Megaman: Day in the Limelight — ROM Hacks Done Right
What makes a good ROM hack? The answer is probably the same as the answer to “what makes a good video game sequel?” Remove the things that hold it back, add and refine the good stuff to make it better. Simple to conceive but definitely difficult in practice. Sequels almost always make more money than daring new attempts but they also have the opportunity to fix what was broken in previous entries.
Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 are generally considered to be the best of the entire franchise, but at some arguable point Mega Man jumped the shark. We get flops like Mega Man 5 and 6, Mega Man X5 through 8, decent games like the Mega Man Zero quartet, 3D collectathons like Mega Man Legends (RIP MML3), and countless other sequels, prequels, spinoffs, spinoffs of spinoffs, side stories, remakes. I think I’ve even been in a few Mega Man games; they are omnipresent and will continue until the series is no longer profitable.
Mega Man is a franchise filled with excellent games, terrible ones, and everything inbetween. When you have 100+ games made across decades by completely different teams, the quality is going to vary significantly regardless of what name is on the box. 2008’s highly imaginative Mega Man 9 proved that this decaying franchise still has some life in it, but Mega Man 10 was strictly formulaic, and let’s not get into the mess that was Street Fighter X Tekken or the universally negative reaction to Dante’s new look in the Devil May Cry reboot.
I reviewed Street Fighter X Mega Man a couple of weeks ago and expressed my dismay at what a bungle it was; how much potential was wasted. I have more faith in fan games than in Capcom themselves by this point, so Capcom ascending a fan game to an official one like a rich old man to an orphan in a Charles Dickens novel but having the results be mediocre at best turned me away from both of them. While Capcom is busy spending years trying to get their act together, the fans are making better games on their own.
Megaman: Day in the Limelight (whether or not you put a space between Mega and Man is apparently up to personal preference; correct me if I’m wrong) is a fan made game by a group called Fusion Fangaming. It’s not technically a ROM hack, as it has some interesting new features, but it has all the elements of one. It is a synthesis of the first two Mega Man games wherein you play as the six bosses from Mega Man and run through remixed (and longer) versions of stages from Mega Man 2. Each role is predetermined by the level designers and you must use whatever tools you have available in order to progress through the levels, which is a big departure from the regular Mega Man versatility.
One thing that is immediately apparent is how differently each robot master controls. For example, Guts Man literally can’t walk and Cut Man’s weapon moves in a slow awkward arc and can only have one shot out at a time. These limitations are irritating at times but the levels are clearly designed around them. Ice Man’s projectiles make for a good wall to confound enemies. Bomb Man’s weapon moves similarly to Cut Man’s but has much better damage and attack radius. Elec Man’s only shoots one beam directly forward and isn’t half as strong as in Mega Man, but it has its uses, as do everyone’s.
The robot masters can also use their weapons to trigger mechanisms within stages. Operating machinery, freezing flows of lava to use as sidewalks, cutting ropes, etcetera. This adds a little variety to already entertaining platforming levels, which are also quite a bit longer than their Mega Man 2 counterparts. You’re not just killing and walking forward because there are some rudimentary puzzles to solve along the way. Not to mention all the new traps and enemies; this is a powerful and robust ROM hack with plenty of new content. If you’re sick of the same old monkey cheese humor hacks or unfun Kaizo Mario games, try this one for a change.
There are definitely times while playing Megaman: Day in the Limelight that I wished I was controlling the blue bomber, but the deliberate weaknesses of the robot masters are akin to the NES version of Bionic Commando; every screen is tailored to challenge the player’s ability to use the few tools they have at hand to complete these challenges. Cut Man’s weapon sucks? Find out a way to use it better, like throwing it and running away so it stays on the screen longer. Elec Man can’t shoot upwards? Kill an enemy so sparks fly off it and strike the enemy you can’t otherwise reach. You have to be smart to get around your weaknesses, and for the most part you can’t just rush through the levels. I appreciate a platformer that rewards that kind of problem-solving.
The Guts Dozer level is one of the best levels I’ve ever seen in any game. Take all of Guts Man’s strengths and limitations then put him on an auto-scrolling bulldozer with a cannon for offense and a retractable wall for defense. What incredible fun. Capcom, are you paying attention? This is the game you should be looking to for inspiration for your Mega Man games, not that Street Fighter one.
Save points are frequent and there’s an option for infinite lives if you’re a baby. Still, some of the levels are quite challenging and require some memorization to survive. Aside from both of Guts Man’s fantastic stages there are also difficult passages in some of the other levels. There are some tricky (but never frustrating) boss fights based on those from Mega Man 2 but with enough new twists to keep you interested.
Megaman: Day in the Limelight is remarkably bug-free, though I had some difficulty grabbing ladders whenever I wanted to, resulting in a few pointless plunges into the abyss. Maybe it had something to do with the necessary new sprites to show the characters climbing, I dunno. It was also very easy to accidentally exit a level from the pause menu, but that’s more due to my clumsiness than any inherent flaw. It’s also regrettably missing Bubble Man and Flash Man stages, but that’s a side effect of there only being 6 robot masters in the first Mega Man.
Megaman: Day in the Limelight is an excellent game all around. A brilliant concept, brilliant level design, and a reasonable challenge make for a hugely entertaining (and free) experience. If I didn’t know better, I might have thought that the Capcom of the early 1990s had made it. As it stands, it’s good that Capcom is looking to their fans for good ideas to use themselves, but if they had looked at this fan game they probably would have thrown up their hands in frustration at their own inadequacies and just pretended it didn’t exist. But it does, and it’s available for all. Play this game.
And I recommend as always that you use JoyToKey for your PC gaming controller needs. It has served me well in many a platformer and emulator, and wrapping my hands around a controller instead of contorting them into claws has probably delayed my inevitable carpal tunnel syndrome by a few years.