There comes a time in everyone’s life, when they need to face tough realities. Over the last week I was introduced to one of my personal revelations: I am TERRIBLE at Mega Man games. I mean, I always knew I wasn’t great at them, but I never assumed I was this bad. And what better way to come to this conclusion than trying to review a collection of classic Mega Man titles? If you’re curious, take a look at our Now Loading feature from Monday for more details of the controller carnage. Unbeknownst to me, but this was actually a good omen, because it’s the EXACT same reaction that I had when playing Mega Man 8 on PlayStation, many moons ago. If that isn’t authenticity, then I don’t know what is!
If you were to take a step back and compare Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 to the original installment, there is a gigantic pink elephant in the room that is impossible to avoid. This time around there are only 4 games in the collection. Sure, 4 solid adaptations of Mega Man games are hard to complain about, especially when I’ve been buying awful single-game ports on iOS for longer than I would like to admit, but it’s still two less ports than the first time around. And hell, 9 and 10 are barely ports, when you consider that they both debuted on PlayStation 3. That said, the content that is offered up more than justifies its meager price tag.
As was mentioned earlier, both Mega Man 9 and 10 are products of the modern console era. For this reason, they’ve both transitioned amazingly well to their new PlayStation 4 home. Each of the games look to squeeze every ounce of gameplay and soundtrack from their meager 8-bit footprints. Plus, when you consider that all of the original DLC is thrown in at no cost, it’s hard to argue with the value. They play every bit as well as they did on a SIXAXIS controller, and are my personal favorites of the set. The minimalist visuals and precise platforming remind me of everything that has led me to both love and loathe the series for the entirety of my gaming career.
What truly makes Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 special is the glimpse into the history that it provides. Players get to see the evolution of the brand firsthand, as it attempted to determine the best uses of new technology. For example, Mega Man 7 was the first and only main-line installment to appear on a 16-bit console. Thankfully the X series bit the bullet and led the brand onto the SNES. The development team then applied their learnings to this unique one-off release. This has been one of my personal favorites, mainly because I found it to be far more approachable than the cold brutality of the NES era. This more player-centric touch is still very present, even after bridging the console gap. The controls and animations are just as crisp as if you were sitting way too close to a CRT TV, eons ago.
This evolutionary trip down memory lane continues with the inclusion of the admittedly groan-worthy Mega Man 8. It’s hard to know where to start when the release is easily the weakest in the entire main-line canon. Cut-scenes are long and drawn out. Animations are a bit too cartoonish and dare I say flamboyant to be taken seriously. And the voice acting…sweet baby Jesus…that voice acting is bad enough to be classified as an unsanctioned form of torture under the Geneva Conventions. But all of that said, it’s the exact same mediocre game that was released on day one, down to the byte. When you insist on authenticity in your retro collections, you win some and lose some. It doesn’t help matters much when the game was the personification of apathy.
What makes each of these games undoubtedly better, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the introduction of a manageable checkpoint system. Remember my earlier confession about being awful at Mega Man games? As someone who was routinely getting beaten like a rented mule, being able to exercise some level of control over scenarios was a Godsend. Without being able to create and restore to my own checkpoints, I would genuinely have been lost. However, the actual mechanics of manual save points do take a bit of getting used to. These are not a saved state, like in the sense of what you might find in an emulator or a PC quick save. Instead, when loaded, the player would be restored back to the last checkpoint with life levels and abilities consistent with their state at the time of the save. This seems to strike a pleasant balance between breaking the game and the vicious reality of a world without continues.
One thing that has always been slightly confusing about the post-NES Mega Man franchise was the introduction of higher presentation values for the seventh and eighth proper releases, only to revive the mainline brand in an 8-bit style, a decade later. I mean, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth here, but the visual dissonance is odd to say the least. That said, the main purpose of this collection is to preserve the history of the Blue Bomber in an era where he hasn’t received near enough love and affection. This goal is accomplished with flying colors, not to mention controllers.
After realizing that I would never be any good at these games, and making peace with that fact, I did have one last disappointment awaiting me. The extra features, though perfectly adequate when compared to other re-bundlings of retro games, fall a bit short of the bar set by the original collection. While there are still full soundtracks and plenty of concept art to consume, many of the more historical touchstones and commentary are nowhere to be seen. Say what you will about their tediousness, but being able to read through boss bios and descriptions of some of the key art was one of my favorite parts of the original. The fact that these are missing just makes it feel a little less complete to me. Anybody can create a gallery of images. I want to know WHY these specific items were selected and what makes them so special. In that regard, this second installment does fall a bit short.
Thankfully there are still plenty of extra challenges to indulge in, if beating each game isn’t enough to satiate your inner masochist. Especially in the case of both Mega Man 9 and 10, there are hours of bonus gameplay that extend far beyond an initial playthrough. Sadly, Mega Man 7 and 8 don’t have nearly as many bonus gameplay opportunities. A collective 20 challenges between the first two games are handily trounced by the latter duo’s total of over 60. Thankfully each game has its own boss rush mode, which easily steals the show.
Somehow, Capcom has managed to find a way to weaponize concentrated nostalgia, and set us all in their cross-hairs. While not as impressive as the first iteration in terms of quality and amount of content, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, is still worth a purchase for damn near any gamer. It manages to be grounded in history, while still adding in just enough modern flourishes to help keep the challenge manageable. If recent history is any indication, it’s probably best to indulge yourself and savor every byte of digital goodness. Lord knows when we will get the chance to see the Blue Bomber again.
Review code for Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.