Note from the Editor: while we don’t typically discuss cost in reviews as we don’t believe the cost of a game has any bearing on the experience of playing it, we sometimes make an exception where compilation releases are concerned. That said, keep in mind that game prices aren’t fixed and that the price we mention in our review may not reflect the actual cost of a product when you decide to purchase it.
With each new generation of hardware pushing us further and further from the days of early console gaming, publishers continue to seize on new opportunities to repackage and re-sell old games. While this trend tends to elicit a fair amount of cynicism from longtime gamers (particularly collectors, among whose ranks I identify), I’ve always found it a little disingenuous to gloss over the many benefits of re-releases. From a business standpoint, the practice of slapping a new label on old goods allows publishers to sell existing games to a new generation of players, boosting the bottom line with what typically amounts to very little effort; from a historical standpoint, more and more games are given opportunities to live on well past their original shelf life, decreasing the chances of their being lost to time due to missing source code, expired publishing rights, etc. It’s a win-win situation; if you don’t want to buy a re-release, don’t.
But a compilation like this summer’s Mega Man Legacy Collection—a $14.99 PC, PS4 or Xbox One download consisting of six bona fide NES classics, the individual merits of which I won’t be discussing in this review—presents an interesting twist to the typical scenario, because it’s neither the first time its component games have been released in compilation format, nor the only way to play these games on current generation hardware. On the Wii U or 3DS Virtual Console, all six games can be purchased individually for $4.99 a piece, and while that’s about twice the cost of Legacy Collection, they’re also available for download right now. You can also find the first four Mega Man games on PSN at the slightly higher cost of $5.99 a piece (presented in their un-localized “Rockman Complete Works” PlayStation releases), but they can be played on PS3, PS Vita, and PSP—all platforms which Capcom has passed on for Legacy Collection. Even the PS2-era Mega Man Anniversary Collection can still be found brand new for the same price as Legacy Collection, though the less said about that the better.
The point is, you don’t need to buy Mega Man Legacy Collection to play Mega Man 1-6. For my part, I tend to play my six Rockman carts (the Japanese releases of the NES games) on my HDTV via a Retron 5; I’ve also got the 3DS Virtual Console releases which are great when I’m traveling. In fact, Mega Man Legacy Collection wouldn’t have made even a blip on my radar except for one tiny detail: developer Digital Eclipse’s dedication to presenting the games as accurately as possible to the way they appeared upon their initial release reaches Criterion Collection levels of obsession. If that excites you, you’re in for a treat.
Rather than taking the typical approach of spitting out a 1080p-upscaled image onto your HDTV for maximum sharpness and wide-gamut RGB color reproduction, Legacy Collection mimics the look of the games as they appeared on typical CRTs of the early 1990s, albeit with the visual clarity of a higher resolution display. This is how these games were meant to be seen, and the results are stunning.
Take a look at the pair of images below, which I’ve sourced directly from a PS4 running Mega Mega Man Legacy Collection (left) and a Retron 5 running an original Rockman 3 cartridge (right.) Note the Retron 5 doesn’t output “scanlines” via its image capture tool (more on scanlines below.)
The first thing you’ll notice is that the image on the left has brighter, seemingly much more limited color palette, causing the whites of Snake Man’s eyes to be lost in the pale complexion of his skin. Compared to the image on the right, this might seem off (especially to modern audiences), but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason the image on the right might seem to be the more “correct” of the two is that modern emulators like FCEUmm (which is the basis of the Retron 5’s NES emulation) are designed to make games look as good as possible on modern displays. The problem is, these emulators don’t factor in the way these games looked on a typical 480i CRT TV, which is how the vast majority of players experienced them at the time of their initial release.
It might be difficult for modern audiences to swallow, but just because a game was programmed with certain colors, that doesn’t mean it was meant to be displayed that way. To use a film analogy, what Digital Eclipse has done with Legacy Collection is the equivalent of color grading: a film may have been shot a certain way, but it will typically have its color adjusted to the director’s preferences before it’s released to audiences. That process can sometimes result in a loss of detail as certain adjustments can obscure details of the image, and that’s okay, because that’s what the director wants. In the case of the two images above, less is actually more.
You’ve probably also noticed a series of thin horizontal lines running through the image on the left: those are the result of an optional visual filter included in Legacy Collection that is designed to mimic the scanlines that appear on CRT displays as each line of vertical image resolution is reproduced horizontally on screen. Scanline filters are an effective way to make older games look closer to their original presentation when viewed on modern displays, and I’d encourage anyone playing Mega Man Legacy Collection to turn them on. For those who also want to simulate the experience of being a poor ‘90s kid whose only TV was a gas-leaking junker, there’s another filter that introduces heavy motion blur and bloom. It’s kind of neat, but ultimately feels more like an in-joke than a useful feature. Of course, if you want your Mega Man looking like it does on an HDTV with none of this “lo-fi” trickery, you can play the games without either of these filters. They’re still the best these games will ever look on an HDTV.
Perhaps just as important as the visual fidelity with which Mega Man Legacy Collection’s games are presented is the way Digital Eclipse has compiled this release. The developer has eschewed the typical NES emulator approach, opting instead to take the source elements of each game—the individual files that, when compiled, form the ROM image housed on each NES cartridge—and feeding them into a new platform-agnostic engine that, like the BDMV format used in Blu-ray video, could theoretically be made to work with any and all platforms with minimal investment. Legacy Collection’s underlying engine has been programmed for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, but there’d no reason it couldn’t be ported to Wii U, PS Vita, or PlayStation 9 (and it’s already slated for 3DS sometime next year.) And this so-called “Eclipse Engine” wasn’t built just for Mega Man: with the cooperation of other publishers, we could see the dawn of a golden age of classics being presented with a visual fidelity we could have never dreamed of when Nintendo released its first Virtual Console games back in 2006. Sure, that’s probably a pipedream (particularly when it comes to games published by Nintendo), but never say never.
In addition to the six games included in Mega Man Legacy Collection, there’s also a decent amount of ancillary material included in the package, including boss rush and challenge modes (the latter of which has you competing an assortment of micro-challenges against a clock, sometimes strung together from sections of multiple games), a soundtrack player (which unfortunately forces you to hit play on each track rather than offering a continuous play option), and a wealth of high resolution art assets and textual information translated from the Japanese Rockman Complete Works PlayStation releases. The enemy descriptions alone are worth the cost of admission as they paint a much more complete picture of the Mega Man universe than the games ever do. It would’ve been great to see some documentary material chronicling the creation of the games by the original developers, or some commentary explaining Legacy Collection’s unique color palette for players looking for some insight into our medium’s history, but there’s more than enough here to keep diehard fans busy.
Should you buy Mega Man Legacy Collection? That depends. If you’ve got the original NES or Famicom cartridges, an 8-bit Nintendo console and a CRT TV kicking around, it’s a safe bet you can skip this collection unless you’re a mega fan who’s been waiting for the extras from the Rockman Complete Works releases to be localized. The Retron 5 is another viable option, if you’ve got the carts but no tube TV. But if you’ve been playing the games any other way, Legacy Collection is a no brainer. The $14.99 Capcom’s asking for this collection goes a heck of a long way: six genuine classics, presented with a level of fidelity that would make any gaming historian or nostalgia freak proud, along with a host of bonus features that you can’t get anywhere else. No, Legacy Collection doesn’t contain every platformer featuring the original Blue Bomber, and I get it, even if I’m disappointed by the omission of Mega Man 9 and 10 (if only because it means they won’t be included in the upcoming 3DS version… seriously, we need portable versions of those games.) But what Digital Eclipse has done to preserve the legacy of Capcom’s most-loved character is nothing short of miraculous. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Mega Man Legacy Collection is based on a retail PS4 download provided to us by Capcom. The game launches on Tuesday, August 25th, 2015. Also, Mega Man 3 is better than Mega Man 2.