So you're one of the statistically unlikely few who picked up Mega Man Legacy Collection this week despite having never played a Mega Man game before in your life. Maybe you just wanted to jump on the same bandwagon as lots of navel-gazing old people, or maybe you really loved playing as the character in Smash Bros. Whatever the case, welcome!
The Mega Man games are pretty great. But they're also pretty old. And there are a lot of elements about the series that we old-timers have come to take for granted — mechanics and design features that would never ever make the cut for a modern game. It's hard for me to look at the games with totally fresh eyes, since the patterns and rules of these games burned themselves permanently into my brain meat decades ago... but after discovering some pretty damn esoteric Spectrum games on Rare Replay recently, I can at least sympathize. So here, at least, is a quick-and-breezy rundown of what you can expect when you're, uh, expecting to play Mega Man games for the first time.
1. The pause trick (Mega Man)
The original Mega Man feels a little different from the rest of the games in the collection. It has six Robot Master stages instead of eight, it has item drops that exist only for scoring purposes, the power-ups look different, and so forth. One of the more subtle differences between Mega Man and its sequels, however, is the presence of separate pause and menu functions; in later games, you bring up the submenu to pause the action while the groovy music continues to play in the background, but the first game also included your standard "freeze everything" pause feature. This, as it turns out, is the only reason many people were able to finish the game back in the day.
The pause trick has an interesting side effect: It resets interactions between weapons and enemies. Pause the game while an enemy is taking damage, and the projectile will count for another hit. In most cases, your attacks are too tiny and too fast for this to have any real value, but the Thunder Shock (Elec Man's weapon) has the unique trait of firing a beam that's both large in size and slow-moving. By rapidly pausing and unpausing the game as an enemy takes Thunder Shock damage, you can essentially create a loop in which a target takes damage for each frame that it intersects with your electrical attack.
Again, this is not really that big a deal... until you meet the first boss of Wily's castle, the infamous Yellow Devil. The Yellow Devil is one of the most taxing enemies ever conceived: It flies into the screen in small pieces, rapidly assembling itself bit by bit, and once it's fully formed it generates a small eye for about two seconds, which fires a shot at you before the machine flies to the other side of the room. To beat the Yellow Devil, you have to master avoiding its pieces as they migrate, then hit it in the eye during the two-second window in which it's visible while taking care not to leap into it's bullet. It's crazy hard!
Or you can just shoot it with the Thunder Shock and exploit the pause trick, destroying it in a single shot in a matter of seconds. It's worth learning to beat the Yellow Devil properly, if only because it makes a great party trick, but the pause trick is a helpful crutch your first time through the game... and, of course, it's essential if you want to top the leaderboards for the Yellow Devil challenge.
2. The Magnet Beam
One of the other weird things about the first Mega Man was that its non-weapon item was something you could miss. Later games built them into the stage goals — Items 1 through 3, the Rush Adapters, etc. — but Mega Man's Magnet Beam was just sitting there behind a destructible wall in Elec Man's stage. If you didn't have one of the two weapons that could break blocks (one of which you earned by beating Elec Man), you had to pass it by and could easily forget you even saw it. That is, until you made it to Wily's castle, which features a ladder that can only be reached by creating temporary platforms with the Magnet Beam. If you get to an impossible jump in Wily's first stage and find your self completely baffled, congratulations! You need to get a game over and go back to Elec Man's stage.
3. Hold the Jump button while selecting a boss in Mega Man 2
Hold whatever you've mapped to work as "jump" before pressing Start to choose a stage in Mega Man 2. It's fun!
4. They're noses, not mouths
The Air Tikis in Air Man's stage are based on Japanese oni, not octopi. The big hexagonal objects in the middle of their faces are their noses, not their mouths. Their mouths are the long line that runs the full width along the bottom of their faces. Some people will try to convince you otherwise. These are bad people who wish to ruin your life. Don't believe their lies.
5. Moving platforms are liars
The Mega Man games had problems with moving platforms — an issue that, for better or for worse, MMLC reproduces exactingly. For instance, the rising cloud platforms toward the end of Snake Man's stage in Mega Man 3 have a weird tendency to bump Mega Man a block to the side when they make contact with him, which frequently causes you to go flying off the edge for a cheap, undeserved, and unintended instant death. Likewise, the first game has those terrible moving platforms in Ice Man's stage, which would be tough enough if they simply moved erratically while taking potshots at you. But no, they also suffer from collision glitches, and what seems to be solid footing will sometimes register as a hit to Mega Man, pitching him to his death.
For the Snake Man platforms, the answer is simply to leap right before they emerge from the columns; for whatever reason, they only glitch if you're standing still. For Ice Man's stage, the correct solution is just to cheese it by creating a platform with the Magnet Beam. Heck, there's even a weapon refill power-up in the middle of the gauntlet. The designers knew that part was a load of crap.