Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Two years ago, Goodbye Galaxy Games appeared on the scene with Flipper, a destructive puzzler that reveled in its artful simplicity. Then late last year it got a sequel, Flipper 2: Flush the Goldfish. This time there was a completely different play style, artistic approach and overall more action-oriented experience. Both games were fairly well received, and without a doubt are all the more impressive because of the size of Goodbye Galaxy Games: one man. That man is Hugo Smits.

July saw the release of Hugo’s third game, Ace Mathician. It’s an educational game which — in an unusual move for the genre — wants to provide just as much game as education. With three games under his belt and no two of them alike, I wanted to take some time to speak with Hugo, and get his opinion on his design philosophy.

Along the way he also discusses his candidate for perfect game, why he feels video games are not art, the trials and tribulations of playing Commander Keen in Dutch, and why indie developers working today have it both better and worse than they’ve ever had it before.

1) Describe the moment that first attracted you to game design.

I think it was before Mortal Kombat 3 came out. I was a huge Mortal Kombat fan, all the neighbor kids would come to my house and we would play our own tournaments and stuff. So naturally we were all looking forward to Mortal Kombat 3!

In that time we didn’t have access to internet, so there wasn’t really any way to check out new things about the game. If we were lucky an older brother of my friends would buy a gaming magazine and it would have really fuzzy looking screenshots in there, probably taken from the arcade cabinets.

So there was a lot of room to fantasize, especially since the Mortal Kombat universe had so many secrets and hidden characters.

It got to the point where I would spend most of my time in class drawing awesome new Mortal Kombat characters, and coming up with cool moves for them. I think this is where the game design bug bit me.

2) You’re a self described “guy in a little dark room with some Cheetos and cold, leftover pizza.” How do you feel that limits your output as a developer?

Well, I cannot make triple A games. And that’s about it. I think one of the best skills for a game designer is to know and pick his battles. It’s important to pick something you can do really well.

For example, I did not make any games with real 3D graphics in them. Instead I try to team up with the best pixel artists in the world and come up with a really awesome 2D style.

And it goes further than just assets. If you look at Flipper it uses amazing voxel technology that I think could be really fun in a FPS game. However, I don’t think the Xbox/PS3 crowd would be interested since the voxel world would be really blocky to look at.

Instead I went for the Nintendo DS. The target audience there was more interested in innovative concepts rather than graphics, so it fitted really well there.

On the whole business side of things, it means I don’t have the financial means to make a perfect game. And lately I don’t really know if that’s a good or bad thing. Personally I don’t like smooth games; I like them a bit raw around the edges. Just like a lot of old 8-bit games.

3) How would you say operating as a one-man team benefits you as a developer?

I always hate it when people say games are “art,” because I see them as entertainment and I think art is stupid. But I do believe a creator can leave a stamp on a game, something you cannot really see as player but which you will experience. Because I’m mostly working on this myself, I get to put a really big personal stamp on the games.

I think this is also why I get away with non-polished games. Because people feel the love and hard work shine through the cracks. A good example of a personal stamp is the bonus level in Flipper 2. It has the Hungarian March as background music. My girlfriend is originally from Hungary and we visit the country every two months or so. That’s a typical thing you won’t see anytime soon in a triple A title.

4) What would you say are the most important aspects of your game design philsophy?

Make something innovative and unique. My games are not perfect, but they are enjoyable. If you can make a gamer have fun and let him experience something new, all the little faults don’t seem to matter.

5) You’ve spoken out before about a game’s length being used unfairly as a measure of its quality. Are there any other aspects of a game that you feel receive an undue amount of weight when determining that game’s worth?

The price is also one of those things. I always wonder what gamers use to determine the worth of a certain game. And maybe that goes hand in hand with the game’s length. If the game lets you do boring stuff for 15 hours, is that worth 30 bucks? is that really better than four hours of fun?

I know so many DS games that have something like this. After you complete a level, “OMG! Evil dude took over the world, everything is dark and stuff…go find the crystal.”

And then they let you play the exact same level you just played, but now they changed the lighting and everything is a bit more grim and the level is mirrored.

It’s just there because publishers want an 8-hour game that fits on a small cartridge. So the developer doesn’t have space/money/time to add extra content so they reuse old content. And ultimately they do this because the gamer wants 8 hours of gameplay for his 30 bucks.

More is not equal to better. Imagine if this would happen with movies. They have to be six hours long, so they stretch out the dialogue from a three hour movie. That would be really tedious.

And the same thing goes for games. Most players don’t reach the end of a game. I wonder how many quit because it was too hard, and how many quit because they are bored.

6) Where do you think this obsession with game length comes from? And do you feel it’s a destructive expectation on behalf of the consumer?

Well, I just think that consumers in general think more is better. In the end I think they steal from themselves, because this means developers have to spend time on those “extra” levels instead of purely focusing on the part that is really fun, and lose their chance to make it even more fun.

7) Given infinite financial resources and free reign over any licenses you could choose, what would be your dream project?

Crash Bandicoot…totally! The first three games where amazing. I like them even better than Mario 64 (please forgive me!). I don’t know, for some weird reason I can never plan my jumps correctly in 3D Mario games. It’s even worse in the Galaxy games when you’re upside-down.

Crash handles this perfectly with its linear straight path. Because of that they can have a steeper camera angle which makes jumping easier — after all, you don’t need to be able to see into the distance very far, since it’s so clear which way to go. They are also able to create better graphics because they know exactly where the camera will be looking at on object. (For example, in Mario 64 you can walk around a rock, seeing it from all sides. In Crash you can see only the front. So they can spend more polygons on the front and only a few on the back making the rock appear nicer).

Imagine the above and put it on a 3DS. It would fit so perfectly with the 3D screen since the levels run into the depth. It would be awesome!

9) Name one game that you would say has perfect (or as near to perfect as possible) design. Explain why.

Mortal Kombat 2.

I probably get flamed for this by Street Fighter fans. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Mortal Kombat isn’t perfectly balanced. But it was really a lot of fun. And one of the things that I think is genius is all of the hidden stuff.

It made the game so much bigger than it really is. Seeing new characters hiding behind trees in the background, not knowing how to unlock them or fight them until finally somebody in the neighborhood figures it out.

Every month or so we would discover something new and the game felt like it had endless possibilities. Especially if you included all the fake stories that surfaced.

I really like that in games. I have a big capacity for fantasy and I can really lose myself in a game universe.

10) Name one game that you feel could have been far better, if its own design hadn’t worked against it. Explain why.

Duke Nukem Forever. This one might seem easy, but I don’t mean it in that way. I love Duke Nukem, and I loved the old skool vibe of Forever. I even loved the graphics and sound. What made me not enjoy it was the fact that gameplay was stuck between oldskool and new.

I don’t know if they just picked the wrong parts from each generation or that the mix in general doesn’t work. But it made the game annoying.

For example, there are so many unique cool weapons, but you could only hold two. I would have preferred it more like Duke 3D, where you could just carry all the weapons at once.

If they would have just done a remake of Duke 3D instead I would still be playing it right now, and probably still be playing it for the next 10 years.

11) Apart from game design, what are some of your other hobbies?

I like to play games. I have an old SNES in my office. But lately I’m really enjoying the PS Vita!

Not really a hobby but…my girlfriend tends to force me to take long walks with her in the forest.

12) The name of your company refers to the old Commander Keen PC games. Would you consider that to have been the golden age of PC gaming?

I played a lot of PC games all through the 90s. Commander Keen did influence me in a huge way, mainly because I didn’t own any consoles (thanks parents!) so couldn’t really experience Mario on the NES.

But I think the golden age was more the later part of the 90s. In the early 90s they were mainly playing catch up with the consoles (Keen released a few years later than Mario) and games never really looked as good as on the console (I’m looking at you Castlevania for MS-DOS!). While after the first 3D graphics cards hit the scene it was the other way around.

I also never bought games in that time. I didn’t even know you had to! My older cousin would show up with new floppies and that’s how I got games. It didn’t even occur to me that you could buy them!

So I wouldn’t call it a golden age from a technology or financial point of view. But boy do I remember all the hours playing Golden Axe, Ninja Turtles, Keen, Secret Agent (and all other Apogee games), Mortal Kombat 1, Street Fighter 2, Prince of Persia and all the other games! They are still definitely in my heart.

13) Do you feel indie developers have it easier now than they would have had it 20 years ago?

It’s just really different I think. Both answers can apply.

No; there is no way that an indie can make and compete with a triple A console game. Something that was easily possible 20 years ago.

Yes; 20 years ago there was no internet, and learning to program (in other languages than BASIC) was really difficult. It was harder to get in touch with people from the game development scene.

14) What do you like about working with Nintendo’s DSiWare service. Presumably it’s been a positive experience if you keep coming back.

Well, I grew up with Nintendo handhelds and I love them. So making games for them is really cool. I would have liked it more to make retail/boxed games, but that’s only because I love game boxes! The DSiWare service is really nice in providing unique game ideas a platform and audience that cannot be reach trough retail (well you could, but a publisher has to take a big gamble on it which they don’t like to make).

15) What do you think Nintendo could improve about its download services?

Hmm…I think the eShop made a lot of things better. What I would like to see, but what we probably won’t see, is to be able to browse on my PC for games and buy them from my web browser.

Right now I can just click “buy now” for an iPhone game and it will open up a window for iTunes and that’s it.

The PC screen is bigger so it’s just easier to browse and check out info about a game.

But, again, I think the eShop is doing a really fantastic job. And I don’t really know how they can make it better on the machine itself.

16) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

I’ll let you know when he makes some chiptunes.

17) Provide some words of advice for young people who may be interested in pursuing a future in game design.

First off, don’t go to school and follow one of those lame “game development” courses. They are total bullshit, all of them. I always get in a lot of trouble saying this (multiple schools actually called me!) but it’s the truth.

Instead follow a normal computer or programming education, or drop out (like I did) and just spend every minute on game development. Because if you cannot (or you realize you don’t want to) get a job in the game industry, you can always work at a regular IT company.

Here’s the catch: to be successful you need to love it so much, that this is going to be the only thing you are going to do. Period. It’s not a job where you just do your work for 40 hours and that’s it. It will become your life.

Not many people realize this. Most people don’t want this.

I mean, most young kids think of the cool things they are going to do…like. “hey I’m going to make the next Call of Duty and all my friends are going to love it!.” But the truth is more about the things you’re not going to do.

You’re not going swimming with your friends. Instead you will sit in a dark room, coding. You will not go out with this cute girl on Saturday night. Instead you will be sitting in a dark room, coding.

I cannot remember the last time I actually had a weekend.

Not many people like to give up their entire live to make video games.

However, when you finish a game…it’s really the best feeling in the world. I’m always very happy and proud to see others play my games or talk about them.

The best tip anybody could give is this: just start! You can download all kinds of programs that will let you make games (there’s even a BASIC compiler for DSiWare called Petit Computer, so you can even make DS games). Just work on it in your free time.

In the best case you will get addicted to it, just like me! In the worst case you will stop after a few weeks but you at least learned something new about math/computers, and that’s always handy!

You can’t lose!

18) You’ve just traveled back in time 20 years. Provide some words of advice to your younger self.

ARGH! FOR GODSAKE! SAVE MEANS ‘OPSLAAN’ AND LOAD MEANS ‘LADEN’ IN DUTCH. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PLAY THROUGH COMMANDER KEEN LIKE MARIO…YOU CAN SAVE!!

Just a few weeks ago, I wanted to play Keen 4 again. And I found out it had a save/load option… As a kid I didn’t know what it was or did. I thought you needed to play through the game in one sitting like Mario on the NES.

I can still feel the “plop” in my head and the blood rushing away from my fingers trying to fight every nerve in my body not to smash the computer into a million little pieces every time I saw the game over screen…

Aah…the memories!

19) You’ve said that as much as you like to develop interesting and unique titles, you keep getting asked to create clones of already popular games. Is there much of a temptation to do so, in order to create some quick income?

No, but I’m forced by Nintendo. One of the reasons I’m not making any new Nintendo handheld games anymore is because they aren’t open and transparent. They don’t show or share any numbers, so every time I do a project it is an all-or-nothing bet.

If I bet on the wrong horse, I have to worry how to pay the rent, and thus I will work on some DS retail games of Bejeweled clones.

Sales figures would help a lot. How many games can you sell on average? Does it matter in sales figures if a game is localized? Do 200 point games sell more than 500 point games?

I mean, take the top 20 for example. That doesn’t tell you anything! Let’s say you have a 500 point game on spot 3, and a 200 point game on spot 2. What does this tell you? That the 200 point game sold more! But how much more?

It could be twice as much as the 500 point game, or maybe three times as much.

This is critical to determine if something will be better for profit. Because two times 200 points is 400 points so that’s still below 500 points. You need to sell at least three times more copies to make more profit than a 500 point game! Argh!

20) Is there any particular aspect of your previous games that you feel has been unfairly criticized or misinterpreted by the majority (or a large number) of reviewers?

Not really. Maybe the length of Flipper 2. A lot of people thought the game was short because the story mode was short. Yet the story mode only served as a long tutorial. The real meat was in the random castle mode (300+ levels).

Most reviews I’m actually really happy with.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you would like to say that hasn’t been covered above.

Some people think because I don’t want to develop for the Nintendo 3DS, it means I don’t like the system. But that’s not true at all. I think it’s a great system. But unfortunately it’s too much work for a single person like me, to make a complete game that utilize all the features.

I have some cool ideas for 3DS games, and If I ever get the a good team and budget I would love to develop them!

Also, there are some complaints in the above interview, but overall I really enjoy and love my work! A big part of why it is so great is because of all the people that play and supported my games! Thanks so much for that! I also try to read everything you guys write about my games (even criticism).

So feel free to email me! Thanks!

Our appreciation to Hugo for taking the time out of his busy day of sitting in a dark room, coding. Be sure to check out his games; they’re a lot of fun.

As mentioned previously, Nintendo Life has a shelf in the 3DS eShop, starting today and continuing on until next Thursday. If you go here you can see which staff member chose which five games. But I wanted to write a short post about why I chose to spotlight those games…and also provide the five more recommendations I would have made, had space allowed.

VVVVVV (3DSWare)
Unquestionably one of my favorite games, period. I played this when it was fairly new for the PC, and was instantly won over by its affectionate visual tribute to the Commodore 64. Sharp writing, brilliant stage design and a perfectly utilized gravity-flipping gimmick were just icing on the cake. I almost mentioned the game’s stellar soundtrack in that sentence as well, but…no, the soundtrack deserves a sentence all to itself. It’s genuinely, impossibly, beautifully perfect music, and as silly as it might sound, the game is worth playing just for that. Even if you end up despising it — which I truly doubt you, or anyone, would — the soundtrack guarantees that the experience simply can’t be a waste of your time. To speak at all of the game’s plot is to detract from the unfolding wonder and surprise of the VVVVVV experience, so let’s just say it’s great and leave it there. When I found out it was coming to the 3DS I couldn’t wait, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a stellar port of an unforgettable game.

Bird Mania 3D (3DSWare)
I’ll be honest here: I expected to hate this one. The developer never impressed me in the past, and so when they released this deliberately simple and warily inexpensive score attack game, I thought it was going to be a complete phone in. Instead it became one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had on the 3DS. Bird Mania 3D is fast-paced, satisfyingly challenging, and urgently addictive. You’re ostensibly guiding a left-behind little bird to Africa, so that he can reconnect with the rest of his flock, but since it’s an endless game you’ll never achieve that goal. The bird is fated to perish…all you can do is collect stars and balloons along the way, racking up as many points as you can before his inevitable crash. It sounds dark, and I suppose it is, but it’s hugely entertaining, and infinitely replayable. More like this, please.

Antipole (DSiWare)
I picked this one up because it sounded a lot like VVVVVV. Aside from the fact that it’s another gravity-manipulation game, it wasn’t. And even the gravity manipulation is handled — and experienced — completely differently. As such, this turned out to be happy accident; I bought it hoping it would be one thing, and got something even better. Antipole finds you flipping, floating and dodging through a hellish machinescape full of killed robots, death traps, and precision-demanding obstacle courses. That’s good enough — and it’s great fun just trying to make it to the end — but a more difficult mode, isolated challenge stages and copious achievements make this an even richer experience than it would have been. DSiWare without question had more than its share of garbage cluttering up the service, but this is one worth digging down to find.

Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge (Game Boy)
This is one of the few games I had for the Game Boy, and, surprisingly enough, it was the only Mega Man game I owned. (Apart from the unmentionable PC disasters.) While I loved Mega Man as a kid, for some reason I never had the games. I simply rented them all so many times that I could have paid for them 10 times over. And that’s why I have such a fondness for this one: it was mine. It’s a flawed little game with some annoying physics and an all-too-short adventure on offer, but I have a personal attachment that’s stronger than I have for most games. And, to be fair, it’s great for what it is. The stages are all reinvented for the Game Boy, meaning there’s surprisingly little overlap with the NES original. The music has also been rearranged to account for the different sound chip, making it sound just as great as — and in some cases better than — the source material. It’s a minor entry in the Blue (or, erm, Grey) Bomber’s catalogue, but brilliant all the same.

Avenging Spirit (Game Boy)
Another(!) great surprise, Avenging Spirit is yet another platformer that tasks you with rescuing your girlfriend. Only this time, you’re already dead. Yes, you’re killed by mobsters before the game even begins, so it’s up to you to possess the living, using their abilities, weapons and strengths to wreak your revenge upon the villains who did you in. It’s a delightfully dark concept for such a cartoony game, and seeing the bodies you possess fall lifeless to the ground when you leave them never gets less chilling. It’s extremely challenging (noticing a pattern here?) toward the end of the game, but that just gives you greater incentive to push through and find new things. There’s one unlockable body you can get if you find all three keys, but the game’s main replay value comes simply from playing through the levels again and again, using different abilities every time, and having it feel like you’re playing a completely different game. Avenging Spirit is absolutely an experience worth having.

And five more I would gladly add to that list…

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (DSiWare)
There’s not much on offer here that you won’t find in the other Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, but the fact that it’s downloadable — and therefore always on your system — is recommendation enough for this puzzler. You need to manipulate obstacles so that the mindless mini-Marios can march safely through the exit, all in pursuit of the big dumb ape who stole your toys. It’s great in short bursts, and absolutely worth having on the go. It’s also — say it with me! — really, really hard. I can safely say that the number of Mario games I enjoy far outsteps the number that I don’t, regardless of the ever-shifting genre. His presence usually means a purchase is a safe bet, and that’s as true here as it ever was.

Sword of Hope II (Game Boy)
The story is almost gleefully naive, but the adventure — not to mention atmosphere — is fantastic. Sword of Hope II confusingly made it to the 3DS Virtual Console before its predecessor did, but I’m not complaining. It’s a classically-styled RPG with turn-based battles and massive amounts of weapons, items and spells. You guide the good Prince Theo along with several companions through a kingdom threatened by an unrelenting evil. So, yeah, the plot is nothing of note, but the experience of playing through it is fantastic. It’s a step back in history…no, not to medieval times, but to a time when video games were just meant to be fun…and that’s a trip I’m willing to take any time.

Kirby’s Dream Land (Game Boy)
Another of my original Game Boy games. I’ve always — always — adored this one. The first trip through the game is brilliant, light, sunny fun. The second trip is shockingly challenging. And beyond that you can configure the game so that it demands perfection and turns everything into a one hit kill. Funnily enough, Kirby’s never been more difficult than in this original adventure, which is so often wrongfully derided as being kiddy, or too easy. If this is kiddy, then I don’t want to grow up. (Also…I don’t want to grow up.) Kirby’s been in more great games than I can even count, but there’s an effortless beauty to his original outing, and, for better or worse, this is how I’ll always remember him.

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy)
The Metroid series has tried a lot of things over the years. From loose, unguided exploration to first-person shooting to linear battlefests (to, uh, pinball…) just about every game offers a unique experience. Its singular Game Boy outing, however, manages to stand apart even from that disparate group. It’s not survival you’re after here…it’s xenocide. Samus is tasked with hunting down and exterminating, one by one, every remaining Metroid in existence, and that gives this game an impressively dismal feel. You worm your way through caverns and tunnels, slaughtering tiny aliens as you go, and watching the Metroid population diminish. It’s not exactly the case that Samus becomes a cold blooded killer in this one, but the experience is, by definition, guided by bloodlust, and that’s not a common theme for a game developed in-house by Nintendo. It’d be worth playing for its novelty alone…the fact that it just so happens to be a fantastic gaming experience as well makes this unmissable.

Mr. Driller: Drill Till You Drop (DSiWare)
Mr. Driller — an offshoot of the classic Dig Dug series, though rightfully classic in itself — is simple: you drill. Fast. It’s a sort of reverse Tetris that relies on destruction and speed rather than organization and wise consideration. The longer you take, the more your oxygen diminishes…but the faster you drill, the more likely you are to cause a cave-in that ends your game outright. This version features more levels than I’ll ever be able to finish, but that’s okay; Mr. Driller isn’t about succeeding, or even surviving. It’s about reflex, and immediate decision making, as well as constantly dealing with the fallout (pun intended) of your past decisions. It’s a slight experience by design, but it’s limitlessly satifying.

I’m in Your 3DS eShop

July 26th, 2012 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta | personal | video games - (1 Comments)

…provided you live in America.

Log in and check it out! I’m second from the right, as if you couldn’t tell from the fact that I’m ABSOLUTELY INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM MY MII. It will be up until a week from today, so soak it in while you can.

You can read more about it here for now, and I’ll update later on with some commentary on what I picked, why, and maybe some additional recommendations as well.

But for now…

…I’m in the ****ing Nintendo eShop!

Photo by Ron “The Bod” DelVillano

The mere fact that I’m writing this review sort of gives away my feelings, as I didn’t intend to write anything — or, at least, not much — about it at all. But History Repeating – Blue absolutely shocked me with its quality. For anyone who’d like to purchase it before reading my spoilers, be my guest. I recommend it outright.

History Repeating – Blue is the first half of the Mega Man 3-themed rock opera by The Megas. It’s been years in the making, which for a long time had some folks wondering if it would ever see release. It was not only worth waiting for, but it represents an enormous step forward for the band in both their writing and musicianship.

The fact that History Repeating is being released in two parts is my only real disappointment, but stick with me because I’ll negate that disappointment before this review is through.

The 10 tracks on this album suggest that the Mega Man 3 rock opera is going to be significantly longer than its Mega Man 2-inspired predecessor, Get Equipped. After all, that album only had 13 tracks, and two of those were less than 20 seconds long. Here we have four robot master themes (Top Man, Magnet Man, Spark Man and Snake Man), two Wily themes, a long intro theme (split in half) and a gloriously meditative tune built upon the simple Game Over theme.

I can’t stress enough how impressive it is that the band weaves such an emotionally-invested story based on the Mega Man games. Those titles were famously slight on the storytelling. There were hints of themes and continuity, but, overall, they were just an excuse to dodge traps and shoot things. That’s fine. What The Megas choose to explore is the mindset of somebody trapped within such an existence. On the surface, it’s a fun game. On the inside, though, what is happening? What kind of thoughts would he have? How would he cope with them?

The Megas have now covered three Mega Man games, and the psychological progression of the protagonist is noticeable. Throughout the EP based on the first game, Mega Man is silent. He’s been told to destroy the enemies of Dr. Light, and he does that. The closest thing to an emotional response comes from Dr. Wily, who pleads with Mega Man to acknowledge the destruction that he himself has caused in his mission to take the old man down.

Throughout Get Equipped Mega Man is similarly enthusiastic about his quest, but the album ends on the tellingly introspective “Lamentations of a War Machine.” It’s here that Wily’s words seem to have at last gotten through to him. As Mega Man’s body count rises, is there any reason that he can’t be tarred with the same brush? The refrain sees Mega Man questioning his creator, Dr. Light, and pleading for some justification of his actions, or at least reassurance that he did the right thing. We don’t hear an answer. Mega Man’s concerns go unresolved as the song ends, and the rain begins again to fall.

Here, in History Repeating – Blue, Mega Man opens the album by openly wondering how many more times he’ll need to do this. (If he’s feeling this way now, I can only wonder how exhausted he’ll be by Mega Man 10.) His future seems to be set in this cycle of torment, this unending gauntlet of villains and a race of people that turn only to him when they need help. He’s still going about his work, but he’s at least aware that there are alternatives…which is why “Continue” works so well at the end of the disc.

I was a bit worried about the interruption of narrative flow that would occur with a split release, but “Continue” is as perfect a disc-1 conclusion as anyone could ever hope for. Sung by an unknown figure (Dr. Light? Roll? Mega Man to his reflection?) it gives our hero a chance to consider an alternate path for his life. He never would take such a path, the song assures us, but he’s starting to notice that it’s there. Mega Man is, three games and albums later, finally acknowledging the paradox in his prime directive to fight for everlasting peace. That kind of self-questioning is a beautiful sentiment, and it’s handled with impressive atmosphere and emotion.

The fact that it comes after Mega Man is tempted by Snake Man — who, with a smart move, is portrayed here more as a Biblical serpent than with the more naturalistic connotations of a true-to-life snake — to defect and join Wily’s team. While there’s no chance of that happening on disc 2, the question is more important than the answer. Snake Man weaves a tale of murder, hatred, coldness, blindness and…well…evil. But it’s a tale he’s weaving about Mega Man. Both Dr. Light and Dr. Wily send out their creations to destroy and to kill. Can one be inherently better than the other? Their intentions may be different, but their methods are not. Is Mega Man just as culpable for the war? It’s an interesting question, and it’s clear that Snake Man’s words would indeed resonate for the super fighting robot.

One other fascinating theme is continued from Get Equipped, and it has to deal with the concept of surrogate children. In Get Equipped one of the standout tracks was “The Message From Dr. Light,” which revealed that Dr. Light created Mega Man not as a peace keeper or a war machine, but as a son. Unable to have one of his own, Light created a mechanized replacement. He feels a great deal of affection for his creation for that reason, and Wily by this point has decided to adopt and corrupt that idea as well, and has also begun referring to his own creations as children. This leads to a humorous, almost Sonichu-like, frequency of artificial creations addressing humans as “father.”

Dr. Light legitimately wanted a son and transferred that dormant love to Mega Man. Dr. Wily, by contrast, saw how well that helped keep Mega Man in check, and began employing it himself. It’s a brilliant way of subverting the protagonist’s driving force. He fights for his father because he cares about him…but is that any different from his enemies, who are also fighting on behalf of their father? As Snake Man observes, the lines are blurring between wrong and right. Things are starting to look pretty similar on both sides of the fight. Mega Man takes a walk in the sand halfway through his journey — unlike Get Equipped he can’t even finish his mission first — and looks inward. That’s “Continue,” and it’s one of the album’s many accomplishments. We don’t know what he sees, but we know he doesn’t like it.

Elsewhere we have a pair of swirling, rocking Wily tunes as he preps Gamma, his latest WMD, and the other three robot master songs. Top Man’s is a relentlessly danceable masterpiece of mindlessness and Spark Man’s is a militaristic call to arms, but the real winner here is Magnet Man’s, which characterizes the villain as something of a delusional romantic, who may or may not have actually had a fling with Mega Man’s sister, Roll. It’s funny, catchy, and probably the most accessible tune in the collection.

I was prepared to be disappointed by this release, as I thought it would feel like one half of a greater piece. However it just feels like an extremely cohesive and exciting first act. There’s more to come, and we’ve likely got a pretty long intermission, but it’s already worth waiting for.

I used to wonder what it might have been like when Frank Zappa released his masterpiece Joe’s Garage in 3 parts, with delays in between. How did it feel to have that one story, that one work of art, that one musical journey, interrupted and dispersed over a much longer period?

Now I have a much-smaller-scale analogue. It feels pretty great. It’s a sense of creative excitement. And it gives me a chance to focus my attentions more strongly on a first half that, very likely, could have otherwise been buried beneath the impact of the conclusion.

As such, I’m left with a paradox of my own. I can’t wait…and yet I hope The Megas take their time. I’m happy to savor this as long as I can.

I’ve been playing a lot of Mega Man lately, which is what tends to happen when I’m still alive and breathing. I’ve also been listening to a lot of music, for much the same reason. So I got to thinking…what if I could combine the two? I’d be rich! Then I found out that a lot of other people already beat me to it. Let’s take a look at 10 songs that politely share their names with bosses from the Mega Man series. We’ll also try evaluate just how well they’d slot themselves into the series as replacement stage music.

1) “Fire Man” – Burning Spear
Fire Man, Mega Man


Applicability to the Robot Master: I’d say it’s about 70% applicable. Of course, since 70% of the lyrics are “fire down below,” that’s pretty much a gimme. It also mentions people running around, which is a suitable image for Fire Man’s dropping of those little flaming bastards eveywhere. Burning Spear gets caught up in an homage to “I’m a Little Teapot,” which muddies the waters a bit though.

As Replacement Stage Music: The infective reggae groove is a bit laid back for the industrial hazards of Fire Man’s stage, but it certainly brings to mind feelings of scorching heat, and that’s really all we can ask.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. Come on.

Overall: A good fit for the stage and for the boss. Probably what Fire Man kicks back and listens to when he has a mellow afternoon off.

2) “Ice Man” – Filthy McNasty
Ice Man, Mega Man



Applicability to the Robot Master: Around 60%. The song is sung from an ice delivery man’s perspective, and it’s full of double entendres about the women to whom he delivers his load. (There’s one right there.) Such relentless punning is a suitable fit for the Mega Man series, which is based on some thematic rock-scissor-paper wordplay.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s certainly repetitive enough to fit on the original Mega Man soundtrack.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: It’s longer, so, therefore, no.

Overall: Both Ice Man and Filthy McNasty would have a blast laughing their asses off over the fact that there are multiple meanings to the word “pussy.” For everyone else, this song is pretty annoying.

3) “Top Man” – Blur
Top Man, Mega Man 3



Applicability to the Robot Master: The lyrics really don’t apply to Top Man at all. Imagine that! He doesn’t reside in a desert, he doesn’t ride a magic carpet, and he doesn’t puke on the pavement. He may or may not like his women clean and shaven, though…his agent has yet to return my call about that.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s got a fun and bouncy beat that would actually mesh quite well with Top Man’s bizarre ferns-in-glass-casing stage, but it’d certainly give the experience a far less urgent feel.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: No. Top Man’s original music is among the best in a series that’s almost uniformly great. Sorry, Blur…ya can’t stop the Top.

Overall: Not really applicable to Top Man, so there’s little to enjoy about the coincidental title. “He’s a little boy racer” is about the only line that could even conceivably apply to him, and even then it’s not particularly evocative of the NES game. Blur should be ashamed of themselves.

4) “Needle Man” – Skrewdriver
Needle Man, Mega Man 3



Applicability to the Robot Master: At first I’d have said a solid 0%, but after listening to the song I realize that this is providing valuable background information for the notoriously spastic Needle Man: he’s a junkie! No wonder he’s such a beast…the poor guy’s been tweaking in a dark room for weeks on end before Mega Man shows up. Needle Man probably thinks he’s fighting Nazis or something. It also explains his incredible strength and speed. Drugs kill, kids…but in the meantime they sure can make life Hell for the people you slap around.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’d work. Needle Man’s current theme is pretty weak as it is, with a strange kind of meandering salsa that never gets anywhere. This would give the stage some much needed energy.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Without question.

Overall: We now know that the Needle Cannon Mega Man gets is firing dirty syringes…just to further complicate the “war for peace” morality of the series.

5) “Starman” – David Bowie
Star Man, Mega Man 5



Applicability to the Robot Master: I’d say 50%. It’s perfect thematically and the chorus is dead on, but the rest of the lyrics speak of an interglactic rock star, and I’m not sure Star Man harbors the same moonage daydreams. Regardless, “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky” might as well be a warning from Dr. Light, and the floaty, expansive nature of the music fits the low gravity stage and boss fight quite well.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s pretty perfect. Bowie knows better than any musician alive — barring, maybe, the members of The Flaming Lips — how best to paint majestic starfields with just some guitars or synths. It’d mesh quite well with the gameplay of that stage as is.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. Some people say that Star Man has the best music in Mega Man 5. Don’t trust those people; they are obviously liars or insane. (Charge Man bitches.) Whatever anyone might think, though, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a superior album to this Mega Man soundtrack. THERE I SAID IT.

Overall: Let all the children boogie.

6) “Plant Man” – Gary Young
Plant Man, Mega Man 6



Applicability to the Robot Master: 100%. There is only one lyric in this song, which repeatedly states that Plant Man knows if / where / that the plants will grow. Uh…no argument there, Gary.

As Replacement Stage Music: The song is atrocious, but…sure, why not. If we’re playing Mega Man 6 we deserve the punishment.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. It has notes and a melody, and is therefore superior to every track in this game.

Overall: A perfect fit. Speaking of “perfect fit,” Gary Young’s astroturf tuxedo in this video is the same one that Plant Man wore to his junior prom. When he went to his senior prom he didn’t have to wear anything…because he was somebody’s corsage! Fucking lol!

7) “Cloud Man” – Grieves
Cloud Man, Mega Man 7



Applicability to the Robot Master: A whopping 80% or so. It’s not only a song with weather conditions as a major theme, it has a deliberate and contemplative detachment that suits Cloud Man’s isolation and permanent scowl perfectly. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Cloud Man is a bit depressed. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s weak to fucking soap bubbles.

As Replacement Stage Music: I’d say it’s appropriate. The downtrodden, sluggish pace of the song absolutely mirrors the dark and rainy sections of Cloud Man’s stage, and…well…it’s just a pretty great song period. It’d stand in interesting contrast with the sunnier, brighter visual approach to Mega Man 7.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Debatable. Overall I’d say it definitely nudges it out, but Cloud Man’s theme is already pretty great, and this kind of overt moodiness would probably feel out of place among the game’s other tracks, however refreshing the change in atmosphere (see what I did there?) might be.

Overall: This music’s sad and you should feel sad.

8) “Astro Man” – Jimi Hendrix
Astro Man, Mega Man 8 and Mega Man & Bass



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no idea. 0%, 100%, or anything in between. I have no idea what this song is about, but I’m pretty sure Astro Man, whoever he is in this song, is calling Superman a faggot.

As Replacement Stage Music: Not at all. Jimi’s guitar is as fiery as ever, but Astro Man’s space- and technology-themed stages (he has two) would probably benefit more from some straight, swirling techno than screaming six-string theatricality.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. His current stage themes sound like rejects from a Jane Fonda workout video.

Overall: Astro Man sucks.

9) “Magic Man” – Heart
Magic Man, Mega Man & Bass



Applicability to the Robot Master: Apart from the “he’s a Magic Man” assurance, I’d say nothing. Though, arguably, “try to understand” could be Capcom imploring us to accept the fact that they were so dry on ideas that they had to resort to a Magic Man at all. Otherwise, it’s doubtful that the Wilson sisters would be irresistibly seduced by this robot master, who, to put it politely, looks like Pee-Wee Herman and Steve Urkel got together and had a gay baby.

As Replacement Stage Music: Not really. It houses a great jam, but it wouldn’t at all fit Magic Man’s carnival approach to stage design. The passionate defense of the “Magic Man” in the song though would suit the game nicely, as it’s often derided along with Mega Man 8 as being well worth skipping.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: No question. Magic Man’s stage theme sounds like it’s lifted from an SNES Barney adventure.

Overall: Magic Man wishes someone would sing about him like this. Until then, he sits alone doing card tricks. And masturbating.

10) “Tornado Man” – Las Aspiradoras
Tornado Man, Mega Man 9



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no fucking idea. It’s pretty clearly not in English so I can’t understand it…but damn do I love it.

As Replacement Stage Music: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Absolutely perfect for the rainy, thundery, thousand-mile-high gauntlet of Tornado Man’s stage. Tornado Man’s level is a brutally addictive experience, much like this thrashing, gorgeously filthy nonsense.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Nah, Tornado Man’s theme, like everybody’s theme in this glorious game, is utterly brilliant.

Overall: Would be a great fit…but Tornado Man’s already well served by his current tune.

11) BONUS: “Sword Man” – His Majesty Baker Jr.
Sword Man, Mega Man 8



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no idea because I couldn’t find it on youtube. But look at that album cover. Yes, there’s a song called “Sword Man” on this album. This one. By a guy who calls himself His Majesty Baker Jr. with some pretty confusing capitalization.

As Replacement Stage Music: I mean, what is he doing? What is this? No part of this cover makes sense to me. It’s a man with a big smile wearing a green pinstripe suit, a leprechaun hat, and leaning against a pile of money that’s far too large to be legal tender.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: And he’s doing this against a backdrop of more money, with the figure $30,000 indicated above. That’s a lot of money, in a way, but in another way, if you’re going to invent sums to make yourself seem rich wouldn’t you reach much higher than that? It doesn’t register as being particularly large…or small…it’s just somebody’s annual salary, and it’s nobody who could afford to be caught wearing a suit like that in public.

Overall: I don’t understand what I’m looking at. What is this? He has gold rings on every finger of his right hand. And how many points does his God damned handkerchief have? I hate this. I’m going to bed.

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