It can be tough for modern games to recapture the essential, nostalgia-inducing “fun” of classics from the 8-bit era.
It isn’t for lack of trying. Indie developers have been riffing on their favorite ideas of the past for years, and many creators have found ways to improve old formulas or update antiquated designs to make new, fresh ideas. But with those ideas, there’s often an attempt to recapture the nostalgic feeling of the games from which they took their cues; to bring back the old way, even if it’s “refreshed.”
Then there’s Mega Man 2.5D. A fan adaptation of the classic franchise in its 8-bit heyday, the game feels like something salvaged from a dusty drawer in the Capcom vault. In fact, it isn’t “new” exactly: Rather than making an entirely new game, “2.5D” remixes levels from several of the first six or so Mega Man games.
Despite the fact that it takes more than cues from the original series, it feels like something completely new, thanks to cleverly modified levels, new artistic flourishes like its eponymous camera “2.5D” camera angles, and wholly original game modes, including local multiplayer. These new ideas, combined with spot-on platforming that feels exactly like the early Mega Man games, create the closest thing to a brand new Mega Man that fans of the series are likely to see for a long time.
At first blush, the primary difference between the original Mega Man series, and its modern, fan-made counterpart is in how it portrays its game world. The “2.5D” part of its title refers to its visual style, which adds a sense of three-dimensional depth, even though the game still operates in two dimensions. Mega Man himself is still a flat, 2D character, but often the game camera will shift to show depth in the platforms and walls, or pan around and force players to contend with a new perspective.
These shifts give the game a delightful Paper Mario-esque feel. Mega Man will sometimes round corners in the 3D world like a piece of paper sliding over the edge of a table as the camera swivels around the 3D level. The effect makes Mega Man 2.5D’s expanded stages feel bigger and deeper than the originals from which they pull their ideas.
It feels like something salvaged from some lost locked drawer deep in the Capcom vault.
Often, the effect alters traditional Mega Man gameplay in subtle ways. Areas where you’re made to climb shift the camera, making it easier to gauge ledges from background. At other points, the game cleverly hides pitfalls behind foreground, requiring you to pay attention to your surroundings to avoid falling into a bottomless pit.
Tricks like this only add to the challenge. Mega Man 2.5D retains the crushing difficulty of the original Mega Man. Prepare to play and replay your way through tough jumps and enemies that like to hover just above your Mega Buster’s line of fire. There are plenty of returning enemies in the mix from classic games, with just enough tweaks to the environment to put players through their paces.
The most interesting new ideas, however, come from Mega Man 2.5D’s additional game modes. In addition to the standard, Mega Man-sized single-player experience, Mega Man 2.5D also packs two big additions: a two-player cooperative mode, and a competitive multiplayer mode.
The cooperative mode simply allows you and a friend to play through the single-player campaign as Mega Man and Proto Man. The combination allows for some strategy and requires some quick thinking, because even though you’re fighting together, your weapons can stun each other, resulting in some friendly disasters. You can also switch on friendly fire, allowing you to troll your buddy both accidentally and on purpose pretty much all the time.
There’s so much game here for zero cost that it’s impossible not to recommend it.
The competitive mode, meanwhile, is an inventive take on the existing Mega Man formula. There’s a deathmatch mode that matches you up against one another, and another where kills are secondary to running around the arena, collecting items to score points. You can adjust which weapons players take into battle, turning encounters into strategic match-ups. And just like in the single-player campaign, you’re as concerned with taking the hit, and the few seconds of lost control and invulnerability, as you are with dishing it out.
The competitive levels, adapted from the single-player maps, are big, multi-faceted arenas, filled with power-ups and obstacles that demand skilled platforming. You might need to slide under a cap to get to one section of the room, or climb platforms to get to another. With a second player chasing you around, things get hectic in a very fun way.
A diamond, but still dusty
As with many fan-made passion projects, there are technical idiosyncrasies in Mega Man 2.5D that may hamper your ability to jump in and play. Playing Mega Man on a keyboard is difficult and borderline blasphemous, but to get a gamepad to work, you need to remap each key on an options screen. It’s absolutely worth the extra time, but the game should probably go to greater lengths to help you set up.
As we mentioned before, the game is also pretty damn hard, and can get aggravating if your Mega Man chops are rusty. In the same way classic Mega Man games test players’ reaction skills, near-pixel-perfect jumping, and tolerance for getting wrecked by bosses, Mega Man 2.5D will likely elicit frustration from less-than-rabid Mega Man junkies. Adjustable difficulties and co-op obviously help, but casual and/or lapsed Mega Man fans might not appreciate the creators’ ardent dedication to making Mega Man 2.5D as tough as the games it’s recalling.
Then again, even if you aren’t interested in putting the hours and hours necessary to master Mega Man 2.5D, the game is a free download, so there’s no harm in giving it a try. It’s lovingly polished, created by a team that obviously knows their source material incredibly well. Mega Man fans lamenting Capcom’s recent drought of new games featuring the Blue Bomber have something extremely impressive to occupy the robot-shaped hole in their hearts.
- “5D” perspective is played well for fun visual cues and gameplay tweaks
- Cooperative mode lets you assist (and troll) a friend
- Competitive multiplayer feels fresh
- Feels just like a classic Mega Man game
- May be too hard for casual players
- Setting up a gamepad is more complicated than with most PC games
Editor’s Note: Mega Man 2.5D is an unofficial fan-made project made without permission from the series’ publisher. Like many similar projects, Capcom may pressure the team to remove the game at any time.
We’ve chosen to report on it for the same reason we would choose to write about any product; because it’s interesting. Our goal, as a site, is to highlight cool and exciting projects, regardless of their origin.
At the same time, we recognize the fact that Capcom may decide to protect their intellectual property rights. Digital Trends does not endorse the illegal use of copyrighted material.
Added a paragraph in an attempt to explain the ethereal nature of NES nostalgia. But if that doesn’t work we can just try a different lede approach.