Comfort Food Games: Mega Man 2

Jeremy contemplates the intricate web of great game design and complex personal experiences that keeps him coming back to this NES classic.

Column by Jeremy Parish, .

Who knows why or how people fall in love? Love can be a tricky thing to break down, whether it's love for a person, a pet, a movie, a good book, a kind of food. Sometimes, we simply love what we love, and with no rational cause.

Other times, though, there's little mystery involved. I mean, I can tell you exactly how and why I came to love Mega Man 2. The chain of events that led to it becoming one of my favorite games — no, one of my favorite pieces of media — no, wait, one my favorite things to do, period — leaves no ambiguity, no uncertainty. The game and all the experiences that surrounded my discovery of it connected to all the right neurons, stimulated all the right chemicals. It was love at first sight, in fact.

Thank god it wasn't Fester's Quest that caught my attention.

That first sighting came in the form of a pair of tiny screenshots in an early issue of Nintendo Power. I can still recall stumbling across it as I sat in my parents' car in the parking lot of the local ballpark. My brother played little league baseball, and my family cheered him on, while I pored over every detail of those images. I suppose I was a little lonely there in my self-imposed exile, but I couldn't imagine an alternative at the time. I had given up on sports by then, both playing and following them; my brief flirtation with league baseball had coincided with my amblyopia therapy. Ever tried playing baseball with one eye covered? Batting? Disastrous. Sports, I decided, simply weren't for a short, half-blind person like myself. I found my refuge in art, in reading and writing, and in video games.

Hey, I know that guy.

Those initial Mega Man 2 screen snaps spoke to me — they combined my affection for both games and art. Such unprecedented detail in the graphics! Such depth, such excellent line work! I had no idea that Nintendo Power was cheating, showing off the coolest-looking bosses in the game, but it wouldn't have mattered. I'd never played a video game with such extraordinary graphical quality... and this was coming to NES, not some arcade machine or impossibly pricy Amiga! I was sold.

I was so sold, in fact, that I hunted down the game's predecessor. Nintendo Power, the one magazine subscription I could afford and thus my personal video game bible, never covered the original Mega Man in any detail. The omission happened entirely because the game slightly predated the magazine, but its absence (along with the infamously terrible cover art) led me to assume it simply wasn't any good. Those Mega Man 2 screens inspired me to take a chance, though. How could the game that inspired something this cool-looking not be at least somewhat amazing? Eventually, I tracked down a copy — the last one for sale in the entire city, so far as I could tell — and rushed home to try it out.

It was great, as it turned out. Solid, challenging, well-designed, with a unique visual style all its own. And as I played it for the first time, my mother brought in the mail. She handed me an unexpected letter, a missive from a female schoolmate I'd never met in person and who was about to move to California — yet who in the summer months to come would become a long-time friend, a writing partner, and a perpetual awkward teenage crush all at once. That's a lot of adolescent complications to have irrevocably associated with something so slight as a video game. No wonder the thought of Mega Man NES games makes me sigh nostalgically; there's undoubtedly some sort of cross-wired confusion going on there.

Less-humble-than-anticipated roots.

Even without the impact of teenage hormones, the original Mega Man got me completely enthused for the sequel on quality alone. Mega Man 2 was still a few months out, unfortunately. So I played through the first game over and over, honing my skills; and when I wasn't playing, I was probably breaking down the big Nintendo Power cover story from the next issue, picture by picture. Or else volunteering to mow every lawn I possibly could for five bucks a pop. I can't imagine cheerfully offering to undergo so much heavy labor in the sweltering Texas summer sun these days, but back then I didn't mind. Every grueling session behind the push mower brought me a few dollars closer to owning Mega Man 2.

When it arrived at last, the game didn't disappoint. I tore through it in the space of a weekend. When I reached the true final stage, a silent run through an eerie underground tunnel punctuated only by the sound of dripping acid, I was on edge. My brother and a visiting friend of his, neither one much in the way of video game enthusiasts, watched eagerly as I tried to figure out the secret weakness for Dr. Wily's "true form." Eventually, I earned the big finale... and the next day, I played the game again from the start. And again. And again. I've played it so many times over the years that I can jump in, completely cold, and blast through the infamous Quick Man laser gauntlet on my first go from muscle memory alone.

Evidence for the "pics or it didn't happen" generation.

Mega Man 2 was just that kind of game — it's incredibly memorable, and not just because of the memories I personally associate with it. Nearly every inch of the game is designed to perfection (nearly; let's not talk about those vanishing blocks and the next-to-last boss). Its versatile weapon options and open-ended level selection system make for an almost endlessly replayable action game that can be as different each time as you like. For a game revolving around a little robot jumping and shooting a lot, Mega Man 2 certainly manages to possess plenty of depth.

Every stage in Mega Man 2 offered a different feel from the last, be it the vertiginous heights of Air Man's level or the oppressive underground fires of Heat Man's level. Unique play mechanics sprouted up everywhere, whether as trivial details (such as Bubble Man's plummeting, unstable platforms) or as challenges that defined an entire stage (e.g. those Quick Man lasers). How will you tackle the game this time? Whose level to defeat first? Will you rely on the overpowered Metal Blades or try and use underappreciated tools like the Quick Boomerang? Will you play on normal mode or attempt Hard mode like the creators intended?

As a game that remains extremely playable even by today's standards, Mega Man 2 was understandably an absolute revelation back in the days when the world was still figuring out how video games should even work. The medium has undergone extensive standardization over the past decade, to the point where something like Crackdown — all of seven years old — feels weird to play because it doesn't use the widely established control scheme of current action games. In the late '80s, everyone was still figuring things out... which meant lots of terrible games, but also inspired surprises like Mega Man 2. Brilliant works out of the blue that helped advance the medium.

Admittedly, sometimes love is complicated.

Between its excellence and the complicated snarl of personal memories it evokes, Mega Man 2 may actually be my ultimate comfort food game. Well, until my wandering obsession refocuses on something else. For the moment, though? Mega Man 2 might actually be the greatest game ever made. I can say this with the absolute confidence of utter subjectivity.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    Great article! Its great to see writers who are so passionate about a game. I would have to say that my comfort food game is Final Fantasy XII for basically all the same reasons you point out. When I play it I am not only reminded of why I love the game but its like looking into a fire and suddenly you remember things you thought long forgotten. That's why I love older games, they bring me back to that time that encompasses more than just the game.Edited June 2014 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for bullet656 #2 bullet656 3 years ago
    This is one of my favorite games of all time too. I still remember the night I first played it during fourth grade when a friend brought it with him when we were both spending the night at another friend's house on a Friday night. We ended up staying up and playing it until 2:00 AM, fueled by Dr. Pepper and popcorn. Afterwards I had to own the game, so that Sunday after church I talked my parents into stopping at the local Toys R Us and letting me buy it.Edited June 2014 by bullet656
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #3 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    I beat this game a few times.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #4 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    Great write up! I love Mega Man 2...although, my personal favorite is Mega Man 3. Probably because it was my first, though I believe it also holds up amazingly. I also can't handle Mega Man games without the powerslide. It's a personal problem, I know.

    My comfort food stage is Magnet Man. It scratches an itch for me, and there is the music in that stage. The music for the "intro" and Magnet Man simply define Mega Man for me. That's why I own way too many releases of as many of them as possible.

    There are just some games that are "comfort food" and the Mega Man series is that for well as several Final Fantasy, Zelda, Mario, and Kingdom Hearts games.
    I have to agree with cldmstrsm...Final Fantasy XII is just amazing and comfortable.
    Back to Mega Man II though, it is just as amazing and fun as everyone says it is, and to its credit Rush, the Power Slide, and the Charge Shot aren't there to make it easier. It is pure, refined skill to get through a tough, but mostly fair game.Edited 3 times. Last edited June 2014 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for alexirish93 #5 alexirish93 3 years ago
    Mega Man games are generally too hard to complete to the end. Clearly, most people know something about beating Mega Man that I don't/
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #6 Mega_Matt 3 years ago
    Great write up for a great game Jeremy. Oddly enough I picked this game up based solely on it's cover. I remember being brought to Toys R Us to pick out a game and when I saw Mega Man 2 I thought "Ok, that's the one I want." I had never played the first game so I didn't know what it was, but man did I make a good choice. To this day it's still one of my favorite games and one that I consistently go back to to run through. Definitely one of my comfort food games as well.

    When I was young I used to play it in a strange way. I'm super conservative in most games but with this one I would only use special weapons and items when I was forced to. Which meant I would beat all of the bosses with the P shooter (exception to Wily and those things on the wall that need Crash Man's weapon) and navigate those disappearing blocks in Heat Man's stage without the use of item - 2. It was not easy. These days I play it how it was meant to be played though: By always using the best weapon for the situation. (It's usually the Metal Blade)
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    I have to say that the commenters on this site are some of the best I have seen. Thanks USgamer for fostering a feel good attitude into your site and making it enjoyable to come to everyday!
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #8 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    The Mega Man games are the ones that made me hate Mario games for a while. Not because they were bad games, but because too many of my friends would play Mario to the exclusion of all else. Introducing them to new stuff was painful, especially when it was as good as Mega Man was.
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  • Avatar for twopenny #9 twopenny 3 years ago
    Nostalgia for games is such a complicated compound, and it's really interesting to read about others' experiences with early gaming.

    I still think back to my time with the x-wing and tie fighter, and there was really nothing else quite like the experience of sitting down to pilot some of the most iconic ships in sci-fi.

    I vividly remember getting the order to jump to hyperspace and feeling a rush as I toggled the hotkey. It was my first experience with a flight simulator; the freedom of movement, of control, was unparalleled, and it pretty clear the developers took it as seriously as 10-year-old me. While these games certainly haven't aged particularly well--not like the very best 8-bit offerings--and there were subsequently much better space sims (like Freespace 2), I don't think I ever engaged with a game so completely.

    As is the case for most star wars fans, my reverence for the films has diminished over the years, but I'll never forget the first time I flew in darth vader's squadron; it was nerd valhalla.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #10 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    @alexirish93 It's just doing it over and over again until you get the rhythm of each level! Save states on the Wii U and 3DS have made getting through levels a little easier these days. I am all for them, I hate having to start a whole level over because of one missed jump...
    But I've been there with Mega Man way before save states.
    There is definitely a feeling of reward when you finally power through Dr. Wily after so much defeat.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #11 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    @cldmstrsn I am with you on this site feeling like a friendly place. Really, it's been a breath of fresh air. I read other sites, but this one feels more like a "home" for me. I think it has something to do with me being such an avid reader of 1up before it was shutdown. Seeing so many of the same staff helps a lot, especially when I love their honesty towards gaming. It's treated as more of an art and bona fide hobby on this site than anywhere. I don't always feel I can contribute as well as other readers, but I love reading everyone's take on the news here.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    @jeffcorry I agree. I definitely feel the 1up similarities. Also jeff you are from Utah? I live in Salt Lake City. What part are you from?
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  • Avatar for docexe #13 docexe 3 years ago
    This was a nice write-up. Given how myriad of articles have been written about the genius in the design of the Megaman games and Megaman 2 in particular, writing about how you got drawn into the series was nice.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #14 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    @cldmstrsn Yeah, I'm a Utah boy (ish)! My family and I live in a small town, Orderville, in S. Utah. Just north of Kanab. Born in Roosevelt, raised in Cedar, mission in Oklahoma, moved to Orderville to teach school in Kanab...that's the quick bio...
    Nice to meet a fellow Utahn on here!Edited June 2014 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for SuffolkGooner #15 SuffolkGooner 3 years ago
    Mega Man 2 was the first ever videogame I went out and bought (super Mario Bros came with the NES). I'll never forget the awesome music, great memories.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #16 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    Hey everyone, thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the piece. And the game!
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #17 LBD_Nytetrayn 3 years ago
    Like the first game, I wound up renting this one when it came out, and beat it rather quickly as I recall, renting it again whenever I had the itch to play it

    As a result, I wound up not owning it for some time; it wasn't until Mega Man X that I decided to truly invest in owning the game, and I since tried gathering up more of the others once it occurred to me that rental stores weren't going to keep those NES games around forever.
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  • Avatar for twopenny #18 twopenny 3 years ago
    @ZenRain Thanks for the recommendation--I'll definitely have to track this one down.
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  • Avatar for Hubertron #19 Hubertron 3 years ago
    Megaman games in the classic series as a whole are comfort food for me. Some of it is personal time and experience, but I think there is a lot to be said about their simple design and the rhythm it creates that make it such a sanctuary after a long day.
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  • Avatar for IPA #20 IPA 3 years ago
    "Brilliant works out of the blue that helped advance the medium."

    I hope that if (scratch that: when) you write a full length, 400 page scholarly work on Mega Man's standing as game, cultural artifact, nostalgia catalyst, and master course on game design, you'll title it "Out of the Blue" (with a jazzy sub-header, of course).
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  • Avatar for toddciolek #21 toddciolek 3 years ago
    Mega Man 2 was the first game I really owned. Sure, I had the Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt sandwich, but so did everyone else. I didn't get an NES until 1990 or so, and I had plenty of time to look through magazines and catalogs and pick out the game for which I'd sacrifice my hard-earned money at the boxy altar of the Nintendo faith. And I picked Mega Man 2.

    What drew me in, even more than the promise of selectable stages or cool weapons, was the way everything had personality. The robot enemies weren't pixel silhouettes like the foes in Ninja Turtles or Castlevania. They were characters, frogs and dragons and hardhats with eyes and goofy metallic mannerisms. They were alive in a way that most NES bad guys weren't.

    This came with a price, of course. Whenever my mother saw me playing Mega Man 2, she'd berate me for shooting such cute and obviously innocent little creatures.
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  • Avatar for danieljayberg #22 danieljayberg 3 years ago
    "That first sighting came in the form of a pair of tiny screenshots in an early issue of Nintendo Power."

    Ditto for me, except the first MM2 screenshot I discovered was in the Sears Christmas Catalog (remember those?). The image was Mega Man facing one of the giant red angler fish in the Bubble Man stage.

    At the time, I was debating what my second NES cart should be (after Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt). The choice was between Mega Man 2 and Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest.

    I'm thankful I went with Mega Man 2 (I'd never heard of the first Mega Man or seen screen shots until years later). That decision probably shaped the entire course of my video game playing.
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