If you caught any of my Mega Man Legacy Collection livestream, you know of my disappointment with the Challenge Mode of this otherwise superb collection. Faithful ports of the six NES Mega Man games, a music player, a comprehensive enemy database, and a sizable art gallery were well worth the $14.99 price tag on Steam for new players, but we old-timers were counting on the Challenge Mode to provide the one thing we didn't already have. We envisioned The Wily Wars, or the Game Boy games, or even the Challenge Mode of Mega Man 10, but instead we got whole chunks Mega Man 1-6 smashed together to form fifty-something time-trial stages. I don't think it's what any of us wanted, but I was willing to keep an open mind.
There are some clever challenges that transform these familiar sections into devious deathtraps. Some challenges start you in the middle of a hectic section without any chance to prepare. Other challenges run you through a gauntlet of boss fights or disappearing brick puzzles. The best challenges are disorienting, grueling, and have you exploiting every glitch and trick to shave a few seconds off your completion time. The worst challenges, unfortunately, are far more numerous. A person can only be expected to survive the moving platforms in Guts Man's stage, dodge the falling crystals in Crystal Man's stage, and square off against Charge Man so many times. Filler, repetition, and an egregious underuse of MM6 characterize the bulk of the challenges, and that's why I'm disappointed.
That's also why I got so excited about the Mega Man Legacy Collection Challenge Contest that Capcom held back in September. An opportunity for fans to submit their own challenges for inclusion in the 3DS release? Sign me up! Not only was this a chance to put my amateur game design chops to the test and contribute to my favorite video game franchise, but it was a chance to help make things right with the Challenge Mode. Ten new good challenges could go a long way in exploring the full potential of Challenge Mode and enticing veteran fans to pick up the collection.
I knew right away that my challenge submission had to have a theme. I considered stringing together a bunch of ice or water levels or mashing up all the most interesting Hard Hat sections, but I figured those were obvious enough that someone else would surely come up with them. After much consideration, I finally came up with a challenge stage I was proud to submit, excited to play, and thought had a low chance of being duplicated by someone else. Here's how I pitched it to the judges:
"The current challenge roster has a lot of emphasis on the earlier Mega Man games and the Robot Master stages, so my goal was to show a lot of love to some of the fortress stages we haven't seen much of. I also wanted to include sections that have a slower, safer way and a faster, riskier way to beat them; I feel this adds a layer of complexity to speedrunning strategies. Finally, I wanted to keep players improvising by choosing unconventional starting points as often as possible, and by including one section where Rush Coil must be used creatively in place of Rush Jet (assuming "Buster Only" just means the default options you have before beating any bosses, which would include Rush Coil in this case)."
Here's the kicker: In order to show the judges exactly what to include in the challenge, participants were asked to link to YouTube playthroughs of the Mega Man games in question and provide timestamps for the start and end of each segment. Guess who makes YouTube playthroughs of the Mega Man games? This guy. I can now say with certainty that someone at Capcom has seen some of my Mega Man videos, because I got an e-mail about two weeks later congratulating me on winning the contest. AWESOME. I didn't come down from that high for at least a week.
The months passed, and I still got occasional pangs of excitement when I thought about this wonderful thing that was going to happen. Finally, the 3DS Legacy Collection hit the stores, and I was there on release day to pick it up. Again. At double the price I had paid for it on Steam. I tried to ignore the visions I had of lighting money on fire and reminded myself of everything this version would contain.
Stickers! Great box art! The option of playing the original Japanese games! An even larger art gallery than before, complete with stuff I didn't already have elsewhere! Fun new backgrounds for my 3DS home menu! And, of course, ten (wait--eleven?) new challenge stages, one of which I designed. I was so psyched. Fortunately, I had the foresight to pick up a Mega Man amiibo well before I needed him to unlock the new challenge stages, so I could avoid shelling out $50 for the deluxe edition with the gold Mega Man amiibo that no one I've spoken with seems to care about.
During the entire ride home from the game store, I felt the kind of anticipation building inside myself like I used to get when I unwrapped a new video game as a kid. I don't get overly excited about much these days, but this was one of my childhood dreams about to come true, seeing a Mega Man level I designed in an official Mega Man game. As I fired up the game and started poking around the menu screen for new features, I started to feel that sense of wonder that helped get me hooked on video games in the first place. With the benefit of hindsight and plenty of time to incorporate fan feedback, surely the designers and developers alike had constructed some awesome new challenges that blew the old ones away.
Of course, the first thing was to see whether the contest winners were acknowledged in the credits. Important stuff.
I touched my Mega Man amiibo to the screen and was whisked away to a beautiful little menu of eleven challenges with fun-loving names. I scanned the list and determined that "Fortress Fun House" had to be mine. I was fully aware that the developers may have taken some liberties with my challenge idea (they even say so in the contest rules), so I wasn't expecting a perfect translation of my vision. I also wasn't expecting to feel like Alan Alda in Sweet Liberty.
The challenge I designed had ten segments. It started with MM5's fourth Proto Man stage (blast pillars and dodge spikes as the floor rises), transitioned to the first Mr. X stage from MM6 (at the intersection where you can take the highly dangerous shortcut to the boss door or the long, safer way around), and moved on to the boss of MM3's third Wily stage (the Mega Man clones). I felt this was a nice little trilogy of beginning, middle, and end; it front-loaded the challenge with a few areas likely to wreck a speedrun; and I'm pretty positive that none of those sections had been used yet in any of the old challenges.
Fortress Fun House skips those first two segments entirely. At least the boss fight is intact, and it's everything I'd hoped for.
Next up in my challenge were the brief underwater portion of the first Wily stage of MM4, the part of MM6's first Wily stage where you need to have mastered Jet Adapter to avoid impalement on the spikes (plus the alternate path for clever players), and the few screens at the end of MM4's first Cossack stage where the snow in the background kicks in.
Fortress Fun House includes the underwater section, once again omits the MM6 stage (it's official: they have a vendetta against MM6), and uses the completely wrong section of the Cossack stage. I was horrified to discover my utility-heavy vertical climb had been replaced with enemies popping out of bottomless pits (a trope I've come to despise). Adding insult to injury, the segment ends one screen before the part I wanted to include. Worse still, this exact section had already been done to death in the old challenges. I am so sorry that I'm somehow responsible for this segment; it is not what I chose.
My challenge continued with the second Proto Man stage of MM5 (the gauntlet of bouncing enemies between the pillars) and the second Wily stage of MM3 (full of bees and way too many power-ups). The latter would be an interesting experiment. The plan was to toss the player in the middle of a hectic section with hidden clamps biting at their ankles; after the initial shock, they'd proceed to the point where Rush Jet is required to reach the boss door. Except there would be no Rush Jet. Or any other special weapons, for that matter. But the interesting part about buster-only segments is that you still get Rush Coil by default for the games that have it. If you're creative, you can navigate the end of the stage with only Rush Coil. I'd hoped this would add a memorable puzzle element to an area that usually requires no effort whatsoever.
Fortress Fun House perfectly implements the few screens from MM5 and then sends the player off to the fourth Wily stage of MM3, where the junk bots start dropping out of the ceiling. At least there's still that initial surprise of enemies coming out of nowhere, there's a mess of power-ups in the middle, and it's not a segment that was used much in the old challenges, so it's a reasonable substitution. I can live with the change, and I wasn't really expecting that segment to go unaltered anyhow.
The home stretch of my challenge included the final stage of MM2 (lava dropping from the ceiling), starting the player a couple screens in to throw them off balance. Somehow, this iconic challenge (I believe) is 100% absent from the old challenges. The entire last leg of MM1's third Wily stage was the conclusion. The obvious place to start is at the beginning of the penguin tunnel, so I of course wanted to start at the point where it becomes a flying bomb tunnel. This would continue all the way through the boss fight against the dreaded bubbles of doom (CWU-01P, in case I need to prove my Mega Man cred). Similar to how the first part of the challenge formed an arc, so too did the last part—the gauntlets of death before the boss.
Fortress Fun House skips the MM2 segment altogether. Sure, why not. The MM1 segment is almost what I wanted, except it starts with the penguin tunnel and ends...right at the boss door. Which means I'm stuck with another segment that's been overdone in the other challenges. The boss was the important part, as I don't recall seeing it anywhere else (and it's a good strategic challenge), and the rest of the stage is pointless if you start where everyone expects you to. Bummer.
So, of the ten segments I—hang on; the challenge is still going. For some reason we're in the underwater spike-lined shaft in the third Wily stage of MM2. I don't even know where this came fro—oh, and now the challenge is over. Hey, look, I got a gold medal on my first try. Woo.
I could understand removing or changing sections to cut down on length or avoid duplication, but that clearly wasn't the reason here. Almost every other new challenge was notably longer than mine, and the amount of duplication was unreal. Off the top of my head, I remember another pass at the penguin tunnel in MM1 and the watery spike shaft in MM2, two bouts with Napalm Man and Doc Robot Quick Man, two or three excursions to the line-guided platforms in MM2's fourth Wily stage, and three or four additional trips to the underwater part of MM4 that I used. And that's to say nothing of how many times most of these segments had been used in the original challenges.
Consequently, most of the other new challenges blend together in my head, but I can pick out a few things. No Swimming Allowed might be my favorite; it's a smart compilation of water levels (I knew someone else would come up with that!) that includes one or two segments we rarely or never see. Doc Robot Rematch fits nicely with the existing boss gauntlets. I like the concept of Ready Set Go; each segment is the beginning of a different stage, but too many are ones we've seen too many times before (particularly Cut Man).
Some of the buster-only segments of the other challenges are pretty good about forcing you to face situations that are totally doable with the buster but are almost always done with special weapons. The Wily stage from MM6 that I had wanted to use gets a brief but delightfully evil cameo. Starting the player in the middle of the MM3 Wily 3 hologram hallway was a stroke of genius. There are some great moments. There are also some horrid ones, such as three awful visits to the spike-filled Foot Holder corridor in the first Wily stage of MM1—two of them without the Magnet Beam to make it bearable. The worst part of Crystal Man's stage comes back to haunt us (whyyyy!?). I even gave up on Wily's Machines after failing my first attempt to take down Wily Machine 1 with just the buster; a projected 20 minutes to presumably fight a bunch of bosses that simply aren't fun without special weapons was not appealing to me.
These new challenges could have been a real treat for 3DS owners and a wonderful showcase of creativity from the fan community, but most of them are indistinguishable from any of the old challenges if you take away the amusing names. Segments are still being duplicated with no variation in start or end point. Whole stages are still unaccounted for, and MM6 is still lucky to be included at all. I'm not upset that my challenge was overhauled; I'm upset that it was overhauled to be more like every other challenge! I would love to hear what the developers and my fellow contest winners have to say about the matter. How many of these challenges still resemble the original submissions, and why was so much changed?
Ultimately, what the developers did with my design is all on them. I can still be proud that I designed something good enough to get me credited in a Mega Man game that people around the world are paying money to play. And that is a Very Cool Thing indeed.