With the popular success of Mega Man series on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Capcom decided to branch out and release Mega Man for Sega Genesis, a company and console that Capcom rarely worked with. Capcom was looking to absorb more of the market and since they had very good success releasing Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (mainly due to the fact that the giant cartridge released for Genesis had enough room to put the four boss characters into the game… a subject to be explored later), they decided they could resell to a whole new group of gamers.
As an ambitious project, it is largely documented that translating the NES coding to Genesis was a complete nightmare. A quote from the wiki (which is a quote from Mega Man: Official Complete Works, an actual history book of Mega Man – p. 77. ISBN 978-1-89737-679-9 . For the record, I just ordered this book. I’m freaking psyched to read it) says:
Artist Keiji Inafune claimed that the development of Mega Man: The Wily Wars was outsourced and rather slowgoing. He described the debugging procedure for The Wily Wars as “an absolute nightmare”, even helping out in process himself. “It was so bad,” he recalled, “I found myself saying, ‘I can’t believe we’ve made it out of there alive.'”
The result was a single cartridge containing Mega Man 1, 2, and 3. Once one had completed all three games, one was granted access some bonus content- namely a couple levels and bosses. The game was released as a cartridge and on Sega Channel (a device that plugged into the Genesis that allowed one to play Genesis games via their cable connection.)
Naturally, any of these games on Genesis would not be utilizing the NES’s 2A03 soundboard but the Genesis’s sound output controllers- YM2612 and SN76489. As one could surmise, many interesting things happen during this transition. Let’s explore this through some sound output comparisons.
One huge difference between the two games is the ability to save the game after defeating a stage rather than having to use a password. So the function of the “Password Screen” music changes to “Save Screen” music. While I don’t see a huge difference in that each of the tracks invoke the same idea of “saving” or maybe even “clerical notation”, the function of the original track and perhaps the intention changes. Here’s the the password screen track from Rockman/Mega Man 3:
Same track as a Genesis save screen:
As you can see, neither of these tracks represent “high art” in game music but provide a function nonetheless. The Genesis track has a back-beat drum that is rather amusing, if not puzzling. I feel like the re-arrangers sat down and said: YES DRUMS!!! and added it for fun.
As we look further into this, the one thing that is instantly noticeable is the addition of drums. The Genesis has a full sample channel and does not rely on the noise track as much. One extreme example of drums can be heard in “Airman Stage”. This is a largely covered track via OCRemix and other websites, as it is from the beloved Rockman/Mega Man 2 (which for whatever reason seems to be the game everyone wants to cover). Let’s check out the NES/Famicom version first:
One thing I love about old NES music is that like… bright and crisp tone of the pulse waves. The added echo effect is great too. Here’s the MegaDrive/Genesis version:
The depth of the Genesis YM2612 blows the NES out of the water. It sounds more like an arcade soundboard. The arrangers were able to add a little “comp” part in the background so you get some extra voices. The bass is also just more bold and percussive. The ability to control the volume of all the tracks as opposed to having to work around the volume of the single triangle track on the 2A03 is show in full glory here, in my opinion. Also, the combination of noise channels on the Genesis with the sampled drums works perfectly. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to which version you like best.
Here’s another example. Due to the fact that the MegaDrive/Genesis had many more sounds that could play simultaneously, certain tracks have been vastly updated to the point where they are almost unrecognizable. “Fireman Stage” from Rockman/Mega Man 1 is a good example. Here’s the Famicom/NES version:
There’s that like… nagging coarse electric noise that pulses through the whole track attempting to be what I can only assume is a clave? As a kid playing this game, I always remembered this to be one of the most puzzling tracks to understand and I didn’t like it. Here’s the MegaDrive/Genesis version:
(credit: LuigiMan200 – see a trend here?)
Oh. So it IS a latin tune and that electric chirping or whatever is supposed to be a bell or clave or something along those lines. This actually reminds me a lot of Aquatic Ruins Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which you can listen to here). I think with 100% certainty, I can say the Sega Genesis remix of this track is better. It is faster and bolder as well as cleaner – having access to a full sampled set of drums really helps. That being said, the NES track is quite ambitious in what it tries to portray but I feel like it falls short. It is frankly unflattering and caustic.
I looked around attempting to find an example where the Genesis version falls short to the NES version. I think once the developers started programming the music for Mega Man 3 on NES, they had a much greater mastery of the console and the limitations. So a lot of the Genesis tracks for Mega Man 3 aren’t exactly faithful to the NES versions in a way that is not detrimental but noticeable. There’s a certain bright and crisp quality to the melodies in Mega Man 3 that I feel the YM2612 can’t recreate accurately. It seems dull and washed out by comparison. Let’s take a look at “Gemini Man Stage” on NES:
The two soaring pulse waves create an eerie sonority that, I feel, characterizes the stage layout and design for Gemini Man perfectly. The Genesis version tries to recreate this:
This version is very dull. A lot of things seemed to be scaled down an octave. The light and clean noise machine drums are replaced with sampled drums that don’t seem to capture the original character. The original track has more of a rock/latin feel and the remixed track, the barely audible drums seem to get into the way. Like, the physical frequency of the sampled drums seems to interfere with the low bass waves to create a muddy sound that I don’t like. The shaping of the two pulse waves that is so haunting in the NES version is scaled back to a “chime-like” wave sound that I don’t care for at all. This is a great example of why bigger is not always better.
I didn’t want to mention these tracks because they are horrible but new tracks were written for the bonus content stages. They are… horrendous. I don’t know who programmed them or wrote them but I think they clearly had no clue how to write music for a Mega Man game. Let’s take a listen to a couple:
Hey Sega, this isn’t Twinbee. This is for a DOCTOR WILY STAGE, like a castle? Last boss approaching? Doom and gloom? Epicness? Like, what were the programmers thinking? Did they get some people together, write 5-6 extra tracks and then randomly assign them? This makes no sense at all to me. Here’s another one:
I feel like I’m playing Streets of Rage or something. While not ALL of the tracks for the Wily Tower bonuses stages are awful, on a whole, they are pretty poor by comparison. I wish I could find a link to the Wily Tower – Wily Stage 3 music. It’s straight up Huey Lewis and the News meets the Ghostbusters theme song.
Anyhow, hope you found this fun and informative. Comments welcome.