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'Mega Man 2' retrospective: Jewel in the crown of the classic series

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'Mega Man 2' screenshot

First Released: 1988 (NES)
Now Available On: Virtual Console, PSN, iOS

Mario and Sonic are often credited with shaping the modern 2D platformer, but a certain robotic humanoid has done more than his fair share in that department too. Mega Man has proven almost as prolific as Nintendo's plumber brothers and pre-dates Sega's blue hedgehog by several years.

Capcom's much-loved creation celebrated his 25th birthday this week, so what better excuse to look back on his finest hour? Mega Man 2 for NES is considered the long-running series' high point by many, delivering an essential slice of 8-bit action-platforming that has never dulled over time.

'Mega Man 2' screenshot


Mega Man 2 was something of a risky undertaking for Capcom in 1988. The game's predecessor - known as Rockman in Japan - did not sell particularly well, but the studio allowed its developers to push ahead with a follow-up, providing they worked on other projects concurrently.

Unused material from the original Mega Man was recycled here, but this was no mere rehash. Like any good sequel, Mega Man 2 offered numerous improvements over its forebear - notably audiovisual enhancements, new gameplay features and toned-down difficulty. Many of these new features became the staples future entries in the series were based around.

Mega Man 2 picked up where its predecessor left off, continuing the protagonist's battle against the Evil Dr Wily and his Robot Masters. There were eight stages to traverse that could be tackled in any order, with a robotic boss laying in wait at the end.

'Mega Man 2' screenshot


The game's bosses - Metal Man, Air Man, Bubble Man, Quick Man, Crash Man, Flash Man, Heat Man, and Wood Man - each possessed powers related to their name, and the player gained access to these once they were defeated. Each boss was vulnerable to specific powers, so there was an element of strategy involved in plotting their downfall.

Mega Man 2 offered a perfect blend of addictive platforming and frantic shooting, but the series' trademark difficulty was here in spades, despite the measures the developers took to make it more forgiving.

The protagonist had a sizeable energy bar, yet this could be reduced to nothing in minutes unless players had intimate knowledge of the level layouts and enemy attack patterns. Mega Man crossed paths with some formidable foes capable of withstanding a barrage of shots and moving in curve-ball patterns.

'Mega Man 2' screenshot


Moreover, those Robot Masters were formidable opponents. Getting the better of them was a case of figuring out their vulnerability, timing every jump to perfection and attacking at the right moment. Downing a Mega Man 2 boss gave rise to a tremendous sense of achievement, but they all came back with a vengeance during the final stage.

The inclusion of an energy-replenishing power-up players could use at will and a passwords system made Mega Man 2 less brutal than its predecessor, but only in the same sense that being slapped around the face is preferable to being punched full force in the kidney.

However, the sheer fun to be had kept players coming back for more punishment. It was a balanced game, that was more often referred to as incredibly challenging, rather than frustrating. Still, it was responsible for more than its fair share of smashed control pads.

'Mega Man 2' screenshot


Mega Man 2 was a gamble that paid off for Capcom, with the improvements the game contained helping it find universal acclaim among critics and fans alike. It sold far better than the original, shifting 1.5 million units, making it the most commercially-successful entry in the series to date.

Although Mega Man has gone on to star in more than 50 games, this was the pinnacle of his career to many. Without the success of Mega Man 2 there's every possibility Capcom would have retired the character following his less-successful debut; and video gaming would have been far poorer without him.

Do you have any fond memories of Mega Man 2? Post a comment below!

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