynamo Man, Cold Man, Ground Man, Pirate Man, Burner Man, and Magic Man -- the game itself liberally reuses assets from the PlayStation iteration. It's not just Mega Man, Bass, and the stage enemies that are reused, but much of the basic artwork, sub bosses, and two Robot Masters. For instance, Clown Man's stage is reassembled into Magic Man's stage, while Aqua Man's watery themed area is remade into Pirate Man's stage. For the most part you can easily see a one-to-one transition of assets, making this feel less like its own entry and just a remixed version of Mega Man 8.
Which, as research would show, it basically was. Remember that the producers wanted this game to be a bridge for gamers than might have missed Mega Man 8 and still wanted to keep up with the series. This game basically is a side-version of the eighth entry, a remixed version of ported to a different console (Konami did the same thing a few years prior with Castlevania: Dracula X, a remixed version of the TurboGraphix CD Rondo of Blood, released for the SNES). Even in the code of the game itself Mega Man and Bass is referenced as "Mega Man 8.5", showing the true intent of the game.
And, if you evaluate the game as a different version of Mega Man 8, one that you don't have to compare to its PlayStation brother, the game holds up pretty well. Sure, the stages aren't anything new, but they're still solid, lengthy platformers produced on aging hardware. The graphics are crisp and clean and compliment the action on screen (instead of muddying it, an issue I had with the PlayStation entry). It's a light, fun, breezy game that, depending on how you play it, is honestly one of the easier entries in the series, and I really like that.
Now, I can already hear people yelling because Mega Man and Bass has a reputation for being balls-out hard, and depending on how you play the game I can see that. Certainly if you want to play it like a speedrunner, or if you wanna make it challenging, you can do so. There's an upgrade you can buy, Counter Attack, that allows the heroes to extra damage if they're at critical health; it's super useful, but it also means you're riding a razor's edge the whole time to get the benefit of the weapon. If you're a scrub like me you'll probably take the game a little slower, using Bass for his abilities while avoiding purposefully taking damage, and that greatly takes the edge off the game. While it's still a Mega Man game, I never found my frustration level increasing anywhere near as much as it did with most of the classic NES titles. It's not an easy game in comparison to, say, a Kirby title (also games I love), but it is fun.
That said, I don't know if it's fair to judge this game as if it exists in a vacuum; it came out two years after the game it was based on (and even longer for the GBA port to eventually come out and arrive in the States), a long enough time for a real, main-line entry in the series to arrive instead. Fans certainly treat it like a different game, and that's how we have to view it. And even if we view it just as a port, or a side adventure, we still can't view it without remembering Mega Man 8 -- it's like trying to play Dracula X and pretend the superior Rondo of Blood isn't out there -- it's an impossible feat of mental gymnastics. And in comparison to the PlayStation entry, this game just feels compromised. It's good, but not as good, fun but not as creative, and overall it just feels like a stop gap to something more.
I certainly don't think Mega Man and Bass is a bad game. It feels like more of the same in much the same way that most Mega Man titles have after a certain point. It's hard to shake the vibe that the series creatively peaked with Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 and that everything since has been iterations on the theme. Certainly Mega Man 8, with its updated graphics and weirdo diversions, made for a varied game (even if I had other issues with the title). By reusing so much of the assets for this game, though, Capcom basically fed back into that "more of the same" vibe that so many fans of the series dread. For every great innovation the series would craft, there were plenty of titles that just cranked out the same old material again and again, and that's really what happened here.
Despite that, though, I think a lot of people will have fun with this title. While it might not feel fresh to people that have played through the whole series, even the "worst" of the main-line titles have still be fun and playable. A "bad" Mega Man game is still great in comparison to so many other titles out there -- Capcom has always known what it was doing with the main series (no matter how many after games like Mega Man Soccer it would put out on the side), and Mega Man and Bass upholds that tradition.
So, really, your mileage with the game is really going to boil down to how invested in the whole series you are. If you're casual and just pick up the odd title here or there, you'll probably find a lot to like in the game. Just having Bass as an option, along with the varied stage selection, makes this interesting enough for at least one play through. Hardcore fans, though, may want more from this package than they're likely to get. It's good but not that good. A fine entry in the series but nothing truly special. It's a game that wasn't released outside of Japan and while I'm happy it finally was ported to the GBA for everyone to play, I can also perfectly understand that decision.
Of course, the fact that we didn't get another main-line entry in the series for another ten years makes Mega Man and Bass seem more important than it might have otherwise. For an entire decade this game was the final word on the series, casting a weird perspective over the game. If Mega Man 9 had come out a year or two after this title, maybe we'd view as just another ho-hum side-story in a series full of them, likening it to the Game Boy titles instead of treating it like a major, main-line entry. Instead this fine little game doesn't really hold up to the legacy that was placed on it due to history and release schedules.
Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
- Cold Man's Ice Wall: There aren't honestly that many bad weapons in this game's selection. They all have their uses, for the most part, but the most useful weapon of the set is the one that, by all rights, should be the worst. Ice Wall allows our heroes to make a wall in front of them that they can then push to slide across the ground. This is, essentially, a bubble-type weapon but what makes it useful is the fact that the heroes can stand on top of it and ride the wall along. Considering there isn't a Rush Jet/Coil type weapon in this game, Ice Wall is the most important utility you're going to get.
- Magic Man's Magic Card: A boomerang-style weapon that travels straight out (or straight up) and then comes right back. Can also collect objects behind walls and bring them to the hero. Good power and a lot of ammo makes this a solid weapon for the mid-game.
- Astro Man's Copy Vision: This is an odd weapon, but one I really like. When activated a copy of the hero is placed, auto-firing in a single direction. The hero can then run around and fire as well, layering on the damage. It takes a bit of setup to use right but can be very useful in tight situations.
- Pirate Man's Remote Mine: This weapon should seem familiar to anyone that has played Mega Man X2 (Magnet Mines). The hero will fire out a mine that will travel along the screen. It can then be controlled up or down (in a limited fashion). Once it connects with something it will have a short timer before exploding. The weapon has good power and decent ammo, making it another solid weapon.
- Tengu Man's Tengu Blade: A powerful, short range melee than then shoots out a whirling blade for a short distance. It's nice and strong, making it good for close quarters and decent at longer ranges.
- Burner Man's Wave Burner: Another weapon that seems ripped from the X series (Flame Mammoth's weapon this time). The hero will shoot out a constant spray of flame in front of them, creating a nice, powerful plume of damage. It even works underwater, causing a cascade of steamy air. Strong, but limited in range.
- Dynamo Man's Lightning Bolt: I'm not normally much for screen clearing weapons, and this one has many of the same issues as all the other clearers in the game. When used, lightning bolts will rain from the sky, covering the screen in damage. It has decent enough ammo, but just not enough to make it great for all situations. Plus, without any upgrades, you don't even get enough of this weapon to kill the robot weak to it.
- Ground Man's Spread Drill: This weapon should be better than it is. The hero will fire out a missile that with them break apart twice into tinnier missiles, dealing damage to anything they touch. While that's great in theory, the missiles are slow and hard to aim, making it cooler in principle than in practice.
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
- Treble Booster: If you're Mega Man you're shit out of luck when it comes to maneuvering items -- Ice Wall is your best bet. Bass, though, gets the jet suit upgrade via his dog, Treble. Totally awesome and totally worth it.
- Rush Search: Like in Mega Man 7, Rush will search the ground and dig up items. If you're really set on getting 100% in the game, you'll need this. Everyone else can ignore this shop-exclusive item.
- Eddie: If you wanna roll the dice and see what this guy will give you, active Eddie once per stage for a free item. Good luck getting anything good, though.
- Beat: The bird will swoop in and deliver a barrier for you, protecting you against some damage. I still prefer Beat in the previous games where he'd zoom in and inflict unholy damage. Sad how far he's fallen.
Dr. Light's Shop Parts (Best to Worst)
In addition to all the basic weapons and upgrades Mega Man can use, there's also a full shop with all kinds of bonus upgrades to earn. Instead of listing them above, since they are numerous in this game, we're breaking them out into their own section. Just bear in mind there are a lot of upgrades you can purchase but you can only have one active at any given time. While you can farm bolts, you'll have to be selective about what you use when.
- Super Armor: Reduces the amount of damage you take. If you suck at these kinds of games, like I do, this is a must buy.
- Auto Recover: A Mega Man exclusive item, give your hero slow health regeneration. So useful, if you can afford it.
- Energy Balancer: Just like you'd always expect, the Energy Balancer once again takes any unused weapon ammo collected and distributes it among any of the weapons that are lowest on ammo. Such a great utility to have.
- Energy Saver: Special weapons use less ammo when activated. For most players, it's either this or the Energy Balancer, and I think it's fair if you make either choice.
- Auto Charger: A Mega Man exclusive item that auto-charges up the Mega Buster. If you really like wailing with the plasma shots, this is a great item.
- Super Buster: This Bass exclusive item makes his buster even stronger. A great upgrade considering he can't charge his attacks like Mega Man can.
- Hyper Buster: Normally Bass's shots can't go through walls, but with this exclusive item his shots become faster and can go anywhere. An essential upgrade
- High Speed Charge: Charge up the Mega Buster even faster with this Mega Man exclusive item. You really can make Mega Man quite the beast if you spend enough bolts.
- High Speed Dash: This Bass exclusive item makes his dash even faster. Considering how maneuverable he already is, this can really make him quite the flying force.
- Super Recover: This upgrade enhances your health pickups granting you greater healing. Super nice.
- Counter Attack: Upgrades the amount of damage the heroes deal but, to balance this, the heroes have to be at critical health for it to activate. Speedrunners love this item but scrubs like me tend to avoid it.
- Shock Guard: Lessens the damage dealt from spikes. Sadly, once it's used it goes away and you'll have to buy another. Nice, but limited.
- Item Presenter: A one-time-use item that essentially acts like an E-Tank. Use this item in a stage an a large fill-up will appear. Useful, especially given the dearth of other healing items in the game, but I found health drops to be plentiful enough that I really didn't have to buy these.
- Damage Absorber: Takes the damage you suffer and converts it to weapon energy. This would be great if there were more healing items but, without them, you're basically getting yourself hurt for ammo, only hastening your demise.
- Step Booster: This item allows Bass to climb ladders faster. Maybe this is something you care about, but I never felt like the ladder climb speed was something that really needed an upgrade.
- Exit Unit: Allows the hero to exit any cleared stage without having to traverse the whole area. If you're going to go through the game and try to collect everything (including all the hidden CDs) this could be useful. For most players, though, each stage needs to only be visited once, so this items isn't so useful.
- Com System: Talk to Roll and get hints. Honestly, has anyone ever felt the need to buy this?
- Enemy Analyzer: Enhances the Com System to give you boss hints. Great, I guess, but considering the fact that most of the bosses seemed pretty easy, I don't really see the usefulness.
- CD Counter: Enhances the Com System to show you how many CDs are left in a stage. Only useful if you're trying to 100% the game and don't have all the locations memorized.
- CD Finder: Mega Man can use this item to find the locations of hidden CDs. Of course you'll have to have Rush dig them up, just to make this even more annoying.
In 2002 (JP)/2003 (Worldwide) Capcom re-released Mega Man and Bass on the Game Boy Advance. This seems like a straight port with very little difference between the games aside from a proper English translation (and not a fan patch like for the SNES edition). For those looking to buy a legal copy outside Japan, this is the version to grab.