Happy Birthday Mega Man! is a three part editorial on how Mega Man changed my life as a gamer. The Blue Bomber has a special place in many a gamer’s heart and I am no exception. All my work this week is dedicated to that little blue robot who showed me what I could do if I never gave up.
I limped out of the boss teleporter room with a few lives and some E-tanks. I’d been saving them for most of the game, always tempted to use them but fearing that something far more dangerous was lurking just past the corner. I knew I was coming up on the last boss so I’d saved as many of them as I could. I knew what a game over would mean for me this time, and I didn’t want to fight those robots all over again. I faced down Dr. Wily’s weird ship with my hands shaking, but found that I wasn’t all that impressed. He had a huge target, and seemed downright lazy compared to the bosses I’d just worked my way through. I was actually kind of mad, as the cheap fight just felt like a slap in the face. I didn’t feel much joy as I watched his power bar dwindle, right up until the boss exploded and Wily flew away. Was he just making his escape for the next game?
When the map loaded again, I knew it was going down for real. The appearance of a second skull level in Wily’s Palace probably didn’t surprise a single other person on the planet, but it blew my eight year old mind away. I went into that stage excited and ready for anything, and I’d like to tell you that I beat it after a few tries. I’d like to say that those E-tanks I managed to save up were used smartly, and that I handled the last boss with the experience I’d been gaining. I’d like to say that I didn’t choke up and throw every single lesson I’d learned out the window the second I was attacked by an invisible ship that only appeared for a split-second.
I can’t. Dr Wily stomped me so hard that every lesson I’d learned fell apart. Sometimes a Mega Man game can just do that to you, pulling out stunts and bosses that sit right alongside the hardest games in the NES library. For all of their attempts to make things easier for players in the beginning, to help them build their skills and grow with the game, many Mega Man games are just ruthless at some parts, and for me, this was one of them. It’s not particularly hard when you calm down and know what you’re doing, but squaring off against an invisible boss was just about too much for me. It didn’t help that I thought you could only hit him during that half-second when he was visible.
After losing all of my E-tanks out of stupid, useless fear, I finally got my break when the game reminded me how you play it, or even any NES game. At their core, these games all hope you learn something with every single loss. When you hit a wall of difficulty that seems insurmountable, you have to keep smashing against it with everything you have while hoping that you pick up on something. Maybe you’ll see a spot that doesn’t get covered by enemy fire, or you’ll see that you can bait an enemy spawn out before you make your jump. You have to look at each of the tools you’ve been given, trying anything and everything to get through.
More importantly, you have to acknowledge that your final opponent is always yourself. In the end, it’s you who decides that you can’t take it any more, and you who decides when things have become too hard to continue. It’s you who grips the controller tighter and plays smarter, avoiding every hit and only picking your shots when you know they’re safe. It’s you who’ll refuse to give in to something because you’ve worked far too hard to get to this point. Dr Wily was all of that to me, a final battle with my fears and lack of confidence in what I could do. I was tired of being the kid who wasn’t good at anything, not even video games. I wanted to be good at something, anything, and I was so tired of losing. I wasn’t accepting it again.
It was a single Pharaoh Shot fired far too late that gave me the last thing I needed to know. It was an accident, something that happened because I’d spent so much time trying just about every power in every way. It was probably about my thirtieth try or so, and I was just throwing anything I could at him. I’d found out before that using the Wire ability would hurt him, but getting underneath him was just too dangerous and infrequent to be viable. You’d also run out of Wire power long before Wily died. So, hopelessly trying anything, I fired a lazy Pharaoh Shot when I pretty much knew it would miss. I was really wondering what the point of it all was then, and I doubt it would have been long before I quit entirely. That one shot, fired well after Wily had disappeared, showed me that I knew nothing about the situation when it smacked into him and registered damage.
It’s tiny moments like those that have kept me playing games all these years. All of those times when you feel like things are hopeless, those times when you want to give up and something new slides right into place. That sensation of figuring out something that has stumped you for days and just tearing the game apart is like nothing I’d ever felt before, and I love feeling it every single time it comes up. Watching Wily’s Palace go up in a skull-shaped mushroom cloud was good, but the moment when I turned the fight around and earned my victory was what made me really fall in love with video games and the Blue Bomber.
These games are my roots in video games, the sole reason why I love and play them today. They were carefully-crafted masterpieces designed by people at the top of their game. They were ladders designed to help turn decent gamers into great ones. They were a breath of fresh air on a system that was choked with difficult and unfair garbage. I owe my love of games to Mega Man, and there is no one in this industry that doesn’t owe the series some form of debt. Whether through its music, level design, enemy AI, writing, or combat design, you’ve drawn something from the fantastic work done with Mega Man. It’s one of the greatest and most important franchises ever made, and I can’t thank its creators enough.
Happy 25th Birthday, Mega Man.