Let your fingers do the shooting.
Mega Man Anniversary Collection is a compilation of some of the best action games ever made. The disc contains Mega Man 1-8, as well as two fighting-style arcade games never before released in the U.S. With ten good-to-great-to-classic games and a budget price, you really can’t go wrong with this package unless you have zero interest in the series.
This isn’t really a review of the original games, but it’s worth going through each one briefly with a few comments on its significance in the series and relative quality.
Mega Man: The original game was breathtakingly revolutionary in its time, developing a gameplay formula so solid that it remained fun and captivating for a decade, with very few changes in that span of time. It is also arguably the hardest game in the series, particularly because of the slippery controls, which were improved in the sequels.
Mega Man 2: Widely regarded as the best game in the series, it’s also my personal favorite. This first sequel spiced up the level designs and boss characters dramatically, but otherwise avoided major changes. It’s just a lot more polished and a bit more forgiving than the original.
Mega Man 3: This game introduced the slide move, the mysterious Proto Man, and Mega Man’s robotic dog, Rush. It’s a good bit longer than most of the other games in the series, thanks to four extra levels remixed from the initial set of eight, each one pitting you against a pair of bosses from Mega Man 2.
Mega Man 4: The charge shot makes its debut, but this game is otherwise unremarkable. It’s the first game in which Mega Man fights a new main villain, Dr. Cossack, but the newcomer is not who he seems.
Mega Man 5: Another sequel with fairly little new material. This game marks the debut of Beat, the robotic bird, but finding him requires an enormous effort and is not really worth it. There are also some vehicles (a boat and skateboard) which are featured in forced-scrolling segments.
Mega Man 6: The last NES game in the series takes a turn for the better, with new suits that let Mega Man fly and use extra strength to break blocks and destroy shielded enemies. The boss themes are pretty awful, with such stinkers as Plant Man and Tomahawk Man.
Mega Man 7: The first and only SNES title for the classic branch of the franchise, this game finally updates the ancient character art and animation, but otherwise plays just like the older games. A new focus on story includes cut-scenes with dialogue and the introduction of new characters Bass and Treble.
Mega Man 8: The classic series came to an end on Playstation with this game, released on the tenth anniversary of the original Mega Man. There’s a shop to buy new weapons and upgrades, and the story is told through horribly acted anime scenes. The gameplay is still remarkably close to the original game. This can be one of the more difficult games, due to the lack of energy tanks for the first time since they debuted in Mega Man 2.
Mega Man: The Power Battles: This arcade fighting game is really just a string of boss battles, with somewhat different control mechanics and the option of using Proto Man or Bass in addition to Mega Man. The opponent AI is atrocious, and since you gain a new weapon after every fight, the game can be extremely easy. It’s interesting to see the old bosses rendered in this game’s unusual, hand-drawn art style.
Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters: The arcade sequel is a vast improvement but still rudimentary and fairly easy (especially with “free play” enabled, as it is for Anniversary Collection). The cooperative two-player mode is even easier but can be more fun, since you compete for special weapons and energy refills dropped by the bosses. The ending scenes are surprisingly interesting and include at least one reference to the Mega Man X series, which takes place hundreds of years later in the chronology.
Tying these games together is a very simple, yet cumbersome, menu system represented by Mega Man and a series of hallways and doors. The two arcade games are unlocked after playing through a certain point in the other games, but Mega Man 1-8 are available immediately. There are also a few secrets to be unlocked, including an interview with series creator Keiji Inafune which was originally shown on the G4 cable network. The other secrets include some pencil drawings of the characters and a very few remixed music tracks. Unfortunately, you can’t play the games with remixed music; that feature is available only in the PS2 version of the compilation, which also contains many more remixes and an episode of the (terrifying) Mega Man anime.
The PS2 version has one other big advantage…its controls aren’t screwed up. You see, in the GameCube version, every single one of these games is cursed with a baffling, non-configurable, reversed control scheme. B jumps, and A shoots. It seems like such a small thing, but considering that jumping and shooting are pretty much all you do in the Mega Man series, the flaw is critical. It makes charging shots and shooting while jumping needlessly difficult, and moreover, it’s just difficult for old-school fans to adapt to a button layout which is precisely the opposite of what these games originally used. We really shouldn’t be subjected to such issues, and if you can get the PS2 version, I recommend doing so primarily on the basis of this problem. Otherwise, dealing with reversed controls won’t kill your enjoyment of this collection, but it will dampen your enthusiasm and feelings of nostalgia. There are numerous other minor issues with how the games are rendered on GameCube, including weird frame jitters and black borders on the sides of the screen, but all of these could go unnoticed by many players. The control issue is right there under your thumb, and there’s no way to fix it short of rewiring your controller.
If you can get over the criminal lack of configurable controls, it’s hard to go wrong with Mega Man Anniversary Collection. The games vary in quality, but even the worst one is pretty good, and the best ones are deservingly legendary. With these games and at this price, all the control problems in the world can’t keep this collection from being a must-own.