As I've discovered over the course of multiple demos through the past few months, Mega Man is not the easiest character in the world to pick up.
Most Smash Bros. veterans are thrown immediately by his non-traditional attack, which swap a normal punch for a blast from his gun arm, and things only go downhill from there. I was about ready to give up on Mega Man after a couple unsuccessful attempts, but my friend Ash, who is a Super Smash Bros. expert (and Mega Man enthusiast), encouraged me to keep trying but absolutely annihilating me with him. Seriously, there wasn't enough of Greninja to be swept up into a dustpan after he was done.
I got my first real opportunity to practice with him this past weekend thanks to the Super Smash Bros. demo. Over the course of a dozen or so rounds, I got to thinking about what makes him so different. The best way to do that, I think, is to break him down move-by-move, which might provide some insight into what the Smash Bros. development team is trying to accomplish with the Blue Bomber.
The one comment I've heard most consistently about the Smash Bros. version of Mega Man is how similar he feels to the real thing. I chalk that up at least in part to the decision to map his arm cannon to the A button rather than a traditional melee attack, which immediately separates Mega Man from the rest of the roster. Oddly enough though, Mega Man's shots aren't very powerful. Compared to his NES game, they have very little stopping power, and fail to even travel the length of the screen. It's a concession to competitive balance, but it also serves to emphasize that Mega Man's arm cannon is really his most basic weapon. He's got much more impressive tools in his arsenal.
The rest of Mega Man's basic movest is familiar enough. Down + A yields a slide that offers a degree of mobility and some knockback as well, making it a staple attack. Up + A is an uppercut that serves as a nod to Mega Man's appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom. Hard Knuckle (Aerial Down + A) and Air Shooter (Aerial Up + A) are Mega Man's best normal attacks, making him dangerous in the areas immediately and above below him, with Air Shooter even being capable of sending enemies off the top of the screen (an uppercut plus an Air Shooter can be a fun combo). Top Spin (Dash + A) is arguably as useless as ever, though it at least has the ability to temporarily immobilize an opponent in Smash Bros., making it more useful than its counterpart in Mega Man III (outside of the fact that Top Spin can kill the final boss in one hit... so stupid).
His grab? Of course it's Guts Man's attack. How could it not be?
The main takeway is that the Smash Bros. development team wants to emphasize projectiles, but without resorting to the arrow and boomerang spam that comprises the bulk of Toon Link's strategy. In fighting game parlance, Mega Man relies heavily on zoning out enemies without wading into the fray himself, bouncing from platform to platform and punishing anyone who gets too close with knuckles, tornadoes, and the odd blast from his arm cannon. It's not the easiest way to play; but once you get the hang of it, it makes for a unique way to enjoy Smash Bros.
Mega Man's special attacks are a bit more conventional than his normal attacks, with the B button being used to throw Metal Blades and Forward + B firing Crash Bombers that stick and explode after a few seconds. Mixed with the arm cannon, they quickly fill the air with projectiles, though they have almost no stopping power and aren't super easy to fire rapidly—particularly the Metal Blades. Mostly, they're there to keeping pushing up the damage so that Mega Man can eventually finish them off with a Hard Knuckle or a smash attack. The best thing about the Metal Blades attack is that it can go through multiple enemies, making it great for crowds. However, it's slow reload makes it less useful than it might have been otherwise.
Mega Man's jump is interesting. In keeping with the series, his Up + B recovery move is Rush Coil, which sends him springing nearly to the top of the stage. Rush doesn't disappear immediately after Mega Man is finished, though. He'll linger for a second or two, leaving him available for opposing players to use as well. Admiittedly, it's not something I've ever seen in a Mega Man game before, it does make sense in its own weird way.
The final special attack of note is the Leaf Shield, which amusingly enough seems almost as useless as it does in Mega Man 2. To be knowledge, the Jewel Shield is the only shield weapon worth the energy it takes to cast it, mainly because it has the benefit of not immediately disappearing after taking a shot. In Super Smash Bros., the Leaf Shield can be used as a projectile or a shield, and while it is at first blush fairly marginal in both roles, it does have the benefit of temporarily mitigating beam spam. Of course, the Fox and Link players of the course will just keeping fire long after the shield has expired, but the thought is appreciated.
I've already mentioned how odd it is that Mega Man's arm cannon is his normal attack rather than a special attack, but just as interesting is the decision to map his charge shot to the forward smash attack. You would think that, much like Samus, Mega Man's charge shot would be powered up by tapping the fire button and waiting; but no, it seems that the Smash Bros. team wanted to avoid going the obvious route with Mega Man's attacks.
Funnily enough, despite historically being Mega Man's most powerful and unbalanced attack, the Mega Buster is not nearly as effective as his upward smash, which catches enemies from below with a powerful electrical attack and sends them flying. Likewise, his downward smash creates a pillar of fire that has the benefit of covering a large area and offering good crowd control. The Mega Buster's main strength is that it fires quickly, making it comparatively easy to catch opponents offguard and send them flying. If you want to know the truth, I'm still not sure how I feel about the Mega Buster, but I'm glad that it's not a rehash of what's come before it. And yes, it does feel right to have it be a smash attack.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention Mega Man's Final Smash, which brings together every variant of the Blue Bomber for one crushing beam attack—a moment of pure joy for longtime fans of the series. But more fun are the little details, like the fact that Mega Man explodes into the familiar blue orbs after getting knocked out, and that one of his taunts is his classic teleport. All that's missing is the familiar spark effect from when he gets hit (alas).
Owing perhaps to its reputation as being a silly and shallow series, the attention to detail given to effectively rendering each character rarely gets the attention that it deserves. It's really not as easy as it looks to capture the essence of say, Ness, the Animal Crossing Villager, or even Samus in a fighting game, but Super Smash Bros. has been historically successful doing just that. Mega Man is a good example of that sort of attention to detail, successfully squeezing some 25 years of history into a handful of attacks and animations, from Mega Man 2 to Mega Man 8. Even the apparent misfires like the Leaf Shield are charming in their own way.
I have my concerns about how viable the series will ultimately be on the Nintendo 3DS; but after spending the better part of the weekend with the demo, it's apparent to me that the biggest strength of the series—the care given to each member of the roster—will be returning intact. Now let me play as Duck Hunt Dog, already.