Wednesday, February 11, 2009

megaman 3, or how i learned to lower my expectations

the very tippy top of the goofy boss iceberg I recently told you that I was ashamed about something, that something being the fact that I have never once beaten Mega Man 2. I have, however, beaten Mega Man 3 several times, most recently this past weekend while helping my extremely-tolerant-of-my-hobby significant other work through her first solo tax return. Ah, adulthood mixed with childhood.

The story runs thusly: the original Mega Man, while sound in concept, was somewhat flawed in execution. It played awkwardly, and more importantly to Capcom it failed to sell well. Mega Man patriarch Keiji Inafune was told that yes, he could work on Mega Man 2, but only in his spare time – neither he nor anyone else on the game’s team were allowed to let it take time from more important projects. The result was a carefully-crafted labor of love, taking the strengths of the first game and building on them while weeding out the faults, mixed in with music that commonly makes best-of lists and level design that was ingeniously and maddeningly difficult. It was well done (and I am working on beating it, thank you) and it sold well – all of a sudden, there was pressure from the top for more.

In many ways, Mega Man 3 set the pace for the twenty-something years of Mega Man that followed. The sudden squeeze for time meant that there was no room for the overhauls that had taken place between the first and second games, and so Mega Man 3 was tweaked and improved incrementally rather than sweepingly. Mega Man 3’s success meant that further Mega Man games relied on the same formula, reusing the same art and engine for three more games and then coming back again for the recent Mega Man 9. This formula stuck fast when the original series of games was spun off - the Mega Man X series, the Mega Man Battle Network series, and many hundreds of others started with a unique overhaul of the franchise’s core concept – run, jump, shoot, repeat - and then descended into predictability and mediocrity as they moved forward.

I love Mega Man 3. In truth, it is probably my favorite game of the original series. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if Mega Man and perhaps even other games with a push-the-update-out-the-door mentality might be more about quality over quantity today had the third Mega Man game not succeeded.