What makes the Blue Bomber’s second outing an instant classic?
Minutes before the end of my 35th year of existence, I start to grow nostalgic and contemplative, as one does in their thirties. Of all topics to land on during these moments of reflection, I settle on one of my most cherished childhood games, Mega Man 2, an unforgettable masterclass in action platforming. It blends tight gameplay, a sublime soundtrack, and classic 8-bit visuals, all of which have held up for 30+ years. We’re not likely to ever see again the torrid pace of Blue Bomber outings and spinoffs that the 90s yielded, but the timelessness of so many entries in the Mega Man franchise means picking up an old favourite never ceases to satisfy that jump-and-shoot craving.
Other than the original Final Fantasy, Mega Man 2 probably spent the most time in my NES console. Given that I was four years old when it first came out, my memory of how I came to possess the game is non-existent, but I can still conjure up recollections of bringing the game to friends’ houses, endlessly listening to Flash Man’s or Crash Man’s themes, or scribbling out elaborate passwords—okay, maybe not elaborate compared to the madness that was River City Ransom, but still. So what is it specifically about the second Mega Man game that makes it so addictive and satisfying? Why do I own the game on seven different platforms, including the Mega Man Collection I just downloaded on Switch?
It’s impossible not to be struck by the brilliance of Takashi Tateishi’s soundtrack. The music of each stage so perfectly encapsulates its theme, be it Wood Man’s jungle or Air Man’s sky. If you throw a dart at a genre of music, you’ll surely find a version of Wily’s Theme on YouTube, and it has to be one of the most covered and revered video game tracks of all time. But it’s not just the music; the iconic sounds of jumping and shooting, the grating refill of your health and weapon meters, even picking up an extra life, all of them are just ingrained in my mind. Playing Mega Man 2 is an aural experience just as much as it is a visual and tactile one.
During my most recent replay, I noticed just how short each stage is leading up to the robot master fight. One of my main gripes with Mega Man 11 was that the stages just overstayed their welcome, with every one having multiple checkpoints and mini-bosses. There is an elegance to the brevity of Bubble Man’s stage, for example. You start out of the water, with cascading waterfalls in the background that tease your impending submersion. After a few screens underwater with perilous spikes at the top of the screen, you hop back out to the waterfall vista before reaching Bubble Man himself, whose fight also takes place underwater. The stage itself takes about 2 minutes to get through, and ironically it’s the dry land segments that present the greatest challenge. Ultimately, none of the levels over use a particular gimmick, aside from maybe Heat Man’s disappearing blocks, but that’s what Rush Jet (Item-2) is for, right?
Like with any Mega Man game, determining the weaknesses of each robot master is half the fun, and that initial choice of eight stages is as compelling a design choice as ever. Your path can be dictated by the weapons you’ve acquired, but it’s hard not to want to go for Metal Man first considering the Metal Blade is so incredibly broken. It drains almost no weapon power when you use it and you can aim and fire in eight directions, not to mention it’s the primary weakness for three robot masters: Bubble Man, Metal Man, and Flash Man. That said, I always liked using the Mega Buster for most of my playthrough, and so I often go Bubble Man, Flash Man, and then Metal Man since I remember them always being pretty easy to take down with standard Buster fire. Other than maybe choosing Heat Man first, you really can’t go wrong with any path through the game; it’s a very flexible choose-your-own-adventure, until you remember the instant-kill energy beams in Quick Man’s stage. Probably wise to pick up the Time Stopper from Flash Man first.
There aren’t a lot of games that are both frequently top of mind and thought of in only glowing terms, but for me that is Mega Man 2. Its inclusion on the NES Classic Edition wonderfully demonstrates its lasting appeal and impact. Mega Man 2 made a lifelong fan out of me, to the point where I have unopened E-tank energy drinks from Japan, the soundtrack collection for Mega Man 1 through 10, and countless figures and toys. I don’t replay it as often as I would like, and I’ll never be as good at it as a speedrunner, but to me Mega Man 2 encapsulates the joy of gaming. For that reason, it will never age; it will always be 200X.