Just stop thinking
September 30, 2008
Playing Mega Man 9 is like submitting yourself to a battery of tests on the health and well-being of your gamer cred. Have you still got what it takes to overcome eight robot masters, or have the ravages of time eroded your once-mad skillz? Fortunately the game provides more fun that turning your head and coughing, but you must prepare yourself for a disappointing diagnosis.
I'll just get this out of the way now so I don't have to mention it again. I died roughly a dozen times before reaching even the halfway point in the opening Concrete Man level. Falling into gaps, mis-timing jumps, making the same mistakes and paying for them over and over again - ignominious, humiliating defeats.
Had I never played a Mega Man game before, I might have walked away and resumed my pleasant life with loving friends and family. But no. I've beaten this game before, and I know I can do it again. Okay, maybe not exactly this game, but I plowed through Mega Mans 1-3 with nary a scar (a rose-tinted memory blurring many controller-tossing moments), and if I could do it then, by golly I can do it now! It's not like running a marathon (which I never did when I was younger anyway); surely my age-addled brain can still manage to signal my fingers to run, jump, and shoot my way through the easiest level of the game!
So I took a break, ate some dinner, drank a glass of wine and returned to the game - whereupon I proceeded to sail through the level all the way to Concrete Man, whom I defeated on my first try. No sweat. Somehow, it all came back to me. Maybe it was the food, or maybe the wine, but upon reflection I chalk it up to not thinking. I know how to play Mega Man games (the early ones; I bailed after the series left the NES) because the Mega Man games wired me to them in ways I believe are still imprinted on my brain.
It's a fascinating thing when you stop to consider it. But, of course, the very act of considering it prevents me from succeeding. As long as I'm aware of playing Mega Man - remembering how to do things, noticing the care and fidelity to the spirit of the original this new game conveys, and generally thinking "Wow, I'm playing Mega Man again!"...I'm a dead man.
If you're new to the series, Mega Man 9 is a wonderful way to jump in. It's not just an homage or a loving tribute to a classic. It's a full-on original Mega Man game built from the ground up to severely test your skills, regardless of where or when they were honed. If you're a Mega Man old-timer like me, this game will make you feel like you've come home. Just don't think about it too much.
FYI, Mitch Krpata posted a terrific piece on his experience with the game, refracted through his memories of Mega Man 2; and Mike Walbridge has an "exhaustive analysis of 8-bit Mega Man music" that's well worth a read too.