Mega Man has been around longer than a good number of today’s gamers. Nearly every generation of hardware that is introduced brings with it some new interpretation of Capcom’s beloved blue bomber. Though there have been some excellent games in recent years, the number of spinoffs the franchise supports has led to the fragmentation of the blue bomber’s identity. Is he a robot boy? Is he a boy dressed as a robot? Is he a computer program? On the 15th anniversary of the character, Capcom has decided to give gamers a history lesson in the form of a compilation of the first eight games of the series that launched it all. Find out below if it’s a lesson worth learning.

It was very difficult to come up with a score I felt comfortable awarding the graphics of Mega Man Anniversary Collection. It would just be too unfair to current games with revolutionary visuals like Splinter Cell and Ninja Gaiden to inflate the score of 15 year old sprites. By that argument, you might wonder why the score is as high as it is. Allow me to explain.

The most obvious extenuating circumstance in MMAC’s favor is that, surprise, these are old games. The collection was never presented to the public as a remake, so rebuilding the games to update the graphics (like Capcom did with the Gamecube version of Resident Evil) was not only unnecessary, but may have been unwelcome by the fans looking to this title to provide a sense of nostalgia. The games are old, and they look old, but it’s intentional. Playing through the games in sequence allows you to enjoy the evolution of the graphical style, as well as to appreciate the increasing skill the developers gained working with the various hardware available to them.

More so, Capcom did a fine job framing the dated graphics with neat little touches to show that they weren’t just being lazy. The publisher screen at the very opening of the game presents a 3D skit featuring familiar faces from the series guaranteed to make a Mega Man veteran smile. And the menus themselves are navigated via a series of slick looking doors that a user controlled Mega Man navigates. Even the loading screens offer some pretty pictures that show Capcom took the time to polish up their mascot for his big day.

Up front, let me assure you that for better or worse, none of the games’ ambient effects have changed. Mega Man’s cannon still makes the same weak noise that by all rights should have made his opponents laugh at him. His feet still strike the ground with the same metallic tap regardless of how high a building you dropped him off, and the same energy surge sounds when you shatter into your component blue circles. It’s all there. But that isn’t why you came to read this paragraph, is it?

The music in the Mega Man games is as famous and revered as anything else the series is known for. Simple, infectious tunes that were all the more impressive for (usually) being presented on an eight bit cartridge. I am happy to report that they’re all collected here in their full glory.  In fact, playing the games in the alternate mode (more on that later) allows you to go through the levels of the early Mega Man games with remixed versions of each level’s music.  For the most part these remixes were either barely noticeable changes or rendered past favorites unrecognizable.  Thankfully, you can choose not to use this alternate mode, but it is included if you were looking for something new in the package.

Further, beating certain objectives in the game unlocks a bonus medley of series music that is worth listening to if only for the novelty of it.  A sound test mode would have been nice, though.

The one inherent advantage 2D games usually maintain over their 3D brethren is simplicity of controls.  MMAC stands as testament to this.  The games are as easily navigated today as they were when they shipped, but the ease of use is more appreciated now than it ever was.  One button jumps, one shoots.  Later on, one button makes you slide.  Movement is controlled via the D-pad or analog stick.  To use up the face buttons and perhaps have some mercy on their aging target demographic, Capcom has also included a turbo fire button.  Rounding out the sparse new additions, you can switch between acquired weapons and items with the shoulder buttons.  It’s a nice touch that gamers wishing to recreate the old school way of playing these games can choose to ignore the new features and play exactly as they did years ago. 

For those lacking experience in these games, know that it remains easy enough for anyone to pick up and take control of the determined hero.  Considering the unforgiving jumps and required precision timing of some levels, nothing less would be accepted.  The only minor gripes are how it’s kind of easy to accidentally switch to a weapon when you didn’t intend to, and that the items aren’t always mapped to the shoulder buttons, necessitating some trips to the menu screen.

The Megaman series revolves around the basic concept of stalking an enemy boss through a theme-designed level, confronting and destroying said boss, and applying that boss’ powers to the next boss in your line of sight.  Repeat as necessary until end of game.  Words fail to capture just how compelling a premise this turns out to be. 

The early games in the series are the real treasures in this collection.  Levels are designed to be beatable, but much harder if you approach them without the proper equipment.  Of course, you’re going to have to start fresh somewhere, so determining your attack itinerary is almost as much fun as the levels themselves.  Going back and replaying levels in different order allows you to have sometimes dramatically different experiences.  The carefully crafted balance is a work of inspiration.

In later games, the inspiration is clearly starting to run dry.  Level and boss concepts start to be reused, weapons become more and more fluky (the Metal Blade is never, ever topped), and the pacing starts to feel a little forced.  Starting in Mega Man 3, the games begin to almost coerce you into attacking the bosses in a set order, and that’s not as fun as discovering that you don’t need Air Man’s weapon to lay out Crash Man.

The game offers many options for how to play.  Normal and Easy modes are available for all games from the start, though it should be noted that Normal corresponds to the Difficult modes that some games originally shipped with.  Also, the game features an alternate mode of play called “Navi Mode,” which as mentioned above provides remixed music in the levels and incorporates a directional assistance feature from the later Mega Man games.  I don’t know anyone who ever got lost in a Mega Man game, and since the new music is kind of disappointing, this mode becomes more of a distraction by cluttering up the screen with more things that didn’t used to be there. 

Completing various unspecified objectives in the game also unlocks two arcade, fighting style games set in the Mega Man universe.  They’re fun, but more of a brief diversion than the main games.  This makes sense, considering their arcade roots.

The game retails for $30 new.  This is essentially three dollars per game.  If you only enjoy the first three NES editions, then you’re still getting them for roughly ten dollars each which is cheaper than the new GBA classic series titles.  The idea of saving space and having all of the games on one disk rather than a series of dusty cartridges may be worth even more to you.  No matter how you look at it, this is a very good deal.

However, though opinions may vary it is this reviewer’s stance that the later incarnations of the series are just not as compelling as the earlier ones.  It becomes clear why Capcom took their franchise in various new directions, as the original seemed to be losing steam by the end.  Considering the visual similarity to Mega Man 8, Capcom might have included the original and superb Mega Man X from the SNES as a way of demonstrating the first departure and transition into the current age of Mega Man games.  Perhaps the plan is to release the X games on a separate collection some day, but this would have been welcome on this disk. 

Lastly, while providing the compilation itself is a nice gesture, the manual and materials included in the package contain almost no tone of celebration, nor any discussion of the series progression at all.  The Gamecube version of MMAC includes unlockable developer interviews (the PS2, sadly, only features an unlockable episode of the Mega Man anime series).  It’s disappointing that something similar is not included  for all buyers.