Also available on Wii U via Virtual Console and Game Boy Advance
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 08/02/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Mega Man and Bass, while usually thought of as a GBA game in the West, started life as a Japan-only Super Famicom game despite coming out after the release of Mega Man 8 on PlayStation and Sega Saturn. According to NintendoLife, series creator Keiji Inafune thought that he owed Japan’s kids who hadn’t upgraded to a 32-bit system yet one more game, and thus Mega Man and Bass was born. I’ve got a rather complicated view of this game. My Racketboy friends all told me how much this game sucked, and part of me wholeheartedly agrees with them, but I also feel like the game deserves a little more nuanced an assessment than that.
Mega Man and Bass takes place between Mega Man 8 and Mega Man 9 and serves as a sort of “Mega Man 8.5.” It’s technically a spin-off, but it’s also directly referenced in either 9 or 10 (I forget which), so it’s also kind of a main series game. Regardless, this is a game that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as far as being a good game goes. You get to choose to play as either Mega Man or Bass, and in a lot of ways, I feel like this is the game’s difficulty setting. The story is pretty much the same with both, but they feel and play radically differently. If you choose Bass, that’s the game’s Hard setting; if you choose Mega Man, that’s the game’s Dark Souls setting. There is no Easy or even Normal setting here, and that all comes down to bad level design. I’m absolutely not saying that the game is badly designed because it’s hard; I’m saying that the game is hard because it’s badly designed. Bass gets a weaker blaster but can fire rapidly (which I find to be much more useful in general), and while he can’t do Mega Man’s slide dash, he can double jump. A LOT of the game’s levels were clearly built around this double jump because they require absolute pixel-perfect precision and timing to make jumps with Mega Man. Even with Bass, it’s still hard. I almost tore my hair out on Tengu Man’s stage, and I had access to Bass’s double jump; I can’t imagine trying to get through that as Mega Man.
The game is also just downright unfair in part. There are several areas where I legitimately see no way to get through without taking damage. Boss patterns can be erratic and unpredictable. The game loves to put instant-death spikes behind pillars or garbage piles so you don’t see them until you hit them or to hide them in areas where your only source of light is a small circle thus making them literally impossible to see until you’re falling onto them. Bosses will spend ten-second invulnerable and then give you a one-second window to hit a specific spot to do damage. Checkpoints are few and far between, too, and there are a handful of obstacles in stages that EASILY lead to instant death but are a nightmare to figure out how to get past.
There is, however, something that complicates my writing this game off as garbage – I LOVE playing as Bass. The rapid-fire blaster, the double jump, his general character design – I love all of it. Bass is a BLAST to play as. The game in which you get to play as him just happens to be a sadistic exercise in bullshit made by people who have no purpose in life other than to revel in your misery and pain. In the part of stages that aren’t designed to simulate the fifth circle of Hell, I had a ton of fun. With the first couple boss fights before someone accidentally locked the difficulty at Nightmare, I really enjoyed it. The core gameplay is REALLY solid here. The level and boss design is just such complete and utter BS that it ruins it.
I have a hard time calling this a truly “bad game.” It’s certainly an unfair game. It’s certainly an unenjoyable game for the most part. It’s certainly a poorly designed game from a level perspective. The actual control, though, is really solid, and the fact that Mega Man and Bass have such drastically different feels to them tells me that the technical side of development here was really competent. It’s a shame that god-awful level design ruined what could have been an amazing Super Nintendo game because the end result has too much bullshit for the good to get a chance to shine. Still, though, if you have the Herculean patience to memorize all of the relentless and unreasonable crap in the game, there’s a fun experience buried deep, deep, DEEP beneath the malice.