In all the press that you’re likely to read for the next, as yet unannounced Mega Man, nowhere will you see the term “reboot“. While that term is a necessary evil used for ailing franchises choosing to anchor themselves on name alone, their infractions and stumbles growing with every second that passes, it is unlikely that Mega Man will ever have to seek out the counsel of that self-correcting moniker. The reason for that carries no large mystery with it: Mega Man is a bolts-simple formula that works perfectly in every iteration that bears his name. Left to right shooting, excruciatingly precise platforming, soft strategy, and bosses named after elements, sea creatures and mundane household items of two syllables – Mega Man will never have to assimilate or conform to popular gaming trends. So you’ll never see him grow a beard, dual-wield guns, turn angst-ridden, or add superfluous quick-time events to his repertoire. His mixture is faultless and time-tested. In fact, Mega Man, when you think about it, is one of the very last of his kind. Limited in pixels, limited in memory, and limited in commands, he’s two buttons and the slightest swap of color palette, but there’s nothing like him anywhere else in gaming. Which brings me to his musical score.
Composers Manami Matsumae and Takashi Tateishi of Mega Man and Mega Man 2 weren’t looking to make exploratory double albums when they cut the master reels for Capcom’s Mega Man pilot episode in 1987. Indeed Mega Man’s first LP feels more like a series of stunted blips. It doesn’t matter though, because for each of the seven levels that make up that inaugural 8-bit obstacle course, you’re treated to what essentially becomes THE biblical text, THE vanguard of all chiptunes of the fast-forwarding future.
It’s the shrieking sound you’re first drawn to in Ice Man’s stage. It’s a prime example of how this composer duo makes something stick permanently inside your memory. Its execution matches each note to every trial and nuance of Mega Man’s onscreen movements. Mega Man’s sliding is made frantic, uncontrollable by the opening’s whirling repetition, but it is the descent into that gelid water and the actual chill of his bones, that shrieking is what counts here. You can see that heart monitor: the high and low, the frenetic jostling cursive of the lifeline; it’s unlikely that you will ever forget that melody, and even with the sound turned off, humming it… you won’t miss a beat.
The theme for Elec-Man, when taken separately from the villain it embodies, away from his costume, and away from his maniacal trappings, makes you begin to wonder about the poster-less pop group that made this sound so effortlessly. That’s what this is: a gorgeous and pure radio-friendly, billboard-charting single with no b-side. Elec Man is also leagues above any of his challengers. This isn’t some by-the-numbers verse-chorus-verse. It rolls off the NES tongue so sweetly saccharine, it is almost bubblegum. You can say what you will about video game scores being inferior to actual radio and popular music, go ahead and keep spinning all of that ridiculous rhetoric, but none of what’s coming through today’s speakers even comes close to the flair and ingenuity of this Ashford and Simpson duo of 8-bit.
Why should I describe what the Mega Man 2 sound is like when I can leave it up to Echo and The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch? He summed it up perfectly in a song title off of the band‘s 1984 record Ocean Rain: Thorn Of Crowns. That’s it! So many heavy crowns, so many victories, so many accolades, and where so many come to pay homage. Mega Man 2’s score hits with the weight of a kingdom’s chair. Where the same king has been made king trillions of times over. His rulings are absolute. Even the immutable laws of buoyancy (as seen in Bubble Man‘s theme) are repealed wholesale. Mega Man 2’s compositions are full-on deity.
The prowess and absolute awareness in Mega Man 2’s score completely confounds. It is not only nimbler and more dexterous than its original counterpart, it is also free of complications when ridding its own structure of the faulty, weathered, and needless bricks that weigh it down. If you’re looking for doldrums, you’ll not find them here. Mega Man 2 bulldozes through a set-list of towering one-liners, meaty guitar solos and epigrammatic hooks without so much as a moment spent re-tuning instruments: this is a focus that never wavers. These composers are readying themselves to be jettisoned heavenward, and are not interested in shrugging off their responsibilities indolently shoe-gazing.
Mega Man 2’s orchestra is THE sophomore effort that not only avoids that dreaded sophomoric slump, it is one that changes fortunes from gold to platinum, breaks rules with no regard for recourse, and places those at its helm in the pages of history. Not a one of these compositions draws breath without the others present. It is that show of strength, that spectacular united front that makes each of these pieces so bulletproof and indelible… much like the blue bomber that they are tasked with moving along.