NOTE: Make sure to check out the Extras section of Indie Overlook to find videos and articles for each of the stages in this game!
Make a Good Mega Man Level Contest (MaGMML) is both the name of a contest and of the game which was created from said contest. Full games being cobbled together from contest entries are by no means a new invention, various RPG Maker and Super Mario Bros. X events have been doing it for years, but this is the first time such a game has been created with a Mega Man engine to the best of my knowledge. This is a collection of competition entries embodied in the form of a single game so the quality of the content here varies wildly and both the contest itself and the engine used have their fair share of rough edges, but there’s also some surprising polish along the way too. This article is going to be covering the game, the contest, and the engine so let’s get started!
By far the most impressive part of MaGMML is the format it uses. There’s a large amount of content here with the 20 contestant-submitted levels alone, but Dr. Light’s lab has been turned into a massive hub area in place of a standard level select. The lab itself has various NPC’s to talk to, a shop where you can buy consumables and upgrades from Eddie, a target practice area for your weapons, and five teleporters leading to the actual levels, which are evenly divided into tiers based on their average score amongst the five judges. I noticed what seems to be a minor glitch in this area where it is possible to slide through a solid wall in Eddie’s shop to reach the target range, but it’s a completely harmless glitch which does nothing beyond serving as a handy one-way shortcut. The teleporters in the lab each in turn lead to smaller hubs where you can talk to more NPC’s and enter the actual levels. More NPC’s in the form of Robot Masters and other Mega Man characters appear in various parts of the lab as you complete levels, which serves as a great incentive to occasionally backtrack through the hub and creates a very tangible sense of progression. Perhaps my favorite feature of this extensive hub is the inclusion of a sign and a letter next to every level teleporter. The sign contains useful information on the level itself, such as the level’s name, who made it, its average score, and individual judge scores while the letter contains feedback on the level from all five judges. It is also definitely worth mentioning the inclusion of an Exit ability which significantly reduces travel time when going to the shop or other teleporters; using Exit in a level takes you out of that level, using Exit in one of the smaller hubs takes you back to the lab at the teleporter, and using Exit within the lab itself takes you to the very start.
There is no denying that this game has a ridiculously large amount of content compared to most Mega Man entries. In addition to the 20 submitted levels there are four boss fights against Robot Masters from other Mega Man fangames, a full-length Wily Fortress consisting of six levels each made by a different judge (with the exception of Pyro, who made both the first and final levels), and even some extra post-game content. Most levels don’t have boss fights and instead require Mega Man to reach an energy orb at the end and in order to keep things balanced while still allowing for the variety the series is known for Mega Man starts with a full arsenal of eight Robot Master weapons in addition to a chargeable buster, a slide, and both the Rush Jet and Rush Coil. In order to access the Wily levels you must complete every other level and defeat all four of the ‘guest’ bosses and in this regard I think there could have been some more leeway for players; a decent chunk of the lower-ranking levels are bland or otherwise have design issues (overly lengthy, poor checkpointing, difficulty imbalance, etc) and the energy orbs from the Robot Masters or some other source could have served as ‘extras’ to help players unlock the fortress levels without necessarily having to complete every other level. This may be a mix of good, bad, and bland levels instead of a completely solid produce, which is no surprise given the nature of the game, but there is also a sense of unique novelty here and I love to see and experience the radically different design philosophies offered up by each of the contestants, even the bad ones.
I really can’t stress enough just how wildly the quality of the levels varies here. Levels falling on the lowest end of the spectrum (which are rather appropriately, if somewhat harshly, found in a sewer hub) consist of a strange mash up of Pharaoh Man and Top Man tiles which looks like it was thrown together in a handful of minutes, a completely nightmarish instant-death laser level where you must climb upward, a level which seems to be either a joke or a very strange attempt at a puzzle, and a level which looks fine until you realize that there are invisible platforms and invisible pits everywhere which do not line up with the stage elements (this last one is so terrible and broken that four of the judges voted it their ‘least favorite’ and an energy orb is placed at the start in case you can’t or just don’t want to go through the whole thing). Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum you have things like a level inspired by the Weapons Archive from Mega Man 10 where sets of small robots will launch attacks based on old fortress bosses, a very thematically-consistent and solid level complete with a custom Glass Man boss, and a level with custom enemies and bosses based on Super Mario World, though I did feel like the custom enemies had far too much health. My personal favorite is the third place winner, a level based around gravity vortexes and Ring Rings (the Saturn-shaped enemies from Ring Man’s stage of Mega Man 4) which curve any projectiles near them. I enjoyed this stage the most in particular because it forced you to utilize the stationary vortexes and the mobile enemies to curve your shots in order to hit triggers which would clear the path and this level also tended to place Sniper Joes and similar enemies on platforms near vortexes where your shots couldn’t easily reach them so you instead had to jump through their perpetually-circling bullets. It also included a custom boss and miniboss and the incredibly bizarre choice of an 8-bit remix of “Take On Me” for its background music, which I certainly can’t complain about.
Of course, this game doesn’t just consist of remarkably high highs and painfully low lows. Many of the levels in Tier 2 and Tier 3 (Tier 5 is the highest) are either bland, sprinkling around a handful of hazards and enemies here and there, or lack anything resembling a consistent theme, introducing a mechanic in one moment only to immediately throw it away for another one which is in turn thrown away for yet another, as though the level creators thought it would be better to cram in as many ideas as possible rather than picking one or two of them to play around with and expand upon. Many of the stages are also highly divisive in one way or another. For example, the fourth place winner, Citadel Basement, is aesthetically pleasing and thematically consistent, but I wasn’t personally fond of its focus on long Guts Man platform segments while I found a segment in the sixteenth place level, Chroma Key, where you have to perform some fairly precise platforming while besieged by rapidly-spawning Tellies to be an interesting way to put your platforming and weapon utilization skills to the test, even if the second half of the stage felt more lackluster.
Other stages are more internally divisive and contain both great and questionable design decisions, such as in the case of the seventh place winner, Spiky Meltdown, which spends the majority of its length on clever segments utilizing rising platforms and Plant Man platforms, which must be hit before they can be used, and near the end has a massive difficulty jump with an awful segment involving a long bridge made of falling blocks where getting hit even once will almost certainly send you into a pit (to go on a development tangent for a moment, it’s never a good idea to place a section in a level which you know is so vastly different from the rest of the level that you feel a need to place a checkpoint and multiple extra lives immediately before it). The most divisive stage by far, and one of the best instances of creative design, is definitely the ninth place winner, Maze of Death, with judge scores ranging all the way from 93 to 29. Maze of Death is an open stage where you can set out in any direction with the ultimate goal of destroying various barricades with specific weapons in order to free the path to the exit. It’s a clever idea and I like how the level has a few secret paths and the fact that barricades remain gone as long as you don’t get a complete Game Over, but I ultimately fall on the more negative side of the spectrum because I didn’t actually enjoy many of the challenges presented by the rooms and taking the path leading to the exit before all the barricades are destroyed results in deciding between losing a life to head back to the start or performing some rather painfully backtracking, in which case you may end up with so little health by the time you retrace your steps that you die before getting to where you want to go anyway.
The fortress stages made by the judges also vary in quality, though not to the same degree as the 20 contest entrees. The final stage is easily my favorite of the lot, and may very well be my favorite stage in the entire game as it has some solid boss fights, an amazing final boss, and a stage gimmick which I don’t want to spoil here, but it fits this particular game perfectly. The fourth fortress stage is also noteworthy as it combined all of the main features of the top four levels; it doesn’t always work as well as in the levels themselves (and I still don’t like the mechanic from the fourth place level), but combining all of these distinctive mechanics together in new ways was a clever idea and a great tribute to the levels themselves. The first and second fortress levels didn’t do anything particularly creative, but they are both solid fortress levels, though the second one suffers a bit from focusing on performing jumps while waiting on multiple desynchronized elements, such as jumping from a platform which periodically catches on fire to a higher platform with a patrolling shielded enemy. As for the fifth level, it has a consistent theme with nearly every screen having fans or fan-based enemies to blow around Mega Man, but much of the level is a bland grey and several of the rooms only have three or so enemies scattered about in positions which make them more tedious to fight than dangerous. Lastly, the third fortress level has a creative mechanic of its own where statues will appear to block or otherwise complicate the path through a room if you kill any enemies, but it is marred by the presence of spikes scattered around in annoying or frustrating locations. To fully flesh things out, every level in the fortress has a unique boss fight and in general I found these fights, as well as the rest of the boss fights in the game, to be enjoyable and often surprisingly creative.
I mentioned at the start of this article that this game has some rough edges, not including the naturally varying quality of the levels themselves, so I would like to start by addressing the weapon variety. None of the weapons chosen are particularly bad ones, though I think Gemini Laser takes up far too much energy per use and I never have and never will like Top Spin no matter how many people swear by it, but there isn’t any sense of synergy to the set. In large part this is due to just how strong Metal Blade, Black Hole Bomb, and especially Magic Card are compared to the other weapons. Magic Card is fast, can be aimed upwards, costs virtually no energy, deals high damage, pierces armor, and even picks up items, making it so useful that I likely used it more than every other weapon combined. Metal Blade is still as useful as ever for if you need to hit something on a diagonal or below Mega Man and if that still isn’t enough you technically have Gemini Laser for odd angles, but why bother when Black Hole Bomb annihilates weak enemies, effectively makes you invincible when used well by blocking shots, and can even temporarily stop lasers. The majority of the weapons simply go in a straight line, possibly doing something when they reach a certain point, but you are otherwise left with the large area effect of Black Hole Bomb, the melee damage and invincibility frames from Top Spin, and the downward lightning of Thunder Wool, which can’t be aimed far away without plenty of room for the cloud to drift. There isn’t a shield unless you count the invincibility frames from Top Spin, and that’s a stretch, there aren’t weapons which attack in a spread or at strange angles other than the unreliable and sometimes glitch Gemini Laser, and Thunder Wool is the only weapon which can reliably hit downward other than Metal Blade, which has always had a ridiculous amount of utility. Black Hole Bomb is largely balanced out by its high energy cost, but Metal Blade and Magic Card are so ridiculously strong and useful for extremely low costs that they completely trivialize the other weapons, which in turn are not quite varied enough in the areas which they affect.
The contest itself also has some rough spots worth noting. On the good side of things there is the fact that the personal favorite and least favorite stages for each judge are marked by stars and skulls respectively within the game and, while the game itself only lists the total score given by each judge and the combined average, the forum thread breaks down how the points were earned by category. While I personally prefer when scoring systems are based on some variation of a single five or ten point score instead of being broken up into various categories each with X amount of points, I believe the system chosen for this contest could be kept for future contests with a few tweaks. The current point breakdown consists of 25 points for ‘Personal Fun Factor’ and another 25 for ‘Other Fun Factor’, 15 points each for Uniqueness and Creativity, and 10 points each to Graphics and Music. The first and biggest issue here is with the two ‘Fun Factors’; this is a system which was likely designed as a way to give extra points to any stages a judge enjoyed even if they felt it had significant problems, but it ultimately resulted in magnifying penalties to plunge quite a large number of the entrees down to around 50 points or lower out of the 100 possible. Separating one’s own opinion from the opinion you think others will have of a product is difficult when reviewing (and is not necessarily a practice I agree with) and the result here is that there was almost never more than a three or four point difference between the two for all five of the judges, one of the few exceptions being the laser-based level which received a significantly lower number of ‘Other Fun Factor’ points from three of the five judges. What this means is that any points lost from the Personal Fun Factor also have a pretty high chance of being lost from the Other Fun Factor as well, so a 15/25 on Personal Fun Factor usually becomes magnified by Other Fun Factor to result in a total loss of about 20 points. As Other Fun Factor so rarely differs by many points from Personal Fun Factor, it would be better to just remove it entirely in the future, bump up ‘Fun Factor’ to about 30 or 40 points, and boost up the other factors to make up the remainder of the difference.
The second issue with the contest is the presence of the Graphic and Music categories in a contest where the vast majority of assets are likely not going to be original. Rather than removing these categories entirely, I would suggest combining them into a broader ‘Aesthetics’ category. Such a category would be able to address issues such as if there is a clear and cohesive theme throughout the level, if the enemies chosen appear to be random or if they complement the chosen theme and setting, if the art assets are used well to convey a sense of place without getting in the way of the gameplay, and if the chosen song doesn’t just sound nice, but if it fits the setting in question. The final issue the contest ran into was one of feedback and commentary. Although most of the judges provided a good, often surprisingly lengthy, amount of feedback on each level, Duvi0’s comments rarely went beyond one or two brief sentences. Taking the time to play through and review nearly two dozen levels is definitely a time commitment in and of itself, especially when it is for a contest which is purely for fun, but I believe that, like critics, judges have a responsibility to explain the reasoning behind their judgements and to make an effort to utilize constructive criticism whenever possible as it can serve as a source of valuable feedback for anyone who reads it. All that being said, some rough edges are to be expected when a task of this magnitude is undertaken for the first time and they can always be polished up if future contests are held.
The very last part of Make a Good Mega Man Level which I want to address is the engine used in the contest. To put things into perspective, the engine chosen was Blyka’s Mega Man Engine, which was released near the end of 2011 and, as far as I can tell, never updated until its use here. Judging by the feature lists, a whole host of new objects, enemies, weapons, and assets were added in for the sake of MaGMML on top of a conversion to a newer version of Game Maker so a truly impressive amount of work went into upgrading it as much as possible for this contest. With the rather important context out of the way, I do have to say that this engine is a rather buggy mess. Gemini Laser sometimes gets stuck in walls and Rush Jet has a tendency to disappear immediately after being summoned, the moment you make contact with it, or the moment you move in any way after it appears and it even once disappeared while I was in the middle of riding it over a pit. While I don’t at all mind it when fangame engines don’t stick perfectly to the game they are mimicking, something about the way enemies respawn here feels off; Mega Man enemies have always had a tendency to respawn easily when not on the screen, but here it feels like there is no leeway at all. I’ve also been pushed into spikes by rising platforms near the start of the Spiky Meltdown stage even when not actually standing on the platforms and the same platforms were simply gone altogether on my next life. The spinning Top Man tops are also somewhat glitchy and I’ve had Mega Man get stuck in them or pushed to the side when one top spawned overlapping another. There are also a high number of outright game-breaking bugs. Just to list off the ones I encountered in my playthrough of the game, I got stuck in a double-sized boss door and had to exit the level, I got stuck endlessly bouncing back and forth in a screen transition and had to close the entire game because the menu was inaccessible, Mega Man once fell straight into the center of a timed bomb platform without setting it off, though I was able to get out by moving around enough, Mega Man once somehow teleported straight into a platform he was sliding under and I had to once again close the game because the stuck sliding animation prevented the menu from being opened, and jumping against the bottom of a fan facing to the right resulted in Mega Man once again getting stuck inside it until I broke free by continuously sliding and jumping. That’s a pretty long list of things for Mega Man to get stuck in, especially since over half of these resulted in needing to exit out of the level or closing the game entirely during a playthrough where I wasn’t actively looking for bugs, so I really do hope the engine continues to be polished up and worked on for the sake of potential future contests.
Even with its rough edges and bumps along the road, at the end of the day Make a Good Mega Man Level is both a game and a contest which I am extremely happy exists and the whole thing comes wrapped up in such a nice hub world package that it is definitely worth checking out this result of a large community undertaking.