Mega Man 4 (1)

Genre: Action, Platformer
Year: 1991
Developed by: Capcom
Published by: Capcom
Platforms: NES
Feeling Like: 1,2,3,4

Playing video games is a strange hobby. You’ll find a lot of unnecessary gatekeeping in the community because the activity is often passionately pursued as a solo venture. You might hear about how others enjoy the pastime, but the experience itself can be entirely yours. Other strategies, or discoveries, may retroactively damage your time. Oh, I didn’t get to that level. This other person is better than me. I played it wrong. Nobody understands how I felt going through this game. Not everybody writes a blog called the 500.

Mega Man 4 (4)
Nobody should, really.

Thankfully, the other side to it is playing alongside somebody else. A friend, or family member. They don’t even have to be playing with you simultaneously; they can be watching on the couch, offering assistance or chastising a false move. You can pass the controller back and forth. You can go toe to toe in a fighting game. You can compete in a racing game. Cooperative possibilities are endless with the advent of MMORPGs. The options for solo and duo/trio, etc. opportunities are sky high.

I have two very distinct memories of discovering other people that shared my enthusiasm. Rushing to Ryan Mifflin’s house in Halifax, gleefully asking if he was playing Nintendo. I knew he was. I even remember the route I took – jump up the front step, say hi to his mother in the kitchen, take a right into their living room, dump my stuff by the comfy chair, eagerly slump next to him on the floor while Super Mario Bros. beeped on the screen. I don’t recall learning what Nintendo was, mind you. It’s just always been there.

The second memory is when I was nine years old and in the 2nd grade. That’s when I met Aslam and Kasim Husain.

Aslam Kasim (2)
Aslam, Kasim circa 2012

I don’t remember learning who Aslam and Kasim were, mind you. They’ve just always been there. The primary hang out was at their grandmother’s property in Oak Bay, very close to both our houses. You know how they say proximity is a major factor in building relationships? I can dig that; the Husain household was a 15 minute walk away, though we often begged our parents for rides. This was long before podcasts made commutes bearable.

So, the topic of discussion was Mega Man 4. In particular, Skull Man. They didn’t know how to beat him. I mentioned that I did! They were gleefully aghast. HOW??? I’ll show you.

I didn’t exactly relay to them that I required the Energy Tank in the level, requiring a sacrificial jump. Still, it worked. Skull Man was defeated, and my usefulness was proved. Later on, a friend of theirs commented that was I was weird (true), but they both quickly protested that I wasn’t weird, I showed them how to beat Skull Man.

Mega Man 4 (9)
The infamous Skull Man Energy Tank

There are few games on the 500 that can thank their entire placement to an individual other than myself. Aslam’s emerging dominance at the game led to many a session where his brother and I would simply watch and offer encouragement. See, we were nine and he was seven. WE should have been better than him. Instead, we’d gasp in awe at the gigantic stages and how feverishly Aslam rushed through them. We’d nod our heads along to the soundtrack which, unsurprisingly, still holds up. It was better than watching TV.

Aslam is eternally intertwined with my Mega Man history. So much, that I got him to scribe his thoughts on Mega Man 4. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mega Man 4 (7)
The infamous Skull Man


Mega Man 4 was the first NES game I ever played. I was seven years old. It was 1993. My parents didn’t want their kids to have a video game console, but when Uncle Bill showed up on our doorstep with a brand new Nintendo he’d won at an auction, me and my brother’s reaction of delirious joy was evidently too much for my parents and they gave in (my unending thanks to Uncle Bill). On our subsequent first visit to the neighborhood video-game rental store, one game stood out amid all the 1990s cartridge cover art: Mega Man 4. I still remember the artwork, the Blue Bomber smugly brandishing his arm-canon mid air, while a mysterious Sphinx-like Robot glowered in the background (who later I would discover was the aptly named Pharaoh man, duh!). With the game rented, I loaded the cartridge and powered on the NES for the very first time. Over top a cinematic introduction to the year AD 200X, the futuristic sounds of chip-tunes greeted my ears (and grated my parents’). So much was the impact of that opening sequence that 27 years later I am listening to a piano cover of its music on my Spotify playlist (“Out of Necessity” by the excellent Thennecan). Skull Man’s stage was the first I played, and I remember it feeling punishingly difficult. But I was undeterred. The catchy theme music and the great level design kept me enthralled. Every level seemed to have some new element that was more mind blowing than the last: Toad Man had rain (actual rain!) that added resistance to your movements; Pharaoh Man had quicksand (real quicksand!) that threatened to drown you but also hid special items; and in Bright Man’s stage the lights went completely out (pitch black!). From today’s standpoint these elements seem gimmicky at best, but at the time the gameplay was revolutionary. Ambient elements of the level weren’t just a bunch of neatly drawn background pixels, they had tangible (at least for Mega Man) qualities that you could interact with. It deepened our relationship to the experience of the level – which was always emblematic of the Robot Master.

Looking back now, Mega Man 4 is one of the easier games in the series. But this was my first Mega Man game. And it got me hooked. So it will always hold a special place in my heart. It has one of my favourite video game soundtracks, and is arguably my go-to Mega Man soundtrack. I can still hum the tunes of all the Robot Masters’. Dust Man’s stage was a particular favourite – it had a melancholy quality that reinforced Mega Man’s tragic fate to fight his robot brothers and sisters.

(Aslam’s writeup finished)

Mega Man 4 (5)
Boys to Mans

I am so blissfully happy that, unprompted, Aslam confirmed my childhood memory of Skull Man being the first obstacle they tackled. So many times I’ll recall a boss fight of punishing difficulty, or a stage that was as big as life itself only to return as an adult and find neither of those things are true. My memory had been skewed, mixed around like a stir-fy; some of the same ingredients were present, but the flavor was totally different. Not this time. Wonderful.

I also had no idea that’s how they ended up with a Nintendo (good work, Uncle Bill!), and I had no idea that Mega Man 4 was the very first NES game Aslam played, but of course it was!

Very few times do I get to properly circle back with those who shared memories alongside and I can’t thank Aslam enough for his contribution, both today and 27 years ago. It can be very tempting for myself to draw inward and recognize that not everybody shares my eclectic tastes. But I’d be wise to recall and re-read this article. Shared experiences are always superior. The camaraderie and laughs can’t be duplicated, nor experienced solo. That’s probably why I latch onto memories of playing games with friends/family/Kyla so forcefully; they’re the best ones.

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