Poor Imitations Aren’t Very Flattering

HIGH Finding a weapon power-up that simplified combat a little.

LOW The magnet boss.

WTF This snowblower battle seems like a parody of a bad Mega Man boss.

Trophy’s conceit is simple enough — it’s an ersatz Mega Man, made for and released on the NES in the 2020s.

As a bit of retro nostalgia it’s successful enough, and the various quirks of its inspiration are recreated faithfully. Trophy sports limited colors, basic animation, and brutal, framerate-crippling slowdown if there are more than three enemies onscreen at the same time. The problem, though, is that while the developers were laser-focused on recreating the aesthetic and technical limitations of the original Mega Man, they punted on the constantly-surprising design decisions that made that franchise so beloved.

The premise is familiar enough. A planet of robots is discovered by two scientists. One wants to study them and use them as proof that humans can coexist with AI, and the other wants to enslave them and use them as his personal army. Obviously the second (and, uh… more wily) of the two wins out, so it’s up to the first scientist to use a powerful cyborg to free the mind-controlled population by blowing them up via 2D side-scrolling action.

Trophy offers gameplay tuned to feel as much like early Mega Man as possible. The player has a blaster and the ability to jump, and that’s it — no charge shots, sidekicks, or triangle jumps. The controls are tight enough to make journeying through the levels satisfying, but there’s a repetition to the challenge that sets in relatively quickly. Other than an underwater level allowing for big jumps and slippery floors on the ice level, there’s no challenge unique to each map.

There also aren’t enough unique enemies — I started Trophy by selecting the moving train level, and was puzzled to find it full of top hats, roulette wheels, and tigers. It was baffling at the time, but when I later discovered that there was a carnival level, I realized the sprites were just being reused from the context where they’d made more sense.

The biggest divergence from the Mega Man formula is also Trophy‘s biggest problem — there are no weapons to unlock, and as such, no way to change up the gameplay.

Mega Man has endured not because of its core jumping and shooting gameplay, but because of its central hook — every boss has a power, and the player can steal those powers in order to defeat bosses and overcome level hazards. Figuring out which weapon to use against which enemy is the core of Mega Man‘s appeal, yet Trophy is completely lacking on that front. There are pods to increase the player’s health and a blaster power-up that changes the player’s colors, but that’s it.

This lack of weapon variety has a nasty impact on boss design as well — because there are no tricks or special weapons, the developer simply sends a bunch of giant monsters to fire fusillades of bullets at the player. The only response is to either stand at the edge of the screen and jump while shooting, or stand on a platform that goes up and down while shooting at the boss’s face.

This repetitive, basic design is essentially how all of the bosses go, and it gets old fast. There’s just no variety or surprise to them, other than a giant magnet boss which is so badly designed that it’s brutally unfair — it can grab the player with a nearly-inescapable move, and then while it’s carrying them over to an instant-death pit, it can shoot them a bunch of times while they’re locked in its ‘grasp’. I have no idea how a boss this awful made it into the finished game.

The first Mega Man had six regular stages with a boss at the end, and then a bonus Dr. Wily ‘final’ level. Trophy has eight stages before the final extra level, and this is the only place where Trophy bests its inspiration. The rest of the game is a largely competent parroting of a better game’s formula, without any real gameplay twists or surprises.

While I’m sure there is some novelty to be found in buying a new NES title in the 21st century, as a downloadable game on the Xbox, this leaves much to be desired. On the plus side, it does answer one long-standing hypothetical — it turns out that without the ability to swap powers, Mega Man would have been a pretty bad game.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Gradual Games/The 6502 Collective and published by Versus Evil. It is currently available on XBO/X/S and NES. Copies of the game were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed.

Parents: This was rated E by the ESRB, and it contains Mild Fantasy Violence. This bloodless, weightless combat that will offend nearly no one, and all of it visited upon robots! Totally safe, content-wise.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players control the game using a thumbstick to move their character, and the face buttons to shoot and jump.

Daniel Weissenberger
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