That’s not to say there aren’t parts of it that aren’t well-designed. A lot of it is. The level design, for example, is damn near flawless, the characters are bright and memorable, and the music is some of the greatest game music ever composed. And trust me, it wasn’t an easy thing to write that first sentence hanging from the rafters up there. I spent my childhood obsessively waking up at 5 A.M. every day (much to the chagrin of my parents’ sleep schedule/sanity) to watch the Mega Man cartoon. I loved this series, and Mega Man 2 was the pinnacle, and would still be if not for Mega Man 9.
And yet…I feel the need to call it out on one specific thing, something that’s been nagging me since I slid my first cartridge into my first NES. That something is the weapons system. It’s awful.
What makes it bad isn’t the idea itself, because on paper, it’s a genius idea, one that at the time had really never been done before. Sure, the idea of bosses having unique weaknesses wasn’t new; we had The Legend of Zelda to thank for breaking that ground. But actually getting a boss’s weapon after you beat him? Getting to become the boss? That was something new. And awesome as HELL. Or at least it would be, if it worked as well as it sounds on paper.
One of the big reasons why it isn’t as awesome as it sounds is simple: most of the weapons suck. They work well for the boss battles, and that’s a big part of the game’s vision. By making you use unconventional weaponry and navigate weirdly-shaped arenas, Mega Man 2 really forces you to think creatively, so it’s satisfying when you discover the perfect weapon to defeat a boss. But in nearly every other area of the game, you probably won’t use any other weapon but Metal Blade, which is so hilariously overpowered and overstocked with ammo there’s virtually no need to use any other weapon until you reach a boss. Why would you ever use Bubble Lead when I know it’s going to just slide lazily across the floor? And why would you use Time Stopper when you know it’ll only last 5 seconds and use ALL of its ammo in one shot?
The answer’s simple: you won’t. Which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a big deal. Plenty of run and gunners from that era don’t feature multiple weapons, and the game still plays great when you’re using the Mega Buster or Metal Blade. But when you start thinking about what the game could have been, and more importantly, what it claims to have been, you start to realize that in that aspect, the game is terribly designed. Its main tenant of gameplay runs in the complete opposite direction of not only what it claims to be as a game, but also of what defines Mega Man as a character in and of himself. I’m sorry, but that’s just poor game design.
The other problem is that when you come across the rare scenario where one of those obscure weapons would come in handy, like a destructible wall that breaks apart by using the Crash Bomber, it’s an absolute pain in the ass to switch to that weapon. You have to pause the game, scroll through a menu, and select the weapon…then go through the same process to switch back to whatever you were using before. All for what usually amounts to one shot. Oh, and if you do it on a ladder, you’ll fall to your death unless you catch yourself.
It breaks the game flow as well as discourages you to use the weapons in the first place, and again…if the game’s all about those weapons, that shouldn’t be happening. I understand a good deal of that is due to hardware restraints, but c’mon, Capcom. We both know there has to be an easier way. Hold select and push up or down maybe, I don’t know. You’re the game developers here, not me.
Again, I don’t intend to say Mega Man 2 is anything less than a classic, here. It isn’t, and anyone who’s played it even once would and could tell you so. The big problem is that it doesn’t deliver on its gameplay promises. For as much of a great game it is, everything about it, from the story to Mega Man’s color scheme to the boss selection screen, screams about a core gameplay feature that’s all but ignored in most of the game. It’s for that reason, and that reason alone, that I’m forced to say what I did in that first sentence. Fanboys, feel free to beat down a path to my front door to argue. I’ll be waiting with my Mega Buster charged and ready.