Endless Struggle

So let’s talk Endless Mode.

Endless Mode, in case you don’t know, is an optional extra mode in Mega Man 9 and 10, where Mega Man is tasked with playing a randomly-generated stage until he dies. There’s no win condition here; like Tetris, it only ends when you’ve lost. Despite that, it’s surprisingly fun, at least in my experience.

Now, the game isn’t entirely randomly generated, like something like Spelunky. Instead, the game has about thirty mini-stages of five or six screens each, with a teleporter at the end. Every time you step into a teleporter, you’re sent to a new stage. Every thirty screens, you fight a Robot Master. Repeat ad nauseum. Some people think the stages should be entirely random, but I disagree — I’d much rather have static stages that are designed and playtested, even if that makes them more predictable. I have a feeling that truly randomly-generated stages would grow tedious after a while, since you’d only get a really good stage every once in a while.

People have compared Endless Mode to the roguelike genre, which works for me. I don’t really like roguelikes all that much, but simplifying their input is usually enough to draw me in. I would, though, like to see a more in-depth take on the concept. I don’t actually expect this to come to fruition or anything, but if Capcom wanted to see Endless Mode taken to its ultimate potential, here’s what the would need to do:

1. Add a quest

I know, I know — this goes against the whole Endless Mode concept. However, I do think a version of the game with a defined endpoint — not as a replacement for the Endless game, but as a supplement to it — would be easier to sell. No one buys fighting games for Arcade mode, but they all have one anyway. Set it at 240 screens (the equivalent of 8 Robot Masters), and hard-code the stages to not repeat. Once all eight are finished, send the player through a Wily Castle (100 screens, maybe, out of a specific subset of stages?), ending with a Wily fight. Casual Mega Man fans can beat that version of the game and happily mark the game off their backlogs, and the rest of us will still have Endless Mode to play around with.

2. More stages

Both Mega Man 9 and 10 have about thirty different stages in their Endless Modes. This sounds like a ton, but honestly it doesn’t take a whole long before they start to repeat. If we want a full game, we’ll need a lot more — several hundred at least. Thankfully these don’t have to be as long as full stages, so you can try out gimmicks that would be annoying, tedious, or repetitive over the course of a full stage, but are fine in small doses. We can also try out the tactic of revisiting famous segments from previous Mega Man games — Mega Man 9 touched on this with Wily’s spiked shaft and Heat Man’s vanishing blocks, but we could still go further.

3. All the Robot Masters

Every last one. I’m even willing to allow the Robot Masters from 7, 8, and & Bass to be 8-bit-ized for this experiment. And not in a neutered form like Mega Man 10’s Weapons Archive, either — I want them to be complete, with all their weapons, attacks, and patterns intact. We should be able to play for hundreds of screens without ever seeing a Robot Master repeat, and Mega Man has a large enough cast to make this work.

4. More equipment

First and most simply, the Energy Balancer should be standard-issue in Endless Mode, even without all this other stuff. It’s true that balancing your weapons energy is a big portion of the gameplay in Endless Mode, but there are too many situations where a bad guy drops an energy capsule and you’re forced into grabbing it before you can switch to whatever weapon needs filling, and that’s a bad feeling. The Energy Balancer doesn’t break Endless Mode, just makes it a little easier to negotiate.

Secondly, we need more weapons. Again, I’d like to see all of them, with the exception perhaps of things like Guts Man’s weapon that need specific stage gimmicks to work properly. I’d divide all the weapons into categories — shields, spread weapons, charge weapons, melee attacks, and so on, and then randomly assign the player eight weapons at the beginning of every session, making sure that the player doesn’t receive duplicates of any one category. (How bad would it feel to start a new game only to find that three of your weapons are the Leaf Shield, the Star Crash, and the Water Shield?) Mega Man 9 and 10 have very different experiences in Endless Mode simply because your arsenal is so different between the two games, so you’re forced to approach situations differently. Random weapons can only enhance that experience, making for unique playthroughs even after you’ve played the game enough that the stages begin to repeat. Ideally, each Robot Master would be weak to a certain kind of weapon rather than a specific one. For example, if you run into Wood Man but don’t have the Atomic Fire, you can try the Fire Slasher or Magma Bazooka instead, and that should be just as effective.

Finally, I’d include E-Tanks. I wouldn’t make them common, but having one in, say, ten percent of the total stages shouldn’t make things too easy.

5. Additional PCs

Protoman and Bass at the very least, but I’d like to see them go hog-wild — add Zero, Shadow Armor X, and Model HX too. If we want to get really crazy, channel Powered Up and allow the player to use any Robot Master he’s beaten as well.

And there we go — that’s my crazy fantasy version of a Mega Man Endless Mode game.

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