Video games have become such a big part of our lives, and are so ingrained in popular culture these days, that sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from pwning n00bs and scoring headshots online to remember your very first game: back when DLC wasn’t even a thought yet, and there were more original IPs than sequels and reboots.
My first experience with a video game happened when I was only four or five years old. My Dad had never been much of a gamer, even though he had his own Atari home system, but I guess that must have been enough incentive for him to go out one day and buy a Nintendo Entertainment System. We set the NES up in our basement, and started out with the typical introductory combo of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. But those games never really did anything for little Joey back then as a gamer; I think it was mostly because of that Duck Hunt dog always laughing at my shortcomings, and the frustration of never being able to shoot him down just like those ducks.
I never really saw the magic of video games until the day I met the blue bomber. That’s right: I’m talking about Mega Man, one of gaming’s biggest unsung heroes. I can still remember picking up the game with my Dad at a GameStop near our house (back when a bunch of GameStop chains were called FuncoLand!). It must have been something about the artwork that initially drew me to the game, which is pretty funny considering that the original Mega Man has become notorious in the gaming community for its horrendous cover art, and constantly makes the rounds on every “Top 10 Worst Video Game Covers” article on the internet. But we bought the game, brought it home, blew the dust off the cartridge, and then my life would never be the same again.
Mega Man takes place in a dark dystopian future, where robots and machinery are an integral part of the world. You play as Mega Man, a half human-half robot creation given life by the genius Dr. Light. The good Dr. Light also made six advanced robots to perform helpful industrial tasks for the good of mankind. But one day, Dr. Light’s disgruntled assistant, Dr. Wily, reprograms these six worker robots and orders them to help him take over the world! Equipped with a mega buster in place of one arm, it’s up to Mega Man to track down each Robot Master and put a stop to Dr. Wily’s evil plans!
At its core, Mega Man is a sidescrolling platform game, with a large emphasis on action and weaponry. Once you’ve managed to defeat your first Robot Master, Mega Man is able to absorb their special power and fire it out of his own blaster cannon. Hands down, this was the best part of any Mega Man game: stealing your enemy’s power. Each power would also change Mega Man’s trademark blue armor to a different color, which was also a neat little touch. I always had so much fun trying to guess what kind of special power I would get from a boss, or what colors it would turn my armor next. Absorbing your enemy’s power made things progressively easier for the rest of the game, as each Robot Master had a specific weakness to another boss’s attack. It was all pretty logical, too. For instance, Fire Man was highly susceptible to Ice Man’s attack. It was just also really cool to shoot things like scissors and icicles out of your hand! After all six Robot Masters were finally defeated, you made the harrowing trek to Dr. Wily’s castle, which presented you with three or four additional maniacal stages, and epic three-part boss battles before facing Dr. Wily himself. Of course, traversing the castle was much easier said than done, especially since level passwords weren’t introduced until Mega Man 2!
It’s hard to say what made Mega Man so great, especially for such a young gamer, as the series’ taxing difficulty is legendary in the gaming community, and called for certain areas to be fully memorized if you even wanted a shot at making it through unscathed. The first few minutes of Guts Man’s stage are still some of the toughest platforming segments I’ve ever faced in gaming, and I challenge everyone reading this to give them a try. I’m not sure if I ever even beat the game back then, but I know I certainly gave it my all. While some of the later installments in the Mega Man X series were really stretching it on their boss ideas, with Robot Masters like Cyber Peacock and Bamboo Pandamonium (what?!), nothing compares to the simplicity of those first six bosses in the Mega Man universe. Everything was so pure in the first Mega Man game, and you knew exactly what you were in for: Cut Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Fire Man, Bomb Man, and Ice Man. In my mind, these bosses were perfect, in both their special powers and character design. The techno 8-bit soundtrack is still unmatched by most other video game music, even today.
But my fascination with Mega Man didn’t stop there. Oh no, it didn’t. I soon had every Mega Man action figure known to man. I religiously watched the short-lived Mega Man cartoon series every week. I even had my Mom make me a Mega Man cake for my fifth birthday that resembled Dr. Wily’s castle (yes, it was as awesome as it sounds). Like many other kids who grew up on Mega Man, I spent all my time drawing my own Robot Masters like Stapler Man and Train Man, and mapped out entire Mega Man platforming stages on paper for my Dad to go through with a pencil. I was a super fan, and luckily for me, I had five superb sequels on the NES to look forward to in the years down the road.
The cult following for Mega Man is still so high today, that Capcom eventually made two more sequels to the original NES games: Mega Man 9 in 2008, and Mega Man 10 in 2010. But the best part about them is that Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 still retained the 8-bit NES look and feel of the very first games in the series, and kept the infuriating level of difficulty intact. In 2013, Capcom will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Mega Man franchise, and the kid gamer inside me has his fingers crossed for some awesome blue bomber surprises, and maybe even the announcement of a new game or two!
Are there any other old-school Mega Man fans out there? Be sure to let us know about your very first video game below in the replies, and be on the lookout for more installments in our “Remembering Your First Game” feature from Den of Geek’s other gaming contributors!