Blue Bombing On the Go

Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge

After going over the first three games in the series, one would assume our continuing coverage of the Mega Man series would immediately continue with the fourth game in the franchise. While that might make sense for the story of the series, chronologically that's not the direction Capcom went. Instead, seeing continuing success with the NES iterations of the Blue Bomber, the company elected to translate their most famous character to the smaller, four-color monochrome screen of the Game Boy.

Take a kind of "best of" approach, Dr. Wily's Revenge is a creative reinterpretation of Mega Man and Mega Man 2. At the start of the game the player has four Robot Masters to choose from: Cut Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, and Fire Man. Game play progresses much as you'd expect from a Mega title -- the Blue Bomber drops into a stage, fights his way through a gauntlet of enemies before taking on the Robot Master of the stage and absorbing their power. He can then go to another stage with this newly earned weapon in tow to repeat the process, on and on until all the Robot Masters are dead. Then he gets to take on Wily at the Skull Fortress for the final showdown.

While the basic game is similar to what you'd expect, the Game Boy iteration does at least change a few things up to make it feel like a slightly different adventure. Each of the first four Robot master stages have been remixed, incorporating some enemies and elements from Mega Man 2. Elec Man's stage, for instance, incorporates enemies and stage style from Air Man, while Cut Man's stage feels like a remix of Metal Man's abode. It's an interesting choice since neither of those bosses actually show up in this game (instead appearing in the second Game Boy title). This remixing, though, does mean that you won't quite know what to expect when you go into any one of these stages, so you'll have to be on your toes the whole time.

Also changing up the formula is the fact that you won't have to slog through a set of re-fights with the same Robot Masters later in the game. Re-fights have been a part of the Mega Man series since the first title, and they show up in practically every game and spin-off in the series ever since. Here, though, Mega Man 2 bosses are swapped in for the usual re-fights you'd expect. More interesting is that once you defeat these baddies, you get to absorb their powers as well. It's a neat twist, one that allows for a full inventory of items on this smaller, little title.

Dividing up the bosses into two groups of four does change up the formula a fair bit. Instead of a single boss progression, where you begin the chain with one Robot Master and then linearly fight through each of them in order using the previous weapon you got on the next in the chain, you now have to think of the order for each of the groups. Sure, it's not a substantial change (and for reasons we'll get into in a second it's not implemented that well here) but it's enough to make the game feel different from the standard Mega Man formula (which had already started to become expected and a touch rote only four games in). I really like what the game could have done with it, but unfortunately the execution is a touch lacking.

The first big problem with the game is its relative length. At only six stages (four robot master stages and a paltry two Dr. Wily stages) this is the shortest title in the whole series. While some of the stages themselves are pretty lengthy, the over-all experience does feel pretty slight. A couple of more stages in the Dr. Wily section would have helped this title feel more full, more like a real game in the series.

It's worse, though, once you consider the fact that the Mega Man 2 bosses, and special boss Enker (whom you also get to steal their power) appear at the end of the first of the two Dr. Wily stages. That means you get five extra weapons to play with and only one stage to use them in. It defies understanding why they even bothered to give you all these extra weapons and then didn't really give you a chance to use them at all. It almost would have been better, honestly, if they would have just had you fight the four Mega Man 2 bosses (or the two missing Mega Man bosses, Guts Man and Bomb Man) as a bonus challenge and didn't bother to give you their weapons. The way it's done here feels half-baked at best.

That said, not bothering to include Guts Man or Bomb Man in the game is an over-all win for players. Neither of those guys were all that interesting the first time around, so they aren't really missed here. Plus, their weapons are two of the worst to ever appear in a Mega Man game, by far. No one would have even bothered using their items again if given a chance in this game.

The game itself is pretty remarkable in some respects. Despite the smaller screen, the game does feel like a proper translation of the Mega Man formula. Mega gets to do all the basic things he could do in his first two games, and each of the weapons to get included feel like they did in their original incarnation. Sure, some things have been tweaked slightly to improve the over-all experience -- Elec Man's weapon doesn't feel quite as powerful while Cut Man's has been arguably improved -- but the simple fact is that Capcom made a Mega Man game on the Game Boy and it doesn't feel substantively different from the main-line titles.

Of course, some purists would probably argue with that point. There's a case to be made, for instance, that some sections of the game are easier than they would have been if this had been developed for the NES. Certainly it feels like there are less enemies on screen at any given time than in the larger console games. This is likely due to the hardware limits of the Game Boy, and as a person who normally sucks at these games I appreciated the slightly slower pace (with less constant running and gunning).

On the flip side, some bosses end up feeling much harder here than they did in the original games, and that's all because of the small size of the Game Boy's screen. Mega Man, and his various foes, are the exact same size they were in the classic titles, but there's less screen real estate in this game. That means boss rooms are much smaller and more claustrophobic, which then leads to a whole lot more contact damage with your foes. It's a weird dichotomy since the stages feel easier but the bosses seem harder. It's a difficulty curve that many could have problems adjusting to.

And yet, despite it's many flaws, I end up really enjoying this little game. It gets so much right in its transition to the small screen, from the graphics, to the feel, to the sound. Yes, this game does, for the most part, sound like a proper Mega Man game despite the hardware constraints of the Game Boy. Nintendo's little portable was never known for his great sound quality, but Dr. Wily's Revenge manages to crank out good sound on the cruddy hardware. The Robot Master stages all have recognizable remixes of their classic tunes, but my personal favorites are the two Dr. Wily castle songs -- those are infectious little brain worms that I keep humming to myself for days after playing.

Is Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge an essential title? No, absolutely not. If you already own both Mega Man and Mega Man 2 it's hard to make a case to pick up this little game -- you've basically already played most of the best parts of this title, and you could do it in full color, on your couch, without straining to see the Game Boy's screen. The package is slight, and most players will prefer the console iterations over this cartridge. However, if you're in the mood for something a little different, a remix of what you know with a bit of a different style, give Dr. Wily's Revenge a play. At the very least you'll probably come away tapping your foot to the music.

Let's Take a Look at the Artillery:
Robot Master Weapons (Best to Worst):
  1. Cut Man's Rolling Cutter (CU): Because of the way the game is divided up, the weapons from the original Mega Man Robot Masters are going to see far more use, and prove to be more useful in the long run, than similar weapons from Mega Man 2. Even with that taken into account, though, the Rolling Cutter is great. Due to the small size of the Game Boy's screen, the Cutter has a solid range and good coverage as it swings out and comes back. Plus, it's strong with a lot of ammo, so you could easily use this weapon to get through huge portions of the game.
  2. Elec Man's Thunder Beam (EL): Another fantastic weapon made better by how early you can get it. The range on the Thunder Beam is better than the Rolling Cutter, of course, but the coverage on the weapon seems to be somewhat nerfed from it's original incarnation -- the beams just don't have as much of a side-to-side wave as on the NES. The Beam is a great weapon for getting at enemies above and below you, but it doesn't quite have the overall utility of Rolling Cutter.
  3. Fire Man's Fire Storm (FI): A solid weapon if the enemies are right in front of you. The issue with Fire Storm, of course, is that you can't aim it. Thus, unless you're shooting in a straight line (or the enemies are practically on top of you to get hit by the shield-like burst that rotates around Mega after he shoots), this usefulness of this weapon is limited.
  4. Quick Man's Quick Boomerang (QU): This weapon would be great if you didn't get it right before the last stage. A weapon with decent strength, range, and ammo, Quick Boomerangs would be a go-to weapon in a longer game. Sadly you barely get any time to enjoy it before it's Game Over.
  5. Heat Man's Atomic Fire (HE): Like with the Quick Boomerangs, Heat Man's weapon would be so much better if you could use it earlier in the game. The utility of the weapon is improved by making it the only item that can break blast able walls (much like Crash Boomerangs in Mega Man 2), but that doesn't change the fact that Atomic Fire has a crappy amount of ammo and can only shoot in front of you. A decent weapon hobbled by placement in the game.
  6. Enker's Mirror Buster (EN): This weapon is interesting; it takes shots fired at you and bounces them back. While that's fun to play with, you get this weapon right before the last stage of the game so you can't even us it while battling the Mega Man 2 bosses. Worse, it has crap ammo capacity and is absolutely essential for clearing out the last form of Wily. In short, any usefulness of the weapon is muted by a need to conserve it in the only stage you could possibly use it in.
  7. Ice Man's Ice Slasher (IC): In theory this weapon should be great since it freezes just about ever non-boss enemy in its tracks. Sadly, frozen enemies can still damage you reducing the overall utility of this weapon. What's the point of freezing a enemy if they're still an obstacle to your path? There really isn't one.
  8. Bubble Man's Bubble Lead (BU): Oh, Bubble Lead. You are so dumb and useless. You still only travel along the ground, slowly, and are really only useful in killing Heat Man. There aren't even hidden pits that you have to find with the Bubble Lead in this game, so the weapon has no utility. One of the worst inclusions in this game.
  9. Flash Man's Time Stopper (FL): But then, of course, the Time Stopper is so much worse. As in Mega Man 2, Time Stopper is an all or nothing item; once you start it the weapon doesn't stop until it runs out of juice or you screen transition. It is still the only real weakness of Quick Man, but as before it only drains half his health, leaving you stuck fighting Quick Man on his terms. Why couldn't they have buffed this weapon even a little for its second incarnation?
Mega Utility Upgrades (Best to Worst):
  1. Carry (CA): You only get one true utility item in this game, but darn if it isn't a good one. Carry creates platforms directly under Mega Man, kind of like the Item 1 from Mega Man 2 but better. There aren't a lot of places you have to use Carry, but any time you can use it to get past pitfalls and traps you'll appreciate having it in your inventory.