8-Bit is Enough

In the last of my MegaMan-oriented rants (or “MegaRants”, as I’ve oh-so-uncleverly dubbed them), you’ll remember that one of the points I made about a future MegaMan game would be the fact that the game needs to ditch the 8-bit, NES-inspired style of its forebearers seen in the two most recent games in the franchise (and the ascended fan-game Street Fighter x MegaMan). Let me go on the record to say that, while I honestly don’t care what graphical style future MegaMan games take, I am kind of shocked and appalled at the sheer hatred I’ve seen for any possible future entries in the Classic series taking on a more 8-bit appearance.

I mean, none of that hate was there 5 years ago, when MegaMan 9 was announced to the world. In fact, most people heralded it as a sign that MM9 would be an amazing game, it’s like MM2 all over again! (That statement irked me personally, but whatever.) Two years later, when MM10 was announced, reactions to the retro-inspired artstyle did a total 180. Things managed to get even more ridiculous when Street Fighter x MegaMan (which, again, started life as a fangame) was revealed with similar NES graphics. Let me reiterate: the MM fanbase lost their shit due to 8-bit graphics in a project that was developed by two guys (one of whom, really only worked on the music) and just got a little financial backing from Capcom. Talk about entitled, right?

Most of the arguments I’ve heard for abolishing the use of 8-bit sprites in MegaMan games forever have been pretty weak themselves. They’re overused? Considering the fact that a whopping grand total of 8 official MM games out of a series with games in the hundreds have NES-style graphics (and 6 of those were ON the NES), that seems like a really weak point to make. Other people have argued that this artistic choice is pandering to old-school gamers at the expense of alienating other audiences. Yeah, because modern-day MegaMan games don’t sell to a niche market, right? Yes, I know 2D platformers are finally starting to make a return outside of the Nintendo bubble. Doesn’t make my point irrelevant for the past 2.5 generations when they were dead as a doornail. I think the most ridiculous argument I heard anyone give was that the graphical style was “ugly”. Boy, did I tear that looney a new one.

Full disclosure: I actually always liked the 8-bit style. Honestly, I can’t even remotely comprehend the hatred old-school graphics evokes when it comes to MegaMan. It just seems like a bunch of sound and fury over something that, frankly, shouldn’t even matter. Frankly, I still think it’s ridiculous just how much, if you’ll excuse the term, “butthurt” the use of retro graphics in the next MegaMan game would create. It’s only one aspect of a game, one that isn’t even the most important in the genre it resides in and frankly, the in-game art design has never really been the foundation of the series’ long-lasting appeal. That honor belongs to solid gameplay and rocking soundtracks.

For me, seeing NES-style graphics is a mental shorthand for telling me that the game’s engine is likely pitch-perfect. Play any of the old-school NES MegaMans and then play their direct sequel, MegaMan 7 for the Super Nintendo. You’ll notice a key difference right from the get-go. The improved graphical fidelity (brought to us in part by larger sprites) has also brought with it some wonky mechanics: MegaMan’s jump height has gone from a healthy 5 times his height to an anemic 3. Anyone who claims they can’t feel the difference is a liar. Few Classic series games that have deviated from that retro flair have managed to retain the solid controls, physics and even visual cues necessary to make a truly fair and fun game, without having to pull back on the challenge, making the game as mediocre as its difficulty level.

Yes, other modern art-style choices can retain the fidelity of gameplay as well as 8-bit. But let’s face it, one of the artstyle’s biggest perceived weaknesses is also its greatest strength. See, the 8-bit artstyle may pander to the nostalgia crowd, that’s a pretty good market to tap into for the continued existence of “old-school platformers”. Similarly, the 8-bit style is iconic. Hell, take a look at the revamped design for the upcoming Smash Bros. Sure, the Blue Bomber resembles Keiji Inafune’s promotional art on the surface, but his mannerisms, his poses, his movements all resemble that of the old-school NES sprites. Sakurai even went on record saying that he wanted to make sure he captured the essence of the classic games and said that anything less wouldn’t have been worth putting into the game. Hell, the 8-bit artstyle even manages to infest various forms of fanart: who hasn’t seen characters from other video games, anime, movies, comic books or whatever media done up like the Blue Bomber, circa 1987?

But that’s not to say that I’d be against a revamp. Much like pretty much the entirety of the internet, I’d be perfectly happy if the next MegaMan game had a graphical style akin to that of the next SSB. 2.5D or HD 2D graphics (ala Rayman Origins or Shantae: Half-Genie Hero) would both be perfectly fine with me in this case. What bugs me, on the other hand, is that I’ve seen a disproportionate amount of people demanding that the Blue Bomber ditch one outdated artstyle for another. That’s right, I’ve literally seen people who want them to reuse the styles from MM7 or 8 in future MegaMan games., which just seems ass-backwards to me. I mean, if you do that, then not only would the graphics be outdated, but they’d also lack the sheer recognition of the 8-bit graphics.

This kinda goes for the X series as well. Don’t get me wrong, a 16-bit MMX9 would definitely make as much sense as the 8-bit throwbacks MM9 & 10: it’s the iconic graphical style of the franchise, despite only 3 of the 8 games in the series using it. After all, the original is still considered the most important game in that particular branch of the franchise. But, as with Classic, I’ve seen people advocate for a return to the 32-bit style (3 games used this as well, but only one was really all that good) and odder still, I’ve seen people demand a return to the 3D style from the PS2 era. Not just 2.5D graphics in general, I’m talking a literal return to the exact caliber and style used in the PS2 X games. Either way, I still think it’s weird, the sheer amount of hypocrisy of demanding a 16-bit MMX, while bemoaning another 8-bit Classic game is just bizarre. Seems like a case of “my nostalgia can beat up your nostalgia” to me, but whatever.

In the end, I guess I should reiterate a point I made earlier in the article. When it comes right down to it, graphics are probably one of the least important aspects of any good MegaMan game .We’ve seen the 8-bit games run circles around their later counterparts with improved graphics, all because of their superb gameplay, excellent controls, tight physics and melodious soundtracks. If the biggest concern any MegaMan fan can bring up about any future titles that get announced is whether or not they’ll be sufficiently pretty, then maybe we don’t even deserve any more games.

One thought on “8-Bit is Enough

  1. Pingback: Sum of Its Parts: MegaMan X9 | Retronaissance: The Blog!

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