Timely Thoughts on Mega Man 8

This is one of two mainline Mega Man games that got away from me (the other being MM10). This is the first time I’ve ever played Mega Man 8 in any capacity. And I’m here to tell you that it’s not all that good.

This game is very much a product of its time. The 32-bit console era was a period of great transition, as the industry not-so-gradually pushed into 3d gaming. When it came to old, existing franchises from the 2d era, this led to a bit of a crisis. As in animation, gaming had to deal with the fact that a lot of its audience quickly came to the conclusion that 3d graphics were better than 2d as a matter of course.

You could make a gorgeous 2d game on the Playstation (or Saturn) hardware with huge levels and interesting mechanics, and there would be a significant contingent of players who would simply refuse to play it. Or you could just make a decent looking game that played like it’s predecessors from the 8 or 16-bit eras, and there would be a significant contingent of reviewers who would ding it for being old fashioned.

If you were a publisher with a storied 2d franchise, you had two choices. The first was to try to make the plunge into 3d. The second was to make a 2d game with any number of gimmicks in it, in hopes that they would be enough to entice or distract.

Mega Man 8 is an example of Option #2. This game is chock full of gimmicks and changes that feel as if they were specifically included to try to convince people that this wasn’t the same tired old Mega Man experience. But it lacks any real new ideas that push the envelope or iterate on the formula. 

Here is my long (though not necessarily exhaustive list) of Mega Man 8’s gimmicks:

  • There are two fairly long SHMUP-style shooting sections, which is a gimmick we only once saw prior, during a brief sequence in a single stage in Mega Man 5.
  • There are two fairly long sections in which Mega Man boards a rocket sled (read: snowboard) and has to quickly jump and/or slide to avoid obstacles (and which gave birth to a meme).
  • There is a stage that plays out in what is essentially a massive board game, where stepping on certain tiles will trigger traps. Here the game plays as much like a puzzle game as an action platformer.
  • Just like in the Playstation/Saturn-era Mega Man X games, Mega Man 8 splits each of its stages into distinct sections that are loaded separately from the disc (due to hardware limitations). If you lose all your lives, you can continue from whatever section you are currently in, meaning you don’t always have to restart the entire level.
    • Unlike the Mega Man X games, the stages in MM8 are not even close to being evenly split up. Sometimes the first part is laughably short, and other times it isn’t. This leads to a very uneven sense of difficulty.
  • Also like in Mega Man X, you can revisit stages, in this case so that you can look for the bolts you need to buy permanent (and temporary) powerups. In my opinion, this blurs the lines between the two series. Why have a mainline, numbered Mega Man game that’s going to be nearly as complicated as an MMX title?
  • Traditionally, a Mega Man game is a “dead on” side scroller, where you can only see the literal side/edge of all the platforms:

But Mega Man 8 moves the camera “up” so that you can see the top of each platform, like so:

    Presumably this is to give the game a greater sense of depth, which in turn makes it look and feel a little more “3d”. But it’s a wasted effort. It’s clearly not actual 3d, so there’s no way it was ever going to convince the newly minted 3d gaming fans of 1996 to play it. And at the same time, it makes it harder to judge distances when jumping or trying to avoid enemies. It removes some of the precision that Mega Man games were known for.

  • The game tries to take advantage of the Playstation and Saturn’s powerful new hardware by including lots of big, well animated sprites. Makes sense in theory, but it also means that Mega Man feels slower and more floaty, as if he’s obligated to finish out his elaborate animations rather than respond to your inputs.

Put it all together, and what you are left with is a mainline Mega Man game that doesn’t really feel like a Mega Man game.  The controls feel off, it’s a bit more complicated than it needs to be, and the number of gimmick stages mean there isn’t a lot of room left for good, traditional run and gun action.

In fact, dare I say MM8 feels ashamed to be a Mega Man game. Again, to be clear, I feel like this happened to a lot of 2d games in the mid-to-late 90’s.  But that’s not really an excuse. Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 may look less detailed and play more simply, but they look good enough, and play like a dream. They are far, far more timeless than MM8.

And it’s not just true of those two (older) games. Mega Man 9 came out twelve years after MM8, but it was a deliberate throwback to MM2 that arguably managed to capture the essence of what made it great.

A lot of publishers in the 32 bit era failed to understand that just because an existing series was tired didn’t mean it was dead. It (and its fans) just needed time to rest and take a break. If, after enough time, a development team had some new ideas (even if those ideas were simply for new levels/bosses/challenges, rather than new features), the fans would come back. Both MM 9 and (arguably) MM11 are testaments to this idea.

But instead, Capcom tried to force a franchise that was already feeling tired to keep going into a new era (or should I say “phase”) of gaming in which it wasn’t terribly welcome. I can’t say I know anything about Capcom’s corporate decision making at the time, but it feels to me like the existence of the 32 bit Mega Man games was due to momentum more than viability.

All of which is to say – don’t bother with Mega Man 8. It’s not classic Mega Man, nor is it anything bold and new. It’s desperate and a little bit sad.

Other Thoughts

  • One thing I will say in its favor is that Mega Man 8 does look pretty at times. But you can get a glimpse of that simply by looking at screenshots or video.
  • Mega Man 8 features a stage set in a snow covered city, and another stage set on an airship. Both of these ideas had been done the year before in Mega Man X3.
    • Even some of the bosses look like they belong in an MMX game. I’m thinking of Tengu Man and Frost Man in particular
    • Some of the bosses can become stunned or staggered if hit with their weapon weakness. Just like in …. Mega Man X!!!
  • Here’s a thought – it is even weirder that Capcom continued to push forward with a mainline Mega Man game when they clearly didn’t need to. The MMX series was tonally more appropriate for the Playstation Generation, and they even managed to successfully migrate to 3d with the two Mega Man Legends games. It’s not like they were unsuccessful in branching out.
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2 years ago

i dont know enough about mega man as a series or this specific game to comment, but i will say that its a shame everyone rushed into 3d at this time at the expense of 2d. i was just getting into gaming more seriously around this time, so i was probably a little guilty of it as well, but there were a lot of games/series that didnt need or benefit from the move to 3d.