Friday 5 December 2014

Mega Man (Game Gear review)

Developer: Freestyle
Publisher: U.S. Gold
Released: 1995


Here's an obscure Mega Man game that a lot of people aren't aware of. It was released late in the Game Gear's life (only in North America) and developed by Freestyle under license from Capcom.

The main thing to note is that this isn't technically a port; it's more a combination of previous games. It takes a number of graphical features from Mega Man 2 (NES) and mixes it in with some reworked elements / stages from Mega Man 4 and 5 (NES). Once again your task is to take down Dr. Wily and there are six Robot Masters to defeat and eight stages in total. Each stage is lengthy and the environments are unique and memorable; I especially love Wave Man's stage where you're riding on a jetski while blasting away incoming enemies! I was surprised to see the return of Quick Man's stage from MM2 though with its dreaded energy beam section. The addition of the slide move from MM3 makes things a bit easier but it's still a pain and you'll probably lose several lives trying to figure out the best route to the bottom platform. The main issue with this game is the handheld's resolution (160x144) as the developers had to zoom in on the action to make the sprites easier to see. As a result, there are many points where you can't see what lies one platform below you and your only choice is to resort to a leap of faith. Considering the scarcity of extra lives and the already high difficulty of the game this design flaw can lead to some seriously frustrating moments. I'm also not a big fan of the special weapons; in particular, the Bomb and Crash power-ups are difficult to execute in the heat of battle and for the majority of the game I ended up using the standard Buster with its useful charge blast. To me, this defeats the purpose of progressing through the stages to earn special abilities that you can use against certain Robot Masters.

The graphics are excellent though and the characters and backgrounds are full of detail. Unlike some of the Mega Man titles on the NES there's absolutely no sign of slowdown making for some smooth gameplay and responsive controls. The music is okay but each track sounds way too much like a Commodore 64 game from the mid 1980's!

This Game Gear version of Mega Man gets a lot of flak in the gaming community, yet it's actually a pretty decent entry in the series. It does have some flaws and doesn't quite reach the height of some of the earlier NES titles but it's still a fairly well crafted handheld game that's worth picking up if you can find it.

Random trivia: This game has a number of inconsistencies with previous entries in the series. For example, Star Man is incorrectly coloured green on the stage select screen, Wave Man's level has Gravity Man's music and the ending randomly shows Dr. Cossack's Citadel exploding instead of Wily's Castle!

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