Nostalgia plays a huge role in gaming these days. As cool as games with jaw-dropping graphics are, more and more you're seeing retro-styled titles or ports of 8-bit video game classics making their way to the Google Play Store.
Sega set the standard for how companies ought to go about re-releasing legacy titles to nostalgia-hungry smartphone gamer with its Sega Forever series. Another classic company, Capcom, also tried to cash in on this 8-bit retro phase in grand fashion last year, releasing the first six Mega Man games as mobile releases onto the Google Play Store:
- Mega Man Mobile
- Mega Man Mobile 2
- Mega Man Mobile 3
- Mega Man Mobile 4
- Mega Man Mobile 5
- Mega Man Mobile 6
Mega Man, AKA Rockman in Japan, AKA The Blue Bomber, is a plucky young lad in a blue armor suit who must defeat Dr. Wily and his army of robots to save the earth and achieve everlasting peace. Originally released for the Famicom in Japan and NES in the U.S., there's a lot of video game history in those first six titles, establishing Mega Man as one of the more recognizable video game characters and winning over legions of fans over the past 30 years.
Unfortunately, the Mega Man Mobile games aren't quite what they should be, and hardcore Mega Man fans will undoubtedly be disappointed by them. There are a few overarching issues I need to address with these games to start:
Not direct ports
The first and most glaringly obvious point is that these are not direct ports of the original NES games — instead, these are "mobile" versions of Mega Man that have been optimized for newer Android devices.
What changes have been made? In each game description, Capcom makes it clear that both the gameplay and difficulty have been "optimized for smartphones" and that there are certain elements that differ from the original games. What they mean by that is they had to drastically lower the difficulty level to accommodate for the touchscreen controls.
They also included the erroneously named "Normal Mode" which gives you unlimited lives and continues, along with "Hard Mode", which limits your number of continues and ups the enemy's attack. Truth be told, Hard Mode should be called Normal because it more closely matches the challenge of playing the original — and Normal Mode should be called Easy Mode because it removes all the consequences of dying. Any time Mega Man dies, he simply respawns at the last checkpoint. I found the forgiving nature of "Normal Mode" to be the only way to make progress in any of these games. These old NES games are notorious for being tough as nails, but prepare to die 1,000 cheap deaths playing them. Sometimes it will be your fault, but more often than not it will be the game controls or mechanics slipping you up.
I found the forgiving nature of "Normal Mode" to be the only way to make progress in any of these games.
When these games were first released for Android in January of 2017, other sites ripped Capcom to shreds for not simply emulating these 30-year-old games on Android to be enjoyed in their former glory, and for the shoddy touch controls and abysmal frame rate. Capcom addressed the framerate issue with a February 2017 update that added the option of selecting the game speed, and of the three options included, Turbo Mode is the one you'll want to go with if you can't handle sluggish framerate. I found it to be the only way to enjoy these games — the lowest game speed option shouldn't even be there because it makes the game essentially unplayable.
No support game controllers
The other indefensible exclusion from these games is the lack of Bluetooth controller support. Not all touchscreen controls are awful, but touchscreen controls in an action platformer game that requires run-and-gun gameplay and pinpoint jumps are just asking for problems.
I mean, it's one thing if you're developing a brand new game and you don't want to go through the extra hassle of including controller support. That's fine. But if you're a big company like Capcom and you're re-releasing some of your console classics onto mobile, you damn well better include controller support.
Games like Mega Man Mobile are the perfect candidate for Bluetooth controller support.
The hardcore fans that are going to be your core market for game releases like these and those gamers may well retain the muscle memory from mashing physical buttons for hours on end playing these games as a kid. But you lose all of that with touchscreen controls. There's no tactile feedback when you go to jump or shoot, the virtual d-pad removes your ability to correct yourself on tricky jumps in platforming sections, and jumping and firing — a very important skill in Mega Man games to master — become a random guessing game of whether you timed your jump and shoot presses properly.
Putting the frame rate issues and lower difficulty aside, the lack of control options is my biggest gripe with these games. The fact that it's been over a full year since release and nothing has been done in spite of so many user reviews asking for them seems to point to indifference on Capcom's part. It's annoying and it certainly deserves to addressed.
Which are worth playing?
Beyond these broad issues that needed to be addressed up front, the question then becomes which individual games are worth playing. Based on your own history playing the Mega Man series, you might have a particular connection with a specific title but if you're coming in fresh and just want the best Mega Man experience on your phone here are my thoughts:
- You can probably skip right over Mega Man 1: It sort of pains me to say it considering these are the OG Mega Man titles, but the first Mega Man plays the worst on Android. It lacks the added abilities and controls of later releases and shows its age more so than its sequels.
- Mega Man 2 has the best bosses: This one's subjective, but for a series that has stuck with the generic "Blank" Man naming convention, Mega Man 2 offers the best variety in my opinion — even with the likes of "Air Man" and "Wood Man" on the roster.
- Stick to the 4, 5, and 6 for the most fun: Things start to really improve with Mega Man Mobile 3 which introduces Mega Man's robot dog, Rush, and also adds power slides to the gameplay. But it's the fourth title that adds the Mega Blaster which allows you to charge up blasts to deliver extra damage and really fleshes out Mega Man's abilities. If you've never played Mega Man before, you're best off starting with Mega Man Mobile 4 and working up from there (or tracking down an old NES console and doing it up right).
There's no denying that Capcom sort of dropped the ball here, which is all the more disappointing when you consider that Mega Man is one of their most iconic franchise. Charging $2 a pop for each of these games that have had frame rate and control issues since day one feels like a scummy cash grab.
All six games are available in the GameStash library for free, and that's probably the best way to play through each of these games and find the ones you enjoy the most. The games themselves are definitely worth playing and they're well suited for younger audiences. It's just a shame that Capcom didn't spend the extra effort to get it right.