OK, confession time: until a few day ago I’d never played a Rockman game. Technically I had, but only in a “Right what’s all the fuss about then? *fiddles with game* *gets distracted by something shiny*” sort of way, rather than properly sitting down with a specific single title and spending more than five whole minutes on it. Just about everyone I asked told me to play Rockman 2 if I was only going to play one of them, and so that’s what I did (Japanese standalone Playstation port for convenience’s sake, hence the watermarks on the screenshots below).
I wasn’t expecting much to be honest, so I was surprised to find myself having a good time! The stages are actually quite short once you’ve stopped dying in them and the chunky sprites worked well within the NES’ limitations, making for an expressive cast with more superfluous animations than I was expecting from a game published at the tail end of 1988 on a relatively weedy console. The music wasn’t bad either, although as a lady raised on delicious 80’s Euro chiptune I don’t think I’ll ever really find a stock-hardware NES soundtrack that clicks with me.
I found the “defeat the boss, get their weapon” system… OK. In some parts I was shocked at how well they thought it through – using the Leaf Shield to clog Airman up was such a stroke of real-world common sense I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see logic like that applied in a game today, never mind decades ago, and the rest generally rewarded players that applied a little thought or had paid attention to weaponry behaviour beforehand.
Then came Quickman (yes I’m going to complain about Quickman).
It’s as if the reason why everything else in the game is so progressive and fun is because they took all the usual 80’s platformer traps and, unable to destroy the vile monster they had created, imprisoned it within a single stage instead. I have no problem with games being hard - I like hard. What I do have a problem with is blind memorisation trying to pass itself off as skilful play. A stage designed to be hard-but-fair would allow you to see where the danger lies beforehand and make the challenge how to negotiate it safely (Heatman’s instakill lava pits, for example), or it’d be obvious where the enemy was coming from and you’d have time to react (Woodman’s robo-chicken things). However Quickman’s BS Energy Lasers Of Doom expect you to have positioned yourself correctly before you’re even on the same screen as the lasers you’re falling in to.
When Rockman 2’s not assuming its players are masters of clairvoyance I thought it was an exciting and creative adventure, but there are times when it slips into the worst of 80’s platforming ruts – and ultimately a stage-long memory test isn’t something I enjoyed back then and I certainly don’t have the patience for it now, which is why this game’s been shelved while I go and find a slightly more balanced gaming experience, like whatever SNK can come up with.
But the good news is I can at least now see why people think so fondly of it even if I’ll probably never finish the game myself, so all in all I’ll consider this little history lesson 600-ish yen well spent.