Old, new, borrowed and blue.
Mega Man might be old, but he's one tough little midget. Back in his heyday, he ran through a gauntlet of action platformers, foiling the ever-nefarious Dr. Wily and his band of unique henchmen over and over again. Unfortunately, there was one recurring frustration with Mega Man: his adventures had become too repetitive, each new game simply a mirror of the last.
In an ironic effort to keep the fading series fresh, Mega Man is constantly being re-imagined. Over the past few years, we've seen Mega Man X, Mega Man Legends, Mega Man EXE, Mega Man Zero, Mega Man Soccer, and coming soon, a Mega Man RPG. Cripes! All this for a robot-kid who didn't learn how to duck until Mega Man X5, some 20 games into the series? Rather than keep us interested, this overbearing diversity is enough to make us long for the simple action of the original games.
But have heart, young gunners - Mega Man Anniversary Collection hops aboard the time travel express and offers a nostalgic trip back to the classic Mega Man games. Newcomers might not get misty-eyed, but even they can't argue with the value-minded price. The collection includes all the classic games, Mega Man 1 through Mega Man 8, plus two average fighting games never before released in the U.S.
For newbies who don't know much about the series, Mega Man is a blue robot with a heart of gold. In Japan, his name was Rock Man. His sister robot was named Roll. Rock and Roll. Oh, the wit.
Anyway, Mega Man repeatedly fights against Dr. Wily, a crazed inventor who fashions eight evil robots of various talents. By beating these robots, Mega Man earns their weaponry, each of which is effective against some other major baddie. Eventually, Mega Man throws down against Wily in the evil scientist's skull fortress. Wily gets whooped, promises to always be good, brush his teeth, and never again wrong the world…and five seconds later, he does it again.
The good news is that there are no emulation problems in this collection - expect perfect 8-, 16- and 32-bit recreations all the way. You jump, you shoot, you gain new abilities, you jump and shoot some more. The Gamecube version inexplicably maps shooting to A and jumping to B, which might annoy old-school fans. Otherwise, the two versions control and play identically. In turn, the games play just as they did originally, which means they're still hard, fun and classic.
That being said, some of the games are better than others. The original Mega Man was difficult and not particularly fun, and the same holds true today. Things pick up in Mega Man 2, 3 and 4, where the series truly found its groove and defined itself as a top-notch platformer.
Much of that has to do with the robots. Some of them look sharp, like the wicked Pharaoh Man and Snake Man, while others look improbably ridiculous, like the moronic Clown Man. As is usually the case with a series that has stuck around a little too long, the designs get less original and more far fetched as the years pass. The best robot designs, unsurprisingly, are in Mega Man 2, 3, and 4. With each new iteration, you can see Dr. Wily losing it more and more. Flower Man? Top Man? Wily, please.
Really only a few changes have been made to the games and they're very minor. The Navi remix mode that first appeared in Mega Man 8 is now in every game, which overlays intermittent, non-invasive directional arrows to help keep you from going the wrong way. Navi mode also replaces the original 8-bit midi tracks with actual instruments. The 8-bit versions still sound more fitting, but the remixes certainly aren't a problem.
A new quicksave memory card system has been grafted over the old password system, allowing easy automatic saves instead of the tedium of writing down all the grid information. Purists can still enter in the old passwords or start over if they die, however.
The interface wrapping everything together is kind of neat as well; instead of a normal menu, Mega Man runs through doors marked with the various games and options. While superficially clever, much more could have been done with this. Why not a museum for Mega Man to wander through?
It's a little hard to quibble about 'extras' in a collection of this size, however.Mega Man Anniversary Collection does include plenty of art and audio to unlock as well as the two unreleased fighting games, both of which are pretty bad. The Gamecube version also features a few interviews with producers.
For $30, there's no cheaper way to re-experience Capcom's mega-past. Though the series is pretty much stale these days, that wasn't always the case, and the Mega Man Anniversary Collection serves as a reminder that while the games might feel a little dated, the Blue Bomber still has some fight left.