GoNintendo Thought: Does Mega Man's perceived difficulty keep it from reaching a wider audience?

Difficult to its detriment?

Day two of our week of Mega Man features! I'm really hoping this one brings out some discussion from both Mega Man fans and those who haven't checked the franchise out. I'd love to know your thoughts!


Difficulty in video games is always such an interesting topic to me. There are a small handful of games that the gaming public at large consider difficult, and then a huge amount of titles that people say are too easy/hard/somewhere inbetween. I'll never cease to be amazed by how people can have such wildly varying impressions of challenge in a game. Even more interesting, no one can give a "wrong" answer on the topic. It's all about the perception of difficulty, and the struggles an individual had when progressing through a game.

As we moved on from the NES era, I think it's safe to say that games got easier...or at least more welcoming. Back in the day, NES games were challenging in a way that some felt was unfair. The difficulty was cranked up to 11 in order to make sure the player got their money's worth out of an experience. You had to spend countless hours perfecting your skills in order to have any chance of progressing in the late stages of a game, and beating the final boss was a momentous occasion. There were very, VERY few games that offered anything that would ease newcomers or lesser-skilled players into the experience.

When people are asked about the most difficult games and franchises of the NES era, there are names you can depend on hearing. Ninja Gaiden is always going to be pegged as a real challenge, which I find to be a more than fair assessment. Battletoads is thrown in there, and once again, that's definitely a fitting label. Those same people will often name the Mega Man franchise alongside the aforementioned franchises, and that perception seems to have stuck around to this very day.

In my honest opinion, I don't find Mega Man games to be ridiculously difficult. Sure, they pose a challenge in some stages and certain robot masters can be tough to tackle, but I don't think there's anything crazy in them. That's just my opinion, though. I have countless friends and family members who instantly name Mega Man when coming up with hard games, which leads me to believe that the general gaming population does find the Blue Bomber's adventures to be quite a task to take on. It's this perception that might explain something else going on with the Mega Man series.

There's no doubt that Mega Man is one of the most iconic characters and franchises in gaming. The character is known by gamers the world over, and is instantly recognizable. There's also been multiple Mega Man cartoons, toys, figurines, and so much more. It's safe to say the Blue Bomber's quite bankable outside of the world of video games. That's what makes the next fact so surprising to me. Out of the entire history of all Mega Man games, including spin-offs, just six of them have over a million units sold.

When I found out how few Mega Man games broke a million units sold, I was honestly shocked. I thought for sure the Mega Man series sold better! Considering how many installments there are and how widely know the character is, it seemed a sure thing that numerous entries were multi-million sellers. Even crazier, it doesn't appear that a single Mega Man title has managed to move over 2 million units by itself. Mega Man 2 is clocked in at 1.51 million sold, making it the best-selling standalone Mega Man game. That's pretty damn crazy, isn't it?!

How could a character have become so well known, yet not managed to rack up a few more units sold? I guess it really does have to do with the amount of Mega Man games in existence. According to Wikipedia, when you count all Mega Man mainline games, spin-offs and more, there are over 130 Mega Man games out there. When a character gets that many appearances, it's hard for people not to notice. You're constantly seeing the character pop up, and his ever-present nature spreads awareness without people even realizing.

The other factor could very well be the perceived difficulty of Mega Man. Plenty of people believe Mega Man games to be some of the hardest out there, and they've held onto that opinion for years and years. That idea of Mega Man games being incredibly difficult has been passed down throughout generations, and it's certainly still believed by many today. There are no doubt some players who'll never touch a Mega Man game simply because they've hard about how challenging the games are, whether that's a fair assessment or not.

Is there anything Capcom can do for the Mega Man franchise to help it escape those chains? I honestly don't know what it would take, but I think it would have to be a multi-year effort. This long-held belief isn't going to be one that disappears overnight, and it would have to take some radical thinking to change minds. A heavy focus on advertising to showcase new features included to make the games easier. Something to show people that they can handle Mega Man games, all without losing the hardcore Blue Bomber fans who don't want to see things dumbed down.

At least we know that Mega Man is an important franchise for Capcom. They continue to support the character to this day with new titles and compilations, and those seem to fare well. As a matter of fact, Mega Man 11 is one of the six Mega Man titles that has managed to move a million units. Perhaps we're just now getting far enough removed from Mega Man's inception that a new round of gamers are checking out the franchise for the first time, and they known nothing of the series' fabled difficulty.

I have no issues with Capcom implementing features that would make for an easier Mega Man experience for those who want it. I just don't want them to make the easy approach the only option, which I'm sure they never would. They know what makes the Blue Bomber work, and work hard to make sure they keep those fans happy, and give them what they expect from the franchise. With all that said, hopefully something is in the works to bring Mega Man to a new audience that could potentially be scared of its difficulty. I'd love for the series' sales to match the notoriety of the character.

Categories: Consoles, Portables, Feature
Tags: capcom, mega-man


I think it's just that NES games that have that association, and I think the association is just. I consider myself quite good at video games, but there are definitely plenty of challenging stages and bosses in those first few Mega Man games. And I think that association is clear when you look at 9 and 10 and the boast was not just a return to the aesthetics, but also to difficulty.

But I don't think I hear any people make that association for other MegaMan games (although people recently have been reminded about the Zero and ZX games and their difficulty). Like the X games aren't a walk in the park, but they're pretty forgiving, and you can get power-ups to help make things a little easier. The Legends games were easy.

The franchise can't be doing that poorly if Mega Man 11 did so well. Maybe the lower sales is an oversaturation issue. We all know the moment Capcom thinks it has found a winning formula with some form of Mega Man they pump them out annually until that well runs dry.

I think the only thing that, in this age, make Mega Man get millions of units sold is a winning take in 3D. I don't know what that looks like, or even if there are robot masters, but a successful transition to 3D that's not like Legends (even though I love that game) may be the only thing that would create a real blockbuster for Mega Man. It's not going to be another classic Mega Man: people already have ~11 of those they can play. It's not another X game, there are 8 of those. It's not going to be another ____ because there are ____ of those. They would need to come up with a AAA quality 3D execution. I just don't think anyone over there knows what that would look like.

I've played all 11 of the OG series and only X1 but I think the difference in the two series you touched on here: X handles difficulty with powerups.

With the original series, you either get it or you don't for the most part. Some of the later games add in SOME unlockables and power-ups (that aren't powers). The X series is brutally difficult unless you find said power-ups. And I think that games moved more into that direction.

There's nothing wrong with either but I like the challenge of the original series. Of a level that is tightly designed to the few things that I can do. It's a lot easier to judge what's well made and what isn't. What I didn't like about X1 was that I felt like some of it was insurmountable without specific power-ups and it turned into a game of me returning to stages to try to find specific things. I like that in Metroidvania games, but for Mega Man? Not so much.

Mega Man is one of Capcom's major IPs out there selling like 30 million..it be stupid for Capcom to let Mega Man dormant at this point.

Tue Mar 17 20 09:10am
(Updated 1 time)

The difficulty in the core Mega Man games (once you get to the Z series the difficulty is more about hidden systems) is drastically “flattened” by focus and time spent. Pattern and twitch based difficulty really gets overcome by 30 minutes of uninterrupted retries. There is simply a shrinking population of gamers/people that find that sort of meditation engaging.

Each component of a game like this needs to be stellar as well. Its the idea of a recipe with very few ingredients; the fewer the ingredients the higher the quality of each part needs to be. With a “simple” NES style experience you have maybe a 30 second loop of music, possible some parallex scrolling, a few enemies, then boom the boss. You only have a handful of visual and audio things going on so each one has to be super engaging.

Music and visual flair that is still fun to experience after the 6th repeat attempt. No needless multitasking while playing. If the dev puts in the first part and the gamer puts in the second, that is how you get a popular action NES style difficult game (mega man or otherwise)

As far as difficulty goes, I'm kind of ashamed to say the only "traditional" (i.e. 2D sidescrolling run n' gun) Mega Man games I've legit beaten from start to finish are 10, 11, X1-5, X8 (really, you'd figure those games would be harder than the classics), the Zero series, and ZX. The only reason I beat 10, 11, and the Zero series is because they had easy modes. Mega Man games can definitely be difficult.

I'm sure I COULD beat the others if I really focused on it, but for some reason, I never really have.

Tue Mar 17 20 11:34am
Rating: 1

I think difficulty does hold people back from playing Mega Man games but at the same time, you'll see games that are sold on solely being hard (or should I say "Soul-ly" haha) get championed forever. There must be a way to market difficulty that has been lost on Mega Man.

The way I see it, difficulty being high in the NES era were due to two reasons: 1) the lack of memory space back then meant games had to be short, and a straightforward way of making the game feel longer is to make it difficult, and 2) during then, video games were still prominently an arcade thing, an environment in which high difficulty was necessary for players to keep inserting coins.

Neither of these are necessary anymore. Games are easier, for the most part, because those reasons are no longer relevant, and the budget has gone way up requiring development teams to cast a wider net. The latter is the likely reason why some smaller studios can survive on very hard games.

I did not grow up on Mega Man. Instead, I grew up mainly on Sonic, a series that has been considered easier than its platforming brethren even during the 16-bit days. I consider the Mega Man games as difficult, though honestly, as I didn't play any main series Mega Man games until Anniversary Collection in the 6th generation, I felt much of the difficulty came in how Mega Man can only shoot horizontally. Turned out I'm very, VERY bad at shooting things that need a jump. For instance, in Mega Man 9, I had an extremely hard time with Hornet Man, which requires you to quickly and accurately shoot down things in midair, whereas I could finish Tornado Man after a few tries, once I learned how to fight him without shooting above ground level.

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You could make the same post about a lot of gaming franchises from the 80s. Contra. Castlevania. Ghost and Goblins. Ninja Gaiden. All those sidescrolling games where you run through digital obstacle courses.

2D games are difficult in different ways from something like the The Gaming Awards Game of the Year Award-Winning Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This makes them harder to market in general when they don't have the juice of someone like Mario or Sonic or Bubsy.


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