As video game franchise characters go, they don't get much more endearing or revered than Mega Man. These days, Capcom's famous Blue Bomber is busy with all sorts of franchise offshoots, like Battle Network, Command Mission, and the X series. But back in the day, Mega Man kept it real with just his trusty arm cannon and a blank facial expression. Now Capcom is paying homage to Mega Man's storied early career with the aptly titled Mega Man Anniversary Collection, a new chronicle of the series' roots for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. After spending a few hours with the game, we found ourselves happily humming the Bubble Man stage's background music--which must mean that Anniversary Collection does its job pretty well.
We're a little loathe to deliver a primer on Mega Man; we feel that anyone who doesn't at least know about the games' basic setup needs to go back to gaming boot camp. But for the sake of completeness, here you go: You're robot-boy Mega Man, fighting against evil scientist Dr. Wily and his endless legion of bad robots that mostly take the forms of animals, vehicles, and household appliances. You can generally pick the order you play the game's stages in, and at the end of each stage, you'll fight a boss with some descriptive name like Air Man, Guts Man, or Wood Man. When you beat each boss, you gain a version of his special weapon for use in later stages, and after you beat all the bosses and blow up a few more crazy robots, you'll come face to face with Dr. Wily's latest doomsday contraption so that you can try to save the world yet again. Now imagine doing all of this eight times in a row, and you've got some idea of what you'll get from this game.
There is, quite frankly, an absurd amount of Mega Man packed into the Anniversary Collection. You get access to entries one through eight right off the bat, which is basically as far as the series progressed before it was taken over by the many Mega Man variations that we know today. The original 1987 Mega Man is here in all its punishing difficulty, along with the hallowed sequels Mega Man 2 and 3 (the high points of the series, in our opinion). Then you've got Mega Man 4, 5, and 6, which follow the formula laid down by the first trilogy but to somewhat less-impressive results. Finally, you'll hit Mega Man 7, the first--and only--Super NES game in the series, and then you can move on to Mega Man 8, the series' PlayStation-based end cap. All of the games are accessible at any time, and your progress is auto-saved in all of them so you can resume gameplay later. Of course, if you still have any old passwords lying around from the late '80s, you can still use them to pick up your progress as well.
All eight of the Mega Mans in this collection have been preserved nicely for posterity. Rather than doing any invasive monkeying around with the classics, Capcom has played it straight with the presentation of all the games, which is fortunate, because diehard Mega Man fans wouldn't have it any other way. What we're saying here is, when you're playing Mega Man 2 in Anniversary Collection, it feels just like you're playing it on an NES. The game even has the sprite breakup, slowdown, and other endearing glitches in all the same places you remember them, which actually enhances the fun (and the nostalgia) rather than hindering it.
Capcom has provided one new feature called the "navi mode," which updates the old games with a new heads-up display similar to the one found in Mega Man 8. This function is entirely optional, and it will tell you how many lives you have remaining, which direction you need to move, and when danger is approaching (via a pop-up indicator). Aside from this new navi mode, and the ability to set the number of lives you start out with, the eight games in the collection are pretty much presented as is. After all, why mess with perfection?
The basic interface for accessing Anniversary Collection's games and other features is simplistic and novel. You're presented with a series of doorways that you'll run Mega Man through to begin or continue a particular game, and other doorways will lead you to graphics and sound options and so on. You'll set your difficulty level at the options screen here (rather than for each game individually), and you can also turn the navi mode on and off. Furthermore, you can control your starting number of lives from this options screen.
This interface is also how you'll access Anniversary Collection's bonus content, which is pretty considerable. In addition to the expected concept artwork, promotional videos, and so on, you'll be able to open up two arcade games that were never released in America: Mega Man The Power Battles and Mega Man 2 The Power Fighters. Both of these games are set up in a fighting game-style format in which you'll battle bosses from the series' history, gaining new weapons as you go. The Power Battles will let you play as Mega Man, Protoman, and Bass, while The Power Fighters adds Duo to the mix as a fourth playable character. Of course, all of this unlockable bonus content represents a real incentive to play through the existing games in the collection.
Naturally, we play a lot of games around here, and it's probably telling that we've had a lot more fun with Mega Man Anniversary Collection than we've had with a lot of new games lately. If you fondly remember the Mega Man games of yore--or if you've never played them before and rightfully want to check them out for the first time--you'll get a second chance to play them when Anniversary Collection hits shelves around the end of June. Look for more on the game soon.