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Published March 11, 2010

Long before we became the discerning gamers of today, we were kids unwrapping video games and Nerf guns under our Christmas/Nondenominational trees. For me, there were some real holiday stinkers, like NES Ghostbusters 2 and Pictionary. But for all the licensed junk, there was usually a Mega Man cartridge nearby. I know that popular opinion dictates that I should dislike parts four through infinity, but they were always my video game comfort food. I guess it’s through this nostalgic lens that I can fully embrace Mega Man 10, a solid but not stellar entry in the series.

Of course, MM10 has the unfortunate distinction of following 2008’s Mega Man 9, one of the best games in the series and a wonderful digital throwback. MM9 was just the back-to-basics shot in the arm that the Blue Bomber needed. Almost all of the bloat was cut out, leaving gamers with a lean action-platformer that was actually fun to play, even when it was kicking their behinds. MM10 also leaves out the superfluous stuff – don’t bother trying to charge your Mega Buster here – but it doesn’t add much either.

The formula should be familiar to anyone reading this site – defeat one of eight bosses, gain its power and use said power to exploit the next boss’ weakness. What separates a good Mega Man games from a bad one is what it does on the way to each climactic battle. Creative level design and useful weapons are the keys to success. It’s too bad that MM10 only has the former.

The platforming in MM10 is fantastic. While there’s nothing quite as memorable as Tornado Man’s exhilarating magnet rails, each stage still packs a handful of unique gimmicks to keep you hooked. These include Sheep Man’s generator-treadmills, Commando Man’s sandstorms and Nitro Man’s busy roads, to name a few. You may need to make a few pixel-perfect jumps, but the layouts always feel fair. It helps that they look so nice. Graphics throughout are bold and colorful; they serve as a reminder of Capcom’s 8-bit technical wizardry.

However, I was disappointed to find that Mega Man’s acquired powers don’t pack much of a punch this time around. There’s nothing as versatile as the black hole bomb or the trident. The rainbow arsenal feels completely anemic. More often than not, I found myself shelving my Thunder Wool and Chill Spike in favor of the default shot. A tiny storm cloud and some icicles aren’t going to help me much when I’m completely swarmed.

I think for many rusty NES veterans, the bigger gripe tends to be the brutal difficulty. Modern games tend to coddle us more than we care to admit, so when Mega Man comes along with his disappearing block sequences and insta-kill spike pits, the experience can be jarring. (I’d say that this is one of the biggest reasons why the X series is gathering dust.) Luckily, MM10 offers an olive branch for folks with clumsier thumbs in the form of an easy difficulty setting. It’s amazing how a deleted enemy here and a floating platform there can completely change the feel of a level. Purists may turn up their noses, but there’s no shame in just appreciating the game’s style without being punished.

This mode alone makes Mega Man 10 more approachable than its predecessor, but I don’t want this too become an annual franchise again. It was fine when we were kids and didn’t know any better, but I think we’d all rather see Capcom take its time. Mega Man 9 showed that it’s never too late to recapture the old magic. I think we’ll be just fine if the next batch of robots sits on the assembly line a little longer.

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