Made entirely by fans over the course of five years, Mega Man Unlimited feels quite a bit like the originals, with a few twists. Unlimited feels oddly reminiscent of Dark Souls in many ways. Almost every level is out to destroy you, and sometimes you’ll be infuriated by it. Some levels ask you to try and try again, only delivering more deaths and more frustration at every turn. In some respects, Unlimited feels a tad too hard if you aren’t already prepared to die. But once you’re on its wavelength? Get ready for a an incredible ride through one of the best games of the year.
I love platformers. Sometimes, I love hard platformers. On one hand, the stages sometimes feel a tad too long, and become a series of instant death traps. On the other, the difficulty is a motivator to jump, slide, and blast through the levels even harder.
The level design is well varied and each is excellently themed to its boss. Trinitro Man stands out above the rest, with every facet of the level involving nitrogen explosions, with several containers of bubbling nitrogen ever-present through each screen’s background. Enemies burst into explosions when shot, and explosives drip from the ceilings as you bounce from one dangerous nitrogen-filled platform to another. Many stages in the game share this level of creativity, resulting in a great theme around some exciting, brand new enemy designs and neat spins on traditional platforming. In Glue Man’s stage, sticky enemies and floors provide yet another clever tie in.
Trinitro Man’s stage highlights the best parts of Mega Man Unlimited, and then by the end of the stage, the worst parts. The level features some fantastic enemy design, and a few clever puzzles. After what felt like a clear climax happened, the stage continued for several more screens with the same repeating enemy. This stage in particular feels in need of a small bit of trimming, and the checkpoints shine a spotlight on the length of some of the levels. Some stages checkpoint too early, leaving you with more than half the stage left to finish without dying, and some levels are much longer than any traditional Mega Man stage. Others checkpoint relatively fairly around a midpoint, but too many instant death traps several screens after will have you redoing sections again, and again.
“But Mega Man is supposed to be hard, I love hard games, I want to replay the same section fifty times.” Fine. But some of the difficulty doesn’t feel fair. Some of it can be alleviated by moving slowly, and even then slow movement doesn’t get rid of two dozen spikes on every wall around you. However, one level refuses to let you move slowly, and forces you to speed through a level without stopping. As you’re racing through, you have to attempt to memorize every screen so maybe you’ll do better the next time, because another death is all but certain. It’s going to kill you multiple times on every screen, and you’re going to have to take it. Even if you weren’t having trouble anywhere else, this level is almost guaranteed to be a screeching halt on your progress. It’s one the most frustrating levels from any Mega Man game, ever. But after I finished it? I felt like I had triumphed over a beast. It was so… impossibly rewarding. I chuckled out loud with a huge grin on my face. I had won. I beat it even though it didn’t want me to. I almost wanted to forgive it for being as hard as it was. Almost.
One section has a particularly noteworthy break in the difficulty. In the original Mega Man series, once you get to Dr. Wily’s castle you’re there until you either turn the game off or take down the doctor. Here, you’re allowed to save and shop between each stage of the castle, essentially tearing down my least favorite part of the old games and making it feel accessible. I never looked forward to taking on the Wily stages as much as I did in Unlimited, because I never felt like the game was going to waste my time if I had a reason to shut it down.
Here’s a word of advice, if you find yourself having too much trouble, try taking down Comet Woman. Her level is one of the most balanced and interesting levels of the bunch, and Comet Woman herself isn’t too hard to take down with several Mega Buster shots. To top it off, her weapon essentially acts as an easy mode activator for some of the game’s trickier sections. It’s an ability that allows you to fly forward for about a second, and will let you bypass tough spots in almost every level.
Despite having some issues with the difficulty early on, I really, really, enjoy the vast majority of the game. Once you pass a certain point, everything clicks and you’re fully armed and ready to take on whatever challenge it has in store. I love that this game exists, and I’m so happy that this kind of thing is still done in 2013. The stages are (mostly) very intelligently designed, and it feels as rewarding as ever to take down a boss after making your way through a punishing stage. There’s an incredible talent at play here- anyone who can make a Mega Man fan-game feel like a real-ass Mega Man game deserves some praise. Aside from a few complaints, this could be tossed right into series canon and feel right at home, if a little tougher to get the hang of.
If you’re up to the challenge, you can find the game for free right here, on Phillippe Poulin’s website. Poulin and the rest of the team have made something really special here. I suspect that even if Capcom rounded up the team again for Mega Man 11, it wouldn’t be easy to surpass what this team has done for the Blue Bomber.