Mega Man 8 is perhaps the most divisive game in the history of the Blue Bomber. The first developed without series creator Tokuro Fujiwara, it was the only mainline Mega Man game released during the 32 bit era, and for a long time, was the last to be made with current generation technology, even though it didn’t seem like that at the time. After the release of Mega Man 8, the series essentially disappeared in favor of the many Mega Man spin-off franchises such as X, Legends, Battle Network, and others. When Capcom finally reconvened to create a Mega Man 9 it opted to pretend as if this game (and to some extent its predecessor Mega Man 7) never existed going back to a visual style akin to the original NES games and a gameplay style that went even further back. Capcom would stay with that look for Mega Man 10, but finally announced in 2017 that a new Mega Man game is coming and it won’t feature illusory 8-bit images.
It’s interesting that the game has become so maligned over the years, since at the time Mega Man 8 was supposed to be a celebration of Mega Man and the impact he had made in the world of gaming. Coinciding with the 10 year anniversary of the first game, Mega Man 8 stayed true to the series roots by sticking with 2D gameplay when the whole world was demanding 3D. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) initially wanted nothing to do with the game because of its use of 2D visuals. Wanting to highlight the processing power of the PlayStation, SCEA nearly prevented the release of the game in North America, but eventually relented when Capcom agreed to dress-up the packaging. Since it was also to be released on the Saturn, SCEA wanted exclusive content and thus received a little booklet to be included with each copy of the game recounting the legacy of Mega Man. Maybe out of spite, Capcom would introduce better, exclusive, content on the Saturn with optional hidden bosses.
Mega Man 8 largely follows the formula of the games that came before it building off of Mega Man 7. So unlike more recent entries in the series, this one still retains the charge shot and slide maneuver as well as the bolts currency which can be used between levels to purchase upgrades for Mega Man. Dr. Wiley is the main antagonist once again and Bass and Treble return from 7 to make Mega Man’s life more difficult. The plot isn’t of much importance, suffice to say that Wiley is up to no good and has created 8 robot masters that Mega Man has to get by before he can ultimately take on the mad scientist. A new character is introduced, Duo, who’s from outer space and brings with him some kind of weird energy that Wiley wants to make use of. He starts off as an ambiguous character, but will eventually become an ally when he “senses justice” within in Mega Man, or some nonsense.
What you need to know as a gamer is that Mega Man has roughly 12 new stages to topple. After a simple introductory level, four additional stages are open to Mega Man and each features a robot master to take down. Following their defeat, an intermission stage is unlocked before the final 4 robot masters are available and then eventually the multi-stage Wiley Tower. Splitting the 8 robot masters into two separate groupings of four does make it a little easier to determine an order to tackle them in. As is the case with virtually every Mega Man game, defeating a robot master earns Mega Man a new weapon and each one is a natural weakness for another robot master (Wiley should really avoid doing that when creating these things). There is an added challenge in introducing the robots this way as the player needs to figure out which robot to tackle first – twice! There’s no overlap in terms of weaknesses between the two groups of four, so the first boss you fight and the fifth will basically necessitate relying on the Mega Buster to topple. If you want my advice, I suggest starting with Grenade Man and Aqua Man, respectively. Although I did have this game before I had internet access and a boss order available to me so I have taken down more than just those two with the Mega Buster.
Scattered throughout the stages are bolts. There is a finite amount of them in the game and they serve as currency for Mega Man to purchase upgrades. Since you’re limited by the amount of bolts in the game, this also means you’ll be unable to purchase all of the upgrades in a single save file. Some of the upgrades available to Mega Man include a fast charge attachment, a shield that will prevent knock-backs, a laser shot, and a spread gun, among others. Basically all of them are useful to some degree, though I’d argue the most essential is probably the quick-charge. One annoyance, the ability to exit already completed stages must be purchased, so if you want to go back for bolts that you missed (and you will, since some require a weapon acquired later to access) you will have to either waste bolts on this feature or play through the entire level again.
The stages feature a solid mix of run and gun and platforming gameplay, as well as a couple of auto-scrolling events. The levels offer a rather average level of difficulty for a Mega Man game sitting this one squarely in the middle of the pack if arranged accordingly, though perhaps closer to the easy side. Continues are unlimited, so the game is forgiving in that regard, but the checkpoints are spread out enough that having to use a continue does hurt a bit. There are no E Tanks in this game, which might explain why it’s a touch on the easier side, but there is a Rush attachment that can be used once per stage that summons Mega Man’s trusty robotic canine who will drop power-ups as he flies back and forth. It’s not as seamless as an E Tank since Mega Man still has to chase down the power-ups and there’s no guarantee that Rush will drop exactly what you want. This makes him a bit unreliable during the chaotic boss encounters in the game and he’s also basically useless if you’re in an area where Mega Man is limited by where he can stand (auto-scrolling segments, spike pits, etc.).
Of the main stages available, none are probably memorable enough to supplant a Quick Man or Flash Man stage, but they mostly offer plenty of variety and avoid the pitfalls of tedium. Tengu Man’s stage features a pervasive gust of wind that extends Mega Man’s jumps when moving with it, but also hinders his ability to backtrack. This stage also features one of the auto-scrolling portions where Mega Man hops aboard Rush and uses him like a jet-board as he soars through the air. During these segments Mega Man can also summon his lesser allies like Auto and Beat to assist him in taking out the various enemies he encounters. Astro Man’s stage features some maze-like portions as well as a frantic escape from a sinking tower. Sword Man’s stage is broken up into sections that can be tackled in any order, sort of like the boss gauntlet that appears towards the end of every Wiley Castle. Some levels also feature a mid boss and defeating that boss unlocks a new Rush ability (4 in total) that include the health power-up, as well as a few other things that aren’t really essential but can be useful.
Some levels, on the other hand, don’t go over as well. Frost Man’s stage features the snowboarding auto-scrolling bit and it is not enjoyable. The input feels laggy, and the developers apparently noticed this as well because they inserted audio prompts commanding the player to “Jump! Jump!” or “Slide! Slide!” These segments are mercifully short, but also short on fun and it’s a shame they recognized the need for the cues but not the need to just cut them entirely. Aqua Man’s stage also features scenarios completely submerged in water. Mega Man has apparently received a software upgrade that taught him how to swim, as he no longer just jumps around slowly in water. Swimming basically works the same way in Mega Man 8 as it does in Super Mario Bros, which is to say it’s not good. Mega Man is also a lot longer relative to Mario so it’s not easy to maneuver him around enemies. You’re better off to just plow through those segments and hope for the best.
The bosses themselves are all fine. They’re fully voiced, like Mega Man (more on that later), and it’s kind of funny to hear them taunt Mega Man before and during confrontations. There’s nothing particularly logical about who is weak to who, unless you know more about the robot than the game presents. For example, Sword Man does have a fire element associated with him that’s not apparent just by looking at him and Aqua Man’s Aqua Bubble is his weakness. There’s also no weapon on par with the Metal Blade that makes life easier across the board, though the multi-hit Grenade Bomb is pretty good and seems to have the most uses. Other weapons are more utilitarian. The Tornado Hold can be used to levitate Mega Man or hit enemies that are high in the air and the Thunder Claw can be utilized like Bionic Commando’s claw at certain points in the game (another benefit to splitting the bosses in groups of four means levels can be designed to utilize certain weapons because it’s guaranteed the player will have it). There’s also a 9th weapon that Mega Man receives in the opening stage: the Mega Ball. It’s basically a soccer ball and pressing the fire button causes Mega Man to drop the ball. He can then dribble it if he likes or even jump on it for a small height boost on his subsequent jump, or press the fire button again to kick it. The ball can ricochet off walls, but it’s mostly too unwieldy to properly utilize. Only one boss requires its use. Two other very useful weapons include the Homing Sniper, which can fire up to three homing missiles, and the Astro Crush which rains down death on the entire screen. As a result, it has a very limited amount of uses.
Where things start to fall apart with Mega Man 8 is after the eight robot masters have been vanquished. Wiley’s various stages are lackluster and downright annoying at times. The first opens with another snowboard segment, this one far more annoying and longer than the ones from Frost Man’s stage. Worse yet, it ends with the only boss fight that requires use of the Mega Ball, and as a result, it’s pretty tricky. If you have to resort to a continue you’ll be stuck playing through that snowboarding segment once again and you’ll want to snap the disc in half. After that is another Rush auto-scrolling segment that uses the scrolling gimmick to kill you if you’re not paying attention (and it’s mean enough that you probably will die at least once when you hit that part for the first time) and concludes with the worst boss fight in the game. It’s long and tedious, but as a plus it’s not particularly difficult so hopefully you take it out on the first try. The third level is better and finally presents what feels like a fair challenge plus a dual boss fight when you take on the Bass + Treble machination and then the Green Devil, or whatever it’s called. The Devil boss is probably the easiest one of them all, but if you don’t know its weakness it is considerably more difficult.
Finally, there’s Wiley, and unfortunately he kind of sucks too. He’s very similar to his Mega Man 2 version in which you take on his tank thing before fighting him in a floating capsule/bubble contraption. The tank is not terribly difficult, but it’s also not easy, and given the lack of E Tanks there is a bit of added challenge. The capsule part is a bit boring because he just doesn’t take much damage. He doesn’t appear to be weak to anything, so you just have to make sure you outlast him.
Since this was the 10 year celebration for Mega Man, Capcom decided to dress things up with some anime cut scenes! Xebec was contracted to do the scenes and they actually did a really nice job considering these are forever trapped on a PlayStation disc. Since the total run-time for all of the sequences put together is probably only 10-12 minutes, they could afford to take their time and put a lot of effort into making them look good. Unfortunately, the same degree of care was not put forth into the voice acting when it came time to localize the game for North America. I don’t know if the Japanese voice acting was equally terrible, but the English version is hilariously bad. It’s the most infamous part of the game and what people think of first when they think of Mega Man 8. Mega Man sounds like an adolescent high-voiced girl while apparently no one realized that the characters Bass and Treble refer to music and not fish. Dr. Light is especially bad and sounds like a bumbling old fool who refers to Dr. Wiley as “Dr. Wow-ee” while the voice actor for newcomer Duo just sounds like he would rather be anywhere than in a studio voicing this character.
The voice acting is a real shame because outside of that the production values are pretty great. While few wanted 2D games in 1996, no one could argue that Mega Man 8 wasn’t attractive to look at. It’s hand-drawn visuals have aged way better than basically anything else on the PlayStation. Mega Man is the right size in relation to the screen and is lovingly animated. Many of the generic enemies are brimming with personality and the bosses, in particular Frost Man and Sword Man, are also a lot of fun to look at. The music is solid as well, and while most are probably nostalgic for that 8 bit sound I doubt few would suggest the soundtrack is poor. And while the voice acting during the anime bits is atrocious, it does succeed in adding some personality to those bosses and its mostly welcome in that space.
Mega Man 8 performed rather well at retail when it was released, but reviewers were far more mixed. Incidentally, what it was maligned most for (its visuals) is what it’s most likely celebrated most for today. There was an undercurrent of backlash from some outlets because of its simplified look and there was also some Mega Man fatigue at the time. After all, this wasn’t just the 8th Mega Man game. It also followed three Mega Man X titles and some handheld ones as well. That’s a lot of Mega Man games in the span of 10 years so reviewers and gamers could be forgiven if they weren’t as excited for a proper Mega Man title in 1996 as maybe they would be today. Opinions are still divided on this one though. As recently as 2010, IGN considered it the worst of the mainline Mega Man titles. More recently, Retronaut’s Jeremy Parish ranked it as high as 5th among all of the Mega Man games (did you know there’s 20 total as of this writing?) which is probably the most praise I’ve ever seen given to the game. Perhaps not surprisingly, I tend to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. It certainly is not the worst of the Mega Man games, but Mega Man 2 and 3 are probably superior, at least. I definitely would rather play this one than Mega Man 7, though I’m less sure when it comes to other games. I’m not an expert Mega Man gamer and I never touched the ultra hard Mega Man 10 because it sounded like something I wouldn’t enjoy. When I picked this game up in 1997 as a birthday present I had some fun with it and returning to it in 2018 was by no means a bad experience. If you like Mega Man, but have never played this one and have only heard bad things then I’d suggest giving it a shot. It’s not hard to come by thanks to the compilations put out by Capcom nor is it prohibitively expensive if you want an original PlayStation version (if you want it for Saturn you will have to pay a lot, though) so you only have yourself to blame if you haven’t played it.