I played through (most of) Mega Man 2 this week, and in doing so I saw how the designers iterated on the original Mega Man‘s use of the iconic limited-use Special Weapons. In many instances (such as with the Quick Boomerang and the Metal Blade) the energy consumption of the weapon is mild enough that you can use it as a replacement for your Arm Cannon. Others (such as the Time Stopper and Atomic Fire) have variable rates of energy consumption, and can suck up a little or a lot of energy.
However, the point of no-return frustration for me was that the demand for a weapon often outstrips its energy, especially in the late-game. This perhaps reaches a peak when you hit the Boobeam Trap at the end of Wiley Stage 4, which are invulnerable to anything other than Crash Bombs, and are located behind walls that themselves can only be detonated with Crash Bombs. This is a sudden Pop Quiz about your knowledge of this specific weapon – it’s ammo capacity and it’s blast radius, specifically. And if you screw up once, because weapons don’t replenish when you lose a life, you’re forced to Continue, and play Wiley-4 all over again.
And then, if you manage to accomplish this, you are faced with a boss rush with no weapon recharges, where, at the end, you meet Dr. Wiley who, with his most unavoidable weapon, is mostly vulnerable…to…crash bombs.
Clearly, the idea is that you’ll have to use a few Continues to grind through this, but JD ain’t got time for that.
In thinking of alternatives to the energy system, I was wondering what other trade-offs one could make for these “better” items. It’d be an interesting experiment to see these Special Weapons done as horizontal power-ups rather than vertical power-ups, as in a Metroidvania-style explore ’em up – to bake into the weapon’s use a reason not to use it that isn’t “I might run out of it.”
MM2 has a bit of this – the limited range on the Quick Boomerang, the charge time on Atomic Fire, the “time limit” on the Time Stopper, and the “wait for the bomb to explode before you fire another Crash Bomb” are good elements of that. What would the game look like if these were the ONLY limitations? Would the player want to use more weapons more often, in more situations? Try to make “difficult” weapons work? Express their personality with their weapons of choice? I think it’d be an interesting pressure on Mega Man’s jump-and-shoot platforming basics to be able to change so much about the “shoot” verb (and maybe the jump verb, too, with things like Item-1, Item-2, and Item-3) on the fly, without having to deal with the loss aversion of limited ammo.