I started playing Street Figher X Mega Man last month. I lament the fact that it's a crossover game—I'm not a Street Fighter fan, and I've been annoyed at Capcom for being so fixated on continually attempting to smash its franchises together these past few years (namely, with Mega Man Xover and advertising Ryu and Arthur as the selling points of the canceled Mega Man Universe). All I've ever wanted out of Mega Man is a sequel every now and then that offers new bosses, music, levels, and weapons, and tries to improve or expand on its predecessor in some way. Create a spinoff series when you've got new stories to tell; bring a series to a satisfying conclusion when you've run out. Do whatever you like to the franchise; just stay true to the heart of the series and keep the continuity intact.
Well, Street Fighter X Mega Man simultaneously disregards all continuity, and yet feels more like a proper Mega Man sequel than the misguided MM8, the relentlessly retro MM9, or the annoyingly subversive MM10—and the weapons and challenges were the most consistently fun, familiar, and novel since as far back as MM5—and that's a rare combination, indeed. Despite the unwelcome crossover, SFXMM was everything I'd been craving in a Mega Man game since the late '90s, and I was eating up every flower-dodging, watermelon-kicking minute of it.
Then I got stuck.
One of the late-game bosses enjoys large periods of invulnerability—the obnoxious kind, where he doesn't even raise a shield or anything; you just inexplicably can't hurt him—and has an attack pattern that hones in on you without any apparent consistency about whether or not you can dodge it. Frustrating, to say the least, and the only strategy that ended up working was to get in his face and repeatedly kick him to death with Chun-Li's weapon, paying no attention whatsoever to your own health (because it's not like you can dodge anything anyway). I had to sacrifice an E-Tank, but at least I made it...after several Game Overs of trying to find a more professional solution.
Fatigued, I entered the stage with the boss rush. At least there was an E-Tank at the beginning of the stage; if nothing else, I could keep stockpiling them if I continued to Game Over, and I'd eventually win by superior health, if not by superior skill.
Turns out the E-Tanks don't regenerate when you Game Over. Unlike every other Mega Man game in history. And it turns out that two extra lives aren't enough to survive against eight consecutive bosses, even with health refills in-between, and even with using the right special weapons. After several tries, it just wasn't fun anymore. And if the previous stage's boss was any indication, I'd need all the E-Tanks I could get to survive the rest of the game. If I couldn't limp through the boss rush on extra lives and free health powerups alone, then I didn't want to make it through at all. Grumbling about the lack of a save or password feature, I shut off the game and went to bed.
When I finally came back to the game a few days ago, it was with a hint of trepidation. As a Mega Man fan, and as someone who can't check on his YouTube video comments without seeing a few requests for SFXMM a week, I felt almost obligated to at least beat the game. The trouble was...could I beat the game?
Nonsense. I'd just forced myself through the poorly executed Mega Man X7 not three months earlier; if I could press on through that 3-D debacle, I could make it through a much shorter game that actually felt like the games I grew up with. I did like the game, after all; replace Street Fighter with traditional robot masters, put in a save/password feature for struggling gamers who can't play through the whole thing in one sitting, and fix that one awful boss fight I was talking about, and you've got a new entry into my Top 5 list of favorite Mega Man games—and nobody gets on that list anymore.
So I navigated the initial eight stages a little more quickly, now that I knew what I was doing. I played pretty well in most stages, and suddenly got really bad at one or two that had been a breeze the first time. Still, I made it to that aggravating boss in a good amount of time, made a little bit of progress at figuring out a useful strategy, and ended up E-Tanking it anyhow. When the boss rush arrived, I worked out a boss order that would maximize my chances of staying alive, based on how much energy I was likely to have going into each fight, and how much I was likely to lose.
I got closer to defeating them all without an E-Tank. I was still two or three bosses short with every Game Over. I couldn't wrap my head around how I could almost perfect kill Chun-Li at the end of her stage, and then suddenly run into virtually all her attacks in the rematch—she was supposed to be my easy boss, when I was running low on health.
After one too many tries, I threw out all strategy and just started burning through E-Tanks when I needed them. If I didn't make it to the end, at least I'd know what was in store after the boss rush, and could stop having dreadful visions of possible post-rush bosses like the Wily Machine in MM9 or the Wily Capsule in MM7.
I beat the boss rush, and proceeded to smash M. Bison on my first or second attempt, buster only, with just one E-Tank that I probably wouldn't have needed with a little more practice. Hooray, victory, roll credits.
Had I really been that close all along? To think, I'd been making things harder on myself by holding myself to a standard I only use for Mega Man games I'm already good at.
I then sat down tonight to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. I've already expained that I'm not a big Zelda fan, but I'm still interested in experiencing more of this series that so many of my friends are Cuckoo for. (See? I know enough to make a pun.) Majora's Mask is the one I remember everyone complaining about when I was younger, and keep hearing people praise now that I'm older. The last few times I went to start a new game, I almost chose Majora's Mask, but always went with something distinctly more my style, such as Strider and Mr. Robot. This time, I was coming off of a strenuous week and just wanted something I could casually sit in front of the TV with that still had some substance. Remembering Ocarina of Time's open-ended linearity (that is, you wander around an area until you find the one person, place, or item that opens up the next area), I finally popped in Majora's Mask and settled in for a leisurely night of adventuring.
I was starting to like the new abilities, more complex storyline, more interesting characters, and places to explore.
And then a moon fell on me.
Something like two hours of gameplay, gone in an instant. All because I talked to a scarecrow who made me dance all day, tried out two minigames, and got lost navigating Clock Town because the camera is zoomed in so closely that I can barely distinguish one wall from another. Oh, and THERE'S NO SAVE FEATURE. In order to save, I need to reset the doomsday clock by playing a song on my ocarina. A song I haven't learned yet. On an ocarina that was stolen. By a guy who's on top of the clock tower. The clock tower I can't get to because all the workers in the town ran away and didn't construct a ramp for me.
I'm sorry; I was too busy getting my bearings and doing a cursory sweep of the town for anything interesting and useful, so that when someone inevitably told me to deliver this credenza to the mayor in under two minutes to win a watch fob that I would trade to someone else for a cucumber that I'd need to unlock the next area where I'd find a spring-loaded javelin that would unearth a staircase made of fish guts to the top of the clock tower so I could use a newly discovered ham cannon to beat the kid who stole my ocarina and turn back time so I could save my freaking game, I'd know exactly where to go.
I've played a Zelda game or two; I know how this works.
I consulted a walkthrough: by the end of the first day, I should have reassembled a fairy, chased small children around the town, and found a gigantic plant in the middle of town that's necessary to enter the clock tower, and I swear does not exist.
I wasn't upset that I got smooshed by a creepy, ugly moon. I didn't even mind so much that I lost virtually all of my progress because you CAN'T SAVE YOUR GAME—frankly, I was surprised that I met with a terrible fate and didn't have to replay the entire game—just everything I'd been through after the first five minutes of actual gameplay. No, I was upset because (a) this was not the leisurely game I'd signed up for tonight, and (b) the game forces you to speedrun it before you have any idea what's going on.
One of my biggest gripes with Scurge: Hive was having to rush through solving puzzles in low-visibility areas nonstop for the entire game, and having 72 hours (minutes, really) to guess at what minigames, townsfolk requests, and trading sequences are immediately important in Majora's Mask is pretty comparable—with the key difference being that, in Scurge: Hive, you didn't need to play for an hour and a half before unlocking your first save point. I would've been just as upset with Street Fighter X Mega Man if, instead of getting stuck at the boss rush, I had to restart the game because I died twice on Blanka, missed an E-Tank in Dhalsim's stage, and saved Rose's stage for last.
Majora's Mask saddles you with a simple task, gives you three days to accomplish it, and then expects you to instinctively know where to go, what to do, and how much time to budget, even with the task getting more complicated every time you talk to someone. Do I, the player, know where to go, what to do, and how much time to budget now? Yes. I know to go to my N64, remove the Zelda cartridge, and make time to play any other game instead.
It's not that Zelda is too hard—now that I'm more familiar with the layout of Clock Town and know the first few main things to accomplish, I shouldn't have any problem accomplishing in one day what took me three days before. The thing is...I don't really want to. I didn't really want to go back to SFXMM, either; the core gameplay was fun, but I was almost offended by the difficulty in some spots—I'd paid my dues and put in my time as a youngster; I simply shouldn't have to try too hard to beat a Mega Man game anymore, right? I've earned the right to relax. Or so I told myself subconsciously.
Majora's Mask is the proverbial bomb that broke the Dodongo's back, so to speak. I went in knowing I'd be on a timer, and I completely bypassed anything and everything that looked like optional material unless it looked fun and/or easy to complete, because I knew the constant time challenge would annoy me (and I never get 100% completion in Zelda games anyhow), and I still lost—even after consulting a walkthrough and following it to the letter for the last day and a half before the lunar landing. I don't know what you want from me, game; you won't let me play by my rules, and I'm punished for trying to play by yours.
After discovering halfway through Final Fantasy VIII that it really wasn't worth all the time I'd put into it, I started putting in a minimal amount of effort to beat it. I could still recoup some of my losses by marking it off my Backloggery and having another mainstream game I could speak knowledgeably about. It took me an hour and a half to get to that point with Majora's Mask, but I'm still burned out on timed challenges from Scurge: Hive, and not enough in love with Zelda to push myself through it like I did with SFXMM.
Sure, I've played Majora's Mask. I fell off a horse, got turned into a scrub, and ran into a bunch of walls. The ending was depressing, but Link's not much of a hero in that game, so I don't feel so bad; with all that time he wasted dancing with scarecrows and chasing children with chickens off of rooftops, he deserved to have somebody drop a moon on him.
Maybe I am just as much of a gamer as I've always been—maybe I've played one too many games like VVVVVV that make your progress count for something, and would rather spend my time overcoming new challenges than getting hung up repeating the old ones. Life's too short to play Groundhog Day with a game you're not totally sold on. I've got a Backloggery full of games I want to play; not just ones I feel obligated to try, or suspect will be more educational than fun.
Nothing says I won't come back tomorrow for another shot at hunting down my stolen ocarina. Nothing says I will, either. I just spent $3 on Good Old Games buying Conquest of the New World to rekindle some nostalgia from when I was younger, and after playing and failing at the last part of the tutorial, I've realized I have other, similar games I'd rather spend my time on. Are they better games? Not necessarily. But for everything Conquest has to offer, and for as much as I enjoyed it at the time, I'd take Civilization III over Conquest in a heartbeat, every time. After years of being a gamer, I've found that Conquest's level of micromanagement is a little more than I care for...and neither the interface nor the graphics have aged well. It's not that I lost on the tutorial; it's that I've had my jolt of nostalgia, and now I'm ready to play something that I can enjoy for what it is, and not for what I want it to be.
Maybe I'll see if my wife would like to sit in on another session of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.