July 27, 2013 4 Comments
I should preface this review by noting that Mega Man’s classic NES games have no nostalgic value for me, and the franchise as a whole I consider to be of little relevance to modern gaming. I thought Mega Man 9 was alright. I thought Mega Man 10 was alright, albeit slightly less so. I tried and failed to get into the Battle Network series as a kid. And if the amount of shit that I gave when Mega Man was announced for Smash Bros was any smaller, it would only be able to be studied at the Hadron Collider. I’m not saying the series is a bad or that the games aren’t worth playing. I’m saying Mega Man probably means a lot more to you (assuming you’re my average reader) than it does for me.
With that being said, Vintage Hero does Mega Man very well. Mimicry can’t be as easy as people think. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many classic gaming tributes on XBLIG or other platforms that completely miss the point of what the originals were about. With platformers, it gets especially difficult. Typically, even a game that comes really close to the original still has something off about it. And once you latch onto what that one not-quite-right thing is, it’s all you notice. Vintage Hero doesn’t have that. It is so close to Mega Man in terms of gameplay and physics that it’s almost creepy. Like one of those stories you hear where a famous actress meets an adoring fan who has built a life-sized statue of her made out of mayonnaise and caulking, and she has to smile through her teeth while waving to her agent to start filing for the restraining order.
Vintage Hero’s controls are perfect Mega Man mimicry, and it makes this title a joy to play. Of course, the spooky doppelgänger stuff comes in other forms. The hero (with decidedly unheroic sounding name Floyd) has an arm cannon, just like Mega Man. It fires bullets that look just like Mega Man’s bullets. His running, jumping, and climbing animations look just like Mega Man’s. When he dies, he explodes into smaller dots of energy, just like Mega Man. Seriously, King Louie wants to know his secret. If Vintage Hero had left it there, doing a very convincing Mega Man impersonation, that would have been enough to satisfy gamers.
But developer Frog the Door Games didn’t stop there. Instead of phoning in the level design, he took it in original directions not seen in Mega Man titles. Instead of leaving the basic gameplay mechanics intact, he added in a modern RPG-like upgrade system. As a result, Vintage Hero stays fresh through-out. Of course, it’s about half the length of a Mega Man title. There are four standard bosses (and yes, you acquire a new weapon after killing them), then two finale stages, one of which includes a boss-rush. Is it too short? Perhaps. It’s sort of hard to complain when everything before the end credits is about as perfectly handled as any game designed like this could be. If the developer ran out of time or money or patience, at least he had the good sense to stop before the game started to stagnate. Me? I always prefer ninety minutes where I can’t stop smiling to three hours where my mind occasionally wanders, if not outright gets bored.
Vintage Hero isn’t flawless. I think the biggest issue it has (besides length if that matters to you), is that the game does the copy-cat thing so well that it fails to have a personality of its own. I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I didn’t enjoy the characters, the enemy design, or especially the bosses. It all felt a bit generic. The story told between missions I found to be predictable, especially the big twist reveal. It was so poorly handled that I questioned whether it was just dead-panning parody. Then the bleak ending made it clear that this was all meant to be serious, and I just sort of shrugged. Of course, they couldn’t just rip off the charm of Mega Man’s absurd enemy design. Vintage Hero already straddles the line between loving tribute and lawsuit waiting to happen. But you simply can’t replace the lunacy of “why did Wily make such impractical things like Robo-rabbits that shoot robo-carrots to kill Mega Man?” with doodles of red tentacles growing out of the ground, or things that look like hastily-drawn fetuses.
Because of that, Vintage Hero would need to have exceptionally sharp and rewarding gameplay to really stand out. And it does. It’s been over a year since I’ve had the privilege of saying this about a new game, but Vintage Hero is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made. Here’s a game so married to an established franchise that it by all rights ought to have been saddled with the label of a well-meaning tribute, and nothing more. Instead, it serves as an honorable homage, and a game that can fully stand on its own. Its gameplay is fine-tuned. Its levels inspired. It actually pays tribute to vintage Mega Man better than Mega Man 9 or 10 did. But most important, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy. By the time I was on the gaming scene, Mega Man’s time as an icon had pretty much passed. Nostalgia didn’t factor into this review. Pure, unbridled love of gaming did. And from that point of view, no XBLIG has ever been as well made as Vintage Hero.
(spits out Vintage Hero spunk, pops a breath mint)
80 Microsoft Points actively wonder why Lloyd doesn’t change colors when he equips a new item in the making of this review. Well I take it all back, this is a shitty Mega Man ripoff. It was all about the color swapping.