Armchair Dev: MegaMan X9

I’ll be honest, this will be the second article I’ve written on the topic of building a new MegaMan X game. The last one I wrote was a few years back, as a part of my “Sum of Its Parts” series. You’re probably wondering what’s changed since then that would justify me writing another MMX9 proposal – especially when I’ve made it clear that the MMX series is my least favorite iteration of the MegaMan franchise. Well, a few things have changed from that previous article. For starters, I’ve managed to play the remainder of the series – X6, X7, X8 and Command Mission – which has given me various tips and tricks on how not to build a MegaMan game. Second, Capcom has recently been trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of customers and as such, a new MMX game feels way more possible especially with their refreshed approach to game design, remembering the games that brought them to prominence in the first place. Finally, the most important change is that this is a different series: I’m no longer limited to crafting a new game entirely from elements of the games of the past. This time, every aspect of design is subject entirely to my whims. A dangerous prospect from someone who claims to dislike the series, but I promise I’ll be gentle with my assessment – believe me, my editor will make sure of that.

Originally, I planned on doing this article as a sort of conclusion to my upcoming MegaMan X retrospective, which is coming out next month in honor of its 25th anniversary. However, I’ve got a gut feeling that if I wait until then to post this write-up, I’m going to get sniped again. The same way Capcom beat me to the punch last year by announcing MM11 well before my Classic series retrospective got posted – which concluded with a virtual obituary for the series. You know the old adage: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. This time around, I’m going to put it out there well before I assume Capcom will make an official announcement of MMX9 – which I’m assuming will come in December, just like last year.

Of course, on the other hand, it seems a bit presumptuous to write up an article without playing the latest game in the series: the aforementioned MegaMan 11, which came out last month. So, I decided to wait until I’d finished that game before starting this write-up. After all, it’s a good idea to know what direction Capcom is taking the series as a whole in the effort to refresh it for audiences new and old. And don’t you worry, I’ll plan on doing an article about a possible “MegaMan 12”—still need to decide the format – but you’re not going to see that until early next year. I’ve been advised by my editor to point out that X9 should happen before MM12, but let’s be honest – the X fanbase, like most fanbases, is full of zealots that would probably threaten anyone they came across who didn’t make that abundantly clear in the first place. I have few delusions about the size of my audience, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

I’ll be changing up the format a bit from last time. The headers will remain for the most part, but since there’s significantly less for me to micro-manage with a platformer than a fighting game – at least without outright turning this article into a fan fiction – there will be significantly less sub-headers, which should simplify things a fair amount. Also, considering the fact that I’m almost positive that MMX9 is already in development, I’ll be discussing both my own personal preferences and the path I believe Capcom is most likely to take, just to make things a little more interesting.

Story

Let’s start with the game’s storyline… or more specifically, where this new game could end up in the MegaMan X series’ timeline. You’d think it would be as simple as just setting this game after all of the mainline games that came before it, but both the history of the MMX sub-series and the tendency some Japanese publishers (Capcom especially) have of shunting unpopular games to the end of the timeline and setting future releases between them and their more popular predecessors put this certainty in jeopardy. The MMX series left us on a sour note – with two straight disappointing releases, ranging from mediocre to outright bad, capped off with a game that tried to right the course of the series but came up short. To make matters worse, from what I’ve seen, a majority of fans either consider the first or fourth game as the best in the series. That means that, best case scenario, the franchise peaked only halfway through what’s already been released so far. Not exactly the best sign, at least in my opinion.

The X series has a greater emphasis on an ongoing storyline than the original “Classic” MegaMan series, which opted for more episodic adventures akin to Saturday morning cartoons of a bygone era. MM11 opted to expand the storyline by exploring aspects of the franchise’s lore: specifically detailing what led to the end of Dr. Light and Wily’s friendship and the experiment that led to Wily becoming a pariah in the field of robotics. MMX, on the other hand, probably has the shallowest lore out of all of the MegaMan sub-series. Expanding the setting of 21XX would probably be a good idea overall, but that’s Capcom’s decision to make.

It’s also somewhat difficult to determine exactly what is canon within the X series. As far as I can tell, the RPG spinoff Command Mission is the only game that Capcom has outright stated is non-canon. Considering it takes place in 22XX – the same time period the Zero games are supposed to take place – I’m not surprised. The Xtreme spinoff games for the Game Boy Color are generally accepted to take place early in the game’s timeline: the first Xtreme takes place between X2 and X3, while the second takes place between X3 and X4. Maverick Hunter X is just a remake of the first game, but they made some changes to the story – such as the fate of Dr. Cain – so it’s hard to say if Capcom will consider either the SNES original or MHX canon when revisiting the series (or even mix aspects of both games).

To make matters even worse, even the mainline games fall victim to arguments regarding their canonicity. The first five games are safe – after all, X5 was originally meant to wrap up the X series. The remaining three are where arguments flare up. Some claim that because X6 was being made around the time the first Zero game was in development (managing to be released before it) as well as having an ending that seems to tie into MMZ, it’s the true final game in the franchise. Thus, X7 and X8 take place in a non-canon alternate timeline, much like but distinct from Command Mission’s timeline. I’ve seen some argue that X7 & 8 are canon, stating that the Zero and ZX games are non-canon – and then not really going into their opinions about whether or not Legends is still canonical. Then you’ve got a third camp that insists that both X7/X8 and Zero/ZX are canonical somehow: I guess they think that the Elf Wars should take place in future releases within the X series.

I’m not exactly sure which of these theories I follow: I guess I sort of oscillate between the “X5 was the last X game” and “everything mainline is canon” camps, but I outright hate the “Zero/ZX is non-canon” concept. I only bring this up to hammer home the fact that the X series will be difficult to continue in the first place. Every other active MegaMan series? The answer is obvious – MegaMan 12, a ZX3 to wrap up the trilogy, Legends 3 – progression is fairly simple because none of the other sub-series has the problems the X series does. Of course, none of these points are anything new if you’ve been reading my criticisms on the MMX series. Fortunately, in this case, they yield something positive: we actually have a topic worth discussing.

The first clear option is the most obvious: a true X9 – that is, a direct sequel to MegaMan X8. After all, X8 ended on a pretty big cliffhanger – one I’m not afraid to spoil right now, because the game literally came out over a decade ago. While the production of next-generation Reploids with copy-chip abilities would be delayed after it was discovered that they could still go Maverick, Lumine’s last attack on Axl has left him comatose, his forehead gem flickering with an ominous purple spark of energy. I’m not sure if Capcom meant for that to be such a blatant cliffhanger but that’s definitely how it came across back in 2004. This does seem to be the most popular option when it comes to fan demand – which is weird, given how much Axl is despised. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Capcom seems to be coming around to pushing other franchises past their most controversial points: Street Fighter V appears to be pushing towards revisiting the events of SF3 in some form and there’s been speculation that the upcoming Devil May Cry V might actually take place after the extremely unpopular DMC2. Either way, X8 was included in the recently released MegaMan X Legacy Collection 2, so fans at least have a refresher in case Capcom decides to continue from there.

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Subtle, but it’s there.

On the other hand, the least controversial option for a revival might be an interquel. It’s not exactly new territory for the X games: the Xtreme games fill in the gaps between X2 and X4 rather well, whether they’re considered canon or not. Going backward could allow Capcom to revisit the franchise’s less controversial days without nixing existing canon, allowing them to weigh their options about how to continue the franchise while sating the howls of hunger coming from the MMX contingent. In other words, an interquel may be Capcom’s best option of having their cake and eating it too. And it’s not like there aren’t other gaps that could be filled in the X timeline. Several new characters were added to the Maverick Hunters’ base of operation between X4 and X5, so that’s a plausible option – better yet, it could reintroduce these characters to lapsed fans who fell out of the series after the SNES games. Another option could be exploring what happens between X6 and X7: was there some kind of trauma that led X to temporarily retire by the start of X7? Finally, Capcom could do a game that takes place between X7 and X8. After all, Axl seems to be a fully-fledged Maverick Hunter by X8, while X7’s ending seems to put this status in doubt. Finding out how Axl proves himself to the seasoned X and Zero could be interesting to some extent, maybe even redeem the scrappy young Reploid in the eyes of the fanbase. Regardless, if Capcom decides to go this route, they’d technically be giving me something I’ve wanted for a long time: a third “Xtreme” game.

But aside from the clear ringers, are there any other options Capcom might have when they revisit the X series? Capcom could always decide to go with a soft reboot: effectively ignoring some of the more sweeping changes made to the status quo in future titles, while not necessarily undoing them. They could do a traditional X and Zero adventure while Axl is still healing from the injuries he received during X8’s conclusion, put decidedly little emphasis on Maverick Hunter HQ and just bring back Sigma without any explanation yet again. This might be a little harder to swing than it was for the Classic series – which is strictly episodic in nature – but honestly, the running storyline of the X games didn’t really begin to take shape until the fifth game anyway. While jettisoning some of those concepts might not be popular with everyone, it would probably do the best with bringing those aforementioned lapsed fans back into the fold with a story-light adventure clearly cut from the same cloth as the first 3 games.

My final two options don’t really necessitate separate mentions, but they are both clearly the most extreme options of the bunch. Capcom could choose to continue the attempted reboot that started with Maverick Hunter X or just completely reboot the series as a whole. After all, the scrapped first-person shooter “Maverick Hunter” was clearly a separate continuity from the traditional MMX games, so it’s not like it’s a completely foreign concept to Capcom. Meanwhile, Maverick Hunter X (along with its sister title, MegaMan Powered Up) was meant to spawn an entire series of remakes. I mean, it would probably be smarter to re-release MHX in some form before continuing that line of remakes – but whether they decide to do more straight remakes or just create an entirely new continuity from MHX’s modified premise, it could be a good way to refresh the X series as a whole: effectively keeping what worked and changing what didn’t.

So, what do I think Capcom’s going to do with their next game? My gut tells me they’re going to go with option 1 – an X9 that is a direct sequel to MMX8. Now that declaration may come across as arrogant, but fortunately I’ve got a piece of evidence to support my argument. The cover art for this new Legacy Collection’s soundtrack includes X and Zero jamming on guitars, a tambourine-clad Mettool and Alia and Axl singing a duet. The interesting thing is that both Alia and Axl have some slightly tweaked designs. They aren’t quite as radically different as the new MegaMan and Roll designs that popped up before MM11 was officially announced, but it does seem suspect that both of these characters from later games in the series would receive that kind of attention, while X and Zero’s designs don’t look all that different from the PS1 era, though the art style better resembles that of Maverick Hunter X.

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I think it’s funny that Alia’s the one with the mic stand.

As for me, I’m going for option 2. I’ll base my proposal as an interquel – I’ll be contemplating a game that takes place between X4 and X5. Personally, I wasn’t really a fan of how X5 felt almost like a total non-sequitur compared to its predecessor and given the following games’ greater focus on interconnected storylines. I also thought it was weird how many additional members of the Maverick Hunters were given focus from that point on, especially considering how even some of those characters – like Douglas and Lifesaver – fell by the wayside themselves in future titles. They don’t even really seem to get properly introduced within the context of X5: they’re just suddenly there, like they’ve always been there. I liked how the second Xtreme game “introduced” Iris as a Navigator for the Maverick Hunters, so seeing an interquel actually introduce some (if not all) of those new members might be a good pick.

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What a cute character. I’m sure she’s got a good long life in store for her.

I’d also love to see more of an exploration of the Repliforce concept: they were probably my favorite antagonistic force in the X series, but their history wasn’t explored nearly as much as it could’ve been. By X5, The Skiver Spiral Pegasus seems to be their last surviving combatant, but who’s to say there weren’t more before him? There’s a lot that could be explored during that period and it would also allow for a storyline that’s less muddled by some of the more controversial additions to the series, while also providing proper introductions for characters that became prominent from X5 onward. It also doesn’t hurt that X4’s my favorite game in the series, so of course I’d want to continue on from what I’d consider the pinnacle of the MegaMan X series in a new release. As such, I’d want this game to be given the same treatment as the Game Boy’s MegaMan V – an assortment of 8 unique bosses crafted exclusively for this game. Maybe even split the Mavericks into two groups of four, much like the previous Xtreme games (among others).

Gameplay

Now personally, I think that when it comes to the revival of MegaMan, the X series is probably the worst possible direction to go. You’d think this would come down to my personal preferences, but honestly – it’s strictly due to the fact that Capcom’s already brought back the Classic games. MegaMan X was originally built to effectively be a “Super MegaMan”, a game that was meant to update the conventions of the classic 8-bit platformer on the NES for the 16-bit era. In other words, bringing back X would be akin to starting an ice cream parlor that only serves French Vanilla and Vanilla Bean. Both styles have their respective fans and while I’d probably end up buying whatever new X game Capcom produces (as long as it looks as good as MM11 did), the MegaMan franchise is still in critical condition and in the past, the Classic and X series were pretty much never able to coexist without issue. There’s a certain cannibalization inherent among both sub-series: they could play nice with offshoots in different genres (Legends, Battle Network and Star Force) and even some of the more radical departures among 2D platformers (Zero and ZX), but the rise of one always seems to be predicated by the decline of the other.

Maybe Capcom’s learned their lesson about managing to give the same amount of attention to the Classic and X series, but warring fanbases is probably the least of their concerns. Avoiding series fatigue among the mainstream audience could be difficult, considering that’s what led to MegaMan’s decline in the first place. The best solution I can think of would be to emphasize the differences between the two. Bringing X into the third dimension was a clear mistake, so this will be a difficult task. Maybe borrow a few elements from some of MMX’s own successors, but perhaps the best way to handle it would be to play up some of the different gameplay elements found across the first six five X games.

In fact, MegaMan 11 is the major reason that I decided to wait so long to do this write-up: the trailers seemed to imply that in addition to regaining his slide and charge shot from later games, the Blue Bomber was going to be getting some new moves. New moves that might have aped some of X’s trademarks, making differentiating them more difficult. The one that caught my eye the most was using the Power Gear in tandem with the boss weapons – obviously a take on X’s ability to charge them. Fortunately, MM11 made that distinct enough from X’s concept. If I could use some fighting game terminology, the Power Gear-enhanced weapons resemble EX Specials, effectively just more powerful versions of the original weapons. X’s charged weapons, more often than not, were completely different from the standard versions. So that convention can help to differentiate the two, while remaining essentially unaltered.

On that note, the basic maneuvers typically found in the X games can be left unaltered for the most part. There’s enough overlap with a buster charging mechanic to allow it to appear in both games. X’s platforming is far more momentum based, relying upon dash-jumps, clinging to walls to slow descent and combining the two mechanics to scale to new heights with ease. Hopefully, the level design would be modified to actually rely on these abilities, as opposed to just making traditional MegaMan Classic-style stage layouts far more manageable – which is how many of the SNES games worked out.

Of course, the fifth game introduced a few new abilities to both X and Zero’s repertoire, ones that I’d say had mixed success. The duck was probably (aside from Dynamo) the best addition to X5 and fulfilled a long-running request among the fanbase: I’ve seen people begging for a crouch mechanic in NES MegaMan games. It was dropped in X8, but if Capcom wants to set a possible X9 away from MM11, bringing back the duck seems like it would be a simple fix. Given the fact that Classic’s slide allows him to navigate through specific passages and dodge some enemy attacks while X favors a much more momentum-based dash, the duck clearly has value within the X series.

The other major addition that came into play in X5 were the ziplines. I kind of want to like the mechanic, but for the most part, they were just used to navigate spike-lined areas. I do recall a few interesting instances where players had to jump from zipline to zipline to scale a specific area, but more often than not, it was just “don’t touch the spikes for less than a screen length”. I’ve got a gut feeling that this mechanic has some real potential, I just can’t work out how. Maybe use the Zero games for inspiration…

As for more good luck regarding the revival of the X series, MegaMan 11 (at least upon its initial release) has stuck to a single playable character, an absolute godsend for X fans. Later games in the X series – technically starting with X3, but I’d argue it really took shape in X4 – offered players the choice between multiple playable characters. While other series (specifically ZX and especially later releases in the Classic series) would use these mechanics, they were likely used best in the X games. Zero’s melee combat added a new dimension to the MegaMan formula – and one so complex, it served as the premise for yet another spinoff – and no other attempt really managed to be such a game-changer: Bass probably came the closest in Rockman & Forte, boasting aimable rapid fire, X-style dashing and his incredibly overpowered double jump. As a brief aside, Protoman’s playstyle in MM9 & MM10 relied on exclusively possessing the charge shot and slide, so I’m wondering how they’d tweak his playstyle if they decide to bring him back in future installments.

Speaking of, I guess it’s a good time to break down exactly how each character should work in these new games.

X

Let’s start with the Blue Bummer title character himself. X’s playstyle shouldn’t vary too much from the previous games: as per usual, he should start out with the most basic moveset of the three, only to be augmented with armor collected throughout the eight boss Maverick stages. In other words, most of what X’s base form is capable of is what the other playable characters should be capable of. His mobility options consist of the dash, dash-jump, wall-grab and wall climb. Obviously, he should also have a two-level charge shot, just like always. Oh, and since Classic didn’t end up using this in MM11, give X the ability to use his X-Buster while he has a weapon equipped. Give him the duck and zipline if the other characters have them too. Basically, base form X should probably be the benchmark for what any other playable characters should be capable of doing.

As for the armor, I’m a little torn. While I sort of liked the later games’ option of offering X multiple armors, the fact that he needed a full set to utilize any of their parts was unacceptable. Eventually, I decided on a compromise between the way extra components were handled in X3 and X8. All eight Maverick levels will have their own capsules – two apiece for Head, Arm, Body and Leg parts. The first of each type of Capsule the player finds will grant them the base armor. If they find the second one, they have the choice to upgrade them in one of two ways. So, for example: when the player finds the first leg part capsule, they gain the ability to air dash. When they find the second, they’re given the ability to choose between the vertical air dash from X3 or the ability to air-dash out of a dash-jump.

These are just examples, but essentially, there would be greater emphasis on player choice and customization. Each part would look distinct from the rest, allowing players the ability to understand what X is capable of at a glance. Obviously though, the basic parts would allow for X’s standard armor upgrades: the helmet would decrease the amount of ammo used by special weapons; the body armor would halve damage taken and the Buster upgrade would allow X an additional charge level for his buster and the aforementioned ability to charge boss weapons.

The Ultimate Armor would likely return, allowing the player full access to all of these enhanced abilities without choice. On top of that, give it an exclusive Giga Attack, perhaps based on a Street Fighter technique for old time’s sake? I’d also suggest reserving the Ultimate Armor as a hidden power-up in one of the Fortress levels – like in X3 and X5 – as opposed to making it strictly accessible via cheat code: make it both a reward for the players who clearly don’t need it (complete with achievement!) and an extra crutch for less-skilled players.

One last thing: if they decide to do another Street Fighter Easter egg – either with the Ultimate Armor or otherwise – I’d like to throw my support towards Blanka’s rolling attacks.

Zero

Next, we come to my personal favorite: the ultimate creation of [REDACTED], Zero. For Zero, I’m clearly going to be drawing from a number of sources – the PS1-era games, X8 and of course, the MegaMan Zero tetralogy. He’s got all of base form X’s mobility options, as well as the double jump and air-dash he has by default in many of the MMX games where he’s playable. Zero should retain his standard 3-hit combo attack and air-slash from X4-X6 (and the crouching slash from X5-X6), but also gain access to the charge slash from the Zero games, just for the sake of adding something new to his gameplay. Zero’s standard techniques – his own prizes for defeating the Maverick bosses – should be a mixture of old favorites and some original attacks, if at all possible. It’s a little boring cycling through the same techniques with different elements attached to them all the time.

Speaking of which, I was trying to think of a possible power-up for Zero that would effectively fulfill the same “collectable” niche that X’s armor fills. At the same time, I considered implementing the Element Chips from the Zero games, but those seem a little ham-fisted for Zero’s playstyle in the X games, particularly due to his emphasis on techniques rather than using two weapons in tandem. It was at that point that it hit me: Zero’s Weapons (introduced in X8) could fulfill a similar niche. While the Z-Saber itself would be an all-around weapon with the standard properties present for each technique, the optional weapons could be associated with a specific element, change up specific moves (like they did in X8) and maybe finding them could even unlock special techniques of their own that can be used by Zero with any other weapon, but are significantly more useful with their corresponding weapon. Better yet, they could even be prizes for defeating exclusive mini-bosses hidden in specific stages, like how X gained the body armor in the original MegaMan X.

Bonus: Axl

While my pitch doesn’t actually include the newest playable member of the Maverick Hunters, it still seems like it would be worth it to put forth my own ideas about the character. Keep the hover and aimable rapid fire from X8, but Capcom, please, take this one suggestion under advisement. I have a foolproof 3-step plan to fix Axl’s playstyle. Step 1: play MegaMan ZX Advent. Step 2: Just use the boss copy mechanic for Axl’s boss abilities. Step 3: That’s it, there is no step 3.

It’s infuriating that I even have to say this, but considering the fact that Inti Creates came up with a Biometal that was clearly based on Axl (but somehow also wasn’t based on him) in order to point this out to you is obscene. To make matters worse, you actually ended up using this concept for his Action Trigger – he was literally the only character in the game that got legitimate rewards after defeating the game’s major bosses! – in Command Mission. To make matters worse, it’s clear that Axl was always capable of this. He turned into Red in X7 and other Reploids outfitted with his copy chip technology also transformed into Sigma to survive planetary impact in X8. Like, I get that in X7, he was meant to be a replacement for X… but in X8, you just gave him his own set of alternative boss weapons. Just let the kid transform into the Maverick bosses already!

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The worst part is that Model A wasn’t even based on Axl in-universe, it was just a coincidence!

It’s so simple, it’s actually infuriating that this didn’t occur to them back in 2004. And I don’t even like Axl – mainly because he never uses the cool gimmick he has in any meaningful way! Instead, Capcom just allowed him to transform into random standard enemies. Honestly, that could probably be his Armor/Weapon equivalent: special non-boss transformations that improve his mobility or grant him abilities he wouldn’t have otherwise. Like, maybe one of these minor transformations would allow him to travel over spikes without taking damage, but severely hamper his mobility. Or he could transform into a flying enemy but doing so would limit his attack or defense abilities substantially. That way, his traditional transformations remain, but they would be significantly less useless than they were in the first place.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about X9 or “Xtreme 3”, I’ve got my doubts about including any other playable characters outside of X, Zero and yes, even Axl. Much like MM11, a new game should reestablish the existing property in the eyes of fans, new and old. Yet, I guess I’d be in remiss if I didn’t mention Vile from Maverick Hunter X. He had a unique playstyle, having access to three different weapon types at any given moment – taking a small arsenal of weapons into each stage. To make matters more interesting, many of Vile’s weapons are unlocked by defeating multiple bosses, as opposed to just getting a single weapon per boss. While I’ve got no doubt that Vile will likely return as a boss character in any new MMX game, I see two avenues for bringing back this playstyle. The first would be to introduce a brand-new Maverick Hunter character that takes on Vile’s gameplay. I don’t really see that happening just due to the sheer number of reintroductions a new X game would have to contend with in the first place. Personally, I prefer my second idea: a DLC expansion – with unique bosses and levels – from Vile’s perspective. I doubt Capcom would put something like that in the base game, but it could be a smart way to expand on whatever Capcom puts out.

Now when it comes to the method of separating playable characters, I’m a little bit torn. While I think making completely separate playthroughs for each character – the way X4 handled it – was probably for the best overall, I was a fan of some of the tag-team maneuvers from X8. Still, the negatives of allowing players to switch characters on the fly outweigh the positives: while X8 was able to mitigate some of the harm by tying power-ups to a haphazardly-implemented store system instead of finite power-ups, the fact is that the other games that allowed for character swapping within a playthrough seemed to punish players for attempting to branch out. In X5, the player not chosen for the intro stage loses a unique power-up permanently – but even then, Zero got the short end of the stick. Every game aside from X8 tied health upgrades to finite Heart Tanks or other character-exclusive upgrades, so players were stuck with a choice between playing strictly with one character or effectively gimping both to some extent. As such, just go back to X4 method of separate modes for separate characters. Best of all, that would mean extra replay value.

On that note, I’d just go back to the classic health upgrade system from the earlier games: 8 heart tanks, each one hidden in one of the Maverick boss stages. Same goes for the Sub Tanks, though I’d probably use the breakdown from X4: 2 health tanks, 1 weapon tank and an EX tank that increases the default number of lives. On that note, considering how much better Classic handles the shop mechanic, all power-ups in any new X game should probably be limited to collectibles. X8 attempted to mesh the two, but let’s be honest: finding schematics for power-ups that needed to be purchased later harmed both the shop and collectible aspects of the game in equal measure. Besides, if Capcom forces separate playthroughs per character (like X4 and Xtreme 2 did), there’s no need to worry about balancing upgrades anyway.

I guess the important distinction between MegaMan 11 and a new X game is they’re best approached from opposing angles. MM11 was built from the ground up to breathe new life into the Classic series not only due to MegaMan’s hiatus as a whole, but specifically because the latest two games – MegaMans 9 and 10 – were full-on throwbacks, right down to their 8-bit presentation. MegaMan X had the opposite problem with its last two mainline entries: X7 was an extreme departure from the gameplay of previous titles, attempting to reimagine the classic platforming gameplay in the third dimension, while X8 attempted to bridge the classic and more experimental styles into a single game with mixed results. In other words, MMX would benefit from the exact “back to basics” approach that people grew tired of in the Classic games. Although, if there’s one thing I’d want “X9” (or whatever Capcom decides to do with the X series) to carry over from MegaMan 11, it would have to be the length of its stages. Also, it would be nice if stages had different layouts depending on the player character.

Aesthetic

A game’s presentation is a funny thing. In the grand scheme of things, it really shouldn’t have that much importance in game development. But in practice, it both acts as advertisement – being the first things prospective customers recognize about a game – and help to solidify good memories of the game, with gorgeous visuals, catchy music and vivid storylines coming to mind as easily as engrossing gameplay. Keeping that in mind, what style of aesthetics should Capcom explore when reviving a franchise that hasn’t been seen since the mid-2000s?

Graphics

The previous times where I’ve explored the concept of a MegaMan X9, I pointed out that determining the art style would likely be the most controversial decision that Capcom would have to make. While my opinion hasn’t entirely shifted on that, my understanding of the argument has changed since then. It’s clear that going 2.5D – again, using 3D models in a 2D space as games like Maverick Hunter X and MegaMan 11 did – is probably the safest answer at this point. While I’ve no doubt that there are significant contingents of the fanbase demanding a return to both 16-bit (styled after the first three games) and 32-bit (X4-X6), there are now three factions likely to be against either decision to consider.

Obviously, you still have both younger and modern-minded gamers that consider sprites passé to contend with, but the other two couldn’t be any more different from each other. There are gamers that are just outright sick of retro throwbacks in general. After all, when MegaMan 9 launched in 2008, reviving the 8-bit look of the Classic NES games was lauded as original by audiences. But a mere two years later, MegaMan 10 was considered lazy and outdated while using the same art style. Since then, we’ve been inundated with several similar pseudo-retro throwbacks – particularly common among indie games – and as such, there’s been a growing backlash against anything of the type, even games that take inspiration from later generations. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got retro connoisseurs that will turn up their noses at anything that isn’t 100% accurate to whatever hardware the game’s aesthetic is trying to evoke. If a game has too many colors onscreen or too many sprites without flicker or slowdown, then it’s automatically just poseur trash.

While that last demographic likely won’t be pleased by anything that isn’t on a SNES cartridge, the other two will likely look upon any art style aside from a totally hand-drawn 2D game with disdain. And I sincerely doubt that Capcom would put in for a budget large enough to sustain that, even if MegaMan 11 ends up being the highest-selling game in the entire series. The question is, how do they differentiate it from MM11? After all, it did end up kind of resembling Maverick Hunter X more than MegaMan Powered Up. I mean, the promotional artwork for both the Classic and X series didn’t really differ that much from one another in the first place but as I said before, it is absolutely critical for Capcom to differentiate MMX from the Classic series. I’m just not sure how Capcom could go about doing that.

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Seriously, tell me with a straight face that this doesn’t look like a SNES-era X game.

Originally, I considered suggesting going with a darker color scheme overall, but MM11 managed to transition seamlessly between brighter environments and some with color palettes and even background designs that came straight out of the 2D MMX titles.  Maybe they should style the entire game around those alternate outfits from Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. You know, the ones with those glowing details like out of Tron? After all, the original MegaMan’s new look in 11 was clearly inspired by his appearance in the recent Smash Bros. games. The only other option I can think of would be to go for a grittier, less saturated art style. I mean, going realistic probably wouldn’t mesh well with the existing designs – unless they decide to go for the look they went for in that cancelled “Maverick Hunter” reboot.

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…well, maybe it needs a few tweaks.

My own pitch for a third Xtreme game, on the other hand, would be better suited with classic sprites. However, at the risk of catching a bullet through the temple from my esteemed editor, I’d say that emulating the 32-bit sprites of the games that debuted on the original PlayStation would be a more apt choice, given the fact that I’ve set it between the first two games in that style – X4 and X5, respectively. Given the implication that the game would be a spinoff, I think a more retro aesthetic would be appreciated. After all, both episodes of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 suffered from criticism due to using modern designs while Sonic Mania received praise for attempting the same thing with a suitably retro-themed aesthetic. My only real suggestion would be to emulate the 32-bit art style as opposed to outright recycling old graphics. Maintain the familiar look – maybe even try to find a happy medium between the SNES and PS1 designs, if it can be done – but utilize modern conventions, like more fluid animations or an aesthetic that manages to mimic the limited resolutions of old while being far more detailed.

Music

I’ve said it too many times before and I’ll keep saying it forever, it’s impossible to ignore just how important a good soundtrack is for any MegaMan game is: there’s a reason they call it “Rockman” in Japan. MegaMan 11’s soundtrack was subject to intense scrutiny because of the series’ reputation, though I’d say that the game’s musical flaws stemmed from the instrumentation rather than the compositions themselves. If you don’t believe me, try tracking down the “Wily Numbers Instrumental” pre-order bonus tracks sometime – they’re amazing.

Each MegaMan sub-series went for their own unique styles to differentiate themselves from their sister series.  The X series is unique in the sense that it straddled multiple styles across its lifespan. The first game had a diverse soundtrack, but the second and third games went for more of a heavy metal-inspired sound, clearly emboldened by the more mature setting of 21XX. However, the shift to 32-bit with X4 on the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation brought a much more electronic sound to the series: a move considered controversial in retrospect, but frankly, I preferred it. Later games in the series would attempt to bridge the gap between both prominent styles. Personally, I’d like to see a game implement a diverse soundtrack like the original MMX with tracks that emphasize both the hard rock and techno influences from previous games. You’d have tracks that were strictly heavy metal, songs that are strictly electronic and others that utilize both motifs in their composition.

Most of all, I’d love to see an X game’s soundtrack rip off the main concept behind MegaMan 10’s soundtrack: bring back composers from the previous games and put each one of them in charge of one of the Maverick bosses’ stages. This might be a little more difficult than it was in MM10, simply because more of the X games’ soundtracks were composed by multiple people, but it would still be an interesting gimmick to implement into a new game. Best of all, it even ties into my previous concept: farming out the music to different composers would result in a varied soundtrack by default.

Presentation

This is a new sub-header, so I believe an explanation is in order. Effectively, in this context, “presentation” would refer to things like how the game presents its storyline. In the grand scheme of things, this really shouldn’t matter. It’s still fun to speculate on what Capcom should do here. Besides, the main purpose on this article is to find more ways to differentiate a potential new X game from this year’s MegaMan 11 and presentation seems like a safe and easy way to do that.

MM11 handled most of its story like the 8-bit games of old: through classic slideshows (with lovingly hand-drawn art rendered in high definition) and cinematics using the in-game models (with voice acting). While these are the same methods that various X games have employed in the past, it may be for the best to go in a different direction where possible. The latest games in the X series were able to create both pre-rendered and in-game cutscenes with voice acting using 3D models, so that might be something worth emulating in an X9. It would help to create a cohesive aesthetic across the entire game if the cast of characters retains a similar appearance from in-game action to story material.

In “Xtreme 3’s” case, I’d probably want some anime-style cutscenes for pivotal moments – like those found in X4 and the “CD-ROM” version of MMX3 – but would be fine with voice-acted slideshows like the ones found in X5 (and MM11) for plot exposition. It does seem like the least realistic thing I could ask for though: 2D animated cutscenes seem to have gone the way of the dodo – I think the last Capcom game that had them was one of the Street Fighter IV games and that only happened because they partnered with an anime production studio to produce some OVAs. I’ve got my doubts that Capcom would set up a similar deal for X9, but I guess stranger things have happened.

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This is probably the second coolest thing X has ever done.

If there’s one thing I’d like to see in the game, regardless of what Capcom does, would be full dialogue exchanges with the Maverick bosses. I was a little disappointed that we simply got quips in MegaMan 11 similar to the ones present in MM8, but honestly, that probably fit better. So, in the end, it works to our advantage when differentiating the two. MegaMan X has many more examples of full pre-boss battle conversations throughout its existence, especially when they added multiple characters which had their own unique exchanges with each boss. Every mainline game from X4 on as well as Command Mission and Maverick Hunter X had them, with later titles even including full voice acting. Hopefully, Capcom will continue that streak with whatever new games they make in the X series. Obviously, these conversations should be skippable – in fact, it would be nice if Capcom added a “speedrun” setting that would just automatically excise dialogue, preferably as an unlockable bonus after completing the game or just as an option by default.

On that note, I guess I might as well discuss the Maverick bosses themselves. As per usual, I’m going to avoid coming up with any specific ideas for Mavericks – those days are far behind me – but I will give a few comments on design elements I’d like to see in general. For starters, I’d like to see them take on a variety of styles, ranging from the typical “animal head on generic muscular robot body” style typical of the series to designs that are much more evocative of the flora and fauna that serve as the basis for the bosses themselves. It would also be a good idea to make one of the Mavericks a female. There were female Reploid bosses in the Zero and ZX series and people seemed to be dismayed when MM11 didn’t have a female boss. It wouldn’t even be that out of the ordinary for X fans: for years, people apparently believed that Commander Yammark and somehow even Cyber Peacock (which is debunked by his name alone) were female.

Aside from that, I’d love to see a variety of different types of animals represented among this batch of Mavericks. That means at least one bird, one sea creature, one type of plant, one insect and probably either a lizard or amphibian. I’d rather not see a breakdown like MMX3, where the Mavericks were all either insects, sea creatures or mammals. On that note, I want Capcom to revert to the classic naming conventions for the boss Mavericks: the English versions should be literal, while puns should be exclusively reserved for the Japanese names. Seriously, what is “Vanishing Gungaroo” supposed to be mean – is it a reference to the bad camera angles during his boss fight? And I can’t find any explanation for “Commander Yammark”, I’m assuming he was a dragonfly but what does “Yanmaku” mean? If MM11 was able to break conventions and give two Robot Masters distinctly unique names in English and Japanese (as opposed to a mere Crash/Clashman scenario), then X9 can do the same.  I’ve got one final note on the naming front. I would love it if a new X game didn’t recycle any of the previous adjectives from previous games – we’ve got 3 “Flame” Mavericks in English versions already. Bonus points if they manage to get titles that haven’t even been used in any of the other series for boss names.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, this section is meant for various other miscellaneous points I’d like to bring up that don’t necessarily fit into any of the prominent categories or their sub-headers. For example, I believe that this game should probably get the same treatment as MegaMan 11 in terms of its release: a $30 price point with a physical edition on consoles – not to mention a slightly more expensive special edition. While we haven’t seen any confirmation of DLC in MegaMan 11 – aside from the preorder bonus – I completely support any sort of Vile-centered “remix” campaign as post-release content.

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This is the only legitimate reason to like this character.

It would also be interesting if they attempted to recreate the X Challenge mode from the recent Legacy Collections – either as DLC or bonus content. As such, this mode would contain bosses from the new game as well as full-on recreations of classic boss fights. Both MMX8 and Maverick Hunter X would easy to source for classic fights, considering that they also had 2D boss fights relying on 3D models, so they could probably be implemented into the base game with relative ease. Bosses from other classic games would need to be rebuilt from scratch, so they’d probably make more sense as additional post-release content, though weapons from other games would probably be easy enough to recreate for launch. On that note, why limit this mode to just X? Let Zero and Axl in on the action too, if they’re playable in the new game. Aside from that, maybe a new set of challenge stages – perhaps themed as training simulations for the Maverick Hunters?

And with that, my second article in the Armchair Dev series comes to its conclusion. But what do you think? Am I completely offbase for saying that a retro-themed art style would spark a backlash? Would you also rather see a third game in the Xtreme series than a continuation of X8’s storyline? Would you rather see another MegaMan series get a revival? (I know I would.) Feel free to sound off in the comments.

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