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Mega Man 2: The Blue Bomber at his best

I didn't own a lot of NES games as a kid, but I did have Mega Man 2, and it was one of my favorites. It's full of great stages and great music. The prevailing wisdom, which I share, is that it's the best Mega Man game. Certainly it holds up very well after 35 years.

Mega Man 2 follows its predecessor's formula while ironing out all the wrinkles. The number of "robot masters" was upped from six to the canonical eight. Mega Man—the cybernetic humanoid created by Dr. Light—can face them in any order. They are Bubble Man, Heat Man, Quick Man, Crash Man, Metal Man, Wood Man, Air Man, and Flash Man. Once Mega Man has defeated, and obtained the weapon of, each master, he enters Dr. Wily's Castle. These four stages culminate in a multistage fight against the evil robots' maker, Dr. Wily.

Each of the eight stages has its own theme, environment, and array of bad robots. Mega Man traverses a factory (Metal Man), an underwater area (Bubble Man), a forest (Wood Man), platforms in the clouds (Air Man), and a lava area (Heat Man). It's not clear to me what exactly the other three stages are, but they are no less fun and colorful and well designed! Occasionally Mega Man encounters large robots, such as a big lantern fish and a dog that prevent him from proceeding until he defeats them.

Each of Dr. Wily's stages ends with a boss, such as the Mecha Dragon! The boss fights are tricky but not too hard. One of these bosses is unusual: Mega Man has to destroy hostile devices protected by walls. Both the walls and devices can be destroyed only with the Crash Bomber. Since this weapon can be shot only seven times before energy is depleted, each shot has to count.

Before Mega Man can confront Dr. Wily, he must defeat all eight robot masters a second time in a row! It's not as hard as it sounds; not only do you have your prior experience and knowledge of which weapon each master is weak against to draw upon, but each one drops a large health refill upon defeat. This final gauntlet became a series convention. The final, three-stage fight with Dr. Wily is satisfying. It's preceded by a cool sequence where no music plays, with only the sound of dripping water.

The first Mega Man game was often frustratingly difficult. Mega Man 2 hits the sweet spot between hard and easy, with one exception: the disappearing blocks in Heat Man's stage. These require careful timing, and falling forces you to start over. Fortunately, all this jumping can simply be skipped by using Special Item 2, the jet. The three special items Mega Man acquires are a big improvement over the one lackluster item from the original. In Mega Man 3, these items would be replaced by the robot dog, Rush.

Mega Man 2 introduces e-tanks to the game. These are disposible blue batteries that fully refill Mega Man's health. Though there are not very many in the game, they can make the difference between winning and losing a fight.

One of the best parts of Mega Man 2 is its iconic music. Each stage has its own theme song. Some of them are real bangers. I particularly like Wily's Theme 2 and the Bubble Man theme!

The simplicity of Mega Man 2 is part of what makes it great. Mega Man hadn't yet learned to slide (Mega Man 3) or charge his shot (Mega Man 4). Although I like Mega Man 3 a lot, the slide is extraneous. Also, the point system from Mega Man 1 has been removed, reducing the number of item drops and keeping the screen clean.

Mega Man 2 is notable for containing the most overpowered weapon in Mega Man history, the Metal Blade. This weapon feels "pushed" by the designers: it can shoot in all eight directions and uses up hardly any energy. As a result, Mega Man can use it all the time, forgoing the Mega Buster entirely. I'm torn about whether this is good or not; from a design point of view, it seems like a mistake, since it renders the other weapons irrelevant. However, as a player, the Metal Blade is one of my favorite parts of the game! It feels great, destroying the enemies so efficiently. So if it was a mistake, it's one I'm glad they made!

Mega Man 2 is the only Mega Man game to include two difficulty settings. Perhaps because I've played the game so many times, I prefer the harder mode, though I would generally recommend normal mode.

To sum up, Mega Man 2 is a fantastic 8-bit platformer that plays as well today as it ever did. If I had to pick a game to represent the best of the 8-bit era other than Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 2 would be it .A Nintendo classic for sure!

Grade: A+

Linked Reviews
"Its extraordinary soundtrack, colourful comic-book graphics and plethora of fun weapons and items cemented the Blue Bomber's place in video game history."
— Philip J. Reed, Nintendo Life, 10/10

"Its amazing action-platforming gameplay was oft-replicated and never exceeded."
— IGN, #4 of Top 100

"Complemented by one of the best soundtracks on the system, this is an undeniable classic."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, 5/5


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