The screen's a nonsensical mess of pixels. I rub my stinging eyes with the hope that some coherency will return to my blurred vision. Just how long have I been playing anyway? I squint at the pause menu. One life left. Wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans, I re-adjust my grip on the controller. Heart racing, I lean closer to the screen and take the game off pause. Here we go again. A flurry of projectiles fill the screen, muscle memory kicks in and my little blue avatar leaps into the air, temporarily avoiding harm. My opponent exposes himself for a second or two; I fire off a few shots, bringing the boss' health down another couple of notches. Nearly there. With his attack pattern learnt, there's every chance I could beat him this time. During his next attack cycle, excitement gets the better of me and I miss-time my jump. My last bar of health vanishes from the screen.
I scream at the television screen; a string of foul words drowning in the cacophonous din of the chip-tune 'Game Over' music. 'That's it!' I cry, 'I give up!' Throwing the controller at the wall, I leave the room to pursue a less frustrating activity. Half an hour later, after a cup of coffee and some relaxing music, I'm back to put myself through the whole ordeal all over again.
And that's a day in the life of Mega Man 10. You try, you fail, and you try again. But that is precisely the game's hook. You memorise the layout of a level, learn the right moment to jump, observe the best place to stand during a boss battle. You can't expect to complete a level on your first attempt; you have to die a couple of hundred times first. While this won't sit well with many gamers, the conditioned hardcore of the 8-bit era will be in their element. On the flip side to that, those who haven't played a Mega Man game before, and aren't familiar with the archaic beauty of 8-bit graphics, will be put off almost immediately. In no way, shape or form is this game aimed at the casual gamers of the next-generation.
So, you grew up in the nineties. You played Mega Man. You beat Mega Man 9 last year. What's new this time round? Well, while MM10 is a very similar experience on the surface, there are some brand new additions to the age-old formula. First and foremost, there's a new plot to give all the running, shooting and dying a purpose. In a world that relies on machines, a disease known as Roboenza has caused robots to turn against their masters. The villain of the series, Dr. Wily (Mega Man's very own Dr. Robotnik) claims not to be behind the virus, and has even developed a cure. Mega Man runs off into certain death to try and retrieve this cure. If you're anything like me, however, you don't play the Mega Man series for its deep and rich narrative; you play it for the challenge.
And MM10 offers challenge in spades, not just in a difficulty sense, but in the sense of a whole new game mode exclusive to MM10. Whilst MM9 featured challenges much like achievements or trophies, MM10 turns the concept into individual, bite-sized levels. By playing through the main game, players will unlock levels for use in Challenge Mode, which can then be selected from the main menu. Say for example you reach a boss on normal difficulty, a challenge will unlock that might task you with defeating that boss without getting hit. There are 88 challenges in the same vein as this, ranging from the difficult, to the ludicrously difficult. Completing as many of these as possible will contribute to your overall rating, and rank on the all important leaderboard.
Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that Mega Man's brother, Proto Man, has returned for Mega Man 10. While he could be downloaded for use in Mega Man 9, players can play through the entire game with him from the off this time around. He might take more damage when hit, but Proto Man can charge his arm cannon for more powerful attacks, as well as slide across the floor improving his agility. He handles similarly to Mega Man, but forces a different style of play, thus creating a completely different type of challenge as a result.
Boss battles are frequent and formidable, with two per level for the most part. The end-of-level Robot Masters are where the greatest challenge can be found, and you'll find yourself fighting them more than a few times in order to learn how to beat them. Sheep Man, for example, releases thunder clouds into the air, filling the screen with lightning bolts, while Strike Man throws balls of energy around much like the pitcher in a baseball game, only with far more devastating consequences. There are eight of these Robot Masters in total, one for each level of the game.
After defeating a boss, Mega Man is rewarded with a weapon upgrade. The game allows players to choose their own path through the game, and therefore which weapon upgrade they will get first. Knowing the best route to take through the game will make certain boss-battles a lot easier, as each weapon is effective against a particular Robot Master. By playing each level, and trying out certain weapons on certain bosses, the most appropriate strategy will become clear, and the game becomes that much easier as a result. For a game that looks so very simple on the surface, Mega Man 10 requires a lot of thought, planning and practice.
Admittedly the tenth instalment of Capcom's two-decade-long series isn't quite as hard as its predecessor, but it's still ball-achingly difficult when played on the default difficulty setting. For the purposes of this review I'll admit I did have to use the easy difficulty setting for some levels, which is a shameful admission indeed. Still, I'll hopefully retain some dignity by saying that Easy mode really is very easy indeed. After playing a level on normal for some time and then switching to easy - it's comical how quickly I breezed through it. For those with the skills, and the time to learn the levels, completing normal mode will unlock the hard difficulty setting. Don't expect any kind of success here unless you're anything other than the hardiest of Mega Man veterans.
Mega Man 9 was released to the loud applaud of critics in 2008, partly due to the eleven years between it and Mega Man 8. Mega Man 10 doesn't quite achieve that same level of impact, even if it does serve up much of the same thing. Still, MM10 is a glorious return to the hay-day of 8-bit gaming; a fantastic challenge built on the back of some of the most refined mechanics the genre has ever seen. In an industry that moves forward with such pace, it's refreshing to find a series that is content to stay right where it is.