In an alternate dimension, the Super Nintendo never came out, we’re all still rabidly loyal subjects to the 8-bit throne, and 2008’s Mega Man 9 wasn’t such a big deal. But in this world, it rightly was, because it smartly took a scythe to all the undercooked ideas kicking around post-Mega Man 3, it integrated 23 years of game-design knowledge and hindsight, and it delivered a rejuvenated back-to-basics entry every bit as important and innovative as the series’ peak, Mega Man 2. But now, Mega Man 10 lumbers forward, not running with the ball that got rolling again two years ago, but pining for the past so much, it forgets to do anything new.
Then again, Mega Man games conform to a narrow, sacred formula: Players traverse eight themed levels in any order before taking on their respective bosses and gaining their powers. Then comes the final three-tiered throwdown with Dr. Wily, who’s unwilling or unable to devise a better strategy for vanquishing the Blue Bomber. (Perhaps he’s bound by the Hippocratic oath to sprinkle power-ups in his robots’ lairs to assure his nemesis will be back for more.) MM10 clings to the tried-and-true formula like a pre-schooler on mommy’s knees on the first day of school. After more generic Mega Man games than you can count on one hand, why would anyone need another, newer one?
MM10 isn’t totally charmless. A lot of hubbub was made about Sheep Man, but far weirder is Strike Man, an enormous robotic baseball that hurls baseballs at you. The game toys with a handful of interesting concepts, like conveyer-belt-powered obstacles and mini-bosses you have to activate before navigating level elements, but that’s about it. Those hardly have staying power, as the entire game is over just as it begins.
The new “easy mode” drains any bragging rights from players who beat the hourlong game, as it lavishes them with 1-ups at nearly every turn. Perhaps unfairly, the harder difficulties have confused “challenging” with “just add in a ton of bottomless pits.” Time trials, a challenge mode, and the option to play as Proto Man (and Bass, via downloadable content in April) all add to the shelf life, but the fact is that for the 60 minutes Mega Man 10 lasts, it’s the gaming equivalent of gum. After you’ve chewed for an hour, anything resembling flavor is long gone.