Last month, I discussed many (if not all) of the times the MegaMan franchise as a whole has deviated from the traditional “jump ‘n shoot man” style of gameplay. From racing games to puzzle games, fighting games to FMV games and so on, MegaMan has done far more than just his infamous style of platforming. I also brought up the fact that as Capcom has had little luck with reviving the Blue Bomber in his traditional format, why not try another spinoff?
You’re probably asking, “But Professor Icepick! It’s so obvious what Capcom should do: just make another 2D game, except with something besides 8-bit graphics!”. And of course, why fix what isn’t broken? Well, to be honest, the fact is that, while MegaMan’s traditional gameplay format is time-tested, the sheer amount of games in the series that follow this formula has made the franchise itself something of a joke. Furthermore, I never implied that a MegaMan 11, a MegaMan ZX 3 or even a MegaMan Star Force 4 would deviate from the gameplay that made its specific franchise so popular. I’m thinking about this more from the angle of a spinoff, not unlike the games I discussed last time. Sort of a way to get people who never played any of the old-school games a chance to fall in love with the series that we love.
Take, for example, the rhythm-based platformer: not too far removed from the MegaMan pedigree, but with enough potential for a different experience. Games like the Bit.Trip Runner series and Harmoknight, for example, which blend classic platforming gameplay with rhythm-based gameplay, typically determined by the background music. Considering the fact that one of the most important elements of any MegaMan game is the music, this seems like a match made in heaven. MegaMan Classic would be the best choice for this genre, in my opinion: imagine blasting Metools and Sniper Joes in perfect harmony with rearrangements of classic Robot Master themes like Needleman, Flashman or Napalmman. Better still, you could simultaneously buck the trend of simply having 8 robot masters before starting the fortress, while getting newbies acquainted with MegaMan’s history in the process.
Unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw with this idea: the majority of rhythm platformers tend to be exclusively auto-scrolling affairs. Does that sound familiar? Because that’s exactly what they did with the much maligned Rockman XOver. Sure, most other rhythm platformers tend to add hazards, but considering the sheer amount for fan backlash, well, it would probably be best to avoid anything that even resembles XOver at this point. If there were some way to properly craft a game that allowed players to maintain the freedom of movement of a typical 2D platformer while maintaining the amount of rhythm elements in traditional rhythm-platformers, I think it could work.
Another problem would be the fact that it would be harder to utilize Master Weapons, arguably the MegaMan franchise’s most defining trait, in the context of a rhythm game. Granted, all modern consoles often have shoulder triggers on their most common input methods, allowing for quick switches, but traditionally weapon selection is done via a pause menu in MegaMan games, and pausing mid-stage would pretty much ruin the flow of a rhythm game. Maybe it would work if you were allowed to map specific weapons to specific button presses, though few systems would have enough buttons for each weapon considering you’d also need a button to jump. Perhaps if outside the context of boss fights, alternate weapons had only superficial differences from the standard Buster –maybe they could all be different instruments! Either way, there are some interesting ideas there, but it would take a lot of work to make a proper rhythm-platformer that is undeniably a MegaMan game. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to see Capcom try it. Quite the opposite.
In that case, what about a platform that focuses more on exploration? A “Metroidvania”, if you will. Sure, many people will argue that the ZX series was already fairly Metroidvanian, but I’m talking less about individual stages connected by a hub world for the most part and more of a single major area, almost akin to a dungeon crawling platformer, with save points in lieu of extra lives. Within the MegaMan canon, I feel like this would be a good choice for a Legends spinoff, due to that particular sub-franchise’s emphasis on exploration and let’s face it, most of the major action stages in MML were basically dungeon crawls. So it’d be interesting to see the one MegaMan game that was always meant to be in 3D be ported back to 2D.
Of course, doing a game in the Legends series that isn’t MML3 would likely reopen old wounds and making such a dramatically different game into the third Legends game would likely cause widespread backlash from the fanbase. As such, finding another MegaMan franchise to do this kind of experiment with would be difficult. Classic and X definitely wouldn’t work, due to the fact that most Metroidvanias try to guide players into tackling various obstacles in a specific order by closing off certain areas until you obtain a certain power-up, the Classic and X series are better known for their non-linear stage order. Zero’s been concluded. The aforementioned ZX series may be similar in style but it still focuses on stage-based gameplay at its core. I suppose maybe Battle Network and Star Force could work, but considering the fact that both series have been more or less concluded, it might be better to avoid it. So while making a Metroidvanian MegaMan spinoff may lack the design issues making a rhythm platformer would have, it’s still probably for the best to put that idea on hold.
Speaking of Legends, I guess the most obvious answer would be transitioning the Blue Bomber from 2D to 3D. I mean, I’ve seen enough people ask for this kind of thing. Throw in some TPS elements or maybe just some good ol’-fashioned lock-on to handle the aiming, make sure it’s got some actual platforming in it like the 2D games have and you’re pretty much set. Frankly, the idea of MegaMan going 3D platformer doesn’t exactly inspire much excitement out of me. On the other hand, a 3D platformer going MegaMan sounds outright interesting. Imagine trying to navigate “Yoku” block puzzles (you know, those bits with the disappearing platforms) in full-on 3D. Of course, if they ever did anything like that, they’d probably switch back to a 2.5D view, like many modern 3D platformers do. Spoilsports.
I guess there are a few major things holding back any existing MegaMan series from being made into a 3D platformer. The fact that MegaMan managed to survive the entire PS1 generation without being turned into a straight-up 3D series, an incredible feat considering the fact that pretty much everything went 3D that generation, usually to disasterous results. Yes, I know Legends was 3D, but it was also a spinoff as opposed to an existing series, Classic and X both only got 2D games on PS1. Furthermore, the first time a traditionally 2D MegaMan went 3D, MegaMan X7, well, let’s just say that managed to poison the well in a way that even its vastly improved sequel couldn’t untaint. On that note, I’m sure for as many fans who want to see a 3D MegaMan game, just as many (if not more) fans want the series to keep its traditional 2D gameplay. So the only way to do something like this without the potential for massive fan backlash would be a completely new sub-franchise, and considering that Capcom appears to be working on unifying the brand rather than branching out even further…well, I’d say “outlook not so good”.
Maybe we should go in a different direction, how about a traditional top-down 2D action-RPG? You know, not exactly like Zelda, but closer to say, Crystalis or Startropics. More of an emphasis on combat rather than puzzles, leveling system and all that good stuff. At the very least, it seems like a good way to do a more story-oriented MegaMan game or at least quell the unquenchable demand a small fraction of the fanbase has for a MegaMan RPG without going for your traditional turn-based JRPG-style combat system and keeping at least a modicum of traditional MegaMan gameplay in the game itself.
Unfortunately, the whole idea that MegaMan needs an RPG is somewhat flawed in and of itself. Legends is already an action-RPG, albeit a 3D one. The Battle Network and Star Force series themselves were more traditional JRPG fare, albeit with a much more active battle system. This leaves Classic, which really doesn’t need it; X, which already got a traditional RPG itself; Zero, which is over and done with; and ZX, which frankly, I’d rather just see return in its standard format. I guess a 2D action-RPG would work as a budget title in the Legends series, but aside from that, it doesn’t seem worth pursuing.
Another major strikingly different genre MegaMan could possibly take on would be that of a first-person perspective (FPP) game. Call it an FPS if you have to, but I’m referring more towards games like Portal and Metroid Prime, which focus more on other elements besides just headshots, tactical strikes and multiplayer. Granted, there is a pretty cool multi-player MegaMan FPS deathmatch fangame out there, which sort of implies that a Capcom-made single-player first-person MegaMan game would be an interesting experiment, to say the least.
Of course, for all the potential a MegaMan FPP game might have, it would definitely be the easiest to mess up. Considering Capcom’s attempt at moving towards a more Western style for their worldwide releases, it seems likely that doing a game in a genre that’s strictly seen out of Western developers would likely cause a perfect storm of the exact phenomenon that has so many Capcom fans so leery over their shift towards Western-friendly titles in the first place. As for a series that might work with this idea, a single-player FPP adventure would probably work best as either a Legends game (consider the amount of exploration seen in Metroid Prime) or an entirely original sub-franchise.
So, having gone through these five different genres, another question occurs to me: are there any genres that were used to make earlier MM spinoffs that I’d like to see get a second chance? Well, yes, yes there are, I’d love to see an actual MegaMan one-on-one fighting game at some point, whether it’s traditional 2D, a 3D arena fighter or even done Smash Brothers-style. I’d also love to see a puzzle game, a shmup and especially a WarioWare-style minigame-dealie, like those Japanese cell phone games I mentioned last time.
Regardless of whether the next game in the MegaMan series is a traditional 2D platformer like the rest or something totally different, doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is whether or not the next MegaMan game properly represents the spirit of the franchises. All things considered, it’s unlikely that the next game in the series will be anything like the last one, due the fan backlash regarding the 8-bit homage art-style. If Classic resurfaces, it’s likely that we’re going to venture into some uncharted territory regardless. But as long as the spirit of the MegaMan series is still there, I have faith that whatever Capcom delivers will be fine.