Why Mega Man 2 is one of the greatest games ever made

When making a list like GamesRadar’s best games ever, 8-bit era games were often trumped by their more-refined 16-bit era follow-up. But there are a handful of games that, despite their modest appearance, remain some of the most satisfying expressions of a genre more than 20 years later. Mega Man 2 is just such a game.

The core principles of the Mega Man series were established in the first game. In it, you controlled a diminutive blue robot boy tasked with saving the world from a mechanical invasion. Starting with a modest laser cannon called the Mega Buster, you'd navigate treacherous stages, reach the level's themed boss, and face it in a battle to the death. But it was Mega Man 2 that polished those concepts to the level they’re famous for.

The original Mega Man was fairly taxing, and despite MM2 having a similar difficulty, the tightened controls and the stage layout made it clear completing the game was within your grasp with enough commitment. The jumping and shooting strike a balance that’s easy to grasp but takes real precision to master. Exploring stages takes skill; if you aren’t careful you’ll be dead by the halfway point, while a master of the game can make a speed run a thing of beauty.

And the order that you explored those stages was a huge part of the challenge. MM2’s non-linear game design expanded the stage count from six to eight, expanding the possibilities in a way that was revelatory in 1989. You could take on any of the game’s stages in any order you wanted, and certain enemies had weaknesses to the abilities you picked up from defeated bosses. As you expanded your arsenal of weapons, you began to note the surprising amount of freedom the devs expertly built into this NES title.

The graphics illicit a similar reaction of disbelief in how much artistry could be squeezed out of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Each level and enemy were impressively distinct, and little touches of brilliance in 8-bit art design dot every stage. Very few games would put as much care in creating great minibosses like
Mecha Dragon and Guts-Dozer on top of the already unique Robot Masters.