Every gamer has embarrassing blind spots—games they know they should have played but ignored for one reason or another. For me, the Mega Man series has always seemed like something I would love but never quite clicked.

Recently, I've set out to remedy that.

Mega Man has fantastic character design—he looks good as a cartoon and as an 8-bit sprite. Okay, the box art for the original game looks laughably bad, but he's evolved nicely over the years.

As a kid, I remember seeing Mega Man games at stores like Toys 'R' Us and Blockbuster Video, and I recall reading about the games in magazines. Eventually, I bought a cheap copy of Mega Man 4 on NES (which I still have), and tried playing it. The experience was not at all what I expected, and I really wasn't ready for it.

If you're like me and haven't spent time with the "Blue Bomber," as he's sometimes called, here's the thing: Mega Man games are really freaking hard. At the time, I incorrectly thought they seemed unfair, but the reality is that they offer some of the purest, old-school challenge available. However, discouraged by constant failure, I put the game (and the series) aside for decades.

However, I've decided to give it another go and am currently revisiting the very first Mega Man game thanks to the 3DS Virtual Console. I'm still not great at tackling the steep challenge, but I am enjoying it more than I ever have previously.

Part of that is thanks to the magic of emulation: with the Virtual Console, I'm able to create a "Restore Point." While this is technically cheating the game's natural system, it's helping me actually the learn game. I can save the game before difficult encounters or areas and then really practice them without the typical frustration of retro games. Maybe you don't agree with this approach, but it's keeping me playing, so I count that as a win.

 I got stuck at this room for a while. Turns out I needed to go back to Elecman's stage to get the magnet beam.

I got stuck at this room for a while. Turns out I needed to go back to Elecman's stage to get the magnet beam.

 Later Mega Man games featured eight bosses, but the first one only had six before starting into Dr. Wily.

Later Mega Man games featured eight bosses, but the first one only had six before starting into Dr. Wily.

 Here's me, about to extinguish Fireman's flame permanently. 

Here's me, about to extinguish Fireman's flame permanently. 

One of the things I knew about Mega Man but hadn't really experienced previously was the ability to inherit abilities from defeated bosses (mainly because I had had trouble finishing a full stage). What I didn't know was how helpful those abilities can be in tackling other enemies and bosses, making the game more accessible the more levels you finish. Of course, being an older game, it doesn't really explain any of this to you, aside from the instruction manual, but it's a definite eureka moment once you master it.

All of that aside, though, I'm very much enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay. The controls are very tight and responsive; the enemies have unusually challenging behaviors (compared to most other platformers); and the combination of running, jumping, climbing, and shooting is a satisfying mix of mechanics. It's far more action than adventure (read: not Metroid, despite the arm cannon similarities), but that's not a slight against the game at all. 

 Mega Man (left) and Samus (right) amiibo figures face off in front some of homemade artwork, courtesy of my wife. They might both have arm cannons and be from the future, but they're quite different heroes.

Mega Man (left) and Samus (right) amiibo figures face off in front some of homemade artwork, courtesy of my wife. They might both have arm cannons and be from the future, but they're quite different heroes.

At this point, I've made it past all six of the bosses and the first of the "Wily stages" that lead up to the game's final showdown with the evil Dr. Wily. The challenge is high, but I think I may have finally gotten hooked on more than just the character design.