While last year’s Mega Man Legacy Collection demonstrates how the smallest of tweaks can make a game more dynamic and electrifying, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 mostly showcases a series in its death throes. This compilation starts with Mega Man 7, an awkward riff on the spinoff Mega Man X, and ends with Mega Man 10, which is abundant in devious level designs. The quality across these titles is so uneven that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone at Capcom thought they merited standing alone here as opposed to being included with the first six Mega Men games in one complete package.
When Mega Man 7 came out on the SNES in 1995, it had the unfortunate luck of following Mega Man X on the same console. The latter kicked the Mega Man model into overdrive, introducing adrenaline-pumping acrobatics like wall-scaling and dash-jumping. Mega Man 7 doesn’t have these elements but incorporates music and a slower version of an ice weapon from its SNES cousin, begging for a comparison it can’t earn due to a lack of kineticism. And although Mega Man 7 distinguishes itself from previous Mega Man titles with a shop, a limited number of levels you can initially select, and huge and impressive sprites, it doesn’t feel as smooth as its immediate four predecessors in terms of shooting, sliding, and jumping transitions.
Mega Man 8 fares better with its more epic locales, which range from the Sword Man level, in which you must open paths in a nonlinear temple, to the Frost Man level, which features a jet-powered snowboard ride and an on-foot sequence involving big blocks of ice that you and your enemies can punch with a machine. This entry, an original PlayStation title, is more cheerful than its predecessors, thanks to a reliance on anime visuals and high-pitched or otherwise corny voice acting. This aesthetic also makes Mega Man 8 seem like a fan-made experiment, so even though the proceedings are more enjoyable than Mega Man 7, the overall game reeks of cutesy novelty.
A regression toward the old school then drives the approach of Mega Man 9 and Man 10, both of which readopt the classic 8-bit style that preceded Mega Man 7. It’s easy, then, to dismiss these two games as mere odes to nostalgia. In the case of Mega Man 9, this criticism seems more tenable, as the game retains the more responsive controls that the series adopted after Mega Man 2 while getting rid of the protagonist’s slide maneuver (an addition in Mega Man 3) and thus reinstating the stricter trial-and-error focus of the first two Mega Man games. This isn’t to overlook the superb variety of enemies and obstacles in Mega Man 9, but the game’s adherence to tradition is rather embarrassing when Mega Man expresses surprise that a longstanding villain is behind yet another evil plot: “It was [Dr.] Wily all along!”
Fortunately, Mega Man 10 somewhat redeems the collection as a textbook example of how to create unpredictable challenges with a familiar foundation. As with its immediate predecessor, you can play as Mega Man without the slide ability, or, for the first time, you can pick the blue hero’s brother, Proto Man, who has a slide maneuver but also takes twice as much damage as his sibling. Regardless, the game’s levels demand that you expect the unexpected: Who could have guessed that a stage associated with a villain named Sheep Man would be an environment of computer code and glitches, such as blocks of the same color vanishing a few seconds after you touch them?
But if Mega Man 10 functions (for now) as an acceptable swansong for the series, it’s merely clever for a Mega Man sequel. It doesn’t up the ante on the dynamism of the series like Mega Man 3 did with its faster screen-to-screen transitions and emphasis on evasion, nor does it reimagine the primary method of defeating enemies like the Mega Man series’s spiritual successor Mighty No. 9, where, for the best benefits, the player dashes into enemies and absorbs them rather than shooting them to death. Even at their best, the games in Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 speak to something old and risk being forgotten for refusing to move in a bold direction for new generations.