I don't know if Mega Man was all that popular when it was originally released, or if it was something that picked up popularity after its two sequels were such big hits. But I do remember that a friend of mine had the first game, and we played it plenty before the vastly superior Mega Man 2 was available. That said, once 2 and 3 came out the original came felt pretty meh in comparison. It was sort of rough around the edges, and kind of came off as a bit of a demo compared to the fully realized awesomeness of the sequels.
And that's how I've always remembered the first game - JUST OKAY. But y'know what? Playing it this weekend with some fresh eyes and a whole lot of time away, I was actually sort of impressed with how good it actually was. For a first game in a new series, it's actually damn good. And really it comes out swinging will all of the series' hallmarks right there on display.
Sure 2 and 3 smoothed out those rough edges. And sure those games added NEW things that were totally appreciated as quality of life improvements. But the first Mega Man is certainly a whole lot of fun. And it has some cool bosses - I mean Cuts Man and Ice Man are definitely iconic. And moving those big boulders with Guts Man's weapon is awesome.
One thing that surprised me was that it's not actually as difficult as I recalled. I still hate the platforms that dip you off in Guts Man's stage. And those appearing/disappearing block platform sections are still a pain in the ass, but that holds true in sequels as well. So whatever.
So yeah. Good game. Not perfect, but definitely good.