Retrospective: Street Fighter – Round 1, Fight!

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I’ll be honest: I did originally dismiss the idea of doing a Retrospective on the Street Fighter series back when I looked over Tekken last year. The thing is, after the Classic MegaMan article ended up being split into multiple parts, any excuse I had for not writing about Street Fighter evaporated. This series isn’t necessarily going to be as prominent as the other Retrospectives have been. I plan to mainly just write these whenever I’m not writing something else, so they’ll trickle out infrequently. Still, considering the fact that Capcom will be releasing a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection this May – featuring a whopping 12 games – now seems as good a time as any to do a wistful look back at one of Capcom’s most enduring franchises. The only limits I’m putting on this series of retrospective articles is that I will be sticking mostly to Street Fighter games that managed to see Western release. Granted, most games in the series came out here, but there are a few rarities that were Japan-exclusive.

The thing is, I owe a lot of my interest in video games to Street Fighter. The 2D fighting game genre is among my favorites across the entirety of mass media, and like a majority of the children of the ‘90s, that love stemmed from the first time I played a Street Fighter game. In my case, the first game I played was the original version of Street Fighter II for the Super NES at my cousin’s house when I was around 5 or 6 years old. Another cousin had the Special Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis and eventually, that first cousin would obtain a copy of Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES as well. I became enamored with the game, almost to the point of obsession and I was incredibly happy when I was finally able to own a version of the game of my very own. Of course, that was the IBM-PC version, which was a complete train wreck, but you try telling that to a happy child. Not long after, I finally had a legitimate home version of my very own: Super Street Fighter II for the Sega Genesis. While Street Fighter is probably no longer one of my favorite fighting game series, it still occupies a special place in my heart. As such, I’ve got a fair amount of the games in various forms in my collection as it is: the 30th Anniversary Collection just affords me the opportunity to own several older titles on the PC, my platform of choice.

Street Fighter II is probably one of the most important video games of all-time. It popularized the fighting game genre in a way that no previous game had and managed to extend the life of arcades in the West. Back in my childhood, we just thought of it as “Street Fighter”: even though the “II” was omnipresent, none of us had ever really experienced a “Street Fighter 1”. As naïve as we were back then, the mystery was nothing we really pursued at the time, but SF2 actually owes its existence to multiple titles. What better place to start than by taking a look at some of the earlier titles that preceded, inspired or even simply shared the name of one of Capcom’s greatest all-time hits?

Avengers

On February 1st, 1987, Hissatsu Buraiken – which roughly translates to “Deadly Ruffian Fist” – was released in Japanese arcades to relatively little fanfare. It would be released in the West sometime that year as either “Avengers” or “Avenger”: the game’s title screen and many of the arcade cabinets themselves use the former title, but some promotional material uses the alternate title. I would argue that this is the earliest ancestor of the Street Fighter line, despite lacking any obvious connection to the franchise in general. Of course, at this point in time, Capcom had a minute fraction of the acclaim they currently enjoy in the West. Their most popular games by this point were Ghosts ‘n Goblins and 1942, which were respectively an arcade platformer about fighting occult creatures in a medieval fantasy setting and a shoot-‘em-up taking place during World War II. While both of these titles were fairly popular in their heyday, they would be completely eclipsed by future Capcom titles.

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Not the most unique concept, but hey, it was the 80s.

Avengers actually shares a fair amount of staff with the original Street Fighter. Most notably, the games shared a producer: “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama. Nishiyama actually started his career at Irem, working on some of their early hits like 1982’s Moon Patrol and 1984’s Kung-Fu Master. Likewise, two of Avengers’ character designers – “Short Arm Seigo” Ito and “Puttun Midori” were listed in Street Fighter’s credits, under Special Thanks. One of Avengers’ composers, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (better known as “Yuukichan’s Papa”) would also go on to work on both the original Street Fighter and the first MegaMan game.

Of course, Avengers ran on one of Capcom’s proprietary arcade boards, generally referred to as the “Section Z Hardware”, as 1985’s Section Z was the first Capcom game that used this particular hardware. Avengers was apparently the last of four games made to run on it, with Legendary Wings and Trojan – both released in 1986 – rounding out the set. Like most of Capcom’s early arcade hardware, this board utilized a 6 MHz Zilog Z80 processor as its main CPU as well as 2 4MHz Z80 chips for its sound CPU. The hardware was rounded out with two YM2003s acting as the sound chip.

As with many arcade games from this era, Avengers’ storyline was simple but got the job done. It’s a two-player game, but both characters – Ryu (hey, another Street Fighter connection!) and Ko – are essentially palette swaps of each other. The game’s villain, known simply as “Geshita” has taken over Paradise City and kidnapped six girls, handing off five of them to his henchmen. It’s up to Ryu and Ko to “banish” Geshita from their city. The game’s English translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t seem like too much was lost in translation.

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The most interesting part of the game’s intro.

“Beat-‘em-up” is probably the best way to describe Avengers’ gameplay, but it approaches the genre from a totally unorthodox style. Unlike many beat-‘em-ups of this period (or in general), Avengers is a top-down game, in a similar vein to games like Ikari Warriors or Capcom’s own Commando. As such, players are able to move around freely in 8 directions. There are also two attack buttons, punch (fast, but short range) and kick (long range, but slower). Honestly, the best description I really have for the base mechanics of the game would be Irem’s Kung-Fu Master (known as Spartan X in Japan) meets Commando. There are also a variety of bonus items that can be found hidden in objects like trash cans and clay pots scattered throughout each stage. These can replenish health, increase the character’s speed or just act as bonus points. There are also various weapons that can be found, like the “Super Punch” which increases overall damage temporarily and nunchaku, as well as grenades and shuriken, which can be thrown. These weapons are generally found in bonus rooms, hidden across the game’s 6 stages. These rooms contain an assortment of enemies that have to be defeated in a set time limit in order to free hostages that give out a reward upon being rescued.

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One of Capcom’s all-time grates. …get it?

This is one of those situations where obscurity has generally helped a game. Most of the reactions I’ve seen to Avengers online have been negative at best, with a few declaring it to be “Capcom’s worst beat-‘em-up ever”. To be honest, I can’t really argue against this statement. While Avengers’ concepts were unique and interesting, the execution was severely lacking. Commando’s overhead view and playstyle just didn’t lend itself all that well to a fist-fight. The bosses themselves are particularly difficult, as many of them boast long-range weapons, making it impossible to deal damage against them. Granted, that’s a pretty common criticism of the beat-‘em-up genre as a whole, but when the game’s first boss attacks by swinging around a giant spiked ball on a chain that deals damage in an area that takes up over half the screen, you know that this was one of those arcade games designed to get as much money out of a paying customer as possible.

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Oh, I’m sorry: did you think I was joking?

With that being said, there are a few other Street Fighter connections aside from the shared staff members and the name of the main characters. For starters, some of the sound effects from Avengers – most notably various character grunts – were completely recycled in the original Street Fighter. There’s also a reference found in one of Street Fighter’s humblest characters, Dan Hibiki. One of Dan’s super combos is named the Hisshou Buraiken. Sound familiar? That’s right: this move was named as a parody and reference to Avengers’ Japanese title, Hissatsu Buraiken. If that doesn’t confirm that Avengers is a truly obscure progenitor to the Street Fighter line, I don’t know what could.

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It was even a piece of graffiti on Street Fighter’s title screen. What more could you ask for?

I have to assume that Avengers wasn’t a particularly popular game upon its release, because as far as I can tell, there were no home conversions made for the game around the time of its release. The first home release I’ve been able to find for the game was on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection, found on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. It was also present on the PSP via the Capcom Classics Collection Remixed, the first of two collections that just rearranged games from the previous console-based collections. Since then, the game has only appeared as one of the games on the Capcom Arcade Cabinet, a digital-only compilation of Capcom’s early pre-CPS arcade games, released in both multiple packs consisting of three games each – Avengers was in the first pack – and a full set on both Xbox 360 and PS3. Aside from that, the game’s been pretty much forgotten, which may honestly be for the best. Avengers isn’t a particularly impressive game by any means and it’s a fairly rough product, even compared to some of Capcom’s earlier arcade games.

Street Fighter

With that out of the way, let’s get to the true beginning of the Street Fighter franchise. Released in Japan on August 30th, 1987 – with releases in North America and Europe that same year – Street Fighter was the first fighting game Capcom ever developed, though not the first game in the genre to have ever existed. Many cite 1984’s Karate Champ as the first true 1-on-1 fighting game – with head-to-head combat included in a unique revision, subtitled “Player vs Player” – and introduced the concept of bonus training stages, which would be prevalent in the early days of the genre. Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu (released the following year) introduced the concept of fighting multiple unique opponents in succession, another trademark associated with the genre. Street Fighter took inspiration from both of these games and expanded upon them, acting as another stepping stone in the genre’s development, while adding new concepts that would shape fighting games to this day.

Before we get into discussing the game itself, we’ve finally reached the point where I’ve actually got some childhood memories attached to this game. Of course, the memories aren’t associated with the original arcade release, but rather one of the home ports. I already discussed these in-depth in one of my Repressious Memories videos from a few years back, so I’ll just summarize by saying that it’s colored my perceptions of the game in a much more positive light than many of my contemporaries. Put simply, the Hi-Tech version was so terrible, it made the admittedly-flawed arcade version seem like manna from heaven.  Few people I’ve encountered around my age actually managed to find the arcade version of Street Fighter in the wild back when it was brand-new, so most of them only experienced it well after the much more popular second game. Obviously, Street Fighter pales in comparison to its vastly superior sequel, but I’d say it’s still an interesting curiosity all the same.

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Admittedly, shirtless men in red jeans weren’t the most dynamic of opponents, even in 1987.

The two major players in the development of the original Street Fighter were “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama and “Finish Hiroshi” Matsumoto, the game’s director and planner respectively. It’s claimed that both of them also worked on Avengers, but as of right now, I can’t really find any information about Matsumoto’s involvement in that project. Likewise, it’s also said that this was the first project for Keiji Inafune (of MegaMan fame), who claims to have designed Adon, but again, this hasn’t really been confirmed anywhere else, especially not in the game’s credits. Street Fighter was developed on another of Capcom’s early arcade hardware systems, christened the “68000 Based”, due to the fact that it used a Motorola M68000 as its main processor. Capcom started using this hardware in 1987, and quite a few of their arcade games used this setup, including Tiger Road, Mad Gear, Last Duel and most notably, Bionic Commando.

Of course, the most fascinating thing about Street Fighter would be the fact that it had two completely different arcade cabinets. While the version commonly seen today used the traditional six-button/joystick layout generally associated with Capcom fighters, there was also an alternate model with a different control scheme. This model had two large buttons, associated with punch and kick respectively, and depending on how hard the button was pushed, a different strength of each attack would occur in-game. Not exactly the most precise method of control, but an interesting gimmick nonetheless.

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Seriously, playing Street Fighter on one of those machines with the giant buttons is on my bucket list.

Street Fighter offered players two characters to choose from: Player 1 was Ryu, while Player 2 was Ken. At this point, the characters played identically, the only real difference between them being their colors and Ken’s head being redesigned – in fact, early prototypes just made Ken a complete recolor of Ryu, with no other modifications. Instead of selecting one’s character, players were given the chance to choose from 4 countries – although some versions only offered 2 countries (Japan and U.S.A.) at the start – each boasting two opponents. Japan was home to Retsu, a monk excommunicated from his temple for using forbidden techniques and Geki, a master ninja wielding a claw, shuriken and the ability to teleport; the U.S.A. gave us the incredibly generic kickboxer Joe and bare-knuckle boxer Mike; martial artist Lee and the aged but deadly assassin Gen represented China; and the massive punk rock hooligan Birdie and staff-wielding bouncer Eagle are the fighters from England. Beating both representatives of a country allows Ryu to partake in a bonus stage, either breaking bricks by building power or cracking boards within a time limit. Only after all of the first eight opponents are defeated does Ryu (or Ken) gain access to Thailand, the fifth and final country. There, players are forced to defeat Adon, the champion’s top disciple, before taking on the King of Muay Thai and Street Fighter champion Sagat himself. After that, Ryu (or Ken) is treated to a montage of all of the fighters he defeated on his way to the top and declared “King of the Hill”, but also told that they have no time to rest on their glory, warning that there will always be new challengers.

Compared to later games in the series, the original Street Fighter’s controls are incredibly clunky. The physics are floaty, the controls not nearly as responsive as one might expect, and the CPU-controlled opponents are able to deal way more damage than the player. Having said that, the game came out back in 1987 and considering that the game took inspiration from Karate Champ and Yie Ar Kung Fu in a genre that was barely fledgling, Street Fighter could have only have been primitive. It seems unfair to judge the game against its own legacy, as opposed to its contemporaries, but alas, that’s how most people view it.

Having said that, Street Fighter did introduce a feature that would become synonymous with the genre: the special move. Of course, back then, the “special move” lived up to its name – because it was nearly impossible to pull off consistently. While the motions for the Hadouken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku – referred to as the “Fire Ball”, “Dragon Punch” and “Hurricane Kick” respectively in the English versions of the game – are common knowledge to anyone who paid attention during Street Fighter II’s prime, but back in 1987, they were secrets. Of course, to perform these moves in the first SF, one needed to be precise. In fact, the motions themselves worked differently: instead of hitting the button after completing the corresponding joystick motion, players needed to release it at that point. Quite the change from how special moves were performed back in 1991, let alone today.

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We did 20 takes and that was the best one.

 

The bonus stages may not have been a genre first, but they don’t really resemble those found in future games very much. There are two types of bonus stages found in Street Fighter, with two version of each, for a grand total of four. The stages themselves alternate after completing each country. First, there’s a segment where Ryu is tasked with breaking a stack of bricks (replaced with cinder blocks on the second attempt) in front of an audience that cheers or boos, depending on the results. This mini-game resembles the “Test Your Might” mini-games found in the original Mortal Kombat, except it relies on timing instead of button mashing. The other mini-game involves splitting wooden boards that are held in various positions by men dressed in fighting attire. In this mini-game, precision is key: some boards can only be struck with specific attacks. These bonus stages have very little impact on the game itself, only adding to the player’s score, but they are a well-deserved break from the action.

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This might actually be my favorite part of the entire game.

The art is pretty standard for a late-80’s arcade game. The graphics are advanced far beyond what most home platforms at the time were capable of displaying, but on reflection, are kind of ugly. The character sprites themselves showcase the growing pains present in arcades at the time, adapting to wider color palettes and larger resolutions. The final product is something that is inarguably ugly yet endearing in the same way one would look at a gangly, awkward teenager. The backgrounds, on the other hand, are actually pretty breathtaking for the time. My personal favorites are the cliffside adjacent to Mount Rushmore where Mike is fought, Gen’s Chinatown-inspired setting, the forest with the castle in the background associated with Eagle, and Geki’s locale, which appears to be a river near Mount Fuji at sunset. While nothing special compared to future games, they are pretty impressive for their time.

The sound design doesn’t fare much better. Don’t get me wrong: there are actually quite a few good compositions present in Street Fighter’s soundtrack, but the odd instrumentation has a tendency of masking their quality. Fortunately, one home port – more on that later – has a rearranged soundtrack that reimagines these songs using Redbook CD audio, making them much easier to enjoy. The sound effects, on the other hand, are just silly. The real star here are the voice samples. They were generally the same in the Japanese and English versions, with the only exception being Ryu’s attacks. At their best, they’re extremely garbled: people still argue to this day whether Ryu is saying “Dragon Fire”, “Psycho Fire”, “Hell Fire” and probably several other things whenever he fires off a Hadouken in the English version. However, the Engrish present in this game, particularly on the win screens is downright amazing.

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I still quote this to this day. (Hey look, it’s white Birdie!)

Surprisingly, Street Fighter actually had several home ports. Growing up, the only version of the game I knew about was the IBM-PC version, published by Hi-Tech Expressions, but it actually also managed to come out on several computer systems throughout North America and particularly Europe, namely the Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC. The version that was the best received was the game’s sole console port – available for the TurboGrafx-CD. Retitled “Fighting Street”, it was released in 1988 in Japan and 1989 in North America. This was the version that included the rearranged soundtrack I mentioned earlier. The only real flaw in this version stemmed from the TG-16’s controller: two buttons limited the ability to perform attacks of different strengths, but this was a common flaw in most home versions. Arcade-perfect ports would eventually surface on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and original Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed for the PSP. It’s also planned to be included on the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, being released on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC later this year. Sadly, this isn’t one of the games with online play.

I think the most impressive thing about the original Street Fighter is the legacy it left behind. Believe it or not, it inspired more than just Street Fighter II and the rest of its series. Aside from the two games I’ll be discussing below, it also managed to get an unofficial sequel. One that predates SF2 by quite some time – it was released in Europe back in March 1989. Many of the computer ports I mentioned earlier were developed by a company called Tiertex and published by U.S. Gold – the same companies behind the infamous Strider Returns. Their ports of Street Fighter ended up being so popular that they made a spiritual successor for the European PC market. Simply titled “Human Killing Machine”, the game holds the distinction of being even worse than the already poor ports of the original Street Fighter. The game was also incredibly bizarre. I mean, the main character was a Korean martial artist named Kwon – normal enough – but his opponents included a dog, two prostitutes, a waiter, a bull and even some terrorists. It really defies all description. While I’ve never played HKM myself, all the information I was able to find on it declared the game outright terrible. It’s really no surprise was promptly forgotten to the sands of time, to an even greater extent than its inspiration.

Final Fight

One of the most unique things about video games as a medium is just how quickly people will accept a spin-off of an existing franchise. Case in point, there are almost as many flavors of Mario as there are of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. However, there are few that can compare to Street Fighter, which managed to receive a spin-off merely two years after its very first game… and nothing else. Let that sink in: the original Street Fighter, itself only a relative hit in Capcom’s eyes, managed to receive a full-blown spin-off with only a moderate amount of ports (ranging from mediocre to terrible) to back up the moderate success of the original arcade release. Of course, considering just how trigger-happy Capcom eventually became with spin-offs – particularly in the 90s – maybe it was just a sign of things to come.

In 1988, both Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto had left Capcom and started their careers at SNK – going on to develop such franchises as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. However, Capcom wanted a sequel to the original Street Fighter and tapped Yoshiki Okamoto to produce this new sequel. Okamoto cites the arcade version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge as his basis for developing the next Street Fighter title, eschewing the 1-on-1 fighting genre and focusing on the beat-‘em-up style of gameplay pioneered by Technos Japan. The game was originally shown off at trade shows under various working titles, most notably “Street Fighter ‘89” and “Street Fighter: The Final Fight”, but due to feedback from various operators, the game was rechristened simply as “Final Fight”.

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Pretty surprising, right? I especially like how they’ve practically finalized the SF2 logo there.

The game was also heavily inspired by Western culture, particularly the 1984 film Streets of Fire. In fact, one of the main characters, Cody Travers, was inspired by the film’s hero, Tom Cody. Likewise, various enemies found throughout the game were named after 1980s rock musicians, bands and albums: most notably Poison, Abigail (named after King Diamond’s second album), Axl (Rose) and Roxy (Music). Likewise, the boss character Andore was heavily inspired by professional wrestler, Andre the Giant.

Final Fight was the first game in the Street Fighter line to be designed on the Capcom Play System, a proprietary arcade system developed by Capcom. Unlike most arcade boards at this time, the CP System ran games on removable ROM cartridges, similar to SNK’s NeoGeo MVS. The CPS was developed in order to reduce hardware costs and to appeal to arcade operators, as it was often easier and cheaper to sell modification kits for existing cabinets – allowing arcade owners to provide their customers with the latest games at a much cheaper price, maximizing profits. The CPS (retroactively called the CPS-1) was fairly successful, but also plagued by bootleg versions of Capcom titles.

The game’s storyline is pretty basic when compared to the games from today, but for an arcade game released in the late 80s, it’s pretty fleshed out. A cutscene that plays in the game’s attract mode sets the stage: Metro City – clearly a fictionalized version of New York City – is ridden with crime and violence. Newly-elected Mayor Mike Haggar decides to clean up the city, making it safe for its citizens. However, the Mad Gear gang, the most powerful crime syndicate in the city, decides to take matters into their own hands. After a failed attempt at bribing Haggar, they kidnap his daughter Jessica, demanding that the mayor comply with their demands or else. Haggar decides to call Jessica’s boyfriend Cody and their mutual friend Guy, asking them for help to save his daughter. Of course, considering the fact that Haggar is a former professional wrestler, Guy a master of ninjitsu and Cody an accomplished street fighter in his own right, the three decide to bust some heads and save Jessica from the clutches of the Mad Gear Gang.

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I mean, it’s already on. How else could there be static on the screen?

Final Fight is one of the earliest games in the beat-‘em-up genre to offer multiple playable characters with different abilities and mechanics, as opposed to the identical palette swaps common in the early days of the genre. Cody is a well-rounded fighter, Haggar is the strongest but slowest of the three, and while Guy is the weakest character, he’s also the fastest. The game also has three weapons spread across its stages and each character gains special abilities with their corresponding weapon. The knife can only be thrown by Guy and Haggar, while Cody can choose to hold onto it, stabbing enemies. The lead pipe is the strongest weapon in the game, but its weight slows down both Cody and Guy, so only Haggar can use it to its full potential. The katana’s a good weapon for all three characters, but Guy’s speed allows him to use it to its full potential.

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Stabby stabby! No wonder Cody ended up in jail.

The gameplay is highly reminiscent to other games in the genre like Renegade and the Double Dragon games, but there’s also been some streamlining involved. The controls feel silky smooth and responsive, even by today’s standards, with characters gliding across the screen effortlessly and attacks coming out with lightning speed. Final Fight is a free-roaming multi-plane beat-‘em-up, meaning that the player characters and enemies can walk in 8 directions at will, meaning that characters have to be lined up to attack one another. The game has the standard joystick and buttons layout, with one button dedicated to attacks and the other allowing the character to jump. Pressing these two buttons at the same time allows the character to do a special move – Cody has a jump kick, Guy does a spinning kick not unlike the Lee Brothers in Double Dragon and Haggar does a spinning lariat – at the cost of some health.

The game has six stages, each taking place in some segment of Metro City. The game starts in the Slums, before moving onto the Subway, followed by the West Side, Industrial Area, the Bay Area, with the final showdown taking place in Uptown. Each level is capped off with a unique boss character that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. There are also two bonus stages, taking place after the second and fourth levels respectively. After defeating Sodom at the end of the Subway level, players are given the chance to destroy a random thug’s car in a time limit. The other, taking place after the Industrial Area and the fight with Rolento, involves walking on a conveyor belt and breaking panes of glass.

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OH! MY GOD CAR!!

By the time Final Fight had been released, Capcom was beginning to settle into the CP System’s capabilities, cultivating a look that would persist in many future titles, especially later Street Fighter games. The coloring is a bit dull compared to later games on the CPS, but everything else is top-notch for the time. Considering the fact that this game was originally released in 1989, it’s simply amazing that this game manages to sidestep the various aesthetical pitfalls that several arcade games from this era fell into. The soundtrack is also pretty good for its time, my favorite songs include the Stage 1-1 theme, the music that plays in Stage 5-1 and the second theme from the Industrial Area. It doesn’t necessarily hurt that these three themes would eventually resurface in later Street Fighter games, but those are my personal favorites. While Yoshihiro Sakaguchi was the only composer credited in the Final Fight’s credits, six more people worked on the game’s soundtrack. You probably recognize Harumi Fujita, Manami Matsumae and Yasuaki Fujita from the Classic MegaMan retrospective, but Junko Tamiya (who worked on the Strider arcade games, as well as 1943 and 1943 Kai) and Hiromitsu Takaoka (1941, Sweet Home) also contributed to the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura also composed a couple of songs, but we’ll discuss her more later.

The game was unquestionably a smash hit in arcades. In fact, in the February 1991 issue of Gamest, a Japanese magazine dedicated to arcade games, Final Fight was named the number one game of 1990. It took home several other awards, taking home “Best Action Game” and ranking in fourth place on Best Video Game Music, ninth place on Best Graphics, second place in Best Direction and fifth Best Album of the same year. Final Fight’s popularity also extended to its characters, with Mike Haggar being named the most popular character of the year. Guy took second place, Cody was number seven, the sultry and mysterious Poison at #26, the massive weeaboo Japanophile Sodom took the #33 slot and damsel-in-distress Jessica ranking in at 40th place.

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I’m shocked that Rolento didn’t even place.

Western reactions are a little harder to gauge, but considering the sheer amount of home conversions, I think it’s safe to say that Final Fight was a hit in all regions. As with the original Street Fighter, several home computer ports were released across Europe on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As with the Street Fighter ports, these were handled by U.S. Gold and aren’t particularly impressive. Granted, how much of this was due to the limitations of the computers in question and how much was due to U.S. Gold’s lax quality control often varies and is debatable. However, unlike Street Fighter, there were actually several home ports worth talking about, as opposed to one. For starters, there was a port on the Sharp X68000, a Japanese home computer. The interesting thing about this version is the fact that because this was the hardware that the game was developed on, the game is essentially near-arcade perfect, a true rarity at this point. Then there was the Sega CD version, which traded vibrant colors for a Redbook CD soundtrack and voice acting, as well as a new Time Attack Mode. Time Attack Mode isn’t what one might expect: they’re essentially three arenas (one per playable character) with endless waves of enemies that need to be defeated within a time limit. On the plus side, the Western release had far less censorship than other console versions.

On that note, I couldn’t do a round-up of Final Fight’s home ports without the most well-known version of them all. The Super Nintendo release of Final Fight hit Japanese store shelves on December 21st, 1990, with North American and PAL region releases on November 10, 1991 and December 10, 1992 respectively. While the game itself wasn’t a launch title, it did release within the same year the system launched in these three regions. Unfortunately, this version did come with a fair amount of limitations. Perhaps the most important omission was the loss of multiplayer: Final Fight SNES was a strictly single-player affair. Likewise, both Guy and the fourth stage were removed. There was also a ton of censorship, at least in the Western home releases. Damnd was renamed “Thrasher”, Sodom was renamed “Katana”. One change that was exclusive to the Western SNES versions was that Poison and Roxy were replaced with two scrawny guys named Billy and Sid. Even with all of these cuts, the SNES version is brutal to play: in fact, for many years I hated Final Fight, simply because the SNES version was the only one I’d played. Capcom did attempt to rectify this in a roundabout way years later, with the release of “Final Fight Guy”. Despite being released a whopping two years after the original Japanese version, the only difference in this version is that Cody has been replaced with Guy. The game did see limited release in the USA as well, but only as a Blockbuster exclusive in 1994.

There were a few other modern home ports of Final Fight. SNES ports were all the rage on the Game Boy Advance and Final Fight was no exception. Fittingly named “Final Fight One”, this version of the game is pretty much arcade perfect, not only restoring the content cut from the SNES release, but even adding new content, like alternate versions of Guy and Cody. Arcade-perfect ports were also made available on the first volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed on the PSP. The most recent release was Final Fight: Double Impact, a digital release bundled with a new remixed soundtrack, online play, graphic filters as well as a bonus game, Magic Sword. This was exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, though the latter was marred with a controversial always-online DRM protection which prevented the game to be shared with other PSN users. The 360 version of Double Impact also saw a physical release in the form of the Capcom Digital Collection alongside various other Capcom digital titles in March 2012.

Thus concludes my piece on Final Fight. Final Fight did manage to earn 2 direct sequels on the SNES – which are fortunately much better than its ports of the first game – as well as three spinoffs: a super-deformed parody game on the NES, a Saturn-only fighting game that was developed by Capcom USA despite only releasing in Japan and a gritty reboot on the PS2 and Xbox that is so bad, that it killed the studio that developed it. That being said, the most lasting contributions Final Fight has made to video games in general have been through the Street Fighter franchise. Even to this day, new references to the original Final Fight have surfaced in Street Fighter games, ranging from characters and settings to subtle Easter eggs. While we haven’t seen a new Final Fight game since 2006 (and believe me, Streetwise may have salted the Earth on that one for generations), the franchise remains relevant to this day.

Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight

I wasn’t originally planning on doing a write-up for this game. Doing a write-up on Street Fighter 2010 was actually suggested to me by one of my editors, and once I found out that the game actually predated Street Fighter II – something which only raised further questions – I didn’t have a compelling argument against doing one. This game does have a pretty weird history behind it, so it would at least be interesting to explore.

There’s actually a pretty unique backstory with regards to this game’s release in North America. The original rumors were that the game was originally known simply as “2010” when released in Japan and the Street Fighter branding was a decision made by Capcom USA to increase the game’s visibility. As it turns out, this simply isn’t the case. The game was always meant to be a Street Fighter spin-off: the game’s full Japanese title is “2010 Street Fighter”. That’s not to say that Capcom USA didn’t modify the game. They changed the game’s protagonist – originally a cyborg interplanetary police officer by the name of Kevin Straker – into Ken (not yet given the surname “Masters”) from the original Street Fighter. They also completely changed the game’s storyline (more on that later) and added “The Final Fight” as a subtitle to both drive home the Street Fighter connection, as well as piggyback on the success of that arcade smash. In other words, Capcom Japan always intended 2010 as a Street Fighter spin-off, the USA branch just boosted its relevance to “sequel” and added a Final Fight reference to boot. Eat your heart out, U.S. Gold: Capcom USA managed to find an even cheaper way to make a contested sequel for one of their hottest franchises.

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I guess we owe Capcom USA an apology.

The game’s backstory actually varies a fair amount between the Japanese and Western release. I’ll start with the original plotline from 2010 Street Fighter. Humanity had grown far beyond the confines of the Earth and sought out new worlds. In this new interplanetary society, crime is rampant. Many criminals are powerful cyborgs, but they became even more powerful in the year 2010 AD, after the discovery of “parasites”: armored insects that merged with their hosts, causing them to sprout a beetle-like shell of armor and boosting their strength significantly. To combat this new threat, the Galaxy Police sends out Kevin Straker, a cyborg officer, His orders are to apprehend the parasites’ creator Dr. Jose, destroy the parasites and absorb their power, which opens a dimensional gate to the next outbreak area. However, Kevin has a mere 10 seconds to pass through the gate and if it should close, Kevin would die. With these limitations in mind, he sets out to combat the parasitic scourge.

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He even showed up on the Street Fighter V site. Dr. Jose too!

The English localization took things in a very different direction. The game’s main character was Ken, who retired from street fighting after winning the tournament and returned to college, eventually becoming a brilliant scientist. He ends up developing a new substance known as “Cyboplasm” which grants superhuman strength to any living organism. Unfortunately, soon after this breakthrough, Ken’s lab partner Troy is left murdered and the Cyboplasm stolen. Ken decides to upgrade his body with bionics and, using the martial arts mastery he developed in his street fighting days, tries to track down Troy’s killer. Following the trace amounts of Cyboplasm left behind in each planet in the “Frontier”, Ken eventually discovers that the culprit is Troy himself (replacing Dr. Jose from the Japanese version), who faked his death and is going to use the Cyboplasm to create a race of superhuman warriors loyal to him. Honestly, if you discount the Street Fighter connections, I think I prefer some of the plot points from this version – particularly the expanded relationship between the main character and the antagonist.

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I still think we got the better box art for once.

Street Fighter 2010 is a difficult game to describe. It plays like a weird mishmash of Ninja Gaiden and MegaMan, but never really reaches the quality of either game. Kevin is armed with a short-range projectile which can be rapid-fired on the ground but fired off only once in the air. While grounded, the projectile can be fired straight-forward, straight-up by holding up on the D-Pad, diagonally-up (with a weird kicking animation) by holding down on the D-Pad and straight down when somersaulting in the air. The range and power of this attack can be upgraded by collecting power-up capsules that are strewn throughout most stages. Collecting two capsules powers up Kevin’s attack one level and it can be boosted five levels. Another power-up gives Kevin an orb that follows him around that damages any enemy that comes into contact with it. The Flip Shield turns Kevin’s somersault into an attack that kind of resembles a Flash Kick, damaging enemies that come into contact with it. He can also scale walls by pressing the jump button against them and scale through platforms.

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Ah yes, the far-flung year 2010.

Levels vary from full-on platforming segments with bosses at the end to enclosed boss arenas. Most levels are timed and when the boss of each segment (referred to as “Target”) is defeated, a warp portal to the next area opens up. Kevin only has ten seconds to enter the portal before dying. The game offers unlimited continues – never a guarantee on the NES – but considering the fact that stages consist of multiple segments and health doesn’t replenish until an entire world is beaten, this game still offers a daunting challenge. Weapon power-ups remain constant between levels but revert to nothing when Kevin dies.

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Purple robo-gorillas are way more interesting than some shirtless guy!

The game’s graphics look pretty good for an NES game, especially considering the fact that the game came out roughly halfway through the system’s lifespan. The environments are colorful, character sprites are detailed and everything’s clear and visible. It’s probably not the most impressive-looking NES game in the system’s existence, but it was an early taste of what the console could do when pushed to its technical limitations. The game’s soundtrack is also top-notch, composed by Junko Tamiya – remember her from Final Fight? The tracks are energetic and manage to have a sound that’s much edgier than most of Capcom’s NES games.

The game feels like a lot of wasted potential. With unique stage layouts, beautiful sprite art and a good soundtrack, the game should be good. Unfortunately, the controls are too clunky at times and while infinite continues may seem like it would make the game easier, it just ends up feeling like more of a punishment considering how weak Kevin’s base stats are. Honestly, the game might be better if it only gave players one life, just because losing power-ups makes Kevin useless in combat and while some stages offer a lot of items, there are some with absolutely nothing. Worse yet, making a tie-in to the Street Fighter series that wasn’t a fighting game, even before SFII hit arcades, rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way – a choice that got exponentially worse in hindsight. SF 2010 isn’t a particularly terrible game – for most companies at the time, it might be considered among the best – but Capcom’s pedigree at the time made for a hard act to follow. SF 2010 was released in August 1990 in Japan and a month later in North America. By that point, Capcom had released the first two MegaMan games, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Codename Viper, Ducktales, Bionic Commando and Strider on the NES in North America. It’s just a shame that they never decided to revisit and refine the concepts present in this game, because there’s clearly a lot of untapped potential here.

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This deserved a 7th-gen sequel way more than Mercs.

One final thought occurs to me: was Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in production while Street Fighter 2010 was being made? I mean, the game did come out the following year, so I think it’s safe to assume that it was. However, if that were the case, I have to wonder why Capcom continued with 2010’s development if SFII had been conceived. Given how much of a departure 2010 was from the original, both in terms of setting and gameplay, it just seems unusual. Chances are the game was already so far into development that it would’ve been a waste of resources to not complete it, but I wonder what could have happened if 2010 ended up becoming a huge success like Final Fight before it. Would 2010 have had sequels and the traditional 1-on-1 fighting game formula have been abandoned? Or would the mainline Street Fighter games have run in tandem with a series based around the 2010 continuity, sort of like the various iterations of MegaMan that coexisted? We’ll never know, especially given how little information there is about Street Fighter 2010’s development, but it’s interesting to consider.

That seems like the perfect place to cap off this section of my retrospective: a nice little appetizer before we get into the real meat of the series. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at the worldwide phenomenon that was Street Fighter II, in all of its various incarnations. I’m not sure exactly when the next article in this series will surface – like I said, I’m only planning on doing these when I have a gap in my schedule – but right now, I’m planning on doing Part 2 sometime this April.

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Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

An Odyssey That Will Take Your Breath Away

Ever since those six seconds of footage in the Switch reveal trailer, I was incredibly hyped for Super Mario Odyssey (and endlessly gloated about how “Super Mario Switch” was a real game and not a tech demo as Nintendo tried to claim). I’ve wanted to write an article entirely dedicated to it for a while now, but ended up waiting until my second playthrough so that I could have maximum clarity on my feelings for it. It’s not like I could have had a review of it ready for launch day. Of course, after waiting this long and having already said that it lived up to my hype in the most anticipated games of 2018 article, I can’t just spend a few thousand words raving about it. I need a hook for this article. And during my second playthrough, it came to me. Last year there were two extraordinarily well-received games released in my two favorite game series, both of which weren’t my first choice for the series’ direction. And while I loved one of these games, the other left me very conflicted. These games are, of course, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Why did two games that seemed so similar in basic concept, both in series I adore, turn out so differently for me? Well, that’s what this article will attempt to answer.

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Spoilers: Mario wins this time.

Let’s start with Breath of the Wild, since as always, I like getting the negative out of the way first. Now despite me labeling this “the negative,” I’d like to clarify that I absolutely do not think BotW is a bad game. Putting all fears and associations aside, I’d have to say the Breath of the Wild is my pick for the second-best game of 2017, and that was a very, very good year. If it had actually made either its 2015 or 2016 release targets, it would have deserved to be my game of the year. There are things BotW does better than any other game I’ve played, the absolutely massive open world is better and more intricately designed than I would have thought something that big could ever be. Being able to climb almost any surface and safely jump/glide from any height in a game of this scale feels incredible and earns the game the “open air” label Nintendo gave it. Tricks with game mechanics that you should logically be able to do almost always worked, even when they wouldn’t in most games. The rune powers are used to great effect in the many, many, many micro-dungeons, and the game is gigantic. It took me over 100 hours to do everything in the game I felt was worth doing.

So why am I conflicted? There are two major issues. One is that for everything the game did better than I thought possible, there was a design choice I hated and felt almost betrayed by the inclusion of. Breakable weapons are the biggest factor, I really, really hate excessive resource management. How the game can give you infinite quickly regenerating bombs, but no truly permanent melee weapon boggles my mind, and it added a constant, unnecessary level of stress. This made the somewhat clunky menu worse, since you are forced to constantly switch weapons. Climbing was much slower than it needed to be and rain disabling it was ridiculous. It felt like there was a civil war going on during the game’s development over whether to make quality of life the goal or the mortal enemy, and neither side decisively won.

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Why why why why why WHY!?

My other issue is a more subjective one, or at least it counting as a negative is. Even with all the problems I mentioned above, Breath of the Wild is probably the best open world game I have ever played. But that isn’t what it should be, or at least not the only thing. It is a Zelda game, and as a Zelda game it fell short in many areas. I don’t want 50 different equippable weapons that have nearly identical functions, I want 10 unique items used in countless ways for puzzles and combat. Breath of the Wild only had five or so things that felt like genuine Zelda items. I want full dungeons, 120 tiny ones is a nice bonus, but it isn’t worth the five “real” ones being so short and de-emphasized. I don’t want to worry about collectables and stats and weapon durability, Zelda should be about level design. I should never dread having to explore a new town or area because I’m already overwhelmed. Breath of the Wild is clearly an exceptional game, but I feel it is noticeably lacking as a Zelda game, and games of that type are much rarer than the open world games BotW takes inspiration from. Until the next Zelda is announced and fixes my major issues, there is a cloud of fear hanging over this exceptional game.

I realize that my opinion is not a divine proclamation, and clearly many people really, really liked having such a non-linear and exploration-focused Zelda. I know that pleasing every fan every time is an impossible request, but I feel Breath of the Wild went too far in one direction. I’m not asking for every Zelda to be 90% dungeon style gameplay like Skyward Sword, but there has to be a compromise, right? Could a game find a balance where even if it wasn’t my very first choice, it left me feeling fully satisfied and secure about the franchise’s future, while still giving people with different priorities than me what they wanted? Is that even possible?

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Mario can do anything.

Yep, it absolutely is. Super Mario Odyssey is the first sandbox-style Mario game since 2002, as opposed to the linear platformers that are my preference. At its official reveal during the Switch’s formal debut, the trailer made it clear that the game would be far more focused on exploration than the recent 3D Mario platformers. While this somewhat disappointed me, it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the previous sandbox Mario games, and there was no indication that Mario’s ability to jump could break. I decided to have faith in the game, even with my conflicted response to Breath of the Wild when it was finally released. I eagerly awaited seeing more of Super Mario Odyssey, and counted the days until E3 when we were certain to get one of Mario’s signature greatly improved second trailers.

Would posting the entirety of Jump Up, Super Star!’s lyrics be excessive padding? Yeah, probably. But suffice to say, Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 2017 trailer was one of the best video game trailers I have ever seen. The game’s main new feature was revealed, Mario’s ability to possess enemies and objects ranging from goombas to a hyper-realistic T-rex that I’ve dubbed “Yoshi Senior”. And seeing extended gameplay demonstrations revealed that the non-linear levels were full of small sections containing classic style linear Mario platforming. My hype skyrocketed, I felt a sense of wonderful anticipation for a game that I hadn’t felt in years.

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And this isn’t even Yoshi’s final form!

I won’t go into too much detail about how fantastic Super Mario Odyssey is, there are plenty of reviews that will do that for me and you’ve had months to experience it for yourself. A colossal amount of content, constant variety with new things to possess in each level, 50+ mini-stages that play in my preferred Mario format, creative and beautiful settings with a huge amount of aesthetic variety, a staggering amount of things you can do with Mario’s partner Cappy even without possessing anything, and of course Mario’s signature perfect control and exceptional level design. But what I want to really praise Super Mario Odyssey for in this article is how it managed to balance two styles of Mario game and please everyone (well, every sane person).

Super Mario Odyssey has fully explorable levels, with secrets literally everywhere (they actually put in invisible coins to let you know when you had reached an area that didn’t have a moon hidden somewhere in it). Mastering the jumping system gives you an incredible amount of freedom and makes exploring every corner of every level enjoyable. A fast travel system and levels that put more of an emphasis on being deep than being sprawling means you never feel like you’re wasting time walking to a different area. The many forms Mario must take to find every Power Moon means your generous jumping abilities don’t make platforming challenges trivial. Levels have story missions that make them play out like the linear 3D Mario games, before opening up the entire level for exploration. And your reward for exploration may be a linear platforming mini-level. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t feel lacking regardless of whether your prefer linear or sandbox style platformers.

Now despite this, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t my favorite Mario game and wouldn’t have been my very first choice. But that leads to another thing it does much better than Breath of the Wild. While Breath of the Wild’s decisions have me holding my breath for the next Zelda to address my issues and assure me that the series hasn’t been harmed in the long term, Super Mario Odyssey does the opposite and fills me with hope. Mario games often come in pairs, and with how successful SMO was, I’m expecting the next 3D Mario to essentially be Odyssey 2. Now Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably be my preference if I was given the choice, but… there’s a possibility. The second Mario game in a pair is usually better, and if Super Mario Odyssey 2 is a better game and improves in the right ways, it just may manage to make a Mario formula I like better than the SMG games. Maybe if we cut down the number of worlds but made the linear platforming areas you found longer, long enough to pass for Super Mario 3D Land stages, we could actually have a hybrid that I like better than the linear Mario formula. It’s not guaranteed, but I never would have even contemplated it before Super Mario Odyssey. A game giving me that kind of hope, having that kind of potential, is something truly special, and a sign of just how masterfully designed Super Mario Odyssey is.

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Mario has the whole world open to him.

So, despite how similar Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seem in many ways, they also gave me an almost opposite reaction. Again, I’m not saying BotW is a bad game, in fact with a few changes (full dungeons in exchange for the map being Skyrim sized instead of double Skyrim sized, no more breakable weapons) a direct sequel could be one of my favorite Zeldas. The game was great and could provide a great foundation, but there is also a risk of there being long term damage. Super Mario Odyssey, however, is both an exceptional game and something that made me optimistic and excited about the influence it could have on my favorite gaming series of all time, and that’s something that truly deserves to be described as taking my breath away.

Turn Based #4: Focus Group Fantasy

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another Turn Based!  We’ll be trying something new this time, this will be a three-player round.  Increasingly prominent contributor Dari will be joining us for a discussion on how to design the ideal JRPG.  All three of us have our own ideas on how to do this, so hopefully we’ll end up with lots of bloody conflict and furious verbal combat.  Or hopefully we won’t, I forget which one we want.  Icepick is the least enthusiastic about the genre, so we’re making him go first.

Professor Icepick: I guess it could be argued that one of the most important aspects on a Japanese turn-based RPG is its setting. Due to the genre’s increased emphasis on storyline, a proper setting can create an engrossing world to explore for the 40-400 hours players can look forward to spending in the game itself. Yet roughly half of all JRPGs in existence will go for a cliched fantasy setting, taking place in a fictionalized version of medieval Europe. More recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic steampunk future go from a breath of fresh air to yet another one of those standard set pieces. Yet, very rarely, we’ll actually get something unique. I think the best example of this would have to be the Mother trilogy, released in the West as “Earthbound”.

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Long ago, in the far off ancient land of New York City circa 1993…

Taking place in what is essentially a contemporary setting driven more by off-the-wall humor than trying to ape the entire of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Earthbound managed to garner a cult following in the West due to its irreverent sense of humor and a setting that was, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air within the genre. As such, my ideal JRPG setting would be anything besides those two clichés that feel omnipresent within the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to escape the bland nature associated with traditional fantasy or sci-fi tropes. It just takes some kind of a gimmick, like a fantasy game basing itself more on the folklore of a non-European region, perhaps a more mundane future with less obvious flaws or being developed by Nihon Falcom.

Dari, your thoughts?

Dariwan: I’d have to agree. Most of the time it takes something drastically changing in the middle of the story to make the setting be anything more than just the same old thing. Earthbound was definitely a different beast, kind of feeling like it’s in “America” which makes you feel like the game could be in your hometown or somewhere close by.

I feel like my ideal JRPG would be something like a mix of Japan or something like Earthbound mixed in with the tropes. I think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions mixed in eccentric Japanese settings and the cliché stuff pretty well, but I think we can go a bit farther than that. Not that we’re going in that far, but MMOs have the same problem as JRPGs with their settings being a bit blasé. but I feel as I said before my ideal setting is one that “lives” and changes as the game goes on, instead of being the same thing throughout.

KI, do you agree?

KI: My main criteria for a setting is that it’s different enough from reality to accommodate the variety needed for a 40+ hour game.  This seems easier to do in fantasy settings, which may be a reason why they’re such a common choice, but it isn’t necessary.  As mentioned, the Mother series was able to take neighboring towns in contemporary America and make one feel completely different from the next.  The key is that the setting can’t get caught up on feeling realistic.  You shouldn’t be confined by real life settings, or an obsessively “believable” medieval Europe expy, or rock-hard science fiction.  I want imagination and variety, and you can do that in any setting as long as you have the creativity and don’t chain it to realism, even realism attached to a fantasy setting.

I do like it when games change tone midway through as well, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 and Final Fantasy IX introduce settings late in the story that you see no indication of at the start of the game.  And Chrono Trigger of course has every world setting you can think of thanks to time travel.  With how huge the scale of JRPGs should be, one setting often isn’t enough for an entire game.

Icepick: Of course, JRPGs aren’t the only genre that relies heavily on story. Visual Novels are quite similar to JRPGs in terms of storyline, but the main that differentiates the two is the emphasis on gameplay. In my honest opinion, the main gameplay aspect related to JRPGs is the battle system present in each game. Unfortunately, in most cases, I’m left underwhelmed. I’ll break it down as simply as I possibly can: if the game’s concept for a battle system starts with “Attack”, ends with “Run” and can only manage to shove “Magic” and “Items” in between them, then chances are I consider you a cancer to the video game medium as a whole.

There have been a lot of games that have had interesting takes on the JRPG battle system that manage to set themselves apart from that mediocre stereotype. Games like Lunar and some of the Legend of Heroes games have turned their battles into almost miniature “turn-based strategy” segments, relying significantly on character placement to allow for more thoughtful combat. The aforementioned Earthbound sticks to a Dragon Quest-inspired battle system with one very unique (and game-making) alteration: when party members take damage, their health gradually decreases, allowing a knowledgeable player the chance to heal them before they get knocked out. I’d also be in remiss if I didn’t mention Undertale, an American indie game that was clearly inspired by Earthbound, but took its battle system in a different direction. Players can choose to attack enemy monsters, using an accuracy bar or simply interact with them to settle their conflict peacefully. But when the enemy attacks, the game turns into a sort of shoot-’em-up style game, representing the player with a heart icon, forcing them to escape injury in various ways.

Of course, my personal favorite battle system would have to be the ones found in the early Paper Marios, and to a lesser extent, the Mario & Luigi games. Relying on button presses to increase damage, extend attacks and even defend and counter enemy attacks with proper timing. There’s just something so captivating about this simple gimmick: it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to really being in control of my character in a turn-based RPG. It’s a shame that few other games have attempted to lift this system, going instead for the more traditional Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style of combat. The only game that really comes to mind for me is South Park: The Stick of Truth. The fact that the game is only referred to as being “inspired” by Paper Mario, rather than a “Paper Mario clone” or even its own sub-genre is perhaps one of the greatest crimes that JRPGs have yet to answer for.

Dari: I personally like turn-based RPGs simply because they allow you to strategize instead of getting hit every 2 seconds with no real chance to defend. Also, the turn-based system allows you to exploit weaknesses and keep going. I do agree that “Attack Run Magic Item” gets boring at times. That’s why games like Persona (Especially 5) and games like the Tales series definitely are different beasts of turn based games. The Tales series in particular feels like an action RPG as most of the games are open field actions in battle. You can jump and do combos almost like a fighting game and even do certain mystic arts by chaining certain moves together. I like those different atmospheres that can generate difference in the game itself. But as I said I like the standard JRPG experience except when they do it wrong.

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This is very different than the “Attack Magic Item Run” system. and that’s why I like it.

 

The game I’m currently playing is Blue Reflection it’s kind of like Persona but backwards. The battle system is…interesting to say the least. they have systems that don’t really matter until boss battles happen, and the basic gameplay is kind of easy. You also auto heal after every battle, which takes away any urgency in any battle, since you know you won’t die. It bothers me, but the story is decent enough to keep me playing. That’s another argument for another time though.

KI: I’ve recently had trouble getting into turn based games, so my ideal JRPG battle system has become the Nier/Ys style where basic combat feels like a character action game, but you still have stats and items and an MP equivalent.  As long as I’m not being harshly punished for CPU controlled characters getting themselves killed or spammed with unavoidable spells, I generally prefer action-JRPGs at this point, and my ideal one would definitely have a real-time combat system.

If the battle system is turn based, it’s important there be something to prevent it from being tedious or feel like you don’t have to really be engaged.  Semi-turn based battle systems like the Mario and Luigi games or Xenoblade games can work very well for alleviating this, with timing being a constant part of every battle.  Even something as simple as the rhythm-based damage bonuses in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds a lot to the battle system for me.

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This is way more like a rhythm game than it looks.

Icepick: The role-playing game designation in video games generally feels like a catch-all term: there is little in common between games like Final Fantasy, Fallout and Ys, yet no one would argue that they are not all “RPGs”. One common element all of these games share is the concept of “character progression” — simply put, as battles and other quest elements are completed, the player character becomes stronger and gains access to new abilities, much like how studying or exercising increases people’s mental and physical prowess in real-life.

I’m honestly kind of torn about this one. Generally, I like mostly random stat boosts with experience, with a handful of points for the player to assign themselves, in order to further customize their character to suit their playstyle. That’s generally what I would consider the standard, but it’s just how much control one has over these stats that I feel conflicted. I’ve played games where stat changes are considered permanent, which forces players to make their choices wisely, which I like. On the other hand, I’ve also played games that have allowed for a constant “experience pool”, which can allow stats and abilities to be changed at will, depending on the situation. For example, if one focuses on the “strength” stat in a game, to deal big damage, but eventually finds themselves in a position where an ability only accessible to characters with a high “wisdom” stat becomes necessary, the ability to shift those points around saves the player from pointless grinding — but also sort of destroys any stakes in making those decisions in the first place.

Dari: It’s a mixed bag for me– I like the usual “Level up assign stats and go” which is kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, but I like JRPGs that buck that trend. Games like Fire Emblem that just give random stats that you don’t have control over, but offer different classes at max level give you more customization than other RPGs regardless of how it looks in the start. I’m a fan of flashy attacks and big damage so character progression is really big for me. The thing that irks me more than anything is when your characters are starting, and they really don’t have much to do, so you’re sitting there attacking and praying you don’t die every battle. This goes into ‘grindin6g’ which is another thing that i actually hate about JRPGs. JRPGs that “hide the grind” are the games that I enjoy a lot more than ones where you literally have to find in a area, sit there and fight for your life until you level enough to easily beat them then move on. (FFVII, I’m lookin’ at you…damn Worm area.)

KI: I generally don’t like being overwhelmed by choosing stat placement, especially early in a game when I may not know what exactly stats do or how important they are to the battle system.  I like getting a boost in every stat when I level up, I’d rather have customization be separated from that base stat increase.  Systems like the Abilities in Final Fantasy IX or the badges in the first two Paper Mario games are my preferred way to customize characters, you have more understanding of exactly what you’re choosing and how it will affect the game.  I’d prefer that the customization system not be overly buerocratic, a skill tree where I have to essentially grind level ups to get an ability I want is very annoying.  I also like a balance between whether stats/abilities can be reassigned or not.  Permanent choices made before you understand the game should never ruin a save file, but if everything can be changed at any time I don’t want constant micromanagement required because the game didn’t bother to balance areas so multiple play styles would work.  So having experience and ability point equivalents separated is my preference.

Icepick: Another common trait among RPGs in general is that they have a tendency of adding side content in an effort to flesh out the game world and make it feel more like an organic, real place, as opposed to, well, a video game. Secret bosses or dungeons, sidequests, card games, collectables, it must be required by Japanese law for every single RPG in existence to have at least one of these tacked on.

I honestly can’t think of an example of side content that actually managed to elevate an otherwise mediocre game. I guess there’s really only one bit of non-story related content that I actually found memorable and those were the bromides in Lunar 2 on the original PlayStation. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of characters from the previous game — or perhaps it was the lewdness of a few choice images chosen — but that’s probably the only piece of optional content in an RPG that’s actually stuck with me.

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Expecting me to use one of the sexy ones? Shame on you.

Dari: I don’t think they’re exactly NEEDED but in grindy games, I think side content is good as a “rest” from the game and doing something different, keeping the game fun and not tedious and making the player hate them. One of these “side content” things I like, again from the Tales series, they have “skits” which is side stories and sometimes just random conversations that add to character development and sometimes elaborate on story. It’s really helpful to have small cute offside stuff like that to help an RPG shine and show out as a better game in general.

Stuff like sidequests can help or hinder a JRPG. They can be good for a refreshing side story or they could just open a new time hole that you want to get out of because you want to access the story. this happened to me in Final Fantasy Crisis Core. I didn’t get past chapter 2 of the story because the side quests never ended. But things like the card games in the Final Fantasy Games are nice diversions that are optional that you don’t have to put time into unless you want to. I think that’s the ideal “Side content” in a JRPG. optional stuff that has enjoyment in putting in effort, but it’s not pertinent to the story or plot of the game, just something to break the monotony of the grind or the game in general.

KI: For side content, my general feeling is that RPGs should heavily lean towards quality over quantity.  Tons of trivial (or would be trivial if they didn’t involve luck based grinding/trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do) sidequests are a very bad thing, they are tedious and overwhelming.  Sidequests should never end up being the majority of a JRPG.  It gets even worse when those sidequests are practically mandatory, meaning that you will be severely underleveled if you skip sidequests and don’t do an absurd amount of grinding.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was really bad about that, if you somehow had high enough levels doing just main story missions would take around five hours.  As it is, I spent 60 hours and gave up on the final boss because I STILL wasn’t strong enough to win.  There’s a reason I usually specific Xenoblade 1 and 2 when I praise the series.  Chrono Trigger is probably the best handling of sidequests I’ve seen in a JRPG, the sidequests at the end of the game felt as polished as the main story, they weren’t overwhelmingly difficult to track down, and they added to the characters, basically being the end of their individual story arcs.  We need more RPGs with 5 great sidequests instead of 500 mindless/frustrating ones.

Icepick: Of course, what good is world-building when the world itself is lackluster? Map design is an important aspect of any RPG, regardless of sub-genre. In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, games relied on an overhead view to create truly labyrinthine dungeons and vast overworlds, but these days they can exist at any angle. It’s tough to really quantify my ideal world in general — I think my favorite maps of all time have been in the Ys series — but rather, it’s better to define a key component: variety. Each area on a world map should feel different from other areas, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of design. If the layout of a volcano area matches the tundra, which matches the desert, which matches your character’s hometown where your adventure begins, which matches the villain’s fortress where the game comes to its conclusion, then what’s the point of changing the setting in the first place?

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Ice slopes in a desert area, Falcom is truly brilliant.

Likewise, the setting of each area should inform the designs of the dungeons themselves. You wouldn’t expect to sink in quicksand in a volcano area, deal with water puzzles in a forest and frankly, I think Ys Origin is the only game that could reasonably work slippery terrains into a desert setting. Granted, it’s interesting to experiment with that sort of thing, but recasting existing hazards to match their new biomes is a must.

Dari: I don’t have much to add to that. except in the realm of randomized worlds. The world has to be unique each time. it can’t be the same thing with a color or tint change and pretend it’s different. There needs to be some kind of radical change for it to make sense. The Persona games do this well – at least 1 and 2 and on for sure – 3 and partially 4 kind of slipped up by having pretty much the same layout for each dungeon but just had different randomized maps each time you enter.

Stage hazards are also an interesting thing i don’t see many games pick up on. You may be in a volcano area, but the lava rarely affects you. The Desert doesn’t really do much but make you hot (Golden Sun actually made you drink water in the desert and your temperature went up the more you stayed in it which I liked) We need a sense of danger otherwise we’re just walking around through a nice-looking setting with really nothing to fear or worry about. Except the monsters/enemies which get kinda stale when they’re the only threat.

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Speaks for itself more ways than one.

KI: When it comes to world design in JRPGs, there is a gold standard that isn’t even technically a JRPG.  If asked about level design in my ideal JRPG, there’s pretty much one word I would use to communicate what I want: Zelda.  Dungeons should be intricate and filled with puzzles and obstacles.  The overworld should never have generic empty space in it, for all my issues with it, even Breath of the Wild knocked it out of the park when it came to avoiding that.  The dungeons don’t have to be exactly like Zelda, but I want something in them besides combat.  Puzzle solving, platforming, shmup sections, just anything but flat halls or mazes.

Being able to interact with the world beyond a generic talk/inspect button and fighting enemies is important to me in a JRPG.  Again, the gold standard is Zelda’s palette of unique items that can be used for both combat and puzzle solving, but anything that makes the levels more than a hall/maze/field with a graphical theme (as Icepick alluded to) will satisfy me.  If I’m going to be playing a role in a world, let me truly interact with that world.

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Just because it isn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t be the gold standard for them.

Icepick: Well, I’ve got to say, we’ve had a pretty fruitful discussion about what each of our ideal JRPGs would look like. I guess, the best way to finish would be to do a quick summary of everything we like to see in the genre. I love unique settings that avoid cliches that are synonymous with the genre. Engaging battle systems that go beyond simple menu-based random number generation are a must. I’m open to either permanent stat boosts or a pool of experience that can be readjusted on the fly, but not that big on sidequests in general and love it when an area’s themes are taken into account when designing dungeons.

Dari: I love JRPGs that don’t rely on side-quests but make wholesome side content that help the monotony. Games that “hide the grind” or even change up the battle system entirely to make a change. I like “Living” worlds that change and evolve as I go through them and I like when the character progression isn’t exactly the same as D&D and can do its own thing and still be interesting and fun. Also having the world fight you too is good as well. Have something besides the big bad and his/her cronies to want me dead.

KI: So, my ideal JRPG would basically be Zelda, Nier Automata, and Xenoblade being mixed together.  Varied settings with lots of surprises as you go through the game, action game style combat, intricate, puzzle heavy dungeons.  Simple upgrade system with a separate ability customization system, a few major sidequests that aren’t forced on you under threat of grinding.  A world that’s big enough to make exploration feel significant, but not so big it all blurs together.  Put gameplay and variety over realism.

Icepick: Well, that was a successful experiment. Hopefully Dari decides to join us in more Turn Baseds in the future. (We’ve actually already got a topic picked out, just in case he does.) So, who do you think has the best concepts for the perfect RPG? Dari, who is a die-hard fan of the genre; KI who is neutral, or the radical rebel that is Professor Icepick? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Armchair Dev: Darkstalkers 4

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency of coming up with ideas for sequels to some of my favorite video games. I’m pretty sure that some of my previous works have made that pretty clear, but it goes back even further than that. I mentioned in the final part of my Retrospective on the Classic MegaMan series that I’d come up with a few concepts for titles in that series when I was younger. It goes back even further than that, though: when I was barely in grade school, I was already coming up with ideas for new characters in games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Mortal Kombat. These days, terms like “OC” would be thrown around, but my reasoning back then was a lot more innocent: it was just a way to entertain myself.

As such, I’ve always had something of an itch to come back to some of these ideas. Even before the beginning of Retronaissance, I’d written a few random blog posts on the subject of various sequels I’d like to see and how I’d like to see them done. More recently, we’ve got the examples of such series I’ve done like “Retro or Reboot?” and “Sum of Its Parts”, though each of these series would often add their own unique spins to the concept, rather than just being a straight design document. The closest I came to the original concept was my first “Under Reconstruction” article, detailing a potential remake of Ys V. Still, none of these quite sated my almost gnawing need to do a straight write-up for a sequel. So, here we are – with absolutely no experience in the video game industry, I’m nothing more than an “armchair developer”, so I welcome you to Armchair Dev.

In Armchair Dev, I’m effectively setting out to produce my own takes on sequels to games I like in the form of design documents. Don’t expect any sort of consistent length between entries in this series: some games are just more likely to invoke a much broader reaction out of me than others. These documents will be a bit more segmented than other articles, with various headings and subheadings relating to whatever categories I consider necessary when discussing each concept

And what better way to kick off this series than with a game I’ve been craving for roughly two decades now: a fourth entry in the Darkstalkers series. If we discount Capcom’s various fighting game crossovers, Darkstalkers is clearly their second most popular fighting game franchise: a distant second to Street Fighter, but still relevant enough to see references even to this day, in games like Project X Zone and even Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Capcom did attempt to revitalize the series last-gen by way of a compilation two-pack, Darkstalkers Resurrection. The title’s irony was only visible in hindsight. Coupling Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (my personal favorite) with the more popular Vampire Savior (or Darkstalkers 3, as most people call it), Capcom was obviously trying to recreate the magic of such re-releases as Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, trying to feel out the potential audience for a new game in the franchise, but sales were disappointing.

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While Capcom has merely said that their plans have been shelved, it’s safe to say that the Darkstalkers are likely dead and the most we’ll see of them are cameos from Morrigan and a handful of others in the occasional crossover title, leaving the vast majority of the game’s lore and universe lost to us even beyond the foreseeable future. I see things differently. With Capcom focusing more on the eSports side of fighting games, it’s clear that they need to be a little less conservative when it comes to experimenting with new forms of monetizing some of their titles. As Street Fighter is their key fighting brand, it would be nearly suicidal to take unnecessary risks and poison the brand’s reputation – after all, it could be argued that games like Street Fighter EX3 and the earlier iterations of Street Fighter III impacted the brand negatively in the long run, leading to its hiatus, which Street Fighter IV reversed with its safer return to form. On that note, however, the monetization of Street Fighter V was healthier even during its dry period than the more traditional Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which appears at this point to be on death’s door. Therein lies the rub: Darkstalkers has a dedicated fanbase that hungers so much for a new game that they outright rejected Capcom’s attempt at gauging interest with re-releases. We’re left with a simple juxtaposition: a small, but rabid fanbase that desires a new game and a company that appears to be experimenting with new ways to prop up a genre that saw its heyday in the long-dead arcade scene.

All that being said, I present my take on a fourth Darkstalkers game.

Core Concept

My core idea behind Darkstalkers 4 can be summarized in a phrase: Capcom’s answer to Killer Instinct. While Capcom has a tendency to prefer being innovators in their own rights rather than simply mimicking their competitors, Killer Instinct’s unorthodox success is one that I’d hold up as an example for the future of the fighting game genre. While being one of the greatest success stories on what is either a distant second or even a third-place platform in a console generation isn’t a shining recommendation, it was KI’s sheer longevity that I find so inspiring: a free-to-play fighting game that literally launched with the Xbox One itself managed to survive with new content and balance patches well into 2017. The 2013 reboot of KI managed four years of support, despite the game’s original developer being bought out by Amazon. I can’t help but be impressed.

I’m honestly convinced that some of the decisions made regarding Street Fighter V were inspired by Killer Instinct 2013. The only problem is that they handled things backwards: instead of offering a free “base game” with various levels of transactions for content, SFV went for a base $60 cost while giving players the potential to earn important content with in-game currency. No doubt a bold move, but considering how lackluster SFV was at launch, it definitely led to the game suffering from some major growing pains for the first couple of years. With the advent of Arcade Edition, Capcom’s premier fighter is finally well worth its initial $60 price tag, but considering how many people were turned off when the game launched in 2016 and throughout 2017 – especially when compared to KI’s solid four years of growth – it was an obvious misstep in hindsight.

As such, I suggest that Darkstalkers 4 be Capcom’s first attempt at a true free-to-play console (and ideally, PC) fighting game. Of course, given the fact that Capcom required partnerships to develop their last two fighting games – with Sony providing major funding for SFV and Disney effectively taking control of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite – it would still be imperative for Capcom to both get this game on as many systems as possible and avoid fracturing the userbase by implementing crossplay between systems, just like they did in SFV. With Sony as the lone hold-out in terms of console cross-play, it becomes difficult to determine whether a PS4/PC or XBO/Switch/PC roll-out would be more beneficial.

Price Point

In terms of the game’s price point, I’d suggest outright stealing Killer Instinct’s system. The “base game” of Darkstalkers 4 would be a free downloadable demo, with only 1 rotating playable character available. The free character would be playable for a period between 1-2 months, before a different character is selected. In retrospect, I assume that when Capcom was marketing SFV, the major selling point was less the game itself and more the sheer number of online opponents made available to their customers. This would explain why Capcom gave users the option to unlock future characters for free – an option MvCI lacked. Offering a free, stripped-down version of Darkstalkers 4 would do a much better job of capitalizing on that strategy. Obviously, characters would have to be purchased one way or another – more on that soon – and in cases where a player already owns that month’s free character, they’ll receive another random choice from the remainder of the roster.

On that note, I’d love to see a return of the Fight Money concept from Street Fighter V. Obviously it should be rebranded to something more fitting for the Darkstalkers universe, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll just stick to the existing “Fight Money” term. Of course, I do think it needs a bit of an overhaul, particularly in the way it’s earned. The online component should revert to the way it was during SFV’s beta: at least a small amount of FM should be earned when fighting online, even when losing a match. Even a miniscule amount like 5FM would do a lot to motivate less-skilled players to continue playing online matches and contributing to the health of the community. I’d also take inspiration from Netherrealm Studios’ mobile card fighting games and allow a compromise for earning Fight Money through single-player content: the first completion would pay out a very large amount, but future attempts would pay out at a severely reduced rate.

Likewise, I’d also suggest expanding on the amount of content that can be purchased with fight money. Individual characters can still be purchased with Fight Money, but attempting to do so from the free version alone would be extremely difficult, though not impossible. That or perhaps earning Fight Money would be suspended while playing the free version, with any amount earned deposited as a massive lump sum once a character is purchased.

Purchasing the core content of characters would take on three forms, not unlike what Killer Instinct did in its first two seasons. Individual characters could be purchased for $5 apiece, perhaps with the inclusion of a single extra premium costume. The medium price point – between $20-30 – would nab the entire season of characters in a bare-bones fashion, just the characters and nothing else. Then, there would be a premium package: all of the characters, with an extra premium costume per character, plus some additional features. Maybe a free copy of Darkstalkers Resurrection – or perhaps an even more significant re-release – maybe a large lump sum of in-game currency. Just some bonuses that would cost Capcom very little, while enticing consumers to purchase it due to its perceived value. Obviously, that last package would ideally cost somewhere in the $40-50 range. Future installments of content would offer similar price points: effectively selling season passes without the typical initial $60 investment, an idea I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing attempted in a fighting game.

Gameplay

Of course, the most important part of any video game is easily the gameplay itself. With regards to fighting games, I’d break it down into two equally important core components: mechanics and roster. I’ll be handling both of these in their own respective sections.

Mechanics

Mechanically, I’d draw a lot from the latest game in the series, Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3). While Night Warriors is my personal preference, it’s clear that VSav is a superior game from a purely mechanical standpoint. For example, DS3 went from the standard rounds system used in Capcom fighting games to using downs: effectively a lives system where players had two whole lifebars to burn through and health isn’t replenished after one player is defeated. I’d love to see a return of the Downs system in a fourth Darkstalkers game (or any new Capcom fighting game, for that matter), but I am a bit concerned: after all, Killer Instinct has used the exact same system in all three of its games. Still, considering the novelty of such a system in Japanese fighting games, I’d definitely keep it.

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ROUND REBEL LIFE 2, FIGHT!

Likewise, there’s the recoverable damage system, where permanent damage is colored red and white damage can be recovered after a short period of time. Again, a similar system has appeared in Killer Instinct 2013, but considering how similar it is to similar systems found in tag team fighters, I’m sure that mechanic will have an easier time avoiding direct comparisons.

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I love that little flame movement when characters take damage.

Likewise, you’ve got to deal with the various uses of the meter. In Darkstalkers 3, 1 bar of meter can be used to perform Enhanced Special (ES) Moves, Extra Special (EX) Moves and the Dark Force mechanic. I’ll try to cut through the confusing terminology as painlessly as I possibly can, by comparing each of these to relative counterparts found in Street Fighter games. VSav’s EX Moves, despite their name, are effectively like Street Fighter’s Super Moves (Critical Arts, Super Arts, etc.). ES Moves, on the other hand, are equal to the EX Moves found in Street Fighters III, IV and V. Dark Force, on the other hand, is a completely different beast, with no real equivalent until SFV’s V-Trigger: a power-up activated via a button combination that grants each character a unique ability for a brief period of time.

In the past, I considered tying Dark Force to a “Revenge Meter” mechanic, not unlike the Ultra Combos in SF4. Half a bar could perform the traditional power-up, while saving an entire bar would allow for a much more powerful “Dark Force” attack, not unlike those aforementioned Ultra Combos. Since then, I’ve changed my mind – adding new meters would simply drag down the importance of the standard meter. Also, keeping all of the gameplay mechanics tied to a single bar would make a new Darkstalkers game pretty unique compared to other modern Capcom fighters. As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that ES Moves and Dark Force activations should cost 1 bar apiece, while EX Moves would cost anywhere from 2 to 3 bars, depending on the amount of damage they deal.

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Street Fighter V, eat your heart out.

The game utilizes a more flexible combo system, opting for chain combos over links. It only makes sense, the original Darkstalkers is considered one of the ancestors of what would eventually become the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, and it’s shown in every iteration of the franchise. Frankly, I’d just keep that as-is – the 1-on-1 nature of the Darkstalkers games allow these mechanics to differentiate themselves from the more chaotic Marvel titles.

There are a few other mechanics present in VSav that feel worth salvaging. First and foremost, is how the series has generally handled projectile collisions. While most fighting games have the two fireballs cancel one another on impact, Darkstalkers goes for a more momentum-based system: whichever projectile has more momentum behind it – usually the more recent of the two projectiles – pushes the other out of its way, at the cost of some of its own force. “Pursuits” are a common technique that allow players to attack downed opponents. As such, downed characters can wake up straight up, forward or backwards – though this isn’t particularly uncommon, especially in modern fighting games. Pushblocks, a hallmark of the defensive options in the Marvel games, were also present in Vampire Savior; as well as Guard Cancelling, which is functionally identical to Street Fighter’s Alpha Counters and more recently, V-Reversals.

Of course, then there are old trappings common in Capcom fighting games of the era that have been ditched in modern games. For example, the entire Darkstalkers series had the option to choose between multiple game speeds, a feature that was discontinued even before Capcom revitalized their stake in the genre with the original Street Fighter IV. As much as I loved this functionality back in the day, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t return. The generally accepted rules for VSav in a tournament setting is to use the “Turbo 3” setting, so that seems like the ideal speed to try to match in a new iteration of the series. Likewise, many iterations of Darkstalkers 3 included the option to enable Auto-Block (exactly what it sounds like), another hallmark of Capcom fighters from the mid-90s. Considering the fact that Capcom seems to be attempting to court a more casual audience, I feel like bringing back auto-block would be a good idea when it comes to teaching new players the ropes. Ideally, this could also be accompanied by some form of Simple Mode, like those found in some of the early Marvel games. To make up for these advantages, I’d suggest dampening the player’s health (for Auto-Block) and/or damage (Simple Mode) by anywhere from 5-10%, just to make things even. Capcom tried something similar in Street Fighter x Tekken, but unfortunately, they tied it to the unpopular “Gems” mechanic. I’d simply go for a traditional menu on the character select in the case of a Darkstalkers 4. Also, differentiate players who are and aren’t using these mechanics. Maybe change the tint of characters using either mode, just to serve as a visual cue for players or force these settings to be set beforehand in online matches and allow players the option to filter them out.

In general, I think that many of the elements from previous games in the series like Night Warriors and especially Vampire Savior should be retained, but also streamlined and modernized. One particular oddity in the classic Darkstalkers titles were their tendency toward, shall we say, “unique” inputs for special moves. Nothing exactly on par with some of the most infamous fighting game inputs, but in the early games especially, there was an odd tendency toward “down-to-up half-circles” (that’s the best way I can describe them) and other motions that just felt awkward in practice. I’m not asking for the game to be dumbed down to say, Marvel levels, but keep it within the realm of the Street Fighter games this time around.

Roster

I’ve always argued that a fighting game is only as good as its roster – and Darkstalkers 4 should be no exception. Looking at the launch line-ups for games like Killer Instinct 2013 and Street Fighter V, I’ve decided to go with a more classic number. At launch, I’d expect DS4 to have a total of 10 playable characters: the same number available in the original Darkstalkers from 1994. Not particularly a huge number, but it should allow for a diverse assortment of characters and considering my take on DS4 has been conceived as something of a budget title with lots of support in mind, I’d rather have a smaller and more polished base roster to work with from the beginning.

roster

Still one of my favorite designs for a character select.

The roster breakdown, on the other hand, is something I’ve dreaded coming up with. When it comes to fighting games, my tastes tend to deviate from the norm, even in the most niche of titles. Instead, I’ll merely start with a breakdown of how I feel the roster should be situated: a majority of old characters, with a few new original characters to add new life to this undead franchise. Originally, I’d settled on a “9 old to 1 new” ratio, but I think that “8 old to 2 new” would also be a feasible choice. My preference still lies with the former, however. After all, most of the appeal of the Darkstalkers series comes from the universe itself, and by extension, the existing cast.

With that being said, I do have some picks for who I’d consider viable choices for returning characters, which I’ve ranked in order from what I’d consider most to least likely. Many of the characters in the earlier Darkstalkers games had a tendency towards versatile movesets that diminished each character’s identity. As such, I’ve got suggestions for how to reimagine characters in order to give their playstyles unique and cohesive identities – not unlike how Street Fighter V handled many of the returning characters in its own base roster. That being said, I’ve left some popular choices off my list and I’ll explain my omissions after I’ve gone through the ten characters I’d expect to see in a new Darkstalkers game. I’ve also come up with an idea for a “new” playable character I could see as a viable choice among even the most purist of Darkstalkers fans.

Morrigan Aensland

My first character is clearly the most obvious choice possible. It’s to the point where most people don’t think of Morrigan as a Darkstalkers character, but rather “Darkstalkers is the series where Morrigan came from”. Appearing in more crossover games than I can count – though strangely not every single one –  Morrigan is the de facto mascot of the series and has been for quite some time. It just wouldn’t be a Darkstalkers game without her.

Archetype: Honestly, I’d keep her as-is. Considering the sheer amount of experience people have had with Morrigan in recent releases compared to other characters in the series, she already has a modern iteration to use as an effective template in Darkstalkers 4. Give her the same treatment Street Fighter V gave Ryu – she’s equally as iconic in her respective series. As such, Morrigan makes sense as a character meant to ease newcomers into the Darkstalkers series as a whole: easy to learn, but with plenty of depth when mastered. Her moveset is varied, boasting a projectile, “Shoryuken” anti-air and even a command grab. Bring back Valkyrie Turn as an EX move, alongside Darkness Illusion and Finishing Shower (with new, manageable inputs, of course) and for the love of God, just bring back Lilith as her shadow clone. She showed up in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, for crying out loud!

Demitri Maximoff

Character number two seems a bit like a weird choice: bringing in Darkstalkers’ other resident “shoto-like” character so quickly may feel a bit premature. Fun fact – Demitri was originally the main character of the series. In fact, he was the title character in Japan: the titular “Vampire”. There’s also the fact that he’s one of the most prominent characters in the series – sharing the spotlight with only one other in that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer from what feels like a lifetime ago – yet never appeared in a Marvel game. Still, cameos in Project X Zone and Capcom Fighting Jam have kept Maximoff relevant to at least some extent, so he’s no wild card.

Archetype: There’s really very little I’d change. His stats were already different from Morrigan, effectively making him the stronger Ryu to her faster Ken. Drop his “Negative Stolen” command grab, to further differentiate himself from Morrigan, but give him a new special move to compensate.  Also, definitely include the Midnight Bliss: it’s a divisive element of the character, but it seems to have more fans than detractors. Just include the Midnight Pleasure – the version where he just eats his opponent without turning them into a sexy lady – to please everyone.

Felicia

Perhaps the second most prolific character in the series, Felicia has gotten a bad rap as of late, but still manages to consistently show up in various crossovers. She hasn’t appeared in quite as many as Morrigan, but actually managed to appear in one that the succubus was left out of. As such, it would just feel wrong to leave her out of a new game in her series of origin. Her costume may raise a few issues – some have even speculated that this is why she was left out of the latest Marvel vs. Capcom – so a more eSports-friendly redesign may be in order, but as long as her original outfit is made available as an alternative costume, everything should be fine.

Archetype: Felicia’s movelist varies from game-to-game, so trying to create a complete version of her fighting techniques seems like a good place to start. Many of her techniques over the years have cemented her position as a rushdown “pixie” character, relying on close-range combos as her best avenue for damage. As such, I’d mix-and-match my favorite moves from her various iterations to create a fleshed-out, cohesive character concept. Take the Rolling Buckler from MvC3 – where it had numerous follow-up techniques, as opposed to just the uppercut; bring back the Rolling Scratch (follow-up and all) and Sand Splash from Night Warriors and keep the VSav iterations of Delta Kick, EX Charge and Cat Spike. Felicia’s Hellcat technique should also return but heavily modified: rather than an up-close command grab, I picture it starting from a pounce. The medium iteration would act like a command grab from the pounce with a short hop – best example I can think of is Hakan’s Oil Dive from Super Street Fighter 4 – while the heavy iteration would be a strike, with better range but the potential to be blocked. Keep her standard EX Moves and she should be good to go.

Lord Raptor

Demitri’s co-star in the aforementioned “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” concept trailer, this ghoulish Australian death metal rocking zombie is among the most popular characters in the series, despite his lack of appearances in any Capcom-developed crossovers. Of course, that’s likely just due to the animated nature of the character: when rumors swirled of a Capcom character in MvCI so impressive, “the animators deserve a raise for getting this character into the game”, Lord Raptor (going by the moniker of “Zabel Zarock” in Japan) was one of the most common guesses for the character’s identity. After all, Raptor’s animations are among the most impressive in the series’ history.

Archetype: Another high-speed character, Raptor has traditionally had high attack strength, but ended up with below-average health. As such, I’d probably exaggerate this in a new Darkstalkers game and turn him into a glass cannon-type character: high offense, but low defense. With this in mind, I’d keep Raptor’s moveset similar, though with modified inputs – Raptor’s one of the most prominent examples of those weird inputs I mentioned earlier.

Hsien-Ko

I’d argue that Hsien-Ko (or Lei-Lei, if you’re Japanese) is probably the third most popular Darkstalker character, but that’s mainly based on her appearance record in crossovers. Appearing in games like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Pocket Fighter and more recently, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Project X Zone, a lot of people clearly have a soft spot for this Jiang Shi. She’s also my first character choice that didn’t appear in the original Darkstalkers, making her debut in Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge.

Archetype: Unfortunately, the love for Hsien-Ko has never really translated to her playability in fighting games. Generally ranked as a low-tier character in most of her appearances (and merely mid-tier at her best), Hsien-Ko is among the slowest characters in the series with low health and defense and decent attack. As such, I’d simply keep her low speed, but boost her attack and defense substantially, effectively making her a heavy-hitter, keeping her utility at both close- and far-range. Keep her motions from VSav, and she should be good to go.

Jon Talbain

In my experience, Jon Talbain (alias Gallon) was among the most highly-requested Darkstalker characters to appear in the recent batch of Marvel games. Considering the fact that Infinite added MegaMan X – by far, the most rabidly requested character for MvC3 – it stands to reason that Capcom would be likely to include the kung-fu werewolf in a new Darkstalkers character.

Archetype: Much like Felicia and Lord Raptor, Talbain is a rushdown-heavy character, relying on a balance of strength and speed. Generally considered a top-tier character in Night Warriors and Vampire Savior, it seems fair to retain the character’s abilities. While Felicia and Lord Raptor would represent specific sub-types of the rushdown archetype, Jon would end up being a more balanced, standard variant, with equal emphasis placed on combos and strong attacks.

Anakaris

My reasoning for including Anakaris is sound but unorthodox. Anakaris appeared in both Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom Fighting Evolution – and was even a high-tier character in the latter – giving him more exposure when compared to the rest of the series’ cast. There’s also the worry of including too many female characters, given Darkstalkers’ reputation as a “waifu fighter”, so adding a little testosterone in the form of a dried-out, yet somehow bulked-out mummy doesn’t hurt.

Archetype: Anakaris has generally filled the role of zoner in most of his appearances, it feels fitting to keep him in this role. Most of his attacks are long-range, meant to keep his opponents away from him, meaning that he fits in with the trapper archetype, meaning that he works best when pinning his opponents out from close-range. He can curse enemies, rendering them helpless but small; inhale enemy projectiles and cough them up ad nauseum (pun intended) and even perform a mid-range grab, wrapping his opponent in bandages and swinging them back and forth before slamming them into the ground. Many versions of Anakaris had some decent rushdown capabilities – he even has a divekick – but I’d downplay those elements to emphasise his ranged capabilities.

B.B. Hood

The fourth and final Darkstalkers character that appeared in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, B.B. Hood (or Bulleta, as she’s known in Japan) made her debut in Vampire Savior and has been a cult-favorite ever since. She’s appeared in SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium on the NeoGeo Pocket Color and more recently, as a boss character in Project X Zone. She even managed to appear in Cannon Spike, a free roaming shoot-‘em-up game featuring a variety of Capcom characters.

Archetype: B.B. Hood’s standard moveset appears to have a little bit of everything: projectile attacks, a powerful strike and even a command grab. It leads to an interesting array of attacks, but little cohesion when it comes to strategy. However, her normals are where an identity can be surmised. Firing uzis and tossing and dropping landmines juxtaposed with her missile-heavy moveset and Dark Force implies that B.B. Hood would be best considered as a zoner, but I’d keep her other attacks for the sake of flavor. Her speed and mobility has always been important, making up for the short range of some of her normal attacks. Focusing on the zoning aspects of B.B. Hood would provide an interesting contrast to Anakaris, who has the longest-ranged normals out of the entire cast, while being among the slowest characters in the game.

Sasquatch

At this point, my choices become a little more esoteric. Sasquatch is probably no more popular than most of Darkstalker’s remaining cast, in terms of the fandom. However, when it comes to the tournament scene, the character’s considered top-tier in both Vampire Savior and Night Warriors to this day, so there is clearly at least some kind of love for the character, even if it’s strictly functional.

Archetype: Of course, the real reason I’m choosing Sasquatch is due to what he represents. The Darkstalkers games never really had any pure grapplers – likely because almost every character had at least one common grab – Sasquatch generally has at least two such moves in his repertoire, making him a prime candidate. Coupling that with the fact that his Big Snow projectile was replaced with a shorter-range (but otherwise functionally identical) Big Breath in Vampire Savior, along with his other moves make him perfect as a close-range fighter. I’d simply take his moveset from VSav and give him back his Big Cyclone from NW, to give him more tools to get close the distance between him and his opponent.

Q-Bee

By this point, the last three characters I’d even consider for the game are about equally likely in my eyes: after all, I’d shoot for a ten-character base roster, with at least one original character, so this is honestly more about covering every character I’d personally consider for an initial slot. Q-Bee is, by no means, a popular character, even in the context of a niche series like Darkstalkers. This isn’t really helped by the fact that she was only playable in Vampire Savior (and technically, Vampire Savior 2, but that doesn’t really count as a new game), though she did made appearances in the Card Fighters games, Namco x Capcom and both Project X Zone games. However, she was considered a top-tier character in VSav, which is why I’d consider her worthy of inclusion.

Archetype: As with B.B. Hood, Q-Bee’s moveset is kind of…all over the place. She’s got two command grabs, an aerial assault and even an attack similar to Chun-Li’s Lightning Legs. Her EX moves are a giant ball of honey that immobilizes her opponent and an attack that allows her to summon her hive to attack. I’m tempted to reimagine Q-Bee as a puppet character, simply due to the legions of soul bees at her disposal, but they’d clearly be support rather than Q-Bee’s main source of damage, and I worry about attempting to add a puppet character to any game with Morrigan in it, considering her use of Astral Vision. Still, I’m confident that the concept can be differentiated enough. Perhaps the P-Bee drones can appear in new special and EX moves added to Q-Bee’s current repertoire.

Rikuo

Rikuo’s been a mainstay of the Darkstalkers series from the very beginning, only sitting out in Vampire Savior 2. On the other hand, his appearances outside the series have been pretty sparse. Still, this curiously attractive fishman (better known as Aulbath in Japan) has been mid-to-high-tier for the entirety of the series. Perhaps that’s a poor justification for including him, but it seems valid to me.

Archetype: Rikuo suffers from the same “jack-of-all-trades” movesets that many Darkstalkers characters have, but in this case, I feel it may be a strength. Make him an all-around character: shotos typically fulfill that archetype, but having a non-shoto variant would add some depth to the roster. Keep his moveset from VSav, but bring back Screw Shot from Night Warriors. Rikuo’s generally been a character that generally uses his projectiles to disable opponents, allowing him to get in close to deal major damage, that seems like a pretty good basis for the character.

Those ten characters are the ones I’d consider the most likely. Admittedly, anyone of them that didn’t make it would be a shoe-in for Season 2, along with Huitzil – I just can’t justify him being in the base roster, no matter how much I love him – and Bishamon – probably my least favorite character in the franchise.

Darkstalkers fans have probably noticed a host of omissions regarding my potential roster. Compared to many fighting games, especially Capcom’s, the Darkstalkers series has a pretty big emphasis on storyline. By the end of Vampire Savior, quite a few characters’ futures can be called into question. Pyron is generally assumed to have been killed and absorbed by Demitri at the end of Night Warriors. Lilith has clearly been absorbed into Morrigan – a fact that would hopefully be represented in a fourth Darkstalkers game, unlike the latest Marvel vs. Capcom games. Thus, Pyron and Lilith are off-the-table, at least for the base roster. However, there are other characters that we can surmise have met with unfortunate fates. Given Jedah’s goal to reconstitute both Makai and Earth’s souls into a single perfect being, it can be safely assumed that he was defeated at the end of Vampire Savior, and may very well have died once again in the process. Granted, the ending in Vampire Savior 2 implied that Jedah can easily revive himself, so maybe he could appear as an unplayable boss in the initial release, while becoming playable in a future season.

Likewise, while most fighting game endings tend to be non-canonical, the Darkstalkers series appears to take a “broad strokes” approach. For example, in Night Warriors, Jon Talbain regains his humanity; Felicia becomes a famous celebrity; Rikuo meets a surviving female of his species and the two settle down and have a child; and Hsien-Ko and Mei-Ling give up their lives to save their mother’s soul, only to be reincarnated as a new pair of twins. All of these story elements end up being canonical in Vampire Savior’s storyline, so it’s safe to assume that many of the endings in Vampire Savior would likely be considered canonical in a fourth Darkstalkers game. After failing to bring his sister back to life, Victor gives up his life to revive her.

Finally, there’s Donovan. In his Night Warriors ending, he ends up succumbing to his tainted blood, effectively becoming a vampire in his own right. Capcom has tried to keep Donovan’s fate ambiguous, but the presence of “Dee”, a hybrid character with Donovan’s head pasted on Demitri’s body, in an arranged version of Vampire Savior (only present in the Japan-exclusive Vampire Darkstalkers Collection on PS2), seems to imply that Donovan’s grisly fate may have come to pass. On the other hand, Donovan himself did appear in the home versions of Darkstalkers 3, with an ending. However, given the similar presence of the deceased Pyron, as well as the fact that his ward Anita hadn’t aged a day, despite VSav taking place several years after NW, makes me think that a terrible fate did end up befalling Donovan after all.

donovan-canon

Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

That’s not to say that I’d leave these characters out of the game entirely – quite a few of them have some pretty big followings – I’d just suggest that Capcom should find a way to bring these characters back while logically following the canon established in previous games. If Capcom does end up bringing back any of these characters, I hope it doesn’t end up happening in a “I didn’t actually die” manner, sort of like how they revived Gouken in Street Fighter IV. Fortunately, Nash’s resurrection in Street Fighter V was handled a lot better, so I have some confidence that Capcom would put some effort into revitalizing these defunct characters.

At the same time, there should definitely be some new blood added to the game, and it needs to take place from the very beginning. Night Warriors made the bosses from the original Darkstalkers playable and added two completely new characters on top of that. Vampire Savior added another four, which came at the expense of three characters from the previous game, though it’s hard to say if hardware limitations were the sole cause of their removal – at the very least it led to the creation of both Vampire Hunter 2 (to bring the old characters into the new engine) and Vampire Savior 2 (which replaced 3 existing characters in the VSav roster, allowing the NW-exclusive characters a chance to combat the new characters that arose in their absence). As such, it’s safe to say that Darkstalkers games generally rely on adding new members to their cast, and regardless of the mixed reception towards many of Capcom’s more recent attempts at creating Street Fighter characters, relying entirely on nostalgia from the beginning feels like a big miscalculation.

I’m not going to bore you with fanfiction-level pitches for original characters or even talk about what iconic characters from myths or horror movies would make good choices for new characters. I just have one suggestion that Capcom should keep in mind: try bringing in an older Anita as a playable character. This isn’t even an entirely new concept, unused data found in the arcade version of Vampire Savior implies that both she and Huitzil (alas, poor Phobos!) may have been planned as playable characters, but were likely left out due to space limitations. Dee’s ending in that Vampire Darkstalkers Collection I mentioned earlier uses a sprite that appears to be modelled after the design found in the arcade version’s data, along with two still shots that seem to have been used for both the versus screen and a victory screen, respectively. All of this artwork matches up perfectly with the character design found in the unused content, which leads me to believe that Anita was pretty far along in development before being scrapped.

anita

Is this the little girl I carried? 

Hopefully, that would mean that there was already a moveset concept far enough along for the character, which Capcom could recycle and use in a Darkstalkers 4. Of course, due to Capcom’s reluctance to comment on Donovan’s fate, it’s also possible that they may avoid using Anita in general. However, both Night Warriors’ and Vampire Savior’s storylines have made allusions to her growth and power: Donovan’s ending in Night Warriors shows her as a grown woman, while Jedah’s ending in Vampire Savior makes reference to an unknown “ruler of humans”, making nothing clear aside from her gender. On the other hand, Street Fighter V itself seems to be pushing its series’ particular storyline forward, filling in the gaps between earlier games in the canon and III, which seemed like a dead-end for the series storyline as recently as the previous game. Perhaps Capcom’s becoming bolder and we’ll finally get some answers to whatever questions we may have about the fate of the popular Dark Hunter and his young ward can finally show off some of her incredible potential. With all of that in mind, Capcom may decide to save Anita for inclusion down the line and go with a completely original idea in the base roster. From a storyline and popularity standpoint, Anita kind of reminds me of Jubei from Blazblue: both characters have been established as extremely powerful in canon, but Capcom and Arc System Works respectively have dragged their feet on making them playable. I just hope that if Anita isn’t in the base roster of a new Darkstalkers game, that she becomes playable sooner rather than later.

Modes

Back in the 90s, all you really needed for a fighting game was an Arcade mode for single-player and a versus mode to allow two players to compete head-to-head. Anything else felt like a bonus. At this point in time, consumers are a lot more discerning. While the most hardcore players of the genre feel like any resources spent on anything that isn’t the versus mode is a waste, mainstream audiences generally prefer a great deal of single-player content. In recent years, Capcom had suffered difficulties when trying to court both audiences, so let’s see if we can find a way to make both groups happy.

First, let’s take a look at the additional modes – that is, anything besides the standard Arcade and Versus modes – present in previous home versions of Darkstalkers games, if only for inspiration. The first game to add any additional modes was the home port of Darkstalkers 3 on the original PlayStation. These new modes include Training (a staple in the genre today), Collection (which allowed players to unlock artwork, music and the arcade mode endings for repeat viewings) and most importantly, Original Character. In what was clearly a predecessor to World Tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, Original Character Mode allowed players to choose any character from the main roster, edit their colors and names and play through multiple run-throughs of Arcade mode in order to power them up, boosting their strength, allowing them to start with more and more full Super Meters and even increasing the number of downs they have available. There wouldn’t be another new mode until Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower on the PlayStation Portable. Fittingly dubbed Tower, players would select three characters and try to tackle a long tower, filled with opponents. Completing certain tasks like finishing an opponent with an EX move would change the path taken in the Tower itself, leading to quicker routes. Enemies become more and more dangerous the higher a player reaches, and the mode only allowed for interrupt saving, and that’s only due to the mode’s length.

tower

In my defense, it’s really hard to summarize an entire game mode into a single image.

Let’s start with the obvious modes: the multiplayer. The usual should suffice, both local and online versus modes, allowing for fights with human opponents, the latter of which likely using a new iteration of Capcom’s proprietary “Kagemusha” netcode. Throw in a “VS CPU” mode and that should keep most hardcore players happy. Personally, I’d want to see a 2-on-2 tag mode as an option – sort of like the Variable Battle in Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX – simply because it would be interesting to see Capcom add a tag option in a game that didn’t rely upon it as a standard mechanic (the most recent game I can think of that tried this was the reboot of Mortal Kombat). That seems a bit outside of the scope of this kind of game though.

Then there’s the single-player modes. As Street Fighter V has taught us, Arcade Mode is a must. In Darkstalkers 4’s case, I’d suggest using Arcade Mode as the basic story mode at launch, simply due to a small roster that could have the potential for expansion. A cinematic Story Mode wouldn’t be available at launch, but rather once the game’s roster is large enough to bring such a mode to its full potential. Ideally, the Arcade Mode would work similarly to Vampire Savior’s: with rival battles, minor story segments and different boss fights per character. Of course, given my early proposed roster doesn’t have any obvious boss characters, but ideally the Arcade Mode would be updated as new characters are added to the game, with expansions made to existing characters’ storylines.

As for extra modes, I’d love to see Darkstalkers Chronicle’s Tower Mode return in a new Darkstalkers game. It seems like a much more interesting concept than SFV’s Survival Mode, leading to a greater deal of replay. Considering the addition of Fight Money, bringing in the Weekly Missions from Street Fighter V would also be a good idea. Training Mode and Trials round out the game’s single-player offerings, with the potential for more content down the line.

Aesthetics

While most people would argue that a game should only be judged on its gameplay, it’s just not realistic in practice. Before one can play a game, they must have their senses enticed by the sights and sounds of the game in question. If that weren’t the case, then The King of Fighters XIV wouldn’t have been derided for its PS2-quality visuals and this industry wouldn’t be obsessed with pushing graphical quality to its limitations, despite the diminishing returns. The Darkstalkers games are clearly among the most stylish out of all of Capcom’s fighting games, to the extent where I’d argue they might even be the most stylish games Capcom has ever produced in its entire history. As such, a true successor to the series would have to live up to those expectations.

Tone

First and foremost, there is the game’s tone. Despite sharing a Teen rating in North America with other Capcom fighters like Street Fighter and Rival Schools, the games themselves contained much more adult content compared to their contemporaries. Characters would be dismembered in standard attacks – Jedah used to decapitate himself in his Guard Counter – causing the game to be a much gorier affair than other Capcom games at the time outside of Resident Evil. Likewise, most of the female cast members were far more sexualized compared to other fighting games at the time. Morrigan in particular could be counted upon to deliver double entendres: she was a succubus after all, a literal sex demon.

gore

One second, you’re carving out your enemies’ entrails…

Obviously the 90s were a long time ago, and graphical resolutions have skyrocketed since then. Likewise, the all-seeing eye of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has focused a lot more on Japanese content since those days. As such, if Capcom attempted to do some of the stuff they attempted back in 1994, it would probably net them a Mature rating… and I’m actually completely fine with that.

silly-win-pose

…the next, a robot’s a one-man (bot?) band.

Darkstalkers is already a niche franchise and I’ve seen a loud minority of the Street Fighter fanbase – particularly the ones who wanted a Mortal Kombat crossover – crying out for Capcom to try experimenting with an M-rated fighting game. I wouldn’t want Darkstalkers to be toned down from its mature, yet wacky tone in the original ’90s releases and considering the fact that these days, the games’ content would be placed under greater scrutiny, I say Capcom should just throw caution to the wind and deliver a worthy successor. That’s not to say that I want Capcom to go out of their way to shoot for a Mature rating: I just want the same style of content present in the earlier titles to be present in a new one, with no worries over censoring content to hit a specific rating. That being said, avoiding the dreaded Cero Z rating – effectively the Japanese counterpart to the rarely-seen “Adults Only” (AO) ESRB rating – is crucial, but given the fact that Capcom’s a Japanese company to begin with and most of the content that could potentially earn said rating would be perfectly hunky-dory in America, aiming for a Mature rating seems like a safe bet for retaining the series’ tone in a new entry.

Artstyle

In an ideal world, a fourth Darkstalkers game would consist of high-definition, hand-drawn 2D graphics, similar to Skullgirls, but on a much grander scale. Alas, the days where we could expect companies to undertake a project in that style are long gone, so clearly, a new Darkstalkers game – and in fact, any other future Capcom fighting games – will likely use a 2.5D style: 3D models facing off on a two-dimensional plane. While sprites and hand-drawn 2D animation will always have a certain flair, 3D models are generally easier to market to the general public, cheaper to design in the long run and best of all, allow for additional flourishes, like alternative costumes that would generally require completely redrawing characters in traditional 2D games.

 

So, with a heavy heart, I acknowledge that 3D models are clearly the more realistic choice for any new game in the series. However, special care must be paid to the animations. Fortunately, we do have at least some small pieces of evidence that Capcom may be up to snuff in this regard. On a system as powerful as the Wii – itself, on par with consoles from the previous generation – Capcom was able to achieve Morrigan using Lilith as a shadow double in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, a 2-on-2 tag-team fighting game. Likewise, Morrigan (sans Lilith, unfortunately), Felicia and Hsien-Ko were able to be recreated relatively accurate in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which had the twin disadvantages of being a 3-on-3 fighter and being developed for two systems with severely narrow bottlenecks when it came to RAM.

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Of course, even characters like Felicia are gonna need at least five models.

Of course, the most relevant indication I have is also the most recent. In Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Jedah Dohma was added with extreme detail and work put into his animations – a gilded rose in what was otherwise a pile of manure. Given the current swarm of rumors around MvCI, specifically that the entire game’s budget was on par with a single season of DLC for Street Fighter V, that would seem to imply that achieving a 10-character roster with the same level of animation quality from scratch – which isn’t even entirely necessary, given the existing assets for three of the characters I’ve listed – isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility.

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Even by today’s standards, this is amazing.

With that in mind, a fourth Darkstalkers game – regardless of budget – should definitely go for a more abstract look compared to its creator’s contemporaries. Street Fighter V tried to bridge the gap between realistic and bizarre visuals, with mixed success. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, on the other hand, went for an even more realistic look, a fitting choice given the game’s emphasis on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the visuals suffered greatly as a result. Darkstalkers 4 should go in the exact opposite direction, favoring a more abstract style.

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Try to recreate those gorgeous backgrounds too.

We’ve seen this work in lower budget fighting games – despite it’s low graphical fidelity, ARIKA’s Fighting EX Layer is generally considered a joy to look at, due to its emphasis on aesthetics over impressive graphics. I’d argue the same for The King of Fighters XIV, but I’m probably in the minority, considering the rough state of the visuals when the game was first revealed. Perhaps the best example would have to be Microsoft’s Killer Instinct revival, a game that didn’t deliver on impressive graphical quality, but still managed to create an appealing look that made it one of the most popular Xbox One exclusives throughout the console’s entire experience – one that even the discerning eyes of PC gamers were more than impressed with.

Detailing the kind of art style I’d like in a new Darkstalkers game is difficult. My mind automatically seems to default to a cel-shaded look, likely due to the fact that I’ve recently watched the Night Warriors OVA from several years back. Despite criticisms surrounding the piece, I felt like it did an amazing job recreating the style and substance of the Darkstalkers series in general.  Frankly, I wouldn’t mind something like that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer I kept mentioning earlier for a final look of the game. Considering how old that concept trailer must be by now, recreating the particular dark, exaggerated style in a full game shouldn’t be too difficult for Capcom to achieve, especially with a small introductory roster of 10 characters.

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Imagine this, but in 3D.

 

It cannot be understated how important the artstyle has been for Darkstalkers throughout its entire history. Boasting among some of the best-drawn 2D sprite work of all-time, Darkstalkers felt like a direct response to Street Fighter. Perhaps in an effort to offset some of the game’s darker material, characters would often take on cartoony, exaggerated proportions and expressions, making the game almost as enjoyable to watch as it was to play. The visuals in these games definitely pushed Capcom’s CPS-2 hardware to its limit and produced among the most beautiful backgrounds in the entire fighting game revolution of the 1990s – rivaling even those of SNK. (Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with these and a huge fan of pixel art, look up backgrounds for both the Darkstalkers games and SNK’s later titles on the NeoGeo hardware, you won’t regret it.)

Sound Design

Usually, when I write about video games, I have a tendency to listen to video game music to help me focus. When writing about a series I particularly enjoy, I stick to music from those particular games. I originally didn’t intend on doing a section regarding the game’s audio – I’m not much of a composer and frankly, listing off a dream team of voice actors feels inconsequential – but as I was listening to old songs from the games themselves, rearrangements and even original fan pieces inspired by the series, I was reminded of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s soundtrack, the latest game to feature compositions from the Darkstalkers series, and how lifeless the game’s compositions were. I decided to listen to the two songs (Morrigan and Jedah’s themes) once more, to convince myself that they weren’t as bad as I remembered.

I didn’t get far in either track before I shut them off. To make matters worse, I compared them to other recent iterations of Darkstalkers themes, yet Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s iterations didn’t evoke any of the disgust I felt listening to Infinite’s compositions. I ended up doing a little research and found that the game’s composer, Eishi Segawa, had mostly done work in film and television: MvCI was the first video game credited to him. I’m inclined to believe he was chosen for his background in an effort to make the game sound more “cinematic”, so I’m not going to blame him for the poor showing, rather Capcom and Marvel for once again perpetuating the idea that “cinematic” has to be synonymous with “bland”.

That being said, I still have my concerns about Capcom’s musical output as of late. I’d say that Capcom’s recent attempts at scoring their fighting games have been less good and more “mixed”. There have definitely been some amazing rearrangements of classic themes and original compositions in Capcom’s recent output, but it seems just as likely that a bland take or an annoying new song is just as likely to crop up in any given soundtrack.

I’d probably want a new Darkstalkers game to have music that evokes the same kind of tone that the original CPS-2 compositions did, but that’s a difficult thing to really quantify, especially against modern sound technology. The musical themes from Darkstalkers, Night Warriors and Vampire Savior all managed to capture their own settings, while still sounding similar enough to form a cohesive soundtrack, yet the way that these two conflicting goals were achieved was likely due to the technical limitations at the time, as opposed to despite them. Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest using the classic instrumentations in a new game, simply because it feels like in many cases, attempting to directly recreate the instruments from older video game hardware often leads to a more calculated and less enjoyable sound.

Instead, Darkstalkers 4 should embrace newer technology with its musical compositions. At the same time, it should definitely pay homage to the sounds of previous titles, which brings up a question: what would the more realistic equivalent of the music in the original Darkstalkers games even sound like? There are a few obvious answers – Lord Raptor’s themes have generally gone for a heavy metal vibe; Anakaris, Hsien-Ko and Bishamon’s music have always tried to represent stereotypical notions of their countries of origin; Huitzil’s themes have been mechanical with tons of brass instruments in their composition; Felicia’s themes have been upbeat dance numbers (with plenty of meowing added for good measure); and Green Scream (along with Rikuo’s other themes) tends more towards natural sounds, attempting to recreate various forest settings. With all that being said, there were a few instruments that are abstract and difficult to discern any real-world equivalents. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ compositions would generally incorporate sounds that managed to sound otherworldly despite the clear limitations of the sound hardware. These sound effects have a tendency to show up in fan compositions and arrangements, but not as much in officially licensed tracks… and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I suppose Morrigan’s theme provides the best basis for comparing and contrasting official arrangements of Darkstalkers music, simply because of the entire cast, she’s the most likely to be present in crossover games, therefore I would have a lot of material to work with. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s original Japanese soundtrack performed Morrigan’s Night Warriors theme in a style not unlike smooth jazz, and I think it’s my personal favorite official modern take on the composition, though I’m not sure if that’s because of my musical tastes or how well this new arrangement matched the original composition. The version in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sounded a bit more artificial and bombastic, but managed to keep a jazzier sound with a great emphasis on a synthesized saxophone. Project X Zone reimagined the same theme with a greater emphasis on synthesized sound, which while accurate, just ends up sounding hollow. The sequel went with Deserted Chateau and gave it a more orchestral sound, which just seems wrong to me for some reason. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite went back to the Night Warriors theme and gave it a techno club sound, which seems incredibly wrong to me for some reason. Maybe it’s because the original composition gets overpowered throughout the track, but low-quality arrangements seem to be a recurring theme in that soundtrack in general.

While a jazz motif seems to fit with Morrigan’s theme, it seems out-of-place with themes like Victor’s solemn dirges, Sasquatch’s more playful and upbeat theme or the aforementioned heavy metal of Lord Raptor. As such, it become imperative for Capcom to shift from style to style depending on the composition in question. Multiple composers would likely sidestep this problem entirely, but there must be cohesion between the entire sound team in order to match the spirit of the classic compositions.

There is one more thing I feel I have to mention if I’m going to be thorough about any new Darkstalkers game’s soundtrack: individual victory themes for each character on the roster. They need to return. While more recent iterations of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom have stuck to a single theme for character victories, this was a constant in both series for the most part. Meanwhile, even from the very beginning, Darkstalkers attributed unique themes to each character after winning a match. I see no reason to break this beautiful tradition, as they serve to further differentiate each character, giving them a more unique persona – most notably in Vampire Savior, where characters didn’t really have individual stages, and by extension, stage themes.

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Also, miss the contrasting win/lose poses from the first game.

This brings up one final, yet major question: new compositions or rearrangements? I’d personally go with both, taking a similar stance to Street Fighter V: with character themes being retained, but new, original themes for characters with less iconic themes and new stages. Characters from the first two games in the series clearly have existing themes, while Vampire Savior characters don’t have any specific themes, though they are generally associated with existing themes: for example, B.B. Hood was given the War Agony theme in Match of the Millennium and Jedah was given a remix of the Fetus of God stage music in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. It could be argued that the VSav characters could get brand-new themes – like Karin and R. Mika, who eschewed their leitmotifs from Street Fighter Alpha 3 in favor of new compositions – but I’ll leave that up to Capcom. After all, considering the sheer amount of recreations of old stages found in SFV, it’s entirely possible that all of those areas in VSav could reappear and it would be odd for them to lose the songs associated with them. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind if Darkstalkers 4 went for entirely original compositions as well, while selling new arrangements of classic themes as cosmetic DLC.

That brings us to the voice acting. Ideally, we’d be looking at a dual audio situation, much like Street Fighter V, as opposed to just an English voice cast like in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Of course, given Darkstalkers’ relative popularity in both regions, that seems like a given – or at the very least, if the game only has one set of voice acting, it would likely be Japanese. Regardless, it seems likely that the voice cast used in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – and in Morrigan’s English voice actor’s case, Infinite – would return if Capcom were to ever make another game in the series.

With all that being said, there are really only two voice actors I would want to come back in a fourth Darkstalkers game – and they’re both for the same character. I’d want Yuji Ueda and Scott McNeil to reprise their respective roles of Lord Raptor in Japanese and English respectively. Considering the fact that Ueda has reprised the role of Lord Raptor as recently as Project X Zone and has still been playing characters for Capcom – specifically, Blanka in Street Fighter (though it’s unknown if he’s returning for SFV) – I think he’s pretty much a lock for the role. Scott McNeil, on the other hand, hasn’t really worked as much in video games, though he did do voice acting in Dead Rising 2.

Post-Launch Roadmap

Of course, most of what I detailed in this write-up is meant for the game’s launch. Killer Instinct managed to launch with a similar amount of content but proved so successful, it ended up getting two more seasons worth of content across four years. Ideally, Darkstalkers 4 would also end up being successful enough to obtain additional content down the line. Of course, Capcom seems to have a tendency of greenlighting at least a single additional season of extra content, regardless of the game’s success. However, given the free-to-play nature of this pitch, Capcom may count the initial release as the only guaranteed content for the game, withholding future funding until the game proves successful.

Each of Killer Instinct’s seasons included eight characters, though the first two seasons also included bonus characters reworked from existing members of the roster (Shadow Jago and Omen, respectively), while the third season was followed by what was dubbed “Season 3.5”, consisting entirely of three characters similar to the bonuses in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, the DLC seasons in both Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite consisted of six characters apiece. In the case of Darkstalkers 4, I would suggest a compromise: the usual six characters that Capcom usually does, but with the addition of a seventh bonus character, free with the season pass but available as a separate purchase, at a cheaper price than a standard character.

I foresee the game having roughly two additional seasons if the initial release ends up being successful. The first would consist of four returning characters (likely whoever gets left off my proposed roster, along with Bishamon and Huitzil), two brand-new characters and Lilith as the season’s bonus character – a big part of the reason why I’m so adamant about her model being included as one of Morrigan’s art assets. The third season would bring back the remaining old characters, along with a few more newbies. Whether or not the game continues to receive support after that would likely depend on the popularity of the original characters created for the game.

While reading over this article, my editor pointed out that guest characters would be a good idea for content in a new Darkstalkers. While he suggested Dante (from Devil May Cry), I’ve also heard people mention Tessa and the rest of the cast from Red Earth (or War-Zard). Arthur and Firebrand from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series also come to mind. Generally, I’ve been against the concept of guest characters in the past, but given their ubiquity in modern games, my stance has mellowed. My only stipulation is that they wouldn’t be added to the game until after every character from the previous games is playable.

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Couldn’t resist.

Once Capcom decides to end support for the game, it would make sense to release a physical version with all of the content from every season of the game included, much like Killer Instinct’s Definitive Edition. Perhaps, Capcom would do two versions of this, a cheaper standard version and a more expensive version with additional physical goods, just to sweeten the deal for collectors and die-hard fans.


Thus concludes the first edition of Armchair Dev. What do you think? Am I completely off-base with my pitch for a new Darkstalkers game or do you think free-to-play would be an interesting avenue for revitalizing the cult classic? Do you think my choices for the base roster were among the most popular characters in the series or did I forget anyone? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Bad Portsmanship?

Recently there has been quite a bit of derision directed towards the practice of “portbegging.” The idea that people asking for a game to be made available on their system of choice are at best pathetic and at worst a species of parasite that video game websites must actively suppress has become a strongly-held belief by some influential members of the gaming community, and as you can probably guess from my word choice thus far, I disagree. There’s a fair amount of nuance involved in this issue, but as a whole I think the title of this article more often applies to those against so-called “portbegging”.

Portbegging can be simply defined as asking for or demanding that a game which is coming to at least one other platform be released on your system or one of your systems of choice. Now that right there sums up the crux of why I think many condemnations of portbegging are unfair: they lump together asking for a game and demanding a game. There are very few circumstances where I would consider asking for a game to come to your system worthy of derision, as long as you are willing to take no for an answer given a reasonable explanation. Someone genuinely doesn’t know Nintendo owns Mario? Then I’m not going to throw a tantrum if they ask for Super Mario Odyssey on PS4, as long as they accept it not happening upon having the situation explained to them.

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No, this isn’t precedent.

This segues nicely into something I want to discuss. As you may be aware, Bayonetta 2 and 3 being Nintendo exclusive is the greatest injustice of the modern era, and Nintendo funding (or very likely funding in Bayonetta 3’s case) them is no excuse for the games not being released on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, and 3DO. This is a rallying point for people who take the acceptance of portbegging to its illogical extreme, and needs to be addressed so that my argument does not appear contradictory. It really isn’t that complicated: there’s a difference between wanting a completely third-party game (especially if it’s already on systems from multiple companies) to be released on your platform of choice, and demanding a game owned or funded by a first-party publisher be released on competing systems.

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Coming to PS4 any day now for the last five years.

This is so obvious that I’m skeptical that many people truly don’t understand it, I think this false equivalency is more likely to be a bad faith argument used by people who are bitter that a game isn’t coming to a system they own. The idea that Nintendo is holding a game that only exists because of them “hostage” by making it exclusive to their systems, or that Nintendo fans have no right to complain if a third-party game is on every platform except Nintendo’s because they won’t “share” Bayonetta, is blatantly ridiculous. For the record, I completely understand that games like Cuphead will not come to Switch or PS4 unless Microsoft decides to allow it, and am not angry at Microsoft or those games for the situation. And again, if someone doesn’t understand the Bayonetta situation and asks for it on their system of choice, they’ve done nothing wrong as long as they accept the explanation for why that won’t happen.

So, moving on from the clear-cut exception of games that are made or owned by first-party publishers, what else determines when it becomes reasonable to be upset at an answer of no when you ask for a game on your system? One thing I consider a major factor is exclusive versus excluded. Of the four major gaming platform brands (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Steam), I find it much harder to justify a game being on only three of those than just one of them. If a company can only afford (at least for now) to release a game on one of those, or even if one of the companies made a deal for exclusivity, I think that is often understandable. Now there are exceptions to that, mainly when it comes to sequels. If an indie game was successful on consoles but only the PC version gets a sequel, I’m much less likely to accept “well we could only afford to make a PC version” as a justification. (I’m still furious at ScrewAttack for what happened with the AVGN Adventures sequel) Likewise, paying to make a sequel to a multi-platform game exclusive to your system (not funding that game existing in the first place like Bayonetta 2) is a dick move. But for the most part, if a game is only available on one platform (or two in the case of Microsoft’s decision to release all of their Xbox One games on PC as well, which I think is a strategically bad move but one they have every ethical right to make) I consider demanding that it come to other systems to be bad portsmanship.

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I’m not angrily demanding this on Switch or PS4. That means I’m better than PC gamers and they should put it on my systems, right?

With all those exceptions, when do I actually think portbegging is unfairly maligned? When the game isn’t exclusive, but excluded. If a company refuses to release games on PC for no apparent reason or excludes Switch from a collection of classic games that it could unquestionably run perfectly (Capcom was guilty of this, but got better), while the other three platforms get it, I think asking for the game to come to the one platform that is missing out is a completely reasonable request. Does seeing “Can we have this game on Switch?” or “Is there any reason you can’t put this on Steam?” on a forum really ruin a game for you? Why is wanting your system to get every multi-platform game a sign of greed, isn’t that the entire point of games being multi-platform? The fact that at least one major message board would ban people on sight for asking for a game on a system it wasn’t announced for shows just how bad this anti-portbegging hysteria has gotten. It seems like it’s just a repackaged version of spending recess bragging that your system got a game and that loser’s system didn’t, only even more obnoxious since you’re acting like you’re the victim of having to see… *clutches pearls* portbegging!

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Never forget. Never.

So not too much more to say about this topic. There are times when demanding a game on your system is clearly unreasonable, but this does not apply to simply asking and, in some circumstances, even demanding it isn’t that unreasonable. If seeing someone ask for a game that isn’t even exclusive to your favorite system get one more version is really that upsetting to you, maybe you’re the one with the problem.

Arr Matey! The Case for Piracy in Gaming

*Note: This is only an opinion piece. Piracy is wrong and you shouldn’t do it unless you know that the thing you are pirating cannot support the creators or in protest of the creators.

A long time ago, I used to buy video games. I still do, but that’s really not my point. I realized that gaming was expensive. Games were more expensive back then and my wallet was hitting flies real fast. So then I found the PC. I had a Packard Bell. I know I’m showing my age by saying this but hey, age is better in some cases. I quickly found that there were many services that were available on the internet…especially under the wide world of DIAL-UP! But I digress (while still showing my age…) I found the wonderful world of emulation. I found ZSNES and I found out there were many games on the SNES and the NES that I never even knew about. I was a poor boy growing up, so being a gamer was hard. I didn’t have many real games or the consoles I have today. If the younger me could see me now, he’d be honestly surprised and maybe even shocked I spent so much money. Anyway, it’s time for me to start my reasoning.

It’s a Hard Knock Life for Games…

My gaming life started with the SNES. It was the first console I ever owned. The games I remember playing the most were Super Mario World, Tom and Jerry, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Wheel of Fortune Deluxe Edition (the only game I still have) Legend of the Mystical Ninja and a Caesar’s Palace game my brother had. As you can see, my list was really small for carts in console. As I said earlier, when I found out about ZSNES, my gaming world was opened. It was there that I found out about many games that I could not have access to because I didn’t have the money to buy games. Games such as Final Fantasy, Lufia, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Dragon Quest, Dragon Ball Z series, and lots more series were in my grasp. All it took was downloading a ROM of the game. There were many warnings about how downloading ROMS were illegal and such, but me and my wallet said that the risk was worth it. I played many games this way (and only this way) in a lot of cases. Most of my teenage years were spent downloading many different ROMS and playing games alone and sometimes with other people, depending on how much patience we had with internet and other things.

Instead of Winning….I Got Whipped!

As I continued my pirate gaming life, I found mIRC. This is a chatting program that allows you to connect to servers and chat with people around the world. See how great the internet is? Little did I know this would further my quest on finding more games for free! I found many mIRC servers that had many games on them I’d never heard of again! They were also on a new console. The Game Boy Advance. I think I was hooked around then. Because I had gotten a Game Boy Advance for Christmas one year during this time and I only had 2 games in real life for it. Those games were Metroid Fusion and Sonic Advance 1. All the other Game Boy Advance games I played (and still play to this day, really sadly) were emulated. I actually talked myself out of buying Kingdom Hearts:Chain of Memories on Game Boy Advance because I thought I wouldn’t be able to beat the game in real life, and I’m more used to the controls on the emulator on my computer anyway. The problem with emulation is when you have to reset your computer. You lose all your saves and all your games, so you have to remember what games you had and you have to reset them. This is part of the reason why I haven’t beaten many games at all. It’s also part of the reason why I stopped emulating so many games. But during the time that I did emulate, I saved a lot of money and had a lot of fun with the games I did have.

Instead of Cheating, I Forgot to Get Tricked!

I eventually got into consoles again and that really stopped my emulation days since. I tried to emulate some older PS2 games and such, but I guess the problem is the consoles of 6th gen and later are too powerful to run consistently and properly on a computer. I started this whirlwind with the original Xbox. I enjoyed my few games I had for that. I never did try to emulate those games because I thought the console would be too strong for anything my computer could do. My Xbox got stolen from me, so I decided to switch to a PS2. This was the first console I actually bought a decent amount of games for. This is because I impulse bought at lot more for this console, and I was getting a decent amount of money I could do whatever I wanted to with as well. When I got my PS3, I somewhat tried to go back to PS2 emulation, but it didn’t work out well, so I stopped trying. I also tried to emulate the 3DS and the Nintendo 64 but both of these were busts as well, so I bought a 3DS and played games the right way.

Over the years, I have bought more consoles and games, and emulated less. But when I had less money, I emulated more because it saved me money and still gave me fun times and memories I’ll never forget.

The moral of the story is, if you don’t have money, pirate for free, until you can, then don’t!

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2018

SNES Master KI

2017 didn’t quite turn out the way I expected when I wrote my top ten list for it.  Between delays and disappointments, I’d say only three games on it really matched my expectations.  In the end, I’m forced to say that 2017 in gaming was… freaking incredible!  Lists don’t define years, releases do, and between games I didn’t know I wanted so badly (Ys VIII, A Hat in Time, among others), a huge amount of games being both announced and released in 2017 (Xenoblade 2, Wolfenstein 2, Splatoon 2, The End is Nigh, Metroid II: Samus Returns, the long awaited console Undertale), the honorable mention games exceeding expectation (Crash N. Sane Trilogy, Sonic Mania) and my number one pick for Game of the Year both meeting my hype and actually making it out in 2017 (unless you want to take Nintendo at their word and say Super Mario Switch was a tech demo that just happened to have a level from Super Mario Odyssey in it), 2017 was amazing.  It was also great for announcements, so many franchises that had their future in doubt in 2016 got new games announced, and while some of them I’m not expecting until 2019, others will definitely be on this list.  Between those and the delayed/never confirmed for 2017 games, there’s plenty to anticipate in 2018, so let’s get started.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pikmin 4 (Switch): While not confirmed for 2018 (main reason this is only an honorable mention), with this game being “near completion” since 2015, I think we’re due. The only RTS I’ve ever gotten into, Pikmin finally getting an original mainline game on a successful console could be the big break it needs to go from Miyamoto passion project to major Nintendo IP.  Either way, it should be another great adventure in the cutest post-human world ever.
  • God of War (PS4): I was not pleased when this game was initially revealed. Well, that’s an understatement, I was heartbroken.  Thankfully, 2017 showed some improvements (more action, less WRPG) that have given me cautious optimism, although if this played like the original God of War games it probably would have made the top three.  This game’s cycle for me has been the complete opposite of Breath of the Wild, where I loved it at reveal but got more and more nervous as it approached release.  BotW was a fantastic game that disappointed me as a Zelda game, so is this going to be a terrible game that feels completely faithful to God of War?  Yeah, probably not.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): If you think about it, the Arkham series’ gameplay seems better suited to Spider-Man than Batman, with the emphasis zipping to (near) the ceiling, warning prompts, and “detective vision” that feels a lot like Spider Sense. Since Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, that definitely puts this game on my radar, even if it doesn’t quite crack the top ten.  Just hoping for lots of real boss fights against super villains and some platforming.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I remember when Wii U made its official debut at E3 2012, Suda 51 basically confirmed that No More Heroes 3 would be made for it. Then it was never heard from again.  Well, fixing everything that went wrong with Wii U is Switch’s main purpose, so it getting a new kind of-No More Heroes game seems appropriate.  Haven’t followed this too closely, but will definitely pick it up when it comes out.

10.  Red Dead Redemption 2

Publisher/Developer: Rockstar Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The delays got this one, and we still haven’t really seen any more than we did in 2016, but this is still the first new Rockstar open world game in years, and the sequel to the game that signaled them getting their head out of their ass when it comes to quality of life features.  Not a whole lot to say about this game, I already complemented the environment graphics last year, and… yeah, nothing else to really do.  I did play Red Dead Revolver last year, that was fun, but completely different from Redemption and I’d never mention it if there was anything meaningful known about this game besides its series and developer.  Red Dead Redemption also taught me how to play poker, so that’s… yeah, let’s just move on.

9. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

The best case scenario for this game is that it comes out 12 years after Kingdom Hearts 2 and six years after the last new Kingdom Hearts game.  Where did it all go wrong?  Well, whatever the reason was, 2018 is the first year where I feel like there’s a real possibility of this game coming out, and I am looking forward to it.  The combat looks greatly improved and Disney has bought a ton of franchises since Kingdom Hearts 2 that would make great worlds.  And they just bought more, maybe if I’m still alive when Kingdom Hearts 4 comes out it will have a Simpsons world.  I liked Final Fantasy XV’s combat system, combine that with a better story and characters and you could have a masterpiece.  This might actually be higher on my list if I had more confidence in it coming out in 2018, but whenever it comes out I think I’ll like it.  It may have taken forever, and I’ve lived more than a third of my current life since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, but at least it wasn’t a half life scenario (puts on sunglasses).

8. Runner3

Publisher/Developer: Choice Provisions
Platform: Switch (at least)
Release Date: 2018
 

The other game from my list last year that got hit by the delay stick (or would have if I hadn’t just been guessing when it would be released), we should actually get it in 2018, and it’s even a Switch semi-exclusive!  Back when the Bit.Trip games were being released, I thought Runner was the best of them by a wide margin, and was shocked when the developer agreed with me and gave it, and only it, a sequel.  And I was even more shocked when Runner2, which everyone seemed to forget about as soon as it was released, got a sequel.  Runner3 became a bit of a symbol of hope for me when it was announced, that the series I felt like I had lost in recent years weren’t gone forever (and that hope was completely valid, with the long awaited returns of Metroid and… something we’ll get to later).  But symbolism aside, Runner and Runner2 are great games and Runner3 looks at least as good, this game is slotted for early 2018 and I can’t wait.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

There’s hope for Konami’s franchises, there’s always hope, 2017 made that abundantly clear.  But while we wait for whatever demon has possessed Konami to be excised by a priest who calls his cross a boomerang, we have Bloodstained to tide us over.  Despite some people desperately trying to tie this game to Mighty No. 9, there is nothing to indicate that Igarashi exaggerated his creative talent the way Inafune’s was, and Bloodstained still looks great as we finally get close to its release date.  With a huge amount of content (Metroidvania mode, Classicvania mode, retro mode), this could be a feast that makes the wait worth it.  I even backed this game on Kickstarter, mainly to reward it for not pulling that “yeah, we’ll put it on consoles if hit this stretch goal placed above every extra for the PC version that we can think of” crap.  That alone shows a level of integrity that certain other Mighty disappointing games never could have matched, I think we could finally get a good replacement goldfish from Kickstarter.

6. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

Kirby has been doing great recently, ever since Return to Dreamland brought back the deep combos and variants for powers that had been missing since Super Star, Kirby platformers have been getting better and better.  So what can Star Allies do to stand out and keep that improvement streak going?  Maybe being the first HD Kirby platformer and the first console one since 2011?  Screw that, we got the goddamn yo-yo back!  My favorite Kirby powerup of all time, which was confined to Kirby Super Star for more than 20 agonizing years, is finally in a new game!  There isn’t too much else to say about the game at this point, but with Kirby’s recent track record there’s no reason not to expect a great platformer.  And again, it has the yo-yo; that’s on the level of Charging Chuck’s return for me.

5. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Not even a game released as its publisher died, that starred Death himself, could kill this series.  After years of re-releases and vague promises that “something” involving the series would be announced by its new owner, in 2017 we finally got Darksiders 3 announced.  The hybrid of character action combat and Zelda style puzzles is one I absolutely love, and Darksiders 3 looks to continue that and tone down on the WRPG elements added to the second game.  And with your character in this one using a whip, it looks like the new God of War game that I wanted.  Character action games haven’t been doing so great in the past couple years, but with this game, the hopefully at least decent brand name God of War, the heavily rumored Devil May Cry 5, and something you’ll see in a bit, 2018 looks like a comeback year for the genre.  At this rate we won’t see what happened after the end of the first game until Darksiders 5, but as long as we keep getting great playing games, this series can draw it out as long as it wants.  It was a long War, full of Strife, that may have caused some Fury, but this series was rescued from the grip of… doom.

4. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I didn’t play Guacamelee until I was given a free copy of the Wii U version to review, and it made me wish I had supported the series from day one.  Guacamelee is my favorite digital only game of all time and one of my favorite Metroid-likes of all time.  The other games I played by its developer, Drinkbox, were also high quality, but nothing compared to Guacamelee.  So it getting a sequel (the developer kept their word about making it after they finished Severed, that’s something I always respect) natural caused a great amount of excitement for me.  I’m not sure how the story will continue, the first game seemed pretty self-contained, but I don’t care.  As long as we get that same mix of platforming, melee combat, and exploration, all done fantastically, the story can be whatever it wants.  Even with Metroid back, this series is one of pinnacles of its genre and deserves more praise and attention.

3. Yoshi Switch

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

It may not have a name yet, but after Yoshi’s Wooly World miraculously not only made a good Yoshi game again but one that goes toe to toe with the legendary Yoshi’s Island, a sequel from the same developer is something I prayed for and am ecstatic that we got so quickly.  Aside from a couple interesting new features (being able to aim eggs at things in the background and flip to the other side of levels) we don’t know too much about this game, but I think that will change very early in 2018.  With levels demoed at Nintendo’s Treehouse during E3 2017, I think this game is close to completion and we should get it pretty early in 2018.  Whenever it comes out, I can’t wait to have Yoshi’s amount of great games finally average one per decade since the 90s… yeah, that’s really sad, but it’s water under the bridge.  Yoshi has finally found a Good home, and I can Feel that things will be all right for him from now on.  But what will Arzest do now?  Yeah, I don’t care either.

2. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Switch
Release Date: TBD

Okay, they never said this was coming in 2018, but I have two arguments for why this is on the list while Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon Switch aren’t.  One, we’ve technically seen more of this game that either of those, and with Bayonetta 1 and 2 being ported to Switch in very early 2018, I feel like waiting over a year from then to release Bayonetta 3 seems unlikely.  And it’s not like Nintendo hasn’t released some games faster than anyone thought possible recently. (Wait, why isn’t Xenoblade 2 on this list?  Oh, right, the “inevitable” delay didn’t happen.)  Two, it just wouldn’t feel right if I DIDN’T put something on this list with a high chance of showing up on the 2019 list.  It’s tradition!  That aside, this announcement filled me with glee.  Bayonetta 2 is one of the best action games of all time, and I’m so relieved that Wii U’s sales struggles didn’t doom the series.  Now that Bayonetta 3 is on a successful system (and it being on one system is better than zero, regardless of what your favorite platform is) we can see what a Nintendo/Platinum team up is truly capable of.  As mentioned earlier, character action games seem to be making a comeback in 2018, and Bayonetta 3 is the perfect title to symbolize that.  Time for this series to achieve a triple platinum.  But would you believe it wasn’t the most exciting game announced during the week where it debuted?

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:
Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date:
“Late 2018”

I think this was the closest a game announcement has ever come to making me cry.  Even with Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario We Swear It’s A Tech Demo, it’s not like I thought there was a chance we’d never see another Mario game.  But Mega Man… I kept the faith, during the dark six and a half year between Universe (yes, Icepick, I did care about it from the start) and Legends 3 being cancelled and Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day I always insisted that series as popular and long running as Mega Man couldn’t permanently die.  But there’s always doubt, always fear, until it actually comes back.  And it did, it finally did.  I would have settled for a licensed game based on the new cartoon, so even if Mega Man 11 isn’t my very first choice, it’s still way more than I dared to hope for.  Classic Mega Man gameplay combined with the first attempt to feel like a modern game in over a decade should make the game fantastic, but I’ll be honest, the emotional impact was a big factor in this getting the number one spot.  It feels like a giant weight has been lifted from gaming, and the one two punch of Metroid and Mega Man returning after being MIA since 2010 made 2017 a better year than even my hope for it last year could have imagined.  As 2013 proved, even releasing great games can leave a dark aftertaste if the future doesn’t look bright, and 2017 was both the best year for gaming in a long time and one of the most hopeful.  2017 has left the world of gaming a much brighter place than it was at the start, and 2018’s games are a testament to that.  2018 has big shoes to fill, but it also has momentum on its side, I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Dariwan

2017 is winding down. It was a pretty decent gaming year. We got great games like Persona 5, even better systems like the Nintendo Switch. Now that 2017 is coming to a close, we’re looking forward to 2018.  Here’s my top 10 Games (if I can find 10 I’m even interested in…) but first, a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a few games that didn’t make the top 10 but I feel still deserve a mention…

  • Bayonetta 3 (Switch) – I love the Bayonetta series. A sexy witch who fights angels because she doesn’t like them. How can you hate this! (oh wait, you hate that the game isn’t on your system even though when it was, no one bought it …but I ain’t saying nothing you ain’t already heard…)
  • Death Stranding (PS4) – This game …I’m not even sure it IS a game at this point…interests me. I like the whole death and life thing it’s trying to portray, and I hope to see more of the gameplay that may interest me in the future.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PS Vita, PC) – I’ve half been a fan of the Castlevania series, despite playing half of one game. This game somewhat interests me because it seems like what the creator wanted to do with the Castlevania series if he had the chance.
  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) – The Street Fighter anniversary train still won’t end! Re-releases of most of the old games (Street Fighter 1, some of the Street Fighter 2s, Street Fighter Alpha, and all of Street Fighter 3) some with online and they’re all Arcade Perfect! There are some problems we’ve found with this but again, another article for another time.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – the only game with an actual date on this list! Dragon Ball FighterZ is a pretty much pitch perfect anime fighting game made by the great minds at Namco Bandai and Arc System Works. They really put in the work to make the game look like it literally came from the anime to my console! 3V3 combat is reminiscent of Marvel vs Capcom 2 and 3 and the combat looks pretty good for a Dragon Ball Z/Super fighter.

10. Spider-Man

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Insomniac Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I have a small bit of nostalgia for this game, mainly because of how I got certain consoles in my youth. I got an Xbox around the time the Raimi Spider-Man movies came out, and  of course they had games for said movies. I had the first Spider-Man Raimi  movie game (what a mouthful!) and I thought it was pretty awesome!  I’d eventually get my hands on the second game as well. Even if the games are considered mediocre for this day and age, I enjoyed them. So seeing a new Spider-Man game in this generation with great graphics and  great gameplay. Even though I also loved Shattered Dimensions in its day, I cannot wait to web-swing the streets of New York as Peter Parker (or maybe even  Miles Morales) against fighting Spider-Man’s great rogue gallery!

9. Ghost of Tsushima

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Sucker Punch Productions
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: TBC

We don’t know a lot about this game, as all we saw were some nice looking cut scenes (I guess?) and some developer talk on  the game at the Paris Games Week in 2017, but the premise got me hooked. Being a Samurai in the feudal era of Japan interests me. And I’d like to play as that since I missed out on so many other games in the past like that (Brave Fencer Musashi, for one) The closest to a game like this I’ve played Is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. So I’m excited to see what more Sucker Punch can give me after the Infamous series.

8. Vampyr

Publisher/Developer: Focus Home Interactive/Dontnod Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Spring 2018

Again, this one I know little about. I have a love-hate relationship with Vampires. There are times when they’re awesome, (Castlevania series and the Vampire: The Masquerade series in games, almost anything really involving Dracula -OR BLACULA!- in movies/TV) and times when they’re just not. (Twilight, anyone? I shudder when I think about it: VAMPIRES DON’T SPARKLE!)  The little I’ve seen of this game reminds me of The Darkness, one of the only 3 FPS games I’ll actually play and enjoy. (If you want me to delve into that, I’ll talk about it some other time) and the Infamous series, which interests me a bit. So I’ll see how this goes…even though the developer, Dontnod, has had some stinkers in the past (Life is Strange, a train wreck using time travel to make things worse; and Remember Me, which no one remembers…ha ha) Let’s see if they can actually come up with some gold with Vampyr.

7. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

I backed this game back in 2015. (I know, that feels SO long ago..) and this game is finally coming out in 2018! The things that sold me on it back then were the people who made the then-wonderful fighting game Skullgirls were developing it, and it had an interesting battle system. Now in those 3 years, we’ve seen a couple games copy this system, like the Fallen Legion series and Has-Been Heroes to an extent. But I think Indivisible will be a great game on its own and I hope my 3-year-old payment will be worth it in the end!

6. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

I have had an interest in this series for a while. I bought the first game on PS3 a few years ago, I got stuck in it (as I usually do) and eventually shelved it, but I did like what I played. It definitely had God of War vibes and I love the fact that it involved the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I enjoy the supernatural parts of religion, such as angels and demons and the such, so this game is right up my alley! I haven’t played the second game yet, but I have it on my PS4, so hopefully by the time this comes out, I may have a chance to play, if not beat the second one. Maybe even get the first one played and beaten to so I can enjoy this one. As always, a female protagonist is never a bad thing and neither is a whip for combat! (Here’s looking at you, Belmonts!)

5. God of War

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Q1 2018

How fitting this game is next after talking about Darksiders 3, since that game is pretty much inspired by this one! I’ve loved God of War since I bought the first game on an impulse so many years ago at Walmart (back when I bought my video games exclusively at Walmart…those were the days) I call(ed) it my rage game because I can let out all my anger and kill and gnash and have blood everywhere and no one will tell me anything AND I won’t go to jail!  Anyway, I’ve played most of the  games in the series by now (sans Ascenion) and I’ve loved every one I’ve player (save Chains of Olympus…don’t ask.)  Even though this game is straying from the old formula and it’s kind of giving me “dadmance vibes” like Spider-Man Homecoming did with Peter Parker and Tony Stark, I think the game will still be solid. Also using Norse gods this time instead of Greek will defintely spice things up in Kratos’ world, and he’ll obviously show that age isn’t anything but a number, and he can still kick butt, beard and all!

4. Soulcalibur VI

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Project Soul
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Ah yes, “it’s time to go back to the stage of history!” I’ve loved the Soul Calibur/Soul Edge series for a while, even if Namco themselves went a bit crazy for a few years. The last Soul Calibur game I played and loved was Soul Calibur II, but some of the characters in the later games were interesting to see. I didn’t really play very much of Soul Calibur III, IV, or V, so I’m not gonna comment much on them. But I got really excited when I saw the announcement for Soul Calibur VI during The Game Awards. The game looks superb, even if it looks like a retread back to  the original Soul Calibur, I personally think the game needs to go back to its roots, since the current games really have left  a sour taste in some people’s mouths. It’s also fitting since Soul Calibur just recently had its 20th anniversary, so a nod to its roots is never a bad thing. Also I may need another solid fighting game as it looks like my choices are dwindling…but that’s another article for another day.

3. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

NO MORE HEROES. Another impulse game on the Wii, one of my first in my Gamestop days of buying games (I’m feeling  a bit old typing this). I bought this game because I’m a sucker for a cool guy with a sword. And oh that rabbit hole that Goichi Suda (Suda 51) dug was a nice one. The game is about a crazed otaku-turned-assassin who’s told to kill other assassins and rise up to the top of the leaderboards. The gameplay is amazing and one of the few games of its time to truly make motion controls feel fun! I really felt like I was Travis Touchdown and I was swinging that katana around! I beat the first game and loved it, and got stuck in the second. I got a bit angry when they remade the first game for PS3, because I really felt like the Wii was the perfect system for the game, but people gonna complain until they get what they want, and apparently it wasn’t that good a game. (good for them…) I got a bit scared for this series, because as I recall, Suda51 said on many occasions that this game wouldn’t be on a Nintendo system if it was gonna get an update, and the game wouldn’t really see a release. But when I saw this trailer, I felt like Suda51 gave me an early Christmas/birthday gift! (My birthday is 4 days before Christmas) I cannot wait to see what (and WHO) Travis Touchdown has gotten his awesome katana(s) stuck into this time!

2. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I’ve personally had some bad times with this series, but I’m actually happy that Mega Man is gonna come back again in 2018! It’s been a long, long  wait for a new Mega Man game since Mega Man 9 and 10 came out in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  Most people even thought Mega Man to be a dead series, never to see another new game again. But for its 30th Anniversary, Capcom announced Mega Man 11 and also the Mega Man X series coming out to next gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One, and Switch)  I am personally very excited for the new Classic Mega Man game, even if I had much trouble with the series in the past, and it caused me a few…issues. I’m sure this game will be amazing and I will hopefully beat it sometime in the next 10 years….

1. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Oh god I’ve been waiting for this game FOR-EVER!  Almost as long as the smash hit Persona 5 that finally came out last year in 2017!  (Winter 2015….grumble grumble) Anyway I’ve loved this series for a long time. Ironically I got into this series because my cousin had it. And she was afraid of one of the bosses. So she ended up giving it to me. My Xbox got stolen so I got a PS2, mainly for this game, and I’ve been in love ever since. I’ve played almost all of the games except for the few mobile games since then. I’ve been waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3 since I finished 2 around…2006-ish. When I heard this game was actually happening, I was shocked. I didn’t expect this game to come out at all in my lifetime since it took so long between 2 and 3 and they had so many side stories and spin-off games. I think they’re finally putting Nomura’s foot to the fire and telling  him to release this game in 2018, so I hope it actually comes out. The worlds look amazing from what I’ve seen and the properties they’re using are also top-notch. I chose this as my number one because I think this game will hopefully be the best of them all as it will end the Keyblade Seekers portion of the Kingdom Hearts series, then they can start on a whole other adventure, which I cannot wait to hear about in the far-flung future!

Well 2017 has ended and 2018 will soon begin. The last 12 months of gaming have been great and let’s hope for 12 more!

This is Dari, signing off!

NekoGamerX

2017 was a great year for video games and 2018 is looking good so far as well. This is my list for most anticipated games for 2018.

Honorable Mention

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is not a new game. I love classic Capcom fighting games and this sounds like a great collection. I only wish Capcom would release some more of their other classic fighters like Darkstalkers but that dream is dead.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I liked the original Guacamelee. It was a really fun Metroidvania/Metroid-like game. I didn’t care for the game’s theme but the gameplay was solid. I want more games like this.

9. project OCTOPATH TRAVELER

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire/Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

This game reminds me of the old RPGs that were on the Super NES back in the day. I’m glad to see games like this are still around. Hope to see more like it in the future.

8. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

Okay, classic MegaMan is my second favorite MegaMan, but I won’t lie: I was hoping for a new MegaMan X game. Oh well, this is the next best thing and at least the older MegaMan X games are getting re-released on everything and MegaMan is not dead.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I’ve been a Blazblue fan for years and I think it’s a way better series than Guilty Gear. I’m just waiting for Taokaka or Kokonoe to be announced as playable characters. Hell, why not both? I’d be happy with just one of them though, but at least Makoto is in it.

6. Monster Hunter: World

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

The Monster Hunter series is really fun and I’m glad to see it come to the PS4, though I don’t mind what it comes out on, as long as they keep coming out here.

5. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Okay, this game has been a long time coming. I just about gave up on it, but it looks like it’s finally going to happen. And it’d better!

4. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

Now this game, from what I’ve seen. It looks good and it’s being made by the same people that made Skullgirls, so I’ve got faith that it’s going to be good.

3. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Arc System Works
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

This game looks way better than what MvCI could ever hope to be and a lot more. MvCI was the biggest letdown of 2017 for me and I hope there are more fighters like this in the works – and less games like MvCI.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018

The first Freedom Planet was one of the most fun 2D platformers I’ve played in a long time and I was hoping for a sequel. Glad it’s coming in 2018. Well, at least I hope it does and doesn’t get delayed.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

I’ve wanted a new Metroidvania-style Castlevania game for a long time and with Konami being the way they are right now, I’ve given up on that. Bloodstained is the next best thing and it’s my only hope for a Metroidvania game. I don’t want this to be another Mighty No. 9 and from what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s not going to be. It looks like the people working on this game know what they’re doing, which makes me happy and I can’t wait to play the final game.

Shellshock

The year 2017 started with, and ended with a bang on many different fronts. We had what many consider to be one of the best years in gaming, and with good reason. We’re already seeing a growth in many different gaming markets with compelling software, as well as new hardware being released. Now that 2018 is on the horizon, there are many different games I’m excited for, more than how I was going into 2017. I don’t expect 2018 to top 2017, but it doesn’t have to, as it needs to be able to hold its own with lots of games that will keep people playing.

Now, I’m going to omit games with no set release window or date (Metroid Prime 4, Pokémon Switch, Fire Emblem Switch [sic], and Bayonetta 3, to name a few), as we don’t have a lot of info to go by. I’m also going to shy myself away from ports or remakes, with one exception. That being said, let’s get on with, what I would consider to be my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2018!

Before we get into the list, let’s get into some honorable mentions, shall we?

Honorable Mentions

  • Soulcalibur VI (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Announced at The Game Awards 2017, Soulcalibur VI is returning to its roots by bringing us fan favorites from the original series, with a new take, and a reimagining of the series’ story and setting. Soulcalibur V was a disappointment, and it’s been years since that game was released, so I’m looking forward to seeing if 6 could give us the experience we’ve been wanting to see again.
  • Wargroove (Switch, PC, Xbox One): A strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars, Wargroove has a lot of interesting characters, and a battle system that will keep you coming for more. I’ve enjoyed the Advance Wars games, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to this.
  • Runner3 (Switch): The Runner games were fun to play, especially Runner2, in addition to the cool background music during gameplay. With paths that you could now branch off into the background, and the ability to double jump, there’s lots of new experiences to be had in this installment.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I’m going on record to say that I still need to finish the first game (as well as start the second after that), but that doesn’t take away my excitement I have for this game. There’s a lot of crossovers with other indie games, which is really cool. From what I’ve played of the first game, I liked, so there’s a high chance that I will enjoy this one.
  • Indivisible (PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One): Lab Zero made a great fighting game in Skullgirls, and I’ve enjoyed that one a lot. With Indivisible, it looks a lot more ambitious, by combining Valkyrie Profile and Metroidvania-style gameplay, and that’s an awesome combination. However, there’s not a lot of info on this game, which is why it’s an honorable mention at best. Hoping we get more info on this game really soon!

And now onto the main list.

10. Valkyria Chronicles 4

Publisher/Developer: Sega
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks to be a return to form for the series, as it’s going back to a similar style that the first game had. It’s set in the same timeframe as the first game, so it’s not required to have played any of the other games in the series to have knowledge of what’s going on, or to even get right into it. If you are into turn-based strategies with an overhead view, and controlling characters with different methods of combat, then you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

9. Yoshi (Nintendo Switch)

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Yoshi makes his return, this time on the Nintendo Switch. The game is developed by Good-Feel, and has a similar gameplay style as Yoshi’s Woolly World. Unlike Woolly World, Yoshi is made of a different material than yarn. When this was announced at the Nintendo E3 Spotlight, it was overshadowed due to the announcement of Metroid Prime 4. Despite that, I thought it was nice to see a new Yoshi game on the Nintendo Switch. Eggs are back, which made sense since Yoshi’s not made of Yarn in this one, so he won’t need Yarn Balls. Otherwise, the game is just like Woolly World, which is a good thing. I like Yoshi, so I’m definitely looking forward to this!

8. Dragon Quest XI

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Armor Project
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 2018

The Dragon Quest series outside of Japan has always been overlooked, at least until Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. That game sold well, but it did have a demo for Final Fantasy XII as part of it. We did get Dragon Quest IX on DS, and that ended up being the best-selling game in the series outside of Japan. We never got X here, though it did go the MMO route, but I’m sure some people would’ve appreciated it. That being said, when Dragon Quest XI was announced, I couldn’t be any more excited! It’s back to the traditional Dragon Quest gameplay we all know and love, and the game itself looks even more beautiful than ever before. I’m hoping it gets localized here in 2018, as I will be spending so much time with this game!

7. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Publisher/Developer: Capcom/Digital Eclipse
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: May 2018

I said I wasn’t going to talk about ports or remakes, but I have to make this one an exception. Coming from Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, many people criticized the price point, using HD Remix’s graphics, and the awful Way of the Hadou minigame. Out of nowhere, Capcom announced the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection at the 2017 Capcom Cup, which includes twelve different Street Fighter games. You get the original, five versions of Street Fighter II, all three games in the Alpha series, and all three games in the Street Fighter III series. The reason I’ve added this game to my list is because of the Nintendo Switch version, specifically. The fact that I could take Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike anywhere with me is a big deal. Now I could play with my friends at the meetups I run, at conventions, or even online. You could only play Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Alpha 3, and 3rd Strike online, but those are the four that are worth playing the most, so I’m fine with that. No matter where I go, Street Fighter will always be with me.
 

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Konami’s Castlevania series has been dormant for a couple of years now, mostly because Lords of Shadow 2 didn’t set the world on fire. As such, we haven’t seen a Metroidvania style game since Order of Ecclesia, though we did get Harmony of Despair, but that’s more-or-less a multiplayer platformer. Bloodstained returning to the Metroidvania style roots is something that I’m excited about. There’s also a prequel to the game in retro style, which is right up my alley, as I loved classic Castlevania.

I’ve backed this game on Kickstarter, and originally went for the Wii U stretch goal. Earlier this year, the development staff confirmed that the Wii U version was cancelled, but later confirmed that it was coming to Switch. I made the Switch (no pun intended), and now I’m looking forward to playing this game anywhere I go!
 

5. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment/Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: January 26, 2018

I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, and I’ve enjoyed many of the DBZ fighting games in the past, so this one is a no-brainer. After the disappointment that was Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, many fighting game fans (including myself) took a look at this game’s previews and trailers, and were wowed at the execution of the fighting system. This felt more like a Marvel vs. Capcom game than Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and it showed. This game also has elements of many different Arc System Works games, such as “Vanish” and “Dragon Rush” moves, as well as “Super Dash”. Who is developing this game, might you ask? Well Arc System Works, of course! Even the element where you could collect the Dragon Balls to make a wish that helps you in the match sounds interesting, too! Dragon Ball FighterZ is definitely going to be a lot of fun, whether you love fighting games, the Dragon Ball universe, or both!

Sadly, this is the final Dragon Ball series video game where longtime Japanese voice actress Hiromi Tsuru voiced Bulma, as she passed away on November 16, 2017. May she rest in peace.
 

4. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2018

Another crossover fighter? Yes, please! Arc System Works is two for two with multi-man tag team fighting games, both with Dragon Ball FighterZ, and now Blazblue Cross Tag Battle! Who knew they would be the ones filling a huge positive void in that market that not even Capcom could do?

Anyway, you have characters from the Blazblue series, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY, all colliding against each other in this tag team fighting game! The gameplay is a mix of Blazblue Central Fiction, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late[st], with lots of tweaks. While I’m looking forward to Dragon Ball FighterZ, I’m looking forward to Blazblue Cross Tag Battle even more!

3. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Kirby has a lot of fun games; some of them are easy, and many of them are very challenging. Kirby: Star Allies returns to the 4-player co-op style, similar to Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. However, it also brings back the Helper feature from many games in the series, such as Super Star and Squeak Squad [sic]. You could have up to three companions with you throughout the game, and turn into a giant tire as you roll down hills. There’s a lot of new puzzles, which I always enjoy, since they could be challenging. You could also combine power-ups, something that hasn’t been seen in the series since Kirby 64, which is neat. During the September Nintendo Direct, they revealed King DeDeDe with huge muscles, so clearly, he’s been working out (though he still has stubby legs). This looks like it’ll be released during the Spring, and I’ll be picking this one up as it’s released!

2. Project Octopath Traveler

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

The moment I first laid my eyes on this game when it was announced back in January, I fell in love with it! Using an HD 2D engine, Project Octopath Traveler goes back to the old school JRPG roots with many new twists. In this game, you could make your command multiple times via boost points, which allows you to attack, defend, or increase potency of abilities. This game gives me vibes from Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and the Bravely series of games, all rolled into one, with beautiful 2D graphics. This game feels more like a Final Fantasy game to me than a lot of modern games in that series. Acquire and Square Enix captured the magic of the older 16-bit era Squaresoft RPGs, and if they could add a lot of content to this game, it’ll make a lot of people come back for more! I also look forward to what the final name of the game will end up being.

1. Mega Man 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: Late 2018

Many of you who know me better have already seen this one coming, and why wouldn’t this be my most anticipated game of 2018? I was so happy to see The Blue Bomber back with a new game! I had a glimmer of hope for a new Mega Man game for years now. I felt like there was hope since Mega Man was included as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Since then, all we’ve had were Mega Man Legacy Collections 1 and 2, up until December 4th, where Capcom had that Mega Man 30th Anniversary Livestream. Even with the hope that I had, I went in, and kept my expectations low, as I didn’t want to be upset if there wasn’t a new Mega Man game that wasn’t a port. I sat through watching a game show, a Mega Ran Live Performance, and some developers talking about Mega Man’s history. Not long after the Mega Man X games were announced for all major platforms, Capcom showed off the History of Mega Man retrospective, in the form of Mega Man in 8-bit, running, jumping, and climbing through a big stage, showing off all the main games in the Classic series. It was sad to see Mega Man pass through 2011 and onwards with nothing (Mega Man XOver doesn’t count as a real Mega Man game in my eyes). Once I saw Mega Man in Dr. Wily’s lab, I was wondering what was going on, as Dr. Wily went through a turning door. When I saw Mega Man get the ? Orb that represents 2018, I wondered what was up, only to be shocked at what I saw.

MEGA MAN IS BACK!!!

So let’s talk about the game, and what we know so far. It’s a 2.5D style game that plays like the Classic Mega Man games. Mega Man looks a bit taller and sounds like a teenager, which I didn’t mind. The slide and Charge shot are back, which is great, because I wanted them to add a lot of elements from the entire Classic series. It looks like there was a Super Charge Blast of some sort, which I don’t know much about, but it looks to do a hefty amount of damage. The music sounds good, but I want to hear more catchy tunes that the Mega Man series is known for. The graphics look exactly what I would expect them to, a modernized Mega Man game with a 2.5D Gameplay. I’ve seen people claim that this game looks like Mighty No. 9, but to be honest, I think this looks a heck of a lot better. You could collect gears in this game, but it’s unknown as to what purpose they serve, but I wonder if it’s either similar to the Nuts and Bolts from previous entries, or something different? I’ll have to wait and see to find out all the details when Capcom’s ready to share them.

Capcom has been on a huge roller coaster ride with many of their fans for over 11 or so years, and they’ve made a lot of stupid decisions that really ticked people off. It seems like they now want to get on their fans’ good graces again, and while Mega Man 11 is a great start, they still have a long way to go before they get universal praise again. I really hope Capcom delivers with this game, and I trust the new lead director and producer to get the job done. I also had a funny feeling that Capcom wanted to make a new Mega Man game for years now, and there have been cancelled games, even after Universe and Legends 3’s cancellations (the Metroid Prime-styled Mega Man X game for Nintendo 3DS [sic] says hi), but they weren’t sure as to how to go about it. Now that the Blue Bomber is back, I will do everything I can to support this game. I will buy this game on both Switch and Steam (and if I had a Playstation 4 or XBOX One, then I’d get them on those platforms, too). Not only am I happy that Mega Man is back, I also never want him to go on another seven-to-eight-year hiatus ever again. Saying that I cannot wait for this game is a complete understatement, but the latter part of 2018 is going to be worth it!

So that’s my 10 most anticipated games of 2018.I had a lot more games that I was more anticipating than previous years, as there’s a lot for me to look forward to. There are many other games I’m looking forward to that’s not on this list, but they lack info or a solid release date, but if any of them get released in 2018, you bet I will be picking them up! Again, I enjoyed 2017 a lot more, and while I don’t expect 2018 to top it, I do hope we get yet another great year in video games.

Professor Icepick

2017 was probably one of the best years for gaming we’ve had in a long time. What I find really surprising is the fact that, for once, the vast majority of the games on last year’s list actually managed to come out – for better or for worse. The only real issue I’ve got with this year is that it seems like compared to this time last year, relatively few new games were announced to fill in the gaps the stellar releases that hit in 2017 left behind, but that’s just nitpicking. Hopefully, 2018 manages to continue 2017’s trend of timely releases and amazing titles. With that being said, let’s get started with this year’s honorable mentions before we tear into my top 10.

Honorable Mentions

  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is a cheat. But that’s why it’s only on the honorable mentions listing. 12 classic Street Fighter games, with 4 of the most popular games getting full online capabilities for $40 sounds like an amazing offer to me. The fact that Digital Eclipse – who previously brought us the original MegaMan Legacy Collection and the Disney Afternoon Collection – is heading up this game’s development, and we know that there’s at least some form of rollback netcode involved makes me feel confident in this upcoming anthology’s quality.

I just hope they reconsider making Alpha 2 an offline-only experience. There has also been a bit of controversy over the fact that they’re only including the American versions of each game in this collection: even MMLC had both the American and Japanese versions of each game included in all releases.

  • Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): One of the few stragglers from last year’s list, TJ&E may look amazing, but it’s been demoted to honorable mention this time. It’s partly due to the fact that so many other amazing games were announced for 2018, but I’m still bitter that it didn’t manage to release in 2017. I guess adding a Switch version pushed everything back.
  • Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Monster Boy also hits the honorable mentions for the same reasons as Toejam and Earl. Of course, I guess Cursed Kingdom has an excuse: they’re retooling the graphics from sprites to hand-drawn animation. Considering how late into development they decided to shift the artstyle, it only makes sense that it’d be pushed back at least a year.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PC/PS4/XBO): DBFZ was actually on the main list until I realized that there was another game slated for release next year that I preferred. It’s nothing personal, but I generally tend to prefer 2-on-2 tag fighters over the 3-on-3 versions – but looking at how well Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite turned out for me, that’s not an automatic sign of quality.
  • Indivisible (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Another game that was just barely kicked off the main list, Indivisible is the newest product from Lab Zero Games, the people behind Skullgirls. News on the game’s development has been slow and I’ve been following for a long time now. By this point, I’m just kind of burnt out on the whole concept, to the point where I’ve been ignoring news until something significant pops up. Still hoping they make that final stretch goal – which would add a bonus dungeon and multiple endings – by their end of the year deadline.

Dishonorable Mention

  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PC): “Same day release”, my fat, pale hairy ass.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I consider the original Guacamelee among the best Metroidvanias platform-adventure games ever released, so I was incredibly excited to hear that it’s finally getting a sequel. The only reason that it ends up so low on my list is that it’s presently a PS4 exclusive. That’s not much of a surprise, considering the first game launched as a timed exclusive on PlayStation, but considering the game took roughly 15 months to hit other consoles, that means I probably won’t be getting my hands on it until 2019 at this rate. Kind of kills the hype, don’t you think?

9. Lethal League Blaze

Publisher/Developer: Team Reptile
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The original Lethal League is perhaps one of my favorite indie games of all-time. Effectively the bastard love child of Super Smash Bros., Super Dodge Ball and Pong, the game is a unique blend of arcade sports and fighting game action. The game managed to finally hit both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year, but they also announced a pseudo-sequel – it’s been stated to be an expanded retelling of the original game – for those two platforms as well as PC. Boasting additional characters and a sleek new cel-shaded 2.5D art style, Blaze seems to be well on its way to taking Lethal League to the next level. We have very little information over all, but Team Reptile seems confident that the game will launch next year. I’m hoping that there’s some form of crossplay – ideally between PS4 and Steam – but even if there isn’t, I’m still excited for this remake.

8. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

I’ve been a fan of the Kirby series for a long time and I’d consider them to be the “chess” of the platformer genre: easy to learn, but difficult to master. Considering how much I ended up loving Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, I was excited when Nintendo first revealed their new Kirby game for the Switch back at E3 this past year and we got to see even more footage this past September during one of their Nintendo Directs. The ability to combine copy powers returns from Kirby 64, though in an entirely new form, which seems like a pretty good gimmick to base an entire game around. My only nagging doubt is the implication at the reliance on co-op play – and by extension, AI partners in single-player. I’m hoping that this doesn’t end up dragging things down, but I’ll just have to wait and see when the game releases.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

Okay, so Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite ended up being a huge disappointment to me and many others and to capitalize on that, Bandai Namco partnered with Arc System Works to deliver what looks like an amazing 3v3 tag fighter featuring the Dragon Ball franchise, with gorgeous cel-shaded 3D models on par with those of the Guilty Gear Xrd games. I was impressed, but still a bit sad: I’d been waiting for so long for a return to form for 2-on-2 games and Capcom had clearly messed that up for me. Turns out Arc System Works had my back the entire time – and with Blazblue no less! A crossover fighter utilizing Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, French Bread’s Under Night In-Birth and the popular online animated series RWBY, I was suddenly unshackled from the tyranny of MvCI’s oppressive mediocrity. I’m not particularly fond of the current roster, but Arc’s promised many more announcements in the coming months.

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

This has been a long time coming. Originally slated to be released this past year when it was first Kickstarted, Bloodstained was quickly booted back to 2018 once the fundraising came to its conclusion. Since then, we’ve had a revolving door of developers: Inti Creates was booted off the project and replaced with developers more proficient in Unreal Engine 4. The Wii U version was killed off and replaced with a Switch version, which led to mixed reactions at first, but inevitably met with more and more support as time went on. I played the demo they released back in 2016, and while it was a bit rough, the potential was definitely there even that early into development. So, as we finally approach the game’s release, I’m excited once more. I’m probably far more excited for the pack-in retro-themed prequel game and the game’s linear mode than I am for the base game itself, but the entire thing should be a blast. Yet for all that excitement, I still worry that we may have another Mighty No. 9 on our hands.

5. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

“It’s a new game in the No More Heroes franchise” should be enough of a reason for this game to nab the number five slot on this list, but I’ve got a reputation of going above and beyond when it comes to describing just why these games end up where they do. Travis Strikes Again isn’t a traditional entry in the series, but instead chronicles Travis Touchdown being assaulted by Badman – the father of NMH’s Bad Girl – only for the two of them to get sucked into Travis’s Death Drive Mark II video game console and forced to beat its games in order to escape back to the real world. It’s implied to be a collaborative game, developed by several indie developers and might feature some crossovers with paradoxical big-name indie titles like Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight. To put it mildly, this game is for me what Death Stranding is to what feels like everyone else on the planet: I have no idea what it is, and yet I can’t help but be excited.

4. Fighting EX Layer

Publisher/Developer: Arika
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

This game almost didn’t make the list – simply because I was unaware that it was set for release next year. Back when I was a kid, I loved the original Street Fighter EX – a close friend of mine lent me his copy of the game for an extended period of time. Sure, the graphics were crude, the mechanics imperfect, but there was just something endearing about the whole game. I feel exactly the same about Fighting EX Layer: not an amazing technical powerhouse – either in terms of graphics or gameplay mechanics – but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the game’s currently slated as a PS4 exclusive, but maybe if the game performs well, it could make its way onto other platforms.

…just wish they’d gone with “Fighting Layer EX” for the title instead. FLEX is a perfect acronym.

3. “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch”

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: …Switch
Release Date: 2018

20 years. 20 long years. 20 long, agonizing years filled to the brim with broken dreams and unfulfilled promises. That’s how long it took for Yoshi’s Woolly World to deliver a worthy successor to Yoshi’s Island and one that arguably outstripped its predecessor. Fortunately, it’s only taken 3 years for yet another sequel. Once again developed by Good-Feel, “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch” looks like it’s going to expand on the previous game’s formula – and honestly, that’s all it really needs to do. It looks like the game is going to expand on the craftwork setting of the previous game, implementing papercraft and various other media, while the gameplay appears to be better utilizing its 3D graphics, not unlike the early 2.5D platformers, allowing Yoshi to walk into the background and foreground. The truth is, this could’ve been a level pack sequel and I’d still be excited, but it’s good to see further experimentation with the solid formula of the previous game.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018?

It’s funny: I put Freedom Planet 2 in the #2 spot and GalaxyTrail comes out with a massive update on the game’s progress. The original game is probably one of my favorite 2D platformers of this generation thus far and FP2 looks to deliver at least twice as much on everything the first game had. While we were never really given any sort of release window for the game – only a mention that a playable beta would be available in “mid-2017” (it hit in January of that year) back when the game was announced on Christmas 2015 – the game looks to be nearing completion. GalaxyTrail has mentioned that they have a release date in mind, but simply don’t want to announce it until they’re absolutely sure they can hit it. Considering the issues they had with the first game’s Wii U port, I can’t really blame them. They also mentioned that they can’t confirm any platforms besides PC, Mac and Linux, but are working hard to secure at least some form of console release.

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I said these same exact words last year – and I know how well that turned out for me – but once again, “it couldn’t be anything else”. The Blue Bomber has been in dire straits the past seven years, with only a free PC game, a crummy mobile game and a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it. In retrospect, Capcom’s choice to let Inafune make the first move was a brilliant one, but it left the fanbase feeling frozen out. With the specter of Mighty No. 9 finally banished from the forefront of the fanbase’s mind, MegaMan 11 seems poised to capitalize on our aching hunger pangs and deliver a true new-generation MegaMan game.

The ironic thing is that one of the main criticisms I’ve seen leveled at MM11 is that the game has decided, like MegaMan 7, 8 and MegaMan & Bass before it, to abandon its 8-bit roots. Yet I seem to recall an incalculable amount of teeth-gnashing and wailing when MegaMan 10 decided to reuse that retro throwback art style, two years on the heels of MegaMan 9. I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t please everyone. The 2.5D style looks gorgeous, with the character models properly representing the concept art’s new take on the classic anime-inspired look. Some of the backgrounds even look hand-drawn, which just adds to the appeal.

Capcom has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years, delivering on the promise of Resident Evil 7, while stabbing me in the back with abominations like Dead Rising 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe in Capcom blindly at this juncture, so I’m looking at this game through the lens of cautious optimism. Still, after 7 years of radio silence, I’m ready to get hurt again. MM11’s set to launch on all four major platforms late next year and I’m willing to give Capcom the benefit of the doubt given what we know so far. At the very least, it should be better than nothing.

Those are my picks for 2018. Last year, I was cynical about any of my choices releasing in 2017, but considering how many did, I was able to come up with an entirely new list this time around. However, this was a double-edged sword: I’m a bit less hyped for this list overall, simply due to a lack of information on what’s been announced and the fact that it feels like very little has actually been announced in 2017 for next year. My previous lists all had the stench of constant delays permeating from some of my major picks, but this year has all but wiped the slate clean. I guess that makes creating a new list difficult: chances are, there could be some pretty amazing games set to release in 2018 that we don’t even know about yet. That’s my hope, anyway.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 4]

Mega_Man_Logo (1)

Welcome back to the final installment of my look back at the Classic MegaMan series. While the games I covered in the first three articles took place in roughly a decade-long period, ranging from the late 1980s all the way to the end of the 20th Century, the original MegaMan franchise would go into something of a hiatus for almost a decade. Apart from collections, individual re-releases and even a remake of the original game, no new mainline games starring the original Blue Bomber would hit the scene until 2008, just past the Blue Bomber’s 20th anniversary. Of course, various spinoffs and sequel series got their time in the sun during this period, introducing new generations to the MegaMan universe in unique ways, but seeing the original return in a familiar form was enough to get people excited. Unfortunately, this brief renaissance ended as quickly as it would start, taking the entire franchise with it. We know of only a handful of games that Capcom cancelled after the departure of Keiji Inafune, the man long called “the Father of MegaMan” (erroneously, but hindsight is always 20/20) and since then, the entire franchise has languished, appearing in ancillary media and the occasional video game crossover. I wrote these four articles well before the actual day of MegaMan’s 30th anniversary – a deadline I imposed on Capcom after a disappointing 25th. I don’t know whether I’ll be right or wrong, but as we conclude this look back at MegaMan’s history, I would also like to take a shot at speculating directions the franchise could take as a whole – not just Classic, but every MegaMan, past and future. I’m sure that all of my speculations will end up less like predictions and more as a wishlist, but honestly, the latter seems more fun than the former anyway.

MegaMan 9

I’m always intrigued by cases of video games being ahead of their time. While not exactly the first time the MegaMan series could be considered visionary, the shift back to the classic 8-bit style in MegaMan 9 was definitely one of the earliest cases of the modern “retro throwback” movement. The problem is, the game came out back in 2008, long before the actual movement itself took off. Fortunately, just simply due to the lack of traditional MegaMan games released in the 2000s, not to mention the sheer novelty of an official game release using the classic NES aesthetic,  gamers came back in droves. MegaMan 9 could be best summarized as a love letter to MegaMan 2, generally considered to be the best game in the entire Classic line of games. Personally, I think they were a bit excessive in this regard, but the game still holds up today.

MM9-01

…8, 9! Told ya MM&B was canon.

As early as 2004, Keiji Inafune expressed interest in creating MegaMan 9 as a “throwback to the super old school”, but such games didn’t fit into the “grandiose and expansive world that the consumer gaming industry has become, and so you have to make games that match the current expectations”. He also figured that a classic MegaMan game made in the same vein as the 8-bit games “would be quickly criticized for things like being simplistic, outdated, or too expensive”, which made justifying a project in this style difficult. However, with the rise of such retro gaming-themed services, most notably the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, it was decided that the seventh generation would be the perfect time to revisit the original Blue Bomber. Recruiting the developer Inti Creates – a company of ex-Capcom developers who previously created the woefully underrated MegaMan Zero and ZX games – MM9 was built from the ground up as an homage to the first two games in the series, particularly MegaMan 2.

 

Capcom’s management supported making MegaMan 9 as a downloadable title, but originally wanted to make it in 3D. This would eventually lead to a compromise, allowing players to choose between 8-bit and 3D graphics, but eventually, the 8-bit style won out. During the development of MM9, Inti Creates sought to create a game that would surpass MM2 (as opposed to MM8), as it was considered the pinnacle of the series. The game’s producer Hironobu Takeshita referred to MM9 as “the new MegaMan 3” because of this. He also clarified that despite the aesthetic being a complete recreation of the 8-bit era, MegaMan 9 was far too large to fit on an NES cartridge. Keiji Inafune designed Plugman and Splashwoman, while the other six Robot Masters were designed by Inti Creates staff. Plugman was designed as a template for the younger designers to base their own concepts on, while Splashwoman was the series’ first female Robot Master and requested by the planning team. Originally, Splashwoman was intended to be a male Robot Master, while Hornetman was originally conceived as “Honeywoman” before Inafune presented Splashwoman’s design. Having said that, many of the Robot Masters in MegaMan 9 appear to draw inspiration from earlier MegaMan games: the most prominent examples being Splashwoman and Tornadoman, who have been compared to MegaMan Zero’s Leviathan and Harupia respectively. The game was first released on the WiiWare service in September 2008, likely as a nod to the Virtual Console’s contribution to the game’s creation. It would release soon after on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade services, though the Japanese Xbox release was delayed almost an entire year.

MM9-04

Bees: the mermaid’s natural predator.

Since Dr. Wily’s most recent defeat, the Blue Bomber has been able to retire to a world at peace. Unfortunately, one day, robots all over the world begin going crazy once more. However, this time the robots were the creations of Dr. Light. As phone calls began pouring into Light Labs, Dr. Wily hijacked all television signals to announce that he was not behind the latest batch of robotic riots. The mad doctor put the blame on his former rival, Dr. Thomas Light, even producing video evidence of the beloved roboticist trying to recruit Wily in his own plans for world domination. Dr. Wily announced that he would try to build his own army of robots to counter Dr. Light’s, but needed donations to his Swiss bank account to make it happen. It doesn’t take long for the police to arrest Dr. Light, leaving MegaMan, Roll and Auto to find out who was really behind the revolting Light bots. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize the storyline of this game, but personally, I think it’s my favorite in the entire series. I especially like the way that the game’s story is told through several cutscenes after completing a certain number of stages, turning MM9 into what may very well be the most story-driven game in the Classic series.

When I said that Inti Creates took inspiration from MegaMan 2, I meant it. This game practically plays like a ROM hack of the NES classic. As such, MegaMan’s abilities take a bit of a nosedive. The Blue Bomber loses his charge shot and slide abilities, opting for the purely jump-and-shoot gameplay that made MM a household name in the first place. In spite of this, a few elements from future titles do manage to make their way into the game. For example, the pause screen layout matches those of MegaMans 4-6. Also, the game utilizes a save system similar to MM8 and MegaMan & Bass, as opposed to using the traditional password system. There was one popular feature from more recent games that was omitted in MM9: the ability to swap weapons in real-time. Most people assume that this was dropped due to the fact that the game was originally developed for the Nintendo Wii. The standard layout for the console relied on holding the Wiimote sideways, leading to a layout similar to NES controllers, which apparently lacked any viable equivalent to the shoulder buttons generally associated with the feature.

MM9-05

Spin on, you– wait, I already said that.

MegaMan 9 also went for a more traditional approach to Support Items. The Rush Coil and Rush Jet return and are functionally identical to their MegaMan 4 iterations. While the Rush Coil is available from the start, the Rush Jet is unlocked by defeating five of the game’s eight Robot Masters. MM9 also brings back the shop system from the most recent games in the series. Screws (formerly Bolts) can be found throughout stages, either as standard power-up or as items dropped by destroyed enemies. Staples such as the Energy Balanacer, extra lives and both E-Tanks and M-Tanks return, but are joined by new items. The Eddie Call summons MegaMan’s flip-top robot companion, who drops random power-ups for 10 seconds. The Beat Call acts similar to the Beat Whistle in MM7, allowing Beat to save MegaMan from pitfall-related deaths. The Shock Guard prevents death from spikes and the ½ Damage Guard reduces damage by half for an entire stage. There’s also the Costume Change and Book of Hairstyles items, which changes Roll’s outfit and allows MegaMan to remove his helmet respectively. These items must be purchased again – though the Book of Hairstyles gets replaced with MegaMan’s helmet – to reverse their effects, but they don’t really have any effect on gameplay.

With the charge shot being retired, one would expect that the weapons would simply go back to their traditional place of just being stronger weapons. Fortunately, MegaMan 9 decides to offer the best of both worlds – the weapons are still powerful, but many of them have alternate uses as well. As per usual, I’m going to be ranking the game’s weapons by how effective I think they are. The game’s best weapon would have to be Jewelman’s Jewel Satellite – essentially the Leaf Shield taken to its logical conclusion. MegaMan can move freely while using it, and pressing the button a second time fires it off, where it can destroy several weak enemies at once. It can also reflect most enemy projectiles in the game and only costs energy once activated. Coming in second is the Hornet Chaser, obtained after defeating Hornetman. This allows MegaMan to shoot out hornet-shaped robotic drones that can either home in on enemies or retrieve most power-ups. Number 3 would have to be MagmaMan’s Magma Bazooka. MegaMan fires off three fire balls in a spread shot formation. The shots can also be charged, similar to MM2’s Atomic Fire. Fourth best weapon would have to be the Black Hole Bomb, taken from Galaxyman. MegaMan fires off a pulsating purple orb, hitting fire a second time detonates the explosion, which sucks up any nearby enemies and deals big damage. I tend to rank this one so high due to its spectacle more than its practicality, but it’s still pretty useful all the same. Concreteman’s Concrete Shot would have to go down as weapon #5. MegaMan fires a glob of concrete at an arc, which generates a concrete block that acts like a stepping stone. Enemies take a great deal of damage from the attack and those destroyed by it are also turned into blocks. The concrete shot can even petrify certain hazards, like magma barriers and even laser beams. Laser Trident, Splashwoman’s special weapon, is the sixth-best weapon in the game. Effectively acting as a more powerful Buster Shot, the Laser Trident can also pierce enemy shields (and even destroy those aforementioned concrete blocks). Number seven would have to be Tornadoman’s Tornado Blow. A full screen weapon similar to the Centaur Flash and Astro Crush, it fills the screen with tornadoes. MegaMan’s jump height also increases while it’s active and it can be used to activate various air-based platforms. Fire-based enemies are also susceptible to the winds. Finally, there’s the Plug Ball, Plugman’s weapon. Similar to weapons like the Bubble Lead and the Search Snake, the Plug Ball is a spark ball that travels across the ground and can climb up walls and even ceilings. Unfortunately, this means that airborne enemies are practically invulnerable to it. It’s not a bad weapon by any means, but it pales in comparison to the rest of MegaMan 9’s arsenal. Still, that might just make the Plug Ball one of the best “worst weapons” in MegaMan history.

MM9-03

Diamonds are a girl’s robot’s best friend.

What is there really to say about MegaMan 9’s graphics? Inti Creates did a pretty good job trying to recreate the aesthetic of the NES games. They recycled what they could, but aside from a few characters, they pretty much had to either heavily modify existing sprites or draw entirely new ones from scratch. MM9 aimed to emulate MM2 in many ways, to the extent where many of the levels have simpler backgrounds than even the late-era NES MegaMan games. Having said that, the artstyle achieves what it set out to, to the extent where some of the bosses are miscolored due to the limitations associated with the NES’s color palette. While the game was designed with widescreen (16:9) TVs in mind, the game uses the traditional 4:3 ratio, with black bars on the sides of the screen, similar to how older TV programs are displayed on modern televisions. MM9 even adds in a feature strictly meant for retro purists: the option to emulate the NES’s flickering when there are too many sprites onscreen. I personally never used it – like most people, flickering always bugged me in NES games – but it shows the amount of attention they paid to detail when attempting to recreate MegaMan 2 on far more advanced hardware. In that sense, MegaMan 9 was a complete success.

For the most part, a lot of MegaMan 9’s sound effects were recycled from previous games, especially MM2. There were also some sound effects designed exclusively for MM9 itself, though all of the game’s audio was modelled after the NES’s sound chip. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami, Yu Shimoda (who also worked on the game’s sound effects) and Hiroki Isogai – all members of Inti Creates’ internal sound team, referred to as III. Ippo Yamada previously worked on MegaMan 7, as well as the MegaMan Zero and ZX series. Of course, some of the game’s music – the menu screen tune, as well as the jingles for selecting a stage, getting a weapon, Game Over and the map screen for Dr. Wily’s Castle – were recycled directly from MegaMan 2. Aside from that, however, I’d say that the musical compositions deviate from MM2’s framework more than any other aspect of the game and frankly, I’d consider that a good thing. Despite the fact that most of Ippo Yamada’s compositions for the MegaMan series were built on more advanced sound hardware, he’s able to slip into the 8-bit style seamlessly. My favorite themes in the game are the stage themes for Galaxyman, Hornetman, Magmaman and Concreteman, as well as the standard boss fight music and the third Dr. Wily stage – though most people tend to prefer the first two. The music that plays over the game’s credits is also amazing. Of course, much like the Zero and ZX games, Inti Creates’ involvement with MegaMan 9 meant that an arranged soundtrack was released around the game’s release. While these tracks weren’t present within the game itself, they do offer some interesting rearrangements to the game’s compositions. Some were even handled by other composers from the Classic series, such as Akari Kaida, Shusaku Uchiyama, Yasuaki “BUN BUN” Fujita and even Manami Matsumae herself. I wish that these could’ve been incorporated into the game itself, but with WiiWare’s size restrictions, it would’ve been completely impossible.

There are also a few bonus features added to the game, to increase replay value. For example, there are 50 challenges hidden in the game – akin to in-game achievements – ranging from beating a boss with the Mega Buster or clearing a stage in a certain amount of time to beating the entire game without taking damage once. There was also a Time Attack mode, which allows players to replay any stage – though the Wily Castle stages have to be unlocked by beating them – in order to rack up the best possible time. Time Attack mode made use of all 3 systems’ capabilities to connect to the internet to maintain online leaderboards, allowing players to compete with people all over the world to complete each stage with the best possible time.

MM9-02

Somehow, I always pictured him being more dignified than this.

MegaMan 9 wasn’t the first game in the series to toy with downloadable content – more on that later – but it was the first to actively charge extra money for it. Having said that, I’d have to say that Capcom actually managed to price things fairly at this point. First off, there were two additional difficulty settings, labelled “Hero Mode” and “Superhero Mode,” which were available for $1 apiece. $1 was also the cost for an additional Special Stage, an extended-length level that pit MegaMan against the devious “Fakeman”, a police robot modelled after the one that apprehended Dr. Light in one of the game’s cutscenes.  Endless Attack was a special mode that pit players against an endless onslaught of stage segments – both taken from existing stages and some completely original – to see just how long they could last for a mere $2. The main attraction, however, was the ability to play through the game as Protoman, MegaMan’s mysterious older brother for a mere $2. Protoman plays fundamentally differently from the Blue Bomber, inheriting both the slide and Charge Shot MegaMan ditched in MM9, as well as gaining the ability to reflect certain shots with his Proto Shield while jumping. In exchange, Protoman takes twice as much damage as his little bro and can only fire two shots at a time, as opposed to the traditional three. He also replaces the Rush Coil and Jet with the Proto Coil and Proto Jet respectively – both themed around his trademark shield as opposed to the Blue Bomber’s canine companion – which he starts the game with. Of course, Protoman also lacks any of the game’s story cutscenes, as well as the ability to use the game’s shop. Honestly, I think that’s kind of fitting: Protoman was always depicted as something of a “lone wolf” character and completely rewriting the story around him seemed like a waste of time. Using Protoman also disables the ability to unlock in-game achievements, but I think that’s a small price to pay for something that should probably be saved for repeat playthroughs in the first place.

MegaMan 9 is really a hard game to gauge. Its Japanese subtitle “The Ambition’s Revival” was definitely fitting, as it provided a necessary in for both the Classic MegaMan series as a whole, which lied dormant for at least a decade – relegated entirely to re-releases and the occasional remake – as well as the retro-inspired aesthetic, which would eventually lead to a throwback trend that still exists to this day. I definitely enjoy it for the most part, but the fact that it essentially tries too hard to be a second MegaMan 2 sort of rubs me the wrong way. Ironically, despite being held up as a stellar example of what developers should try to achieve when building retro throwbacks, it’s a perfect example of one of the flaws so many people criticize when bashing the entire trend: it sticks too closely to the source material. I think most of the negative reviews I’ve seen for this game since its release nearly 10 years ago – has it really been that long? – have claimed that it was nothing more than a ROM hack. Now I’m not stupid enough to go that far when criticizing the game, but it’s obvious that Capcom went out of their way to try to recreate the magic of MegaMan 2. It was definitely a success on that front, but I’d argue that they might have done too well. If I haven’t already made myself clear in the earlier parts of this retrospective, let me make something crystal clear: I think that later games in the Classic series – not all of them, mind you – actually managed to exceed MegaMan 2 in terms of quality. Shooting to match something that’s already been improved on feels pointless to me, regardless of popular opinion. If the teams at Capcom and Inti Creates had been trying to make a game that was better than MegaMan 2, I’d be a lot more forgiving. Unfortunately, that’s not what they were aiming for. They simply wanted to match a standard that was topped years back. As such, I’d say MegaMan 9’s a good game, but definitely not the best the series has to offer.

MegaMan 10

The praise that MM9 received for being “a fresh breath of air for the entire franchise” makes the criticism lobbed at its successor all the more infuriating. Dismissed as a “lazy retread” by most members of the fanbase by the time the game was launched, MegaMan 10 continues the series tradition of later games being dismissed out of hand. In that sense, MegaMan 9 truly was a successor to the legendary second game in the franchise: no follow-up could have possibly lived up to the lofty expectations it inspired. If MM9 planted the seeds for the retro throwback trend that continues to thrive to this day, then MM10 clearly suffered because it hadn’t taken root by 2010. Likewise, whether indirectly or not, MM10 clearly took inspiration from the later games in the series, delivering a more developed project that would go down as my favorite mainline game in the Classic series.

Pleased with the success of the previous game, Capcom commissioned Inti Creates to develop MegaMan 10. Keiji Inafune felt that MM9’s “retro style” had contributed to the game’s success, so they decided to continue the trend in this new title. However, according to Ippo Yamada, while MM9 was developed as a spiritual successor to MM2, 10 was made up of “original pixel art and chip music, neither a remake nor a revival”. The development team decided that when developing this new installment that they should listen both to old-school gamers and former gamers who hadn’t played any video games recently. This led to the inclusion of Easy Mode, due to the complaints surrounding MM9’s extreme difficulty.

20171117195857_1

Seriously, this will never not crack me up.

After Dr. Wily’s scheme to frame Dr. Light failed, peace has returned to the future of 20XX. However, soon after Roboenza, an illness that only affects robots, begins spreading throughout the world. Without the assistance of their robot helpers, humanity finds itself incapable of finding a cure. Eventually, even Roll, MegaMan’s sister, is infected with the mysterious disease. Matters only get worse a month after the outbreak begins, as the afflicted robots begin going berserk and attempt to take over the world. One day, Dr. Wily’s flying saucer appears at Light Labs, heavily damaged. Wily claims that one of the robots attacked him and stole the parts to a machine he’d be working on to cure the virus. MegaMan vows to retrieve the stolen parts from eight Robot Masters, but before he’s able to jump into action, Protoman appears. Believing that the job is too big for the Blue Bomber to complete alone, he offers his assistance and the two join forces to acquire the cure.

For the most part, MegaMan 10 – bafflingly subtitled as “Threat From Outer Space!!” in Japan – resembles its predecessor in terms of its gameplay. MegaMan retains his abilities from the previous game, though this time around Protoman is playable from the start, also retaining his quirks from MM9. Both characters have their own unique storylines, which makes Protoman’s involvement feel a lot more organic than it did in the previous game. Aside from that, gameplay is mostly unchanged from the previous game, though the addition of multiple difficulty levels in the base game does allow for more variety than previous games in the series. One welcome addition is the return of the ability to switch weapons without pausing, assigned to the shoulder buttons on most controllers. Considering how easy it was to implement – the Wii Remote uses the A and B buttons – I’m still shocked that the previous game lacked this quality of life feature. Easy Mode actually manages to have more of an effect on the game than previous iterations: special propeller platforms are placed over gaps to make jumps easier, certain enemies are entirely missing from the difficulty setting, some enemies have completely different attack patterns and all damage is halved – just like in MM2’s “Normal” mode. However, beating the game on Normal difficulty unlocks Hard mode, which is the exact opposite of Easy Mode. Item drops are reduced significantly, nearly every enemy has an upgraded version and bosses even have entirely new attacks. These new features definitely add to the game’s replay value.

The support items from the previous game also return in full force: MegaMan has access to the Rush Coil and Rush Jet, while Protoman wields the Proto Coil and Proto Jet. As with the previous game, Protoman starts with both support items, while MegaMan only starts with the Coil. Fortunately, the Blue Bomber only needs to beat four Robot Masters to unlock the Jet this time around. The Shop also returns from the previous game, but this time, Protoman has access to one all his own. Both characters’ shops are completely different: MegaMan’s is run by Dr. Light and Auto, while Protoman’s is run by “?????” – in reality, a disguised Auto wearing a hard hat – accompanied by Tango, the robotic feline from MegaMan V. MegaMan’s offerings are essentially identical to the previous game, except Roll’s Costume Change is replaced with a W-Tank. Protoman’s offerings, however, are significantly more limited: he can buy extra lives, Energy and Weapon Tanks, Beat Calls, Shock Guards and the Energy Balancer. Kind of ironic that the character who takes twice as much damage can’t buy the item that halves it. I guess that would make the game too easy.

20171117200948_1

A mystery wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a Hard Hat.

Just like in its predecessor, MM10’s Special Weapons attempt to bridge the gap between the early games’ power and the later games’ practicality. In this case, it seems like they tend to evoke more of the latter quality compared to the previous game. In the end, they end up coming across like a mixture between the experimental qualities of the weapons found in MM5 with the non-combat applications of those found in MM8. While 10’s arsenal may not be the most devastating of the series in terms of firepower, they’re definitely among the most fun weapons in the entire series. My personal favorite weapon would have to be Pumpman’s Water Shield. A unique take on the traditional “Leaf Shield” weapon, MegaMan (et al) summons 10 orbs of water to act as a shield. Firing again shoots them off in random directions, sort of like a more chaotic version of MM7’s Junk Shield. The unique part is that each hit the shield takes only manages to dissipate one orb, but the wielder can still take damage from attacks that slip in between the gaps left in the barrier. Next up would be the Solar Blaze, Solarman’s weapon. It essentially fires off a bomb that splits into two waves of fire, each careening in opposite directions. It sort of reminds me of the Pharaoh Wave attack from MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters. Coming in at number 3 would have to be Nitroman’s Wheel Cutter. Similar to the Spin Wheel from MegaMan X2, it fires off a buzzsaw that travels across the ground when the fire button is released. However, if the button is held, the saw remains on MegaMan’s buster, which can allow him to scale walls quickly. Then there’s the Chill Spike, taken from Chillman. It fires off a glob of icy gel which forms spikes when it lands on the ground, but hitting an enemy with it directly freezes them temporarily, much like the Ice Slasher. Blademan’s (not that one) weapon, the Triple Blade, is my fifth favorite, firing three katana-shaped blades in a spread shot formation, though the pattern varies depending on whether it’s fired on the ground (straight, diagonal up, further diagonal-up) or while jumping (straight, diagonal-down, further diagonal-down). A little tricky to aim at times because of this, but it works well for the next part. The Rebound Striker, obtained by defeating Strikeman, is essentially an improved version of the Gemini Laser from MM3. The ball still ricochets around the screen, but this time it can be aimed in three different directions from the start – straight forward and diagonally up or down – which can allow for greater accuracy. Coming in at seventh place is Commandoman’s Commando Bomb, an explosive missile that can be aimed after firing by pressing up or down on the D-Pad, forcing it to turn at a 90 degree angle. Once it makes impact with a wall, ceiling or floor, it creates a large explosive wave that follows the contours of the landscape. This is where the majority of the damage comes from: the missile itself is a dud if it hits an enemy directly. Finally, there’s the worst weapon in the game, the Thunder Wool, courtesy of Sheepman. MegaMan fires off a slow-moving thunder cloud that slowly rises into the air and drops a powerful lightning bolt. Two clouds can be combined to increase the attack’s range and damage, but the cloud is so slow and fragile, it’s almost not worth bothering with the attack in the first place.

20171117194945_1

A lot of weaknesses feel too esoteric, but this seems way too obvious.

While MegaMan 9 set out to imitate MegaMan 2 exactly, MM10’s aesthetics were clearly meant to be more of an homage to the classic 8-bit games, attempting to ape the classic console’s look while utilizing artistic tricks that the NES was clearly incapable of. For the most part, the game’s graphics are similar to that of the previous game, but the presentation is improved significantly, much to any retro purist’s chagrin. While various traits of the classic 8-bit system are retained in the game’s spritework and cutscenes – particularly the limited color palette – MegaMan 10 also decides to use graphical tricks that the classic console would clearly never be able to do within actual games. I think my favorite bit of presentation of the game is what happens when one of the Robot Masters’ stages are selected. A cyan rectangle, surrounded by a darker blue background above and below it. The background contains silhouettes of each of the eight Robot Masters – four above the cyan part, four below – and the chosen boss hops into the center, introducing itself. As each boss robot is defeated, their shadow is removed from the line-up. I don’t know why, but something about that just struck me as a nice touch. Compared to MM9, the game’s aesthetic clearly draws more inspiration from later games in the NES library but doesn’t tether itself to the system’s limitations. Perhaps the most evident shift away would be the fact that the flicker setting from the previous game is completely absent this time around. As with the previous game, MM10 uses a 4:3 aspect ratio for its gameplay. This time, however, there are graphical borders that vary based on whether the player is on the main menu or selected a character. Some players found this addition distracting, but I didn’t really mind one way or the other.

The sound team from the previous game returns. Ippo Yamada returns as the Sound Director, Hiroki Isogai joins Yu Shimoda on Sound Effect Design and Ryo Kawakami composed many of the game’s tracks. However, this time around, an all-star team of composers from previous MegaMan games return, each providing one of the Robot Masters themes. Manami Matsumae (MM1) composed Nitro Rider, Yasuaki “BUN BUN” Fujita (MM3) wrote Solar Inferno, Desert Commando was MM4 composer Minae Fujii’s contribution to the soundtrack, Mari Yamaguchi (MM5) scored the catchy Cybersheep’s Dream, Yuko Takehara of MegaMan 6 & 7 composed Polluted Pump, Makoto Tomozawa (Dr. Wily’s Revenge, MegaMan X, MegaMan 7 and the Legends games) produced Fireball Strike, Absolute Chill was composed by Shusaku Uchiyama (MM8) and Akari Kaida (MM&B) contributed King of Blades. In fact, Takashi Tateishi, the composer of MM2, even rearranged the standard stage clear jingle, while Manami Matsumae handled the trademark stage selected tune. As such, the game’s soundtrack comes across as eclectic, but also memorable in my opinion. MegaMan 10 also sets the record for having the most unique boss battle songs in the series history: there are unique themes for the Robot Master fights, the fortress bosses, the Wily Machine battle and the Wily Capsule, bringing the grand total to four. likely has my favorite soundtrack in the entire series, which makes it difficult to choose my favorite songs. Sheepman, Nitroman, Pumpman and Chillman’s themes are my top choices, as well as the third Wily Castle level theme (though the first and second theme are also great), the Wily Fortress Boss Battle and Protoman’s unique shop theme. MM10 also received an arranged soundtrack around the time of its release, though it was referred to as an “Image Soundtrack”. It’s a shame that not every song in the game gets remastered, but what manages to make it in sounds great.

20171117200403_1

Somehow, Protoman even manages to make the MM4 charge shot look cooler.

The Time Attack mode and in-game achievements also return from the previous game. MegaMan 10 also adds a brand-new challenge mode, consisting of 88 mini-stages, each with their own unique layouts and requirements from completion, generally involving reaching a goal or defeating an enemy. Some of the earlier Challenges end up resembling a tutorial mode for the base game, while later stages put player to the test to prove their mastery of the game. These challenges also have various ranks, which can be unlocked by completing each challenge while meeting specific criteria, like finishing in a certain amount of time or beat it without taking any damage. It doesn’t really add that much to the overall game, but it is a nice extra feature that I would love to see return in future games.

20171117222546_1

Did I mention just how much I love the references in this game?

As with the previous game, there is some paid DLC to extend replay value. This time, there are three special stages, which cost $1 apiece. This time, each stage is topped off with a boss fight from one of the three MegaMan Killers: Enker (from the first Game Boy game), Punk (MMIII) and Ballade (MMIV). These stages are only accessible in the game’s time attack mode by MegaMan, but defeating each boss adds their Special Weapons to the Blue Bomber’s arsenal permanently, in every game mode. Endless Attack also returns as additional DLC, costing $3 this time around. The game’s most important addition would have to be Bass as a third playable character, costing $2. Bass retains his aimable shot from MegaMan & Bass, but loses his double jump. He can also dash instead of sliding and comes equipped with the Treble Boost from the get-go. Unlike Protoman in the previous game, Bass even gets his own storyline and has access to a shop, run by Dr. Wily’s robotic bird Reggae. Bass’s shop selection is similar to Protoman’s, though the Beat Call is replaced with the Treble Item and Treble Rescue, which are functionally identical to the Eddie and Beat Calls respectively.

20171117222321_1

A literal game-changer.

In the end, MegaMan 10 feels like more of a tribute game than an outright retro throwback. The fact that it was released after MegaMan 9 definitely hurt its reception – especially given the series’ reputation of low-effort sequels – but it seems that unlike the other MegaMan games that went unappreciated, MM10 still suffers from the poor reactions that plagued it upon its original release. I’d like to think that its position was exacerbated by the fact that it was the last true MegaMan release up to the present. While I hope time will heal the wounds this game has suffered in the past seven years, I grow more and more skeptical as time goes on. MegaMan 10 is still presently my favorite game of the entire Classic series and I think a lot of that has to do with just how perfect of a game it was to precede the great hiatus we’ve been suffering for over five years at this point. The game contains references to several earlier games in the series: the Weapon Archive boss fights in the first Wily Castle stage recreate Robot Masters from nine of the previous games; Bass’s gameplay is reminiscent of his previous playable appearance in MegaMan & Bass and Tango, Reggae and the MegaMan Killers all make appearances representing more obscure titles in the series. In a sense, if we had to say goodbye to the Classic MegaMan games – whether permanent or temporary – MM10 felt like a perfect note to end it on as it pays tribute to the franchise’s rich history, instead of just paying lip service to a single title. I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see a MegaMan 11 sooner or later, but until then, this game has left me satisfied for the time being.

MegaMan Powered Up

While MegaMan 9 didn’t arrive on the scene until 2008, there was one other title released between it and the delayed Western release of MegaMan & Bass on the Game Boy Advance. Releasing in 2006 on the PlayStation Portable, MegaMan Powered Up – known as Rockman Rockman in Japan – was a total reimagining of the 1987 classic that started it all. While remaking the first game in the series may seem frivolous by today’s standards with multiple re-releases of the NES version over the years, MMPU delivers a package that I’d count as the gold standard for video game remakes. Powered Up attempts to fix many of the flaws of the original game while maintaining the things that made it great in the first place and adding entirely new elements to keep the game feeling brand-new. In that sense, MegaMan Powered Up feels like the most substantial game in the entire series, no small feat for a game exclusively released on a handheld system.

MegaMan Powered Up was developed alongside a similar remake of the first MegaMan X game – MegaMan Maverick Hunter X – on Sony’s PlayStation Portable fairly early into its lifespan. Both games were intended to start an entire series of remakes, but unfortunately, due to the handheld’s lack of sales in any region when the games were originally released, these plans were inevitably scrapped. MHX was released first and as such, it included a demo for Powered Up as a bonus. The PlayStation Portable’s design actually had quite a significant impact on the development of the game. Due to the PSP’s widescreen aspect ratio, the super-deformed chibi artstyle was chosen to better emphasis the character’s facial expressions. Keiji Inafune expressed interest in using a similar style in the original MegaMan game but was unable to realize his vision due to the limitations of the NES hardware. The game’s aesthetic, especially the character models were designed around the concept of “toys”, specifically trying to design them to resemble “the kinds of characters that you’d see hanging off keychains and such”, according to character designer Tatsuya Yoshikawa. The extra screen space afforded by the widescreen also inspired the developers to expand the sizes of the stages, as they were given more screen space to work with. Keiji Inafune mentioned that there were originally going to be eight Robot Masters in the original MegaMan on the NES, but ended up with six due to tight scheduling. Inafune originally considered using one of the abandoned concepts – Bondman, a adhesives robot – in Powered Up, but decided that due to his cult status, he would leave the character as a “legend”. Instead, Inafune designed two original bosses: Timeman and Oilman – not that one – who had to be slightly redesigned outside of Japan, due to his resemblance to a racial caricature.

As one might expect from a remake, MegaMan Powered Up essentially retells the story from the first game, albeit in greater detail. In the year 20XX – I guess they figured “200X” didn’t sound futuristic in 2006 – humans have been able to create industrial humanoid robots. At the forefront of this technology is Dr. Thomas Light, a brilliant roboticist, who created two human-like robots with highly advanced artificial intelligence: “Mega” – I will never get over this change – an android resembling a young boy built as the doctor’s lab assistant and his sister Roll, a helper robot designed for housekeeping. After the success of these two robots, Dr. Light would build eight more “Robot Masters” designed for industrial use. Dr. Wily, a former colleague and rival of Dr. Light, becomes jealous of Dr. Light’s achievements and decides to attempt world domination. He steals and reprograms the eight Robot Masters to aid him in his megalomaniacal scheme. To add insult to injury, he leaves Mega and Roll behind, declaring them as nothing but useless scrap. With the world in chaos and Dr. Light fearing the worst, Mega volunteers to be converted into a super fighting robot. Rechristened as “MegaMan”, the Blue Bomber sets off to rescue his fellow robots and stop Wily’s evil plot. Of course, this game doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as other games in the series, and considering that this is a Classic MegaMan game, that’s really saying something. I think MMPU is a pretty big part of the reason why I prefer the Western storyline of the original game – where Dr. Wily was Dr. Light’s assistant rather than just a colleague. I always used to wonder how Wily would’ve been able to steal Light’s robots if he weren’t working for him and ever since Powered Up’s release, I can’t help but think of him literally putting all of them in a giant sack and flying away. It’s both hilarious and impractical, but I really can’t think of any better way for Wily to have reprogrammed the robots if he didn’t do it under Dr. Light’s nose as his assistant.

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What, did you think I was joking?

The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from a MegaMan platformer. Stages are generally longer than those of the original game, and returning stages mix new obstacles into existing stages to create entirely new layouts. In fact, elements from future games – namely a few enemies and obstacles – manage to make their way into MMPU, paying homage to other games in the series. For example, the game starts with a unique introduction stage, much like MM7, MM8 and MegaMan & Bass, capped off with a brand-new, yet surprisingly familiar boss fight. Likewise, MegaMan can switch Special Weapons on the fly by using the shoulder buttons. Despite being a relatively early attempt at a 2.5D game – that is, a game with 3D graphics but gameplay limited to a 2D plane – Powered Up pretty much nails everything. It’s especially jarring considering this game was released in 2006 and on a portable game system of all things, when many of the game’s console contemporaries were still suffering from the  problems commonly associated with 2.5D games at this early stage in their development, let alone a platformer which requires more precise controls than most other genres. Look no further than the game’s counterpart – Maverick Hunter X – where the 3D models didn’t allow for the precision 2D platformers are generally afforded with sprites and other more traditional 2D artstyles, leading to ill-timed jumps and other unintentional difficulties for the player. Speaking of difficulty, each stage in the game has three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard. The difficulty is always chosen at the beginning of each stage and after the eight Robot Masters are defeated, the Wily Fortress stages can only be played on difficulty settings all of the previous stages were completed on or lower. Similar to MM10, each difficulty setting has its own enemy layout and boss characters even gain access to more powerful attacks on the higher settings.

The addition of two new Robot Masters actually changes quite a bit about the game compared to its source material. For starters, the boss weakness order has been heavily modified, even beyond the obvious way of just accounting for the additional bosses. To name a few, Rolling Cutter defeats Bombman now and Oil Slider is Elecman’s weakness, whose Thunder Beam now defeats Timeman. It may feel like just a small inconsequential change to the game itself, but honestly it refreshes the entire concept and keeps long-time fans on their toes. Another important change comes to the boss fights themselves, each Robot Master’s attack pattern has been expanded greatly over the 1987 original. Most importantly, they gain powerful special attacks that render them temporarily invincible. While these attacks are limited to when they’ve lost half their health, the difficulty setting affects how often they’re used. Frankly, I love the entire concept and wish that other games in the Classic series could have done something similar.

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Jump, jump! Slide, sl–whoops, wrong game.

Powered Up brings back a majority of the weapons from the original game, with the sole exception being the Magnet Beam. In its place are two new weapons: the Time Slow, which temporarily slows down time for a brief period and the Oil Slider, which fires a glob of oil that MegaMan can ride like a snowboard. Neither new weapon is particularly useful, but they are interesting concepts. I’d probably put both weapons below even the Hyper Bomb in terms of usefulness, but otherwise, my rankings for the weapons in the original NES version still hold true.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan Powered Up’s aesthetics deviate from the series in general, ramping up the cutesiness substantially even when compared to the Tezuka-inspired artwork of Keiji Inafune’s original designs. And yet, it’s probably one of the most gorgeous game in the PSP’s library, despite being released fairly early in the game’s lifespan. The character models are very expressive and all of the stages are colorful, with surprisingly detailed backgrounds despite the system’s small resolution. The lifebar and weapons meter also showcase MegaMan’s remaining lives and how many shots of each Special Weapon MegaMan has left, similar to both MegaMan 8 and the Complete Works games. Some people may be turned off by the game’s aesthetic, but frankly, I still think it holds up even to this day.

The entire soundtrack from the original game returns in MMPU, totally rearranged by Toshihiko Horiyama, who previously worked on MegaMan 7, the original MegaMan X, MMX4 and various other games across the entire franchise. Horiyama’s arrangements have lighter instrumentations, fitting with the game’s more light-hearted tone. Some of the games songs – notably Cutman, Gutsman and Fireman’s – were shifted from minor to major key, leading to them sounding a bit different. What’s really surprising is just how much of the music ends up getting recycled within the game itself. The boss theme from Dr. Wily’s fortress gets rearranged several times, quickly becoming the mad doctor’s leitmotif. So much of the music gets rearranged that there actually doesn’t end up being that much in the way of original music. What’s there – specifically the new main theme (which gets recycled even more heavily than the Dr. Wily theme), Oilman and Timeman’s theme – fits in perfectly with the new takes on the original compositions. My favorite songs in Powered Up’s soundtrack would have to be Timeman’s theme, the Fireman rearrangement, Cutman’s stage, the introduction stage, and the theme for the Wily Fortress boss fights.

In addition, Powered Up was fully voice acted, to an even greater extent than MegaMan 8. There were Japanese and English dubs, though the PSP’s UMD format could likely only handle one version per disc. As such, I’m only really familiar with the English version. The game’s English dub was handled by the Ocean Group, a production company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, well known for many anime dubs. They also ended up providing the voices for the MegaMan cartoon in the 1990s, as well as the dub for the Rockman: Wish Upon a Star OVA. The game’s voice acting actually manages to give the characters even more personality than they did back in MM8: Elecman is a narcissistic pretty-boy, Gutsman becomes a total workaholic, Iceman becomes bi-polar – see what they did there? – shifting from wimpy snowman to drill sergeant and Fireman turns into a cross between a superhero and a fire and brimstone Southern preacher. Even the Yellow Devil gets voice acting! My personal favorites are easily MegaMan, who manages to sound like an actual child, and of course Dr. Wily, who sort of comes across like a shriller version of Wallace Shawn.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of MegaMan Powered Up is the sheer amount of extra content crammed into the game. For starters, there are actually two entirely different modes of gameplay. The full-on remake is labelled as “New Style” upon starting a new game, but there’s also an “Old Style”: essentially a perfect recreation of the original MegaMan using MMPU’s art assets and control scheme. Personally, I think it’s the most playable version of the original MegaMan out there, making several concessions to recreate the game as closely as possible. This includes shearing down the PSP’s screen to an accurate 4:3 aspect ratio, bringing back the Magnet Beam as an unlockable support item and even bringing back the original 8-bit version’s music in its full chiptune glory. While a few concessions were made due to the difference in some of the designs between both versions, these have little effect on the actual gameplay. Granted, the gameplay itself did receive a few tweaks, but these were made to make the game more in line with the later NES games, fixing various oversights the version from 1987 never thought to change.

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I’ll never understand why the PSP had so many 4:3 games on it.

New Style has a few extra tricks of its own, mainly in the form of unlockable characters. For starters, all eight of the game’s Robot Masters are playable characters: to unlock them, just defeat them with the Arm Cannon alone. This allows the damaged robots to survive and be brought back to Dr. Light’s Lab and deprogrammed. Each Robot Master is only equipped with their respective weapon, giving each of them unique challenges. Fortunately, they also have other special abilities. These range from the mundane – Fireman’s immune to fire attacks and Oilman doesn’t slip on oil – to the practical – Timeman retains his clock-hands attack and Cutman can wall-jump. The most impressive change would have to be Gutsman, who can summon a set number of tossable blocks at will, turning the Super Arm from a mere gimmick into the devastating onslaught it always should’ve been. Each Robot Master has their own take on the story, fighting a MegaMan doppleganger (referred to as “MegaMan?”) at the end of the stage they usually occupy. Beating the game on each difficulty setting also unlocks a new variant of MegaMan: Easy Mode unlocks “MegaMan S”, capable of sliding like in MegaMan 3; “MegaMan C” is unlocked by clearing the game on normal difficulty, still boasting the slide but also regaining the charge shot from later games in the series; while Hard Mode “rewards” players with “Mega”, who trades his blue armor and Mega Buster for a pair of comfy shorts and a swift kick. MegaMan’s sister Roll was also available as free DLC. She fights by swinging a broom, almost acting as a parody of Zero. Better still, Roll also has access to 12 alternate costumes, ranging from her MegaMan 8 outfit and a raincoat that evokes Toadman.EXE from the Battle Network games to a witch’s robe and a knight costume that resembles Sir Arthur’s armor from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins games. Finally, MegaMan’s older brother Protoman is also unlocked by completing all 100 in-game challenges – more on those in a bit – but Capcom eventually offered him as a free downloadable character too. Unlike other games in the series, Protoman’s only weapon in Powered Up is the Proto Strike, which fires off giant, powerful shots similar to a fully-charged Mega Buster shot, though only two can be on-screen at a time. He can also block various projectiles with the Proto Shield by standing still, though it can be knocked away with powerful attacks, requiring it to be retrieved. To compensate for these advantages, he takes twice as much damage as any other character in the game. Considering the sheer amount of playable characters, not to mention the 3 difficulty settings, some people have claimed that the game has 468 levels, but this seems like a bit of a stretch.

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I’m still a bit rusty, but does fire beat scissors?

There are also two more additional modes. First, there are the Challenges. MegaMan and each Robot Master have 10 unique challenge mini-stages, coupled with 10 Boss Rushes to make a total of 100 overall. The real star of the show has to be Construction mode. Long before games like Super Mario Maker and even the Little Big Planet series, MegaMan Powered Up allowed players the chance to create their own unique stages. While the interface was a bit clunkier than future titles – the PSP’s small screen and lack of touch controls didn’t help matters – the customizability allowed players to create stages on par with the ones already found in the game. There were also various special expansion packs, adding new stage elements, hidden throughout stages in New Style mode. In fact, there were even tilesets based on the original 8-bit NES game stages – even Timeman and Oilman get some love in this regard – that I wish Old Style had used as opposed to the standard Powered Up backgrounds, but you can’t get everything you ask for. On top of this, there was also an Online Infrastructure mode, allowing players to share their stages with each other all over the world. In fact, even Capcom themselves got in on this action, regularly releasing custom-built stages of their own throughout the game’s first year of existence. With these various features, MegaMan Powered Up’s size was only limited by the player’s Memory Stick, which was generally either small or quite expensive, especially when the game was first released.

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Literally hundreds of hours of gameplay. And that’s just figuring out the interface.

I’d generally count MegaMan Powered Up to be among the best games in the entire MegaMan series, as well as one of the best video game remakes of all-time. As such, I’d also say that it’s the perfect game for anyone trying to get into the series: it’s a perfect retelling of the first game, with top-notch gameplay and several bonus features. There’s only one problem: it’s not available on modern platforms, at least outside of Japan. You see, while many PlayStation Portable games are available as downloadable titles on the PlayStation Network, the North American version of MMPU had various technical difficulties that neither Capcom nor Sony were able to fix, leaving it in a state of limbo. While Rockman Rockman did end up seeing release on the Japanese PSN store, the difficult nature of the PlayStation Vita – the only platform still in production at the time of writing capable of playing PSP games – and dealing with other regions will make this difficult to obtain for gamers outside of Japan. Ironically, despite the game’s critical success, Capcom has never attempted re-releasing the game on any other platform, which just seems like a mistake to me. Bundling the game with Maverick Hunter X and selling it as a digital title on modern platforms (including PC) just seems like a brilliant move for these games that many fans of the series never got the chance to play. Better still, platforms like the Nintendo Switch and PC could easily improve the admittedly awkward Stage Construction interface – the mode’s only major limitation. Considering all of the re-releases Capcom’s been doing lately, I hope the PSP MegaMan games eventually get their day in the sun.

Interlude: MegaMan Universe

Of course, while MegaMan Powered Up didn’t see a direct successor, Capcom attempted to revive the stage builder concept in a game years later. MegaMan Universe had a unique artstyle – which I liked personally – and included cameo appearances from characters like Street Fighter’s Ryu, Sir Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins and even the infamous “Bad Box Art” MegaMan from the North American cover of the original game. In addition to these unique features, the game appeared to be taking much of its inspiration from MegaMan 2, including all eight of the Robot Masters from MM2 in the game’s promotional material. In addition to customizing stages, players would also be given the opportunity to build their own playable characters by combining various pieces from existing models and customizing them with a unique name. The game was set to be the next release in the series after MegaMan 10, but it was unceremoniously cancelled soon after it was originally announced.

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Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

The reason I bring this game up is that I actually played it. Back in late 2010, I attended New York Comic Con for the first time and visited Capcom’s booth. It was quite popular that year, with announcements like Okamiden on the DS, the similarly-cancelled MegaMan Legends 3 Project on 3DS and the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I was a Classic MegaMan fan at heart, so I had to get my hands on the game. I only got to play the demo at the kiosk once, but I still remember quite a few details. For example, the demo offered three different stages, each based on their difficulty – I obviously chose the most difficult stage. Each play session afforded the player with the standard 3 lives and I managed to complete the on my last life. For my troubles, I won a nice little prize, given to everyone who completed the most difficult stage: an inflatable lance based on Sir Arthur’s, marked with the MegaMan Universe logo, which I still have to this day. Honestly, there really wasn’t that much to hate about the game. At worst, the controls felt a bit wonky compared to other games in the series, but considering how early in development the game was, it could’ve easily been tightened up in future builds.

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Brown and gray? Has MegaMan finally gone AAA?

However, this wasn’t taken into account by either the gaming press or the public in general. The game was considered an abomination at first glance. The artstyle was “hideous”. The controls were incompetent. Everything about the game was irredeemable. Just ignore the fact that MegaMan 10 was derided for being too similar to the previous game in the series, Universe was far, far too different. Soon after the game was first announced, news about the game began to dry up. I remember a short time before the game was officially cancelled, I asked Christian Svensson – then-Senior Vice President of Planning and Business Development at Capcom USA – about whether or not MegaMan Universe had been cancelled on Capcom-Unity’s “Ask Capcom” forum. He stayed cryptic, simply stating that the game was going in a new direction. Not long after, the game’s cancellation was officially announced. The games media in general was shocked – a MegaMan game getting cancelled? Unthinkable! – but not remotely disappointed. Everyone was more excited about MegaMan Legends 3 anyway, Universe was nothing more than a terrible game that no one wanted.

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Low on cash, Roll scores a part-time job at Build-A-Bot.

Public perception of Universe did a complete 180 after Legends 3 was “cancelled”. Suddenly it had gone from a waste of Capcom’s resources to yet another innocent victim in the wake of the company’s sudden anti-MegaMan sentiment. I still consider most of the people who began mourning the demise of Universe once MML3 had met the same fate to be hypocrites of the highest order. A game that was literally smothered in its crib due to sheer antipathy from the very fanbase holding it up as an example of Capcom’s mistreatment of the franchise in general. My stomach still turns whenever I see people bring up MegaMan Universe and there’s one question on my mind every time I see anyone bring up the game’s existence: did you always care or just when it suited you?

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At the very least, having a bigger screen would’ve been nice.

Of course, there have been more cancelled projects since then. A Korean MMORPG called “Rockman Online” was in development by NeoWiz Games and was set to feature characters from both the Classic and X series was announced around the same time as the other two projects, but wouldn’t be officially cancelled until 2013. There was also a gritty reboot planned for the MegaMan X series, a first-person shooter codenamed “Maverick Hunter”, set to be developed by Armature Studio, comprised of several developers who worked on Nintendo’s Metroid Prime games. The latter was only discovered long after it had been discarded, and while I joke that it’s the game the MegaMan X fanbase deserves, it honestly looked somewhat interesting.

Street Fighter X MegaMan

1987 may very well be the most important year in Capcom’s existence. It was the year that two of the series that led to them becoming household names were first released. I’ve already mentioned that the original MegaMan was released in December 1987, but the first Street Fighter – not Street Fighter II – was first released in arcades that summer on August 30th. Just think about that, most companies these days would kill to start two brand-new highly-successful franchises in the same decade, let alone the same year. In 2012, Capcom celebrated Street Fighter’s 25th anniversary with a massive media blitz and the release of Street Fighter x Tekken. Capcom decided to float MegaMan’s celebration to the following year – the less said on that, the better – but decided to give a small nod to the Blue Bomber during the World Warriors’ massive celebration. On December 17, 2012 – exactly 25 years after the release of Rockman on the Famicom in Japan – Capcom paid tribute to two of their flagship series with Street Fighter X MegaMan, a free downloadable PC game made available exclusively on the Capcom-Unity website.

The game originally began development as a fan-game back in 2009 by Seow Zong Hui, a Singaporean Engineering student going under the alias “Sonic”. He tried to recreate the MegaMan physics engine to practice his programming and due to the prevalence of 8-bit Street Fighter images drawn in the MegaMan style, he decided to put Ryu in the project on a whim. In 2012, he presented a work in progress build of the game to Capcom USA who decided to fund the project, in exchange for providing creative input and the exclusive rights to distribute the game online.

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MegaMan blasting animals? This truly is a PC game.

Pretty much everything about this game resembles the classic 8-bit MegaMan games of the NES era. This time around, MegaMan regains his slide and charge shot from the later games in the series, but considering that he’s facing off with eight of the strongest fighters in the world, he’ll need them. All things considered, Seow Zong Hui did a pretty good job recreating the physics of the Classic MegaMan games. SFxMM takes bosses from various games in the Street Fighter canon: main protagonist Ryu; Blanka, Dhalsim and Chun-Li who made their debuts in Street Fighter II; Rose from Street Fighter Alpha; Rolento from Final Fight – who would go onto appear in the Alpha series; Urien from the Street Fighter III games and Crimson Viper from Street Fighter IV. The Wily Fortress in this game is themed around Shadoloo, with Balrog, Vega and M. Bison – or M. Bison, Balrog and Vega, if you go by the Japanese names – acting as the game’s fortress bosses.

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Balrog’s stage literally just consists of running away from him. It’s perfect.

The game’s stages are standard MegaMan fare, each using settings that are associated with the origins of each Street Fighter. For example, Blanka’s level takes place in a Brazillian jungle, Dhalsim’s stage is a maze resembling his stage from SF2, Urien’s stage takes place in an Olmec temple and Rolento’s stage takes place on a construction site. Most of the stage enemies come from earlier games in the MegaMan series – Sniper Joes armed with laser and Mettools riding bicycles are among the highlights – but there are also some unique enemies, like flying swords, giant roses and even robots based on members of Gill’s Illuminati. The boss fights have also been tweaked from the traditional MegaMan games. In addition to the standard health meter, each boss also has a Revenge Meter – like the one found in SF4 – which fills as the boss takes damage. Once it’s completely full, the boss can perform a powerful Ultra Combo, which deals major damage in MegaMan gets hit by it. I liked this addition, as it managed to implement some elements from the Street Fighter games into the gameplay itself.

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Brown and gray? I already made that joke!

On January 18th, 2013, an updated version of the game – dubbed “v2” – was uploaded to Capcom-Unity, replacing the original. This new version added new features like improved controller support, bug fixes and most notably, a Password system based on those from the NES MegaMan games. Originally, SFxMM was intended as a one session game, but many players requested some kind of a save system. The game was also tweaked to be more user-friendly: confirmation prompts were added to the game’s quit and reset functions and a screenshot function was added, which made keeping track of passwords easy. This new version also increased the difficulty of the game’s final boss, making M. Bison a truly challenging foe.

The game also had a whole host of secrets. Originally, SF3’s Yang was planned as a boss character, but replaced by Chun-Li in the final game. His weapon, the Sei’ei Enbu, can be unlocked in-game via a secret code. There’s also a code to replace the entire game’s soundtrack with a recreation of Guile’s theme, relating to a popular internet meme. MegaMan could also sport a helmetless look with a special code on the boss select screen. There were also two secret bosses that could be unlocked by performing specific requirements before the game’s final stage. To unlock Akuma as the game’s secret true final boss, players must defeat four or more stage bosses with full health, earning a Perfect Victory. V2 added Sagat as a second secret boss, fought right before taking on M. Bison. To unlock that boss fight, players need only score four or more Perfects during the boss rematches in the third Shadaloo Fortress stage.

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Does he or doesn’t he? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.

Of course, defeating each of the initial eight Street Fighters grants MegaMan a Special Weapon. In most cases, they’re actually based on real moves from each character’s moveset, but there are exceptions. As usual, I’ve decided to rank these from best to worst. My favorite weapon is easily Rose’s Soul Satellite, which surrounds the Blue Bomber with two spiritual orbs, acting sort of like a Leaf Shield. While active, MegaMan can fire another orb at no energy cost. The best part is that if MegaMan swaps weapons while using it, the orbs stay out, changing color to match Rock’s current weapon. Aegis Reflector was one of Urien’s Super Arts in SF3 and it produces a shield that reflects projectile attacks, disappearing either after 5 seconds or deflecting 3 shots. As with the Soul Satellite, the Reflector stays active while switching weapons. Then there’s the Optic Laser, originally one of C. Viper’s special moves in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – which was, in turn, a reference to the X-Men character Cyclops. MegaMan fires off a powerful beam attack, consisting of four segments, each dealing its own share of the damage. Then there’s Ryu’s classic Hadouken, which can either fired normally or charged to become more powerful. Of course, MegaMan can also use this attack without even defeating Ryu in the first place: just perform the traditional Hadouken motion (down, down-forward, forward) followed by the fire button and MegaMan performs the signature attack, even without equipping a Special Weapon. Then there’s Dhalsim’s Yoga Inferno, which fires a stream of flames, while leaving MegaMan immobile – similar to the Wave Burner from MegaMan & Bass. The trajectory of the attack can be changed by hitting up or down. The Mine Sweeper, obtained after defeating Rolento, lobs a grenade at an arc. When it collides with anything, the bomb explodes, causing multiple hits of damage. Blanka’s Tropical Hazard is a random attack that isn’t really based on any of the Brazilian beastman’s attacks, rather one of his victory poses. MegaMan drops a watermelon right in front of him, which he can slide into or kick. He can also jump on top of it, bouncing into the air. In this sense, it’s much like MM8’s Mega Ball. Finally, there’s the Lightning Kick, Chun-Li’s signature attack. MegaMan does several quick kicks in succession, dealing decent damage at severely limited range. As for the unlockable Sei’ei Enbu technique, MegaMan is capable of moving faster, jumping higher and generating afterimages as he moves. These afterimages mimic MegaMan’s actions and even shoot Mega Buster shots when he does. Of course, MegaMan is limited to his standard weapons while using it and the energy meter counts down while the weapon’s in use. After inputting the secret code correctly, the Sei’ei Enbu can be activated by hitting the Left Weapon Change and Fire buttons at the same time.

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20 takes and that was the best one.

As with pretty much everything else, SFxMM’s artstyle mimics the NES MegaMan games. MegaMan is accurate to the original design, while the sprite work on the Street Fighter characters seem similar to Capcom’s own 8-bit take, but they also manage to be animated fluidly, which is impressive. The game’s backgrounds are hit-and-miss, some stages exceed the NES’s capabilities, while others end up looking a little plain but accurate. The various menus and map screens do a good job of blending 8-bit MegaMan and Super Street Fighter IV aesthetics, which is a nice touch. I also appreciated seeing Dan in the game, even if he was essentially a training dummy to show off all of MegaMan’s new weapons.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Alex Esquivel, better known by the pseudonym “A_Rival”. If I’m going to be honest, I think it’s perfect for this game. A_Rival essentially transposes various Street Fighter themes into a style that’s practically identical to 8-bit MegaMan. In some cases, he even blends together each Street Fighter’s stage music with classic MegaMan tunes, like Dhalsim who takes riffs from Snakeman’s theme in MM3 or Rolento who takes cues from Heatman’s stage. I think my favorite themes in the game would have to be the Boss Battle music, based on the Drive-In At Night stage in SF4; the Get A Weapon theme, based on Dan’s Stage; the first Shadaloo stage, based on Balrog’s theme; as well as the songs from Rolento, Blanka, C. Viper and Urien’s levels.

There’s really little to complain about when it comes to Street Fighter X MegaMan. Considering it literally costs nothing, it’s actually a really touching tribute to the two franchises that made Capcom a household name in the first place. The only thing that really makes it bittersweet is the fact that many people assumed that this was a sign of big things to come for the Blue Bomber. After Keiji Inafune left Capcom, MegaMan in general has been ignored by the company – quite a massive shift for a series that, at its peak, would receive roughly half a dozen games per year. And yet, the hiatus never really ended. MegaMan’s seen several licensing deals since then, not to mention a major cameo in Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U, but nothing in the way of actual new releases. The fact that the game’s still just relegated to the Capcom-Unity website also feels like a crime to me. You’d think that Capcom USA would at least consider putting the game on Steam as a free download. Maybe they’ll do that this year for the 30th anniversary. At the very least, it’d be nice to see it on a more permanent and accessible platform. Worse yet, since SFxMM’s release, there have been several other high-profile fangames – which I won’t refer to directly for obvious reasons. I’m surprised that Capcom USA hasn’t considered making similar deals, at the very least, it would probably help to quell the fanbase’s lamentations over the Blue Bomber’s perceived demise.

Interlude: MegaMan Legacy Collection 1 & 2

This brings us to the latest releases in the MegaMan series, which are ironically enough just compilations. On the plus side, the games had been pretty much relegated to the Virtual Console on the Nintendo Wii, 3DS and Wii U for the past few years, so allowing other platforms some form of re-releases is nice. Better still, these are the first official releases of mainline Classic MegaMan games on the PC – the Hi-Tech Expressions games obviously don’t count. At this point, the sheer lack of releases in the franchise has left many fans listless, so seeing the series make an appearance on modern platforms, even if an extremely familiar one, was welcome.

 

Before I get into the Legacy Collections themselves, some of you may be wondering why I didn’t cover the MegaMan Anniversary Collection, released in 2004 on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, with a delayed Xbox release the following year. Quite frankly, I did bring up the Anniversary Collection twice before – when discussing Rockman Complete Works and the arcade games – and the remainder of the package seems to be hardly worth any mention. The extras consist of a few “interesting” remixes of classic MegaMan songs, an image gallery and a variety of video extras that vary between versions: the first episode of the Ruby-Spears MegaMan cartoon on the PS2, the GameCube version including an interview with Keiji Inafune and bafflingly, the first episode of MegaMan NT Warrior (the English dub of the anime based on the Battle Network games) on the Xbox version. In fact, what few people tend to realize is that MMAC also had several technical issues, including terrible ports of both MegaMan 7 and 8. Various audio cues and songs were distorted heavily in every game and worst of all, the GameCube version reversed the jump and fire buttons and the controls couldn’t be altered. The fact that so many people considered the Legacy Collections to be ripoffs compared to the previous abomination of a compilation reeks of rose-colored nostalgia. And that’s a pretty damning statement coming from someone who has essentially written a novel’s worth of words on a video game series that started in the late ‘80s.

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I love that there’s the option to just fight bosses in these collections.

The first MegaMan Legacy Collection was released in 2015 by Digital Eclipse for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC platforms in North America, Europe and even Japan, where it took on the name “Rockman Classics Collection”. A 3DS version with additional bonus content was released the following year. It was originally billed as having perfect recreations of the first six MegaMan games, when in reality, it used an emulator. While the game did launch with various issues, bug fixes allowed the collection to reach its full potential. Compared to the aforementioned MMAC and the Virtual Console releases on various Nintendo platforms, these are probably the best official releases of the NES games to date. Digital Eclipse also managed to include several visual options. Aspect ratios include Original, a pixel-perfect recreation of the NES’s original resolution; an extended “Full” setting, which increases the resolution while keeping the original’s aspect ratio and Wide, which renders the game in a 16:9 for people who love seeing the 8-bit classics squashed beyond recognition. The first two settings also have the option to add a border, consisting of artwork from the Japanese box arts and there are also three filter options: the option to run the game without a filter, one that emulates a classic CRT TV (fittingly labelled “TV”), and Monitor, which essentially acts as a happy medium. The game also has full controller customization – including a rapid-fire button – and settings are maintained between games. MMLC also included savestates, allowing players to save their game at any time and return to it at their leisure. Digital Eclipse and Capcom would end up partnering for a second collection of NES re-releases – the aptly-titled Disney Afternoon Collection – which released in 2017.

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NES Remix, eat your heart out.

Meanwhile, Capcom ended up developing MegaMan Legacy Collection 2 in-house and released it the same year. This game consisted of MegaMans 7 through 10 and the ports were about on-par with Digital Eclipse’s work in my opinion. The collection, like its predecessor, was released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, though oddly, not on the 3DS. The game’s menus are based on MegaMan 8, utilizing existing art assets and music, as opposed to the more generic theming from the first Legacy Collection. The save system is different from the previous game, focusing on checkpoints rather than save states. Many players complained about this change, but I prefer it: it does a much better job of balancing the games’ difficulty, acting more like an infinite lives code than a rewind button. The aspect ratios from the previous game return, though the “Monitor” filter option is removed from the first MMLC. In exchange, players now have the choice of 4 different background borders. Controller layouts differ between games, simply due to the fact that the games themselves had different control options and auto-fire is only an option in MegaMan 7, 9 and 10. Likewise, MegaMan 9 has a different aspect ratio compared to the other games in the collection, appearing smaller in the Original and Full resolutions. This ends up making for a less cohesive package compared to the first MMLC, but everything ends up working out.

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Is it just me or does Frostman’s concept art look way more like Coldman?

Both collections have similar extras. There are music players containing the soundtracks of every game in each respective compilation, as well as art galleries. Digital Eclipse definitely provided a more robust package in the latter’s case, but Capcom managed to scrounge together a decent collection. A nice feature present in both games is the ability to access boss fights through the Database and Art Gallery respectively. There are also a unique set of challenges in both games and this is where the first Legacy Collection really shines compared to its sequel. Due to the fact that the NES games all essentially run on the same engine, Digital Eclipse was actually able to mix and match segments from all six games. The second collection’s challenges are similar, but generally limited to a single game at a time. There are also boss rushes in the challenge mode. To make up for its shortcomings, MMLC2 also includes all of the extra modes from MM9 and 10 in the Challenge section. Likewise, all of the DLC for both games can be unlocked by completing each game once – or by inputting a special code on each game’s title screen, for people not willing to replay the game all over again.

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Not as awesome as the first game’s challenges, but still a nice extra.

Of course, both collections are great additions to modern platforms, bringing back 10 Classic MegaMan games to modern and long-time gamers alike. I’d honestly say that both Legacy Collections are perhaps the ideal way to enjoy the Classic MegaMan series. Some have speculated that Capcom may work on a similar collection for the MegaMan X series next, but personally I’d love to see at least one more compilation for the Classic games. While the first two definitely scratch an itch, there are so many games left in the Classic series that I believe deserve the same treatment – I’d personally love to see an official English translation of the Super Famicom version of MegaMan & Bass, console releases of the Game Boy games, another port of the arcade games and even the first official North American release of MegaMan: The Wily Wars! There’s still so much left that could be put in a third Legacy Collection.

The Future of MegaMan

So we’ve reached the end of the existing games. Before I move on to discuss my own thoughts for the franchise as a whole, there’s one oddity present in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2 that I’d like to discuss. Tucked away in MegaMan 8’s art gallery is a strange piece of artwork. Resembling the Blue Bomber’s design from Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, but utilizing a transformation not unlike the Soul Unison concept from the Battle Network series. Matters were complicated when a Nendroid figurine of MegaMan’s sister Roll was announced this past September, sporting a brand-new design with a similar artstyle to MMLC2’s mystery artwork. Speculation has run rampant since then and frankly, I don’t know what to make of either image. I guess I’ll just hope for the best.

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Seriously, I’m digging these designs.

As I said in the beginning of this segment, I’m not going to pretend I know what the future holds in store for the Blue Bomber or any of his offshoots. The best I can really do is speculate on the directions I’d love to see the series take. Whatever impact the departure of Keiji Inafune had on the series as a whole will probably remain a mystery for all times, but considering the sheer amount of merchandising associated with the character, as well as the backlash at the 25th anniversary’s anemic offerings, I’m almost positive that Capcom has to be gearing up for something big. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen – after all, I obviously wrote all of this before the actual 30th anniversary – so until then, all I can leave you with are my opinions on the franchise itself.

For starters, three sub-franchises in the MegaMan brand have come to a conclusion: MegaMan Zero, Battle Network and its successor, Star Force. Considering the fact that one of the challenges surrounding the MM brand as a whole is the splintering of the franchise, leaving any series that has reached a satisfactory conclusion in hibernation is probably the best bet for the intellectual properties’ health. At best, I could see another compilation title for the Zero games and especially the Battle Network series. Star Force, on the other hand, will likely remain dead for the foreseeable future, considering its overall unpopularity. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect a follow-up to Rockman Xover: the game was so unpopular, that North Americans campaigned to prevent its release in their region and the mobile game ceased operations back in 2015.

The MegaMan ZX series, on the other hand, ended on a cliffhanger. MegaMan ZX Advent, the second and as-of-right-now final entry in the series, seemed to imply that a third game would’ve provided a finale. Unfortunately, out of all of the games I’d consider possible, it’s the long shot. I don’t know if Inti Creates and Capcom have maintained a working relationship – especially considering the former’s partnerships with various other companies, as well as their own independently published titles – but even if that were still viable, the ZX games didn’t have the largest fanbase – though Advent did manage to outperform the original in sales. I would personally love to see a MegaMan ZX3, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority as far as the overall MM fanbase is concerned.

Then there’s the game that almost was: MegaMan Legends 3. On the surface, it seems like an obvious choice, especially if Capcom intends to get back on the fanbase’s good side. I’d argue that there are far too many open wounds involving the game’s development and regardless of his present reputation, doing the game without Keiji Inafune would probably be a massive mistake. MegaMan Volnutt was the first iteration of the character that Inafune himself designed and given his schemes to get the game made in the first place – Capcom’s MT Framework engine was even named after MegaMan Trigger – I just feel like there’s a chance that a game without Inafune at the helm wouldn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. The excitement surrounding the MML3 Project and its unreleased prototype only serve to complicate matters. Considering the fact that Keiji Inafune seems to have moved on, supposedly working on the suspiciously similar Red Ash, I think the ship may have sailed on this one. Still, if Capcom’s willing to take the risk and if Inafune managed to create an entire outline for the game’s plot, it could be viable to some degree. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

Of course, who’s to say that a new MegaMan game would necessarily have to exist within an existing sub-series? Capcom seems to be gearing up for a massive marketing push surrounding the upcoming cartoon, developed by Man of Action Studios, and set to premiere sometime next year. This new animated series is set to take place within its own continuity and several people have speculated that any new MegaMan game would likely be a tie-in game. I’m apprehensive toward the idea: Capcom hasn’t had the best track record with releases and tie-in video games for similar multimedia projects – Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures and Sonic Boom – have generally ended up mediocre at best. The fact that this new cartoon itself seems to have been designed from the ground-up to make me hate it as much as humanly possible doesn’t help matters much. Frankly, I’d rather see a title based around Bad Box Art MegaMan. Honestly, ever since his cameo appearance in Street Fighter X Tekken, I’d been hoping for a title based around the character, maybe designed as a more modern incarnation of the Legends series, combining action-RPG and third-person shooter mechanics. There’s absolutely no chance this would happen, but I can dream, right?

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I’m not kidding. I’d buy a game starring this guy in a heartbeat.

The recent appearances of MegaMan X and Sigma as well as the return of Zero in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has led many people to speculate that MegaMan X9 may be a part of Capcom’s upcoming plans for the franchise. I’ve already gone into details about my concerns with the project years ago, and I’d say many issues with the concept still apply to this day. I supposed it would at least be interesting to see what Capcom ends up putting together for this kind of release. A SNES-inspired continuation from X8’s cliffhanger ending seems like the safest bet, though I could also see a full-on reboot based on either the 16 or 32-bit era’s artstyle happening just as easily. Whatever Capcom decides, I’m almost certain some major portion of the MMX fanbase will feel overlooked in the process.

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I wonder if they just recycled Zero’s alternate costume from the last game to make X’s model.

It’s funny, roughly a decade ago, I actually ended up coming up with some concepts for fan-games in the MegaMan series, three in total. MegaMan 9 obviously happened, but the other two were a bit more out there. First off, there was MegaMan VI – quite literally, a successor to the Game Boy games. The other was a MegaMan & Bass 2, which would essentially expand the playable roster to 3, with the inclusion of Protoman, and focus on the first game’s gimmick of different paths per character to a greater extent. The actual design documents I came up with all those years ago don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’d love it if Capcom effectively did either of these concepts. Of course, by this point, I’d probably prefer seeing Roll as a playable character over Protoman in future MegaMan titles, but honestly, the more the merrier. Unfortunately, as the release of the Nintendo Switch effectively means that there are no longer any dedicated handheld consoles any more, making a successor to the Game Boy games sort of feels pointless. Likewise, MegaMan & Bass’s major gimmick of having multiple playable characters was implemented into MegaMans 9 and 10, so there’s really little point in making a direct sequel to that either.

At this point in time, if you asked me what I feel like Capcom should do with the Classic MegaMan series, I’d have two answers for you, answers that honestly go hand-in-hand. A while back on Twitter, someone mentioned the idea of making a “MegaMan Mania”: not the failed Game Boy Advance compilation, but rather another Classic MegaMan throwback title in the same style as the recent Sonic Mania. I’d essentially pitch the game as a pure anniversary game, effectively taking Robot Masters from the previous games – MegaMans 1 through 10, MegaMan & Bass, MegaMan V and a few others to round things out to a grand total of 16 – built in a style that is inspired by the NES games, except more advanced. The other game would be MegaMan 11, which would essentially deviate from the NES style entirely. People complained about MM10 continuing the throwback trend 9 started, so it’s only fair to finally bring the series back in a more modern light. MM11 would effectively try to modernize the series in the way that 7 and 8 attempted, but without making concessions to the NES era’s pixel-perfect gameplay. I can’t really say much about the concept except that the gameplay would still be 2D. Whether that comes with some sort of faux-retro look more advanced than the traditional 8-bit style, a 2.5D game with 3D models on a 2D plane or even hand-drawn artwork, if the core of the series remains intact, I’d love to see just what kind of crazy directions the series could go through if Capcom decided to try an entirely new style.

That brings my retrospective to its conclusion. I guess I felt the need to speculate on future releases, not only because the MegaMan line-up is sparse compared to the other series I’ve covered – Zelda, Tekken and Ys all had big releases this year – but also to give myself a sense of closure. I wrote this whole thing over the course of a few months to have it ready in time for December 17th, 2017: the 30th anniversary of the day the original Rockman was released in Japan. We’ve all been expecting some big announcement to come either on or around that day. In that sense, that’s essentially my deadline before I decide whether or not Capcom has given up on the series entirely, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard. Compared to the other Retrospectives I’ve done so far, this feels bittersweet. It almost feels like I’m saying goodbye to one of the video game franchises that got me into the medium in the first place. Compared to various other series I consider important, MegaMan’s really the only one that seemed to have a distinct point where it felt like it could be ending, and it happened for some very petty reasons. I know that the series may not be dead, but I also worry that if it does come back, it may return as little more than a shambling shadow of its former glory. I guess in that sense, this whole retrospective feels almost like a eulogy. For a while, I considered doing a section on games that were clear spiritual successors to the Blue Bomber’s jump-and-shoot legacy, but it sort of came across to me as bitter. In the end, they do provide comfort: even if Capcom decides to never make another MegaMan game, there are still developers that were inspired by these classics and create brand-new legacies all their own.

[Postscript: Since I wrote these articles, Capcom has announced re-releases of the mainline MegaMan X games, as well as a brand-new 2.5D MegaMan 11 for all major platforms. I’m happy about this news and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the Blue Bomber, but decided to leave this article intact, simply because I thought it was important.]

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 3]

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Welcome back once again to my retrospective look back at the Classic MegaMan franchise. The first two articles looked back at MegaMan’s glory days during the 8-bit era. While the Blue Bomber began to lose his luster during the second half of his appearances on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all of the games are generally recognized as memorable. However, MegaMan had yet to face his greatest challenge: staying relevant for two more generations. The 16-bit era saw consoles that made huge technical leaps from the previous generation. By extension, video games themselves becoming more complex than when NES reigned supreme. Yet this was child’s play compared to the horrors that awaited the Blue Bomber in the 32-bit era: 3D games were considered the wave of the future and anything 2D was deemed passé, especially in the West. To make matters worse, the Blue Bomber had to contend with two completely different successors, each falling more in line with the evolving tastes of the marketplace. I also discussed various spin-offs and licensed games in previous articles and I’m happy to say I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve got a few more left to discuss, including MegaMan’s two major arcade outings, the most baffling sequel ever devised and what may very well be the worst game in the franchise’s history.

MegaMan 7

MegaMan 7 is generally considered one of the worst mainline games in the MegaMan franchise. It was also a game that had a lot going against it. For starters, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had already seen the release of both MegaMan X – a modernized take on the franchise – by the time MegaMan 7 had entered development. Worse yet, its release was literally sandwiched between X2 and X3, further games in the X series that used the special CX4 chip, allowing the SNES to display rudimentary wireframe effects, generally considered a technical marvel when both games were released. MegaMan 7, therefore, had two options upon its release: be an outdated retread of the NES games or completely ape its successors, diluting any chance of a unique standalone identity from the X series. MM7 chose a third option, though how well it worked is still up for debate.

I remember my two main introductions to MM7, and neither of them came in the form of actually playing the game. The first was a comprehensive guide for how to play through the game, including various hidden secrets and how the weapons functioned, in a magazine I owned during childhood – the only other things I recall about it was that the issue in question was an “end of the year” special, and I’m almost certain that the publication was Tips & Tricks magazine. The other came from my introduction to the MegaMan online community, when I first started browsing the internet itself. Back then, a lot of people were using MegaMan 7’s sprite work for a lot of their iconography and as a child, I fell in love with those character designs. Despite the valid criticism levelled against MM7,  it was the newest game available in the Classic series around the time I was exposed to the series again and for that reason, I’ve got an irrational love for the game.

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More than two decades later, I think this game looks gorgeous.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about MegaMan 7’s development cycle was its length: the game spent a mere three months in development, due to what Keiji Inafune only referred to as “bad timing”. Regardless, the team said that morale remained high while working on the game. Designer Yoshihisa Tsuda compared the game to a “sports team camp” and said that his only regret was that they didn’t have at least one more month to work on it. Personally, I found the game’s quality impressive considering how little time was spent on its creation: I’ve played worse MegaMan games with longer development cycles and some of them even came from Capcom themselves. Inafune designed one of the game’s new characters, Auto, having based him on stereotypical toy robots he remembered from his childhood. He also came up with the original concepts for Bass and Treble – then referred to as “Baroque” and “Crush” respectively – before handing the designs off to Hayato Kaji, who refined them into their final designs. The game’s infamously difficult final boss fight was also a conscious decision from the development staff: they wanted something “insanely hard” and “something that cannot be defeated without the use of an Energy Tank”. For this game, Capcom received roughly 220,000 boss character submissions – impressive considered they’d scaled back to Japanese entries only. One last interesting bit of trivia: Capcom originally completed the game in Summer of 1994, but decided not to release it. The resulting fan backlash forced their hand, with the game eventually seeing release on March 24, 1995 in Japan. It seems odd that they’d just leave the game hanging around for that amount of time without trying to improve it.

After his past six attempts at taking over the world, Dr. Wily has finally been brought to justice. At the end of the Robot Master Tournament, MegaMan finally apprehended the mad scientist and he stood trial, where he was sentenced to a long stint in jail. However, the not-so-good doctor lives up to his name: he built four Robot Masters and put them in storage as a failsafe in case he was ever incarcerated. After six months with no word from their creator, these new robots awoke from stasis and attacked the city, leaving it in ruins. This ended up being a distraction, allowing them to attack the prison holding Dr. Wily, freeing him and allowing him to return to his megalomaniacal schemes. While MegaMan was unable to stop Wily from escaping, he does manage to meet two new robots, Bass and his robotic wolf partner, Treble. They inform him that they were also assigned to battle Wily before leaving to chase after him. MegaMan is confused, but also optimistic that with the help of his mysterious new allies Wily will be back behind bars in no time.

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Meet the new guys.

One odd criticism I’ve heard about MegaMan 7 is that it takes pretty much absolutely nothing from the first 2 X games, which came out before this game. Instead, this game was built from scratch to best try to emulate the original games on the NES in terms of base game mechanics. I feel like this was a conscious choice on the development team’s part, in order to get differentiate this new entry in the Classic series from the aforementioned X series, which enjoyed significant popularity due to bringing the franchise to the 16-bit generation. I think the game was essentially built from scratch rather than building on the existing MMX engine in order to make the game as different from the new series as possible, therefore justifying the continued existence of the Classic series in light of the new spinoff. MegaMan’s slide and chargeable Mega Buster both return from MM6. However, more than anything, MegaMan 7 actually feels more like a “MegaMan VI” – that is, it feels like it takes far more of its elements from the later Game Boy games than it does from the NES games. There are various story cutscenes in gameplay, far more than any of the Game Boy games had. It gets to the point where there are even cutscenes after defeating each Robot Master where MegaMan and Dr. Light discuss the possible applications of the Blue Bomber’s new weapon. The shop system returns from MMIV and MMV, replacing the “P Chip” currency with “bolts”, allowing MegaMan to buy various power-ups and enhancements – most importantly, E-Tanks, Weapon Tanks and the ever-useful Super Tank. The inclusion in MM7 would make the shop mechanic an integral part of the Classic series’ identity, appearing in every mainline game (and even a few spinoffs) from that point on. Of course, most of the power-ups are actually hidden in stages themselves, much like the various items in the last two Game Boy games. They can also be purchased for a substantial number of bolts, encouraging players to search levels thoroughly to save bolts for much-needed Energy Tanks. Finally, the Robot Masters are separated into two sets of four, much like the Game Boy games, though all eight can be accessed from the beginning when using a special password. Interestingly, despite all this, MM7’s Robot Masters do have a full weakness cycle, due in no small part to the fact that two of the Robot Masters – Burstman and Slashman, from the first and second set respectively – both have two weaknesses, which they share.

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I’ll never stop loving the animations associated with boss weaknesses.

MegaMan 7 does incorporate a few elements from the X series. For example, MegaMan does gain the ability to exit stages that have already been completed, though much like the Energy Balancer, it’s only available through a power-up that can either be found in a stage or purchased from the shop. Some have criticized this addition due to being locked behind a power-up, but it does seem to follow the Classic series’ conventions. MM7 also adds the ability to switch weapons in-game with the L and R buttons, much like the X series. Unfortunately, these are limited to the Special Weapons themselves – equipping support items still requires the pause menu. Likewise, MM7 incorporates a short introduction stage, much like the X games, as well as bringing back the “intermission” stage from some of the Game Boy games, taking place between the two sets of Robot Masters. Of course, both of these stages are quite short – the intro stage is particularly shorter than those found in the X series – but these are both firsts in the mainline Classic series. Put simply, the game itself appears to be attempting to take elements from the NES games, the Game Boy games and even a few minor elements from the X games to forge a unique identity for the Classic series moving forward. Whether it succeeded or failed is strictly a matter of opinion. MegaMan 7 also had a unique unlockable mode that allowed two players to fight in a Street Fighter-style battle – allowing players to choose between MegaMan and Bass – armed with only the standard Busters and some unique special moves. This mode was actually hidden behind a special password, obtained at the end of the credits. Inputting the password and pressing start while holding the L and R buttons unlocks the mode – entering the password normally simply sends players to the final Wily stage with maxed-out items.

Of course, many have criticized the base gameplay of the game, which is a fair assessment. Even when compared to the original MegaMan game on the NES, something about MM7’s gameplay just feels …off. MegaMan seems to move slower and his jumping ability has been severely limited, which manages to make jumps that would be completely simple in any other game in the series feel nearly impossible at times. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time blame this on the game’s graphical style: specifically, the large character sprites that even manage to dwarf those of the X series. Unfortunately, this theory falls apart under scrutiny. The Game Boy games had much less visual space to work with compared to its console counterparts, leading to a relatively gigantic MegaMan dominating the tiny pea-green screen, yet they made far less concessions when it came to the Blue Bomber’s mobility. Personally, I think the game’s short development cycle is likely what led to the game’s odd mechanics and therefore, with some additional work, the game would have likely ended up with solid controls that would have lived up to its pedigree. Of course, if I were a paranoid man – and I am – I’d also hazard a guess that the controls were made sluggish on purpose: meant as a deliberate scathing parody of the NES games when compared to the new X games. Considering all I’ve got to go on with regards to this theory is just a feeling in my gut, it’s likely nonsense.

MM7-05

Seriously, absolutely gorgeous.

Compared to previous entries in the series, MegaMan 7 has an obscene amount of support items. Unlike previous mainline Classic games – and ironically, much more like the Game Boy and X games – most of them aren’t tied to defeating bosses, this time they’re hidden in various stages or can be purchased with bolts. MegaMan starts with his trusty Rush Coil, but that’s about it. The Rush Jet power-up returns as well, hidden in Junkman’s stage. There’s also the new Rush Search ability, which summons Rush to dig around for items (you know, like a dog would) alongside the new Escape Unit, which allows players to exit from stages they’ve already completed at any time. In fact, the Escape Unit actually needs to be dug up by Rush in order to find it. There’s also the new Rush Super Adapter, which essentially combines the Rush Jet and Power Armors from MM6 with the Mega Arm from MMV to create something that makes the game significantly more playable, though again, this comes at the cost of sliding. This can be further upgraded with the PU Fist hidden in Turboman’s stage, which gives the Super Adapter’s charge shot homing capabilities. Beat returns, being held captive in a birdcage in Slashman’s stage. This time, instead of providing offensive support, Beat actually rescues Rock from falling into pitfalls, depending on whether or not the player has any whistles remaining. Springman’s stage hides the Hyper Bolt, an item that when given to Auto reduces the cost of every item in the shop by half and allows Dr. Light’s mechanical protégé to create brand-new items as well. The Energy Balancer also returns from MM6, hidden in Shademan’s stage. There’s also a hidden boss fight with Protoman there, but only if you encounter him in two other locations first. If he can be defeated, he gives MegaMan his Proto Shield. When equipped, it allows MegaMan to reflect energy shots while standing still.

MegaMan 7 also managed to find a way to make the Special Weapons feel useful again. While the X series allowed for weapons to be charged with a special Buster power-up, the developers of MM7 decided to go in a different direction. Most of the weapons have secondary uses, usually dealing with the various stage environments, allowing for rudimentary puzzle solving. While the original MMX toyed with the concept, both MegaMan 7 and X2 provided much more emphasis on using weapons strategically, to navigate obstacles and access alternative paths. For example, the electric weapon can power various pieces of inactive technology, the ice weapon can affect weather patterns and freeze heat-based obstacles and the fire weapon can burn down obstacles and even light candles, allowing for better visibility. On top of that, most of the weapons are more fun to use compared to the previous game. Ironically, compared to the previous two games, MegaMan 7 suffers from the opposite issue with regards to weapons: with power-ups like the Rush Super Adapter and more useful special weapons, the standard Mega Buster feels kind of useless by comparison. Unfortunately, 2 weapons are pretty much lifted directly from the original MegaMan X, alongside the return of a “Leaf Shield”-style weapon. Fortunately, the rest of the weapons are fairly unique.

MM7-04

Certain bosses are also strong against specific weapons. Who’d thunk zapping Springman with Thunder Bolt would turn him into an electromagnet?

As per usual, I’ll be ranking the weapons in order of how much I like them. My top choice would have to be Shademan’s Noise Crush, a standard shot with a unique charging property: when fired into a wall, it reflects and if MegaMan catches it, he starts flashing as if he’s charging a buster shot. When MegaMan fires in this state, a more powerful shot that no longer reflects comes out. Next would be the Junk Shield, fittingly taken from Junkman. It’s a shield weapon, not unlike the Leaf Shield, but unlike the ones found in the last 3 games, the Junk Shield actually improves on its predecessor. Each piece of junk provides several hits of cover but hitting the fire button a second time, shoots off the pieces of junk in multiple directions – allowing for a widespread attack. Third favorite would have to be Burstman’s Danger Wrap, which is probably the most unique weapon in the game. MegaMan fires off a bubble filled with an explosive that floats up and explodes after a brief period. The bubble can engulf smaller enemies or explode automatically when coming into contact with something larger. Holding down on the D-Pad while firing off the Danger Wrap allows MegaMan to just place the explosive in front of him sans bubble. Not particularly useful in the grand scheme of things, but too fun to ignore. Number four would have to be the Thunder Bolt, obtained by defeating Cloudman. Essentially a retread of Spark Mandrill’s Electric Spark from the first MegaMan X, this weapon fires off a bolt of electricity which splits and travels both up and down on impact. Then there’s Freezeman’s Freeze Cracker, a knockoff of Chill Penguin’s Shotgun Ice from MMX. MegaMan fires off a giant snowflake that bursts into a spread shot in the opposite direction when it comes into contact with a wall. Number six is the Slash Claw, obviously taken from the bestial Slashman – it’s a short-range swipe that deals decent damage in general. Seventh is Turboman’s Scorch Wheel. An odd take on a shield weapon, MegaMan summons four fireballs in a wheel-like formation, which eventually flies off. It can be aimed and deals heavy damage, but it’s tricky to use. The clear worst weapon in the game would be the Wild Coil, taken from the perennial joke that is Springman. MegaMan throws two springs that bounce around, both in front of him and behind him. This attack can also be charged to change the springs’ bounce arcs, effectively giving them a higher bounce. Unfortunately, no matter what trajectory is used, the Wild Coil is extremely awkward to aim, making it effectively worthless in any real in-game situation.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 7’s graphics have long been a sore point for fans, due to the long-standing belief that the large character sprites had a detrimental effect on gameplay. I also mentioned that as I was first discovering the plethora of MegaMan games I’d missed out on, MM7’s artstyle resonated with me. To this day, I think this game’s artstyle may be my favorite official take on the Classic franchise. Everything just looks right to me: the size differentials between MegaMan and the various enemy robots – particularly the Robot Masters – have never seemed so concise as they were in this game. While most people are still the most enamored with the 8-bit era graphical style and some believe that the later 32-bit sprites were superior by the sheer nature of being made later, I think Capcom knocked it out of the park on this one. The characters have never seemed so expressive and this was the first time in the Classic series where Robot Masters visually react to being hit with their weaknesses – a hallmark of the X series. However, while the first two X games downplayed these reactions, MM7 exaggerated things. Turboman has a seizure when he’s hit with Noise Crush, Junkman’s body falls apart when hit with the Thunder Bolt, and both Slashman and Burstman alternatively freeze or burn up depending on whether they’re hit with the Freeze Cracker or Scorch Wheel. In fact, despite stepping away from the series’ super-deformed roots, everything in general just feels more exaggerated. The level designs are also significantly more ornate than those found in the 8-bit games – an obvious side effect of moving onto more powerful hardware. More than ever before, the theming of each Robot Master’s stage becomes completely obvious: Shademan inhabits a haunted castle, Springman invaded a toy factory and Freezeman’s tundra hideout contains dinosaur bones frozen in glaciers.

MM7-06

Rush Super Adaptor: clearly the most useful power-up in the entire game.

The game’s sound design is interesting. Some of the sound effects actually manage to sound more artificial and “video gamey” than those found in the 8-bit titles, which is just outright weird. The game’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is put together pretty well. Unlike previous games in the series that typically maxed out at 2 composers, MegaMan 7 had a full sound team of 10 composers behind it. This leads to an overall less cohesive soundtrack than previous games had, but considering some of the talent behind it, there are definitely some amazing tracks in there. Some of the more recognizable members of the MM7 Sound Team include Yuko “Yuk” Takehara, who composed MegaMan 6 and “Ippo” Yamada, who would later go on to provide the compositions for the MegaMan Zero and ZX series, as well as acting as the sound director for MegaMan 9 and 10. A couple composers that worked on the original MegaMan X – Toshihiko “Krsk” Horiyama and Makoto “V-Tomozoh” Tomozawa – also worked on the game. MM7 was also the last known project with one of Capcom’s most prolific SNES sound designers, Tatsuya “T. “Anie” .N” Nishimura, a man who previously worked on the original Breath of Fire and even the SNES version of both Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo. It was Noriko “Apple Z” Ando’s first project with the company, though he was generally associated with the Resident evil and Dino Crisis series.  Atsushi “More Rich” Mori and Nariyuki “Narinari” Nobuyama also worked on the game. The last composer is mired in mystery, referred to only as “Kan”.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the MegaMan 7 soundtrack was a fact that I only realized years later: much like how MM2’s introduction was based on the ending to the original MegaMan, the song that plays at the beginning of MM7’s opening cinematic is based on the credits theme to MegaMan 6. It’s a far subtler reference than the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts easter egg in Shademan’s stage. Then you’ve got the Robot Museum intermission stage, which takes musical cues from Snakeman, Gutsman and Heatman’s themes. Aside from those references, the music of MM7 in general appears to be attempting to distance itself from both the 8-bit sounds of the previous games, while also avoiding the heavy metal influences of the X series. Having said that, the odd sound design finds its way into the game’s composition: I generally preferred the Genesis’s sound chip over the SNES and while most games had their own unique sound hardware installed, there’s just something unusual about the instrumentation in MM7. Having said that, the composition is still top-notch. It may sound different from most of the other games in the series, but MM7’s music lives up to the series’ reputation of great music. It’s honestly hard for me to choose specific tracks that are my favorite. The intro stage, Bass’s theme, Turboman and Burstman’s stages, the standard boss fight theme, the second and third Wily stage themes and the credits theme would have to be my favorite tracks overall.

In the end, it would be a lie to pretend that MegaMan 7 isn’t an imperfect game. However, it feels like it came far too late to make any sort of meaningful impact. Given the Classic series’ stubborn insistence on staying with the NES long after the Super Nintendo had been released and the X games’ outright “reinvention” of the franchise’s gameplay, not to mention the game’s incredibly short development cycle, there was too much working against this game from the beginning. Having said all of that, MM7 is by no means a terrible game. Certainly a weak point when compared to the rest of its pedigree, but still well above the curve when it comes to the SNES’s library. All the same, it just doesn’t live up to its Japanese subtitle, “Destiny’s Greatest Battle”. I just wonder what would have happened if the game had managed to have a more substantial development cycle. Could MM7 have exceeded MegaMan X? Probably not, but it would’ve likely trounced the other X games on SNES – fancy graphics chip or no. For a long time, I’ve honestly wanted Capcom to “remake” some of their MegaMan games in the same fashion that Sega redid Sonic CD some years back: keep all of the art and sound assets, but readjust the gameplay. Considering the release of the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think it’s safe to say this dream is dead. However, there was a Japanese fan remake Rockman 7 FC which reimagined the game in the style of its predecessors, and that fangame is living proof that MM7 was filled with untapped potential.

MegaMan 8

If MegaMan 7 went out of its way to recreate the Classic MegaMan gameplay on a modern platform, then MegaMan 8 tried its hardest to evolve the formula into something viable for years to come. Perhaps the most experimental game in the entire franchise, MegaMan 8 was the last mainline Classic game that would see release outside of Asia for over half a decade – a fact that could be taken as proof that the game failed to reinvent the original MegaMan style in a meaningful way. However, it isn’t a bad game by any means: truthfully, I’d say that it exceeds both 6 and 7 in terms of overall quality. However, because the X series continued – fulfilling the demand for a proper 2D MegaMan platformer – and the brand-new 3D MegaMan Legends series made its way onto the scene during the fifth generation, MM8 clearly lost out and the Classic series itself went into hibernation for the most part, at least in the West. Ironically enough, this was the first undeniable example of a problem that would plague the MegaMan franchise in its later years: oversaturation.

After a long, long hiatus from the series, MegaMan 8 was the third mainline Classic game I managed to get my hands on. At the time, a Blockbuster Video had opened within walking distance of my house and they were renting out video game consoles. At the time, they had 2 or 3 PlayStations available for rental, and a decent selection of games. Among the first games I rented for the console was MegaMan 8. I remembered enjoying the first two games when I was younger and decided this new one was worth a shot. At the time, I was completely floored – my enjoyment only hampered by the lack of a Memory Card, which made whatever progress I made meaningless. MM8 was among the few games that enticed me into getting a PlayStation of my home, my first true home console. When picking up the thing, I wanted to grab MegaMan 8 as my first game, but alas, the store itself was out, so I settled for MegaMan Legends instead. I would eventually get MegaMan 8 and though my memory’s a bit hazy, it was either the first or second MegaMan game I was able to beat on my own: MegaMan II for the Game Boy was the only other game I could’ve beaten beforehand. While there was a brief period in my fandom where I despised the game for being too easy – after all, it was the first mainline MegaMan I’d been able to beat – I’ve otherwise felt a close connection to the game.

MM8-01

Seriously, this intro always gives me shivers.

MegaMan 8’s development has an interesting story behind it. For starters, it was the first mainline MegaMan game that didn’t receive a release in any form on a Nintendo platform at launch. Originally developed as a Sega Saturn exclusive, the game would also make its way to the PlayStation as well, in spite of Sony of America’s strict anti-2D policies at that point. Each version has their own unique quirks – more on that later. Most people are familiar with the PlayStation version of the game, due to the platform’s popularity and the fact that this is the only version that has been re-released since, most recently in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2. MM8 was also the first game in the series where Keiji Inafune would act as producer, allowing him to bring a unique perspective to the game’s development. The game’s creation wasn’t without its hardships though: coordinating releases on two different platforms as well as allowing for full-motion video anime cutscenes often caused the development team to feel overwhelmed. Anime cutscenes were apparently something Inafune had wanted to include since the first game and he was pleased with the results.

The new character Duo was originally designed to be a creation of Dr. Cossack – explaining the Russian influences in his design. Ironically, Duo first appeared in MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters – more on that later – but MegaMan 8 was meant to introduce the character in-universe. Considering the fact that both MegaMan and Duo work together to stop the evil machinations of an evil energy-fueled Dr. Wily from about halfway through the game on, “Metal Heroes” was a fitting choice for the game’s Japanese subtitle. Capcom held their standard Robot Master design contest for MegaMan 8, though there were a few differences. For starters, two robot bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were already designed by Capcom staff prior to the contest. As an added caveat, Capcom also provided three skeletons for potential robot masters for entrants to design around: one with a giant sword and a separated body (which would eventually become Swordman), a robot with two heads (Searchman) and one with really long arms (Clownman). In the end, Capcom received roughly 110,000 entries for MM8’s boss design contest and the development team actually loved looking at all of the submissions. Some of the rejected designs and original drawings that led to the final robot designs actually managed to make their way into MM8’s credits, owing to the much stronger hardware of the 32-bit systems.

 

In the year 20XX, two powerful robots are fighting in outer space. As they collide into one another, a victor is decided, but both begin to fall toward Earth. Meanwhile, Bass is once again antagonizing MegaMan, goading him into a fight to prove that he is the superior robot. MegaMan is able to defeat him when Roll arrives with a message from Dr. Light. He tells MegaMan that a strange meteor with a strange energy reading has fallen on a deserted island and he wants to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that island just so happens to be Dr. Wily’s new base and the mad scientist manages to escape with the extraterrestrial energy in hand. However, MegaMan finds a heavily-damaged robot in the meteor crater, sending it back to Dr. Light for repairs before setting off to stop Wily’s latest scheme.

MM8-05

I guess Hi-Tech Expressions was ahead of their time.

Despite the leap to 32-bit systems, MegaMan 8 is undeniably a MegaMan game. The Blue Bomber maintains his abilities to jump, slide, fire charged and standard shots and steal weapons from the eight Robot Masters. As in the previous game, the Robot Masters have been split into two sets of four – each with their own weaknesses. The introductory and intermission stages before each set of bosses respectively also return from the previous game, as well as the Shop and the standard 4 Wily Fortress stages at the end of the game. The game also makes use of both the Saturn and PlayStation’s shoulder buttons to allow MegaMan to switch weapons on the fly, as in MM7 and the X games. Interestingly, MM8’s stage select is split across two separate screens: the first includes the first four bosses (Tenguman, Frostman, Clownman and Grenademan), Dr. Light’s Shop and the Intro stage, while the second contains the other four bosses (Astroman, Aquaman, Searchman and Swordman), the intermission stage and Wily Tower.

Of course, that’s the least of the game’s changes. For starters, Robot Master stages are now split into two segments – with a continue point mechanic that allows players to continue from the second part after a game over. Some stages use a mid-boss to separate the two points, but in other cases, there’s simply a transitional area, generally with some kind of special hazard. For example, Tenguman’s stage transitions into a shoot-‘em-up style section where MegaMan rides the Rush Jet and can summon Eddie, Beat and Auto to act as “options” to assist him. And who could forget the infamous snowboarding sections in Frostman’s stage? Jump, jump, slide, slide and all that. Another interesting quirk is that the game uses the two sets of Robot Masters to its advantage. The second batch of stages incorporate obstacles that require the first set of weapons to avoid. The best example of this would have to be Swordman’s stage. The first half of the stage includes four chambers, each associated with one of the four Special Weapons MegaMan would have to have obtained before reaching the stage. I wish more games in the series had exploited this kind of mechanic, but MegaMan 8 certainly explored the concept to a great extent.

MM8-03

Seriously, the effect on level design was worth it.

Another change that I’d consider an improvement is that MegaMan now has access to his Mega Buster even when Special Weapons are equipped. I’m surprised they didn’t implement that into MegaMan 7 or even the SNES X games, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t appear in later Classic games. MegaMan no longer “space jumps” in water, he now swims in water instead, allowing for new puzzles and obstacles. While the shop returns from MM7, it’s balanced differently in MegaMan 8. For starters, there are a limited number of Bolts hidden throughout the game, essentially acting as collectables. As such, it is impossible to buy every single item from the shop in the game. Instead of selling 1-Ups and Tanks as in the previous games, MM8’s shop focuses more on persistent power-ups that can be equipped from a sub-screen on the pause menu. The shop starts with 7 items at the beginning of the game, but once the second set of bosses is unlocked, 8 more items become available for purchase. These include such things as the Escape Unit, the Energy Balancer (and similar items that affect energy management), various Buster upgrades that change its charge shot properties (I swear by the Laser shot, personally) and even stat-boosting items that speed up MegaMan’s slide, automatically refills extra lives after leaving a stage and allow MegaMan to have five standard Buster shots on-screen at the same time instead of the typical 3. Of course, the store no longer sells E-Tanks or the like, because they no longer exist in this game. Fortunately, the difficulty has been balanced around this fact, but considering that E-Cans were considered a series staple since the second game, their omission in MM8 was always a bit of a surprise.

Likewise, the support items have been completely overhauled from previous games. No Rush Super Adapter, no Rush Jet, not even the Rush Coil, they’ve all been removed. In fact, the only support item that resembles the previous ones is the Mega Ball, which MegaMan is given less than halfway through the intro stage. Even then, the Mega Ball is unique. MegaMan fires a small ball, that falls at his feet. He can then either kick it by hitting the attack button again or jumping on it to gain extra height. It’s most useful in very specific situations but it’s at least a unique weapon which is always a good thing in my eyes. The other four support items work differently. They’re accessed from the pause menu sub-screen, much like the shop upgrades and each of them is unlocked after beating one of the four mid-bosses found in specific Robot Master stages. Each of these support items only allow one use at a time and require some time to replenish. Beating the mid-boss in Grenademan’s stage unlocks the Rush Cycle, which allows Rush to transform into a motorcycle for a brief period of time. This renders MegaMan invincible, though the cycle takes damage, which reduces the remaining time. Rush can also fire missiles out of his mouth. Rush Surprise comes from Clownman’s mid-boss and summons Rush to drop a random item, not unlike Eddie from the later NES MegaMan games. Rush Bomber is unlocked by defeating the midboss in Swordman and summons Rush to fly around in Rush Jet form, dropping missiles and bombs on enemies from a brief period of time. Beating the miniboss in Aquaman’s stage unlocks the Rush Charger, which is similar to the Rush Bomber only he drops health and weapon energy power-ups instead.

MM8-02

The Mega Ball is so ridiculous, I can’t help but love it.

MegaMan 8’s special weapons take the puzzle solving elements of the weapons from the previous game and essentially ramp them up to their logical conclusion. Most of the weapons in this game have secondary uses that become necessary as the game goes on. The fact that the game is essentially separated into 3 sets of 4 – not including the introduction and intermission stages – allows for more thorough planning when it comes to some of the levels being designed around weapon utilities. Even more important is the fact that the weapons in this game are the most fun to use since MM5. My favorite weapon in the game is easily Grenademan’s Flash Bomb. It’s a straight shot that leaves an explosive flash in its wake for a few seconds after colliding with a wall or enemy that deals additional damage. It can also light up darkened areas. Next is the Tornado Hold, taken from Tenguman. It generates a tornado in place that MegaMan can jump onto, which raises him into the air. Third would be Swordman’s Flame Sword: a short-range slash attack that can light fuses and set certain objects on fire. Then there’s the Ice Wave, obtained after defeating Frostman. It sends forth a wave of ice – hence the name – that can freeze enemies in its path, destroying them instantly. Number 5 would be Clownman’s Thunder Claw: a short-range beam of lightning that MegaMan can use to grapple and swing from specific hooks found in various levels. The Thunder Claw isn’t much of an offensive weapon, but its secondary uses put it higher on the list. The Homing Sniper from Searchman is the next on the list. It’s essentially an improved version of the Dive Missile from MegaMan 4, only this time there are reticles that depict the missile’s target. The weapon can even be charged to tag multiple targets at the same time. The seventh best weapon is easily Astroman’s Astro Crush. It’s a devastating full-screen meteor shower that destroys all minor enemies on-screen as well as some obstacles. It also renders MegaMan totally invincible for a short time and locks him into position, even while jumping. Unfortunately, it consumes a great deal of energy – a full weapon bar only allows for 4 uses, not even enough to destroy the Robot Master weak to it. Finally, there’s Aquaman’s Water Balloon, which fires a ball of water at a low arc. Of course, there’s no limit to how many Water Balloons can be on-screen at a time, but it just doesn’t do that much damage in general and its angle makes it awkward to aim.

Even though the game was released around the same time on both the PlayStation and Saturn, both versions have a few differences. Personally, I’ve only been able to play the PlayStation version, but from what I can tell, the Saturn version is superior, many have even speculated that it’s the closest to Capcom’s original concept. The PlayStation version has improved graphics – displaying the animated cutscenes in their native MPEG format and capable of displaying true transparency effects, while the Saturn version utilized dithering. In pretty much every other aspect, the Saturn version is superior. The Saturn version utilized PCM audio for its music, while players on PlayStation had to settle with its onboard MIDI synthesizer. One odd change is that both versions have different music for Tenguman’s stage – I’ve never seen any information as to why. It also includes a bonus sound test, allowing players to listen to both the game’s music and sound clips at their leisure. The best enhancement the Saturn version has to offer are two exclusive hidden boss fights: MM1’s Cutman and MM2’s Woodman, which are hidden in the intermission level and Searchman’s stage respectively. They even receive MM8-flavored remixes of their classic stage themes for their respective boss fights. Defeating each of these special opponents nabs MegaMan a bolt –in the PlayStation version, they just lie out in the open. Alas, due to the difficulty of emulating the Saturn’s hardware, this version will likely remain impossible to re-release in any legitimate form for years to come, if ever, but it is interesting to discuss.

MM8-06

What, were you expecting Frostman’s stage? How cliché.

 

MegaMan 8’s graphics are probably the best in the entire franchise, for obvious reasons: the 32-bit era consoles were the strongest hardware to depict a MegaMan games with 2D sprites without trying to emulate an older style. The character sprites are vibrant and detailed. More importantly, unlike MegaMan 7 and the Game Boy games, they take up a reasonable portion of the screen – stressing visibility over clarity, but not really sacrificing the latter in the process. There’s much more animation in the game as well: MegaMan even takes on a new stance when he’s low on health, cradling his arm while breathing heavily – effectively simulating being hurt like a person would. It’s a nice visual cue that’s appreciated. The backgrounds are the real stars though, with environments ranging from a frozen city, a virtual reality maze, an amusement park and a thick jungle, the details of the various stages have never been made so clear. The user interface has also undergone a bit of an overhaul as well. The energy meters are no longer signified with individual units, but rather displayed as one solid bar. To compensate, there are additional icons on screen, signifying the amount of extra lives remaining and how many uses the special weapon currently equipped has left. The presentation’s real star would have to be the game’s full motion video cutscenes, animated by anime company Xebec. To this day, watching the opening cutscene still gives me chills. Having said that, the presentation all meshes together so well that nothing really looks out of place – I distinctly remember one review from when MegaMan 8 originally came out that praised its artstyle as resembling “a Saturday Morning cartoon you could play” and despite the relatively low resolutions compared to what can be displayed on modern consoles and computers, I’d say the comparison still holds up.

In most of these retrospectives, I’ve kind of glossed over the sound design, choosing instead to focus on the game’s famous musical compositions. After all, there’s only so much that can be said about the minute differences between the beeps and boops that the Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip were capable of, and the Super NES was hardly any more advanced. MegaMan 8 is a rare case where there’s actually a fair amount to say about the sound effects. After all, both the PlayStation and the Saturn were capable of playing back actual audio recordings at a reasonable quality and that ability had an effect on how the game sounded. As such, the game’s sound effects are, to put it simply, more realistic. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a positive: for example, whenever MegaMan lands, he makes this squeaking noise. I guess I just never thought of what MegaMan should sound like, but I certainly never thought he was made of dog toys. I suppose the credit for that interesting choice should go to the man behind the sound effects, Shinji Amagishi.

Even more important would be the game’s use of voice acting: MegaMan 8 was the first game in the Classic series to have voice acting and the only mainline game to make use of them. Now, the voice acting’s poor reputation is generally associated with the abysmal performance of Dr. Light, who sounded more like Elmer Fudd than a kindly roboticist rocking a Santa beard. Aside from that anomaly, I’d say that the voice acting is actually pretty good considering the time of the game’s release. Personally, I wish more people paid attention to the Robot Masters’ voiceovers. They really add a lot of personality to them and frankly, I think they hold up even to this day. From Astroman’s paranoid whining and Aquaman’s bizarre flamboyance to Clownman’s snarky jester persona and the big popsicle-loving lug known as Frostman, the voices really help flesh out the bosses in this game in a way that nothing else could. It makes me wish that more games in the series could’ve gotten this treatment.

MM8-04

Honestly, I wish I could’ve just posted an audio recording here instead of a screenshot.

MegaMan 8’s soundtrack is also affected by the new technology available to Capcom. The fifth generation marked a decided shift away from chiptune-style music, with most compositions leaning more towards actual instrumentation, thanks in part to the new platforms’ ability to utilize both CD audio and far more advanced synthesizers than the sound chips found in previous generations. MM8 scaled back to having a single composer: Shusaku Uchiyama, generally associated with the Resident Evil games. As the game’s music was handled by the onboard synthesizers, rather than the CD audio, Tomoyuki “T.K, NY” Kawakami acts as the sound programmer. The Japanese version had songs for the opening cutscene and the game’s credit performed by J-Pop group GANASIA. The international releases replaced these songs with original instrumental pieces: both are good, though I prefer the upbeat tones of “ELECTRICAL COMMUNICATION” over the piece made for the Western version’s intro. MegaMan 8’s soundtrack appears to go for a more electronica-inspired sound. Considering that’s one of my favorite musical genres, I may be a little biased but I think the music in MM8 lives up to the series’ pedigree. My favorite tracks in the game are the stage select, the tracks from Clownman, Frostman, Searchman and Aquaman’s stages, the standard boss battle music (not to mention the catchy tune that plays when the bosses introduce themselves), the Got Weapon jingle and the second, third and fourth Wily Tower stage themes. Honorable mentions go to the Grenademan and Astroman stage themes and the remix of Bass’s theme – they’re definitely good tracks, but declaring them among “my favorites” feels like overkill.

Looking back at MegaMan 8 is an exercise in melancholy. Despite all of the changes that were made compared to the earlier games in the series, Capcom managed to stumble upon a style that was able to stay true to the roots of the Classic MegaMan series, while streamlining a few aspects for modern audiences, succeeding in many ways where MegaMan 7 had failed. In fact, much like MM7, I wished that Capcom had done a touch-up on MM8: just add the Saturn-exclusive content back into the game and tighten up some of the more blatant issues. Likewise, there’s another fan-made remake in progress that reimagines it as an NES game.  MegaMan 8 certainly wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the potential was clearly there. Future sequels could’ve smoothed out the odd idiosyncrasies that didn’t quite work.  But that was it. At least in the West, Classic MegaMan wouldn’t receive a new title for roughly six years after the eighth game in the franchise – and even then, the new game had been released in Asia years prior. Whether you blame it on the fact that video games were moving more towards 3D – something I still don’t think the 2D MegaMan platformers could easily translate to – or the fact that by the end of the PlayStation era, the franchise had 3 separate brands associated with it, the point is that the original Blue Bomber would be relegated to cameo appearances in other games for many years. Of course, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Classic series still had one game left up its sleeve…

MegaMan & Bass

Rockman & Forte – or MegaMan & Bass, as it was called in its delayed Western release – is an interesting title with an interesting history. Developed soon after the eighth MegaMan game, it was the last game to be released in the Classic series for several years. Odder still, it was developed on the Super Famicom, well after the PlayStation had been released. At the same time, Westerners would generally refer to it as “MegaMan 9”. While many people have dismissed MM&B as nothing more than a glorified spinoff, personally I’ve always considered it a mainline entry in the series. Considering the fact that Capcom actually referenced it in the actual MM9, I think they feel the same way. While perhaps even more experimental than its predecessor, MegaMan & Bass managed to refine many of the problems faced by the last attempt at creating a Classic game for the Super Nintendo.

MM&B-02

Demoted to the introduction stage. How humiliating.

According to Keiji Inafune, MegaMan & Bass was intended for younger fans who still owned a Super Famicom and didn’t have one of the newer systems. The design team consisted of several new employees, as well as several staff members from previous MegaMan games and Inafune required them to make a game that was “as hardcore as possible”, lending to MM&B’s infamous difficulty. The staff claimed that they were attempting to create a game that avoided the tried and true formula of the series, trying to avoid stagnation. That fact, coupled with the fact that the stages were clearly designed with Bass in mind – to the extent where the only advantages MegaMan has over him that some collectables are only reachable by MM’s slide and the fact that his default Buster shots can pass through walls – has led many to speculate that the game was originally envisioned as a spinoff with MegaMan’s rival as the sole character. I couldn’t find any evidence confirming or denying this theory, but it is fun to speculate on it. One interesting find regarding the game is that the header data refers to the game as “ROCK8.5”, implying that the game was always considered a spinoff rather than a ninth Classic game. The Japanese release didn’t even have the usual subtitle associated with Japanese releases.

The game was originally only released in Japan, as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was essentially dead when the game came out in 1998. However, when Capcom ported MM&B to the Game Boy Advance in 2002, it was finally officially released in the West the following year. Given the disadvantages that the GBA version had – a smaller screen resolution and less buttons than the SNES controller – as well as a poor-quality translation, I’d generally recommend the original Super Famicom version. There was even a fan-made English translation patch for the original version. It’s admittedly more literal than the official one, leading to some interesting dialogue choices that may seem a bit out of place for a “MegaMan” game, but it’s still far more coherent than the official version released by Capcom.

MM&B-03

The Treble Boost: the most broken power-up since the original Rush Jet.

While two of the bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were recycled from MegaMan 8, the other six were created by three manga artists, all of whom worked on various MegaMan mangas: Yoshihiro Iwamoto (Rockman X-X4) designed Magicman and Groundman; Coldman and Pirateman were created by Koji Izuki (Rockman 8, Rockman & Forte) and Hitoshi Ariga (Rockman MegaMix/GigaMix) created Burnerman and Dynamoman. In fact, some of the Robot Masters were renamed during the game’s development: Burnerman was “Blastman”, Coldman was “Freezerman” and Dynamoman was “Coilman” – while Groundman was originally designated as “Drillman”, despite there already being one back in MegaMan 4. An interesting shift from the standard Boss Design contests that had been held since the second game in the series, but considering the fact that this was a spinoff game and the previous game had two Capcom-designed Robot Masters, I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch that Capcom would commissioned professional artists to design bosses.

It’s been roughly one year since the events of MegaMan 8 and the devious Dr. Wily is still missing, leaving the world in relative peace. But as the malevolent mechanist was preparing a new assault on the world, a new robot going by the name King appears. Declaring his plans to conquer the Earth, King asserted that robots were superior to humanity and therefore should rule the Earth, rather than acting as servants. King deposed Wily from his new castle and stole data from six new Robot Masters, as well as using two of Wily’s older creations to begin building his army. His next target: the Robot Museum, which contains the data of many of the world’s most powerful robots. Dr. Light sends MegaMan to stop this new threat, but surprisingly, Bass – MegaMan’s rival and Dr. Wily’s greatest creation – also arrives on the scene, seeking to prove his superiority. After King fells Protoman and escapes from the museum, the two decide to form an uneasy alliance to stop this new automated autocrat.

MM&B-04

Meanwhile, Rock gets the Rush Search again. Totally fair trade-off.

The most obvious difference from previous games in the Classic series is the fact that players are allowed to choose between two characters, rather than simply playing as the Blue Bomber. Upon starting a new game, players are asked to choose between MegaMan and Bass in a similar fashion to the way that they chose between X and Zero in MegaMan X4. This decision is permanent – players can’t switch between characters at any point during that playthrough. MegaMan is essentially unchanged from MegaMan 7 & 8: he still retains his slide and charge shot. Of course, Bass is the game’s real star attraction. He has a MMX-style dash and a double jump. His most unique difference would have to be the Bass Buster: it acts as a rapid fire gun that Bass can aim in 7 directions – everything but straight down. This comes at the cost of his mobility: Bass can only jump while firing, he’s unable to walk or dash. Also, unlike MegaMan’s shots, the Bass Buster can’t shoot through walls by default. The best comparison I can think of would be the Fixed Shot from Gunstar Heroes. Still, he’s definitely the better choice for this game due to his unique abilities. Few stages are really centered around MegaMan’s moveset, which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, but that’s honestly part of the fun. Having a game where using the series’ traditional character is essentially the game’s “hard mode” is a pretty unique concept that I’d love to see more games in general tackle.

Like I mentioned earlier, MegaMan & Bass deviates from most of the mainline MegaMan games in some pretty extreme ways. Perhaps the most evident change comes from the stage select menu. Instead of being allowed to select from all eight Robot Masters from the beginning or from four bosses at a time, MM&B handled things in a unique way. After clearing the game’s introductory stage, players are allowed to select from one of three Robot Masters: Coldman, Groundman and Astroman. Clearing each of these bosses open up paths to additional bosses. Defeating Coldman unlocks Burnerman and Pirateman, Groundman opens the way to Tenguman and Magicman, while a showdown with Dynamoman is the reward for toppling Astroman. The only real downsides to this method is that it ends up making most of the boss weaknesses even more obvious than usual and that it limits the order the bosses can be fought in. At the end of each “path”, is the entrance to King’s Castle, which is locked off by eight seals, each accessible by a teleporter pad. Each seal can only be unlocked by using one of the Special Weapons obtained from each boss and destroying a seal nets the player a significant amount of bolts (or screws, as they were renamed) – more on those later. After all eight seals are destroyed, players are then allowed to enter King’s Fortress, containing 3 stages in total. The fact that the Fortress in MegaMan & Bass only has three levels may sound short, but believe me, that is not the case. The second and third stages have several boss fights – the third level even forces players to undergo a gauntlet of all 8 Robot Masters similar to the first MegaMan game before the final showdown with Wily – of course he was behind it, what were you expecting?

MM&B-01

The ability to aim shots makes the weaker damage totally worth it.

Throughout the game, there are 100 CDs hidden throughout the various stages. These contain data profiles on various characters from the MegaMan games, particularly the Robot Masters, but also some human characters like Dr. Light. The way they’re arranged, some can only be collected by MegaMan and others can only be collected by Bass, generally relying on some of their unique abilities. Fortunately, many CDs can be collected by either character, though some are very well-hidden. The game also makes use of save files as opposed to passwords, using a battery back-up save on the game cartridge. There are four save files available in total, though the CDs that are collected are retained across saves. Fortunately, for those who want to find them all over again, there is a special code that erases the CD collection data.

The shop system from the previous two games returns in MegaMan & Bass as well. The collectable screws that are used for currency take on the same mechanics as those in MM7: there are an infinite amount of screws to find throughout stages, allowing completionists to buy every item in the shop. The shop itself effectively better resembles that of MegaMan 8 in terms of its offerings. Aside from extra lives, everything that can be bought from Auto’s Shop is a power-up. Some are temporary, like the shock Guard which prevents death when touching spikes once, the Item Present, which causes a random item to drop at some point during the next stage (kind of like Eddie in MM4 and 5). There are also plenty of permanent items, like the Exit Unit, Energy Balancer, an Energy Saver that reduces the energy cost for Special Weapons, Cost Energy which doubles attack power when the character is near-death and Super Recover, which increases the amount of energy recovered by power-ups. There’s even a Com System that allows the player to ask hints from Roll, which can be further upgraded with other items like the CD Counter or the Enemy Analyzer, that allow her to count the remaining CDs and strategies to take out bosses respectively.

Each character also has their own unique power-ups as well. For MegaMan, the Rush Search returns from MM7; Eddie who drops a few power-ups before leaving; Beat who gives off a shield that renders MegaMan invincible temporarily; Auto Charge, which sets the Mega Buster to charge automatically; Auto Recover, which allows MegaMan to recover his health one unit at a time by standing still and the High-Speed Buster, which speeds up the charge time for the Mega Buster. Bass, on the other hand, gets the Treble Boost, which acts sort of like the Rush Super Adapter from MM7, allowing Bass to fly for a limited amount of time; High-Speed Dash, which increases his dash’s speed; the Step Booster, which speeds up his ability to climb ladders; the Hyper Blast, which allows the Bass Buster’s shots to travel through walls; and my personal favorite, the Super Blast, which doubles the Bass Buster’s attack strength.

Of course, as far as MegaMan & Bass strayed from the basic MegaMan formula, it still retained the ability to obtain Special Weapons from defeating each of the game’s eight Robot Masters. The interesting thing about them is that while the weapons retain the same functionality for both characters, their appearances – particularly the colors MegaMan and Bass take on while using them – are wildly different. As per usual, I’ve decided to rank MM&B’s weapons from best to worst, though to be honest, the weapons in this game are more interesting than useful overall. My favorite weapon in MM&B would probably be Pirateman’s Remote Mine –  a mine which can be manipulated until it attached to the first object it collides with. Hit the fire button a second time, at any point, and it detonates with a decent blast radius. Number 2 would be the Ice Wall from Coldman. It generates a literal wall of ice, that can be used as a platform or a shield. Better still, walk up against it and it can be pushed, allowing MegaMan or Bass to ride across obstacles like spike pits. It’s probably one of the best utility Special Weapons in the entire MegaMan series. Tenguman’s Tengu Blade is easily my third favorite. It’s essentially two weapons in one: dashing or sliding allows it to work like an improved version of the Charge Kick from MM5, firing it normally shoots off a swirling slash that vaguely resembles a Sonic Boom and can bounce off walls. Next up would have to be the Spread Drill, obtained after defeating Groundman. It starts out as a giant drill that moves slowly and quickly loses altitude when left to its own devices. Press the fire button again and it splits into two smaller drills that move slightly faster, pressing it a third time and they split again into four tiny but quick drills. Then there’s Magicman’s Magic Card: a boomerang-style weapon that can be aimed either straight forward or straight up. Not really that useful in terms of attack power, but the fact that it can grab power-up items and recover them is a pretty nice bonus. The fact that it allows MegaMan to aim straight up is a plus, as well. The sixth best weapon would probably be the Lightning Bolt, taken from Dynamoman. Effectively an Astro Crush knockoff themed around a lightning storm, the energy cost is slightly lower, allowing for more uses, which gives it a slight edge over its predecessor. Number 7 is Burnerman’s Wave Burner. Effectively a complete ripoff of the Flame Mammoth’s Fire Wave from the original MegaMan X, it sprays a constant wave of flames for a short distance, while rendering the character motionless. It’s not particularly useful, but it does decent damage all things considered. Finally, there’s the Copy Vision, taken from Astroman – effectively one of the worst weapons in the entire series. It generates a holographic duplicate of the player character that fires off a slow but steady cascade of standard shots at a rate slower than Bass’s standard rapid fire. I’ve never encountered a situation where it’s not easier to just use the standard Buster.

MM&B-05

Oh yeah, that’s way better than dropping a literal meteor shower.

MegaMan & Bass’s graphics were standard for the end of the SNES’s lifespan, effectively experimenting with techniques in order to get the best graphics possible from the dying system. In this game’s case, Capcom effectively used the artstyle from MegaMan 8, recycling some existing graphics and creating new ones in the same style. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite as well as it did on the 32-bit platforms – SNES had some severe limitations – but compared to other late-era Capcom games (Street Fighter Alpha 2 comes to mind), it turns out much better with very little in the way of outright compression. I’d almost liken it to the use of pre-rendered graphics in the Donkey Kong Country games: nothing particularly amazing by today’s standards, but the fact that they were able to so closely resemble graphics found on the PlayStation with very little compromise is impressive. The game’s presentation is also quite unique in many ways: the stage select takes on a more map-like appearance, with a mug shot of the enemy appearing in the bottom-left corner, as well as a preview of the stage in the bottom-right. The demos that play after selecting a stage also deviate from the previous games, going for a more ornate look. Instead of just showcasing each Robot Master’s entrance from the beginning of each boss fight, MM&B also includes a more-detailed profile shot of each boss. Most interesting of all would have to be the “map screen” for King’s Castle: instead of doing the traditional simple map that the series has been using since MegaMan 2, there are three rows of graphics, each giving a preview of what to expect from each fortress stage.

If there’s one area where MegaMan & Bass definitely doesn’t stray from the series’ roots, it would have to be the music. Toshihiko “Kirikiri-chan” Horiyama returns as one of MM&B’s composers, alongside Naoshi Mizuta – who composed music for the original Street Fighter Alpha and Vampire Savior – as well as Akari Kaida, who worked on the original Resident Evil, Night Warriors, Cyberbots and would go onto working on Breath of Fire III among others. The Game Boy Advance port would also credit Chiriro “T.Arisaka” Arisaka for reprogramming the sound on Nintendo’s handheld, as she would on many other ports of older Capcom games. All the same, MM&B made far better use of the SNES’s sound capabilities than MM7, going for a much cleaner sound. Maybe it’s because the game’s staff was far smaller or simply because they had more experience working with the Super Nintendo’s hardware at this point, but the music just sounds more cohesive this time around. As with most SNES-to-GBA ports, the music suffers a bit in the portable release due to the weaker sound hardware, but is still left mostly intact. Compared to the previous two games, MegaMan & Bass’s music sounds like a more modernized version of the 8-bit MegaMan music. It’s honestly hard to choose favorites this time around. The Robot Museum theme is generally considered a classic, I love Tenguman’s theme – I’d say it’s the best of the three he’s had by far – as well as the songs from Coldman, Groundman, Pirateman and Magicman’s levels. The music from the first two stages of King’s Fortress is also great, along with the standard boss battle theme, the Got Weapon jingle and the song plays in Auto’s Shop.

MM&B-06

Seriously, it’s like they made Bass way cooler on purpose or something.

For a brief period, I would’ve said that MegaMan & Bass was my favorite of the three post 8-bit MegaMan Classic games, but I’d say that MM8 has regained its dominance since then. All the same, I’d call MM&B the best Classic MegaMan on the Super Nintendo. While it suffers from the same zoomed-in graphics as its predecessor – to the extent where the character sprites take up more of the screen than those of MM7 – the control manages to feel more fluid and responsive. I’ve seen quite a few people who consider MM&B to be the worst of the Classic series, which I’ve never understood. Sure, MegaMan’s inclusion is generally considered to be an afterthought and the game is definitely among the most difficult in the entire franchise, but I’d consider the latter the plus and the choice of including two different characters with totally different abilities allowed the stage designs to really branch out and experiment. I was sad to hear that this game was left off the second MegaMan Legacy Collection that came out earlier this year, but some have speculated that we may be receiving a third compilation down the line. Saving a traditional console MegaMan platformer to include with whatever else Capcom picks from their archives is definitely a smart idea and MM&B would definitely add some value to a proposed MMLC3, especially if it means getting a new and improved English translation of the original Super Famicom version in the process.

“The Best of” Mega Man (Game Gear)

Remember how I said North America got its own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega console way back in part 1? This is it, and trust me, we Americans definitely got the raw end of the deal on this one. Originally advertised under the name “The Best of Mega Man” – a title I can only imagine was meant to be seeping with sarcasm and irony – I remember wanting this game as a child. You have to remember, when I was a kid, I was a Sega fanboy and the Game Gear was my first system. Considering that the game came out in 1995, I would’ve been around 7 years old at the time. Now imagine you told a six-year-old boy that one of his favorite video game series of all time was coming to the first video game system he had ever owned. That’d be one excited six-year-old. I missed out on the game at the time and as it would turn out, that was honestly for the best. I’d happen upon the game years later and I was absolutely horrified with what I’d found. It’s a good thing they decided not to go with “The Best of Mega Man” as the title, it would’ve been the most open-and-shut case of false advertising in American history.

This is another licensed game, published by British company U.S. Gold – don’t ask, I don’t understand it either. That’s right, the same company that brought MegaMan to the Game Gear also brought us such “classics” as Strider Returns and OutRun Europa. As per usual, U.S. Gold farmed out development to an English company, Freestyle Software Limited. Their only other credits involved a few other ports – including an Amiga port of Super Street Fighter II – as well as various sports trivia and card games. Exactly the kind of people you want in charge of a port of one of the most beloved Japanese platformers of all-time, right?

MMGG-01

Believe it or not, there’s a pit of spikes just out of frame.

The game has really little in terms of backstory. MegaMan is fighting Dr. Wily – who is using robots from MegaMan 4 and 5 once again. There’s really very little else to say here: it’s kind of funny that the game’s manual says that Dr. Wily has been MegaMan’s arch enemy since 1985. The difficulty setting from the Western release of MegaMan 2 on the NES returns, but it’s somewhat different from the previous game. The game starts off with the choice of four Robot Masters: Stoneman, Napalmman and Starman from MM5, alongside Brightman from MM4. After that, it’s on to Dr. Wily’s Fortress – which is Dr. Cossack’s Citadel for reasons I don’t entirely understand – where the first stage involves a fight with Waveman from MM5. While those playing on the Difficult setting make a brief stopover against Toadman, both players end up finishing off the game with two levels before a final encounter with Dr. Wily.

Considering the fact that this game literally came out a year after the spectacular MegaMan V on the Game Boy, expectations were pretty high for this one. The Classic MegaMan formula had been perfected across two platforms by this point and expectations were high, considering Sega had scored one of Nintendo’s third-party jewels. This was the first portable MegaMan game in full color! Unfortunately, the game failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations, delivering an experience that made MegaMan II look like MegaMan 2 – I know what I said. The controls are particularly sluggish and the physics are a bit off: the most noticeable differences are that MegaMan can only have two shots onscreen at the same time and bosses have the same amount of hit-invincibility as the Blue Bomber himself. The most detrimental change was a deliberate change on the part of the developers. Deciding to keep the graphics the same size as the NES version on the Game Gear’s smaller screen forced the game’s field of vision to shrink significantly, making even the most obvious obstacles from the original games into leaps of faith, where only perfect muscle memory can guarantee success. To make up for that, the game added vertical scrolling locked to MegaMan’s movement, essentially making the game disorienting to even look at. The devs did put in the option to manipulate the vertical scroll manually – but it required moving the camera with the D-Pad while holding down the jump button. Another terrible change to the game is that there are absolutely no continues. That’s right, Game Over is taken quite literally in this game. Better keep those passwords handy, though they’ll only get you about halfway through the game as best.

MMGG-02

By the way, this is as far as any password will take you. Have fun!

While many people mistakenly assumed that the Game Boy MegaMan games simply recycled the levels from the NES game, the Game Gear more or less delivers on that lazy promise. Each of the six Robot Masters inhabit their stages from their respective NES games, with a few minor tweaks – for example, Eddie no longer appears in the game, so he’s often replaced some form of an energy power-up. The weapons also return unaltered – aside from being rechristened with such imaginative names as “Bomb Weapon” and “Stone Weapon” – alongside MegaMan 5’s take on the Rush Coil. The Wily stages fare even more bizarrely: the first is literally just Quickman’s stage from MM2 with no boss fight at the end, while the second and final stage is a corridor leading to a teleporter that sends MegaMan directly to the final fight with Wily: nothing more than a simple fight with the now-traditional Wily Capsule.

MMGG-03

No, seriously.

The graphic style is somewhat evocative of The Wily Wars, focusing on sprites that are essentially the same as the NES games with expanded color palettes. Unfortunately, they were handled far worse in this game – some of the game’s graphics just end up looking weird, either due to the different aspect ratio of the smaller screen or just through poor redrawing in general. One example that can’t help but stand out to me is MegaMan himself: for some reason, his helmet looks too small and it looks like he’s got an off-center cyan mohawk on top. The backgrounds end up looking pretty good, like enhanced versions of the NES originals, but as I said before, the entire game is hampered by the zoomed-in camera, which just makes everything look worse.

The game’s music is a cacophony. While MegaMan II on the Game Boy had original compositions and a sound programmer unfamiliar with the system’s hardware, MegaMan for Game Gear doesn’t have quite as many excuses. The game’s music was rearranged by one “Dr. Mike Ash, PhD”: a composer that worked on various other British video games. One such game that I managed to find the soundtrack for was the Game Gear version of Marko’s Magic Football – same system, same composer. I listened to it for comparison’s sake and found that it had much better composition than Mega Man and even came out the year before, so there’s really no excuse for the game’s horrid instrumentation. Perhaps the weirdest part of the game’s composition is how some of the music is used. Most of the stage themes are pretty much what you’d expect – though Waveman was given Gravityman’s theme for reasons I don’t entirely understand – the boss music and the final Wily stage are taken from MM4, while the stage select is taken from 5. The other music is also taken from older games, but used in unusual contexts. For starters, the opening cutscene is MM5’s password and the title screen is MM5’s introduction with the title screen theme tacked onto the end. The jingles for both the stage selected and got weapon screens are two different rearrangements of the map theme from Dr. Cossack’s Citadel from MM4, the game’s ending is one of the Dr. Cossack fortress level themes and perhaps most interesting of all, the Game Over tune is Waveman’s theme… in its entirety. I don’t understand these choices, but they fall in line with many of the other baffling decisions that caused this game to take shape, so it’s hard to argue them.

MMGG-04

It’s weird seeing Toadman put up this much of a fight.

I actually think that the Game Gear’s Mega Man may be my least favorite game in the entire series, even more than the supposedly inferior PC duology from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. The thing about the DOS games is that while they are substantially worse at recreating Capcom’s games – in appearance, sound and even gameplay – they attempted to create their own unique scenarios, no matter how misguided. Likewise, the games themselves honestly looked more like amateurish fan works, something that most people would take one look at the screenshots on the back of the box and immediately realize that they’d been ripped off. U.S. Gold’s take on the franchise just comes across as far more insidious: lifting entire levels from the NES games, but breaking them with minor but game-breaking modifications to the game’s engine. Worse yet, they also showcase graphics that, at first glance, appear to be superior to the originals, but lead to even greater concessions in terms of presentation. The Game Gear game feels lazy at best and is an outright scam at worst. So yes, while the Game Gear Mega Man may have emulated the actual games more closely than the PC games, they offer absolutely nothing of worth – at least the Hi-Tech games had some original (albeit half-baked) concepts. Just ignore the Game Gear game with extreme prejudice, even MegaMan II on the Game Boy would be better.

MegaMan: The Power Battle & MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters

MegaMan: The Power Battle and its direct sequel, MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters were interesting games based on an obvious concept. The MegaMan series was among the first of Capcom’s success stories within the console market, but what had really made them a household name was their arcade fighting games. With Street Fighter II propelling them into the spotlight, much of Capcom’s focus during the 90s was on 2D fighting games, coming up with other franchises such as Darkstalkers, their licensed games with Marvel and the crossover games pitting their characters against other companies, both within and without the video game industry. Combining the two seemed like a natural fit, taking the MegaMan franchise’s trademark boss fights and streamlining them into a fighting game, so in 1995 and 1996, both games were released in Arcades.

While the Japanese versions are generally the most common, there were also rarer English releases released in North America. In fact, when I was a child, I managed to encounter Power Battle during a family trip on the Big Red Boat cruise line. I became obsessed with the game for my short stay, attempting to beat the game any time and any way I could. Come to think of it, this was the first time I remember being introduced to Bass – who I’d always choose when I could. In fact, tying back to MegaMan & Bass, I remember being irritated with Bass’s new attack style: in Power Battle (and by extension, its sequel), Bass had a charge shot just like MegaMan and ProtoMan. It ticked me off when I was a kid, but these days the aimable rapid fire is definitely my preference.

MM-TPB

It’s weird just how much content was taken directly from MegaMan 7.

While both games have their own unique characteristics, the base gameplay mechanics remain the same. Players are asked to choose between MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass – with Duo acting as a fourth playable character in Power Fighters – before choosing their “course”. Both games have three courses apiece, each with six Robot Masters to fight. After defeating them, it’s off to Wily’s Fortress for two boss fights, the latter against the mad doctor himself, capped off with a Wily Capsule bonus round. As with most fighting games, there’s the option for one or two players to play, but this time around, it’s cooperative play. Likewise, it’s impossible for both players to pick the same character: after all, with the MegaMan series’ emphasis on palette swapping in general, alternate colors would be a nightmare to manage. As this is an arcade game, there are also some unique quirks: for example, health is maintained between fights and each credit only grants a player a single life. The game’s controls consist of a joystick for movement, as well as three buttons: fire, jump and change weapon, which cycles through the weapons in a continuous loop. Likewise, when a Special Weapon is out of ammo, it defaults back to the standard attack.

Despite being released only a year apart, there are actually several differences between Battle and Fighters. Perhaps the most obvious is Duo. While both games include MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass as playable characters, Power Fighters added Duo as a stealth advertisement for the then-upcoming MegaMan 8. While the other three characters are interchangeable for the most part, Duo is far more reliant on short-range attacks, stretching out his larger arm as his primary attack, but can also deal damage with his dash attack. His charge shot allows for greater distance, but also moves far more slowly than the other three. Of course, like the others, he can still use the Special Weapons, which brings me to the next major difference. In The Power Battle, defeating Robot Masters earns both characters each Special Weapon. Power Fighters, on the other hand, has each Robot Master drop an orb containing their weapon – along with health and score power-ups. Whoever picks up the orb gets the weapon. This also applies to a single-player run: no orb, no weapon. It definitely adds more of a competitive aspect to the game which makes the game more interesting when playing it in two-player: some could split the weapon amicably in order to allow for decent load-outs between both players, while other could simply race to see who gets each weapon first.

MM2-TPF

Of course, it makes perfect sense to fight Stoneman in the Egypt-themed area, especially with the giant Sphinx in the background with Pharoahman’s face on it.

Both games offer a choice of three “courses”, each with their own sets of bosses. Both games handle their courses differently. PB separates its Robot Masters by game – resulting in MegaMan 1-2, MegaMan 3-6 and MegaMan 7, which was the newest release at that point in time. PF, on the other hand, separates them into “missions”: “Search for Wily!” has players looking for Wily’s new base, “Rescue Roll!” has a Wily robot kidnap MegaMan’s sister, while “Recover parts!” has one stealing parts for an experimental device. These goals are generally associated with one of the six Robot Masters – chosen at random – and clearing it boosts the character’s abilities. Even the stage select works differently in both games: while Power Fighters allowed players to choose the stage manually, Power Battle went for a weird roulette system where it would cycle between remaining areas and stops on a button press. Both games also have different rosters of bosses: while many are shared between games, The Power Battle had a significant focus on MM7, while Fighters has a more balanced roster. The Power Fighters also adds Eddie as a random encounter during fights, dropping a limited time power-up that varies depending on which character picks it up: MegaMan and Bass get back-up from Rush and Treble respectively – who charge at enemies when charge shots are fired – while ProtoMan and Duo get a shield from Beat that renders them invincible. These power-ups render the player unable to use the Special Weapons until they wear off,

While all of the Robot Masters in both games were essentially recycled from the first seven games in the mainline series, that doesn’t mean that all of the weapons are ripped directly from them. For starters, there are cases where existing weapons have been modified – sometimes to the extent where they almost act like entirely new weapons. For example, the Super Arm now allows MegaMan et al to fire boulders at enemies at will, as opposed to grabbing giant blocks and throwing them. The Crash Bomb now attaches to the ground and fires off multiple small explosions, while the Atomic Fire becomes an arc shot that results in a pillar of flames. Airman’s Air Shooter now only fires off a single tornado while increasing its speed. Some bosses end up giving out different Special Weapons. For example, while Stone Man’s Power Stone has the same name as his original weapon from MM5, it acts completely different: causing a giant stone hand to sail across the bottom of the screen. It’s way better than the original. Likewise, Pharoahman and Centaurman get entirely new weapons: the Pharoah Wave and Centaur Arrow. The Pharoah Wave fires off two energy waves, one in front of MegaMan, the other behind. The Centaur Arrow fires off an arrow-shaped energy burst either straight forward or up-forward diagonally. While the Centaur Arrow is a slight improvement over the Centaur Flash, the Pharoah Wave only appears to have been modified because the Pharoah Shot was little more than a slightly improved Mega Buster.

The games share an artstyle that is clearly inspired by that of MegaMan 7. In fact, it looks like MegaMan, ProtoMan, Bass and the MM7 Robot Masters were all at least based on their sprites from the SNES game, albeit with some weird ratio alterations that just make them look wider, causing them to suffer a bit upon close inspection. The sprites drawn specifically for Power Battle look stupendous: I’ve mentioned that I’ve always had a bit of a preference for MegaMan 7’s spritework and this game is definitely a major factor in my love for the artstyle. You can get a sense for the size of each Robot Master in a way that most games – especially those in the 8-bit style – just simply can’t match. The added budget from being an arcade game also improved the animation budget: the Yellow Devil and its liquid body are a prime highlight of what the spriting artisans of Capcom were capable of back in the mid-90s. The new sprites made for The Power Fighters are a bit less consistent. While most of them actually look even better than those from the previous game – Stoneman, Pharoahman and Airman are great examples – others, like Elecman and Duo, just come across as cheaply-made and not at all consistent with the rest of the game’s spritework. Still, that’s just a small criticism overall – after all, PF upped the ante by adding special animations when bosses are hit with their weaknesses.

The music and sound receive a similar upgrade: Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware typically used QSound to achieve its unique instrumentation. Regardless, Capcom’s arcade games were renowned for their audio clarity and the MegaMan arcade duology was no exception. Sound effects in general sounded akin to a fighting game and quite unlike any MegaMan game that came before (or after) it. Likewise, the games made use of Japanese voice acting. While some of it was removed from the international releases of The Power Battle, it was left completely intact for Fighters. The games’ music was mostly recycled from earlier games in the MegaMan series and rearranged by Setsuo Yamamoto and Hideki Okugawa. The Power Battle actually had less compositions in general – forcing the bosses in the MegaMan 1-2 and MegaMan 3-6 courses to share music, while the MM7 bosses all had their own unique songs, Shademan’s Ghouls ‘n Ghosts Easter Egg even returns. The Power Fighters, on the other hand, took great care to make sure that every boss had their own unique themes, even the Fortress sub-bosses. Unfortunately, even with all that love and care put into the games’ soundtracks, there are still some odd quirks. For example, Turboman has the theme from MM7’s introduction stage in Power Battle, while Plantman, Quickman and Centaurman have Crashman’s theme, the MM2 boss music and Junkman’s themes respectively in Power Fighters. Aside from that, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the soundtrack – there was even an original song used in Power Battle for the first Fortress boss that returned in Power Fighters as the Yellow Devil’s unique boss theme. Considering the fact that much of the music was actually reused in the Rockman Complete Works’ arranged soundtracks, it’s clear that Capcom also recognized its quality.

rm-b&f

I seriously wish Capcom had actually pursued this art style on their own.

It wasn’t remotely uncommon for Capcom’s arcade games to receive home ports, especially if they were based around Capcom’s own intellectual properties rather than a license. The MegaMan arcade games were no exception, though their first trip home was unique to say the least. Rather than coming home on the PlayStation or even the Saturn, the first home release of Power Battle and Power Fighters was a Japanese-only release in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a portable system designed by rival company SNK to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Color. Dubbed “Rockman Battle & Fighters”, the release was by no means arcade-perfect, but it was fascinating. While the game had to make sacrifices with regards to its graphics and especially its sound, the gameplay was left intact, more or less. The game’s soundtrack was diminished to roughly 3 Robot Master themes period, but they end up sounding pretty good on the NGPC’s sound chip. Perhaps the most interesting change came to the graphics. Essentially bridging the gap between the arcade games’ unique 16-bit style and the original NES games, Battle & Fighters had a unique look that I wish more games had emulated. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it looked gorgeous, given the NGPC’s limited capabilities. The best example would be the Blue Bomber himself: the juxtaposition of his classic 8-bit face with the posture and stance he had in  MM7 made for a unique look I wish more games had tried. B&F also had an information database, with profiles on all of the game’s Robot Masters, as well as the playable characters, Roll, Dr. Wily and Dr. Light. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to have the definitive experience with these two games, but it is definitely a fascinating curiosity.

That’s not to say that there weren’t more traditional re-releases as well. In fact, one of the main selling points for the MegaMan Anniversary Collection was the inclusion of the two arcade games as unlockable bonus content. As such, Western gamers had access to them whether they owned a PS2, GameCube or even the Xbox. Japan, on the other hand, saw a completely different release, referred to as Rockman Power Battle Fighters. A PS2-exclusive, the release only contained the two arcade games in a collection that resembled most of the fighting game rerelease compilations on the Japanese PS2 at the time. It was pretty much arcade-perfect, but added a competitive Versus mode to both games, where two players could fight each other with each respective game’s full arsenal at their disposal. Definitely a nice bonus and I’d hope that if Capcom decides to re-release the arcade games again, they use this version for that new feature alone.

versus-mode

It’s broken, it’s stupid, but it’s pure fun.

As a whole, both MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters are little more than a fun little diversion. They were designed as arcade fighting games, so expecting anything more would be insane. They’re probably either best played by people unfamiliar with the franchise or fans of the series in the mood for a quick play session with little time to spare. These aren’t really meant to be criticisms of the games, just statements that they’re probably not the best way to experience the Classic MegaMan series as a whole. While the boss fights are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of any MegaMan game, the stages that precede them are equally important to the franchise’s core identity. Still, it is impressive just how well MegaMan was able to transition into a fighting game without losing the key elements that make the series so unique in the first place. Best of all, it’s an all too rare example of a cooperative fighting game and that alone makes these games worth at least one playthrough.

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha – which roughly translates to “MegaMan & Bass: Challenge from the Future” and commonly referred to by fans as either “Rockman & Forte WonderSwan” or “Rockman & Forte 2” – is most likely the best officially-licensed MegaMan game in existence. This sentence, while true, is also a prime example of a “back-handed compliment”. That’s not meant to be a dig at the game itself, but given the other games Capcom licensed from other companies, it’s also not really that big of an achievement either. Released in 1999, it is one of the most well-known games for Bandai’s Japan-exclusive handheld, the WonderSwan, and honestly, in terms of quality, I’d say that while it’s still a step down from even MegaMan II on the Game Boy – which it actually references in its storyline – it’s still probably the best MegaMan game Capcom didn’t personally oversee. Of course, there are conflicting reports regarding whether Rockman & Forte WS was actually published by Capcom themselves, speculation that was probably fueled by the game’s quality.

Taking place in the year 200X – though I’m sure they meant 20XX, considering Forte didn’t exist at that point – a mysterious group of robots from “the future” known simply as the Dimensions attacked Symphony City, a place where people and robots lived in harmony. It was said that this new gang of robots was led by a mysterious and powerful robot that resembled Rockman himself. Referring to himself as Rockman Shadow, the robot resembled Quint and claimed that he wouldn’t forgive anyone who wouldn’t obey him. Rockman and Forte decide to put their differences aside to face this new threat. Not the most involved story, but it’s on par with most of the stories in the Game Boy games.

Forte

Seriously, isn’t that the butterfly robot from Sonic & Knuckles?

Challenger from the Future’s gameplay is pretty much a low-rent version of its SNES predecessor. Players are able to choose between Rockman and Forte, each with their own separate abilities – though now Forte’s dash allows him to duck under obstacles, like Rockman’s slide. The game starts with an introduction stage, capped off with a boss fight against the Grey Devil. After that, players are allowed to choose between 4 of the Dimensions: Danganman, Konroman, Airconman and Komusoman – four Robot Masters based on a bullet, a Japanese Stove, an air conditioner and a Japanese monk respectively. After they’ve been defeated, it leads to fights with the Clockmen – essentially a pair of robots with clocks in their torsos that fight as one – followed by Compassman, the one member of the Dimensions that doesn’t give up a Special Weapon upon its defeat. After that, there’s only the final showdown with Rockman Shadow himself. The stage designs are somewhat generic, but do follow MegaMan’s formula. The most interesting part of the stages would probably be the enemy selection: there’s the iconic Mettools and Battons, some old favorites like the Hammer Joes from MM3 and completely original enemies, most of them insectoid in form – there’s even a robotic butterfly that looks eerily close to the one in Sonic & Knuckles.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game comes into play with Airconman’s stage, which utilizes one of the WonderSwan’s unique gimmicks. The WonderSwan had two sets of buttons – the standard that allows the system to be played from a horizontal orientation and an alternate set of controls for playing the system vertically – and Airconman’s stage utilized the latter. Most of the game’s stages also have a mid-boss fight and Airconman’s is probably the most unique because of the gimmick associated with it. There’s a giant squid suspended at the top of the screen, too high for Rockman to shoot. To make matters worse, there are also platforms that shield it from attacks. While Forte can aim straight up to attack it, Rockman has to rely on one of the game’s more unique physics in order to damage it. There are Mettools on both sides of the room and in this game, when their hardhats deflect buster shots, they maintain their ability to damage enemies. Therefore, Rockman has to aim and time his shots in such a way that they collide with the squid in order to damage it. Another interesting quirk about Rockman & Forte WS is that the bosses have obscenely long health bars in this game – even managing to dwarf those from some of the later MegaMan X games. The upside is that they don’t have hit-invincibility this time around, meaning that players can just lay into them. Finally, the game also retains the save slots from the SNES and GBA versions, though there are 3 instead of 4.

Rock1

Probably the coolest part of the game. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.)

The shop system also returns in Rockman & Forte WS. Screws can still be found throughout stages, either as item pickups or by defeating enemies. Many of the items from the other versions return in this game, such as the Spare Body, the “Exit Parts” and the Energy Balancer. Rockman and Forte also have their own unique items, but there are some exclusive to the WonderSwan version. Rockman’s shop items are the Rush Coil, which is exactly what it sounds like; Beat, which is similar to the SNES version; Eddie, which calls Eddie to drop a random power-up and most interestingly, Tango returns from MegaMan V. Forte retains the Gospel Boost, Super Buster and Hyper Buster from the console version, but also gains Reggae, who drops a random item just like Eddie.

Of course, perhaps the most unique thing about this game is that Rockman and Forte actually have different weapons in the game. Sometimes it’s just the same weapon with a different name attached, but some Robot Masters give out completely different weapons based on which character defeats them. With that in mind, I’ll be ranking Rockman and Forte’s weapons separately. First, we’ll go with Rockman.  Defeating Komusoman grants him the Doppel Crash, an attack where that renders Rockman invincible as he charges at enemies, brandishing a blade at the end of his Rock Buster. The Flame Shower is Konroman’s weapon effectively a short-ranged flamethrower that emits from the Rock Buster for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, the flames shoot upward, still capable of damaging any enemies it touches. Danganman’s Rockn Vulcan is a bullet that splits into three – each moving in a separate direction, creating a spread shot pattern. Barrier Wind is obtained by defeating Airconman. It’s a gust of wind that can destroy multiple enemies, as well as specific walls. Finally, there’s the Clockmen’s Time Switch, which freezes time for four seconds and renders Rockman completely invulnerable to enemies and their attacks, at the cost of his ability to attack.

Forte2

Surprisingly, this is also an original boss fight.

That leaves us with Forte. The Doppler Attack (not to be confused with the weather radar or the doctor from X3) is Forte’s reward for defeating Komusoman and it splits him into four tiny duplicates of himself that are able to fly around the stage at will. Did I mention that they’re also invincible? Konroman’s Flame Mixer is a unique take on the traditional shield weapon: four flames surround Forte for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, they launch straight up. Forte Vulcan is taken from Danganman, and it’s a bullet that homes in on the nearest enemy, sort of like a better version of the Dive Missile. Meanwhile the Forte Cyclone and Time Bomb – taken from Airconman and Clockmen respectively – are identical to the weapons given to Rockman. Some pretty interesting weapons for both characters and some of them are even better than the real ones. Who wouldn’t rather have the Doppler Attack or the Doppel Crash instead of Copy Vision?

The game’s graphics are, in a word, weird. While later revisions of the WonderSwan would add color displays, the original was restricted to black-and-white monochromatic graphics, much like the original Game Boy. Despite this handicap, everything in the game is completely visible – put simply, the graphics are functional. It’s just that everything’s got weird body proportions. The spritework in general actually just ends up looking like one of those original Chinese bootleg NES games that were hitting store shelves in the 2000s. Worse still, most of the game’s graphics don’t look like they came from the same game – there really isn’t any cohesion to any of the designs. To make matters worse, Rockman and Forte – the player characters – are actually hit the hardest by both of these two problems. It’s almost as if their designs from Rockman & Forte WS were meant to bridge the gap between realistic proportions and super-deformed “chibi” style artwork, but they just ended up right in the middle of both artstyles, leading to an almost “uncanny valley” effect. Worse still, it’s not even limited to the in-game graphics: even in the game’s cutscenes they retain these weird proportions. There is one thing I really liked about the game’s artwork: after defeating a boss, their portrait changes from a serious mugshot to a comedic little picture of them having been defeated. It’s cute and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if actual mainline MegaMan games had adopted something like that.

The game’s music is essentially taken from the SNES version of the game. Not every song is used, but most of it is reused in similar contexts. The six Dimensions use various Robot Master stage themes that fit with some of their own gimmicks – for example, Airconman uses Coldman’s theme and Tenguman’s music plays during Komusoman’s level – Burnerman’s theme is used for a cutscene, leaving Magicman as the sole holdout. Rockman Shadow’s stage uses the theme from King’s Fortress, while the game’s ending uses the CD Database theme for a more somber feel than the upbeat song in the SNES version. WonderSwan’s sound chip had something of an 8-bit sound to it, and while most of the song arrangements in Rockman & Forte WS aren’t perfect, they get the job done. The sound effects are quirky – it’s odd hearing 8-bit sound effects in a MegaMan game that don’t try to emulate the ones from the NES games – but nothing really sounds out of place. Overall, Challenger from the Future’s sound design is serviceable, nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, Challenger from the Future almost feels like a companion piece to the DOS games – almost like their Japanese counterpart. They make use of their own unique characters, both clearly feel off when compared to the “legitimate” MegaMan games from Capcom (to different extents) and there’s even a weird fascination with them in their respective regions. In fact, the Dimensions have even made some random appearances in Capcom-sanctioned material. Elements from the games managed to make some minor appearances in Archie’s MegaMan comic, while Konroman actually made a cameo in a comic book in MegaMan ZX Advent. With that in mind, it’s hard to tell if Capcom actually owns the rights to the characters original to any of the licensed games. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dimensions or even the Robot Masters from the PC games make some kind of a cameo appearance in future titles and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Rock2

Seriously, you’re fighting a walking stove. This game is all sorts of wacky.

Thus, we come to the conclusion of the third part of this retrospective. While this era of the Classic MegaMan games was fairly experimental, it just simply couldn’t last. After a hiatus that began due to an oversaturation of the games in general, we’d see the sheer amount of sub-franchises under the MegaMan umbrella more than double – resulting in a total of 7 unique takes on the Blue Bomber. Indeed, Classic MegaMan would go into a state of suspended animation, living on in a compilation or two, until the end of the 2000s, when he would make his grand return in familiar form.