When I was much younger, Friday and Saturday nights meant one thing, and that was sleepovers at one of my two best friends houses. If it was at John’s house it meant epic G.I. Joe battles and scary movies; if it was at Mark’s house it meant army crawls through the woods with our plastic assault rifles or videogame marathons. These marathons might have changed as the years went by and the systems evolved, but back when they began it was all about one game and one game only: Mega Man II.
I don’t really have any memories of the original Mega Man. I’m sure I must’ve played it somewhere along the line (I own Mega Man Powered Up for the PSP so I know I’ve played it now) but it never left much of an impression on me like the sequel did and I don’t think I’m alone on this either. Mega Man II, a game originally released in 1989, is available still on all sorts of formats, from a Wii Virtual Console download to an iPhone app, and has never really disappeared from gamer’s consciousness. Mega Man has been a playable character in games like Marvel Vs. Capcom (noticeably missing from Marvel vs. Capcom 3) and has made his way onto just about every console in one form or another including the latest sequel to the series (Mega Man 10) which is currently available on all three of the seventh generation consoles (downloadable on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Wii Virtual Console). But it’s Mega Man II that not only stood the test of time but stands out the most as the game that truly captivated my childhood. My friend Mark and I would spend hours upon hours trying to defeat all eight of Dr. Wily’s robot bosses. And defeat them we did, on numerous occasions, but unfortunately we never got any further than that. We could make it to Dr. Wily’s layer on a regular basis, but then we’d fall apart. Maybe it was the stress of playing life or level (for those of you unfamiliar with this concept, it’s when you have multiple people playing a single player game and trade off the controller when a player either dies or completes a level) or maybe just the thrill of being the one to finally fell Wily, but about the time we’d make it to the first stage of Wily’s fortress the fights would break out. These weren’t knock-down drag-out fights but arguments that would generally grow louder and louder until a nearby parental unit would interject, turning off both the television and the game and encouraging us to find a different way to spend our time. For some reason this would happen just about every time Mega Man II was played, but it still stands out in my mind as one of my all-time childhood favorites.
Several years later, Mark and I had both graduated from High School; he had finished up school early and joined the Marines and I moved out of state following a girl from Vermont to Georgia. It’s because of this move that I missed out on the family Christmas celebration and buffet of 2000, an annual staple of the Kehoe household that mixes both family and friends and an event that Mark attended more years than I can remember. I bring it up because my Dad wanted to get us (his two sons that had left the nest) something special that year and purchased us both Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES). Before you jump to conclusions, yes, with release of the Sega Dreamcast we were already up to the sixth generation consoles, but there is something special about a NES, something that just brings you back to those days I previously described, spending hours trying to conquer 8-bit worlds. We were both psyched at the gesture and talked in great lengths over the phone about the games we would have to add to our library. For me (as I’ve previously mentioned) this was my first NES ever. I had a Gameboy, but my only home system until the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was an Atari 2600, and this was a top loader NES at that. I began to buy the games that I loved as a kid (with the help of eBay) and it goes without saying I bought all of the Mario Bros games, the Zelda titles, Contra and Super C, Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade game, Gremlins II, Little Nemo: The Dream Master and a bunch of others, including Mega Man II. I looked forward to spending hours after work playing them all, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be; in early 2001 I moved back to Vermont to join the Air National Guard and my new NES didn’t make the move with me.
Unfortunately, after the loss of my system and the way life moves, Mark and I never had another opportunity to play Mega Man II again. On April 3rd 2003, tragedy struck and while fighting in the Iraq War he was killed in action. This is a subject that is hard for me to talk about and, as I’m finding out, even harder for me to write about. The loss of Mark is something that has affected my life greatly and taught me more than anything that life is short and often happens when we are busy making other plans. I keep him in my memories on a daily basis, but around this time every year I like to take some time to reflect back on all of the good times we shared and just how much his friendship enriched my life. And it was in the spirit of celebrating the great times Mark and I had growing up that I decided to enlist some friends and hold the first annual Mega Man II Marathon (hopefully the first of many) and finally do what he and I set out to do so many times as kids, but never did: finally conquer Mega Man II.
In order to start the day of conquering off right, first we needed to start with a properly balanced breakfast, and that we did, constructing our very first bacon weave a la Epic Meal Time. Now, I will admit it didn’t come out perfect, but it did turn out delicious with just the right amount of brown sugar to make it both sweet and savory. We divided the weave into four pieces, each taking a piece, and then cut the last piece into three equal pieces. I mean, the gameplay was going to be based on sharing so why not the bacon, right? The divided weave was then placed on top of a fried egg with cheese that was placed on top of a bagel; yeah, this was next level egg sandwich maneuvers. The three of us have attempted some previous Epic Meal Time silliness before (like Bacon chocolate beer batter waffles with Jack Daniels Syrup and Candy Sushi) but today was about the game, not the cooking, so we left it with just a bacon weave this time. Then, after some quick clean up it was time to get down to business.
My copy of Mega Man II was on the Wii Virtual Console, a gift from my brother (thanks Ryan) when it was first released. And now it was time to fire up the Wii, sit down and knock this game out of the park. I also grabbed my copy of Mega Man II for Gameboy and my Gameboy Advance so we could pass that back and forth while waiting for our next turn, but that turned out to be more problematic then anything else, so that idea was scrapped. For some reason, even though I’ve dominated the Gameboy version several times it proved to be more difficult than its NES counterpart at this time; maybe it was just trying to take on too much as usual. Anyway, we were off and running and first up were the eight evil robots and their respective levels - we started with Air Man. Why Air Man? Because you can take him down with just your Mega Blaster and I wanted to start out with a level we could easily beat. That, I’m afraid, did not work out too well; this is where I quickly found out that even though both Joe & Covino were excited to play Mega Man II, the one thing they had in common was their lack of Mega Skill. Not that I was any better (I was pretty rusty right off the bat) but within a few turns I was falling back into the old groove and dominating evil robots without prejudice. As much as I’d love to say I single handedly kicked that games butt while the other two looked on with awe, that would be unkind and also untrue. Both had their own strengths and came through in a pinch. Joe, being a pretty hardcore gamer and the youngest of our group, was quite upset that he wasn’t just a natural at the game and couldn’t believe this 8-bit classic was kicking his butt. This, mixed with our unspoken competitiveness, drove him to play even harder, and ultimately made Joe the go-to man when it came to taking down bosses. With what Covino lacked in skill he made up in heart. He kept us laughing even when the game made us want to cry and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have heard the Mega Man II theme with lyrics (I still have it stuck in my head and now so can you) and to be fair, he did knock out at least one of the robot bosses.
And what was my contribution? I navigated through the majority of the levels without taking on any damage and then would pass the remote to Joe so he could smoke the bosses I was struggling with. Together we made an unstoppable force that nothing could reckon with… That is until we made it deeper into Wily’s layer.
As a kid I never made it passed the very first level of Wily’s fortress so I never saw what lay in wait after defeating the Mecha Dragon. I guessed it got harder, but I had no idea what we were really in for. I guess this is where I should mention we were not really paying that close attention to collecting E tanks or making sure we carried them over with our passwords; we were just using a run and gun technique and trying to make it through the game any way we could, which means most of the time we were just dying and continuing without really thinking this might come back to bite us (it did). So, as ecstatic as I was when Joe brought down the Mecha Dragon that stopped me & Mark in our tracks so many times as kids, I had no idea of the fresh hell that awaited us. The Mecha Dragon was nothing compared to the next endurance levels that proved too difficult for any one of us to take on individually and that is where the team concept really shined through. I could usually make it through the levels without issue, but needed Joe’s help to take down bosses like PikpPikp-Kun and the Buebeam Trap (I managed to bring the Guts-dozer down on my own) but all was lost when we met the first incarnation of Dr. Wily. Like I’ve previously mentioned, we were not really paying attention to the E Tank collection and they would’ve come in handy about now. In order to continue on to fight Dr. Wily, you first have to battle all eight robots again; not too hard of a task, but fighting eight robots in a row can take a toll on your life bar. With the E Tanks you can refill your life without dying, therefore standing a better chance of taking down the evil doctor. I mean, after all, the first battle against him is two different battles. So now you’re talking about taking down eight robots and Dr. Wily twice without dying. Actually, you can beat the eight robots and die, and then fight Dr. Wily on a different life, but that method leaves you with only two chances to win the fight and as we found out, not really good odds. Luckily this is where Jaclyn came home and ordered us some Pizzas to recharge our batteries with (the bacon weave egg sandwiches had long ago burned away). And after a pizza break we went back to the game and Joe pulled through again, defeating both Wily’s Ships in a row without the use of an E Tank (told you he had skills). This brought us to the final boss of the game: the Alien Wily. Joe and I traded the remote back and forth trying our best to bring him down, but he just kept destroying us right as we got him down to three bars of life left. The Bubble Lead you get from Bubble Man seems to be the only thing that has any effect on Alien Wily and what sucks about that is you have to get really close to use it. This proved to be more difficult than it sounds (or even looks for those of you checking out YouTube videos). He flies around the screen in a sideways figure eight firing three devastating pellet shots that eat up your life very quickly and heaven help you if you run into him. This final boss was almost the breaking point; we nearly had to walk away a second time, but before we did Joe once again came through delivering the death blow and taking Wily down once and for all.
The three of us set out to do what Mark and I were never able to do, beat Mega Man II, and I’m happy to say that’s what we did. I’m pretty psyched that the day turned out that way because for a little awhile there I wasn’t so sure we were going to have a victory to report and this would’ve been my White Whale blog. But thanks to Joe & Covino, Dr. Wily was defeated and the first annual Mega Man II Marathon was a success. This victory is dedicated to you my friend, we miss you and we’ll never forget. Rest in peace Mark Asher Evnin May 10 1981 – April 3 2003