Mega Man may not be remotely close to as popular as he once was, but the Blue Bomber has managed to build up a decent legacy over the years. While the many spin-off franchises are consistently inconsistent when it comes to quality, the classic Mega Man series that started it all tends to fare better.
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With twelve mainline entries dating back three decades, it’s shocking just how good most games in the Classic line-up actually are. None of the main games are fundamentally broken and there’s a deeper level of polish involved whenever Capcom gets around to funding a mainline Mega Man game.
12 Mega Man
The game that started it all is also the worst. While not a bad game by any means, the original Mega Man has some serious flaws. Its difficulty curve is anything but graceful, it’s just barely too short, and the overall level design is rather hit or miss. Nothing’s particularly bad, but few stages stand out as all-time greats.
That said, it’s not a particularly bad game. The biggest hurdle is the difficulty, but it’s fun enough once the player realizes what the game wants out of them. More importantly, Mega Man has great bosses and enemies that play well with the Blue Bomber’s weapon set. Its remake, Powered Up, is a better alternative.
11 Mega Man 6
In a bubble, Mega Man 6 might be one of the better Mega Man games. If nothing else, one of the more “complete” games in the series. The last to be released on the NES, Mega Man 6 pretty much serves as a mechanical victory lap for the series, generally being fun enough to play and decently designed.
Unfortunately, most of the game just feels “old hat.” Mega Man 6 does little new even if it does most things well. By this point, Mega Man on the NES felt tired. This is to say nothing of the fact that Mega Man 6 came out a month before Mega Man X on the SNES, with the latter being Capcom’s real priority.
10 Mega Man 8
Mega Man 8 has a great soundtrack and even better visuals. When it comes to presentation, it’s one of the best games in the series, even in spite of its awful English voice acting. Unfortunately, Mega Man 8 suffers from something most PS1 Mega Man games suffered from: an over-reliance on gimmicks.
More often than not, Mega Man 8 suppresses the traditional Mega Man gameplay. It’s especially disappointing considering how gracefully Mega Man X transferred from the Super Nintendo to PlayStation. Mega Man 8 does have a Sega Saturn port, but it’s far more expensive than it’s actually worth. Besides, it’s not like the Saturn version fixes the game design.
9 Mega Man 10
After the surprise burst of quality that was Mega Man 9, hopes were incredibly high for Mega Man 10. The Blue Bomber was back and he was focused on the basics. Unfortunately, Mega Man 10 is in many ways Mega Man 9’s antithesis. Where the latter simply wanted to be a good Mega Man game, the former wants to memorable.
Mega Man 10 doesn’t over-rely on gimmicks like Mega Man 8 does, but it puts far too much stock in its set pieces. As a result, the level design suffers and the game fails to even come close to Mega Man 9’s level of quality. It’s a big shame since this was the only game to feature Mega Man, Proto Man, and Bass as playable characters.
8 Mega Man 5
Mega Man 5 has some pretty good level design all things considered, but it’s lacking pretty much everywhere else. The fifth NES entry, the Classic series was starting to feel its age. After Mega Man 4 introduced the Mega Buster, there was really nowhere else to take Mega Man as a character.
Mega Man 5 was left just needing to build off what had already existed. Which actually should have made for an incredible game, but Capcom never really knew what to focus on mechanically. Combat is less engaging than it had ever been. It’s a fully competent Mega Man game, but it never excels as well as it should.
7 Mega Man & Bass
Mega Man & Bass’ Game Boy Advance port effectively killed the game’s reputation. With a cropped screen and sluggish controls, the GBA version is a nightmare to play. It takes an already difficult game and makes it even harder. It’s a pity that this is the version that came west because the Super Famicom original is quite good.
Both Mega Man and Bass play differently enough to warrant two playthroughs. The fact that there’s a world map of sorts and Robot Masters branch off in different paths leads to some very interesting balancing. The game also features a database with information on every character in the Classic series up to that point. In everything but name, it’s the real Mega Man 9.
6 Mega Man 3
Mega Man 3 is an amazing game with some lackluster pacing issues. Doc Robot is a very interesting concept, but his design is bland and having to find him multiple times is downright tedious. Mega Man 3’s second half can feel like padding at times. Other than that, though, it’s an airtight game.
Well designed levels, some of the best bosses in the series, and a great weapon set give Mega Man 3 a lot of value. This is to say nothing about its length. While Doc Robot can be annoying and his presence doesn’t add anything too meaningful, he does lengthen a good game in a clever enough way.
5 Mega Man 7
The first classic entry on the Super Nintendo and the only Classic SNES game to come west, Mega Man 7 doesn’t get the respect it deserves. While it introduced many ideas that would end up plaguing Mega Man 8, it pulls off its concepts rather well. The game even takes some design elements from Mega Man X, emphasizing exploration and armor pieces.
Mega Man 7 is just an all-around good game with great visuals and great music. Its levels are well thought out, the game is well-paced, and the difficulty curve isn’t a total nightmare. It’s definitely jarring going straight from Mega Man 6 to Mega Man 7, and not necessarily in a good way, but MM7 stands well enough on its own.
4 Mega Man 2
Considered by many to be the Classic Mega Man game, Mega Man 2 is the game that solidified the series’ legacy. Eight Robot Masters, no Score system, a Password system, and really tight levels. The game perhaps isn’t as graceful as most remember it, often going a bit too easy in terms of difficulty, but it’s hard to deny Mega Man 2’s quality.
Its soundtrack and stages really are top-notch. The weapon set is also good, but the fact that Metal Blade decimates anyone and anything really neuters the value of every other weapon. Still, though, the game is well designed otherwise and Mega Man 2 is perhaps the most fun to just sit down and play.
3 Mega Man 4
The real NES Classic Mega Man, Mega Man 4 is by far the best of the bunch. The introduction of the Mega Buster may have forever trivialized moment to moment gameplay (for some) but its contributions absolutely cannot be ignored. It made Mega Man stronger and it made his enemies tougher to deal with.
Mega Man 4, in general, plays like Capcom at their best. They look back on the best elements of the first three-games and bring them to life around one new mechanic. Mega Man 5 and 6 would struggle to keep Mega Man 4’s momentum, but MM4 is just too tight a game to ignore.
2 Mega Man 11
Completely out of nowhere, Mega Man 11 proved that Capcom still had it in them. Developed by a team of developers who grew up fans of the franchise, Mega Man 11 acts as a soft “reboot” of sorts for the series. It has new priorities, all of which serve to modernize the Mega Man formula without straying too far.
The game itself has some of the best-designed levels in the franchise, not just the Classic series. The new weapons are all creative and fun to use, the soundtrack is catchy, and the Gear system is far and away the coolest mechanic to grace the Classic series. Mega Man has never felt more modern and fresh.
1 Mega Man 9
It really cannot be stressed just how good of a game Mega Man 9 is. Not only does it look back on its predecessors for inspiration, but it also makes sure never to be derivative, instead creating an identity of its own. In many respects, it's Mega Man 2’s natural successor, treating itself as a mechanical third game with only the concepts introduced in the second.
Which isn’t that interesting of a concept, but it’s executed so well that it’s impossible not to see the value in this style of game design. Mega Man 9 really did feel like a resurgence for the series, arguably more so than Mega Man 11 currently does.