MegaMaster Musings

Retro Classics
December 22, 2009

The unveiling of Mega Man 10 has revitalized discussions regarding the “retro” aspect of the title that has been carried over from Mega Man 9. All of this talk about nostalgia and duplicating the greatness of some of the original NES games (particularly Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3) is missing the point entirely.

The classic Mega Man games were fun in spite of their graphics, not because of them.

Certainly I thought Capcom did a pretty good job with the limitations of the systems they were working with at the time. There’s only so much an NES can do, after all. But we aren’t playing games on the NES anymore, and it is not necessary to retrograde the graphics, music, and sound in current titles just to recreate the same sort of feel of those “oldies and goodies.”

Poorly-done graphics are capable of ruining a game if they interfere with the game play, but that is as far as it goes. Good graphics might enhance an already enjoyable game but graphics are otherwise completely irrelevant when it comes to making a game fun.

If you took a truly fun game, say Mega Man 2, and refitted it with entirely updated graphics, provided you didn’t touch the game play in any way you would end up with a game that is still just as much fun to play as the original.

It is game play that trumps everything else. For Mega Man games, this means primarily the play control and the level design. How much fun the weapons and items are to use makes a difference, too. In Mega Man 9, the weapons were quite entertaining and useful, but the stage design wasn’t all that great. There were few places where I found navigating the stages to be enjoyable rather than tedious. That’s what makes Mega Man 9 fail to reach the bar of, say, Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3, despite its “retro” feel.

Giving a game NES-style graphics will not make it into an instant classic. If it was really that simple, everyone would be doing it, and every game made in the 1980s would have been a classic. =)

On the flip side, giving the game better graphics does not automatically prevent it from being just as much fun to play as all of our favorite classic Mega Man games. In all fairness, it is common for 3-D graphics to detract from the game play because among other problems, the 3-D perspective can make it more difficult to gauge jumps and overall has a tendency to make the game feel less responsive. But there are workarounds to these issues; for example, it’s always possible to simply make the 3-D graphics use a 2-D perspective plane instead, or something of that sort. So using 3-D graphics does not instantly doom the game, they just require more thought and effort. And the graphics don’t even have to 3-D to be high quality. Nice colorful 2-D sprites, similar to the Mega Man Zero/ZX series games, could also do quite nicely.

This is why I’m indifferent regarding the “retro” aspect of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. I quite frankly don’t care about duplicating the appearance of some of the best games in the Mega Man series. I’m more interested in duplicating the game play and the overall feel of those games. Mega Man IV isn’t one of my favorite Mega Man games of all time because it is four shades of gray. It’s one of my favorite games because I turned it on and was impressed instantly...and continued to enjoy its plot and game play all the way through. And that could have happened if it had used 256 colors for its graphics, or 32-bit, or Technicolor, or even if it was in 3-D.

When a new Mega Man game manages to capture that same feel and fun of the old classics, that is when I will praise it as highly as I did those classics. And that could happen on any system, using any type of graphics.

- The MegaMaster