Mega Man 11 came out recently and showed that Capcom not only remembers the series exists, but can still put out an excellent episode of the blue metal hero even after all these years. For the most part, it’s like seeing a classic car that’s been completely restored driving down the street. Unfortunately, one of the doors is a little rusty, so it drags the hype meter from an 11 to about an 8. That rusty door in this increasingly complicated analogy is the music. Let’s not play coy: This soundtrack needs work. It’s excellently composed, but filtered through some focus group somewhere to make sure it’s as bland and inoffensive as possible. I’m probably being a little too harsh, like docking the score of a soup a few points because the chef insists on serving it in a highlighter yellow bowl. But that still won’t stop me from making an example out of you in front of the class, as soon as my eyes stop burning.
Mega Man has never been shy about being difficult. If you invite a Mega Man over for dinner, it will try to toss lug nuts into your shoes and kick you in the teeth. It’s all about dodging the lug nuts and spiked cleats in a way that lets you feel accomplished. Enemies in a Mega Man game are often difficult to dodge, pits often require pixel perfect jumps, and bosses often require a sacrificial life just to read how they are going to attack you. Amidst all of this, the last thing I want to hear is music that’s attempting to relax me, like I’m doing a fight to the death in while watching Mr. Rogers. I want the music to match my anger to some degree. It doesn’t have to necessarily be angry music, but something that’s fast and has a beat. After I die running out of Rush Jet fuel over a pit, I want to restart the stage bobbing my head to the music, gripping the controller so hard that I leave little finger indents on the back.
Mega Man 11 kind of numbs that feeling of anger, as I listen indifferent sounding instruments sloshing through the motions. It’s like we walked in on the fourth loop of Pomp And Circumstance being played by literally any high school band in the country. I ended up switching over to the DLC Instrumental soundtrack, which felt more like a jazzy lounge than “I smashed the shoot button so hard that my my neighbors felt it” music. But I at least admired that all the instruments were the right volume, and the soundtrack went for it when it felt it needed to. The base game OST definitely threatened to go all out on certain songs. Fuse Man is a great example of that. It hits in just the right places, but never hits hard enough to where I feel the cleats connect to my teeth. The entire soundtrack needs accents, not this sort of bleeding synth effect that makes the notes sound like they’re being poured over the score. By far, the best song in the game is the Instrumental version of Tundra Man, which was the only one I ever bobbed my head to when restarting his stage. It’s exactly what I am talking about, and the whole soundtrack needed to be like this. In the normal soundtrack, I’ll say Fuse Man is the best, again because it threatens to be hardcore, and doesn’t blend all the instruments into one neutral noise. The entire base OST sets all of the instruments to autopilot, but at least Fuse Man is composed with the hard-hitting notes it doesn’t have.
Not to beat a horse so dead that it was turned into the glue holding together Frank Sinatra record sleeves, but I think Mega Man 2 is the best example of a Mega Man OST done right. It’s not just because it’s 8-bit and automatically getting points in hipster Gryffindor, but because every one of its tracks gets the feel of playing a Mega Man stage. The songs are extremely distinct from one and other, but maintain that important rhythm and intensity. The songs engross you into the challenge, to the point where I find myself jumping and shooting to the rhythm. It’s all a part of getting me to focus on the stage and its hazards, with tunes that feel like difficult stunts I am pulling off has weight to it. Most Mega Man titles get that pretty well, and while I have been harping on Mega Man 11 for most of this piece, Mega Man 5 is probably the worst offender. This soundtrack feels as weightless as Gravity Man. I still love it as music (Wave Man’s Stage will never not be on my playlist), but it feels more like it’s trying to be a fun little birthday clown, here to have fun with you. I don’t play Mega Man to have fun with the game; I play Mega Man because I have a beef with the game. I want to overcome a challenge and feel satisfied for doing it. It’s a fencing match of besting your opponent rather than a friendly walk in the park. It’s also not the thinly spread strawberry jam that Mega Man 11 is. 5 and 11 aren’t deal breakers because of these song choices, but Mega Man 2 shows just how much more the game could pop if it had a matching soundtrack. Every Mega Man has its own soundtrack quirks, and I appreciate the styles of every entry. But if I had to choose, I’d much rather have a heart pumping rock opera than whatever Mega Man 11 was trying to do.
Do you like Mega Man 11’s music more than I did? What about your opinion on 5 and 2? Any other Classic Mega Man soundtrack outdo any of these? Let us know what you lovely people think in the comments and the forum!
HautDeForme is a collector, a self proclaimed historian, and most of all, a player of video games. When he’s not writing about that, you can find him writing music for no particular reason and advocating for the localization of Mother 3, whether people listen or not.