As a little kid, I looked up to Mega Man. This was also before there was a lot of Mega Man merch, so I was making my own Mega Man apparel by using a Sharpie marker on a blue hat that belonged to my dad. Did that incident end up in a bad way we’re not going to talk about? Oh, it sure did! It surely, definitely did! But the point is that I loved Mega Man. Maybe it’s because I was into robots. Maybe because on the NES he looked like a little fat kid like me. Either way, I was all in for Mega Man.
I also grew up in Florida, a state in which doing anything of interest requires at least a two hour drive in one direction or another. And since we had to drive everywhere, I needed a portable Mega Man to fill me with joy. Or, at least, I probably screamed about one until they threw one at my head in March or December, depending on what gift day I was leaning on. I don’t remember opening a lot of video games and toys, but I do remember slicing the shit out of my hand on clamshell packaging each and every time.
This is how I got introduced to the Tiger Electronics version of Mega Man 2. The greatest Mega Man 2. Perhaps, if the world were braver, the only Mega Man 2.
If you were lucky enough to be born after fun was invented, Tiger Electronics made portable LCD screen one-off games. In theory they were similar to Nintendo’s Game & Watch games. I say “in theory” because Game & Watch games tended to be relatively simple and intuitive. They worked on an LCD screen because you were doing two, maybe three things tops while going for a high score. Tiger Electronics threw that right out the window and said, “What if we made these games needlessly obtuse while explaining virtually nothing?”
I originally wrote “complicated,” but they weren’t complicated. “Obtuse” is the right word because these usually had fewer buttons than the NES games they were based on. And the NES did not have a lot of buttons. At the time? Tons! It had four buttons and a D-pad! Can you imagine? But now? Not nearly enough buttons! You give me that number of buttons and I’m outta here! In this economy? No thanks!
Rather, the games were hard and rarely had rules that made sense. Simple tasks in an NES game turned into weird jumping and striking button combinations on the Tiger handheld. Why? Because it was a fucking children’s toy running on calculator hardware that was old even back then. LCD games were impossible to see in the dark and even harder to see in the light. But, silver lining, when you eventually forgot about a Tiger toy, the batteries would instantly corrode and begin leaking that weird battery crust you always kind of wanted to taste but knew it would kill you.
And thus I got my hands on Mega Man 2 by Tiger Electronics. “B-b-b-but, Mike! If you loved Mega Man so much, why not get it for Game Boy?” That’s because Wily’s Revenge wasn’t even out yet, you complete moron! We’re talking about the early days of the franchise! Back when you could just grab a video game license for peanuts and churn out some real hot, wet garbage. And like hot, wet garbage, the Tiger Electronics Mega Man 2 sticks with you real good.
The biggest upfront compliment I can give this game is that it uses Mega Man 2’s American box art for decoration. While not nearly as insane and weird as the original Mega Man American box art, Mega Man 2’s still puts in the work. Mega Man is a thin, future-sports athlete with a gun. Meanwhile, men in nearly identical spandex outfits show off their Nike logo head and drill arms. I miss those days. I miss when box art was made by someone looking at five screenshots and saying, “Got it!”
But it doesn’t stop there! The sprite (LCD screen image? Whatever) of Mega Man is also holding a gun. Because, of course. The in-game character is a nearly valiant effort to combine the ‘80s-anime-style of the games with the who-fucking-knows-style of the box. Mega Man’s body is also articulated so little feet moving under him portray the dream of movement. He can jump. He can shoot. He can jump. He can shoot. That’s really mostly it. Oh, and it’s all set with the background of the most interesting level in the entire game: The bland area just outside Dr. Wiley’s hideout.
Here’s where the game hits the Mega Man checklist: You do fight other robots and you do get other robots’ abilities. In the normal Mega Man series, this changes your look and gives you specific strategic advantages. That is sorta the case here? Question mark? At the very least the weapons are kind of different. They’re useful. Kind of. This whole game is really a “kind of.” You run. Kind of. You fight robots. Kind of. You go through levels. Kind of.
And it’s glorious. This game does not give a shit. It wasn’t designed by people who hate you. But it was designed by people who needed to get a project done by Friday so they could be out the door by 5 pm. And the packaging of the game is very clear about what you’re getting. Even as a kid, we knew that Tiger Electronic toys were at the nexus of “games we love” and “pain.” And parents knew they were cheaper than buying a full Game Boy, so you always had friends with a couple that you could trade to have a bad time in new ways.
I love it. I love a little toy that came from an era when video game companies had no idea what to do with their IPs. If you tried to make anything with Mega Man right now, I guarantee your ass is getting a giant binder style guide and that’s before you even pitch your product. Mega Man has a specific height. He has a specific look. He stands a certain way. Characters only have a maximum of four crackers in their mouths at a time. Side note, that last one was a real part of a style guide for a snack company I once had to write sponsored content for.
The Tiger Electronics Mega Man 2 would never exist outside of a three or four year period. A couple years later and we’d already be getting decent Mega Man ports for Game Boy. A couple years earlier and Mega Man 2 wasn’t a game yet, so that also doesn’t work. And if we were any older, we’d have known that this might not be the best game ever. It’s a product that wasn’t even high tech at the time but was sellable to a specific audience (loser kids like me).
That’s what’s so wonderful. It’s the Wild West era of games. Only a few things were good, and even then, they found ways to suck. On car trips, we all had to roleplay that we were actually enjoying these games. We nodded and pressed buttons and said “Aw, come on!” while knowing for a fact in our little hearts that this was barely a Mega Man game. It’s a product that cost our parents little, but forced us to lie to ourselves before we lost our minds on a car trip to Discovery Zone. We gaslit our enjoyment of an entire line of games so we didn’t have to be alone with our thoughts.
Even better news? These games are still affordable! You’d think retro gaming of this caliber would cost a fortune! But – no! – the game is available for sale on eBay for about $20 from multiple people. That’s basically what it cost years ago without inflation, so you know it must be high quality. And if you’ve got that money, you should spend it here. Because there are very few games that help you with the hardest thing about life: Lying to yourself that you’re having a good time and happy.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Josh S, whose full sprite set is visible if you hold him up to the light, you nasty freak.