Howdy friends! Friend-like substitutes! Well-wishers and anonymous non-harm-lovers! This is Franchise Fatigue, the bi-weekly glance at retro gaming franchises and the oddities that lurk underneath their scraggly nooks and crannies!
This week is very special, because I’m finally going to talk about a gaming franchise that will inevitably rear its head any time retro gaming is mentioned – Mega Man! Specifically, let’s cast our nostalgic eye one the series’ sole outing on any SEGA home console – Mega Man: The Wily Wars for the SEGA Genesis.
Now, with a series as voluminous as Mega Man, picking a 16-bit collection of remakes does seem a little bit safe. Mega Man’s had sports games, co-op arcade games, kart racers, 8-bit board games, even FMV adventure games! I’ll tell you why, Mister Presupposition!
First off, it isn’t quite a collection of 16-bit remakes, a la Super Mario All-Stars. Once you’ve cleared through Mega Man 1-3, you’ll get the option to climb… The Wily Tower! A collection of new, original challenge levels where you get the opportunity to select any 6 powers from any of the robot masters from the first three games. It’s a neat idea, and I’m sure the thought of missing out on some classic old-school Mega Man content whipped more than a few ardent Mega Man fans into a tizzy, because this game isn’t exactly easy to find. A copy of the PAL Mega Drive version will set you back a few hundred dollars, ditto the NTSC Japanese release, Rockman Mega World. The game never received an official cartridge release in North America, so your only option there – aside from emulation, I mean – are cartridge reproductions.
But I played this game as a kid, in 1995. I played the hell out of it. That’s because that year I was blessed with the rather ahead-of-its-time gaming on-demand service, SEGA Channel! Yup, I could access virtually every Genesis game (larger cartridges, like Super Street Fighter II, obviously had some issues) without having to leave the couch; and as a bonus, I had access to this and other underground Genesis games, like Pulseman and Alien Soldier, that wouldn’t truly get their due until emulation made them accessible to the masses. I also had access to the lead SEGA Channel writer’s awful sense of humor on every menu screen, and (her? I think?) constant quoting of the movie Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, just to cover the rest of my 90’s bases.
What about the game itself? It is still very much Mega Man, and by extension, Mega Man 2 and 3. Except for a few small things – or maybe big things, depending on how much of a Mega Man purist you are. To put it bluntly, The Wily Wars is not a very, uh, well executed game. It has some pretty outrageous slowdown. And considering how simple the graphics are, that’s kind of inexcusable. But that slowdown has some unintended consequences – remember the Yellow Devil fight in the original Mega Man, and how it required an insane level of expert jump timing to pull off? It’s a lot easier this time around, since the game slows to a measurable crawl. And of course, there’s a lot of niggling little differences between the 8-bit NES originals and this collection, which the Mega Man Wikia has listed in laborious detail if you’re into that.
There is another big difference that warrants a mention or two – the music! Look, we all know and love the original NES Mega Man soundtracks. They’re legendary, at this point. Mega Man 2 specifically has inspired more video game tribute songs that I can think of, other than Mario and Zelda at least. And, listen, I know that it’s considered “cool” to beat up on Genesis’ sound chip. Its metallic clangs and clongs; the undeniable fact that it more often than not sounds like angry robot sex than actual “music” and “sound effects.” That it took skilled and dedicated composers from Konami and SEGA themselves to make games that sounded anything other than “awful.” I guess, somehow, Capcom’s Genesis team lost their resolve when it came to making the music not… sound… terrible. This is like, almost Avril Lavigne-covering-John Lennon territory; classic, beloved video game music we all have ingrained into our very souls, but instead it sounds like a crate of xylophones being slowly crushed by a faulty elevator.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh. Still, this game is problematic, to say the least. It doesn’t look particularly good – which for a 16-bit game in 1995 was problematic – the music was tinny and strange, and there were performance issues. Clearly something went wrong.
All these years, I had assumed that this was the result of Capcom farming out their Genesis development to some D-list team or outside company, with little to no oversight from creator Keiji Inafune. Welp! According to the fabulous Mega Man Complete Works book, I was half-right: the game was certainly outsourced, but Inafune wasn’t completely out of the picture. He called the game’s development a “nightmare,” and pitched in himself as a debugger, attempting to fix the countless bugs and issues plaguing the game. It was those bugs and issues, people surmised, that prevented the game from getting a North American release.
Mega Man: The Wily Wars is definitely grade-A Mega Man curio. Underneath all the flaws, bugs, and poor sound, Mega Man, 2, and 3 are still classic games. The “Wily Tower” levels aren’t revolutionary, of course, but they fill the void for new Mega Man levels if you’re desperate. It had a weird, non-cartridge release in the US, and elsewhere in the world the game is a rare find and worth hundreds of dollars. To say nothing of the fact that this is the first Mega Man game to see release on anything outside of a Nintendo platform. There’s too many issues in the game to allow it to stand on equal footing with its NES counterparts; those games are indelible classics that we’ll be talking about and playing for generations. But considering Mega Man’s ill fortunes of late – cancelled games, cut Wreck-It Ralph cameos, and so forth – even a shoddy Genesis port is good enough for right now.