Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Review: Mega Man 10 (Wii)

Mega Man 10 is a throwback to the 8bit games of old, built around the constant repetition of learning enemy attack patterns and level layouts, merciless in its difficulty, and utterly unforgiving to anyone devoid of such prior experience. It harks back to the days where the term ‘hardcore’ referred to as many gamers as today’s mainstream generation, and in which steep learning curves, and the desire to be the best at the game was everything. In short, it could be described as the perfect title to describe what it means to be a ‘hardcore’ gamer, whilst also showing how far removed today’s games have become.

Available for a pretty reasonable £7 on PSN, XBL and Wii Ware, Mega Man 10 is a brand new, rip-roaring, blast from the past platform shooter, based on the same highly-loved design blueprint so finely crafted in the NES classic, Mega Man 2. It follows on from last years 8bit inspired Mega Man 9, continuing in the same style as that title, whilst providing additional extras to extend replay value and keep an air of freshness about the proceedings. It’s also bloody hard, so much so, that many gamers of today just won’t be prepared to face what awaits them. At least there’s an Easy Mode, which although is no cakewalk, provides a reasonable challenge in which to enjoy the game without wanting to throw your controller at the TV screen.

Going through Mega Man 2 for the first time, after opening up the packaging with all the wonderment in the world, as you did when you were still only knee high, was an extremely exciting, and often infuriating experience, despite the fact that most games back then required quick reactions and exemplary gaming skills to play properly. It was a tough trial and error type of gaming, something that coming from the likes of Super Mario Bros, I was completely unused to, but in which I learned to persevere and gain precious enjoyment from.

Fast forward some twenty years or so, and I can barely make it through the first stage of that very same game without dying dozens of times, or without screaming out at how unfair the god damn game is. A little strange then that only a few years after going back to Mega Man 2, that I was blasting my way though most of Ikaruga on the GameCube relishing the challenge. I guess that my opinion of shumps differs radically to what a good platform shooter should consist of, or maybe I’ve just been made a little too soft by the games of today. So when it came to actually buying Mega Man 10 for review, I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether I could garner any enjoyment at all from the game. It turns out my fears were misplaced, as although incredibly tough at times, MM 10 is a vastly enjoyable ride, full of satisfaction when you finally blast your way past ‘that’ initially impossible to beat stage.

Right off the bat you can tell that the level designs and methods of creating a tough, but fair challenge are straight out of Mega Man 2, the most popular title in the series. You are yet again presented with a choice of eight Robot Masters to defeat. Selecting each one takes you to the game’s one of eight selectable levels, after which you are faced with some predetermined end stages. All of these last levels are incredibly tough, much tougher than any of the ones before, requiring both skill and patience to persevere, and maybe a bit of luck too. After finishing a level you are given the option to buy extra lives and other upgrades at a post-level shop, along with the ability to save your progress, including any lives or power ups that you’ve bought. This does make the game a bit easier, and at least means that you don’t have to start over when you lose all your lives, just from the begging of the next level you choose to do.

Like in Mega Man 2, our main hero, Mega Man, is equipped with only his trusty triple shot arm-mounted Mega Buster, and his cool robot dog companion, Rush. Rush has special abilities to help you, such as transforming into the springboard-like Rush Coil mode, and later, the aerial based, Rush Jet mode, available after clearing four stages of the game. There’s no slide option from the likes of Mega Man 3, or the ability to charge up his Mega Buster shots as found in Mega Man 4 either. It’s strictly back to the basics, which tightly held together the highly rated second game. It also means that you have to rely more on raw skill than fancy abilities to get through the game, increasing challenge, but also keeping things straightforward.

However, after beating each of the individual stage bosses, the Robot Masters, you do actually unlock a new weapon, which can help you defeat the boss of another stage. Which stage of course, is a mystery, and it’s only after playing through a variety of stages first, can you see which new weapon works best against which boss. At first I didn’t use any of these powered up additions, instead resorting solely using my Mega Buster, making the task at hand much more difficult. Although, after trying out one of these upgrades I found some of the later bosses much easier to take down, and the overall battles far more rewarding to play through. This is something that Mega Man 10 thoroughly gives you credit for, skill, strategy and extremely quick reflexes, perfectly representing the majority of games from the 8bit era.

For those of you who miss the extra depth afforded by the additional moves Mega Man 3&4 provided, Capcom have included Proto Man as an additional character to play as right off the bat. Playing as this alternative hero adds much replay value to the title, allowing you to go through the entire game again in what seems like a fresh experience, with a greater amount of strategy and challenge.

Proto Man, for those who aren’t versed in Mega Man lore, is actually Mega Man’s brother, created by Dr Light, and first appearing in Mega Man 3 as Break Man, one of the stage bosses found in that title. Proto Man, like Mega Man in the later games in the series, has the ability to both slide along the ground, and use charging shots from his arm-cannon. He also carries along with him a shield, which protects against small shots and certain projectiles, whilst using individual items to simulate Mega Man’s Rush Coil and Jet Rush. In order to keep the game’s difficulty balanced, Proto Man can only fire two shots at one time, instead of three, and is receptive to twice as much damage as Mega Man, at the same time being knocked back twice as far when hit.

In addition to the two fully playable characters, Mega Man 10 also has a few modes to keep you occupied after completing the main game. These consist of a Time Attack Mode, in which players work their way through any unlocked stages, posting their times to an online leader board, and a Challenge Mode, containing 88 different challenges ranging from defeating end bosses without getting hit, to finishing a stage in a certain time. Most of these are unlocked as you play through the game on Normal difficulty, but the ones which are not, can still be unlocked by finishing the game on any of the three, Easy, Normal or Hard Difficulty levels. Suffice to say, the Challenge Mode will certainly provide hardcore gamers with a reason to keep playing Mega Man 10, especially when doing so increases your overall rating at the end. Again it all goes back to having something to show off to the online community, or simply to prove that you’ve still got what it takes.

Visually, you know what to expect from Mega Man 10. The game is done in the same 8bit inspired design as with Mega Man 9, accurately resembling the look and style of the classic NES instalments, right down to the sprite limitations and limited screen movement. There’s also the option of switching on Legacy Mode too, which basically adds sprite flicker to areas of the screen with various overlapping graphics. The style is definitely basic, but charming all the same, and is most representative of the Mega Man character as a whole.

Personally, I would have preferred to see a sequel developed with 16bit graphics and sensibilities in mind, rather than another 8bit instalment. However after giving the game a chance, I have to say that that the NES style does no harm, and only helps enhance that nostalgic feeling when playing through the game.

Another cool touch, this time outside of the actual game itself, is that Capcom have seen fit to create brand new artwork for the title, a parody of the god-awful package art donning those original NES classics, acknowledging the many failed attempts at Americanising the design of the character through much of the late eighties and early nineties. You might have noticed this odd looking piece of artwork used right at the beginning of the review, and is cause for much hilarity at IQGamer, especially as it hardly represents the game or it’s characters accurately in anyway. Good times, and great to see Capcom is having as much fun indulging with it's history, as we are remembering all those horrid cases from yesteryear.

One thing I wasn’t initially so pleased about though, is the resolution Mega Man 10 is rendered in.

Sadly the Wii version of MM 10 doesn’t display in 240p, instead being displayed in either upscalled 480i/p modes, resulting in either a mildly pixelated image, or a slightly blurry one. The 480i mode at least has flicker reduction to prevent the usual interlacing flicker from becoming too noticeable, though 240p would have provided a sharper more stable option, whilst being authentic to how the game would have originally looked. Despite this, the game still looks great for what it is, and I didn’t find the resolution issues a hindrance to my enjoyment of the title, instead being drawn in to the look and feel of what was in offer.

Along with the authentic 8bit graphics, you also have NES inspired theme tunes, sound effects and music. Much of the music is incredibly catchy, and perfectly suits the tone of the game. At many points during the game the high tempo beats, and eclectic electronica, served only to heighten the tension felt whilst trying to blast my way through to the end. It’s particularly nice to have such an effort made to producing these kinds of sounds. Although basic and repetitive at times, there creation is an art form long since lost with the advent of CD-based midi soundtracks.

Overall Mega Man 10 is an awesome retro-styled return for the titular blue hero, packed full of challenging and addicting gameplay that will certainly separate the unsuspecting casual player from the hardcore. It’s a throwback to the pure unrelenting simplicity of the past, and one which works so well today, as it has done some twenty years before. Sure, you could argue that some of the ways the game creates its infuriating challenge is decidedly cheap – for example when the game respawns downed enemies because you’ve moved the screen forwards a little, only for you to return and realise you have to kill them all again – but that’s just part of the limitations of the old NES hardware, and part of the charm in playing a brand new 8bit instalment of a much loved franchise.

My time with Mega Man 10 has been an exciting, fun, and frustrating one, a solid learning experience towards honing back in that skill and determination needed in conquering such a title. At the same time reaffirming what it takes to be a hardcore gamer, and reminding us all that sometimes simple games can be more involving than the latest 40 hour blockbuster. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and I’d recommend anyone new to the franchise to download the demo on PSN and XBL first, as the challenge and impact is pretty intense straight on in. However I do feel that most should be able to enjoy the moderate challenge on Easy Mode, and will quickly get used to the cheap, rinse and repeat nature of the game.

As a sequel to Mega Man 9, and the entire legacy cast down by the NES series as a whole, Mega Man 10 is a complete success. It’s perhaps only held back by being yet another sequel based on the design left by Mega Man 2, a title whose blueprint is in danger of becoming slightly worn out. But still, it’s a highly fun, challenging experience, in which fans of the franchise, and aging hardcore gamers won’t want to miss. And for those waiting for a true 16bit Super NES style sequel? I’d say, show your support by purchasing Mega Man 10, as Capcom are currently mulling over taking these retro updates in such a direction.



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