If you pay close enough attention while playing Capcom's 2D action platformer sidescrollers, eventually you'll begin to notice a pattern emerge when it comes to level design. Eventually the protagonist will come to a point on his journey where the path will force him to drop into a room from above, make a quick jog to the left, drop down to the ground, and continue onwards to the right. Check out this handy diagram to the right from Mega Man 3, for instance. Take notice of this fragment of Shadow Man's stage because I'm about to blow your mind wide open with it. This particular path formation recurs again and again in most every other 2D Mega Man as well as a few other Capcom titles. How many times can a protagonist drop in from the top, skirt left, drop again, and exit to the right to perform what I've come to call the Capcom Turnaround? Let's find out by exploring extensive photo evidence.
Mega Man 3
Shadow Man's stage features what I consider to be the purest form of the Capcom Turnaround and the form that recurs the most over time. There are no added obstacles or frills, only flat surfaces and right angles. Power-ups are optional.
Snake Man's stage features an added step on the way down.
Needle Man's stage makes use of the turnaround with the added requirement of sliding under low ceilings.
Spark Man's turf features little weapon energy power-ups and a forced slide mechanic.
Here's another classic, pure example of the turnaround as seen in Top Man's stage.
Revisiting Needle Man's stage brings us this changed version of the turnaround. Note the similar structure to the original Needle Man level.
This reworking of Shadow Man's stage turnaround drops the power-ups and adds a boss gate which leads to a Doc Robot encounter.
Dr. Wily's fortress offers this variation with extra blocks to navigate and pipes in the foreground.
Mega Man 4
Drill Man's stage features a spike-filled variation. Don't let the negative space fool you. The turnaround structure is intact.
Dust Man's level includes an energy power-up in its turnaround.
Another classic example courtesy of Pharoah Man.
Skull Man's stage apes the previous turnaround example.
Mega Man 5
Another turaround point as seen in Crystal Man's stage. Not that its drop tends towards the left side of the screen, yet still requires making a course correction in order to proceed.
Gravity Man's turnaround introduces the gravity gimmick.
Another example from Gravity Man's stage. This one includes an energy power-up and spikes to mix things up.
The final screen headed into Gyro Man's lair does not feature the traditional turnaround shape, but still requires the same basic movement in order to proceed: drop, left, down, right.
Star Man's stage includes a turnaround seemingly inspired by Pharoah Man's level.
Even Dr. Wily relies on turnarounds as part of his latest Skull Castle design.
Mega Man 6
As seen in Blizzard Man's domain, this example incorporates slippery ice.
Here we have the first of four examples from Yamato Man's level. For whatever reason, whoever designed this stage absolutely loved this trope. Here we have an energy power-up...
...here's a traditional low ceiling...
...while this one has spikes...
...and, finally, this one takes us on to the boss door. If you'd never noticed this form of stage element before in past Mega Man games, Yamato Man's stage may well be the first time you notice it just because of its relentlessly repeated use.
Mega Man 7
Did you really expect the team at Capcom to give up on the turnaround after leaving the Nintendo Entertainment System behind? Here it is again in glorious 16-bit as seen in Freeze Man's domain.
Junk Man's stage includes a classical version of the turnaround, albeit with a ladder instead of a drop.
This other example from Junk Man's turf seems as if it should have an energy power-up on that little ledge judging by previous evidence.
Spring Man's stage adds — what else? — springs to the experience.
Mega Man 8
This iteration actually spans two screens. It's another first in the progression of turnaround development as seen in Dr. Wily's tower.
Another instance which features spikes as seen in Search Man's territory. Even in the 32-bit world of the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation, the turnaround lives on. What makes it a must-have element in stage design?
Mega Man & Bass
Back to the 16-bit world for Astro Man's second appearance (but his first time with a turnaround).
This energy power-up (again in Astro Man's level) requires a special weapon to acquire. As time marches on, the turnarounds start teasing players.
Mega Man 9
Surely after the many years separating classic Mega Man games, the turnaround would be forgotten and discarded, right? Jewel Man's stage says no.
More from Jewel Man's turf. This example includes an extra ridge to jump over, almost cutting the turnaround short.
A third and final example from Jewel Man's level. As in Gyro Man's stage, the drop is a bit to the left, but it still fits the formula.
Splash Woman's stage features Schrödinger's Turnaround: drop in on the righthand side and this screen is a turnaround. Drop from the left to get the 1-up and it is not. You won't know which it will be for sure until you pass through.
A turnaround which includes a floor lined with spikes? In Tornado Man's stage, anything goes.
Another variation courtesy of Tornado Man, this one adds a bottomless while retaining some of the spikes.
It's another Gyro Man-style leftward drop as seen in a Dr. Wily fortress stage.
Did you really expect Dr. Wily to leave the turnaround fun to others? This instance includes laser forcefields (yet another turnaround first).
Mega Man 10
Yes, even the blue bomber's latest adventure includes turnarounds. Here we have Sheep Man's stage with its drop from the center.
Blade Man's stage includes one as well, although it has a very thin middle floor platform compared to most other examples.
Nitro Man's stage includes this unique turnaround from which speeding trucks zoom across the bottom portion of the path.
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
While the Sega Genesis compilation includes all of the turnarounds from Mega Man and its first two sequels, the Wily Tower section includes some original instances. Head for the energy power-up and break down the wall in Buster Rod.G's stage to complete the sequence.
This Wily Tower turnaround leads into a boss encounter.
Mega Man IV
Even the later Mega Man titles for Game Boy include turnarounds. This one in Charge Man's level features a few P-chips.
Here's another turnaround on the way to Charge Man that leads to a Robot Master fight.
Mega Man V
Even the Stardroids employ turnarounds! Mars shows off another classic example.
Saturn's stage incorporates this familiar style.
It looks like Uranus is taking stage design tips from Dust Man.
Mega Man X
Even the Mega Man spin-offs include the turnaround. Mega Man X features exactly one. Did someone slack off or is this a fun nod to turnarounds from the classic Mega Man series?
Mega Man X3
The exact same turnaround seen directly above repeats in the introductory stage of the third X adventure. Perhaps the stage designer believed that people would forget this element after not using it in the previous title in the series.
The amazing power of mid-1990s technology allows for turnarounds with downward slopes as seen here in Blizzard Buffalo's turf.
Toxic Seahorse's environment includes this classic-style turnaround.
Electrified walls add a spark to Volt Catfish's stage.
A low ceiling on the way out marks the turnaround in Vile's secret factory.
Mega Man X4
The 32-bit era of the Mega Man X marks a switch to increasingly detailed stages and increasingly detailed turnarounds as seen here in the Final Weapon stage. All of that detail must be expensive, as turnarounds are used sparingly in this installment of the series.
Mega Man X5
Vertical ropes add a new element to turnarounds in the training level.
Volt Kraken's stage sports this rather plain example.
Another from Volt Kraken's level. These turnarounds feel very uninspired for some reason.
Mega Man Xtreme
Back from the Super NES version of Spark Mandrill's stage, this turnaround adds a mini-boss gate.
Street Fighter X Mega Man
Starting life as a fan game, Capcom picked up the Street Fighter X Mega Man project and gave it an official blessing. Blanka's stage features this turnaround proving that even fans recognize traditional Mega Man level design when they see it. This turnaround features a pair of attacking electric eels armed with a shield of voltage and a spiked hazard.
Who said that only
Moliarty's construction site includes this turnaround patroled by F.O.W.L. eggmen.
Quackerjack's takeover of the St. Canard Bridge places him in control of this turnaround.
If this Liquidator sewer level were in a Mega Man game, there would be an energy power-up on that small ledge.
Not all of Darkwing Duck's turnarounds are derivitive. This example in Megavolt's wharf stage lacks a floor. To pass, Darkwing must grab those lanterns by jumping from one to the next. That's a Heavy Gas power-up on the ledge.
That's not a platform hanging above those spikes in Steelbeak's floating fortress, it's a grabbable pole needed to pass over the spikes.
After all that we've seen here today, what have we learned? Turnarounds are one of those seemingly insignificant elements that make the Mega Man experience so iconic, but I'll leave you with one last mind-blowing fact. Here we have what may well be Capcom's very first turnaround as seen in a licensed Disney game (even if it is a bit of a cheat - this turnaround spans across two screens - note the seam). Dating from early 1987, it predates the first Mega Man turaround by three years and even Mega Man himself by several months. Coincidence? Probably so, as the game was actually developed by Hudson Soft, yet published by Capcom. Perhaps we should be calling this the Hudson Soft turnaround? Quickly, to the Adventure Island maps!
(Images via VG Maps with the exception of Mega Man 10)