While perusing my local online haunts today, I noticed that a lot of the retrogaming groups and forums I frequent were abuzz with talk about Mega Man. It was announced this week that the folks at iam8bit, an art gallery-turned-online retro retailer, are releasing a limited edition tribute to both Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X. Retailing for $100 apiece, each game is essentially a reproduction cartridge in a special box, with added features like enhanced artwork and colored cartridge shells. They have infamously done this before with another Capcom classic: Street Fighter II on the SNES. The problem with that release is that it came with a dire warning stating that your SNES might catch fire while playing due to the architecture of the reproduction board. That's not ideal, but since these carts were geared toward collectors, many bought them to stick on the shelf as a display piece. No harm, no foul.
But I'm not here to complain about overheating cartridges and high prices, as you'll probably see all over the place in the coming days (for the record, I think $100 is a lot for a reproduction, but I digress...). I'm here to talk about the game: Mega Man 2!
Turning a lofty 30 years old later this year, Mega Man 2 sits at #1 on my personal "All-Time Best NES Games" list. When I tell people that, sometimes they are shocked. Why not Zelda? What about Super Mario Bros. 3? Don't get me wrong; those are legendary titles, and as much as I love those games, it's all about Mega Man 2 for me. It has it all: cool story, great graphics, amazing gameplay, and a soundtrack that still baffles my ears as to how something so awesome could have come out of the limited sound channels of hardware that's nearly as old as I am! Is part of how highly I rank Mega Man 2 based on nostalgia? Also yes! Let's go back in time, shall we?
I have an uncanny knack for remembering where nearly every game in my game collection came from. I may not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I can tell you when and where I bought a game, and usually for how much! Just over 30 years ago in 1987, I got my NES for Christmas; it was a Deluxe Set with R.O.B., Duck Hunt, and Gyromite. Later that day, I received Super Mario Bros. from a family member when we went to visit. Next game in the collection was Ghosts and Goblins, which I received a month later on my birthday from a family friend, which introduced me to the third party publisher we all know and love: Capcom. And after that, it was Tiger-Heli, the first game I ever purchased with my own money ($39.99 at a Service Merchandise store near Boston, MA). It had helicopters blowing stuff up on the cover, so it had to be good, right? Well... not so much. After that purchase, I didn't know what to get next. We didn't have YouTube back then to watch gameplay footage or hear reviews; we had box art and playground rumors to go on. I felt sort of burned by Tiger-Heli; it looked so cool on the cover but it was not nearly as action-packed as it was made out to be. My dad remembered hearing about this new concept, video game rentals, when he was returning a VHS rental at a local store in my town. Next time he went to rent a video, he brought me and asked me if I wanted to rent a NES game, that way I could try it before I bought it. What a concept, right?
One of the first games I ever rented was Mega Man. Again, I went on the looks of the cover alone. It had some goofy guy with a gun, palm trees, and that familiar laser grid background like my copy of Ghosts and Goblins had, so it stood out. To a 6 year old, somehow that awful cover art appealed to me, so off we went for a weekend of brutal difficulty and throwing the controller in frustration. But, the more I played, the more I was hooked on the game. There was definitely something here: the graphics were great, and the music was catchy. We returned it and I went on with my video game-obsessed life. Every time I looked for it at the local stores in the following weeks, it was never to be found. I ended up picking up either Zelda II and Castlevania II next, mistaking both titles for their predecessors, both of which I played at my cousin's house.
Sometime in late 1989, I got a call after school from my best friend, asking if I could sleep over his place. He had just gotten some new video games, and whenever either one of us got new games, it was sleepover time so we could binge on 8-bit goodness until we passed out! In his ancient "recent pickups" pile was Mega Man 2. I instantly remembered playing the first one, which I had rented, and how hard it was at the time. He cracked it open, tossed it in the ol' gray toaster, and fired it up. Wait... there's a story behind this game? What and when is 200X? And the music... just typing this now brings me back to hearing it for the first time! But how were we going to be able to defeat EIGHT robot masters when I had a hard time defeating only six of them in the first game? He then slaps the latest copy of Nintendo Power on the coffee table, and says that everything we needed was right there. This time, Nintendo had our backs!
Armed with a box of Capri Sun juice pouches and some Fruit Roll-Ups, we took turns playing and navigating through the game until our sugar highs wore off and we fell asleep in his living room, controllers in hand. We ended up getting to the Dr. Wily stages, but we "got equipped" with fatigue before we could complete the game. Weeks later, he finally defeated Dr. Wily on his own, but that memory of trying our hardest to beat that game will always stick in my memory.
For some reason, I did not grab a copy of Mega Man 2 until much later. Many friends had it, so I never felt the need to buy it myself. I think I was in high school when I bought my copy, and a local BJ's Wholesale Club (one of the places my dad brought me to buy games) had a bin of leftover NES games they were clearing out for $19.99 and under. For some reason, that bargain bin was saturated with Capcom titles, which was fine by me! In that bin, I snagged a copy of Strider, Mega Man 2, Mega Man 5 for about $50 total. Both Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 5 sit proudly on my "boxed awesomeness" shelf today. Every time I walk by that shelf, I can't help but think about all the good times I had back in the day, blasting away countless enemies while jamming out to one of the greatest soundtracks of all time.
Thanks again Mega Man 2 for all the memories, and Happy (early) Birthday!