128-Bit Bites 8-Bit’s Dust

Capcom’s modern classic, “Mega Man 9,” warps players straight back to the glory days of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Working within the framework of the 1989 “Mega Man 2” engine, glitches and all, the developers have crafted a 2-D action platform experience unrivaled in the 20 years since the 8-bit era.
“Mega Man 9,” available as a $10 download on Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, is the latest in the main series. “Mega Man” and “Mega Man 2” are widely regarded as the best titles, despite years of 2-D sequels and spin-offs with more moves, more characters and bigger graphics. Capcom’s minimalist approach mimics the best aspects of the series’ two seminal titles, giving players a classic experience of brutal but always fun, trial-and-error game play with brand new levels.
“Mega Man 9” is 100 percent 8-bit and looks like a game made in the 1980s. This is not merely a throwback—it is a “new classic.” The development limitations of 1989 are worked in deliberately, from screen scrolling glitches to slow to flickering—they’re all there, and if you want to turn them off, you can do so in the options menu.
Even the promotional art harkens back to the classics. Capcom once thought that Mega Man’s cute appearance would turn off North American gamers, so it rendered him a heinously misshapen adult with a gun on the “Mega Man” and “Mega Man 2” covers. Well, monstrous art is back for “Mega Man 9;” Capcom released official “box art” that looks like a cheesy 1950s sci-fi movie poster.
The gameplay is just as hard, if not harder, than any other Mega Man game. The eight new levels and bosses will challenge you like few 3-D titles ever can. There is no room for error, and sometimes, no way to predict what’s coming next.
The game revels in its difficulty, so much so that the many pitfalls become pratfalls. Try completing three screens of some of the hardest, most precise jumps in the history of gaming only to get wiped out by a surprise magma waterfall. After the initial frustration of starting over, it is hilarious, fun and especially rewarding when you succeed.
Capcom has gone out of its way to design clever levels with new traps and enemies that stay within the boundaries of the NES. Hornet Man’s levels are populated with enemy robots that mimic garden paraphernalia, from rocket-powered flower pots to blades that flit around, cleave together and become a darting pair of leaf-clippers. Wind Man’s level focuses on well-timed jumps, made more difficult by oscillating weather conditions. Capcom has also included several mini-bosses to augment the already profuse cast of enemy characters.
The same “rock, paper, scissors” combat system is still in effect: When you beat a boss, you will acquire his or her weapon and it will work best against one of the other bosses in another level. Most of the weapons are inventive, such as Galaxy Man’s black hole gun, which will suck in every nearby projectile and enemy, including those invincible to the Mega Buster. Capcom did skimp on the Jewel Satellite – merely a clone of Wood Man’s leaf shield from “Mega Man 2” – and some other weapons that don’t particularly benefit you in subsequent levels, such as Splash Woman’s trident.
Taking advantage of the online capabilities of all three consoles, Capcom has promised to release downloadable content in October to expand the game. Currently announced downloads include the ability to play as Proto Man, as well as new levels and bosses. There are also online leader boards to compare scores and completion times.
“Mega Man 9” truly recreates the 8-bit experience, and it is just as fun to play an NES game now as it was when “Super Mario Bros.” was new. Too often, developers get bogged down with the minutiae of a 3-D world; game play ends up feeling bloated and easy. As such, they rarely rival the classics without an enormous amount of polish and nuance. Capcom boils it down to the basics, giving players an amazingly fun and especially affordable old-school experience.