If you’re a gamer, you have probably heard the term “replay value.” When someone invests fifty dollars on a new cartridge or disk he or she is typically satisfied with the game’s life-consuming presence, even if only for a few days. When you’re playing you forget all your troubles. After completion sometimes the game returns to its dust cover or case and may be neglected for years. But some games are special enough to stay with you and going a few months without playing causes separation anxiety.
On my sixth birthday I uncovered Mega Man 2 from its birthday wrapping paper and I had no idea what I had in my hands. Five months earlier my father purchased our family a Nintendo Entertainment System, not long after my brother and I became totally enamored with it at my grandparents’ house. I had dabbled with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and some other titles but to that point I had never heard of the blue bomber.
So I played.
And gosh was it ever difficult… To my delight instead of getting to a part I could not pass no matter how much exhausting effort (like level 3 in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) I had a choice of eight levels.
Eight robot masters, eight unique levels, eight special weapons.
And there was Mega Man, a harmless looking character completely armored blue without explanation. Was he human? Was he a robot? I could never really figure it out, but I assumed since everything else in the game seemed to be robotic, that Mega Man was much the same.
There was a comforting side scrolling familiarity. Mega Man could jump with the A-button, like Mario. And like how a properly armed Mario shot fireballs with the B-button Mega Man fire up to three consecutive beige pellets. Though on the package he carried a gun not unlike the Nintendo’s zapper, in the game the cannon was affixed to his arm. Where one of his forearms should have been there was the shape of a thick barrel, the character’s most recognizable feature.
Like when the Angry Video Game Nerd bravely attempted Silver Surfer, I attempted every stage in Mega Man 2 and died. And this was on easy mode. However, the learning curve was gradual and every time I made it a few steps farther. I got a rush of excitement every time I climbed a ladder or traversed a level’s section to see a new kind of enemy or power up. And occasionally I even reached a fabled shutter door, the clicking boundary signaling I had finally reached the level’s end. Yet the test was only half over. Most of the time when I reached bosses I had few units of energy remaining, rarely one extra life, and with few exceptions zero reserve energy tanks. So Metal Man, Wood Man, Bubble Man, and even Flash Man killed me again and again. And I still could not dash my way through Quick Man’s level’s deadly energy beams, or the disappearing blocks of Heat Man’s stage. One poorly timed platform and our hero found himself the lava ocean below.
When Mega Man is defeated he explodes into these tiny circular blasts of energy. They fly off the screen seemingly never to come back together again. But then like a miracle, Mega Man respawns at the level’s beginning or midpoint with a full vertical bar of life appearing completely unscratched. Unless of course it was your last life, where then you would suffer the game over jingle which pervaded nearly all games of the era, then be cursed back to the robot master select screen.
Then one day I killed Flash Man. I don’t know how I pulled it off. I assume I kamikazed my way through the shutter door pumping him full of lead while absorbing quite a few hits myself. And I promise you when Flash Man blew up and I shit my pants I had not more than three or four pixels of life remaining. Then I heard the heart-warming victory theme, was awarded Flash Man’s time stopping weapon, aptly named Time Stopper, and then Dr. Light showed up—this guy who looked like Santa Claus—and he gave me the mysterious item 3.
Not long after, I defeated Metal Man and Bubble Man. I remember proudly copying down the password, and enjoying typing it in when I resumed the game, starting with three of the eight bosses’ portraits replaced by empty, black spaces. Bubble Man, somehow, died in four hits with my newly acquired Metal Blade, so I figured all of these bosses had weaknesses.
But in 1991, I could not jump up to my laptop and ask Google “How do I beat Air Man?” A gamer was left with nothing but his or her own wits and determination.
Bubble Man’s weapon proved to be useless. Mega Man plopped these big bubbles out of his cannon which merely crawled along the floor before deflecting off the next enemy. However, Metal Blade was a beacon of freedom. I now could shoot terrorizing blades in eight directions, and with few exceptions they torched most of the foes I encountered.
I defeated Wood Man, then Air Man, and I was left for weeks with my three nemeses, Quick Man, Heat Man, and Crash Man.
Time Stopper, I discovered, could temporarily halt the deadly energy beams at Quick Man’s stage. But it wouldn’t last through the whole section. I had to maneuver through the first part myself, then activate it at the right time to pass through safely. And after what was probably hundreds of attempts I did it. I dropped down into a section where I was able to travel to the right again, knowing the shutter door couldn’t be far. And, like how it always goes, I reached Quick Man and he kicked my ass. Game over.
The also mysterious item 2, acquired from Air Man, gave Mega Man the ability to bypass the whole disappearing block section in Heat Man’s level. I soared past it all, moving more quickly than the blocks could generate. Then I found myself at Heat Man where after some trial and error I found that Bubble Man’s pointless weapon could dispose of him in only two well-aimed hits. Air Man’s Air Shooter murdified Crash Man in just a couple of shots, too.
And I was left with Quick Man, whom I battled again and again, and until finally, to my complete disbelief he, too, burst into energy spheres. Mega Man stood nonchalantly blinking, not understanding the enormity of his accomplishment, and collected his final weapon. Now what? Was the game over?
That summer I defeated every level in Dr. Wily’s castle while vacationing with my family in Ogunquit, Maine. Instead of enjoying the pool, the beach, and the candy shop in Perkin’s Cove, I was still transfixed by Capcom’s masterpiece. After I beat it as Dr. Wily begged in front of my feet for forgiveness, I just wanted to play again.
I wanted to defeat the robot masters in a different order. I wanted to collect as many lives and E-tanks as I could. I wanted to complete the game faster than before. So I played. And twenty years later I’m still playing.
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