Retrospection: Mega Man – The Wily Wars

Through 1994, the Mega Man franchise had seen 13 entries, all of which had landed on Nintendo hardware (there were two additional entries on DOS, but I’m not sure anyone counts those as both are quite terrible). Aside from the NES, the series had multiple entries on the Gameboy as well as a soccer themed entry on the Super NES, which I have to admit to enjoying. At this point in time, the question was when would Mega Man hit the Super NES for his first true 16-bit adventure (Mega Man X had launched on the Super NES at this point, but I do consider the X franchise to be separate from classic Mega Man). To the surprise of many, Mega Man’s first 16-bit outing would not come to Nintendo, but would instead land on the Sega Genesis, though in a way that no one saw coming.

Any discussion of Wily Wars must begin with the Sega Channel. While Sega had been experimenting with online based gaming in Japan for a few years as of 1993, no such services had arrived in North America, though there were a few aborted attempts, such as the TeleGenesis Modem which was to be focused mostly on multiplayer gaming. This changed with the announcement of the Sega Channel in 1993. The Sega Channel would allow subscribers to play games via a cable connection. While fees varied from company to company, the average fee was about $15.00 a month along with an activation fee. The service officially launched in early 1994 after testing in 1993 and saw as many as 250,000+ subscribers at its peak. As Sega began shifting it’s focus solely to the Saturn, attention given to the Sega Channel by both Sega and subscribers began to wane (subscribers had dropped to around 225,000) and the service officially ended on July 31, 1998. Attempts to adapt the service to PCs were explored but never came to fruition.

During the services lifespan, games would be rotated in and out, with a total of 50 games being available at first, though this number was raised to 70 during the latter portion of the channel’s life. These games included many games available for purchase in the US, but also a handful of games that were only available via the Sega Channel service. These included Pulseman, Alien Soldier, and, for our purposes, Mega Man: The Wily Wars. As an aside, some kudos are due to Sega for introducing and sustaining support for a game subscription service about 25 years before any other console makers would truly jump into that pool.

As for Mega Man – The Wily Wars, development of the title was not completed in-house. Much like Capcom had done with the Gameboy Mega Man games (excepting Mega Man II) Mega Man – The Wily Wars was outsourced to developer Minakuchi Engineering. Were Wily Wars to be an original game, this may have been cause for some concern among Mega Man fans, but Wily Wars was to be an enhanced remake of Mega Man, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3 for the NES, very similar to what was done with Super Mario All-Stars, along with a handful of new levels as part of Wily Tower, the only truly new content in the game. While the game was outsourced, Mega Man mainstay, Keiji Inafune was involved, though only barely. Inafune designed the three new bosses present in Wily Tower and helped out with the debugging process, which he described as a nightmare. Said Inafune, “It was so bad,I found myself saying, ‘I can’t believe we’ve made it out of there alive.’”

While The Wily Wars would be released in Japan on October 21, 1994, a US release was hinted at but never confirmed. Game Players reported that a US release was in the works but was placed on hold due to graphical issues. In April of 1996, Gamepro placed the game in their “Cancelled Games” section, though this was clearly referring only to the physical release as Wily Wars was added to the Sega Channel in February of 1995.

Mega Man – The Wily Wars has generally received positive reviews since its release. In an article on the history of Mega Man, Gamespot wrote “Capcom tried to pull a Super Mario All Stars move with this product, but unlike Nintendo’s masterpiece collection, the ports aren’t gameplay-perfect. Featuring enhanced graphics and arranged music tracks, it’s still a must for any serious Mega Man fan.” Sega-16 commented on the graphics in a 2006 review stating that “Mega Man and his foes have been given much more detail and are now a fair bit taller, and their animation has improved ever so slightly. But what were given major improvement in this game were the backgrounds. Given the limitations of the NES, everything looked good but kind of plain. Not anymore! The power of the Genesis let Capcom redo all of the backgrounds as well, giving each stage much more intricate detail. Now Cut Man’s stage looks like its taking place on the outside of a giant tower; Shadow Man’s stage looks even eerier; and Wood Man’s stage really looks like a deep forest, just to name a few.” gave a brief review that was a bit more middle of the road, writing “The Wily Wars was a decent enough taste of Mega Man for Sega fans, but some inexplicable design flaws mean it hasn’t aged nearly as well as the originals.”

While some games that I’ve written about here disappear into the ether after their initial release, Mega Man – The Wily Wars has gone the opposite route. With the closure of the Sega Channel, any legitimate means of playing The Wily Wars was lost for quite a few years. Actually, through 2012, to be exact. In 2012, a compilation machine called the Ultimate Portable Game Player was released and included The Wily Wars. I spent many years attempting to track this down as I really, really wanted to play The Wily Wars, though I had zero luck (my understanding is that this device was not widely distributed). Fortunately for me, when Sega decided to get into the mini-console market with the Sega Genesis Mini, Mega Man – The Wily Wars was announced as one of the included games (just an aside here, but the Sega Genesis is tied with the TG-16 Mini console as a personal favorite). The Sega Genesis Mini was released on September 19, 2019.

Still, the US was lacking an actual cartridge version of The Wily Wars, or they were until June of 2021 when Retro-Bit Publishing announced that they would be releasing a Mega Man – The Wily Wars Collector’s Edition which would include a Sega Genesis cartridge (this would also be my fortieth birthday gift from my wife, and I can happily vouch that it is a tremendous set). Lastly, The Wily Wars was released for Nintendo Switch Online on June 30, 2022, making this once extremely rare game available in multiple mediums.

As I noted above, I’ve written about many games that were released and then lost to time. Games such as Secret of Evermore, EVO: Search for Eden, and The Guardian Legend are still only available on their original cartridges (though I’ve some hope that The Guardian Legend will show up on the recently announced IREM Collection via Strictly Limited Games). It’s a great day when I have the chance to write about a game that was once completely unavailable but, as time passed, became more and more available. It doesn’t happen often enough, but the revisiting and preservation of older games seems to be picking up some steam, so hopefully this won’t be the last time I get to end a post such as this by touching on how widely available the game in question is.