As a general rule, I don’t write a review for a video game until after I’ve complete it. There are exceptions, of course, such as puzzle games that don’t have any real story or campaign to complete. Or with fighting or sports games, we really need enough time with the competitive multiplayer to give any meaningful impressions. However, with action/adventure games, I usually will not review a game until I’ve seen it through to the end.
I mention this up front because I have never actually beaten the game I’m about to discuss. We’re pretty sure Mike beat it way back in the day, but unfortunately it’s been too long for him to recall. I have thoroughly enjoyed the game, despite of my endless string of failures, so I figured it was worth writing this review now. I mean, it’s been 25+ years. Plus many other players may have had a similar experience to mine, the repeated crushing defeat that is old-school Mega Man, this time on the Game Boy.
The full title of the first Mega Man for the original Game Boy is “Mega Man Dr. Wily's Revenge”, or simply “Rockman World” in Japan. And while I didn’t realize this back in the day, this game is essentially a rehash; a liberal remixing of elements recycled from Mega Man 1&2 on the NES.
The robot bosses selectable from the opening stage menu are Cut Man, Ice Man, Elec Man, and Fire Man, all four derived from Mega Man 1. Apparently the game also includes another four robot bosses in Wily’s fortress which are borrowed from Mega Man 2. (Although I wouldn’t know, to be honest, because I have never once made it that far.) All level elements used in the Game Boy game were lifted from the NES Mega Man’s as well, with nothing original to speak of. Even the boxart for the game was apparently reused from Mega Man 3, the image just zoomed in tight on the Blue Bomber to crop out everything else.
With so much of the Game Boy Mega Man simply being repackaged parts from the first NES games, you might think the game would feel stale, dated, wholly unoriginal from the get-go. Somehow though, I don’t think the retreading had any negative effect on the game whatsoever.
For one thing, you would’ve needed to have played enough of the original Mega Man games to even notice how flagrantly they recycled everything. There were many households at the time (the Kellehers included) whose very first video game device was the original Game Boy. If you hadn’t played much Mega Man yet, it was all new to you.
Secondly, handheld gaming was just getting started back in the early 90’s, and having a portable game that was anywhere close to the equivalent quality of a home console title was simply amazing. No one would have complained if Mega Man on Game Boy were merely a straightforward port of Mega Man on NES. On the contrary, people would have cheered! Keep in mind, this was a time when Nintendo would release versions of the exact same game on NES and Game Boy simultaneously, like they did with Dr. Mario and Yoshi.
Finally, the most important reason the recycling can be overlooked is that the game actually plays great! The translation of Mega Man’s jump-and-shoot gameplay to a handheld system appears to have gone incredibly smoothly, the running and gunning on the Game Boy feels just as good here as it did on the NES.
Regarding the visuals—especially in comparison to other Game Boy titles of era—Mega Man looks fantastic. Even limited to a four-shade monochromatic screen, everything looks quite good, with background elements cast in lighter shades than the foreground.
Character sprites are big and clear, taking up more relative space than they had on home consoles. By “zooming” the perspective in on our hero, the designers were able to provide the equivalent sprite detail that NES players were used to, though it sacrificed some view of the level’s periphery. Essentially the player sees more of Mega Man and less of the stage he’s platforming through. As per usual for the series, animations here are incredibly clever and effective: still the gold standard of 8-bit visuals.
This game doesn’t disappoint the audio side either, with the Game Boy’s iconic sound system cranking out the classic Mega Man tracks you know and love. Cut Man’s stage music is here to get you pumped, as is Elec Man’s Journey-esque theme. If any sound quality was lost in the transition to a handheld device, I can’t really hear it.
So technically speaking, Mega Man (Dr. Wily's Revenge) is a solid Game Boy title. Where it might begin to try one's patience though is in its difficulty, something the Mega Man games are well known for. Call it “Nintendo Hard” or “old-school hard” if you like, the game is as just difficult as one would expect from the series. And since I seem to suck mightily at Mega Man games, it’s been quite the hurdle for me.
To be clear, the game’s difficulty is not just a matter of the robot bosses being challenging to beat. It’s actually getting to the bosses that’s the hard part. The platforming in this game isn’t the smoothest, however it’s quite demanding. There are a few jumps, encountered early on in the opening levels, that require such precision, they’re nearly impossible to make. While I would like to battle through the robot masters and fight my way to the finish, I literally can’t even get to the them. (And again, I’ve had this game for like 25 years…)
I’m sure there are more dedicated gamers out there who will persevere and conquer this game. Honestly, it’s probably not nearly as punishing as I’m making it out to be. For me though, I’m fine merely enjoying the beginning of this robot adventure and not making it very far. Though I must admit, the boss character Enker does sound mildly interesting. His name follows an appropriately music-themed naming convention—like Rockman, Roll, Rush, etc.—and references “enka”, the Japanese folk music genre that’s almost entirely sentimental ballads. (I kind of love enka.)
Sometimes a game can provide so much enjoyment on a surface level that completing the entirety of it hardly seems necessary. This is one of those games.
Mega Man (Dr. Wily's Revenge) will always hold a special place in my heart. Both as the first Mega Man game I really played in earnest, and as a nostalgic callback to so many backseat Game Boy sessions during long highway drives on summer vacation. Despite the game kicking my ass over and over again, I will surely continue to come back and give it another halfhearted try for years to come.