With the success of Mega Man 9, Capcom realized the value of nostalgia and naturally wanted to ride the momentum with another retro-throwback game. As such, Mega Man 10 was designed in the same vein, but even more as a celebration of the series. That was obvious when the composers of all the classic NES Mega Man were invited to each compose a Robot Master's level track.
In a way, this approach leveraged the experiences gained in making Mega Man 9 such a success and delivered some of the classic franchise's best stages. Yet, some felt it to be too much of a retread of the past, maybe wanting it to evolve the classic formula bit instead of merely copying. Also, with expectations already at a high thanks to Mega Man 9, I think some of the weaknesses of the game were unfortunately a bit more apparent.
For instance, and this may be highlighted by its disjointed soundtrack, it felt that the design of the game was by a committee rather than having a singular vision. Which, considering the number of producers on the title, was actually partially the case. Some reviewers thought this game was simply a cynical cash grab by Capcom, while fans of the series were fairly divided in their reception of the game.
Personally, I belong to the more positive group of fans. Stripping it down to its essence, this is simply yet another classic Mega Man game, but one made with the experience of hindsight and is nearly as polished as the masterful Mega Man 9, but it falls short of that high pedestal (which isn't a shame). The result is still a very good game. Also, it has the original composer, Manami Matsumae, composing one of the best tracks in the game, and that's worth the price of entry by itself.
Following the basic-yet-charming story of Mega Man 9 in style, Mega Man 10 has an interesting twist in revealing Dr. Wily as the ultimate bad guy. The game starts with the mysterious "Robenza" virus infecting many robots. Dr. Wily somehow convinces Dr. Light and Mega Man to help create a cure for the virus, with Proto Man also helping.
Naturally, it turns out that, "spoilers", Dr. Wily actually created the virus, and your fight with him goes all the way up to space. In a charming twist, continuity error, or some deeply meaningful reveal, Dr. Wily gets the virus and is helped by Mega Man. He then escapes after donating all the medicine pills he created.
One extra part in the game is a side-story featuring Bass, which was DLC on the original release, but is included in the Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 version. This side story is slightly different in content even if it has all the same bosses and enemies.
The one thing that sets Mega Man 10 apart from the rest of the classic series is that it has three choices for your playable character, each with a unique twist on the usual formula. Mega Man is the classic choice and controls exactly as he does in Mega Man 2, without a slide or a charge shot, while Proto Man has both and can also guard some shots with his shield while jumping, all at the cost of taking twice the damage. A first for this game is the ability to control Bass, who can rapidly shoot weaker lemons in seven different directions, has access to flight through bonding with Treble, and a ground charge to speed forward. His main drawback is that unless he is jumping, he cannot move while shooting, and his shots don't go through walls as Mega Man's does.
Playing the game with any character is a slightly different experience, especially with Bass, but you will go through the same levels and bosses. You can also increase the difficulty, which adds in more enemies and frankly makes the game more annoying than fun; introducing several surprises that require rote memorization to circumvent.
Speaking of the game's levels, they are mostly good, with a lot taking on a single idea and running through more complex iterations of it like the X series usually does. Chill Man's stage has slippery surfaces and breakable platforms that fit the stage's theme while Solar Man's stage does the fire and brimstone angle at a high speed fitting the level's soundtrack. My favorite of the bunch is Sheep Man's stage, which puts your chosen hero inside of a computer program and even has cursors creating platforms to damage you. Other ideas are not as good, with Nitro Man's stage repeating its annoying truck obstacle gimmick, while Strike Man's stage is best forgotten. One aspect I liked was having alternate paths in levels, which I think was the case with Commando Man's and Pump Man's stages.
Then we come to Dr. Wily's castle, where each level does a cool gimmick and does it well. The first level has multiple paths between mini-bosses that channel Robot Masters of the past, while the second has you fighting all of this game's mini-bosses. The third and fourth levels are just more elaborately designed stages with a higher difficulty.
Generally, I consider the level design top-notch in the game even if it doesn't quite hit the highs of the previous games or the iconic qualities of some of the NES originals. One thing that it has over Mega Man 9 though is that I feel the stages are better balanced for Proto Man, where several obstacles and enemies could be better handled with his slide.
Usually, I have found that Mega Man 10 is seriously ridiculed for its selection of bosses, which may be a fair criticism of some of the designs. In my opinion, the electrically powered Sheep Man does not deserve the ridicule when you consider the obscure reference to the Blade runner novel: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". However, I won't defend Pump Man's ridiculously retro design or Strike Man's stupid existence, and the less said about Blade Man's anti-utilitarian function the better. Yet, regardless of how they look, the battles are almost all top-notch battles, and the weakness circle makes some kind of logical sense. Chill Man> Nitro Man> Commando Man> Blade Man> Strike Man> Sheep Man> Pump Man> Solar Man.
Just as in Mega Man 9, the fights are balanced to be fun with or without the correct weapon. Almost all the fights are fair and tense encounters with the base lemons, with the slippery fight against Chill Man and the tense encounter with Solar Man a highlight. Better yet, the fights still retain a lot of challenge even when using the correct weapon, especially since there is a puzzle element in how to make it seriously damage the boss.
For instance, Nitro Man, whose weakness is the Chill Spike weapon, turns to a motorcycle and charges at you. As you may have guessed from the weapon's name, the best way to use it is to create spikes in the ground that Nitro Man steps into for some massive damage. Not all weapons must be used this way, but the few battles that require that are a bit special.
However, one downside to the specific way boss weapons work is their overall utility, which is reduced compared to the last game. Most weapons are situational, and one of the weapons is a damned annoyance to use (I am talking of course about the stupid Commando Bomb). Also, the weapon function doesn't change at all between your three character choices.
Thankfully, the Dr. Wily bosses are designed with the boss weapon's unique mechanisms in mind, where knowledge of how each weapon acts is sufficient to understand which is needed against which boss.
It's not a typo or an error, that massive list is seriously all the composers that worked on this game. If you're familiar with the franchise's musical history, you will realize that list has all the composers of the classic Mega Man games, including Mega Man 7 & 8. In that case, you will also realize that each musician has their own musical style, which doesn't necessarily fit together.
Unfortunately, the overarching goal of Ippo Yamada's sound team in making a soundtrack that celebrates the series ended up creating the most disjointed one in the entire franchise. Each of the veteran composers was responsible for one of the eight level bosses while the Inti Creates sound team made the Dr. Wily music and all the supporting tracks. You can hear how unified Inti Creates' sound vision is compared with the varying quality of the stage music.
Nevertheless, these are still masters at work, and some of the tracks are great even if they don't fit within a wholesome soundscape. Manami Matsumae and Shusaku Uchiyama both feature in my top three tracks, while Yuko Takehara and Yasuaki Fujita deserve an honorable mention.
Anyways, while Mega Man 10's soundtrack is surely a chaotic mess, there is nothing but good in the following amazing tracks:
The first Dr. Wily Stage starts with a more somber song as Mega Man enters the stage on a rainy night. As soon he enters a building, he fights a compute thing that summons the moves of past Robot Masters, which is probably where the name of the track is coming from since it plays just as you defeat the first "boss" of the level.
When it starts, Abandoned Memories is immediately triumphant with the high energy of the bass guitar riffs. However, it immediately goes into a higher and sadder key with the main guitar before an electric flute takes the melody in an even sadder direction. At that point, a quick death sound effect plays (or something like it) before the song goes into a desperately struggling guitar melody that echoes the somber song at the beginning. In the background, the percussion instruments are doing a lot of work, producing something much more complex than the rest of the track before that point. It's clear from this track that for the most part, the Inti Creates sound team, with this track composed by Ryo Kawakami, simply made more complex tracks than the guest composers.
Yet, as Manami Matsumae proves with her track, you can do a lot even with basic tracks. "Nitro Rider" only uses three music channels at the same time, mimicking the capabilities of the NES, but she changes the instrumentation so rapidly that it's brilliant from start to finish. The song is mainly a call and response between melodies, and that constitutes the majority of the track. It starts with a trumpet announcing the sad but triumphant nature of the song, and it immediately gets the softer tune of the flute as a response. In the first part of the song (20 seconds), the flute is only shyly showing up. However, in the second part, when the trumpet changes to a sax, the flute accompanies it as a backing melody, and then the track fully develops. In the third part of the song, the triumphant trumpet melody becomes more playful with frequent calls back by the flute, when the trumpet starts ramping up, holding strong notes while the flute crescendos back and forth, culminating in an explosive trumpet finish and a brilliantly playful flute/clarinet combo that beautifully finishes off the track before it loops back.
While Abandoned Memories and Nitro Rider could in theory fit in a collaborative soundtrack, Shusaku Uchiyama's Absolute Chill absolutely does not fit with the two. However, it does fit Chill Man's stage, and Uchiyama's more atmospheric skills, which were evident in Mega Man 8, create a chilling track that starts ominously before going into a "chill" melody that nonetheless retains the ominous nature of the beginning. This is not a friendly white snow kind of track, but one that is more fitting for freezing caverns and desolate lands. Even in the second half of the track, where the melody picks up with a slightly jazzy tune, there is still emptiness suggested through background noise and the effective use of wintery chimes to chill down the track.
I am sure that if Mega Man 10 was released before Mega Man 9 then it would have had a much better reputation among critics and fans. In fact, I would bet that Mega Man 9 (which would become number 10 in this alternate reality) would have gotten as divisive a reception as Mega Man 10 has right now.
Of course, there is no way to test this hypothesis, nor do I think there is a way to remove subjectivity and bias from any discussion of these two games. I think that regardless of its release order, Mega Man 9 would always be a tighter and better-balanced game. In a way, Mega Man 10's main flaw is that it did too much and too little at the same time.
It did too much by having different composers make its soundtrack, creating a messy soundtrack (that still has masterpieces in it), and did too little by introducing Bass as its only evolution of the series. That was forgiven with Mega Man 9 because it was a deliberate retro throwback, but I feel it was always detrimental to this game.
Nonetheless, I think that once you let go of all the baggage and just experience the game as any regular Mega Man game, then you will be met with some great level design, exceptional boss battles, and solid all-around performance.
Also, it doesn't answer the question about androids dreaming of electric sheep, but it does suggest that androids can get the flu.
Rankings: This game ranks higher than most classic games because of its better stage design and boss balance, while it outranks Mega Man 8 thanks to its higher replay value. It doesn't reach the heights or influence of the games above it.