Friday 8 July 2016

Mega Drive Review - Mega Man The Wily Wars (Game 110)

With 6 adventures on the NES, 4 on the Game Boy and 6 games on the Snes you would be forgiven for thinking that Mega Man was a Nintendo exclusive character.  It’s a popular opinion that was cemented by the Blue Bomber having a dedicated Amiibo owing to his appearance in the recent 'Smash Bros' games. 

However in his later years Mega Man could be found on PlayStation and perhaps more surprisingly during the 16 bit era he even had a one night stand with Sega. But how did Capcom's forgotten mascot fare on the Mega Drive?

Developed by Capcom

Published by Sega 

Released in 1994

When IGN once listed their favourite ever NES games, the first non Nintendo created game was 'Mega Man 2'; a Capcom game.
Indeed in this list of the 100 greatest games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Capcom is the third most prolific developer, behind Konami and Nintendo themselves. Clearly, the marriage of Capcom games and Nintendo machines was commercially and critically very successful. So much so in fact, that Capcom Japan famously laughed at Joe Morici (head of marketing for Capcom America) when he suggest the developer should consider creating content for Sega Platforms.  At the time, in 1989, the Mega Drive was hardly selling at all in Japan. Capcom simply didn't see why it was worth risking a fruitful business relationship with Nintendo.  As a compromise Capcom Japan agreed that Sega could license a number of games including 'Ghouls and Ghosts' 'Forgotten Worlds' and 'Mega Twins' but no new or exclusive titles would be developed specifically for a Sega Machine. By 1993 though the popularity of the Sega Genesis in North America and the Mega Drive in Europe could not be ignored. Morici's pleas were finally heard and Capcom decided to dance with Sega. 

In a press conference held in Redwood City California, Capcom officially signed on as a third-party Sega licensee. To the delight of the crowd they announced plans for several Sega games, starting with a port of the often requested 'Street Fighter 2’.
The ‘Special Champion Edition' version of the game would be exclusive to the Mega Drive, which was quite a coup for Sega. However while this understandably got the gaming press excited, it was the promotional art for this event that really caught the attention of the gaming community. It featured Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog shaking hands with Capcom's Mega Man. Fans of the Blue Bomber were convinced that he was about to make his Sega debut, even though this wasn’t announced at the press conference.

Realising they had missed a golden opportunity and desperate to maintain enthusiasm, Capcom had to release a 'Mega Man' game quickly. There simply wasn’t the time or resources to design a new game from scratch. 

Internally the “Mega Man team” was pre-occupied with the new 'Mega ManX' series on the Snes. Instead this new Sega 'Mega Man' title would have to be out sourced. Thankfully though, the public's new-found love for re-imagined 8bit games on 16bit machines proved to be the perfect solution to Capcom's quandary.  

The success of 'Super Mario All Stars' seemed to be a light bulb moment for many a publisher. The realisation that customers would re-buy old games (provided they are made to look like new games) sent ripples through the industry, and they are still being felt today.  Minakuchi Engineering had previous made several 'Mega Man' games for the Game boy. They were hired by Capcom to port the first three Nes games to the Mega Drive. Like 'Mario AllStars' the graphics and sound would be updated but the game play of the three games would be unchanged. However it was a Greatest Hits collection that not every Sega owner would be able to buy. Though the compilation saw a typical release in Japan as 'RockMan Mega World' the western version (called 'The 'Wily Wars') only saw a limited physical release in Europe. American players couldn't buy the game in shops at all. If they wished to play the compilation they had to download it from a short lived online service called the Sega channel. Given that this service cost $15 a month with a $25 activation fee few people ever bothered. 

On paper at least it was a tragedy that so few westerners were able to play 'The Wily Wars'. As the cartridge consists of the first three games it naturally included 'Mega Man 2'; described by many as the "best game on the Nes". It's because of the second game alone that French Magazine "Player One" believed that 'The Wily Wars' was a must buy. "The second is the best [but with] three games for the price of one, there should be no hesitation". German critics seemed to agree and Mega Fun magazine and "warmly recommend this extensive trilogy to jump-n-shoot fans" adding that the originals "are still fun today".

Like all preceding 'Mega Man' games, 'The Wily Wars' is a single player side scrolling platform game with lots of shooting. In all three of the games Mega Man must navigate through themed levels leaping over chasms, timing jumps across vanishing blocks and avoiding instant kill spike pits. At the end of each stage is a robot master upon which the level is styled.  Defeating this imposing robotic end of level boss requires you to memorise his attack patterns and return fire at a safe moment. You can either shoot this Robot Master a lot with your default weapon or kill him in a few blasts using a weapon he is weak to. The problem is the weapon he is weak to can only be procured by defeating a different boss on a different stage. The stages can be selected in any order so much of the skill in a 'Mega Man' game comes from the player choosing the best way to tackle the levels. Ideally you first need to find a boss that's weak to your starting weapon then proceed through the stages choosing the level which houses the boss weakest to the weapon you'd picked up on the previous stage. Once all the bosses have been defeated in the game a few more final harder stages open. These typically included larger more imposing bosses or demand that the players defeat all the previous stages bosses again in a single life. 

The three games in 'The Wily Wars' all stick to this formula with some slight variations. Once all games have been completed on one save file a brand new game mode is available called Wily's Tower, including levels unique to this compilation.  Fans of the series should seek out 'The Wily Wars' just for this section of the game, as for the first time these levels allow you to tailor Mega Mans abilities. The means you can pick items and skills from any of the three Mega Man games, mixing your favourites together with different combinations varying the challenge of the stages. With new stages come new robot masters designed by "The father of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune.

Inafune was also responsible for the story that was included to tie the three games together. The original NES games focus on Action rather than narrative. The stories of the games was typically told in the instruction manuals or as on-screen text shown before the player presses start. However the Snes 'Mega Man X' games (to which 'Wily wars' was inevitably going to be compared) had much more developed plots, so this Mega Drive game had to somehow justify why Mega Man was fighting the same robots that he had previous destroyed. Inafune's solution was genius, telling the tale of how an evil genius will stop at nothing to take over the Word. Evidently tired of having his plans repeatedly foiled by Mega Man, Dr Wily has built a time machine to travel back to the past. With this he can restore his defeated robots hoping that, with his knowledge of the future, he can prevent Mega Man from thwarting his plans maniacal plans.  It's a rather elegant justification as to why you have to play the games again. Naturally as you're playing as a past versions of Mega Man it makes perfect sense that he doesn't have the abilities he learns in later games, such as the charge shot. Of course some may argue that making a cohesive story to bind the three games was a lot of effort to go to, especially when critics seem to put so little value of the series' plots. "The stories in these games rarely go much further than "save the world," and that's fine, because 'Mega Man' delivers more enjoyment through its 8-bit music" critic Don Saas once said. 

The soundtrack to any 8bit 'Mega Man' almost sounds like a CD entitled “Nes greatest hits". Many (now celebrated) game composers started out on stage music and their songs are amongst the most remixed on sites like OCr Remix. Sadly though many of the remixes on these sites sound superior to the ones found in 'Wily Wars', which to my ear sound over complicated and messy. The classic melodies remain but on too many tracks you have to listen out for them, they're lost amongst a cacophony of digital drums and abrasive guitars. Individuals Stage music has lost their identity and the soundtrack on all three games loses their appeal as a result. 

Greater care has been taken with the visuals of the games though.  I believe that all three look beautiful on Mega Drive. The character sprites are detailed and colourful but maintain their Nes proportions. This is obviously important for practical purposes but it’s also vital to remain true to the game origins. The transition for 8bit to 16 means backgrounds can be far more detailed. It’s only when you see the Mega Drive game that you realise just how many stages in the original Nes games consisted of a single coloured backdrop. 

The 'Mega Man X' games and 'Mega Man 7' certainly looks superior but that's not to say 'the Wily Wars' looks bad. It's a sensitive update that emphasises the original game's charming aesthetic rather than unnecessarily changes it. "The graphics and sounds have gained a lot" agreed Portuguese magazine Super Gamer Pro adding that "the design still impresses [them]". 

The original game was pioneering, setting a standard that was improved in its sequels. It seem fair and fitting then that effort has been made to unify the series; adding some improvements that were introduced in later games to the first in the series. Accordingly 'Mega Man [1]' now features a title screen with music taken from 'Mega Man 3'.  Similarly the first game used boss character sprites for the level selection screen. This has now been changed to character portraits to bring it in line with the two sequels.    

All The games in the compilation are actually based on the Japanese releases so the choice of difficulty introduced to the western release of 'Mega Man 2' has gone. Bugs in all three games have also been fixed, which is a blessing and a curse. You can no longer glitch through the walls on some stages and you also can't easily defeat Yellow Devil using the infamous pause trick. 

It does have some flaws though; the biggest one has to be the control of Mega Man himself. An infamously hard game series that demands pixel perfect jumping needs tight responsive controls. 'The Wily Wars' simply is not as smooth as the original games. Your rate of fire is also slightly decreased in this Mega Drive version so you're only able to fire every third frame compared to every other frame as was the case in the NES games. It doesn't sound like much but it means it takes longer to kill any enemy in the game, particularly those like Sniper Joe who is only vulnerable for a short time. 

The Nes 'Mega Man' games were the infamous victims of Sprite flicker and game slowdown. While the former has been fixed in these 16 bit remakes the latter is actually worse. 'The Wily wars' slows down tremendously when there's a lot of action on screen. As a result some sections actually become easier than the NES originals, mainly because it feels like you have longer to react. It’s almost as if Dr Light has given Mega Man a 'Matrix' style ability to slow down time when the challenge gets too much.
But while the game grinds to a near halt when bosses like Mecha Dragon are on screen the reality is that anyone playing the 'The Wily wars' on a cart has to play every game slowly even when there's no enemies on screen at all. This is because every cartridge officially released was Pal format. Due to refresh rates, PAL games play almost a third slower than their NTSC counterparts, unless of course developers modify the game speed, something few did. Normally players aren't comparing the regions so no one notices. However, when you are used to the NES game play, and (more noticeably) the NES music, the slow refresh rate is very obvious. It doesn't ruin the game by any means; it just makes 'The Wily Wars' less frantic.

Due to the rarity of the physical copies of 'The Wily Wars', if you're playing the game today it's likely you're using an emulator or enjoying a reproduction copy. To be honest, it's the best way to enjoy the title, as both methods fix the game speed so these remakes play comparably to the Nes originals. Playing emulation or reproduction also offers the assurance that you'll have the ability to save your game. 

When you factor in all the levels across the three games 'The Wily Wars' equates to a rather large game by 'Mega Man' standards. This fact alone underlines why releasing the game on the Sega Channel was a terrible idea as this service erased your download's progress every time you turn off the system. I'd be surprised if anyone in North America was able to fully enjoy this game when it was released. Getting to the new levels and new bosses was only possible on a file that has a completed save for all three of the remakes. As even the most experienced 'Mega Man' aficionado will take 2 hours to clear each game, to even start a play through of 'Wily Tower' a Sega channel user would have had to have to have already played for 6 hours in one sitting. What this means is that most players would miss out on the levels that are unique to the release. 

Capcom seem quite happy to let 'The Wily Wars' vanish into the mists of time. While Nintendo still re-release the 'Mario All Stars' games, Capcom have never attempted to resell the 16 bit re-imagining of the first three 'Mega Man' games. The original 8 bit versions are included on compilations as recent as the 3DS 'Mega Man Legacy' collection but it's hardly a surprise that most fans wouldn't even know that three had been remade for the Mega Drive. Capcom at the time weren't particularly pleased with 'The Wily Wars' and series designer Keiji Inafune was vocal about his disappointment (even though he oversaw the project). He described the debugging procedure as "an absolute nightmare", even helping out himself as he felt bad for the person in charge. "It was so bad," he recalled, "I found myself saying, 'I can't believe we've made it out of there alive.'" The team later questioned whether the nightmare was "truly necessary" given how few people ended up playing the game. This may explain why the compilation is little more than a footnote in Capcom's official history of the series. 

Even with its short comings though one could never take away from the fact that 'The Wily Wars' is clearly the best 'Mega Man' game on the Mega Drive.

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