Fan games and ROM hacks are a mixed bag. Most of them have good intentions. The intentions presumably being to share one’s love of a video game franchise by making your own version to share. I’ve explored a bunch of these games over the years and found a lot of fun along with a whole bunch of stupid junk.
The problem, as I see it, is that they’re often made for the hardest of hard-core fans who know all the advanced mechanics and glitches in the game. The games are generally beyond difficult for casual fans. This is generally a bigger problem in the ROM hacking community. “Oh, hey! Someone made a new version of Link to the Past. The community around the game seems to love it. Sweet!” And then you load it up and find it completely unplayable because you are a NOOB and don’t understand how to glitch the game so you can walk through walls or some nonsense. It’s not a great way to spread to love, y’know? It keeps the love locked away behind impenetrable lore and mastery of ticky-tack skills. You’d think as a wizard that would be totally what I’d be into, but no, that is no fun. I play games for fun.
Mega Man 2.5D is a new fan game that’s been in development for the better part of decade. It mostly avoids the ROM hack-y pitfalls of many fan games. I think it’s fun. It is a game I can play for fun. You should also play it for fun.
First things first, understand that Mega Man is my JAM. The first game I bought with my own money was Mega Man 2. I didn’t even own a NES. I played that at my friends house for a whole weekend after I bought it. I didn’t leave. His mom was pissed. I played the heck out of the NES & Gameboy versions of Mega Man. I can play Snake Man’s theme on the oboe. Basically, I’m all about a fan game for Mega Man.
Mega Man is a great old school platformer with slick graphics, awesome music, and more robots than you can shake a robo-stick at. Some of the robots are squids. Y’know, I’m not going to waste anymore time explaining Mega Man to you. If you’re reading this you probably get it. If not, go play Mega Man 3. I’ll wait.
Yeah, those games are hard. You die a lot, right? That’s really the thing to keep in mind when enjoying Mega Man 2.5D. You’ll die a lot. Mostly ’cause spikes. It’s not the most modern of gaming conventions, but it is what it is. Mega Man 2.5D takes eight of the robot masters from the 8-bit era games (including an 8-bit version Time Man from ‘Mega Man – Powered Up’ which is pretty cool). You go through the eight thematic levels and defeat the robot master and gain their weapons as you do in Mega Man.
Let’s break 2.5D down a bit.
Graphics: The primary gimmick in 2.5D is that it’s presented in… 2.5D! Which just means that the 8-bit blocks look more three dimensional and the perspective shifts from time to time. Basically, it’s just a really solid visual upgrade of NES era graphics. I dig it. It’s a nice homage to the old school by using new school graphics, and I’d like to see more of this style done when creating old school pixely platformers.
Music: Remixes of the classic Mega Man music? Yes, please. Mega Man always had the finest of chiptunes, and the remixes in 2.5D are well done. Tornado Man’s theme is the best. There’s an option to use the original 8-bit mixes if you want to change it up.
Gameplay: For the most part it controls like a Mega Man game. You can run, jump, shoot, and slide. The creators clearly did their homework and 2.5D always felt true to the original physics. I only have two minor complaints/constructive criticisms:
- Some of the platforming challenges in the game are ROM Hack-y nonsense. Every level has maybe one or two jumps where the tolerances are just way too tight for my tastes. I don’t mind a good challenge, but I also want to feel that the game is fair (final jump in Tornado Man’s stage I’m looking at you.) This is somewhat mitigated by a difficulty setting. I played through on “Normal” and many of the problems are not as big on “Easy.” You could choose “Hard” if you wanted a true ROM Hack experience. But, this ties into my next criticism.
- No Rush. You don’t get access to the Rush Jet or Rush Coil until way too late. Mega Man has always had level design with unforgiving jumps. These have been alleviated by access to items that let you skip over difficult pits or fly around obstacles. I’ve always liked that as a game design choice. You can choose to go through obstacles the hard way, but if they are too frustrating (Guts Man, right?) you have a way to avoid them. 2.5D takes this option away from you which I feel inflates the difficulty into the Ninja Gaiden Frustration Zone (NGFZ). Game Developers who work within the NGFZ are consigned to an afterlife where birds are forever pushing them off pillars.
Extras: One of the best parts of 2.5D is it comes with a stack of extras. You can unlock extra playable characters (Dr. Light!). There’s a co-op mode which I haven’t had a chance to try. There’s also a battle arena which I played around with a bit. There’s a fair amount to explore beyond the basic game.
I heartily recommend this game to fans of Mega Man or old school platformer fans in general. It looks like the developers have plans to add some more content in future updates, so keep an eye out for those.