Mega Man Analysis Part 2

So… It’s been a while, sorry about that.

Last time, I talked about Mega Man 1 in a general sense. Now I’m going to go through Cut Man’s level in excruciating detail, showing how it’s built and also talking about the enemies.

General Comments about Mega Man’s levels

Levels in Mega Man are separated in many sub-areas that usually present different challenges. They can have horizontal scrolling, vertical scrolling, or even be simply one screen big. Each of these sub-levels essentially presents the player with one challenge, which usually consists of one or two types of enemies and/or obstacles, and slowly escalates the difficulty until the final confrontation with the Robot Master.

One weird quirk all the NES Mega Mans have is how vertical scrolling is handled: horizontal scrolling happens smoothly, as it would in any usual platformer, but vertical scrolling happens one screen at a time. This is actually because of memory limitations in the original NES: while it wasn’t altogether impossible to make levels scroll both ways, it was significantly harder. The first game to actually do this was Super Mario Bros 3, released about an year after Mega Man 1. Nintendo was always pretty good at using the full power of their consoles, specially when compared to third parties. The Wii era, in particular, shows that the most.

Anyway, this scrolling “problem” is, in fact, one situation where the developers worked well around the hardware limitations: the vertical scrolling takes about 2 seconds, which gives the player enough time to react to any traps or enemies that would damage Mega Man otherwise. This is used effectively in the Quick Man stage in Mega Man 2, where part of the stage consists of long vertical areas with lasers that kill in one hit, and this brief period of scrolling is basically the time the player has to plot a way through each screen, fail miserably, curse the developers and try again. In Mega Man 1, this is briefly used in the Guts Man stage, with some quick maneuvering leading to an extra life.

Other quirk that is usually kept even in the games that use more powerful hardware is how enemy spawns are handled: every enemy has a spawn point defined and every time the screen scrolls that point into view, that enemy spawns. In fact, usually going slightly back and forward again spawns the enemy one more time, which means enemies that have any forward movement at all can spawn infinitely until the whole game grinds to a halt because the console cannot keep up. This was another problem caused by the memory limitations of the NES, as the console simply does not process anything outside of the screen.

This ends up having a notable effect on the design of the enemies: most enemies have very limited OR very fast horizontal movement, or appear in areas where going back is impossible, so as to avoid multiple spawning. In fact, the only moment I can recall this limitation actually being a problem is in one stage around Mega Man 3 with multiple Sniper Joes in Walkers, that would force me to retreat, making more and more of them spawn.

In fact, the respawning nature of the enemies is sometimes intentionally used as a trap. For example, some stages have a health recovery after one strong enemy, but returning from it will respawn said enemy.

 

Pacing

One concept that is particularly important for linear levels like Mega Man’s is pacing. Basically, the player’s tension throughout the level must go through peaks of increasing intensity, each followed by a slowdown, resulting in a graph more or less like this:

The tension can’t only be high, or simply increasing, as that will exhaust the player. Imagine playing a Mario Level with only an endless onslaught of enemies from start to finish (or, you know, just boot up a lot of stuff made in Mario Maker). It also can’t only be too low, as that’s simply boring. The ideal is to have the average tension increasing, while giving the player occasional  moments of rest. In Mega Man, each one of those “peaks” is roughly one of the sub-areas I mentioned before.

This has  it’s origins in the movie realm, where the viewer’s experience is always perfectly linear. For games, this isn’t as clear cut, because the more freedom the player has, the less control the developer has over what is seen. Still, as every Mega Man stage is linear, we can analyse the pacing without worries. The main problem is: how to define the level’s tension?

Before playing, we can look at the number of enemies and traps. Music and visuals can also contribute to the tension, but music only changes on the boss battle. Difficulty is probably the biggest main source of tension.

 

Pacing throughout the whole game

Looking over the game as a whole, as the initial 6 robot master levels can be played in any order, there’s not really a way of being certain that the player’s tension will trend upwards. After those are done, however, the game quickly starts building up the final confrontation with Wily:

  • The level select screen ends with  wily jumping on his flying saucer and flying away, instead of just disappearing, like with the other bosses.
  • The first Wily level has a clearly ominous music, breaking away from the happier sounding themes of the robot masters
  • At the very beginning of that same level, the player immediately  fights 3 [bouncing bastards], a huge and very damaging enemy that is only found elsewhere, alone and right before a boss room.

 

Finally, Cut Man’s level

Well, after all those ramblings that were supposed to be a small introduction paragraph, let’s get to the level. Same thing from when I did Mario 1-1 applies: I will overanalyze the crap out of this, and some of what I say might be a bit insane.

Cut Man’s level is a very vertical level. It’s basically a tower that must be climbed over in order to reach Cut Man himself. The first 2/3rds of the level are spent climbing, while the final one is spent dropping about half of the maximum height, followed by the boss.

 

The First Screen

The level begins with Mega Man in an enclosed area, with a ladder nearby. The player must immediately learn to press up on the ladder to progress. Still on the first screen, there’s a block in the way, which naturally requires learning how to jump.

Note that Mega Man begins at the border of a block, with half of his body floating on the air, showing the player that Rock’s leg’s are very powerful, as I mentioned in the first part.

As soon as the player jumps over the block, we get our first enemy: a floating helicopter face named “Bumby Hely”, according to the Legacy Collection’s database:

Side note: it’s kind of creepy how everything in the classic Mega Man has eyes. Capcom was doing it way before Rare got famous for it.

Those enemies are extremely weak, taking only one bullet to be destroyed. They approach Mega Man slowly, but when near quickly tackle him and start moving in an arc to get multiple hits in. They do 3 units of damage, meaning it takes 10 hits for one of them to destroy Mega Man and get a promotion from Dr. Wily.

As far as first enemies go, the Helis are MUCH more aggressive than Mario’s Goombas, but also far less damaging. They work well to clearly show the player that enemies in this game are usually very aggressive, but also that Mega Man can take a lot of hits.

A Bit of Jumping

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The following screen has 2 small platforms that can be jumped over, but the path below is also possible and safe. The player is also attacked by about 4 more Helys while crossing. It works as a training session for jumping and also possibly for shooting in the air. A first time player will also most likely get hit by one of the enemies while jumping, letting the player know that doing so will make Mega Man stagger in a situation where missing the jump won’t kill him. It is also very possible to die here if you don’t know how to shoot.

One enemy will attack Mega Man from below, making the lower route an easier way of dealing with all enemies.

Just like with Mario, this very small initial section teaches the player everything about playing the game, without a word. As I’ve said in the first part, Mega Man is a simple game to learn, and that is proven by how everything is learned in a matter of seconds.

This ends the first (fairly small) of this level’s sub areas. It’s more of a small introduction, making the player familiar with the controls and one basic enemy.

Turrets

The next part begins the ascension through Cut Man’s tower. The next enemy to be seen is a turret-like enemy with the incredibly creative name of… “Blaster”. Anyway, the Turret fires 4 bullets in angle from it’s position, each one slightly under one second apart from each other, followed by about 2 seconds of inactivity during which it cannot be destroyed. In the picture below, each line is a possible path for the bullets.

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This turret cannot hit a moving player, as Rock(man) will be very far from the area it’s bullets can hit, by the time it fires. Again, the level is giving the player a way to learn how the challenges ahead will work, without any actual risk, before bringing in the pain.

Immediately ahead there’s another turret overlooking a ladder. Considering the turret’s pattern, moving vertically is the best way to avoid it, hence this specific positioning. Also note that directly jumping on the ladder from the position Mega Man is in the picture is safer, as it means less time spent in a vulnerable position.

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And More and More Turrets

The next 3 screens all have varying configurations of platforms and ladders where the challenge is still dodging those turrets:

The first screen, pictured above, has 3 turrets aiming left, while leaving the area the player starts at danger-free.  The pit the player has to jump over is relatively simple, made even easier by the fact that Mega Man will be moving at the same direction the bullets launched by the turret annotated as red do. In case of fail, Mega Man simply falls to the top of the previous screen, so there isn’t much risk.

 

As the turrets alternate their firing moments, the screen doesn’t get too cluttered by bullets. The pathway also puts the 2 upper turrets at the mercy of Mega Man’s fire, as both are easily reachable from the top of the left ladder. He won’t be hit while standing there, either, so jumping to shoot the turrets is perfectly safe.

The second screen immediately gets more complicated, BUT not as much as it might seem at first sight. There’s now one turret aiming directly at the player’s position as soon as the screen changes (not exactly at where the player will be though, as Mega Man will still be on the ladder). The other 2 turrets fire at the left side of the screen, but as you can see on the picture, there’s absolutely no reason to even go to that side, unless you want to destroy every single enemy.

 

One of the weird things that sets Mega Man 1 apart from it’s successors is the presence of a strangely useless score counter. In this case, there’s a small risk x reward decision of risking the harder path to destroy more enemies and get a higher score, or simply take the easier path. In other Mega Mans, a similar situation can happen if the player wants a health or energy recovery item that’s out of the way. In fact, pretty much every extra life in every game in the series is presented this way.

 

And finally, the last screen in this section of the level is also clearly the hardest (not THAT hard, mind you. I’m pretty sure no controllers were ever destroyed because of this particular screen).

This time around, there’s a right-facing turret that WILL hit Mega Man if he doesn’t move after entering the screen. The jump is also more complicated, with a higher risk of being hit by the first turret’s fire.

Differently from the previous screen, all 3 turrets are a risk this time, and unlike 2 screens ago, there’s no way of sniping them before crossing the areas they shoot at. As Mega Man only shoots straight forward, the first turret is impossible to destroy without falling (and that respawns it), and the other two must be hit from up close, while being wide open to their bullets.

 

This ends the turret, sorry, “Blaster” section of the level. It clearly goes from simply introducing the enemy, to slowly presenting the player with different situations of increasing difficulty.

And now something completely different

The next part is an horizontal scrolling section, breaking of from the slower, tense, climbing the player just went through.  As shown above, Mega Man is immediately attacked by this machine that launches Cut Blades at him. These are more of a scare enemy than anything else, as simply moving forward will completely avoid them. In fact, they do a comparatively high 4 units of damage and are indestructible unless using Bomb Man’s weapon, so the best strategy is really just running from them.

Almost immediately after passing through the Cut Blades, the player is attacked by some… Kamadoma? Anyway, those small blue enemies are capable of doing quite fast horizontal jumps in Mega Man’s direction, but deal only 2 units of damage and have only 1 unit of health. What’s happening here is that the Cut Blades are used to press the player onwards, increasing the odds the Kamadomas will get a hit in. A quick reaction by the player will avoid any damage, though, specially if it isn’t the first time the level is being played. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to get hit by the Cut Blades, unless you’re actively trying to destroy them. Seriously, don’t do it, it’s not worth it

After a small jump that mirrors the one before the first climb, Mega Man reaches the second and last climbing segment of the stage. Also mirroring the beggining, the player is introduced here to the enemy that will be the main challenge for the following section: an eye-robot called… Adhering… Suzy…. Adhering Suzy. I swear I’m not making this up, I assume those names might be weird translations from japanese, dunno.

So… those eyebots… they move in a repetitive pattern, where each one is always locked either to a horizontal or to a vertical line.When they reach a wall, they rest for about 2 seconds and go back. Just like with the turrets all the way back, the first time the player sees one of those, they’re not exactly posing any risk. You can see the areas these enemies more through in the picture below:

These enemies are considerably more dangerous than the turrets, as they take 5 hits to destroy, instead of only 1, and deal 4 units of damage, instead of 2. It’s a little easier to see safe areas, though, as they don’t shoot. Still, they present a higher risk simply because of the increased damage and resistance.

The only way the player can progress beyond this first enemy that bounces up and down endlessly on a 2-tile tall passage is by destroying it( or just shoving it and taking damage, but that kind of player probably died long ago). This assures the player knows the eyebots can be destroyed, which is useful because the following areas are considerably harder if the player simply tries to avoid every enemy. The positioning of this sacrificial eyebot also might be because, with the exception of the borderline-hazard Cut Blades, every enemy encountered up to this point was destroyed by only 1 bullet, while the eyebots take the aforementioned 5 to take down. This way the player will definitely know some enemies take multiple hits to destroy (and probably also assimilate that the specific sound effect that plays when hitting an enemy means it was damaged).

Immediately when Mega Man walks into the place the sacrificial eyebot was, another one spawns on the wall that becomes visible. This one moves horizontally, the first one the player sees that does that. It’s also the first one that could pose a risk, but as it moves in a very big area, that risk is pretty small:

Note that the information “eyebots can move horizontally” came after “eyebots exist”, “eyebots can move vertically” and “eyebots can die/hurt you a lot”. None of those is given to the player at the exact same time, which helps the poor creature in control of Mega Man in not being overwhelmed with information.

(I’m looking at you, Metal Gear Rising. You’re fun but DAMN you take some getting used to)

 

 

The next screen is, predictably, more of those enemies. To be precise, 3 moving horizontally and only one vertically. The challenge here is different from the one in the turrets area: while the turrets shoot relatively fast and force the player to rely more in fast reaction times, this area forces the player to pause and carefully plan out the path to take.

The enemy in blue blocks the passage with the ladder in a way that’s really hard to go through without getting damaged, and even worse to try to jump and shoot it 5 times without being hit by the red enemy. Meanwhile, the purple and yellow enemies make most of the standing area on the upper half dangerous, and force the player to be careful with the timing.

Side Note: If the player has Guts Man’s weapon, the creatively named Guts Arm, the tile patterned block in the middle can be picked up and thrown at the enemies, clearing the path. This also justifies the need for the ladder, as the platform would be too tall to reach without it. Guts Arm also happens to be Cut Man’s weakness: using this weapon to make the level easier can make it low on energy for the boss battle, so the player has to think carefully before using it. Of course, what actually happens is that it’s barely used, but that’s a problem endemic to any Mega Man.

If the player dies form this point onwards, this screen is the respawn point, more specifically, the player spawns on the middle block with the red enemy immediately flying at Mega Man’s face. It’s generally not a good idea to hit your players as soon as they respawn. I cannot recall any moment in later games where this happens, at least as fast as it does on this screen.

The next screen is not exactly harder, but it forces the player to deal with the enemies in close quarters:

The blue enemy has to be destroyed, but the red one only gives the player a passage one misterious-game-units wide to jump through. Not only that, but those enemies have a tendency to, sometimes, when they feel like it,  rest for about one second instead of two.

The yellow and purple enemies force the player to climb the stairs quick, and their spacing means that, if they’re in sync, about half of the ladder will be dangerous. It’s more of a slow, timing challenge than anything else.

The next and final screen of this section is…odd:

As you can see on the picture, the screen seems immediately much more dangerous, with two enemies moving extremely close to Mega Man. This can make the player panic a little, but the red enemy immediately to Mega’s right can be easily dispatched.

What’s odd, though, is that the green enemy on the top right and the blue enemy are completely useless. They’re completely out of any player’s way and pose no risk whatsoever. There’s no real reward for killing them, either, they’re just creating a huge negative space and making the player focus only on the left. There is the aforementioned completely useless score counter, so there’s once again the risk of being hit versus the reward of getting some extra points. Again, the score counter in this game is useless.

Still, the block in the middle is another one that can be thrown by the Guts Arm, potentially hitting all three enemies, but also potentially increasing the area the blue enemy can get to.

This ends the second, and final, climbing segment. It follows the same general principle of presenting the player with variations on a same challenge, although this time the increase in difficulty isn’t that much apparent. The general difficulty is much higher than before, though, if only for the fact that the enemies themselves are stronger.

The top and going down

Again mirroring earlier parts of the level, Mega Man is greeted immediately by another Cut Blade launcher. You could say those “cut” the level in different parts, horrible pun intended. This works to keep the player on the move, but it’s a small break from the tension of climbing. The only real challenge here is jumping quickly enough to avoid the blades.

Next, we have the return of our friends Bumby Helys, at the very apex of the level. They’re still no real danger, but note that one of them comes from below when the only real way of going down is by the end of the screen, which forces the player to actually dodge it’s attacks.

There’s also a completely free big health recovery item here, to give players a breather after the arduous climb. It’s literally all downhill from here.

At this point the stage is almost over, with only 4 screens left until the boss. The next 2 screens follow a similar, if condensed, pattern than the areas with the Blasters (“turrets”) and Adhering Suzys (“eyebots”). The enemy this time is known as Mambu, a clamshell-like robot that floats to certain predefined positions and fires bullets in 8 directions from each position.

 

This enemies ability to cover most of the screen with it’s bullets matches well with Mega Man’s hability to cover a lot of vertical ground really quick by using his (non existent) flying skills and fall through the screen. It is an intimidating enemy, much harder to avoid than any other enemy up to this point, but that is somewhat eased by the fact that it only does 2 units of damage. It also moves in a loop, so Mega Man has no option but to dodge the barrage.

This Mambu in particular stops in 3 positions, the first of which does not hit Mega Man as he drops down. This gives the player about 3 to 4 seconds to react and move, as the second time the enemy fires will hit Mega Man otherwise. As can be seen in the following picture, no area is really very safe, forcing players to be quick on their feet:

Those 2 small platforms in the middle are relatively useless, for Mega Man, but I assume they were put there to facilitate visualizing the places where the enemy fires, as well as where Mega man should stand, by not leaving a whole lot of open space. The leftmost one delays Mega Man a little, though, potentially enough to make him vulnerable to one of the horizontal bullets.

Finally, some players might see an easy opening on the right and just jump down. This…

 

…goes horribly wrong because of the 2 spikes positioned exactly to destroy this shortcut. It’s a little underhanded and completely evil, specially because at this point the player doesn’t even know there are spikes on this level. It forces Mega Man to follow the “right” path, instead of just jumping down, though. Considering the level is almost over, I assume the designers felt o.k with not pulling too many punches here.

This screen has a second Manbu, and as expected this one already homes on Mega Man’s landing position with the first shots. The mid platform this time is a liitle more to the left, making Mega Man vulnerable slightly longer. The spikes below work for intimidation, but aren’t really that dangerous unless the player is hit in the middle platform while running left, in which case Mega Man staggers back with the hit and falls to his explosive death on the spikes. As mentioned in part 1, this spike behaviour is exclusive to Mega Man 1, not to mention horribly frustrating. In this situation, the spikes were clearly positioned to explore this effect, which makes me assume that it was a deliberate design choice reversed later.

Approaching the Robot Master

Next, we have a 2 screen long horizontal area that is the last one before the boss gate. Mega Man is immediately greeted by a bouncing and horribly strong piece of early installment weirdness called “Big Eye”. This thing is a mini-boss of sorts that randomly switches between short and high jumps: Mega Man can run under it during the high ones, but not during the short ones. To make matters worse, it’s huge, takes insane 20 hits to destroy, which is usually too much to kill it before it reaches you, and does freaking 10 units of damage on contact.

Most stages in Mega Man 1 have one of those right before the boss gate. This is not something usually seen in later games, and that’s probably for the best. The Big Eye basically guarantees that the player will get to the boss with a good chunk of health gone and is a very frustrating way of ending a stage, not to mention a huge difficulty spike. Later games DO have similar enemies, but they’re usually dotted around the stage.

In this particular case, though, Mega Man lands in a pile of blocks than give him the high ground, allowing a precise jump over the Big Eye. The blocks can also be thrown using the Guts Arm, which just so happens to be the bouncing bastard’s weakness. Again, using the weapon here means risking not being able to use it later, specially if it’s already weakened from prior use.

I like the way the very first Wily level uses this enemy: just before entering Wily’s fortress, Mega Man is attacked by 3 Big Eyes in rapid succession. Considering those are only encountered, during the Robot Master levels, right before the boss fight, this clearly signalizes that the stakes are higher and the final confrontation approaches.

The Corridor Before the Boss

Every Mega Man game has empty corridor, usually one screen long, before every boss fight. These serve as a way to build up the tension before the final battle, as well as a respawn point for when you inevitably get absolutely wrecked by said boss, which spares the player from having to cross half of the level  over and over again.

The very first Mega Man, however, has enemies and traps on those corridors. Some of them aren’t even horizontal, such as Elec Man’s. This not only makes things harder, but also removes the guarantee that your immediate rematches with the boss will start with Mega Man at full health. They still work as a build up for the boss, but it isn’t as effective.

Cut Man

After this long and arduous journey, Mega Man finally reaches the first (for us, at least) Robot Master of his decades long fight against Dr. Wily: Cut Man. In universe, Mega Man 1’s bosses were originally built to assist humans with various tasks, Cut Man in particular being a woodcutting robot. Mega Man himself was built to assist their creator, Dr.Light. This can be seen by how similar Mega and Cut look:

Interestingly enough, as the series progresses, the bosses depart more and more from the original Mega Man-like design. I like to think of this as Wily branching out more and more with his own designs and skills.

The battle room itself has, as mentioned before, two platforms that are actually rocks that can be thrown by Guts Man’s weapon, which will each take out exactly half of Cut Man’s health. They are, however, useful for easier dodging, meaning if the player misses, there will only be a small platform remaining to use as a high ground.

Cut Man fights by throwing his head-blade at Megaman like a boomerang, while also running around himself. The player has, therefore, to dodge both while shooting Cut Man. What makes this fight relatively easy is the fact that, differently from most bosses in this game, he staggers back a little when hit. Furthermore, if his Cut Blade is on his head when he’s hit, he usually has a delay of about one second before firing again, meaning you can basically “stunlock” him. To make things even easier, playing on Cut’s weakness to “Rock”, he’s the only Robot Master that takes 3 units of damage from Mega Man.

And we’re done! The player can now grab Cut Man’s power and progress to the next level!

I am, however, done with Mega Man for now, save for a video version of these texts I’m currently editing.

I’m gonna try doing shorter, more frequent posts, so I can keep up at least an once-a-week schedule. If you liked this, you can check my twitter to be updated on the next thing I write, which will most likely be about From Software’s Souls/Bloodborne games.

 

 

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