I wanna get something out of the way right now. It’s apparently “Mega Man,” not “Megaman.” They refer to him as “Megaman” in-game, but everything online supports the “Mega Man” separation. Terribly confusing; it has nothing to do with anything to come with this review. I’m just rambling in text form.
When I was barely able to comprehend anything, a game that stuck out to me for its colorful jump-and-shoot antics was Mega Man 7, which I still think fondly of today (and what I may review next?). After indulging in that, I curiously did not touch another Mega Man (not counting the X series) title for several years. That is until, say, the early 2000’s when I played Mega Man 8 for the first time. Fresh and new, I was enamored with how it presented itself. Yet, when I think of Mega Man titles, it’s not nearly as nostalgic to me as its predecessor.
What’s also interesting is the reputation this game has amongst the internet. Apparently, this Mega Man is seen as something of a black sheep… kind of. Doesn’t have nearly as fond of a reputation as, say, Mega Man 2. (Though, to be fair, few other titles in the franchise do.) Since I’ve been on a recent, random Mega Man kick, I decided to start off with this somewhat misaligned entry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my thoughts are a bit all over the place!
Sometimes, you play a game and you can’t help but think, “Man, this feels like it was trying to go for this specific thing.” Mega Man 8, to me, has that sort of design in mind. Most remember the goofy voice acting and the updated visuals, but in terms of design, there are a lot of things that it tries for the first time in the series. Things that, perhaps, were done to make the gameplay more dynamic, similar to that of its X series counterpart.
Board and Shoot (‘Em Up)
The basic foundation of a game from this franchise is legendary. A 2D sidescroller where you shoot enemies out of the way and platform through variously challenging stages, with a boss waiting at the end of each stage. Generally, Mega Man is running around on his own without any assistance. This game decides, “Why not give the player other ways to navigate stages?”
Two specific methods of variation stick out: sliding down terrain on a board and flying on Rush (Mega Man’s robo-dog) as you attack a barrage of flying adversaries. Both of these are featured twice in the adventure, making them memorable enough to stand out amongst the standard method of level completion. And of the two, one of them is much more enjoyable… though both suffer from a terrible fate called “time.”
Something that may take new players by surprise is that Mega Man games are actually pretty short. If you know what you’re doing, they’re 2-4 hours long, at most. Quick, snappy games that tend to favor quality over quantity. However, this can backfire when it comes to doing something new; things that aren’t guaranteed to stick the landing the first time around, due to lack of experimentation.
Boarding, specifically, is the weaker of the two, I think. They make up parts of Frost Man’s stage and the first stage of Wily’s Castle. The latter is probably one of the most obnoxious Mega Man stages I’ve ever played—this is in large part because of the boarding section. Simple in concept, it ends up being bogged down by an insistent, annoying prompter that robotically announces “JUMP, JUMP” or “SLIDE, SLIDE” just before you need to do so. While not as grating in Frost Man’s stage, combined with an issue I’ll discuss later, it makes the Wily stage PTSD-worthy.
By comparison, the airborne shoot-’em-up sections are a lot more lenient, only they come off as too simplistic. While on Rush, you can zoom around at any point of the screen, but otherwise you’re just shooting as always. Occasionally, the stage will reward you with some friendly upgrades, such as robo-buddies that will assist in offensive firepower. While neat in concept, it’s too infrequent and makes the screen a little too busy. The whole process has a lingering feeling of “Baby’s first shoot ’em up.”
Both of these aspects are a neat addition to a franchise that rarely did much in seven previous iterations. I only wish they took the time to expand on them more, or perhaps expand on the game itself to give it ample opportunity for further expansion. Up the stage length; up the complexity of the shoot ’em up sequences; don’t make the boarding sections require you to hug the edge of the screen (ugh); whatever works!
Stowy? Is Dat a Wiwy Pwot?
I’m not totally sure who exactly plays these games for that sweet Mega Man lore, but I would not recommend reading into it too much here. It’s, uh, basically nonexistent. So devoid of any sort of positive addition that its missteps end up becoming the focal point.
Even if you’ve never played Mega Man 8, people familiar with internet culture may be able to recognize the voice acting attributed to this game. Dr. Light bumbling over his words and calling Dr. Wily “Wiwy.” Lots of mumbling and random screaming. Generally, er, “unimpressive” (we’ll call it) performances all around. Very “’90s video game voice acting.”
What isn’t quite as focused on is the story itself, the reason these kooky voice actors are speaking in the first place. Before the start of the game, strange alien lifeforms are fighting in the sky. As a result of their battle, they crash-land on Earth—the (very clearly) evil entity has its energy harnessed by Dr. Wily to fuel the power of his new robot creations. So, for the billionth time, Mega Man has to stop this strange new energy from polluting the world. Maybe this new robot by the name of Duo will help him along the way?
Except Duo isn’t really a character. Duo is more of a figurehead—a character only introduced to serve as this game’s “new thing” that serves basically no purpose. With a grand total of, like, three cutscenes elaborating on the evolving story, it does not harbor much interest whatsoever. Duo crashes on Earth, Dr. Light fixes him, he saves Mega Man a couple times, then he leaves. Great. What makes Duo more suitable for this role than, say, a random OC I made up just now called “Godamon”? Nothing. A cool design means nothing if the soul inside does not accentuate the appearance.
Outside of Duo, the narrative has no real hook. It’s Mega Man; defeat Dr. Wily and save the day. No more complex than Mario titles at the time… or any 2D sidescroller titles. And sure, some people don’t care about stories in games. For me, I would be ecstatic to be able to play a game where I care about anything happening onscreen. Charismatic characters, a captivating story; whatever it takes.
Tell Me When to Jump, Please
This is something of a minor complaint that eventually accumulated into a moderate complaint as I kept playing. Platformers are known to be very precise—2D planes adhere to this all the more. Pixel-perfect frame jumping is a technique speedrunners research constantly to know when and at what point to time their jumps and moves. In Mega Man 8, it is hard to gauge at what point Mega Man is at risk of falling to his doom.
Mega Man’s default idle sprite has his legs spread pretty far out. When you’re on the ledge of a large platform, with room dwindling down, you will constantly be shown Mega Man still idle, with one leg completely off the platform and his back foot still on it. Where exactly is the line? And how is one supposed to gauge this in real time, on the move? I can’t relay how many times I thought I was safe, only to not have my jump button register and fall into purgatory.
Level design doesn’t always help in this case, either. Multiple instances of long jumps that look possible… except you miss it by a couple frames because you weren’t at the very edge of the platform. Trying to do this while running? Good luck; you almost have to go against your instincts.
And this is what made the boarding section in the first Wily stage so infuriating. So many attempts thwarted because I thought I was timing my jumps correctly at the very edge of platforms, only to die because I was wrong. While the entire stage was terrible, having the very beginning being a gauntlet of quick timing mixed with unreliable edge scoping made for a memorably poor slide.
Thus far, my writing may have made this seem like a rather mediocre game. Certainly, Mega Man 8 has some issues that bog down the overall. However, there are some other aspects that allow it to flourish in other areas.
Most notably, for me, is the art direction. Even with Mega Man 11 released a few years prior with a spry 2.5D look, I would argue that Mega Man 8 is the best-looking Mega Man game to date. Its spritework is phenomenal, from the enemy design to the environments that Mega Man travels through. I’m especially fond of the more “natural” looks of Sword Man’s and Search Man’s stages. The obvious disconnect from authentic realism in the world of robots, recreated to try and replicate a past “earthiness,” is one I find really cool.
If not that, the game is filled with color. If you want me to appreciate the visuals of a game, just throw every color imaginable in it. Rainbows and a variety of different hues; I will take Teletubbies over The Nightmare Before Christmas every time. (Do not read too into that.) With technology at the time, they were able to really push the limits of their game for the first time. They succeeded beautifully.
There’s this bolt system they implemented where special collectibles within the level can be used as currency to upgrade Mega Man’s abilities. While similar to Mega Man 7‘s system, it’s more exclusive this time around—you only have a finite number to collect and buy with, so choose wisely… I guess. Hesitation stems from the upgrades being convenient than anything. From changing your charge shot type to being able to leave levels through the options menu, many will have the player going, “Oh, that’s neat,” rather than, “Ohhhh! I gotta have that!” (Thankful for a faster charge shot, though.)
A common criticism I’ve heard of Mega Man 7 is that if you knew a boss’s weakness, it makes their battle a cakewalk. I can confirm this is true. In this game, even if you have a boss’s weakness, you still need to strategize, as they won’t just freeze up and make a scripted “Hit by weakness” shriek. A few require you to wait around until they perform a specific attack to have the weapon they’re weak to take effect. It makes the game more strategic and rewarding, while also rewarding you for discovering their fatal flaw.
Mega Man 8 is pretty standard fare when it comes to games in this specific series. It’s more of what you enjoy in a 2D run-and-shoot, only with some added flair (of variable quality). Minor grievances evolved into constant friction that turned what’s an otherwise smooth experience into a bumpy course. Certainly not terrible—I imagine it’s better than the first game—it just has very little to stand out on its own. And the first Wily stage is literally the worst.
Final Score: 6/10
All screenshots collected by a playthrough from NintendoComplete.
For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.