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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 27, 1997 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Humanity has nothing to fear when squishy Mega Man is on the case!

The craze of Mega Man 7 quickly came and went; many fans, however, were simply not satisfied with the final product and screamed for more of the blue bomber -- and more than a mere rehashing of the past. A real Mega Man game had to be produced. With Mega Man's tenth anniversary speedily approaching, it was naturally expected that Capcom would pull out all the stops in and when Mega Man 8 ever went into production. And such grandiose dreams of glory were indeed well-founded with the recent influx of "next-generation" video game consoles hitting the shelves at the time. It was eventually announced that the eighth Mega Man game for a home console would indeed go 32-bit on the Sega Saturn and, after much hooplah from Sony, on the PlayStation in 1996 in Japan, and 1997 overseas, in time to co-incide with the blue bomber's ten-year tenure. This would mark the first time that an original series' game would NOT appear on a Nintendo console. (Instead, Japanese gamers were treated to "Rockman & Forte" for the Super Famicom in 1998.) Upon its arrival to stores, it was already seen as an improvement over its SNES counterpart -- and indeed it was... well, in most aspects.

Thanks to the expanded storage capacities of compact discs, fully-animated cinematic sequences could now be implemented to help flesh out the storyline to its maximum potential. Thus, the quest is much clearer to the player this time around. We come to discover that two robotic enemies that had battled in space have fallen to Earth, just as a meteorite would, though only one seems to have remained intact. Upon examining the crash site at (conveniently enough) Dr. Wily's secret tropical island base, Mega Man catches Wily stealing an orb filled with what is later dtermined to be "evil energy" that can be used to contaminate the entire planet in a short amount of time, leaving it open for domination. Mega Man also finds a broken robot, which he sends to Dr. Light's lab for analysis and repair. Dr. Wily uses the evil energy he picked up and infuses it into four Robot Masters, which he sends after Mega Man (and are subsequently defeated because... well, we know why). After this, the robot Mega Man had saved from the island awakens and runs off. A duel takes place between the two, and Mega Man is later formally introduced to the new robot. He is called Duo and his sole mission is rid the universe of evil energy. So now the truth unfolds: Mega Man must defeat Dr. Wily and stop the evil energy from spreading across the Earth.

Now because this is a next-generation game (well, at the time it was), players naturally had higher expectations for this title. A repetition of what the old games did was simply unacceptable. Thankfully, Capcom added enough new features and innovations to keep the fans amused. Aside from the new anime cutscenes (which I shall discuss in greater detail later on, since they definitely deserve a separate discussion), there are numerous new elements. First and foremost are the advances in the styles of gameplay. Those familiar with Mega Man 8 know that I am referring primarily to the rocketboard that appears a few times in the game. Several times (including in the first stage of Wily's fortress), you'll need to ride a rocketboard over a lengthy scape that requires well-timed jumps and slides. Don't worry, you'll be warned -- barely -- with an indicator that appears and a voice telling you to "Jump!" or "Slide!" Going downhills just propels you faster, so you'd better keep up and watch for annoying traps as you travel at wacky speeds (perhaps the fastest Mega Man has ever moved while in pedestrian mode). When I had first played through the game a few years ago, I found the ski-style stage in Wily's fortress to be absolutely mind-numbing, but nowadays I don't feel it is so rough. It still takes a few tries to complete, but at least I don't get so overly frustrated that I go out on a killing spree. Yup. At least the controls are quite responsive throughout the game, so it's not too bad. Also new to the game is a side-scrolling shmup (shoot-em-up) style of gameplay, where Mega Man can ride on Rush and fire at oncoming airborne enemies. He can also gain the aid of other helpers, such as the top-flipping Eddie and big loafer Auto, during his flight. And for the first time ever (and probably the last time ever), Mega Man can actually swim in water. The swimming animation looks goofy, plus Mega Man shouldn't be able to do that. Let's hope he never does that again.

Other alterations include the change in shopping structure. Roll now runs the place where Mega Man can purchase upgrades, but you can't just go out running and gunning in search for more Bolts so that you can buy everything, like in Mega Man 7. In the entire game, there are a total of forty relatively large Bolts to be found, so you must be quite careful as to what you buy, since not everything can be bought with just 40 Bolts. Of course, some adapters Mega Man can purchase are more useful than others. For example, the Laser Shot adapter, which allows you to charge up and fire a laser that pierces through shields and such is quite useful, especially for a certain unnamed gelatinous fortress boss. On the other hand, the Step Booster, which allows you to climb ladders faster, is stupid and useless. Make some wise purchases, O Player of Yore, and remember that you can't find these adapters anywhere but here at Dr. Light's Lab! Secondly, the biggest (and perhaps the most drastic and possibly unnecessary) change has occurred with everyone's favourite robotic canine buddy Rush. All of his previous abilities have been dropped and replaced, the adapters for which are picked up right after defeating mid-bosses in certain stages. They can only be used once in each stage (or once per life, whichever ends first). They are: Rush Cycle, where Rush transforms into a motorcycle that Mega Man can ride on for a little while; Rush Charger, where Rush flies in and drops a power-up that seems randomly chosen; Rush Bomber, where Rush just flies around for a while and drops bombs; and Rush Health, which is like Rush Bomber, but instead of dropping bombs, he drops energy pellets. That last one is particularly useful, considering that there are NO (I repeat, NO) E-Tanks in this game. How did we regress back to the days of the original Mega Man game?! However, the bosses are generally easy enough that I didn't need anything more than Rush Health to save my butt. Finally, throughout the stages, there are large purple orbs that contain weapon energy, life energy, or possibly an extra life when you shoot them. That's not particularly important, but worth noting.

The Robot Master Lineup: Aqua Man, Astro Man, Sword Man, Frost Man, Search Man, Tengu Man, Grenade Man, Clown Man

Just as Mega Man 7 had done, we are treated to an introductory stage, pretty much just to introduce the player to the game's basic mechanics. This is followed up, expectedly, by four Robot Master stages to tackle. Feel the explosive power of Grenade Man! Chill out with Frost Man! Fool around with Clown Man! Think really hard about what the deal is with Tengu Man! Between these four stages and the next set of Robot Masters is an intermission level where you must fight Duo. Then try your luck with four more Robot Masters! Sail through the realm of Aqua Man! Come out swingin' with Sword Man! Keep an eye out for Search Man! And don't forget to grab your telescope: you never know when Astro Man will pop up! (My apologies for these descriptors...) If all that didn't interest you, how about the fact that all the Robot Masters speak? Isn't that wicked? I'll bet it is. Also, interestingly enough, the Sega Saturn version featured two bosses from games past, Cut Man and Wood Man, as mid-bosses in a couple of stages, whom Mega Man would fight and win Bolts from. These do not appear in the PlayStation version for some reason; instead, the Bolts are just sitting elsewhere, waiting to be picked up. And of course, you get to steal weapons from the Robot Masters that you defeat! The weapons are actually decent, just as they should be! After all, the 32-bit systems can do much more than the older consoles! Such weapons include the Astro Crush (raining meteors from the sky), the Tornado Hold (creating a rising tornado that Mega Man can ride on), and the, uh, Water Balloon (duh). It's all good. Also of worthy note, some of the Mega Man 8 Robot Masters were created based on entries of another robot design contest held only in Japan; some of the rejected entries appear in drawing form as the ending credits play out. Some of them didn't win for a reason.

Alright, let's talk graphics here because there is much to be said. I'll get to the crazy anime cutscenes in a moment, but first, I'll just say a few words about the in-game graphics. There's something a bit different about Mega Man 8 over other games, but I can't quite put my finger on it... Ah, yes! It's the colourful atmosphere! The designers at Capcom sure went overboard with the palette, opting to use all the colours of the rainbow as often as possible. This is NOT reminiscent of Mega Man games past! Granted, it creates a cheery atmosphere (not exactly one Mega Man would be used to, but alright), but I'm just not used to all that positivism. Even Mega Man himself looks strange; he's a bit deformed and a bit more cartoonish than the sprites of Mega Man 7 (if that's possible). Overall, however, I am rather impressed with the way Capcom handled the look of the game. It's more impressive than Mega Man 7. Okay, I'll have to stop comparing this game to Mega Man 7 soon.

But now for the fun part: it's time to talk about the anime cutscenes. Aren't they great? Actually, they're well-drawn (although a tad grainy due to the compression method of movies back in the day) and very much appreciated to keep the story flowing. I believe there are five altogether, including the introductory and concluding cutscenes, although I may have forgotten one. They are of decent length too -- neither too short nor too long -- and appear only when the story needs to progress. On occasion, you can tell that the animators were a bit lazy with the "special effects", such as warping through hyperspace where they just replay the same short lines flying towards the camera routine, only you can tell where it stops and starts quite easily. That could have been better. But at least the characters look good, just like the Mega Man on Japanese box art (and actually, like the Mega Man model featured on the cover of Mega Man 8 in North America and Europe! They finally got it right!) However, something is lacking here. Let's call them "voice-overs". I don't know where they picked up the voice actors for this game (perhaps off the street?), but they obviously had no prior experience with acting, or even speaking in general. Capcom selected Japanese voice actors to speak English parts, but sadly their accents generally don't match anything close to what an English speaker would say. Of particular note is the L/R interchangeability that occurs in the Japanese language; this explains why Dr. Light speaks like Elmer Fudd. Did no one at the American branch of Capcom notice that he says "Dr. Wa-wee" instead of just "Dr. Wily"? Furthermore, Mega Man sounds like a prepubescent girl. That's not how it's supposed to be! I think the best voice acting was done by Rush (who just barks and whines), followed by Dr. Wily. The voices are also way too quiet in the movies and often hard to hear; poor mastering, perhaps?

In addition to the voices in the cutscenes, many characters also speak at certain times. Mega Man delivers the occasional brief line when communicating with Dr. Light, Dr. Wily says stuff when he encounters Mega Man, and even Bass utters a conniving but pointless line at one point. These are not so bad. On the other hand, when the Robot Masters speak, it's absolutely deplorable. They speak when you arrive in their chamber, when they get hurt, and when they are defeated. It sounds harmless, but many of them have annoyingly squeaky voices and say idiotic things. Case in point: when you meet up with Clown Man, he might say "Yo, geeky!" Is Mega Man geeky? (Don't answer that.) Or when you meet up with Aqua Man, he is known to greet you with "I'm Aqua Man, but you can call me handsome, 'kay?" Goodness gracious. And when Astro Man dies, he says, "Good grief." So it's now official: Astro Man is Charlie Brown. Sheesh, they can be quite irritating, but at least their diction is fair. As long as I'm rambling on about audio, I'll just quickly mention that the music, although solidly produced, is pretty cheesy and un-Mega-Manly-like, if I could use that word. With the exception of the ending theme, the music is ultimately forgettable, but such is life. As for the sound effects, that's a similar affair. While most of the sound effects are passable, there's just one thing that is incomprehensible. I can't explain why, but Mega Man now makes squishy noises when he jumps and lands -- what the?! I had no idea Mega Man was made of Jell-O! This must have been Dr. Light's doing!

With all these crazy faults that I seem to be spouting forth, you'd think that I have quite a bone to pick with Mega Man 8, but just the opposite is true. I actually like Mega Man 8 more than several other iterations in the series, and its weird quirks just make it all the more fun overall. It's nice that the series went out on its tenth anniversary with a bang, but unfortunately, this is the last REAL Mega Man title of the original numbered series. (No, that Rockman & Forte (SNES) / Mega Man & Bass (GBA) game doesn't quite count. At least, not according to me.) There doesn't seem to be a true Mega Man 9 on the horizon, and considering that it's been over a decade since Mega Man 8 was released, it may be safe to assume that the original series is dead. The only thing we can do is pray for good things, and enjoy the original eight games until our thumbs fall off from overuse. All eight, including Mega Man 8 (of course), are all available for play on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection. Be warned, though, that the MMAC version suffers from a few technical issues that don't affect the gameplay experience as a whole, but can still be irritating to enthusiasts, such as some slowdown during battles and slight choppiness of anime cutscenes. The best way to play is through the original, and if you shuffle through a bargain bin of PlayStation games, you just might find it. It would be a wise investment to make!

UPDATE: Over a decade later, Mega Man 9 descended from the heavens!

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