Mega Man 8 was originally released in Japan for the PlayStation in 1996, and a couple of months later on the Sega Saturn in 1997. Not counting spinoffs, like Mega Man & Bass, Mega Man 8 was the last original series game released until Mega Man 9 came out 12 years later in 2008. Mega Man 8 was the game that Sony infamously rejected for release on the PlayStation because it was 2D, and Sony was making a big push for 3D games on the PS. Sony changed their mind when they heard the game was also coming out on the Saturn, though. Mega Man 8 is available in Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 and as a PS1 Classic on PS3 and PSP/Vita.
The game starts off with an awesome anime cutscene in which an alien robot, Duo, is fighting an Evil Energy robot in space. This Evil Energy amplifies the evil in people's hearts and can be used to power up robots, or something. Apparently, it would kill Mega Man, though. Duo defeats the Evil Energy robot, but both of them fall burning through Earth’s atmosphere, and crash on an island where it just so happens Dr. Wily has set up his newest base. Dr. Light tells Mega Man to go get the thing, but Dr. Wily beats him to it. He left Duo behind, though, so Mega Man sends him to Dr. Light’s lab to get fixed. Now, Mega Man must stop Wily from doing evil stuff with this Evil Energy.
There's a lot of focus put on this Duo character, but he comes off like a Poochie to me. Apparently, his planet needs him too, because he leaves Earth at the end of the game. We didn't need another robot friend who wants to fight sometimes anyway. Not right after the introduction of everyone's favorite frenemy, Bass, who in case you were wondering, is still around, acting like Vegeta, striving to beat Mega Man in a fight someday.
The story is pretty dumb, but the presentation is fantastic. The anime cutscenes that play throughout the game look great. They truly nail the Mega Man art style, unlike the real MM animated series. I especially love in intro cutscene, which shows Mega Man fighting old Robot Masters, like Tomahawk Man and Pharaoh Man. The voice acting in these is comically bad, and Dr. Light does sound like Elmer Fudd, but that's part of their charm.
Mega Man 8 follows the same basic structure as MM7, but dials back some of the stuff it borrowed from MMX. You still have intro and mid game levels, you still start with only 4 bosses available, and you still use Robot Master weapons to discover hidden areas, but you’re not collecting weapons or upgrades in the levels anymore. All the hidden items have been replaced with bolts, the currency used in the shop, which is run by Roll instead of Auto this time. The shop has completely different items for sale now, too. All the 1Ups, E-Tanks, and weapon refills have been replaced with power ups, like faster Mega Buster charging, an item that gets rid of knockback, one that lets you climb ladders faster, and items that were hidden in levels in MM7, like the Exit item, and the Energy Balancer. E-Tanks and similar refill items are not in this game at all, but don't worry, Rush has your back.
Auto, Eddie, and Beat are still in the game, but they're just upgrades in the Rush Jet shoot ’em up sections now. The Rush Jet is only available in those section, too, and the Rush Coil has been replaced with Mega Man’s new Soccer ball-like item, the Mega Ball, which he can bounce on to reach higher platforms.
Rush has not become obsolete, though. This robo dog has learned some new tricks. Rush has a new motorcycle form, the Rush Bike, and a new bombing run move called the Rush Bomber. He takes over Eddie's role with the Rush Question, which drops a random item, and replaces Weapon and E-Tanks with the Rush Charger, which is a bombing run, like the Rush Bomber, that drops a bunch of recovery items instead. The Rush armor is completely gone.
The biggest thing that sets Mega Man 8 apart from the rest of the series is its level design. Mega Man 8 is full of levels with gimmick sections. There’s autoscrolling snowboarding, a Rush Jet shoot 'em up, long sections full of time bomb platforms, grappling hook swinging, mazes, and even swimming. There's still a lot of Mega Man style action platforming, but this game has more gimmicks than any other MM game. The shoot 'em up sections are OK. They’re not Parodius, but they’re fine. The time bomb platforms are good, but been done before. The snowboarding sections are just annoying, though. They require a lot of concentration, memorization, and precise timing, which is probably too much to ask for from people playing on HDTVs today. I guess it was good that Capcom was trying to mix things up, but it just made this game look weird and gimmicky in comparison to the rest of the series.
Since MM9 and 10 went back to 8-bit, the graphics in MM8 are still the best in the series. They got a pretty big upgrade over 7's. The backdrops depict beautiful scenes of futuristic cities, crazy machinery, and lush jungles and forests. The environment pieces are bigger, more detailed, and capture the look of Mega Man artwork better than ever. They also gave the game a slightly more 3D perspective by tilting the camera angle downwards a bit, showing more of the floor and platforms Mega Man runs on. This gave the developers even more layers to play with and add details to, but also makes this game look a little weird when compared to previous games. All the enemies and characters have more frames of animation than ever, and there's more squashing and stretching in the animations, giving everything a more authentic cartoon look. I played the MMLC2 version of the game, so the frame rate stayed smooth, even with lots of enemies on screen, but it's also smooth in the PlayStation version, from what I’ve seen.
I really don't like the Mega Man sprite in MM8. I like the big head design from MM7 much better. Mega Man looks older in 8, and not nearly as cute as in 7. The rest of the supporting cast also got a more anatomically correct makeover, but I don't mind theirs as much. I don't know why they changed the character designs. Did they want a more serious Mega Man? MM7’s design was the best looking post-8-bit Mega Man as far as I'm concerned.
I don't really like the soundtrack either. It has a few good tracks, like Genade Man’s theme and the Wily Machine theme, but a lot of the soundtrack sounds like smooth techno jazz. It sounds more like Phantasy Star Online music than Mega Man music. There’s too much wacky circus music, too. Tengu Man’s and Clown Man’s themes are especially bad. Some of the jazzy tunes are pretty good, like Frost Man’s theme, but most just sound too mellow for a Mega Man game.
Mega Man 8 is a fine game on its own, but it just doesn't look that good when compared to the rest of the series. The heavy use of gimmicks in the level design, uncharacteristically mellow jazzy music, and slightly more anatomically correct Mega Man design make this game stand out as an oddity in the series. Still, the core Mega Man gameplay is solid as ever, the graphics are the best in the series, and the anime cutscenes look great, even if the voice acting is hilariously bad.