During the development of most major games, developers need to spend inordinate amounts of time and money making sure that their game features the newest pixel-shading, artificial intelligence, and physics modeling technologies. Sometimes, focusing on these bells and whistles can distract developers from what really matters; game design. With its retro 8-bit visuals and side-scrolling platforming action, Capcom didn’t have to worry about any of that stuff when making Mega Man 10, and it shows. Without any of the trappings of modern big-budget titles, Mega Man 10 still manages to present one of the most enjoyable gameplay experiences of the year, and one that’s more easily digestible by the average gamer while still retaining the charm and challenge that has made the Mega Man series so beloved.
Picking up where Mega Man 9 left off, 10 is another purely retro experience that emulates the classic 8-bit Mega Man games on the NES. Specifically, Mega Man 2 serves as the direct inspiration for Mega Man 10. Eight different zones must be cleared, each with their own robot boss. When a boss is defeated, their unique weapon becomes part of Mega Man’s arsenal. Deciding the order in which to tackle the levels is part of the game’s strategy, but skilled players will be able to defeat bosses with pretty much any weapon. As with all the games in the series, Mega Man 10 starts off with a brief, barely-existent story that provides context for the platforming action and robot killing that follows. This time, an epidemic of “Roboenza” has broken out, causing every robot in the world except, conveniently enough, Mega Man, to malfunction. Even Dr. Wily, the chief antagonist of the series, has been affected by the outbreak, and must seek refuge with his old enemy, Dr. Light. Of course, this is Dr. Wily we’re talking about, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, trusting him completely would be a foolish move.
Before the robot-blasting mission begins, Mega Man runs into an old friend who’s here to help; Proto Man. Proto is the second playable character, and while the “Blue Bomber” appears in the game’s title, there’s plenty of good reasons to play as his red-clad partner. While Mega Man can only jump and shoot, Proto Man can also use a slide tackle to dispatch enemies and move quickly, and charge up his mega buster to deliver more powerful shots. These abilities are offset, however, by Proto Man’s lower pain tolerance; he takes more damage per hit than Mega Man, creating a nice balance between the two characters.
Both playable “Men” can play the main Arcade Mode in either normal or easy mode. Normal mode presents gamers with all the challenge and frustration they’ve come to expect, and represents a game experience that’s as difficult, if not more so, than Mega Man 9 or any of its predecessors. Finishing the game in Normal Mode unlocks Hard Mode, which ramps up the challenge to nearly impossible levels. For those without the patience or reflexes for all that, Easy mode is available. Easy mode takes a lot of the challenge out of the game, covering many traps, decreasing the amount of enemies, and increasing the amount of power-ups. In addition, players’ health bars deplete much slower than normally, giving players more chances to get popped and still get through levels. Many gamers, especially veterans of the series, will find Easy mode laughable, and stick to Normal or Hard difficulty.
In addition to the standard campaign, Time Attack mode and Challenge Rooms are included to help players hone their skills and extend the game’s play-time. Time Attack mode tasks players with completing levels as quickly as possible, with their results appearing on the worldwide leaderboards. Challenge Mode, on the other hand, provides players with 100 unique rooms that will put their skills to the test. Ranging from easy (run across this room as fast as possible), to difficult (beat this boss with only the Mega Buster without taking any damage), to hair-pullingly frustrating (jump over all of the impossibly spaced pits with spikes everywhere), the challenges are a lot of fun, and serve as a great test of one’s abilities. Most of the challenges are available from the get-go, but many are unlocked as players complete levels in Arcade Mode.
In terms of graphics, Mega Man 10 is pretty much a flawless game. That’s not to say that it boasts the most impressive visuals out there, rather that the game achieves exactly what Capcom and developer Inti Creates set out to do; emulate the best design elements of the NES Mega Man games. It’s not quite as visually appealing as Mega Man 9, but each level has a distinct look that creates an easily discernable theme. Strike Man, for example, is a sports-themed villain, therefore his level is filled with references to sports equipment. Most boards also include unique mechanics that fit with the level’s theme. For example, Nitro Man’s vehicle-themed levels include oncoming trains that must be avoided and used as fast-moving platforms for reaching otherwise inaccessible areas. Bosses are equally distinct, and feature some very clever and cute designs. More striking than the visuals, however, is Mega Man 10’s audio presentation. While sound effects are limited to the “plinks” and “beeps” from the older games, the soundtrack is one of the best pieces of MIDI music I’ve ever heard in a game. The various tunes found in the game are truly excellent, and make the game more memorable than many other Mega Man titles.
There’s only so much you can do with a 20+ year-old game formula before the experience starts to change, and the nostalgic appeal is lost. Fortunately, Capcom hasn’t reached that threshold yet with Mega Man. This tenth entry in the core series stands toe-to-toe with its predecessors in terms of gameplay and charm, and provides more content than pretty much any of them. It’s an excellent title that’s well worth the $10 price tag, and presents enough challenge to keep hardcores busy for weeks. More casual gamers, though, may find the standard mode too difficult, and the easy mode a little too forgiving. Then again, if you’re a casual player, what the hell are you doing buying a Mega Man game?