For anyone not living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard the good news regarding our beloved Blue Bomber: MegaMan has officially been confirmed as a character in Nintendo’s upcoming Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U. Frankly, everything about this makes me excited: from his movelist to his revamped design, which seems to be a slightly stubbier and more refined take on MM’s design from the promotional art in the Complete Works re-releases of the NES games on the original PlayStation. Still, it’s perhaps the first real bit of good news that fans of MegaMan have seen for some time, considering we’ve gone 3 years without seeing anything major in the way of new games. And while the wounds have still yet to heal completely, it still seems like a good time to talk about one cancelled game in particular. No, I’m not talking about Legends 3: many have already spoken on that game’s behalf already, it’s a cliche at this point. No, I’m going to be talking about the first game that got cancelled, the one only a few mourned when it was first cancelled. I’m talking, of course, about the ill-fated MegaMan Universe.
For those of you who don’t remember, MegaMan Universe was one of the games announced by Keiji Inafune back in 2010, right before he announced the aforementioned Legends 3. Universe was revealed with a stop-motion animated trailer made by various artists from the “i am 8bit” art movement and with music from acclaimed MegaMan tribute band The Megas. Full of references to various other Capcom games, including trippy bits where a claymation MegaMan turns into Arthur from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins/Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts games and Ryu from Street Fighter while fighting off a horde of Metools, Tellies and other old-school MegaMan foes. It also showed off the birth of the now-despised Bad Box Art MegaMan, a good-humored ribbing of the downright bizarre North American boxart for the original MegaMan on the NES.
I’ve always speculated that MMU was planned as a reaction to the then-recent fan backlash against MegaMan 10 for being another NES throwback game like 2008’s MM9, but then, considering it was announced the same year 10 was released, that doesn’t exactly seem plausible. The game’s art-style was also a significant departure from the traditional Inafune-inspired artwork of old. Frankly, I liked it, but there were many others who didn’t. Still, the game was 2.5D, which was definitely a change from the 8-bit sprites. But it also resembled a previous attempt at a Classic revival: MegaMan Powered Up.
The game’s 2.5D format wasn’t the only thing Capcom took from Powered Up. The game had an extreme emphasis on customization. In addition to bringing back the Stage Builder mode from MMPU (and making it a major portion of the game itself), players would’ve also have been able to create their own player character, using parts from MegaMan, various robot masters, characters from other Capcom properties and even alternate versions of MegaMan (like the aforementioned BBA MegaMan and the more Inafune-inspired “Rockman”). Many fans and journalists likened the idea to effectively being a ripoff of LittleBigPlanet. Ironically enough, Powered Up predated LBP by over two years.
Of course, Powered Up wasn’t the only game Universe was inspired by. Pretty much every part of the game was a direct reference to the most famous Classic series game of them all: MegaMan 2. From the various stage builder locales, to the Robot Masters depicted and even the soundtrack, the entire game appeared to be a heartfelt love letter to MM2, not unlike MM9 was. Whether or not this was the entire scope of the game or if this game was an attempt to revitalize the MMPU series, I guess we’ll never know.
What I do know is that I actually experienced the game firsthand. While I was in attendance at New York Comic-Con in 2010, Capcom had a booth there with, what I believe was, an alpha build of MMU. I’ll be honest, the game was a bit rough around the edges, but I could see some real potential there. After all, the game was still in development. I managed to beat the stage I picked: I remember little about the playthrough aside from the fact that there were three stages (easy, normal and hard) and the one I had chosen (one of the latter two) used the MM2 Airman stage motif and I managed to beat it fairly easily, despite losing one of the three lives I was granted in the demo. I was rewarded with an inflatable lance based on Arthur’s from the GnG games with the MMU logo on it. I still have it to this day.
Considering how intrigued I was by the new designs and how much I had enjoyed the demo, I was honestly sad to see the game get cancelled. I can still remember how the entire affair took place. After playing the demo and the announcement of a variant on Japanese childrens TV show character Gachapin (dubbed “Megapin”) was announced as a playable character, news on MMU dried up. Keiji Inafune had left Capcom at that point and the future of the title (both MM titles he had just announced, arguably) was uncertain. I remembered asking Christian “Sven” Svennson about the status of the title on Capcom’s “Ask Capcom” forum. He assured me there would be some big news regarding the title coming soon and that it certainly wasn’t cancelled. About two weeks later, MegaMan Universe was officially cancelled. I’d like to say I was surprised when it happened, but frankly, I was just a little ticked off that I had been lied to, either as an attempt to avoid negative PR or due to Svennson’s own ignorance of what was going on. I already knew that when Inafune left Capcom, the two MegaMan games he announced just before his departure were already dead.
Somehow, I think that the gaming press was somewhat to blame regarding Universe’s demise. MMU honestly got torn apart by a lot of journalists when it first became playable. One major complaint I recall showing up a great deal was the fact that it had stiff controls. Stiff controls in a game that was still in its Alpha phase? What a concept! Whatever it was that got MMU cancelled, it just seemed kind of weird how quickly everyone seemed to turn on the game. First they were griping that MM10 was “yet another” 8-bit throwback game, ala the universally-beloved MM9 and said they wanted a change of pace. MMU does just that, departing from many of the stylistic conventions of past MegaMan games and everyone throws an even bigger tantrum. Then, two years later, we get a free PC game that started out as a fan homage to both Street Fighter and MegaMan and people complain about the 8-bit style used in that as well. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how popular opinion works.
In the end, I think the most insulting part of the cancellation of MegaMan Universe was not so much the way it got cancelled or the way the majority of people reacted to it when it happened. In reality, I think the worst part is what it took to make people start caring: the cancellation of MegaMan Legends 3. It was only after Legends 3’s failure to be greenlit that people started complaining, wailing and moaning that “we’d seen two MegaMan games cancelled”, while when MMU got cancelled, most people responded with a shrug and a resounding “meh”. It wasn’t an outrage until the game you wanted got trashed. It reminds me of the whole Operation Rainfall “movement”: sure, they talked about bringing all three games (Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower) to North America, but let’s face facts: as long as they got Xenoblade and Last Story, they were more than willing to throw Pandora’s Tower (the one game that actually looked interesting to me) under the bus, to the point where they declared total victory once Last Story got confirmed for NA release by XSEED. To them, Pandora’s Tower getting a release down the line was just a happy little bonus.
Of course, regardless of who’s to blame for the game’s cancellation or who used said cancellation to fuel feigned outrage, the point is no amount of ranting will ever bring this interesting little game back. But looking back at that MegaMan reveal for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS (really wish they had put more effort into coming up with a title), there was one little graphical detail that struck me as a bit strange. Despite the clearly Classic NES-inspired motions and design of the Blue Bomber, there were noticable creases in the cyan part of his armor. Not unlike those seen in the design of “MegaMan” in MegaMan Universe. It’s probably just a coincidence, but part of me still likes to think it’s just Nintendo’s way of paying homage to the cancelled game, sort of like how I believe that the upcoming Sonic Lost World is totally a revival of the cancelled Saturn game Sonic X-Treme, despite Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka saying he had never even heard of X-Treme beforehand. Just the thought that interesting old ideas that got scrapped can come back in some form just cheers me up, I guess. Maybe one day, we’ll see another attempt at a MegaMan game with a stage builder.