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.

2010SF

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.

kevin

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.

sf2010-01.png

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.

sf2010-02

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.

sf2010-03

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.

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.

Darkstalkers_Chronicle_The_Chaos_Tower_group

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.

downs

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.

dark-force

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.

bSsX1zC

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.

win-lose

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.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 4]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

bba-mm

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.

mvci

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]

Mega_man_logo

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.

MM7-03

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.

MM7-01

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.

MM7-02

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.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 2]

MMLogo2

Welcome back to my retrospective look at the MegaMan franchise, particularly at the “Classic” branch of the series that started it all. My previous articles looking back at long-running franchises ran a little too long for their own good, so I decided to break this one up into multiple parts. Last time, I looked at the first 3 MegaMan games, as well as their remake, The Wily Wars. I also discussed the first two MegaMan games Capcom licensed out to another company, the infamous Mega Man and Mega Man 3, released on IBM-compatible PCs by Hi Tech Expressions, Inc. and developed by Rozner Labs. This time around, I’ll be finishing up MegaMan’s stint on the Nintendo Entertainment System, looking at MegaMan 4, 5 and 6. After a few quick words on the Japanese-exclusive Rockman Complete Works, I’ll also be looking at what are perhaps the most recognizable spinoffs in the entire series: the five games that were released on the Game Boy.

MegaMan 4

While the first three MegaMan games are generally pretty well-regarded as being among the best games that the NES had to offer, the exact opposite can be said for the other games that appeared on the 8-bit institution. Having said that, MegaMan 4 definitely gets the most love of the remaining titles on the NES. Personally, I think it’s unwarranted. MM4’s flaws are significantly more minor when compared to other lesser games in the series, but they were pretty fundamental to the game’s design in a way that they’re difficult to isolate without completely reinventing the game from scratch. Likewise, 4 managed to introduce a gameplay mechanic that would both become synonymous with later games in the series and even future iterations in the franchise, but brought it about in such a haphazard way that it ultimately gutted one of the franchise’s trademark mechanics for years to come. MegaMan 4 is certainly not one of the worst games in the entire series, but it would definitely cripple its future – something I’d argue is far more damaging to this beloved franchise’s legacy than lame robot masters or mediocre one-offs ever could be.

Considering the previous game’s developmental woes, it’s almost reassuring to hear Keiji Inafune recount that there were relatively few problems during MegaMan 4’s development. In fact, one of the major issues the game had was trying to sift through the sheer amount of fan submissions this game had for boss designs – with over 70,000 submissions in total! In fact, during development, designer Hayato Kaji – the man who would go on to design the characters for MegaMan X – stated that they were so impressed with Skullman’s design that they ended up scrapping a completed stage so they could create an entirely new one, based on his gimmick. MegaMan 4 also introduced a brand-new villain character: Russian roboticist Dr. Mikhail Cossack, but originally the character concept was significantly different. Originally named “Dr. Vice”, he was originally intended to be much younger than Dr. Light and Dr. Wily and they even toyed with the idea of making the character American instead. The Cold War’s approaching conclusion likely led to Capcom favoring Russian influences, something that would also likely affect the design of similarly Russian Street Fighter character Zangief. Likewise, the new support character Eddie was designed with the concept of a lottery in mind, rewarding the player with an item that would either be a pleasant surprise or disappointing.

In Japan, MegaMan 4 had the subtitle, “A New Evil Ambition!” and given the game’s storyline, it’s a fitting name. One year has passed since Dr. Wily’s latest scheme. After stealing the giant peace-keeping robot Gamma and using it to exact his revenge upon MegaMan, Wily was thought to have perished in the ensuing collapse of his base after Gamma was defeated by MegaMan. Since then, the world has been at peace. This fragile peace is short-lived, however – a Russian scientist by the name of Dr. Cossack issues a message to Dr. Light. Claiming that Light has overshadowed his own scientific genius, he has sent eight of his most powerful robots to challenge and destroy MegaMan in order to prove that he is the superior roboticist. Cossack’s army of robots begin to make their move, seizing control of eight cities in the process. Armed with his new and improved Mega Buster – developed by Dr. Light in secret – MegaMan sets off to stop this new threat.

MM4-01

Don’t know why, but this always looked so cool to me.

While the first three games in the series attempted to experiment with their mechanics to at least some degree, MegaMan 4 was clearly the point where the franchise’s game design began to solidify, while at the same time providing swansongs to various gameplay mechanics. I think it’s easiest to summarize MegaMan 4 like so: it was clearly built as a reaction to MegaMan 3, possibly in an effort to recreate the magic of the second game – which is still the most successful game in the franchise to this day. Having said that, this game borrows elements from all three of the previous games: while the various Rush-based support items return and are still acquired by defeating specific bosses, there are also a couple of other support items that are completely optional, hidden in various robot master stages, much like the Magnet Beam was in the first game. That’s not to say that there aren’t any new elements added to the game. For starters, bosses now have hit-invincibility after taking damage, which definitely adds to the game’s challenge and would become the standard for future titles. As I mentioned earlier, Eddie is a brand-new support robot, built to assist MegaMan on his mission, doling out a random power-up at a specific point in a stage – similar in function to the “? Cans” from the previous game, but much less common, only appearing on select stages. Eddie often gives out a large weapon energy power-up, but occasionally he’ll give out a large health, an extra life or even an E-Tank.

Of course, all those changes are minor compared to the biggest change that MegaMan 4 had to offer: the “New Mega Buster”. MegaMan’s standard arm cannon can still fire its usual three shots at a time, but if the button is held down, it can be charged for a short amount of time and unleashed as a large, powerful shot. The charge has two separate levels: while the first only produces a larger shot that deals the same amount of damage as a standard one, a fully-charged shot is larger still and deals three times the damage of a standard shot. While this sounds like a great improvement, it had an unfortunate side effect: the charge shot absolutely destroys the efficiency of the various boss weaknesses. For most bosses in MM4, their weaknesses do roughly 4 points of damage per hit. Therefore, the charged Mega Buster shot is generally considered to be a secondary weakness for just about everything in the game. Balance that with the fact that the Mega Buster has infinite ammo and it becomes a much more attractive option compared to any of the boss weapons. I remember seeing that Super Castlevania IV episode of Sequelitis from Egoraptor a long time ago – the one where he opined that because the whip could be aimed, it effectively made the traditional sub-weapons useless and therefore, the game was technically a bad sequel to the previous Castlevanias – and I think MM4 should’ve been that video’s subject. The worst part about all of this is that while Capcom would eventually find inventive solutions to this problem, it still took time to do so, and other games suffered as a result.

MM4-02

In retrospect, the water stage was the worst choice to showcase a charge shot.

Then there’s MegaMan 4’s other major flaw: its level design. That’s not to say that the stage layouts in MM4 are bad, more that they’re boring – which I would argue is much worse. Personally, I could barely remember many of the levels from the game, to the extent where I actually decided to watch a quick playthrough on YouTube just to refresh my memory on them. I followed that up with the boneheaded mistake of doing the same for another game in the series – its direct sequel, MegaMan 5 – for comparison’s sake right after, which certainly dulled my memory. While previous (and future) MegaMan games would often employ gimmicks to reflect either the abilities of the boss for each stage or the setting itself, MM4 takes this to a whole new level …and then proceeds to do nothing meaningful with their gimmicks. Most stages employ two gimmicks, but that generally seems to be it: the gimmicks are the level design. In most games in the series, gimmicks would be introduced, in situations that teach the player about how to overcome them. Then they would later be expanded upon with new, more difficult variations – bringing out their inherent potential, and by extension, leading to a fun game design. Most of the stages in MegaMan 4 don’t appear to leave that first phase, at least not in my experience. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the gimmicks are generally utilized separately from one another: a big mistake, given the fact that cross-pollinating them would often lead to more difficult and varied stage designs. It’s a shame, there are actually some interesting concepts present in a few of the stages: it would’ve been fun to see a more complex use of Ringman’s disappearing platforms or the rising and falling water levels in Diveman’s stage.

MegaMan 4 also relies upon one new gimmick in a number of stages: mini-bosses that block Rock’s progress. While Protoman was arguably the first mini-boss in MegaMan history, and previous games had large enemies that took several hits to defeat, the mini-bosses in MM4 combine both aspects to create something that would become a recurring element in future titles. The problem is that, while the Protoman fights were short and the large enemies could be bypassed simply by taking a hit and using the post-damage invincibility frames to walk past them, neither is the case with MM4’s mini-bosses. They aren’t particularly engaging to fight – they’re usually either bullet-sponges or just remain invincible most of the time with brief windows of vulnerability – and they slow the game’s pace to a crawl. They’re more annoying than difficult, essentially just feeling like a waste of time.

MM4-05

I love how this boss fight is literally just a claw machine.

Apparently, the developers on MegaMan 4 were at least somewhat inspired by its direct predecessor: the game has two entire boss fortresses, bringing the grand total of stages to a lofty 16. After fighting through Dr. Cossack’s armored Citadel, MegaMan ends up in a climactic clash with his new opponent. Just as he’s about to deal the final blow on Cossack’s weaponized claw machine, Protoman comes in – with a young girl, donning an ushanka and a heavy red jacket. She’s Kalinka, Cossack’s daughter. As it would turn out, Dr. Wily is alive and well and kidnapped her to blackmail Cossack into working for him, but now that the jig is up, Wily reveals his own fortress. All things considered, it was a nice twist – even inventive for the time – and there’s just something quaint about the game pretending like Wily isn’t the final boss after all. MM4 also introduces the Wily Capsule, a boss fight format that would inspire the final bosses of several future games in the Classic series. Passwords return, but they no longer save the number of Energy Tanks MegaMan has collected. Fortunately, players can revisit cleared stages – likely due in part to the return of collectable items – and as such, it’s easy to grind for E-Tanks prior to tackling the game’s fortresses.

Let’s move onto the items. I’ve already described the Mega Buster in detail, so we’ll just skip that for now. MegaMan 4 may very well have the most support items of any game in the entire series, I certainly can’t think of one that exceeds or even matches it off the top of my head. Rush Coil and Rush Marine return from MegaMan 3, exactly as they were in the previous game. Rush Jet also returns, but I’m afraid it’s been – excuse the pun – neutered. While the previous game gave players a full range of motion, the Rush Jet now better resembles a slower moving Item-2, only affording user input on the rocket sled’s height. This was probably what was originally intended for the Rush Jet all along, but it still hurts to see it lose its original overpowered nature. Rush Coil is, once again, available from the start. Rush Marine is obtained from beating Toadman, while defeating Drillman nets players the Rush Jet. As I said earlier, there were two other support items completely unrelated to Rush. They’re optional and don’t really afford MegaMan with any truly significant abilities, but there are fun little things to hunt for. The Balloon Adapter, found in Pharoahman’s stage, is essentially the Item-1 from MM2, only redrawn to better resemble a hot air balloon. The Wire Adapter is a grappling hook which can only fire upward, found in Diveman’s stage. Both of the Adapter support items are significantly harder to find than the Magnet Beam from the first game – completely out of view, unless you know exactly where to get them – but still, just neat little challenges that spice up the level design a little bit.

MM4-03

My favorite part of the Wire Adapter is the “looking up” sprite they made for MegaMan.

With those out of the way, let’s get onto the weapons. Five of the eight weapons from MM4 are essentially inspired by weapons from MegaMan 2, while one is similar to a weapon from the third game. As with the previous list, I’ll be ranking these in my own personal order of preference, from best to worst. My top choice in this game is easily the Pharaoh Shot. Another chargeable weapon like the Mega Buster, I consider it an improvement on MM2’s Atomic Fire: it has better ammo consumption, the ability to aim it in six directions – forward, back and all diagonals, but not straight up or down – and better still, a second charged shot appears above MegaMan’s head while charging, not only signifying the weapon’s charge level, but also entirely capable of damaging any enemy unlucky enough to collide with it. That’s right, you get two charge shots for the price of one! Next up would have to be the Dive Missile, one of MegaMan 4’s two completely original weapons. It’s essentially a homing missile that seeks out the nearest enemy and rams right into it. I suppose one could make a comparison to MM3’s Magnet Missile, but the tracking abilities on this weapon are much more robust, to the extent where it feels entirely new. Third on my list would have to be the Drill Bomb, which is essentially a vastly improved Crash Bomb. It deals the same payload, but not only does it detonate immediately on impact, the explosion can also be triggered at will by hitting the fire button a second time. After that, the other completely original weapon, Toadman’s Rain Flush. MegaMan fires off a pod that flies into the sky, generating a short but heavy torrent of acid rain, dealing damage over time. I’d rank Brightman’s Flash Stopper at a solid #5. Remember how the MM2’s Time Stopper rendered you completely defenseless while time was frozen until the weapon’s energy ran out? Well, Flash Stopper works in shorter bursts, but offers MegaMan a standard arm cannon – perhaps the most improved of the returning weapons. The sixth best weapon would probably have to be Dust Crusher, a shot comprised of scrap metal that explodes on impact into four pieces of shrapnel that fire off diagonally. Then there’s the Ring Boomerang, which is essentially like MegaMan 3’s Shadow Blade, only without the ability to aim. It does make up for this by gaining some slight range and the ability to do multiple hits if aimed properly, but honestly, I preferred its direct ancestors. Finally, the worst weapon in the game would have to be the Skull Barrier by far. Imagine Woodman’s Leaf Shield with the added benefit of being allowed to move without losing it, coming at the cost of its durability and ability to be thrown at enemies. The Skull Barrier also has the dubious honor of being the first shield knockoff in a long line that would last beyond even the NES games. And yet, none of its imitators could come even close to matching its sheer impotence.

The evolution of the graphics in the MegaMan games that began in MM2 and continued in 3 essentially reaches its apex in the fourth game. While the character sprites are still pretty much on par with the first game’s, the backgrounds and the large bosses in the fortress levels have reached the highest levels the MegaMan series would achieve during the NES’s lifespan. Much like the gameplay, MegaMan 4 would also cement the series’ presentation for the rest of the franchise’s third-generation tenure in a multitude of ways. For starters, the game starts with a relatively ornate introduction sequence, utilizing full-sized still graphics with (albeit limited) animation. Likewise, compared to the earlier games, there are more in-game cutscenes compared to previous games. This allowed for a much more complex storyline: indeed, it would’ve been difficult to reveal the twist that Dr. Cossack had been blackmailed into working for Wily without them. It’s nothing compared to the complex methods used to build narratives in modern games, but it was a definitive step in the evolution of the MegaMan series’ ability to tell stories and led to further involvement of story in-game in later releases. One seemingly insignificant change would be the pause menu, which goes full-screen this time around: a trend that future MegaMan games would also follow, though each game would have their own take on the design and layout. On the plus side, this does give the user interface more room to breathe, especially given the multitude of weapons and support items MegaMan has access to in this game. Still, it just doesn’t match the coolness factor of MegaMan 3’s pop-up menu in my opinion, regardless of how impractical it was.

MM4-04

It’s also cool that the Ring Boomerang can go through the Skull Barrier.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Minae “Ojalin” Saito (née Fujii) and the sound programming was handled by Yasuaki “Bun Bun” Fujita, the main composer for MegaMan 3. The soundtrack definitely lives up to its predecessors, with many memorable themes and effectively continues the evolution that began with MegaMan 3’s soundtrack, utilizing the full potential of the NES’s built-in sound chip. I wouldn’t place it among my favorite soundtracks in the entire series, but it’s still definitely lives up to the “Rockman” name. The composition played on the Password screen is an interesting change of pace: while the songs played in the previous two games were relaxed and playful, MM4’s take has a clear urgency behind it. My personal favorite robot master themes from this game would have to be Brightman, Diveman, Ringman and Pharoahman’s. Most people seem to like Skullman’s, but I never really got the appeal. The best music in the whole game would definitely have to be the Fortress themes, particularly the songs that play during the second batch of Dr. Cossack stages and Dr. Wily stages respectively. While MM4 uses a single boss theme for most of the game, it also set a precedent by including a unique song for the game’s final boss fight with the Wily Capsule. This would become a series staple, with final bosses in most future titles – including all future mainline games – getting the same treatment.

As much as I’ve torn into it, I wouldn’t say that MegaMan 4 is a bad game. I’d probably say it’s more of a disappointment after the previous two games. MM4 plays it too safe with many aspects: it tries to ape MegaMan 2 to a degree often reserved for remakes, the Mega Buster essentially deconstructs the entire concept of boss weapons and the stage design stays far too paint-by-numbers for its own good. These problems would certainly be easy enough to swallow on their own, but given the game’s widespread reputation of being the best game of the second trilogy, I suppose my expectations were too high for their own good. In the previous article, I discussed how a remake could have potentially fixed MegaMan 3 – I didn’t bother with MM2, simply because it’s good enough as-is and MM1 already has a fantastic, if not obscure reimagining (more on that later). I wouldn’t recommend remaking MegaMan 4 simply because as its flaws are minute but many, it would take some seriously retooling to fix the game. Indeed, the game is a perfect example of the death by many cuts and in order to improve upon the existing package, it would take far more extensive retooling than any other game I can think of in the series, which generally suffer from surface level flaws. The base gameplay’s too solid to allow for a total overhaul, so in the end, the best way I could think of fixing MM4 would be changes on par with a ROM hack – and that’s just not a viable course of action.

MegaMan 5

MegaMan 5 has led a pretty strange life, at least as far as its criticism with regards to the rest of the series goes. I’ve seen it go from the most maligned of the second NES trilogy to the most beloved, yet there’s always that qualifier: “of the second MegaMan trilogy”. All the same, seeing the fifth entry in the series get the love it so rightly deserves warms the very cockles of my admittedly bleak heart. The odd part about the whole reversal is that I completely understand the arguments for considering the game the best and worst of its “trilogy”. While I obviously subscribe to the former, it took me quite some time to fully grasp at the reason why so many hated this game only a scant few years ago. Granted, the answer I found was actually really obvious when I think back to all of the complaints people made about the game in the first place – though, honestly, I still think what I’ve seen is still fairly shallow, all things considered.

By the time MegaMan 5 entered development, Keiji Inafune was generally considered a senior staff member with regards to the franchise. He used his experience to guide the product leader, who was new to MegaMan. As such, looking back, Inafune felt that MM5 was too easy, which was the logical conclusion of his attempts at avoiding making what could be considered “an unreasonable game”. Inafune also felt that the gameplay had reached its logical conclusion in the previous game and decided to instead “introduce powered up versions of everything”. Capcom received over 130,000 fan submissions for MegaMan 5, as the contests continued to grow in popularity among Japanese children and other fans of the series. Compared to previous games, Inafune had difficulty getting approval on the redesigns he made on the chosen bosses, forcing him to re-illustrate them multiple times. Conversely, Beat – MegaMan’s new partner – was apparently easy to design, as Inafune’s superiors accepted his first draft. As it turns out, Inafune had been planning to use the concept of a robotic bird as MegaMan’s partner since MegaMan 3. In the end, development was troubled – though not to the same extent as MegaMan 3. The aforementioned Hayato Kaji was even pulled off another project to assist with the game’s development.

MM5-01

MM5 has some of my favorite level designs in the series, both mechanically and aesthetically.

MegaMan 5 takes place two months after the events of the previous game and was the first game in the franchise to officially take place in the franchise’s signature “year” 20XX – previous games seemed to take place in “200X”. After his daughter Kalinka was rescued from the clutches of the evil Dr. Wily, Dr. Cossack has begun to collaborate with Dr. Light in the creation of a new support robot “Beat”. MegaMan, on the other hand, tries to remain vigilant for any other attempts at world domination at the hands of Wily, but ends up beginning to enjoy a vacation as life returned to normal. There was still one question that bothered him: who was the mysterious Protoman, the robot who had assisted him in his previous two adventures? As he’s about to ask Dr. Light about it, Dr. Cossack sends word that the new robot is completed. The Blue Bomber sets off to Cossack’s laboratory to meet his new feathery friend. While MegaMan is away, a new army of robots go on a rampage, attacking MegaMan’s hometown. MegaMan leaps into action, returning home only to discover that Dr. Light has been kidnapped by the robots’ leader – Protoman? To make up for his previous actions, Dr. Cossack offers his support to MegaMan, upgrading his buster in the process. With only Protoman’s signature yellow scarf left behind as evidence of his wrongdoing, MegaMan wonders just why the mysterious red robot has turned evil. But is everything as it appears? The Japanese subtitle “Blues’ Trap” – Blues being Protoman’s Japanese name – seems to imply that there’s more to this whole situation than meets the eye.

Compared to the other games in the MegaMan franchise, relatively little is known about MegaMan 5’s development. Most of what we know comes directly from Keiji Inafune’s reflections on the project. He wasn’t exaggerating when he claimed that the main changes made to MegaMan 5’s base engine compared to its predecessor were simple balance issues. The thing is, they were changes that were all too necessary. The most major change would have to be the Mega Buster – dubbed the “Neo Rock Buster” in Japan – which would finally be modified into its most recognizable form. The charge shot still has two levels and its first form is pretty much identical to the one from MM4. The fully charged shot, on the other hand, works completely differently. Taking on an appearance not unlike a bright yellow Hadouken from Capcom’s more popular Street Fighter II, the newly adjusted charge shot is more likely to blast through multiple enemies at a time. This is balanced by the fact that taking damage negates a charge, forcing players to start charging again from scratch. The game would also introduce a new variant of the E-Tank: the Mystery Tank (sometimes called the “Mega Tank”) restores not only MegaMan’s health, but also the weapon energy for every weapon. They’re fairly rare and only one can be held at a time, but they’re definitely worth finding.

Of course, where the game truly shines is in its level design – a fact that was often forgotten in early reactions to the game itself. Admittedly, this brings us to Capcom’s first attempt at fixing the weapons problem that came about in the fourth game: outright ignoring it. In that sense, MegaMan 5 feels a bit less like a MegaMan game compared to the previous entries in the series, simply due to the fact that it puts much less of an emphasis on the weapons the Blue Bomber takes from his downed opponents. Instead, development seemed to focus on creating a good run-and-gun game in general, as opposed to making “the best MegaMan game possible”. The level design in MM5 is top-notch, with many of the stages incorporating several gimmicks. In fact, a few of the gimmicks from the previous game – such as Toadman’s cascading water and Dustman’s trash compactors – reappear in the fifth game and are used to a much greater effect, essentially bringing out each concept’s full potential. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what MM5 brings to the table: there are hidden collectables in each of the eight initial stages that unlock a new power-up; WaveMan’s stage transitions from a precision platforming across delicate bubbles to an auto-scrolling segment on a jet ski; and don’t even get me started on Gravityman’s stage gimmick, constantly flipping MegaMan upside-down and right-side up. The game provides a great amount of challenge, particularly in the fortress stages, but the sheer prevalence of 1-Ups in the game does make things feel a little easy at times.

MM5-03

This jet ski segment was so good, the X games stole its gimmick 3 times.

The game does manage to experiment a little bit with its various support items. Of course, the Rush Jet, obtained after defeating Gyroman, is essentially unchanged from the previous game. However, the Neo Rush Coil works very differently compared to its previous incarnations: instead of simply sending MegaMan upward, Rush bounces into the air, acting as a platform, allowing MegaMan to get just a little more height. Personally, I preferred this iteration of the Coil, but considering that it was exclusive to MegaMan 5, I’m sure I was in the minority. The Rush Marine was unceremoniously retired after the fourth game – not too many water stages that relied upon it, I’m afraid – but it was replaced by a different item. Defeating Starman grants players the use of the Super Arrow, which is generally considered one of the most useful items in the entire game. MegaMan shoots off an arrow, which he can jump on top of and ride, almost like the Item-2 from MM2. Upon coming in contact with a wall, the Arrow sticks to the wall, providing the Blue Bomber with a foothold. It can also be used as an attack on enemies, but clearly the mobility functions are the real appeal. Then, there’s Beat, MegaMan’s new robotic avian partner. Beat can only be obtained if players collect items that are hidden in the 8 robot master stages: letters that spell out “MEGAMAN V” (or “ROCKMAN 5” in the original Japanese version). Beat is an interesting partner: he locks onto nearby enemies and swoops into them, causing massive damage. Quite frankly, he makes beating the final boss a snap. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Like I said earlier, Capcom didn’t seem to care too much about the utility of most of the weapons in MegaMan 5, which one of the game’s most criticized shortcomings. Quite frankly, it’s probably most efficient to stick to the Mega Buster for the majority of the game, occasionally switching to the Super Arrow, Rush Jet or Beat when necessary. However, I personally feel like this freed up the development team to go more inventive with the weapons, effectively going with concepts that would be considered too unorthodox for standard MegaMan games, bringing about some really unique concepts that may not have otherwise seen the light of day. As such, I’m going to be ranking the weapons again, but this time, I’ll be focusing more on fun factor over utility: after all, if I was going for the latter, I’d stick with the Mega Buster. First off, we’ve got Gravityman’s Gravity Hold, a unique little power that fills the entire screen with a flash. Weaker enemies turn upside down and fly into the sky. It’s generally only useful in specific situations, but I love watching those little robots shoot into the sky. Next comes the Charge Kick, courtesy of Chargeman. It’s a simple move that effectively weaponized MegaMan’s slide. It doesn’t exactly work out that well in practice, but I wish more games had played with this concept – weaponizing MegaMan’s mobility options. Third is Waveman’s Water Wave, which sends a surging torrent of water across the floor, almost like MM2’s Bubble Lead on steroids. After that, there’s the unoriginally named Gyro Attack, obtained after defeating (who else?) Gyroman. It’s a propeller blade that can be fired off horizontally, but if players hit up or down on the D-Pad any time it’s onscreen, it shoots up in a straight line in that direction. Number five is the Crystal Eye. Crystalman’s weapon fires off a large crystal orb, which upon collision with a wall, splits off into three smaller crystals that bounce around at random trajectories. I’m going to be honest: from here on out, the weapons become pretty useless. Napalmman’s Napalm Bomb manages to reach the number six spot, by default. It fires off a large egg-shaped explosive which rolls around on the floor for a short period, before exploding into a huge, highly damaging explosion. Essentially, it’s almost like a slightly improved Hyper Bomb. The seventh best weapon is the Star Crash, obtained by the Blue Bomber after defeating Starman. In any other game, it would be the worst weapon by far – it’s essentially the same as the Skull Barrier, except MegaMan gains the ability to fire it off at enemies by pressing the button a second time. Finally, we come to the weapon that isn’t just the worst in the game, but the worst in the entire franchise: Stoneman’s Power Stone. It’s hard to even describe it. Essentially, by activating this weapon, two moderately-sized stones begin spinning around MegaMan temporarily in random (and, quite frankly, awkward) arcs for a few seconds. It’s difficult to even think of a way that the attack could be adjusted into something more useful without just outright turning it into a shield.

MM5-02

This was the letter I always had trouble finding. Don’t ask me why.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 4 pretty much set the graphical standard for the remainder of the NES era. The fifth game’s art style matches its predecessor pretty well, to the extent where it can be difficult to differentiate graphics between the two games. MM5 uses all of the graphical tricks found in the previous game, including various cutscenes. One unique difference is that instead of using a large static image to represent MegaMan after defeating one of the robot masters to showcase his new ability, the game elected to use a new animation of the standard in-game MegaMan sprite rotating in a full 360° motion while standing perfectly still, before shifting his color palette to represent his new weapon. Oddly, the pause menu did receive a significant graphical overhaul, though aside from adding an area to keep track of which “MEGAMAN V” letters have been collected, the layout pretty much remains the same. All the same, the graphics are still fairly impressive for an NES game, showcasing the console’s full capabilities near the end of its lifespan.

I’d have to say that of all the soundtracks in the series, MegaMan 5’s ranks among my favorites. Composed by Mari Yamaguchi – who was only credited with her first name – MM5 manages to incorporate multiple styles, while pushing the NES’s sound chip to its limits. Most of the stage themes manage to match both their settings, as well as the stage designs themselves. For example, Crystalman’s stage theme has both a cavernous sound and takes a slow pace, representing the deliberate and methodical pace of the stage itself. Likewise, songs like those from Gyroman’s and Chargeman’s levels are relatively fast-paced, but vary significantly in terms of their tone: Gyroman’s is more light-hearted, signifying the relative calm of the stage’s clear skies, while the music from Chargeman’s level is more energetic, providing a perfect depiction of the numerous speeding trains MegaMan runs through. Best of all, the theme that plays during the Protoman Fortress stages have gained something of a cult following, managing to become popular enough to rival the first Wily Castle theme from MM2 – and I definitely can’t fault a game for forcing more musical diversity in MegaMan-themed remix albums. The fifth game’s soundtrack does try to distance itself from some of the recurring themes found in previous games in the series, though unlike MM3, it does manage to keep the traditional stage clear jingle. It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite tracks from MM5’s soundtrack, so I’ll just name a few: the themes from Gravityman, Napalmman and Stoneman’s stages are all great, as well as the songs from both fortresses – of course Dr. Wily was behind everything, as usual. I also can’t help but love the standard boss theme from MegaMan 5. It manages to maintain the standard frantic pace and tone commonly associated with boss themes in the series, while still managing to sound completely unlike any of its predecessors.

MM5-04

One of my favorite boss fights in the entire series, with or without his weakness.

It’s encouraging to see MegaMan 5 finally begin to get its due. These days, it’s essentially considered the crown jewel of the Classic MegaMan series’ “second trilogy”, a solid step forward over the game’s reception upon its initial release: as nothing more than a lazy, outdated rehash. In terms of being a pure MegaMan game, it’s hard to compete with the second or third games in the series, but aside from falling down on some of the signature gimmicks associated with the franchise, MM5 offers a solid action-platformer. In fact, in a lot of ways, the sheer regularity of extra lives in the game almost makes it feel like a modern game in a sense, focusing more on providing a challenge based strictly on level design, as opposed to resource scarcity. Still, the game’s bad rap with regards to weapon design is well deserved. I’ve seen quite a few ROM hacks based around the fifth game, and none of them has really been able to rebalance the weapons in a way that feels both useful and fun. All the same, I am glad that that MM5 took a far more experimental approach to weapon designs: compared to MegaMan 4’s retreads of older weapons, it was definitely a breath of fresh air, with some of MM5’s unique weapon concepts managing to be refined much later down the line. That’s probably the best summary of MegaMan 5 – it’s a game that failed to live up to specific series conventions, but delivered an excellent game nonetheless.

MegaMan 6

I’ll be honest, I never really liked MegaMan 6. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the game always seemed to bother me, which has always made it among my least favorites in the entire series. As the final MegaMan game to be released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was truly the end of an era: the final truly 8-bit MegaMan platformer out of the mainline series. Compared to later iterations of the MegaMan franchise, the original “Classic” franchise was perhaps the most difficult to separate from the stylistics choices made in this era. Future titles would initially try to distance themselves from it, but the last two games in the series (as of right now) dove headlong into retro-themed nostalgia. While many spinoff sub-series did maintain a single artistic style for their entire run, it was due to remaining on a single platform for their entire runs, as opposed to any thematic choices. …See? That’s how little I care for MM6: I ended up spending a significant part of the introductory paragraph talking about other games in the series! In the end, I can’t really call MegaMan 6 a bad game, but it’s definitely my least favorite in the entire franchise. It’s a mechanically sound game, it plays well and it’s certainly a proper example of a MegaMan game, but there just seems to be something I can’t quite articulate that underwhelms me about it, as unfair as that sounds.

MegaMan 6 was developed late in the NES’s lifespan, to the extent where development was parallel with MegaMan X, Capcom’s first game in the series for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As such, Capcom themselves only decided to release the game in their home territory of Japan. The game was the only NES game in the franchise not to be released in Europe and Nintendo of America published the game themselves in North America, releasing the game in March of 1994. Nintendo decided to use MegaMan 6 as a key title to advertise the NES-101 – affectionately referred to as the “NES2” – a new top-loading variant of the classic 8-bit console, sold at a cheap price point alongside the new SNES. Other late-era titles used to advertise the NES-101 include Zoda’s Revenge: Startropics II and Wario’s Woods, which was the last NES game to be released officially in North America.

MM6-03

Here’s that new Charge Shot I was talking about in MM5, it’s back in 6 too.

Keiji Inafune’s take on MegaMan 6 seemed to be substantially more laid back when compared to earlier games, opining that video game franchises reaching six titles were very rare and one such advantage to such long-runners was that players would expect certain aspects from previous games to be repeated in future titles. The concept of Rush and MegaMan combining was something Inafune considered inevitable, though he had difficulty coming up with the designs due to the sheer lack of realism in the concept itself. The game saw over 200,000 entries for the boss design contest this time around, and to make matters even more interesting, for the first (and only) time, the contest was open to non-Japanese participants. In fact, Nintendo Power held a similar contest in America and two of the robot masters chosen from the final game were designed by North American fans: Windman and Knightman. To pay homage to their “foreign” origins, Nintendo of America featured these two robot masters on the North American box art. The game’s subtitle in the original Japanese release was “The Greatest Battle of All Time!!” and this went with the game’s overall theming: described by Inafune as “the world is our stage”. Of course, like earlier games in the franchise, MM6’s development saw its fair share of hardships – likely due to the fact that both MegaMan X and MegaMan Soccer were in development around the same time – but Inafune was pleased with the final product.

After five attempts at world domination, governments all over the globe are finally taking steps to safeguard against the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. While MegaMan has consistently thwarted the mad doctor’s schemes, the world feels that relying solely upon the Blue Bomber may not be for the best. In response, the World Robot Alliance was organized soon after Wily’s fifth assault. One year later, thanks in large part to both the cooperation of the scientists all over the world and the financial backing of the X Foundation, robotics has made fantastic progress, with many scientists becoming capable of creating robots on par with MegaMan himself. To determine the world’s strongest peacekeeping robot, the “First Annual Robot Tournament” is held. While Dr. Light decides not to enter the competition, he sends MegaMan to supervise it. Before the contest can begin, the mysterious head of the X Foundation and the tournament’s host, known only as “Mr. X”, declares his own ambitions for world domination. Furthermore, he declares that he had been manipulating Dr. Wily all along, but now that he has reprogrammed the eight strongest contestants from the tournament, he no longer needs him. MegaMan springs into action, alongside Rush, his canine companion, to stop the evil ambitions of this new threat.

Inafune’s statements about long-running series repeating various aspects proves particularly true, with regards to MM6: the game plays pretty much identically to the fifth game. In fact, much of the graphics data, information and level layouts of MM6 are extremely similar to MM5’s, leading some fans to speculate that it was essentially a heavy edit of the previous game. MegaMan 6’s level design was fairly decent, though this time around, they would focus heavily on splitting paths. Personally, I like design choices like that, simply because it adds replay value to most games, but in MegaMan 6’s case, it feels almost hollow. Most of the alternate paths require specific weapons or power-ups to get to, and many times they simply result in shortcuts, as opposed to alternate layouts. Most importantly, in many cases, alternate hidden paths are used to gate off specific power-ups – this gets particularly confusing with stages that have two separate boss doors, where only one contains the parts necessary to unlock Beat – so for the most part, there’s no reason to go any other way. In fact, to be honest, the most major change to the game comes through the form of MegaMan’s new powers, especially the new assortment of support items.

MM6-01

A ‘roided-out MegaMan worthy of the Ruby-Spears cartoon.

The support items go through a significant shake-up in MegaMan 6. In fact, the only item that returns from previous games is Beat. This time, players need only to spell out “B-E-A-T” to unlock the assault aviary, though this time around, the parts are a little more cryptic. You can only get them by reaching four of the bosses through specific routes: they have two separate sets of boss doors, with the more hidden one or the one that’s more difficult to reach generally being the one that contains the part. The only way to know for sure if the right door was chosen is by looking at the stage select afterwards: if the correct door was chosen, the corresponding letter will show up on the stage select in place of the robot master’s portrait. The major attraction would have to be the two new Rush armors: referred to in-game as Jet MegaMan and Power MegaMan. Unlocked by defeating Plantman and Flameman respectively, these two transformations give MegaMan access to entirely new powers. The Jet Adaptor allows MegaMan to fly for brief periods – with a smaller gauge depicting how much lift remains – but MegaMan is unable to charge his Mega Buster in this form. The Power Adaptor, on the other hand, replaces the buster with a shorter-ranged but more powerful shot that can break through certain obstacles and bypass shields when fully charged. The bulkiness of both armors removes MegaMan’s ability to slide, so it’s crucial switch between these all three of MegaMan’s forms. There is also the Energy Balancer, hidden in the depths of Tomahawkman’s stage. It recovers energy for the weapon with the lowest energy remaining whenever MegaMan collects a weapon energy power-up without having a weapon equipped, as opposed to just wasting it.

This brings us to what I perceive as Capcom’s second idea to redeem the loss of importance faced by the Special Weapons in the face of the almighty Mega Buster: give players entirely new toys to play with instead. The Rush armors are, by far, the most interesting parts of the game, but they only seem to break the game’s difficulty balance in entirely new ways, especially Jet MegaMan. One of the trademarks of MegaMan’s level design has been challenging platforming segments, but with the additional of what is essentially an unlimited flight ability – the only real limitation being a limited meter which can be recharged by standing on the ground – entire segments of stages can be bypassed. Sure, later areas line their ceilings with spikes to avoid that kind of abuse, but it’s only a half-measure with regards to just how much this breaks the game, as skilled players can easily navigate even those aerial obstacles.

MM6-04

Fighting flowers with frostbite.

Which brings us to the weapons themselves. Of the entire series, I’d have to say that I consider MegaMan 6’s assortment of special weapons to be the most forgettable of the bunch, but apparently, some fans consider them to be among the most practical in the entire series: most weapons can deal big damage on at least four bosses. It’s difficult for me to rank this game’s weapons for those reasons, but I’ll try regardless. My favorite weapon would probably have to be Knightman’s Knight Crusher. It shoots out a spiked mace in a circular boomerang pattern. Simple, but it deals decent damage and for some reason, it’s the first weapon I’d always instinctively try to grab while playing the game. Next comes the Blizzard Attack – obtained by beating Blizzardman (who else?) – which fires off 4 snowflake-shaped projectiles from behind MegaMan at different trajectories: the middle two snowflakes fly straight forward, while the highest and lowest projectiles move diagonally. I like that one less for its practicality and more for its originality: it almost seems like it was an unused weapon from MegaMan 5. The third best weapon would have to be the Yamato Spear, courtesy of Yamatoman. It’s not unlike the Needle Cannon from MegaMan 3, with shots alternating between two different heights. Yamato Spear lacks the rapid-fire capabilities of its ancestor, but is able to pierce enemy shields. Number four would have to be Tomahawkman’s Silver Tomahawk – which honestly, looks more bronze to me. It fires at a weird arc, dropping low briefly before rising quickly until it flies offscreen, but it deals a great deal of damage and its strange trajectory allows it to bypass shields when aimed properly. Best of all, it acts as the primary weakness for a whopping 4 bosses in this game. Fifth would have to be the Plant Barrier, taken by defeating Plantman. It’s essentially the standard shield weapon, much like the Leaf Shield, Skull Barrier and Star Crash before it. It once again loses its ability to be fired off as a projectile, and will usually dissipate after making contact with one enemy. However, if used on a shielded enemy, it will be unaffected and deal massive damage through the shield. Then there’s Flameman’s Flame Blast, which I’d best describe as being the MegaMan equivalent of the holy water from Castlevania. Megaman fires a fireball at a very low arc and once it hits the ground, it spawns a pillar of fire, which can do massive damage if aimed properly. Next, there’s the Wind Storm, which is Windman’s take on the Bubble Lead. It can’t climb walls, instead disappearing whenever it hits a wall or any other obstacle. The weapon does send enemies weak enough for it to defeat flying in the air, but in return, they’ll never drop any power-ups. Last and most certainly least, is Centaurman’s Centaur Flash: a weapon so lame that, much like the Power Stone before it, it was replaced with something much less useless in future appearances. It claims to be a time manipulation power, but instead comes across as a bargain basement version of MM5’s Gravity Hold. It damages all enemies on screen, even hitting destroyable projectiles, but the only boss that’s actually weak to it is Windman, and even then, it takes a full stock to take him out completely. No other boss even takes damage from it, it’s pathetic.

 

Once again, the graphics don’t go through any particular major evolutions from the previous two games. The game has cutscenes, both using in-game graphics and more detailed static shots. The pause screen is slightly reworked once again, this time to allow for MegaMan’s new transformations. I think that the most impressive graphic in the entire game is the animation of MegaMan readying his buster and firing off a shot during the now-standard screen showcasing the new weapons and abilities he’s unlocked at the end of each Robot Master stage. My personal favorite touch would have to be the screens that show up after deciding on one of the Robot Masters. Showing off a variety of statistics about each robot master – things like their attack strength, weight, “defence”, power source and even their abilities and current location – it’s kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it does show how much love Capcom put into their swan song for the system that got them headlong into console development in the first place. By this point, the NES was on its way out and its hardware had long since been pushed to its limits. In fact, Tony Ponce of Destructoid once opined that the game was essentially the first retro throwback, due to the fact that it was made for the NES well into the lifecycles of the fourth-generation of consoles.

MM6-02

Seriously, this game is gorgeous.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Yuko Takehara (née Kadota), who like her predecessor, was credited with only her first name. MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is about on par with the rest of the series up to this point, particularly sticking towards the more refined sound of the previous two games. As with MM5’s soundtrack, most of the Robot Master songs tend to match the locales in which they take place. This is perhaps most evident in what fans have dubbed the “warriors”: Centaurman’s music definitely matches the psychedelic and mystical nature of his stage, Knightman and Yamatoman’s themes both evoke the medieval and Feudal Japan-era castles they inhabit, but best of all would be Tomahawkman’s theme, which evokes the American Wild West perfectly. That’s not to say that the “elemental” masters’ themes fall flat, but it’s difficult to evoke musical leitmotifs with things like fire and snow compared to mythology and various points in history. Honestly, back in the day, I would’ve said that Windman’s theme was probably my favorite robot master theme out of this game. These days, I think I lean more towards Plantman. MM6 also shies away from the same conventional jingles that its predecessor did, though again, the traditional victory tune returns in full form. Perhaps the oddest quirk about MegaMan 6’s soundtrack is that there were two different themes for the introductory cutscene – the North American release had a completely different track used for reasons I don’t entirely know. People are generally divided on which version is better – personally, I prefer the original Japanese track. Typically, when I look back at these soundtracks, I have difficulty choosing a singular track that I would consider “the best”. Not so with MegaMan 6 and truth be told, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My favorite song in the entire game would have to be the theme that plays during the Mr. X Fortress stages. There’s just something so fitting about the theme: it comes across as almost melancholic, like the perfect musical piece for the MegaMan game that has to say goodbye to the very platform that birthed it in the first place.

MegaMan 6 is not a bad game by any means. I thought that by reflecting on the game, I could finally discover what the inherent flaw that gave me my admittedly irrational hatred for it in the first place. In retrospect, I’m only left with the reason I had before I began writing this piece – quite frankly, I thought the game was the easiest in the franchise. That’s not exactly a fair reason to heap the scornful title of “worst my least favorite mainline MegaMan game” onto the franchise’s last truly 8-bit iteration. After all, let’s be honest – regardless of my opinions, it’s still objectively a mechanically superior game to the original 1987 classic. Then again, perhaps that says it all. Classic MegaMan is one of the few series that I would claim has been consistently good since its origin point. If I can acknowledge that the game is not only a quality title on its own merits but also the game I personally consider the weakest entry in the series, doesn’t that just mean that the series entails a certain level of quality, matched by a scant few in the grand scheme of video games?

Interlude: Rockman Complete Works

The Rockman Complete Works always felt like a missed opportunity for me. Back when I was reading video game magazines, I remember that publications like PlayStation Magazine and Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine – yeah, how times have changed, right? – would do pieces about various big-name import games. One recurring feature throughout the second half of 1999 were the Rockman Complete Works games. Effectively, all six of the NES MegaMan games were being re-released for the very first time – like I said, times have changed – on the PlayStation with additional bonus features. I’d always hoped they would come Westward, but alas, SCEA had grudges against both 2D games in general and especially direct ports of older titles – some things never change. I considered importing them for a while, but considering that this was both before the days of online import shops and back before I was even in high school, it just didn’t work out for me.

RMCW-01

‘Cause nothing’s more challenging like a blue bird over a flashing arrow, telling you, “Go here, stupid!”

There were three basic features in each entry in the Complete Works series. First, “Original Mode”, which is exactly what it sounds like: a direct copy of the original NES (or in this case, Famicom) game. Next, there was what was called “Navi Mode”, which I’ll explain in greater detail in a bit. Both of these modes can use save files or the original NES passwords, which is a nice touch. Finally, there were the “PokeRoku” which were special bonus mini-games for people who owned a PocketStation – a Japan-only peripheral that plugged into the PS1’s memory card slot and acted not unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU. Each Complete Works game had its own unique mini-game, ranging from things like a Whac-A-Mole style game where players are forced to bash multiple Cutmans to popping balloons with Beat. Every game in the series also included a Janken (that’s Rock-Paper-Scissors for us Gaijins) game where players can choose any robot master from each corresponding game to compete with a Met. These mini-games can be used to boost both MegaMan and the various robot masters’ stats in the various remixed game modes.

RMCW-02

Still, I’d be lying if I said the new UI wasn’t helpful.

Which segues back nicely into Navi Mode. For the most part, Navi Mode is mechanically similar to the 8-bit originals, but there are some additional tweaks and bonus features. For example, the standard pause menus have been redesigned and there’s a new secondary pause menu, accessible from the Select button. This new menu offers a number of new features, most importantly a specific character that varies from game to game acting as a “navigator” for MegaMan – hence “Navi Mode” – providing various hints for how to progress through both stages and boss fights whenever an exclamation point flashes onscreen. The UI for the energy bars are also slightly different, showcasing both MegaMan’s remaining lives and the remaining shots for whatever special weapon he has equipped at that moment in time. In fact, the redesigns resemble those of MegaMan 8. MegaMan can also switch weapons on the fly by using the shoulder buttons, which is a great addition. Finally, there’s the addition of the remixed soundtracks. For the first three Complete Works releases, a selection of songs were taken from both the MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters soundtracks, generally remixes of the songs they replaced. This wasn’t always the case: MegaMan 3 used Cloudman’s theme and MegaMan 7’s intro stage tracks to replace Magnetman and Topman’s songs respectively.

RMCW-03

The game hints, on the other hand…

By the time the fourth game came along, Capcom put a lot more effort into these soundtracks. They still used the arcade game’s remixes whenever possible, but otherwise, they completely rearranged them from scratch. I personally consider the days of the original PlayStation to be among the best times for Capcom’s sound design, the results are amazing. In fact, I’d consider the Complete Works soundtracks for MegaMans 4 through 6 to be the quintessential way to experience them in general. The second half of the Complete Works also added some additional features. For starters, while the first three games merely had a boss rush mode as an unlockable feature after beating the game, 4-6 replace it with Mission Mode, which has multiple challenges, including the aforementioned boss challenges. The later games also add new power-ups that can be equipped to MegaMan in both Navi and Mission Mode. These include things like an auto charge, faster normal and charge shots and even halving the amount of energy Special Weapons use. Rockman 4 through 6 also adds the ability to remove MegaMan’s helmet at any time by hitting the R2 button, in both Original and Navi Mode.

Fortunately, these games did see multiple re-releases. First, they were re-released as PSone Books – yet another Japanese imprint for Greatest Hits titles – back in 2003. They were also re-released alongside Rockman X7 in the Rockman Collection Special Box in the same year. They even eventually saw release in North America, albeit in an altered form. The MegaMan Anniversary Collection, released on the PS2, GameCube and Xbox, used the Complete Works ports as their basis, even including and translating the hints from Navi Mode. Of course, only MegaMans 4-6 retained their arranged soundtrack – which may have been for the best – and all the other bonus features were patched out of the game. Finally, Sony would eventually release the games as PS1 Classics on the PlayStation Network. While Japan would receive all six games, North America would only receive the first four. As the service has been discontinued, it seems unlikely that the set will ever be complete in the West. As such, if you really want to track these games down, I’d suggest looking for the Anniversary Collection, but if I’m going to be honest, they really don’t add enough to make them worth more than any other re-release.

MegaMan on the Game Boy

MegaMan, specifically Classic MegaMan, is generally considered a Nintendo property by most fans. Of course, that makes sense: all but one mainline game in the franchise were released on a Nintendo platform proper upon its initial release – to the extent where even the latest two games debuted on the Wii before they released on the other major platforms – but more appropriately, one must consider the whole host of spinoffs that the Blue Bomber received on the Big N’s hardware. Perhaps the most recognizable of these spinoffs would be the pentalogy – perhaps quintology would be more appropriate? – of games released on the Game Boy. Categorizing these games was difficult for quite some time. It’s easy enough in Japan, where they’re referred to as the “Rockman World” games. Elsewhere, they were simply referred to by number, like the NES games that served as their inspiration, aside from the first game which was given a subtitle. Eventually, a consensus was reached: Roman numerals would be used to refer to the Game Boy games, allowing fans to discern between the two sets of games easily. I’d argue that the Game Boy games are among the most important games in the entire franchise, particularly the later ones.

MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge

First, there’s the aptly titled “MegaMan: Dr Wily’s Revenge”. Released in 1991, it was the first game in the MegaMan series that Capcom published directly that was farmed out to an outside developer. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was Minakuchi Engineering’s first MegaMan-related project. Fortunately, the project leader was “a huge MegaMan fan” who, according to Keiji Inafune, understood the games better than some of Capcom’s own internal staff. As such, rather than being an original project, it recycles content from the first two NES games with some original content to create a game that is both familiar and new – a trend that most of the Game Boy games would follow. In fact, the game’s unique boss character Enker – named for the Japanese musical genre enka – was the first boss character Inafune was able to design completely from scratch.

Sometime after stopping Dr. Wily’s plans for world domination, the mad doctor has once again decided to take over the world by using 4 of Dr. Light’s old robots to wreak havoc in a city. However, Wily also has four more robots of his own, lying in wait at his new fortress, the Wily Station. However, this new Wily Castle boasts an additional surprise: a robot designed specifically to destroy the Blue Bomber, the very first MegaMan Killer (or Hunter, as it was known back in the day), Enker. Armed with the Mirror Buster, a lance that is able to absorb MegaMan’s attacks and fire them back at him threefold, Enker seems like Dr. Wily’s last line of defense, but could the evil genius have any more tricks left up his sleeve? To be honest, the first game’s story is a bit sparse, but honestly, I think that having a new MegaMan adventure available on the go was more impressive than any plot could’ve been.

Dr. Wily’s Revenge seems to take a lot of its gameplay cues from the second game in the series, which makes sense as this was the later of the two games it used as inspiration. The game has the same password save system as most of the NES games in the series. The first four Robot Masters – Cutman, Iceman, Fireman and Elecman – all have new remixed stage layouts that take elements from their stages from the original MegaMan while throwing in new elements. The boss difficulty has also been somewhat adjusted: would you believe me if I told you most people told you to start with Elecman over Cutman? The four bosses taken from MM2 – Bubbleman, Heatman, Flashman and Quickman – however, get demoted to mere boss fights in the standard teleporter hatches found in Dr. Wily’s Castle. It always felt kind of weird to me that they decided to put two fire-based robots in the same game, but what are you gonna do? Revenge was unique among MegaMan games in the way that it handled its stage select: it split the eight robot masters into two groups of four, generally corresponding with which game they originated from. This would become a hallmark of the Game Boy games and would even manage to find its way into the mainline series for a short time.

DWR

Would you believe this is Elecman’s stage?

The eight weapons taken from the Robot Masters in this game are functionally identical to their NES counterparts. However, that’s not to say that Dr. Wily’s Revenge doesn’t have any surprises of its own. Upon defeating the fourth Robot Master from MM1 – doesn’t matter which one it is – MegaMan is granted a brand-new support item, known simply as “Carry”. Carry generates a platform right below MegaMan which can be used as a stepping stone or to avoid falling into spikes. It’s a unique concept that doesn’t work exactly perfectly, but it feels at home when compared to some of the quirkier pre-Rush items, like Item-3 or the Magnet Beam. Of course, the main attraction is Enker’s Mirror Buster. It generates a shield directly in front of MegaMan that reflects plasma shots. Pretty simplistic, but at least it’s a unique concept.

The graphics and music owe a lot to the NES games they were based on. The graphics generally retain their classic 8-bit look, albeit with less color behind them. Inafune was displeased with how some of the standard enemy graphics from the original MegaMan had aged, so he redrew many of his old illustrations to create new sprite designs. The stage themes for the first four bosses are essentially recomposed versions of the original songs from the MM1 soundtrack, while the boss music appears to be a highly modified version of the MegaMan 2 boss theme. The rest of the music, on the other hand, is entirely original – the game even omits both the established stage select and victory jingles, long considered trademarks of the series. This was composer Makoto Tomozawa’s first composition for the MegaMan series, though he went uncredited along with the rest of the game’s staff. Fortunately, he would go on to compose such games as the original Resident Evil, both MegaMan Legends games and even contributed to the original MegaMan X’s soundtrack.

Much like the original MegaMan from 1987, Dr. Wily’s Revenge is a good first effort. It was not only the first game in the series to be released on the Game Boy, but also the first developed by the game’s developer. Having said that, the game’s fatal flaw is generally considered to be its difficulty. At times, the game’s obstacles become unfair to the point where the game’s layout has to be essentially memorized in order to progress through the game. To make matters worse, there’s definitely a lack of checkpoints compared to other games in the series. In the end, it’s definitely a unique experiment and while it’s not my first choice among the Game Boy MegaMans, it’s also definitely not the last.

MegaMan II

Dr. Wily’s Revenge did well upon its initial release, eventually earning a spot on Nintendo’s Player’s Choice label. So, it only made sense to make a proper sequel. Unlike the other Game Boy games, this game’s development was handled by a company known as “Japan System House”, but more commonly known by its later name, Biox. Keiji Inafune considers this game to be the weakest of the Game Boy spinoffs, as the developer had very little knowledge of the series prior.

Admittedly, MegaMan II was the only Game Boy game I owned on cart as a child and to this day, I definitely consider it the weakest of the bunch by a wide margin. Which is a shame, given how interesting the game’s storyline is. After his latest setback, Dr. Wily ransacks the Chronos Institute, a research laboratory focusing on time-space research. While there, he obtains the Time Skimmer, a device that allows for time travel. Wily’s original plan was to travel back to the past to prevent MegaMan’s creation, but when he discovers the Time Skimmer is only capable of moving forward through time, he changes his plans. Travelling roughly 37.426 years (thanks Capcom USA) into the future, Dr. Wily finds that the future is peaceful and even Wily himself has reformed into a model citizen. MegaMan has given up his weapons and has gone back to his civilian life as Rock, Dr. Light’s assistant. Dr Wily convinces his future self to help him abduct the now defenseless Rock and the two modify him into Quint, a fighting robot with one goal in mind: destroying the MegaMan of the present. Meanwhile, Dr. Light has been dispatched to the time-space laboratory to investigate the recent break-in. Using Rush’s super-sense of smell, Light was able to deduce that Dr. Wily was behind the theft and called in MegaMan to search for Dr. Wily’s whereabouts.

As with the previous game, MegaMan II takes content from the second and third NES games to create something original. MegaMan has access to both his slide maneuver and Rush as a support item in MMII, but there are some odd quirks to the gameplay as well. For example, MegaMan immediately dies upon touching spikes even during his standard hit-invincibility period, much like in the original NES MegaMan. The game’s layout matches that of Dr. Wily’s Revenge: players can choose to tackle the four remaining Robot Masters from MM2 – Metalman, Airman, Woodman and Clashman – before moving onto Wily’s latest fortress. There, teleport hatches leading to four robot bosses taken from MegaMan 3 – Hardman, Topman, Magnetman and Needleman. However, MegaMan has to clear unique stages before facing off with the MM3 bosses, as opposed to just being teleported directly into a boss fight like in the previous game. The various stages have unique layouts like in Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though this time around, they seem to more directly inspired by the stages found in the NES games compared to the other Game Boy games.

Once again, most of the weapons have been recycled from previous games. This time around, Rush Coil, Rush Jet and Rush Marine also return, resembling their MM3 incarnations. Rush Jet is obtained by beating Airman, defeating Metalman unlocks the Rush Marine and surprisingly, the Rush Coil is unlocked by defeating Crashman. That’s right, for the first time, Rush Coil isn’t a standard item, it has to be unlocked by defeating a boss. The only original weapon found in MMII is Quint’s Sakugarne. Essentially a cross between a jackhammer and a pogo stick, the Sakugarne allows MegaMan to jump on enemies and even safely traverse spikes. The weapon is kind of useless in most situations and comes across like a joke all things considered, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.

MMII

Seriously, the Sakugarne is so dumb, it’s funny.

Japan System House redrew a lot of the sprite work from scratch for MMII and it shows. Sadly, that’s not a compliment: several enemy sprites just end up looking weird and completely out of proportion at times. Of course, these little quibbles pale in comparison to the game’s take on the Wily Machine, which is scaled at roughly the same height as MegaMan, meaning that either MegaMan has grown to Godzilla-esque proportions or Dr. Wily shrank to the size of a doll. Then you’ve got the graphic of MegaMan riding the Sakugarne which appears to give him the body proportions of a rotisserie chicken, for some reason. I will admit, I did like the use of melting clocks in the Wily Castle backgrounds. A clear reference to the work of Salvador Dali, so they fit with the game’s theming. That along with the Wily Fortress establishing shots are really the only things that turned out well in this game with regards to graphics. Even worse than the game’s graphics would have to be the music. Even when I was a child and I’d often pop in headphones to play video games at any opportunity, I kept this game muted, simply because the music is so irritating. Looking back, I have to wonder if Japan System House just assigned the parts to each song to the wrong instruments or if they just chose terrible instruments in general. It’s a shame because aside from the Got Weapon theme – which was clearly inspired the one from MM3 – the entire soundtrack is entirely original compositions. While many enterprising musicians have tried to rearrange the audio into something worthwhile, it still doesn’t fix the ruptured eardrums the original likely caused. While MegaMan II wasn’t the first game composer Kenji Yamazaki worked on, it was the first time he worked on the Game Boy, which may account for the wonky instrumentation. It’s also more than likely his most well-known work, and not for good reason.

If MegaMan: Dr. Wily’s Revenge was too difficult, then MegaMan II was more than certainly far too easy. Even with its odd quirks, including a multitude of glitches, the game offers little reason to play it in the first place. The boss fights are far too easy, the stage designs are bland and the whole thing just feels off in general. I’ve gotten into arguments over whether Revenge or II was the worst Game Boy MegaMan game, but I feel so confident in my stance, I’m almost inclined to believe that MegaMan II is, in fact, the lost game between the PC versions of Mega Man and Mega Man 3 from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. After all, it’s got the right name and even managed to release in Japan in 1991, between Mega Man’s 1990 debut and MM3’s 1992 release.

MegaMan III

Despite MMII’s lack of quality, the game managed to sell well enough to also be re-released as a Player’s Choice title and thus, the Game Boy spinoffs earned a third entry. Considering the sheer lack of knowledge regarding the franchise as a whole, Japan System House was not brought back. Instead, Capcom went back to Minakuchi Engineering – the same company that developed Dr. Wily’s Revenge – and hired them to create the aptly named MegaMan III. Likewise, the game’s unique boss character Punk, is among Keiji Inafune’s favorite boss characters. Inafune even used his position as producer to get Punk added to the Battle Network series.

After his most recent defeat, Dr. Wily goes into hiding. Eventually, he is found having modified an oil platform in the middle of the ocean to drill to the Earth’s core, to use the thermal energy to build his most powerful robot yet. Using eight of his most powerful Robot Masters – well, technically four of them belong to Dr. Cossack – to defend various offshore locations, Dr. Wily has clearly prepared himself for any interference from the Blue Bomber. Just to be sure, he’s built a second robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Punk. Living up to his name, Punk is a delinquent robot boasting a buzzsaw mohawk, spiked shoulders and the ability to roll into a buzzsaw and slice through anything. Can MegaMan stop Wily’s energy stealing scheme and bring the megalomaniacal doctor to justice?

The base gameplay is fairly similar to Dr. Wily’s Revenge, though there have been some modifications. For starters, MegaMan has both his slide and New Mega Buster this time around. The charge shot is exactly like the one found in MM4 on the NES, both in appearance and mechanically. As such, it doesn’t lose its charge when MegaMan takes damage. As usual, the game starts by giving players a choice between 4 bosses from MegaMan 3 – Sparkman, Shadowman, Geminiman and Snakeman. This time, however, there is a short stage that acts as an interlude between both sets of Robot Masters, with a unique boss: a giant version of the Adhering Suzy enemy from the original MegaMan. After that, a second stage select appears, consisting of the four robots taken from MM4 – Diveman, Drillman, Skullman and Dustman. All of the bosses’ stages have been revamped, taking minor inspiration from the original levels in the NES version. After that, it’s onto the Wily Station, an underwater base this time, instead of the space stations in the two previous games. All-in-all, not that different from the two previous games, but definitely the most refined Game Boy game thus far.

MMIII

A weapon from the third game being used on an enemy from the fourth? Zany!

As expected, most of the weapons are again identical to their NES counterparts. Rush Coil and Rush Jet are both similar to their MM4 iterations and are unlocked by defeating Snakeman and Dustman respectively. And once again, the only original weapon from this game comes from the game’s MegaMan Killer, Punk. The Screw Crusher – don’t look at me, I didn’t name it – fires a spinning blade into the air, which quickly arcs down and falls through the ground and walls. Not particularly the best weapon, but it beats Sakugarne.

Minakuchi’s attempts at recreating the NES games’ graphics on the Game Boy shine through, even better than in Dr. Wily’s Revenge. Indeed, their attempts at recreating the backgrounds, enemy graphics and even boss sprites from MegaMan 3 and 4 are significantly more accurate than the two previous games. Better still, the graphics original to III also manage to blend in with the existing artwork seamlessly. That’s really all that can be said about the graphics though: they do their job, but they aren’t exactly impressive. The same could be said for the music. Of all the Game Boy games, I think MegaMan III’s soundtrack recycled the most music from existing games. The game’s composer was Kouji Murata, who I mentioned previously for his work on The Wily Wars. The rearrangements of existing songs work out fairly well, but given the fact that this was the first MegaMan game Murata ever worked on, it’s completely understandable that his original compositions often fall a little flat. MMIII’s unique music isn’t bad, but it does little more than get the job done in most cases. This is also the only Game Boy game that recycles the trademark MegaMan stage chosen and victory jingles. Heck, even the song from the title screen of MM2 makes an appearance in the game’s soundtrack.

I think that the best way to describe MegaMan III is it’s the most stereotypical of the Game Boy games. That is to say, it best fits the mold of what people would expect from the portable spinoffs of video game series that began on console. It’s not a bad game by any means, and it definitely improves upon the first two by leaps and bounds. In fact, the game itself is both challenging and fair, fixing the major concerns from Dr. Wily’s Revenge and MMII. Having said all that, there is no way that anyone would choose to play MMIII over any of the NES games in any circumstance. The game’s main problem is that it comes across as sort of ordinary. It’s major selling point is its portability. While this is far less of a major selling point in a day where one can literally break out the first 6 NES games onto a device that fits in your pocket – I’m talking about the 3DS, of course – it was probably the best thing MegaMan III had going for it upon release. Of the Game Boy games, III is generally considered the rarest, as it was the oldest game in the series to not receive a Player’s Choice re-release. Somehow, for a title that’s best described as “average”, that seems like an ironic fate.

MegaMan IV

When all of the MegaMan games made from the Game Boy are lined up, side-by-side, it tells a story. Dr. Wily’s Revenge was the first experiment, generally considered a failure. II was an even bigger experiment, going with an entirely new developer and ended up being a failure. III was where things tipped over the edge and Minakuchi Engineering managed to achieve what most Game Boy iterations of popular series always shoot for: competence. Not excellence, not brilliance, but mere competence. On their second game, the team at Minakuchi managed to achieve that goal and got their foot in the door for the remainder of Classic MegaMan’s portable adventures. In the end, that seemed to be their plan all along: allow Capcom to become happy with their work, which sold games but didn’t outshine the “real” MegaMan games. Little did they realize that the very next game, MegaMan IV, would end up redefining the expectations of any and all future spin-off games for portable systems.

To put things into perspective, IV was the first Game Boy MegaMan game that had introductory cutscenes depicting the game’s story. Scientists from all over the world have gathered at the first annual Robot Master Expo, to showcase the latest advances in the field of robotics. Suddenly, Dr. Wily arrives on the scene in his trademark flying saucer and sends out a radio transmission which sends all of the robots at the Expo go berserk. He then activates eight of his old robots – again, four of them actually belong to Cossack – and sets off to take over the world yet again. Fortunately, MegaMan is at the expo and tries to stop Wily’s latest scheme, but first he must find a way to deactivate the reprogrammed robots. He also has to contend with the latest robot in the MegaMan Killer line, Ballade. Far more powerful than his predecessors, Ballade views MegaMan as the greatest challenge of his life and eagerly awaits fighting the Blue Bomber in one-on-one combat. Can MegaMan defeat this new threat and stop the mad doctor’s latest scheme?

MegaMan IV is unique from its predecessors, in the sense that it experiments with brand-new gameplay mechanics, while still feeling exactly like a true MegaMan game in its own right. Perhaps the simplest example of this comes in the game’s take on the Mega Buster. It essentially combines elements from both the MM4 and MM5/6 versions: MegaMan doesn’t lose his charge after taking damage, but the charged shot itself more closely resembles the more compact design from 5 and 6, as opposed to the longer “comet” design from 4 (and by extension, III). However, IV also adds a new mechanic all its own, whenever a fully-charged shot is fired, MegaMan takes a little bit of kickback. Now, there are times where this can be detrimental, but they’re very few and far between – MegaMan would have to be standing at the very edge of a ledge to be knocked off by the recoil of a charged shot. Perhaps the most significant change would be the addition of the Shop mechanic. A new power-up, referred to as “P Chips”, can be found throughout stages and can even be dropped by defeated enemies. They come in two sizes: small ones are worth 2 units, while the larger ones are worth 5. There are also miniature E-Tanks that can be found in stages, collect 4 and they become a full E-Tank, but otherwise they’re as useful as individual pieces of heart from Zelda. MegaMan can hold up to 999 of them at any time. By hitting the Select button on the Stage Select screen or pressing the B button after completing a stage, players can enter Dr. Light’s Laboratory. There, P Chips can be exchanged for several items, including various Energy Tanks, extra lives, and even the Energy Balancer.

As usual, the game retains the formula as established in the previous game. Players are allowed to choose reimagined stages, each capped off with one of 4 Robot Masters from MM4 – specifically, Toadman, Pharoahman, Ringman and Brightman – before taking on a short intermission stage. After that, the cycle is repeated, only with an assortment of 4 bosses from MegaMan 5 – Chargeman, Stoneman, Napalmman and Crystalman, followed by the Wily Station stages. There are a few interesting caveats this time around. For starters, there are letters hidden in all eight of the Robot Master stages. In the MM4 bosses’ stages, the letters B-E-A-T are hidden and collecting all four of them unlocks Beat, much like in MM6. However, the bosses from MM5 have the letters W-I-L-Y hidden in their stages and these are necessary to complete the game. They act as keys to Wily’s Fortress and players cannot progress without them. That’s right: a MegaMan game that expects more than the bare minimum from its players to proceed, something that hasn’t happened since 1987. What an age we lived in. Best of all, MMIV brings back the boss rematches in this Wily Station, teleporter hatches and all. This definitely adds to the game’s length. One odd point is that the password system gets a lot more complex in this game compared to previous titles – more than likely due to the amount of information each passcode needs to remember. By this point, Capcom probably should’ve considered investing in a battery back-up instead.

MMIV

I love how his second form just consists of raising his horns and putting on sunglasses.

Obviously, the weapons are once again the same exact ones from the NES games for the most part. Beat is identical to its MM5 and 6 version, and is unlocked by collecting the BEAT letters. Rush Coil is obtained by defeating Toadman and beating Chargeman grants MegaMan the use of the Rush Jet. As usual, the only original weapon comes from the MegaMan Killer, Ballade. The somehow simultaneously aptly and incoherently named Ballade Cracker is an explosive that can be aimed in 7 directions – all but straight down – that deals massive damage. Of all the unique weapons exclusive to the Game Boy MegaMans, the Ballade Cracker is the best by far. It’s a shame that it’s only accessible near the end of the game.

There’s little that hasn’t already been said with regards to the graphics. By this point, the artstyle has gotten as close to that of the NES as possible, given the Game Boy’s lack of colors and small screen. A nice touch would have to be the redesign for the stage select: instead of having four portraits onscreen at the same time, bosses are selected by cycling through full body shots of each Robot Master’s in-game sprite, with the bottom portion of the screen showcasing each boss posing in front of their stage’s setting. It’s a really interesting concept that I wish more games in the series had used. Inafune was a big fan of Ballade’s design – as was the case with Enker and Punk – and he had fun devising what Ballade’s second form would look like. The game’s music is also top-notch. Kouji Murata returns as the game’s composer, though by this point, he had left Minakuchi and begun working as a freelancer full-time. He returned for this game at the request of his former employer. Much like how the soundtrack for MMIII perfectly mirrored the safe approach Minakuchi Engineering took with that game’s development, the same could be said for the more experimental nature of IV overall. Aside from the Robot Master stage themes and the boss themes from both MM4 and MM5 – which have been rearranged to varying degrees – the entire soundtrack is original, including the stage selected and victory jingles. In fact, there are quite a few catchy tunes in MMIV: I love both variants of the stage select theme, the password music and Ballade’s theme. My personal favorite is probably the Wily Stage theme.

It’s really a shame that MegaMan IV doesn’t get more love. Despite falling into the same basic mold as the first three MegaMan Game Boy games, it ended up making a lot of changes to the existing formula. It’s safe to say that IV probably had much more of a lasting impact on the series than most people would likely give it credit for. The shop system that was established in this game would appear in every mainline game moving forward, not to mention a few spin-offs. IV’s emphasis on storyline told in-game would have an impact on the series moving forward, particularly during the 16-bit and 32-bit eras. If this was the last game released on Game Boy, it would’ve been a suitable end – the game surpassed the expectation of most portable tie-ins to popular series by a wide margin and provided a more than suitable adventure for handhelds that deserves its place among the “real” MegaMan games on the NES. Alas, it’s generally lumped in with its predecessors as little more than a pale imitation of the console games, due to recycling bosses.  However, it’s completely understandable why people could easily forget about MMIV. After all, the best was still yet to come.

MegaMan V

While portable spinoffs for video game series, popular and niche, are generally considered average at best, there are games that somehow manage to far exceed these simple expectations. Link’s Awakening, Super Mario Land 2 and the Shinobi games for Game Gear come to mind, but perhaps the greatest of all was the fifth MegaMan game released on the Game Boy. While the first four portable games recycled boss characters and stage elements from the NES games, the final game was completely original. Considering what I’ve seen of Minakuchi Engineering’s development history, this game is clearly their magnum opus. I’ve even seen some claim that this is the best MegaMan game in the entire franchise. Frankly, I’m not inclined to disagree.

A few months have passed since Dr. Wily’s latest attempt at world domination and the world is at peace. Rock and Roll are walking through a field on a peaceful day when a mysterious robot suddenly appears. “So, you are the famous MegaMan! I am Terra – and you will soon be my slave!” Rock transforms into MegaMan while Roll runs to safety. The Blue Bomber puts up a valiant effort, but his attacks have absolutely no effect on this new threat. MegaMan is quickly defeated by Terra and awakes hours later in Dr. Light’s lab. Several robots from outer space have begun an assault on the Earth. Referring to themselves as the “Stardroids”, these intergalactic warriors have conquered most major cities. To make matters worse, they are constructed of alien materials, which render most weapons useless. Fortunately, the good doctor managed to study the Stardroids’ powers and devised a new weapon to replace MegaMan’s Super Mega Buster: the Mega Arm. He also created a brand-new robotic assistant for MegaMan: a mechanical feline named Tango, capable of transforming into a buzzsaw to attack enemies. Armed with these new abilities, MegaMan sets forth to stop the aspirations of the mysterious Stardroids. But could there be more to this threat than it appears?

MMV-01

This intro is pretty amazing for a handheld game.

In the previous entries, I neglected to mention how the Game Boy games handled gameplay compared to their original NES counterparts. The games themselves, for the most part, play similarly, but there is one key difference that has been a constant criticism since Dr. Wily’s Revenge. The Game Boy’s screen size is significantly smaller than standard-sized televisions – even back in the 1990s – and as such, the games’ aspect ratio had to be adjusted to account for the handheld’s tiny display. As such, most of the stage is left obscured compared to the full console releases, which can often allow obstacles and enemies to seemingly come out of nowhere. For the most part, the stages are designed to prevent this from becoming a problem, but it’s not an exact science. There are examples in all five games where the limited screen size can become a problem, but MegaMan V avoids it for the most part. Fortunately, MegaMan retains his fluid controls – even in MegaMan II – a surprising feat given the compressed level designs present in the Game Boy spinoffs.

MegaMan V introduces a host of new elements. First and foremost is the Mega Arm. While the various incarnations of the Mega Buster allowed MegaMan to charge up a larger and more damaging shot, the Mega Arm elects instead to deliver a powerful punch. MegaMan still has his standard shots, but a fully-charged Mega Arm shot fires off MegaMan’s fist across most of the screen before it returns to MegaMan (not unlike the Ring Boomerang). A partially-charged shot only goes half the distance, but maintains the same damage as the charged shot. Of course, this comes at a cost: the arm must return to MegaMan before he’s able to attack again. Otherwise, the Blue Bomber is left completely defenseless. The shop mechanic from the previous game also returns, but adds some new items, specifically two add-ons for the Mega Arm: Magnet Hand allows MegaMan to grab items with the Mega Arm, while the Clobber Hand allows MegaMan to hit enemies multiple times with a single Mega Arm charge shot. This extra damage is achieved by hitting the Fire button multiple times with proper timing. It can be difficult to perfect the technique, but it’s always worth attempting, since failure just means the Arm moves back into position as usual. Aside from those, the items from the previous game are also available for sale: various energy tanks and the Energy Balancer. The game also retains MMIV’s unique password system – though they swap out Beat for Tango this time around.

MMV-03

I love the Mega Arm. It’s so bad.

As per usual, the Stardroids are split into two sets of four. The first four Stardroids – Mercury, Mars, Neptune and Venus – are found in various locations on Earth. After a short intermission pitting MegaMan against a familiar foe, the Blue Bomber sets off to fight four more Stardroids – Uranus, Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn – who have all taken refuge on the planets bearing their names. Yes, even Pluto: it was 1994, so we still considered Pluto a planet, deal with it. Hidden in each of the second wave of stages are four Energy Crystals. If all of them are collected, Dr. Light can use them to build the Power Generator – a device that halves the amount of energy it takes to use all of the Special Weapons. After defeating the eight Stardroids, MegaMan is finally able to have his final showdown with their leader, Terra – or Earth, as he was known in Japan. After defeating him, it turns out that Dr. Wily had a hand in the Stardroid’s conquest and MegaMan must fly to Wily’s latest base – the aptly-named“Wily Star” – using a modified version of the Rush Marine as a spaceship, leading to a shoot-’em-up sequence culminating with a boss fight against the base’s defenses. After fighting through the MegaMan Killers and Quint from the previous Game Boy games, as well as rematches with the first eight Stardroids, MegaMan finally comes face-to-face with the mad doctor in another climactic battle. After being defeated, Wily still has one trick up his sleeve: the ultimate weapon, Sunstar – a Stardroid boasting the power of the sun itself. That’s right, there was a Classic MegaMan game where Wily isn’t the final boss – I didn’t believe it either the first time I heard about it.

As usual, the game has a few support items. The Rush Coil and Rush Jet are unlockable once again, beat Venus and Saturn respectively to unlock them. The Coil is its usual self, but the Rush Jet acts differently: MegaMan needs to run while using it and it can no longer move up or down while in use, much like Item-2 in MegaMan 2. However, MMV decided to try something entirely unique with the latest addition to MegaMan’s mechanical menagerie. Tango is a frisky feline who can be used from the very beginning of the game. Like Beat before him, Tango attacks enemies, but goes about it in a very unique way. Summoned with a fully-charged shot, Tango teleports on the scene, meows – I must admit, it’s a pretty cute sound – and rolls into a buzzsaw, bouncing around the stage, staying close to MegaMan. Not particularly the most useful support item in the series, but certainly an interesting concept. Tango sticks around until his energy is depleted, he falls into a pit or when MegaMan leaves the room he was activated in. Keiji Inafune would later state that Tango was designed because the development team for MMV wanted to introduce a supporting character that didn’t appear in the NES games.

Of course, with completely original bosses come some new weapons. As usual, I’m going to be ranking all nine of them, from best to worst. MegaMan V’s arsenal is actually pretty unique, particularly in comparison to those found in its NES contemporaries. The Mega Arm essentially balances the Mega Buster’s power with some minor disadvantages, allowing the Special Weapons a rare chance to shine. First off, the obvious choice is Terra’s Spark Chaser: a laser shot that locks onto the nearest enemy, striking them multiple times. The only downside is that it’s obtained so late in the game, but given Terra’s position as leader of the Stardroids, it only makes sense that he would have the best weapon. Next would have to be the Photon Missile, obtained by defeating Mars. It’s similar to the Drill Bomb from MM4, but it lacks the remote detonation feature. It hangs in place for a second before shooting forward at incredible speeds, allowing it to be used as a trap. Considering each shot only takes half a unit of energy per shot, it’s also probably the most efficient missile weapon in MegaMan history. My choice for the third best weapon would be Pluto’s Break Dash. After charging the weapon, MegaMan lets loose with a powerful dash, able to crush enemies and specific blocks. Best of all, unlike similar weapons like the Top Spin and Charge Kick, MegaMan is rendered completely invincible while dashing. The Bubble Bomb, taken from Venus, takes the number four spot. MegaMan fires off a bubble that floats upward in an erratic, wavy pattern. Once it reaches the ceiling, it drags along it – not unlike the Bubble Lead from MM2 – and if it makes impact with an enemy, it explodes in spectacular fashion.

MMV-02

MegaMan V’s original bosses were truly amazing.

Number 5 (Number V?) on the list would have to be the Salt Water, unlocked after beating Neptune. MegaMan throws a large orb of water in a downward arc, splashing into three smaller balls on impact with a wall or the ground. It’s almost like a modified version of the Crystal Eye, but with a much higher damage output. My choice for the sixth best weapon would have to be Jupiter’s Electric Shock. Similar to MMX’s Fire Wave, MegaMan fires a short-range stream of electricity for a single second. Unfortunately, he’s unable to move forward or back for the duration of the attack, but he can still jump and the Electric Shock makes up for its shortcomings with high damage. Next, there’s the Grab Buster, taken from Mercury. The weapon is a standard shot, but the cool thing is that when it hits standard enemies, it can pull power-ups – generally small health and weapon energy pick-ups or the occasional small P chip – off of them and send them straight to MegaMan. Aside from that, the weapon isn’t too special, most bosses are actually completely immune to it. Trailing at number eight is Uranus’s Deep Digger – there’s no way that name wasn’t intended as a joke. It’s essentially the Super Arm 2.0: MegaMan can lift specific blocks by standing on top of them and fling them at enemies as a solid piece. If they hit a wall, they ricochet back in four smaller pieces. Fortunately, this time around, more areas have the blocks in question. In fact, some hidden paths are covered by those specific blocks, so it’s definitely got more of a utility than the original Super Arm. Still, it relies entirely on those blocks, but at least it allows MegaMan a standard arm cannon attack whenever there’s nothing around to grab. Finally, there’s Black Hole, the prize for defeating Saturn. It essentially sucks in enemies and one of them makes contact with the black hole, it causes a massive explosion that damages every enemy onscreen. It’s one of those weapons that’s really only useful in specific situations. To make matters worse, the only boss weak to it is Mercury and it can only be used on him during the rematch on the Wily Star.

Like the gameplay itself, MegaMan V’s graphics push Nintendo’s plucky handheld to its limits, while still maintaining the look of the classic NES games. Aside from some reused graphics from previous Game Boy titles, all of the in-game sprites are completely original, leading to some fairly unique enemy designs. Keiji Inafune even recounted that having a specific theme made it easier and harder to design the Stardroids, especially given the vagueness of theming the game around outer space. As such, Inafune had several reservations when designing the game’s original bosses.  The fact that the game doesn’t have to follow any preconceived theming for the Stardroids compared to the recycled Robot Masters of previous games, also allowed Minakuchi Engineering to get inventive with some of the game’s environments. Neptune’s stage starts atop a battleship on the sea, constantly rising and falling, before moving to the inside, where there are several water-based hazards to navigate. Uranus’s stage is a cavern themed after Egypt for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Most of the other stages utilize a more common “space station” theme, but still manage to incorporate their own unique elements over the underlying theme. The game also uses the Game Boy’s small scale for some interesting effects during the initial push to the Wily Star. While MegaMan and Rush start out at full-size on the journey to Wily’s space station, once they fight with it to gain entrance, they shrink to miniature versions of themselves to bring the massive Wily Star into proper scale. The way that the shift in scale is handled by the game is actually really impressive for a Game Boy game, even this late into the system’s lifespan. The real star of the show would have to be the cinematic cutscenes that play throughout the game. Even compared to MMIV, the sheer amount of story cutscenes is amazing and the expressions that were captured in the in-game sprites is impressive. This game is essentially a masterclass in terms of showing game designers how to do more with less. MegaMan V was also the first and only game in the series to be fully-compatible with the Super Game Boy peripheral for the SNES. Plugging the game in caused the game to display special color palettes for each stage and cutscene and surrounded the gameplay with a nice little border featuring the Metools

The game’s soundtrack is completely original, even keeping with the Game Boy’s theme of original jingles for both the stage select and boss victories. Like the other Game Boy games, the entire staff goes uncredited, but this time, there’s really no concrete evidence as to who actually composed for this game. Most people assume that Kouji Murata returned to bring the series to its conclusion, but given the fact that he didn’t list the game among his works on his own website, it seems this might not be the case. Still, there is evidence that implies that he could have been behind MMV’s soundtrack: some music from MMIV is found among the game’s data and the musical style does seem to match up with III and IV. Regardless of who composed the game, the game’s tone seems to simultaneously match up with the mainline games, while having its own unique tone. Many of the stage themes have this weird tone to them that is both playful, yet sinister. I’d say the soundtrack’s highlights are the stage themes for Venus, Uranus and Jupiter; the theme that plays while MegaMan makes his way to the Wily Star and the final battle with Sunstar. I also found the stage select theme catchy, not to mention the theme that plays in Dr. Light’s lab at the beginning of the game and the password theme.

Perhaps it’s fitting that MegaMan V was the last game in the Game Boy series, as it finally managed to achieve something its predecessors could only dream of. While the first four portable games relied heavily on their “big brothers” from the NES, V not only stood independently of everything that came before it, but also seemed to provide a look at how the Classic series could have continued in tandem with the new MegaMan X series, which had started on the SNES the previous year and was heralded as the first proper evolution of the series since the second NES game. After MMX debuted, many assumed that the original series may be done for good – despite MegaMan 6’s ending hinting at a sequel – but MMV managed to find a way to keep the series relevant. More importantly, it was the last game for a long time that used the classic 8-bit MegaMan art style – retro throwbacks hadn’t come into vogue just yet – so in a sense, it was also closing a chapter on the MegaMan legacy itself. In the end, Minakuchi Engineering managed to create a game that not only completely surpassed the concept of the portable spin-off, they created a game that can stand proudly among the best of one of the greatest video game franchises of all time.

Thus concludes the Game Boy line of MegaMan games. While the game carts are rare in the West, especially the last 3 games which didn’t receive any budget re-releases, the entire set has been re-released on the Nintendo 3DS via the Virtual Console. As such, it’s easy enough to fire these up in a fashion both cheap and legal. However, this wasn’t the only time Capcom considered re-releases for the portable spinoffs. Back when the Game Boy Color first debuted, three major titles from the original Game Boy – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Tetris – were re-released, with brand new content and capable of using the GBC’s full color palette. Wario Land 2 would receive similar treatment, but was a simple coloration of the original game with no added features.  At one point, Nintendo apparently considered doing more deluxe re-releases, but eventually decided against it. The only two games that are known to have been considered to receive the DX treatment are Metroid II: Return of Samus and MegaMan V. Alas, the worst was yet to come. Back in 2004, Capcom considered making two collections to celebrate the Blue Bomber’s long tenure. The first was the MegaMan Anniversary Collection, which I touched on earlier. The second was a title meant exclusively for the Game Boy Advance. At one point referred to as “MegaMan Anniversary Collection” but more commonly known as “MegaMan Mania”, the game was set to include all 5 Game Boy games on a single cartridge. Best of all, the games were going to be fully colorized in this new re-release, though players would also have the option to play in the original black-and-white. There was also talk of an art gallery, as well as a “complete history of MegaMan”. Unfortunately, Mania never materialized, with the commonly accepted reason being that Capcom had lost access to the source code. To add insult to injury, some have speculated that it was only MegaMan II that had kept this collection from coming to fruition. While it’s good to see the games available in the present, just thinking about how we almost had enhanced re-releases several years before makes the whole situation bittersweet. I’d love to see Capcom revisit the MegaMan Mania concept one more time with a third Legacy Collection, but at this point, I’m pretty much sure I’d accept straight ports again.

This brings us to the end of MegaMan’s tenure during the 8-bit era. While MegaMan would continue to thrive in future generations – mainly by way of various spinoffs – the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System is definitely the period most people look back on most fondly with regards to the original Blue Bomber. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at how Classic MegaMan fared during the next two generations, as well as several of the weirder spin-offs Capcom either made themselves or licensed to other companies.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 1]

Mega_Man_logo

I’ve said this so many times, it’s probably a cliché at this point, but I owe much of my love to the entire medium of video games to MegaMan. When I was a kid, my only regular outlet for playing video games on a console was the old NES at a childhood friend’s house. Of the numerous games he’d traded back and forth to Funcoland (Ah, Funcoland!), there were three games that stood out to me, that would have a profound impact on my taste in video games. Of those three games, for the longest time, MegaMan was the constant. Double Dragon II was its series’ swansong for quite some time – arguably, it only recovered recently with Double Dragon Neon and Double Dragon IV. Likewise, Contra’s relevancy diminished significantly after the 16-bit era. MegaMan, on the other hand, managed to persevere. Not always in its original form, but for most of the Blue Bomber’s life, the franchise was the recipient of much love from the folks over at Capcom. There’s the more mature themes of the X series, the experimental 3D gameplay of the Legends series, the unique RPG spin of Battle Network, my beloved MegaMan Zero quadrilogy, the woefully incomplete ZX and the profoundly underrated Star Force franchise. As far as I’m concerned, Capcom got it right the first time: I still maintain that the “Classic” MegaMan is the best of the bunch, offering what may very well be the purest take on run-and-gun platforming action in video game history. While the series has obviously seen much better days – what with the present 7-year hiatus, multiple cancelled titles and only a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it – sometimes it’s better to just dwell on the past and try to remember the good times.

In honor of the franchise’s 30th year, I’ve decided to go ahead and dedicate a retrospective to MegaMan, specifically the aforementioned “Classic” series. Chances are I will revisit other sub-franchises down the line in future Retrospectives, but this seems like as good a place as any to get started: at the beginning. As with the Retrospective on Ys, I won’t necessarily be handling this in chronological release order, at least not in the pure sense that I ordered the various listings in the first two retrospective articles. Given just how long the series has gone on – not to mention my experience with the games in question – I’ve decided to split this article into four separate ones. This first one will cover the first 3 games, all originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Of course, this time around, I’ll include broader takes on my opinions regarding the various facets of each of these games, as opposed to the generalized reviews I did in previous articles. After all, the original MegaMan series may very well be the video game series I’m the most well-versed in, so it’s only fitting that I accompany each game’s analysis with my own personal thoughts on their various facets.

Likewise, I’ve also decided to cover an assortment of various minor titles: remakes, spinoffs and the like. Now, this list won’t be complete by any means, but I’ll try to hit as many traditional-style MegaMan games as I can possibly remember – and maybe even some that most people wouldn’t even bother with. These will also be split across all four articles, just to keep things a bit light and to allow me to discuss these various offshoots. Of course, that means that I’ll be skipping out on spinoffs like MegaMan’s Soccer, MegaMan: Battle and Chase, Super Adventure Rockman and Wily and Light’s RockBoard: That’s Paradise, but I think those are fair omissions. This time, I’ll be discussing MegaMan: The Wily Wars – fitting given that it’s a remade compilation of the three mainline games I’ll be covering in this article – as well as the two IBM PC games Capcom licensed through Hi-Tech Expressions, arguably the evilest company that ever lived.

Also, given the fact that this is a video game blog, I’ll be skipping over the various adaptations, but I feel like giving a couple of them some proper shout-outs regardless: the cheesy 1990’s cartoon show from Ruby-Spears Production, as well as the brilliant but woefully short-lived comic from Archie were among my favorite takes on the world of MegaMan. Having said that, there may be times where I make references to various other media that MegaMan has inhabited, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. So, with all the introductions out of the way, let’s get equipped with some Bubble Lead and get started with this celebration of 30 years since the Blue Bomber first appeared.

MegaMan

Ironically, the first MegaMan game was the second game in the series I’d ever encountered. That friend of mine I mentioned at the beginning of the article? He managed to get his hands on the first game during one of his usual trading binges. It didn’t end up staying in his collection for too long, so my childhood memories of the game are fuzzy at best, and it doesn’t help that they were mostly passive experiences. I’m sure many of you know that feeling, of being at a friend’s house when he’s obsessed with a brand-new single-player game and you’re just essentially sitting there, waiting and watching: hoping for a turn that you know, deep down, will never come. I don’t think I got to sit down and actually play the original MegaMan until many years later, when I really started getting into the series on my own terms. I’ve just always thought it was funny that the original MegaMan, the game that started it all, just barely came out within a month from the day I was born. Maybe I was just destined to love the series because of that odd coincidence. Granted, it does seem like a fair amount of series that I love even to this day – Ys, Street Fighter, even Double Dragon and Contra! – all seemed to start the year before I born. Funny how that worked out for me.

Before we get into the game itself, I feel like mentioning some random trivia about the first game and its development. It’s been long asserted that it was originally meant to be a licensed title featuring Astro Boy (better known as “Tetsuwan Atom” in Japan), but I haven’t been able to track down any concrete evidence supporting this. Regardless, Classic MegaMan in general appears to draw a lot of inspiration from Osamu Tezuka’s classic anime and manga, so it’s only fair that many people would take this rumor as gospel. Likewise, the character was originally named “Rainbowman” – likely due to the fact that he changed colors depending on which weapon he had equipped – but this was soundly rejected due to copyright issues, likely due to the live-action superhero of the same name, created by Toho over a decade prior. They would end up settling on “Rockman”, which would supposedly also find copyright issues elsewhere – considering it’s the name of a series of headphone amplifiers – so the name would be changed to “Mega Man” elsewhere, though Capcom’s then-Consumer Products Division President Joseph Morici asserts that the name was changed because he thought the name was terrible, and that Mega Man would be more appealing to US audiences.

The game’s story is simple, but appealing. In the far-flung year of 200X – which was still fairly far off back in 1987, to be fair – advances in the field of robotics have revolutionized society, allowing humanity to enter a new golden age. Roboticist Dr. Thomas Light is at the forefront of the field, having just created eight highly intelligent robots. Among these were Cutman, built for logging; Gutsman, a construction robot with incredible strength; Iceman, whose resistance to low temperatures made him a suitable choice for exploring arctic territories; Bombman, a demolition robot and expert with explosives; Fireman, built to incinerate trash and Elecman, designed to help maintain electrical plants. However, a former colleague of Light’s, Dr. Albert Wily grew jealous of Light’s fame and glory and reprogrammed these six robots, with world domination as his end goal. Wily would leave behind Light’s earliest robots – Rock, Light’s lab assistant and Roll, a housekeeping robot – feeling that they weren’t worth reprogramming. Feeling a strong sense of justice – God, I love that line – Rock volunteers to be modified into a super fighting robot, to stop the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. Thus, MegaMan is born.

Of course, as was the case with many games of this era, the English story for MegaMan took more than its fair share of liberties with the original Japanese story. For starters, while the setting in Rockman is unnamed, Capcom USA chose to christen the game’s setting “Monsteropolis”. Likewise, Rock and Roll’s origin story was nixed, with Rock always being referred to as “Mega Man”, to the extent where rather than being dismissed by Wily, he outright resisted being reprogrammed. Of course, the most important difference between the original Japanese and Western backstories would have to be Dr. Wily’s role prior to the game’s story. While he was merely a rival scientist in the original Japanese version, the American version out right states that he was originally Dr. Light’s assistant, before going rouge. While I’m not particularly a fan of the other changes, this one always made more sense to me: it added to Wily’s motivations and what better way to reprogram your rival’s robots than from right under his nose? Apparently, I’m not alone either – this particular plot point was used as recently as Archie’s adaptation of the original Mega Man storyline. Other takes that go for authenticity with regards to the original Japanese backstory have a tendency to gloss over how the bad doctor manages to get his hands on Light’s robots, skipping those events in most cases.

MM1-01

I’m still not entirely sure what this stage was supposed to be.

The original MegaMan is the perfect example of what I like to see in the first game in any new franchise: a perfect example of a “diamond in the rough”. The base mechanics are all there, but clearly, they’re going to need some refinement before they reach their full potential. For those of you that have never played a MegaMan game before – which, I’m kind of surprised you’re reading this article – I’ve heard its gameplay best describe in three words: jump and shoot. Taking the qualities of both traditional platformers like Super Mario Bros. and “run-and-gun” games, players guide MegaMan through a stage, vaulting over obstacles and blasting enemies to progress. Each stage ends with a boss fight, as was the style at the time. There are also a number of power-ups to collect: extra lives take the form of MegaMan’s face and both health and weapon energy power-ups, in both small and large varieties. Of course, the larger ones give off more energy, but the small ones are better than nothing. Capcom even threw in a reference to some of their earlier games, in the form of the Yashichi – an icon that originated as an enemy in Capcom’s first title Vulgus – which restores all of MegaMan’s health, energy for all the weapons and is worth a staggering one million points.

MegaMan also brought some unique features to the table as well. You’re allowed to tackle the first six stages in the game in whatever order you choose. The real appeal of this game is what you get after you defeat each boss. After you defeat each of the first six bosses, you get their weapons. Each boss is also weak to a specific weapon, leading to a sort of “rock-paper-scissors” strategy when dealing with the more difficult bosses. Of course, freedom is the name of the game – you can also choose to avoid using boss weaknesses if you prefer a challenge. Both of these features would become franchise staples and would come to define MegaMan as a whole. Weapons could be switched via the pause menu, accessed by hitting the Start button. This would bring up a menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, which would bring up a number of letters and energy meters, each corresponding to the bosses that were defeated thus far – for example, “C” for Cutman – though MegaMan’s standard cannon is oddly identified with “P” and its corresponding energy meter represents his current health as opposed to remaining weapon energy.

MM1-02

I’m a bit rusty, but bomb beats rock, right?

Of course, the original MegaMan also had its own unique quirks, that emphasize the kind of early installment weirdness one comes to expect in the first game of a new series. For starters, the game keeps track of your score, which is entirely pointless: the score resets on a game over, the game doesn’t keep track of high scores and even if it did, the lack of a battery save would make that pointless anyway. Various power-ups also looked different from their equivalents in future games, not to mention there was one specific power-up that only had the effect of increasing your score, which would obviously be dropped in later entries. MegaMan could revisit stages, a feature that would only temporarily be dropped, but unlike future games, the boss would reappear at the end of the stage indefinitely. There’s also some weird physics issues that get ironed out in future games. Spikes are always an instant death, regardless of invincibility frames. Likewise, the game’s physics are a little different compared to future games: MegaMan’s walking is a bit more slippery, jump physics are normal even when underwater, and when the ground falls out from under him, MegaMan drops like a rock. Future games would tweak these weird quirks, but it’s important to keep in mind if it’s your first time playing the game. Of course, the difference on gameplay that had the largest impact was the infamous “pause trick”. By hitting Select, you could activate a secondary pause feature, one that didn’t have the menu. By spamming the Select button while an attack was on-screen, you could get multiple hits off a single shot with certain weapons. Easily abusable, but it takes a certain level of skill to pull off properly.

It’s impossible to fully discuss a MegaMan’s gameplay without discussing the weapons. The Plasma Cannon is MegaMan’s standard weapon, which allows for 3 shots to be on-screen at the same time. There’s also the Magnet Beam, which is less of a weapon and more of an “item”: allowing MegaMan to generate platforms of pure energy that he can walk along for a limited time before they dissipate. It’s stashed away in one of the initial six bosses’ stages, but is paramount to completing the game.

MM1-03

I will never understand why anyone started with Cutman.

The most important weapons are, of course, those you obtain by defeating bosses. I’ve decided that it seems worthwhile to rank each of them, based on my own personal preference. So, I’ll start with my favorite and work my way down. Number 1, in my opinion, would have to be the Fire Storm, which combines a damaging flame shot with a flame shield briefly surrounding MegaMan. Second best would obviously have to be the Electric Beam, which shoots three bolts of electricity directly in front of, above and below MegaMan. Most people tend to be torn on which one of these are their favorite, but usually one comes right after the other. They’re both obviously better than any other weapon in the game. Number three would have to be the Ice Slasher. The weapon doesn’t do damage for the most part, but it temporarily freezes non-boss enemies in place, defying gravity. It’s essentially a weapon that allows you to bypass obstacles, rather than destroying them.  Next, we have the Rolling Cutter, which is essentially a scissor blade that flies in a circular arc, slowly boomeranging back to the Blue Bomber (or would he be the Gray Garderner at this point?). It’s not a particularly useful weapon, but it essentially acts as an alternate aim compared to the standard plasma cannon, which can occasionally be useful when fighting specific enemies. Also, it kills Elecman in three solid hits, so it can’t be all bad. Moving on down to number five, we have Gutsman’s Super Arm. It has good range, solid aim and awesome damage, but it’s all ruined by one simple fact: it’s extremely situational. You can only get any real mileage out of this weapon by finding special destructible blocks that flash when you’re right next to them and have the Super Arm equipped. Kind of a letdown compared to the original version of the attack, where Gutsman can literally stomp blocks out of the sky into his massive arms. Finally, we come to the worst weapon in the game, and it’s obviously the Hyper Bomb. One might expect that the Super Arm’s uselessness couldn’t be topped, but the Hyper Bomb manages to achieve that impressive feat in mediocrity. To summarize, MegaMan throws a representation of the archetypical cartoon bomb at an awkward arc, bouncing two times upon hitting the ground (three times if you use in while jumping!) and standing still for a few seconds before detonating with a moderately-sized explosion. It does decent damage to standard enemies, but it’s too difficult to hit any of them reliably with this thing.

The game’s graphical style is fairly simple, but stylized – effectively going for a super-deformed “chibi” look, befitting the NES’s graphical limitation. There’s really not that much to talk about with regards to the graphics of the first six games: after all, they effectively maintain the same style throughout, even recycling graphics with minor updates and tweaks across titles. The graphics were clearly at their roughest during the first game, which is to be expected. Many of the original MegaMan’s unique enemies have less of an edge to them when compared to future installments, both those unique to this game and those that would eventually become series staples. The Sniper Joe, for example, looks much doughier and less threatening than future incarnations. The Metool – you know, those little hardhat guys – would closely resemble its more traditional incarnations, though lacking the feet that would become a signature trait in its design and having a far more sedate expression on its face. In general, most of the common enemy designs are a lot more abstract than those from future titles in the series, giving the original MegaMan a sort of retroactive individuality compared to future titles. Likewise, many graphical conventions typical of the series had yet to be established: the stage select consisted of full body shots of each of the Robot Masters, as opposed to mugshots. Likewise, instead of empty boxes denoted cleared stages, the backgrounds would change: yellow signifies that the boss had yet to be defeated, while black specifies that the stage has previously been cleared. Even Dr. Wily’s trademark saucer looks different, even sporting a unique red and gold palette, as opposed to the more traditional blue and gold.

MM1-04

I think this might actually be the most visually appealing segment in the game.

Of course, no discussion of any MegaMan game is complete without discussing its soundtrack – these games aren’t called “Rockman” in their home country for nothing! After all, the MegaMan series in general are often renowned for their soundtracks, which have given us many memorable themes in general. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Manami Matsumae and programmed by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, going by the respective pseudonyms of “Chanchacorin Manami” and “Yuukichan’s Papa”, as staff members in video games at the time were forced to credit themselves under false names to prevent gaining any sort of fanbase or following as individuals. While it differed from future titles in many significant ways, the original MegaMan firmly established the entire franchise’s tendency towards catchy, memorable songs. In fact, many of the franchise’s most iconic musical pieces originated in this game: most notably the jingle that play when a stage is selected. The music that plays on Cutman’s stage is one of the musical pieces best associated with the series as a whole. My personal favorite would have to be Fireman’s theme, an upbeat theme with a mechanical percussion sound that evokes the sound of crackling metal, fitting perfectly with the incinerator it accompanies. MegaMan 1’s boss themes are also both catchy, yet they both evoke different emotions: the standard boss theme is far more manic, exemplifying the deadly struggle between MegaMan and his former comrades at arms, while the theme reserved for the bosses fought in Dr. Wily’s robot factory evokes a sense of foreboding and despair, that perhaps the struggle at hand is truly impossible to overcome. The soundtrack has a much lighter sound compared to future titles, but that may just be because this was the first game Capcom had developed specifically for the NES (and home consoles in general), as Capcom’s developers would likely be unfamiliar with designing a game with that hardware specifically in mind.

With regards to the rest of the series, there tends to be an unspoken agreement among fans with regards to the first MegaMan: it’s generally considered the weakest game in the entire series, but due to its overall importance – not to mention the advantages that future installments building on its solid foundation – it’s rarely referred to as such. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the MegaMan franchise, but it is generally important to keep in mind. However, the first game does manage to win out, especially when compared to various other franchises from the same company. After all, Capcom didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the original Street Fighter until it became customary to celebrate video game anniversaries. The original MegaMan, despite all of its issues and flaws, was never really cast aside or forgotten. It was a bold experiment and ended up giving Capcom one of its most recognizable “mascots” (though, they never seem to recognize the concept) and one of video gaming’s most beloved icons. Given the ubiquity of the game, not to mention the fact that it’s generally packaged with other games in the series, I’d definitely say it’s worth playing, if only as a curiosity. After all, I’d generally consider knowledge of a game’s roots to be important, and despite the myriad of differences compared to future installments, there are more than enough similarities to prevent any sort of confusion. To those just getting into the series, however, I’d suggest playing one of its sequels beforehand, as the first game is among the hardest games in the entire franchise.

MegaMan 2

I don’t really know how to discuss my history with the second MegaMan game: after all, what hasn’t been said? It contributed a vast amount to my love of video games as a whole, it was the first MegaMan game I ever encountered and while it’s not my favorite game in the franchise, I can at least acknowledge why it is generally considered to be the best game in the entire series. Hell, I got way more playtime on this one when I was a mere Icepicklet compared to the first game, but that’s not really that much of an achievement all things considered. I beat a few bosses, got my grubby little hands on a few boss weapons and I was absolutely hooked on the franchise, even with my access to it was essentially blocked off for a number of years following. Regardless, while this game will always occupy a very special place in my heart, MegaMan 2 – subtitled “The Mystery of Dr. Wily” in Japan – has definitely been far outstripped by a fair share of its successors – more on that later. Of course, not prostrating before the 1988 classic as the absolute apex of what the Classic MegaMan series could hope to offer always struck me as a little weird. In the end, having future titles surpass this beloved game strikes me as an ideal scenario: after all, what’s the point in continuing a series that peaked as early as the second game?

The original MegaMan wasn’t a run-away hit in any region, but it did manage to sell well enough in both Japan and North America to warrant a sequel. Keiji Inafune, long-time steward of the franchise, blamed the poor sales of the first game in the latter region due to its infamous box art, literally drawn in six hours with no reference material. MegaMan 2 incorporated various concepts and content that was left out of the original game, and while the majority of the staff from the first game returned to develop the second, they were assigned to other projects in the interim, only allowed to work on MM2 in their spare time. Akira Kitamura, the director for the first two games in the series, wanted to incorporate a greater amount of fan feedback into this game, compared to the first game which was an internal affair. As such, they held a contest for fans to submit their own concepts for boss characters, something that would become a staple for throughout the series history. Capcom received a whopping 8,370 submissions, but only 8 ended up making it into the final product, with major tweaks made to the designs that ended up being accepted. Of course, it all ended up being worth it: MegaMan 2 is the top-selling game in the franchise to this day, moving roughly 1.5 million units, cementing MegaMan’s place as a beloved video game icon.

MM2-02

This area just always stuck out to me.

One year after MegaMan put an end to the evil machinations of Dr. Wily, the not-so-good doctor returns, setting his sights on world domination once again. This time, however, Wily has built eight combat robots all his own to defeat MegaMan. These robots include Metalman, designed as an improvement over Cutman, wielding razor-sharp saw blades; Airman, a robot with a giant fan capable of generating typhoons built directly into his torso; Bubbleman, an aquatic robot resembling a frogman, designed strictly for underwater combat; Quickman, a robot capable of moving at supersonic speeds based loosely on Elecman’s design; Crashman, a combat robot wielding time-bomb explosives with design elements taken from both Bombman and Gutsman; Flashman, a robot capable of temporarily stopping time, freezing his opponents in place; Heatman, an improvement on Fireman’s design, built to resemble a Zippo lighter, providing extra protection against high temperatures and Woodman, a defensive robot built mostly out of wood. Wily himself has taken refuge within a castle lined with a skull motif.

The gameplay is mostly unchanged from the first game: pick from eight stages, beat the boss, take his weapon, rinse, repeat. The fact that the game has beefed up its initial roster of stages from six to eight, which would become the standard for the series. Fun fact there: apparently, MM1 was originally intended to have eight bosses itself, but it was pared down to six due to time constraints. So, it was less that MM2 was adding content, rather it was finally delivering on the original concept. Those physics issues I mentioned from the first game? All changed, leading to the general engine that the series would follow for years to come. MegaMan 2 also added a new power-up: the Energy Tanks, an item that could completely restore MegaMan’s health. Better still, they were added to MegaMan’s inventory, so they could be used at any point. You can, however, only carry four E-Tanks at a time and you lose any that you were carrying on a Game Over. The superfluous score system was removed, it didn’t serve any actual purpose in the first game after all. MM2 also began the trend of coupling the support items with specific weapons, as opposed to hiding them within the stages themselves. MM2 is also fairly unique in the sense that it’s the only game without an obvious “perfect cycle” of boss weaknesses.

MM2-03

This was always a fun boss fight.

Perhaps the most significant addition MM2 made over the original game was the addition of the password system. The original MegaMan was a “one-session” game: if you needed to take a break, you either had to finish it in a single shot or you had to leave your system on while taking breaks and pray that nothing changed that fact before you got back to it. While a battery save would’ve made things even easier, it’s better than nothing. Best of all, passwords even keep track the number of E-Tanks you have left. Besides, the password jingles in many of the MegaMan games are among my favorites in the series – especially the one from MM2 – so it worked out pretty well for me in the long run. The Western releases also added a difficulty setting, that was somewhat misleading: the “Difficult” option had the balancing from the original Rockman 2, while “Normal” doubled the damage MegaMan could inflict on …well, everything. These days, I only play on “Difficult”, but adding that easier difficulty (and not dubbing it “easy mode”) was a brilliant move on Capcom USA’s part: I probably never would’ve gotten into the series back when I was 4 or 5 if I’d only had the original difficulty as an option.

That being said, let’s move onto the fun part: ranking the weapons. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon returns unchanged from the first game. The Magnet Beam gets retired, in exchange for three new support items. These three items were devised as a response to feedback from both customers and Capcom’s marketing team regarding the first game’s difficulty. Item-1 is a platform with a propeller on its bottom that stays in place for a brief period before disintegrating; Item-2 is a rocket sled that propels MegaMan forward until its weapon energy dissipates; and Item-3 crawls up the first wall it collides with, draining energy until MegaMan jumps off of it and it begins descending towards the ground. These support items are collected by beating Heatman, Airman and Flashman respectively, and while they mainly factor into the later Wily Castle stages, they allow MegaMan to reach otherwise unreachable powerups in the earlier stages as well.

MM2-01

Everyone’s favorite!

With those out of the way, let’s get on with the weapons, once again, going from best to worst. Obviously, the crème de le crème is the Metal Blade, it literally couldn’t be anything else. Generally considered the best weapon in MegaMan history, this thing is broken. Low energy consumption, 8-way aiming and hits harder than your standard buster. Not to mention the fact that it’s often a better option for fighting most bosses than their official weaknesses. It’s so overpowered, I legitimately save Metalman for last in many of my more recent playthroughs, just to get a feel for the other weapons. The next best weapon would have to be the Leaf Shield. Often imitated, never duplicated, the Leaf Shield surrounds MegaMan with a barrier of 4 indestructible leaves. Hitting a direction on the D-Pad, even to move forward, sends the leaves flying in that direction, doing massive damage, but I always found that the weapon works best while standing completely still. Number three would have to be the Crash Bomber. While its best use is destroying destructible walls, the Crash Bomber also does some awesome damage, making it a multi-purpose powerhouse and an extreme improvement over the Hyper Bomb. Then there’s the Quick Boomerang: a short-range attack capable of extreme rapid fire, and perhaps the weapon with the most weaknesses in the later stages. I never really had much love for this thing, considering I’d always go after Quickman last, but it’s still good. Next comes the Atomic Fire, which can be best described as the predecessor to the Mega Buster – more on that later – it fires off a weak fiery shot, but if you hold down the shoot button, it can be charged up into a giant fireball of destruction, albeit at a steep weapon energy cost. Number six is probably the Bubble Lead –I never knew whether it’s pronounced like “reed” or “red”, both make sense honestly, but I always went with the latter. Generally considered the joke weapon of MM2 – I mean, come on, it’s a bubble – it’s actually better than you’d expect, especially around the end of the game. Next comes Flashman’s Time Stopper. I used to love that thing when I was a kid, but once I got actually experience with it, its flaws became apparent. While it freezes enemies and obstacles in place for the duration of the attack, some things aren’t easy to avoid while in this state. As MegaMan lacks any other form of attack while the Time Stopper’s active, it’s impossible to destroy any enemies that are both frozen in place and too large to jump over. Of course, that leaves the Air Shooter as the worst weapon in MM2. It fires at an awkward angle, a lot of enemies are immune to it, it’s basically only useful for beating Crashman and those terrible Sniper Armors. Otherwise, it’s best to just stick with the Plasma Cannon.

As I mentioned earlier, the game’s artstyle doesn’t really vary all that much from the first game – after all, the main character’s graphics are ripped directly from it. At best, we’re essentially looking at a refinement of the first game’s look. The backgrounds are more detailed, the new enemies are more cohesive in style, and the bosses themselves actually seem a little more animated than their predecessors. The major difference between the two games focuses more on presentation. While the title screen in the first game was just a still image – either the “MegaMan” logo on a black screen or a static image of MegaMan with the Rockman logo above it, depending on region – MM2 greets players with an animated cutscene, detailing the game’s backstory. The bosses are represented by unique mugshots, as opposed to the static sprites of the previous game. Transitions between menus, the stage select and even the screen signifying that a stage has been chosen are all animated smoothly. Defeating one of the eight robot masters is accompanied by a new screen that would become a series staple, detailing the name of the weapon MegaMan got from them, showcasing the color palette associated with it and allowing Dr. Light to chime in when the support items get unlocked. The game’s pause menu is mostly similar to that of the previous game, a floating menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, but it’s been expanded with a second “page” to accommodate the larger array of weapons and items available to MegaMan in this game. Perhaps the most impressive transition in the game is when you reach Skull Castle. At the beginning of each of the Wily Fortress stage, an exterior view of the castle is shown, accompanied by a sinister melody. Then, a simple map of the castle’s interior is displayed on screen, detailing the progress MegaMan has made so far. By no means the most complex way they could’ve done it, but there’s just something so satisfying about that whole sequence. It’s completely understandable why it would become another common element of the Classic series.

MM2-04

Kind of impressive how all these crystals can withstand an explosion.

MegaMan 2’s soundtrack was composed by Takashi “Ogeretsu Kun” Tateishi, though Manami Matsumae (credited as “Manami Ietel” this time) did provide minor support as well. Yoshihiro Sakaguchi also returned as sound programmer. MM2’s soundtrack is generally considered an improvement over that of the first game’s, and I’m inclined to agree. One of my favorite elements of the game’s soundtrack is one that I wouldn’t find out until I actually got to sit down and play through the first game: the song that plays during MegaMan 2’s opening is essentially a reprise of the song that played during MegaMan 1’s ending. An obvious statement, but somehow, even though I’ve known about it for years now, it still impresses me. It’s hard to really choose my favorite song from this game, though I often lean toward the Crashman stage theme. The themes from Heatman, Woodman, Airman and Bubbleman’s stage are also pretty good. I already mentioned the Password jingle, but it definitely deserves high praise. The stage select music goes for a far more intimidating and upbeat tone – an objective improvement over the first game’s. The title theme and the credits are both variants on the same composition and deserve their place as MegaMan’s most commonly recurring theme. Of course, the most popular song in the entire game is easily the first theme from the Wily Stages, a song which I personally believe is required by law to be in every single MegaMan music remix album. I used to be a big fan of it myself, but as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Honestly, it’s still a good song, just a little overrated in my opinion. The rest of MM2’s soundtrack deserves way more love.

MegaMan 2 is considered by many to be the quintessential MegaMan game and for good reason. While I won’t contest the game’s importance, I’ll just restate that I think later games in the series improved upon the framework provided by MM2. Having said that, for anyone just getting into the Classic MegaMan franchise – or even MegaMan in general – there’s no better place to start than the second game in the franchise. MM2 smooths out the odd quirks present in the first game, while keeping the base gameplay equally barebones. It’s a good place to learn the rules – and perhaps more importantly, the feel – of the standard MegaMan game. The fact that the Western releases also include an easier difficulty can also help those new to the series get their bearings, which in turn, may help to spark a new love for the series. Again, as with all the other NES MegaMan games, it’s easy to find these days, even on modern platforms, so I’d recommend giving it a shot. Who knows? Maybe it’ll spark a love for the MegaMan series in you just like I did roughly 25 years ago. Unsurprisingly, MM2 is also the most popular game in the entire MegaMan franchise when it comes to modding, as there are an impressive number of hacks of this game, completely changing stage layouts, boss patterns and even the weapons themselves. So, for even those that have memorized MM2 front to back, there are entirely new ways to play this NES classic.

MegaMan 3

After MegaMan 2, I didn’t really keep up with the series as much as I would’ve wanted to. The friend who first introduced me to them didn’t grab any more NES games after the first two – by that point, we were both way more into his new Genesis – so, for quite some time, I didn’t even know there were any games beyond the first two. I ended up discovering the existence of the third through sixth games when I first found my way onto the World Wide Web itself. Though I was still quite young when I first got my hands on the internet, I was still struck with pangs of nostalgia and curiosity for the MegaMan series I’d enjoyed roughly half a lifetime ago. Granted, four years isn’t that long in retrospect, but it was long enough at that age. My first experience with any of those four games came from sprite sheets, sprite sheets that I moronically printed out instead of saving them to the hard disk. Oh, what a fool I was! Oh well, at least I got some nifty decorations for my school folders and notebooks out of all those drained ink cartridges. All the same, it was definitely not the ideal way to discover that my favorite game series had tripled in size from my perspective, but an important revelation all the same.

Of the NES MegaMan games, I generally consider the third to be my favorite. For quite some time, it was my favorite in the series overall. These aren’t exactly unique opinions. If a Classic MegaMan fan’s favorite game in the series isn’t MegaMan 2, chances are it’s going to be MM3. In that sense, MegaMan clearly follows that trend that you’ll often see in long-running video game franchises: if there’s one game that’s generally considered to be the objective in the series, expect a faction of fans that disagrees and chooses a specific alternate game as their favorite. Maybe it’s a way to establish a higher sense of devotion to the franchise in question, or maybe we’re all just a bunch of colossal hipsters. For whatever reason, after replaying both MegaMans 2 and 3 so many times, I still prefer 3. The way I’ve always looked at it is that 2 is the better NES game, but 3 is the better MegaMan game. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the best I’ve ever been able to articulate my opinion.

MegaMan 3 – boasting the subtitle “The End of Dr. Wily!?” in its original Japanese release – was the first game in the series where the man long considered the “father of MegaMan” Keiji Inafune took on a planning role in a MegaMan game. Akira Kitamura, the director of the first two MegaMan games, had just left to form his own company Takeru alongside various other former developers from large Japanese developers, including Capcom. As such, Inafune had a much greater role in MM3 compared to previous games. Having said that, Inafune considers MM3 to be a disappointment, likely due to the loss of key staff members during development, leading to a game that clearly falls short of its own lofty aspirations. The game itself is fairly glitchy at times, especially with regards to accessing the pause menu in certain areas. Likewise, the game itself has an odd array of cheat codes: high jumping, slow motion and the infamous “Zombie MegaMan” glitch, which renders the Blue Bomber invincible at zero health, but unable to use his standard weapon. My theory is that these were simply debug functions that the development team didn’t have the time to remove for the final release. While I love MM3, I have to admit it makes me sad to think about what this game could have been with a longer development cycle, being brought to completion. Perhaps the final product could have even surpassed MM2 in the hearts of gamers in general. Regardless, the game did fairly well: selling over 1 million copies and is still the 4th highest selling game in the entire MegaMan franchise to this day. Likewise, the game had significantly more boss submissions from fans compared to the previous game, boasting 50,000 in all, while again only eight ended up being used.

MM3-03

Unbeknownst to Rock, Breakman is actually his older brother, Blues.

After two failed attempts at world domination, Dr. Wily is a changed man. He’s reformed and has decided to join forces with his colleague Dr. Light to develop a giant peace-keeping robot named Gamma. The two worked hard designing the robot, with the final step being to collect eight different Energy Elements from various uncharted planets. The two doctors created a set of eight new robot masters to set off to these mining worlds and collect the power crystals. Unfortunately, these new robots all end up going haywire, attacking everything in their sights. MegaMan is once again enlisted to travel to these distant worlds and recover the elements. But he’s not alone, Dr. Light has built a new companion robot to accompany MegaMan on his mission: Rush, a robotic dog that can transform into a springboard and more. Throughout his journey, MegaMan continuously encounters a mysterious red robot who seems to be an even match for the Blue Bomber. Referring to himself as “Break Man”, is he friend or foe? And what about the robots gone berserk? Did they really just go haywire at random or was their sudden defection just the beginning of a new sinister plot?

As I said earlier, much of MegaMan’s gameplay was refined in the second game. As such, for the most part, MegaMan 3 is more of the same. There are, however, a few new wrinkles. For starters, MegaMan gains the ability to slide, which can allow him to pass under areas blocked off with low ceilings and even dodge certain enemies and their attacks. I’ve always mused that I wished that MM1 had incorporate passwords and I feel the same about MM2 and sliding – it just adds a new dimension to the Blue Bomber’s repertoire. Energy Tanks are now retained between continues and now MegaMan can hold a whopping 9 of them at a time. There’s also the brand new “? Cans”, which only appear in this game. They can be shot to reveal a random power-up, ranging from a small weapon energy all the way up to extra lives and E-Tanks. An interesting little gimmick, but one that never really caught on. You’ll also remember that I said MM2 didn’t have a perfect loop for boss weaknesses. Well, MM3 makes up for this shortcoming by having two individual weakness cycles: Magnetman – Hardman – Topman – Shadowman – Sparkman and Needleman – Snakeman – Geminiman. Crazy stuff, right? The game’s format has also been slightly adjusted. For example, in addition to the standard boss fights with the Robot Masters, MegaMan also has encounters with “Breakman” during four of the game’s stages – three of these lead to miniboss fights, while the fourth time, he simply allows MegaMan to proceed through the stage.

MM3-01

But where’s the jump?

Likewise, MegaMan 3 has many more stages than the previous two games, which works to both its advantage and its detriment. After defeating the 8 Robot Masters, four new stages, utilizing the art assets and themes of Shadowman, Sparkman, Geminiman and Needleman, pop up, each guarded by the maniacal “Doc Robot”. Fun fact: “Doc Robot” is just a mistranslation of “dokurobotto”, a pun on “dokuro”, the Japanese word for skull, and “robot”. Doc Robot utilizes the powers of all 8 Robot Masters from MM2, though only uses one at a time. As such, you fight him twice in each stage, and each time he uses a different ability. After that, MegaMan has one last showdown with Breakman in what appears to be the remnants of Hardman’s stage. After that, we enter Wily’s latest iteration on the Skull Castle, for a whopping 6 stages. While the Doc Robot stages may be among the hardest the game has to offer, the Wily Fortress stages are laughable at best. This is what I was referring to when I said having more stages had drawbacks for MM3. Likely due to the game’s troubled production schedule, the Wily Castle stages feel incomplete and simpler than anything that came earlier in the game as a result. It gets so bad, that the final two “stages” are literally just a screen filled with power-ups before the boss fight. I kind of wish that Capcom would’ve been able to remake this one and put some actual effort into redesigning the Wily stages into something truly memorable, as this is probably the game’s true fatal flaw.

This brings us to my favorite part yet again: talking about the game’s arsenal. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon makes a return as his standard weapon, but that’s the only thing that returns from previous games. The support items from the previous game have all been replaced with various functions of the Blue Bomber’s new canine companion, Rush. Rush Coil is available from the start and transforms MegaMan’s poochy pal into a springboard, significantly increasing MM’s jumping height, allowing him to reach areas previously unheard of without assistance. Defeating Shadowman nets MegaMan the Rush Marine, which turns the crimson canine into a tiny submersible, able to navigate watery areas with ease. Finally, defeating Needleman allows MegaMan access to the Rush Jet, which I consider the “Metal Blade of support items”. When activated, Rush transforms into a fully-controllable rocket sled, capable of flying anywhere onscreen with absolutely no drawbacks. Of course, the Coil drains energy on each use, and both the Marine and the Jet drain energy while being used, but most people have found an exploit for the latter: the Rush Jet only depletes energy while MegaMan is standing on it, but he can jump at will while riding it, which slows the energy drain and Rush continues to fly beneath you even as you jump.

MM3-02

Such a ridiculous power-up.

With those out of the way, let’s start ranking those weapons. I originally considered shifting the order to worst to best for a few of these, but I decided that consistency was key here, even if it made things a little boring. My top pick for MegaMan 3 would have to be the Needle Cannon. It’s pretty similar to Mega’s standard weapon, with one clear advantage: rapid auto-fire. Its energy consumption is the lowest in the game too, which just adds to the fun. Number 2 would have to be Hard Knuckle. A slow-moving non-explosive take on the Crash Bomber, this fist-shaped projectile can smash through breakable walls, does massive damage and its vertical aim can even be adjusted after it’s been fired. Next up would have to be the Shadow Blade. Charitably described as a cross between the Rolling Cutter and the Metal Blade, in reality it’s just the Metal Blade tethered with boomerang mechanics and being limited to a 5-way aim. Still, despite the balancing, it’s a pretty good weapon. My fourth favorite weapon is probably the Magnet Missile. It’s essentially a standard projectile, but if it’s not aimed properly and it approaches an enemy, it can turn either up or down to lock in on and attack it. Then, there’s the Search Snake. Effectively a weaker Bubble Lead, it makes up for this shortcoming by allowing three snakes onscreen at once, compared to the two-bubble maximum. Sixth best weapon is the Spark Shock, which is functionally identical to the Ice Slasher, except it can only stun up to two enemies at a time, and there are more enemies that actually take damage from it. Second-worst weapon is easily the Gemini Laser, though I wish I could put it lower. The Gemini Laser is a slow-moving laser beam, that can bounce off of walls and ceiling, which changes the trajectory of the act. There can only be one on the screen at a time, and if its aim is off, it will ricochet multiple times, leaving MegaMan defenseless. The worst weapon in MM3 is the Top Spin, but that’s only because it’s literally broken, and I’m not talking about in the overpowered sense. It does no consistent damage, its energy consumption is equally erratic, and it’s a melee-range attack that can only be done while jumping. While I’ve seen more than a few speedrunners use the Top Spin to turn the Blue Bomber into a whirling dervish of destruction, it takes too much effort and luck to use it properly. The only upshot is that it’s the final boss’s weakness – capable of felling the beast in a single hit, if you’re lucky – but frankly, I’m not even sure if that was intentional, a glitch or just an exploit the developers accidentally left in the game.

MM3-04

Spin on, you crazy diamond.

Much like the gameplay itself, the series’ graphical style had pretty much been established in MM2, but 3 attempts to add its own flourishes, again with mixed results. Later games in the series would attempt to expand on the style established in the second game, and MM3 was a first, albeit shaky step in that direction. Stage backgrounds seem a little more complex than those from previous games, though many of them evoke similar themes to its direct predecessor. I do like how they gave MegaMan center square on the stage select, especially how his eyes move to follow the cursor. It’s a simple touch, but still appreciated. The pause menu also changes completely from the previous two games, take up the lower third of the screen, instead of just being a floating box off-centered. It maintains the “two page” format of the previous game, but it’s got a much more ornate layout. For starters, each weapon is now symbolized by two letters instead of one – likely due to the sheer amount of Robot Masters with names that start with the letter “S” – with the exception of the standard arm cannon, which retains “P” from previous games. Each special weapon also has its own unique icon when selected, which is a nice touch. Plus, the E-Tanks can be selected from either page now, while in MM2, they were limited to the second page. Unfortunately, the implementation of this fancy new UI was clearly imperfect, as there are numerous points in the game where the top edge of this menu will glitch up slightly. A shame, because otherwise, I thought it looked great.

The game’s presentation takes a hit in some areas too. This game lacks an opening cinematic, likely due to the game’s troubled production, but I’ve always sort of imagined that the epic tune that plays on the title screen implied that they considered one. MM3 does seem to do a much better job at expressing its story in what few cutscenes it does have, though these make me wonder if more were originally planned. And then there’s the ending, where Breakman returns to the collapsing Wily Fortress, too late to save Wily but just in time to save MegaMan. As Rock awakens in Dr. Light’s lab, the two wonder how he was able to make it back in one piece, when they both hear Breakman’s signature whistle. Dr. Light identifies the whistle as that of ProtoMan, MegaMan’s older brother and prototype, who mysteriously went missing. As MegaMan chases after the whistle, we see a notebook with entries for all of Light’s robots from newest to oldest. First the six robot masters from the original MegaMan, then Roll, then MegaMan and finally Protoman himself. This is definitely one of my favorite endings in the entire series.

It seems like the area where the game tried to deviate the most from its predecessors was in its soundtrack. The original composer for the game was Harumi “Mrs. Tarumi” Fujita, but she ended up giving birth fairly early into the project and was forced to drop out because of it. She did manage to compose the themes for Needleman and Geminiman, as well as part of the credits song before leaving though. The project was then picked up by Yasuaki Fujita – no relation – better known as “Bun Bun”. The MegaMan 3 soundtrack actually manages to avoid reusing any musical compositions from earlier games. The boss victory jingle established in MM2 – that would eventually become a trademark of the series – was eschewed. Even the jingle that plays when a stage is selected is completely original and the previous one was used in the first two MegaMan games. I have to say, overall, I think I like MM3’s soundtrack more than the previous two, and its sheer boldness in discarding tradition is a big reason why. While MM3 does a lot to set itself apart from its predecessors, it still manages to sound like a “MegaMan game”, if that makes any sense.

Another thing this game’s soundtrack does that I love is utilize two separate boss themes: one for most of the boss battles in the game and one exclusive to the Wily Fortress stages, just like in the first MegaMan. I would like to say that it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite song from this game, but if I’m going to be honest, the theme to Hardman’s theme is my clear favorite, without a doubt. That’s not to say I don’t love a majority of the songs from MegaMan 3: the aforementioned Needleman stage, Sparkman’s theme, Shadowman, both boss themes, the first two Wily Fortress stages and both the game’s ending and credits theme all come to mind quickly. All the same, MM3’s soundtrack deserves way more love than it gets – the sole exception would have to be the theme that plays when MegaMan gets a new weapon. That one actually managed to end up becoming something of a recurring theme. It’s a shame that the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t get nearly as much love.

In the end, I think the reason that I love this game is completely intertwined with its failings. It’s easy enough to understand why MM3 became the MegaMan game of choice for more contrarian fans: while its myriad troubles during production clearly took their toll on MegaMan 3, flickers – no pun intended – of the game’s true potential shine through. It’s a shame that Capcom gave up on remaking MegaMan games so quickly: MM3’s problems are so obvious and easy to fix, that a true remake – more akin to Powered Up, as opposed to the one found in The Wily Wars – could’ve brought the game up to the lofty standards associated with its predecessor, if not outright surpass it. All the same, it’s still a fun game, definitely well worth playing, regardless of its obvious flaws. Better still, since most people are only familiar with MegaMan 2, MegaMan 3 could act as an almost entirely new experience, for those out there who are only familiar with the most popular game, but still find themselves craving more action in the same vein. Many fans who consider MM2 the best series in the game recognize MM3 as the next best game in the franchise. If that’s not enough of an endorsement to give this game a shot, I don’t know what is.

MegaMan: The Wily Wars

Considering that I just discussed the first three MegaMan games, it only seems fitting to take a quick look at the first attempt at a MegaMan remake – one that encompassed all three of these games – and one that is a bit of a curiosity, especially in North America. MegaMan: The Wily Wars – or Rockman Megaworld as it was known in Japan – was also the first MegaMan game to be released on a non-Nintendo console, specifically for the Sega Mega Drive, or the Genesis as we Americans know it. I think the mysterious nature of the game in our region is what made it so much more intriguing to us in the first place. The prospect of enhanced remakes of the first three MegaMan games – the games in the series that are generally considered the best overall – and one that most Americans missed out on is a very tempting prospect. Unfortunately, it sounds much better than it actually is.

Originally released in 1994, The Wily Wars was outsourced to Minakuchi Engineering – the same team that worked on the vast majority of the Game Boy MegaMan games (more on those later) as well as large portions of MegaMan X3 – and it seems that they just couldn’t cope with the Mega Drive’s hardware. Of course, every other project I’ve seen attributed to them were on Nintendo platforms, so that makes sense. Keiji Inafune described the game’s development as an “absolute nightmare” and even stated that he had to help with the game’s debugging himself. Aside from that, Inafune’s involvement with the title was fairly limited: he designed the three new boss characters and drew a piece of artwork that was incorporated into the game’s box art. The new characters, dubbed the “Genesis Unit” (or the “Mega World Corps” in Japan) were based on characters from the Chinese novel, Journey of the West. Buster Rod G., Mega Water S. and Hyper Storm H. were based on Sun Wukong, Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie. Of course, these same characters also inspired many other works, most notably Son Goku, Yamcha and Oolong in Dragon Ball.

WilyWars01

Power Pole, extend!

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind generally revolves around the game’s release. While there were physical releases in both Japan and Europe, The Wily Wars was exclusive to the Sega Channel service in North America. However, it does appear that there were originally plans to release the game properly in America as well. The success of Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition fueled the initial rumors of a MegaMan title hitting a Sega system. Sega of America even displayed the game at their Sega Summit sales meeting back in May 1994 Apparently, it was put on hold indefinitely due to “graphical problems” in October of the same year, and the game’s American release was officially cancelled in 1996. With that and the Sega Channel being discontinued in 1998, the American version appears to no longer exist in any form, official or illicit. I doubt there’s much difference between the American and European versions in terms of content, but it would’ve been nice to have an official release in English that ran at the proper NTSC speed. Of course, that could be achieved by playing the European version on an NTSC Genesis, using a Game Genie to bypass the region lock, but that just strikes me as being more trouble than it’s worth.

The game even manages to have an original backstory, despite being a compilation title. Tired of his schemes for world domination being foiled by MegaMan, Dr. Wily decides to build a time machine to undo the Blue Bomber’s earliest victories over the not-so-good doctor. Transporting himself into the past, Dr. Wily restores the robots that MegaMan previously defeated and started to create chaos across the timestream, aiming to cause chaos even in the peaceful past, before his megalomaniacal aspirations even begin. In order to stop Dr. Wily, Dr. Light manages to hastily build another time machine and sends MegaMan back to stop Wily’s twisted time tactic. Of course, even if the Blue Bomber manages to stop his plan, Wily has another trick up his sleeve in the present: three new robots he built to guard his new Wily Tower, a massive structure with traps and enemy robots taken from the past to ensure MegaMan has no future. Of course, the remade games retain their original storylines as well, but since I’ve already gone over them, it just seemed like it was worth detailing the new content instead.

WilyWars03

If you can’t handle me at my worst…

The gameplay is difficult to discuss. The simplest way to put it is that the remakes definitely play worse overall when compared to the original NES releases, while there are a few improvements as well. This is most evident when playing MegaMan 2, which gets hit the hardest with the Wily Wars’ flaws. The sole advantage this version has over the original is that now, E-Tanks are no longer lost when continuing, much like in MM3. On the other hand, the first and third games manage to get a few improvements out of the deal. MM1’s physics now align properly with those of later games in the series, which definitely makes the game feel less unfair at various points. Likewise, MegaMan 3’s presentation improves significantly and the Top Spin is no longer as glitchy as it used to be: now it deals consistent damage and all with a non-random energy expenditure. Of course, these benefits come at the cost of gameplay quirks like MM1’s pause trick and MM3’s various cheat codes and exploits – seems like a fair trade to me, in the end. I’ve been told that MegaMan 3 is more prone to locking up when compared to the original NES version, but aside from one instance – while I was using certain Game Genie codes, more on those later – I never experienced any game-breaking glitches. Likewise, the password system has been excised – replaced with a save system that works about equally well, saving data on all three games to a single file. Even MegaMan 1 gets this save functionality – definitely an improvement over having to beat the game in a single setting on the NES. The save feature does have its limitations, however: it will only recognize progress as far as reaching the Wily Castle stages, the Castles themselves must be completed in a single sitting. After completing any of the games, the system must be reset in some form in order to make it back: the game’s completion is confirmed with a giant “GAME CLEAR” written over the game’s page on the save file.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else positive to say about the remakes. Movement feels significantly more sluggish than the original NES games, especially the walk speed. What’s even worse is the weapons. The fire button’s response time is even slower than the movement, sometime weapons don’t come out on a single button press, and sometimes, it takes a while for fired shots to be considered inactive, even after they’re off-screen. Worst of all, the game won’t let you pause if there are any weapons or support items on-screen. For example, in the NES version of MM2, you could pause the game while using one of the support items, which would remove it and prevent you from draining precious energy on misfires. This is no longer possible in The Wily Wars, which means that shots must be planned carefully. As far as I can tell, Wily Wars also gets rid of the ability to aim the Super Arm weapon taken from Gutsman in MM1 – if it’s still possible, it certainly works completely differently than it did in the original. There’s also a significant change to the gameplay that significantly throws off the balance: the Robot Masters – and by extension, the Copy Robot bosses from MM1 and 3 – now have invincibility periods after taking damage (much like MegaMan himself), preventing the weapon spam possible on the NES. While this was common in later games, the games aren’t rebalanced for this new property. In turn, this has some strange effects on balance: between this and the inability to aim the Super Arm, Cutman, of all things, becomes incredibly threatening. Strangely, no other bosses appear to be affected by this change.

WilyWars04

…you don’t deserve me at my best.

Perhaps the worst aspect of The Wily Wars would have to be the slowdown. The early MegaMan games pushed Capcom’s limited knowledge of the NES hardware to its limits and oftentimes, the Blue Bomber would be put into situations thought to be beyond the system’s capabilities. To compensate for this, sprites would often flicker, limiting any framerate drops to a minimum. The Wily Wars decided to do away with that method – after all, the Mega Drive was so much more powerful than the NES. Given how the games originally came out roughly midway through the NES’s lifecycle and this remake was coming out closer to the end of the Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, was it even possible for the Genesis to run into any issues when running these ancient games? The answer was a resounding “yes”. I think what I encountered in Wily Wars may very well be the worst slowdown I’ve ever seen in a MegaMan game, official or otherwise. There’s one moment in particular I remember while playing that embodies these limitations: while on one of the Wily Stages, there’s a segment where you have to ride a moving platform through an area, while being attacked by 3 enemies that constantly respawn. Attempting to use the Leaf Shield in this area literally slowed the game down to a crawl. Worst of all, one might be under the impression that destroying at least one enemy would mitigate the slowdown. They would be right, unless that defeated enemy drops a power-up, in which case, the game continues to chug at a pace that is downright molasses-esque. It’s embarrassing. The worst part about it is that there are times where the slowdown makes the game easier. The Yellow Devil fight in MegaMan 1 is so much more manageable now than in the original thanks to it, it almost makes up for the loss of the pause trick!

By far, the best part of the game would have to be the original content. After clearing all three of the NES remakes, a brand-new entry is added to the game select menu: the mini-game “Wily Tower”. The game starts off with a cutscene of Dr. Wily talking about how while MegaMan stopped him from changing the past, but he still has one last plan up his sleeve. From there, players are sent to a stage select screen, with the three Genesis Unit robots as the choices. At the start of each level, players are allowed to choose any eight weapons and three support items from the first three games. This is somewhat a mixed bag: it’s cool to have mix-and-match different elements from previous games, but most of the bosses have two weaknesses at the most, and if the wrong weapons are chosen, it can make things difficult in general. The Genesis Unit’s stages are essentially hodgepodges of various elements from the previous games – which is neat, because it leads to some interesting synergy. Once those three are defeated, MegaMan moves onto the eponymous Wily Tower. The theming is pretty simple: the first stage is themed around elements from MegaMan 1, the second takes aspects from MM2, the third from 3 and the final stage is the standard corridor to the final boss.

WilyWars02

A weapon from MegaMan 3 , an enemy from the first game and obstacles from MM2, it’s madness!

The weirdest aspect of Wily Tower is that, while the remakes feel off in various ways, it feels “right”. It feels more distinctly like the original NES games than their remakes in this collection. If I have one comment to make about Wily Tower, it’s that I wish it were longer and had a bit more content. The Genesis Unit don’t give out weapons after being defeated – which makes the presence of original and unused “New Weapon” music in the game’s data even more bizarre. Were they originally planned to give MegaMan boss weapons at some point? I wouldn’t even specifically ask for additional robots: considering the fact that the game was called “Wily Tower”, a larger take on the Wily Fortress could’ve been pretty cool. The first three stages were essentially remixes from each individual game – imagine if they had added stages that mixed elements from 2 games and then done an extra-long one with aspects from all 3. Even more than that, it makes me wish that Capcom had just made an original game for the console. Definitely not a mainline, but one unique full-length spinoff game would’ve probably ended up way better than three mediocre remakes of some of the most common games in the franchise.

The graphics are something of a mixed bag. The backgrounds and some of the characters have been redrawn from scratch and they look great. The characters have been redrawn slightly larger than their NES counterparts while still maintaining their general look. They boast a much wider palette of colors compared to the original versions and there’s more detail put into the sprites themselves – for example, Sparkman’s face is actually visible now, Bubbleman’s air tank is visible and both Gutsman and Hardman are less squat, better emphasizing just how colossal they’re meant to be. Unfortunately, for most enemies and even a few major characters – looking at you, Protoman – they literally just took the NES sprites and recolored them to match with everything else. It generally works alright for less humanoid designs, but for anything that’s supposed to be even vaguely in scale with MegaMan, they’re just clearly too small, it honestly gets a little distracting at times. I wish that Capcom had had the resources to redraw everything, because what they managed to get done looks excellent, even by today’s standards – I wouldn’t mind if a new MegaMan game had a similar art style.

The music is actually pretty good in this one. Both the rearrangements of the classic NES music as well as the original compositions were handled by Kinuyo Yamashita – one of the composers for the original Castlevania. Unfortunately, much like everyone else who worked on this game, her work went uncredited. Regardless, I’d say that, for the most part, I personally prefer most of these arrangements over the originals, but I’ve always been a fan of the Genesis’s sound chip. My favorite arrangement in the entire game would have to be Fireman’s stage, which gets turned into a samba. I wish more tracks in the game could’ve received rearrangements that thorough. My only real gripe is that, at least in the case of MegaMan 3, some of the music – particularly the Dr. Wily stage map and the ending – were truncated to match what could’ve been heard in the original release. Of course, given the fact that the full compositions were never legitimately accessible in the game itself, this makes sense – but it’s still a bit disappointing to try to listen to these tracks and expect the full tune, only to be cut off at an inopportune moment. Of course, as with everything else, the songs original to the Wily Wars are the best part of the game’s soundtrack. The song that plays during the game’s introductory cutscene has been stuck in my head for well over a decade. The music for the third and fourth stages of Wily Tower are probably my favorite in the entire game, especially stage 4’s. I can’t describe why, but I love it when original music from various spin-offs sound like they belong in a mainline MegaMan game, and the Wily Wars soundtrack certainly fits the bill.

In the end, I’d say that it’s probably not worth trying to track down a copy of The Wily Wars, especially if you’re from North America like I am. The NES versions of the first three games are significantly more widely available – both as digital re-releases and even the original cartridges – and those are the definitive way to play. While Wily Tower is a good bonus, it just doesn’t add enough to the base package to make the whole thing worth it: the fact that one has to complete all three remakes just to reach just manages to make things worse. Regardless, I’ve been meaning to play through The Wily Wars for years, ever since I first learned of its existence and I’m thankful that this article gave me both a reason and the motivation to finally complete it. While it’s a shame that North America missed out on a physical release of Wily Wars, we did get our very own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega platform – one that I’ll be covering later on.

Mega Man & Mega Man 3 (DOS)

With those out of the way, let’s move on to what are certainly the worst officially-licensed MegaMan games of all-time. Mega Man and Mega Man 3 – they skipped 2 – are difficult to define. Most people are sure to differentiate these two from the NES originals, generally either appending their titles with “PC” or “DOS”, to make sure that they’re being perfectly clear when discussing them. The reason behind this is simple: both games are terrible, yet it seems like anyone and everyone I’ve ever encountered who’s ever played them and still consider themselves fans of the series at large have an almost masochistic fascination with them. At worst, they’re not unlike an eldritch abomination, maintaining a small but permanent space of one’s memory and psyche; at best, remembering the games is akin to watching a car crash – you want to look away, but just can’t bring yourself to do it. Despite being released in 1990 and 1992 respectively, it’s really impossible to discuss one game without the other. Both are so intertwined with one another in a way that no other two MegaMan games can match. I only managed to play the first game when I was a child. A cousin of mine owned it, and I was only barely able to make it one level in before the game became far too difficult for me to continue.

Capcom licensed out the right to develop PC games based on the MegaMan franchise to an American company known as Hi Tech Expressions. On the surface, Hi Tech seems no worse than many publishing companies of the time: licensing the rights to develop video games that were typically mediocre at best based on various properties from other media – Hi Tech just managed to be one of the few that upped the ante by doing the same with existing video games. In addition to the MegaMan games, Hi Tech also published PC ports of the first two Street Fighter games – which would eventually be bundled with the MegaMan games in a later release – as well as the original arcade version of Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Development of the title was handed off to Rozner Labs. Effectively a one-man development team headed up by Stephen Rozner, his brother William would eventually take over the position of artist during the development of Mega Man 3. Rozner Labs was a short-lived company, though they would also end up developing the PC port of MegaMan X directly under Capcom.

The games’ backstories are both fairly simple – not to mention redundant. Both games involve plots from the devious Dr. Wily attempting to take over the world, using a mere 3 Robot Masters in the first game and doubling that number in its oddly-named sequel. This time, however, Wily has the assistance of CRORQ, a mega-computer as powerful as its name is unpronounceable. While it was originally developed by the government as an advanced peacekeeping system, the devious doctor reprogrammed it in order to control robots from all over the world. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the DOS MegaMan games is their sheer originality: most poorly-made cash grabs based on popular franchises would be content with aping existing material poorly, but Rozner Labs went one step further, essentially making officially-licensed fanfiction and that’s probably the major reason why I’ll never be able to get this game out of my head.

MMPC-01

Times have been tough for Rock, I hear he’s been moonlighting as a bug zapper.

I’ll talk about each game’s gameplay separately, simply because there are pretty much as many similarities as differences between the two. Both games maintain the same awkward control scheme: the arrow keys move, but the J key is jump and the fire button is the space bar. I don’t know how people were intended to orient themselves on the keyboard while playing this. To make matters worse, F9 pauses the game but F10 quits to DOS. The Escape key opens the weapons menu in game, and pressing F10 while there kills MegaMan instantly. Both games also have the usual assortment of power-ups, health and weapon energy refills, extra lives and even E-Tanks. Mega Man has a total of five stages. The first of which is actually a franchise first: Mega Man DOS had an intro stage. Sure, it simply involved MegaMan trying to run through a tollbooth while being mauled by a nigh-indestrucible mechanical dog that just respawns if you destroy it, but it’s an intro stage all the same. It managed to even beat MegaMan X to the punch by roughly 3 years. No wonder they hired Rozner to handle that game’s PC port. Apparently, the man was a visionary.

After clearing that slog of an opening, players are dropped into a slightly familiar stage select screen, allowing them to tackle Wily’s three robots in any order. They are Sonic Man, who looks like someone tried to recreate Bomberman using stock clipart; Volt Man, the clear winner in terms of design; and Dyna Man – short for Dynamite, much like “Elec” being short for Electric – who boasts a strange design with blue, green and yellow body armor, topped with a blue helmet and a black facemask that only reveals his eyes. After defeating all three and gaining their keys – which are shaped like calculators for reasons I don’t entirely understand – players are then sent to Dr. Wily’s castle, a single stage consisting of rematches with the three robot masters, followed by a two-stage fight with CRORQ, who has been converted into a bipedal mech piloted by Dr. Wily. That’s the entire game, a mere five stages. The controls feel sticky at times, the jumping and shooting is really awkward and the game has an odd fascination with enemies that are too small to hit with the standard arm cannon, forcing you to take damage in order to progress. There’s also a notable lack of checkpoints: it gets so bad that I’m not even sure if the final stage has any, I never actually died once I got past the rematches with the first three bosses and dying on any of them sent you all the way back to the beginning.

MMPC-02

I can’t even begin to comprehend this design. That’s what I love about it.

MegaMan 3 improves on the original game’s formula in some ways, but makes entirely new mistakes to compensate. For starters, the controls feel marginally better than the previous game and the enemies that are too small to hit normally are gone. Another interesting quirk, MegaMan now swims when underwater, as opposed to the standard moon-jump physics – which means, once again, Rozner Labs introduced a gameplay mechanic to one of their games before Capcom would go on to implement it in a game of their own. Unfortunately, the level design takes a hit: everything goes from straight-forward and linear to literal mazes. It’s interesting, but trying to progress can get confusing and frustration can set in when faced the sheer commonality of dead ends. This game misses out on the intro stage, but given the fact that there are three more boss stages, it brings the grand total to 7. The bosses are a lot less original this time around – most of them are directly based on existing robots from the actual MegaMan 2 and 3. Torch Man, Bit Man, Shark Man (well before Battle Network), Wave Man (not the one you’re probably thinking of, although both MM3 PC and MegaMan 5 for the NES came out the same year), Oil Man – not that one – and Blade Man – not that one. After that, it’s another gauntlet of rematches in Wily’s Castle, followed by a rematch against CRORQ and then finally, a two-stage battle with Dr. Wily himself, who has surrounded himself with acid that kills MegaMan instantly. I personally think that MM3 was the better of the two, but there’s no real objective way to measure which game is superior. It’s all just a matter of opinion. Besides, it’s not really that much of an achievement to be the better of the two Rozner Labs Mega Man games.

MM3PC-01

An underwater maze with awkward controls. Clearly, a good omen.

I suppose I might as well mention both games’ array of weapons. Both games grant MegaMan the use of his standard Plasma Cannon. The way that one selects weapons in this game is intuitive but also weird: on the pause screen, you hit the key on the keyboard associated with the weapon to select it – the E key is, of course, reserved for E-Tanks. Of course, the oddest bit is that MegaMan doesn’t change colors based on which weapon he’s using – this is especially weird in Mega Man 3, where he shows up in different colors on the “New Weapon” screen. The weapons in the first game are fairly unique: the Force Field is a unique shield weapon that can be turned on and off with the fire button, keeping it on drains the weapon energy; Sonic Wave is like a faster version of the Gemini Laser and Nuclear Detonator, which is like a worse version of the Hyper Bomb: it has a lower firing arc, takes longer to go off and can damage MegaMan himself. It can destroy certain blocks though. The weapons from MegaMan 3, on the other hand, are a lot more one-note. The Torch Arm shots off a fireball; Oil Stream looks almost identical, though it’s colored black to signify that it’s oil; the Shark Boomerang effectively works like the Ring Boomerang from MM4; the Blade Launcher fires off an upward spread shot of three blades; the Bit Cannon is probably the best weapon in the game, firing off a powerful lightning bolt and the Water Shooter fires off three water balls at a downward arc at different angles, almost like an upside-down Air Shooter from MegaMan 2. Kind of fitting when you consider Wave Man’s design. I’d say the first game has the edge when it comes to weapons – while there are less overall, they’re way more unique than the ones in MegaMan 3.

The graphics in this game are, in a word, terrible. Instead of essentially recycling the graphics from the NES games, Rozner decided to redraw everything from scratch. This ends up leading to an array of unique enemies – in the first game, MegaMan ends up fighting more animals than robots, bats, ants, spiders, even parrots and mosquitos. In fact, the only traditional MegaMan enemies that show up in the game are Mets and Sniper Joes, which only show up in the final stage. The enemies in MegaMan 3 make a little more sense: a few of the animals return, but now MegaMan’s mostly fighting gillmen, plant monsters and guys in hazmat suits. The Mets and Sniper Joes return and better still, they show up more often. The robot masters are drawn in a completely different style, with more realistic proportions. They look like they belong in a different game. The oddest part is that, even though Rozner’s brother took over art duties in the later game, most of the Robot Masters’s in-game sprites appear to be traced over the Dynaman sprite from the first game. The backgrounds are the only aspect of the game that look good. In fact, the crates from Dyna Man’s stage and the nuclear barrels in Sonic Man’s stage were actually used in the original Duke Nukem, which is perhaps the game’s most enduring legacy. As for music, there’s really nothing to say: this game has none, which feels like the biggest blasphemy to me. The sound effects all come through the PC speaker anyway, so even if there was music, it would probably sound terrible.

MM3PC-02

Somehow more incoherent and less lovable that even Sonic Man.

Like I said before, these games are both trainwrecks, but I can’t help but remember them. While they are by far the worst games I’ve ever played that have borne the MegaMan name (and I’ve played more than my fair share of them) but I do still manage to have some positive feelings toward these games – and I’m almost certain they aren’t ironic! I think it all stems from the fact that Rozner Labs came up with original content while making this game, as opposed to just taking content directly from earlier (read: better) games in the series. Perhaps it’s just a trick, but the originality of CRORQ and Rozner’s own take on Robot masters – many of whom would eventually be reused by Capcom in one form or another – implies that, regardless of how poor the final product came out, actual effort went into the creation of these two games. The only remaining mystery is why Hi Tech and Rozner Labs skipped directly to MegaMan 3, as opposed to making a MegaMan 2: after all, MM2 was the most popular of the NES games, so making a game with that title likely would’ve sold even better. The best explanation I’ve heard for it is that they wanted the game to sound as “new” as possible. Granted, since the first Mega Man game on PC came out in 1990 – the same year MM3 came out – so you’d think they’d be called MegaMan 3 and 5, instead. I think the titles are perfect in their own way: they perfectly represent the outright bizarre nature of both games. Still, they both seem to have a handful of …I’m not sure if “fans” is the right way to describe them. Nevertheless, I’ve seen fanart of the characters from this game, heard attempts at creating original songs to associate with them and I’ve seen at least two attempts at remaking the games to bring them more in line with the quality generally associated with the Blue Bomber. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the characters from this game show up in some form in a future Capcom release. After all, we’ve seen other licensed games get similar treatment – but that’s a story for another time.

Six games – or would that be eight? Nine? – seems like a perfect place to stop for now. I’ve got a lot more to talk about, but I think keeping these articles shorter should make them much easier to read. What do you think: do you prefer the massive, almost novel-length Retrospective articles I did before, or do you prefer these smaller, much more digestible segments over a longer period of time? Feel free to let me know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, which should be coming your way soon.

PC Ports Wishlist 2: Lost in New York

Around this time last year, I decided to do a new article in my long-running indulgence: port-begging for PC games. Of course, in the most recent article, I also added in some additional musings. I discussed what my favorite overall “victories” were since I’d originally started doing these lists, as well as focusing on both my overall top 10 most wanted games out of what I’d covered in older lists and the top games for each remaining list. I can’t really remember if I decided I wanted to make it a yearly tradition after the previous article – at the same time, I guess I just sort of assumed I’d be doing it again anyway. I had fun with last year’s lists, so why not?

This time around, I’m going to be focusing entirely on 2017 with the recap. As such, I’ll be starting with my top 5 confirmations of the years, which was a lot more difficult than I would have expected. Little has really moved since last year’s “Best of the Rest” list, but I’ve finally been able to cobble together an entire new list, so it only seems fitting to introduce it in this article. Finally, considering the fact that the top two slots in my previous top ten list – MegaMans 9 & 10 and Ys SEVEN – have since been released, I’ve decided to write up a new list. Not every game is new, but some have switched places.

Before we get on with this year’s lists, I’d like to go over the PC port announcements that were made since August, when I did the list for GOG games. Admittedly, I didn’t really expect that much in the way of announcements, especially considering the major announcements revealed from May until August. That’s not to say there was nothing these past four months. Killer Instinct was finally released on Steam back in September, technically not a new port – as it was previously a Windows Store exclusive. However, putting it on Steam and adding (albeit limited) crossplay with both the Xbox One and Windows Store versions was a nice touch. September also brought us the announcement of Zone of the Enders 2 receiving another re-release, adding a new VR option, on both PS4 and PC. While the ZOE HD Collection was on a previous list, I suppose getting a new release of the game that worked – apparently, the PS3 and Xbox 360’s version of the first game was broken – is better than nothing, so I’ll count that as a win. However, November alone definitely brought me some big-name releases – that ended up forcing me to modify the new game’s list not once, but twice. Capcom announced that Okami HD would be ported to PC, as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I wish I could say that I had considered this game for my list, but I thought of it as too much of a long shot, given the series’ Japan-centric aesthetic running counter to Capcom’s Western goals. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, a Zelda-like adventure game with platformer elements previously released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, also managed to receive a remastered port on PC, Mac and Linux, courtesy of THQ Nordic. The game didn’t fall within my usual criteria for inclusion, but considering the game’s recent cult following, it’s definitely good news from my perspective. Injustice 2, on the other hand, was originally going to be on this year’s list, but it ended up receiving a PC port courtesy of the fine people at QLOC. Unfortunately, the game uses Denuvo, so I’m going to have to hold off on it until WB comes to their senses. And just like last year, the biggest surprise comes from SNK. The Last Blade 2 – based on the PS4 release this time around – was released on Steam completely unannounced. Ironically, this was another game I intended to put on this year’s list but had to swap it for something new at the last minute.

Speaking of last-minute announcements, there were two more PC gaming announcements I’d consider wins literally the day before this article was scheduled to go up. First, both Jazz Jackrabbit games were released on GOG, which means that the GOG wishlist I wrote back in August has finally borne fruit. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many. Earlier this week, XSEED announced a livestream on November 30th, with a mystery announcement. I was hoping for something Falcom-related and once again, I hit the jackpot. 2001’s Zwei!! – now retitled as Zwei: The Arges Adventure – is being translated and set to release on their usual storefronts (Steam, GOG and the Humble Store) sometime in “Winter 2018”. The work that went into bringing this to modern computers cannot be understated: the original game used DirectX5. XSEED managed to collaborate with Matt Fielding of Magnetic Games, the developer behind Exile’s End. As such, a majority of the original applications and mini-games from the original Falcom release have been maintained in this new version, with the exceptions of the calculator and the calendar. Frankly, I’m just surprised at the turnaround on this one and can’t wait for it to be released.

This year’s list of console ports also managed to achieve a win. Owlboy was originally announced for the Switch back in May, but since then, PS4 and Xbox One ports have also been announced. Last year’s list did way better. Back in March, Lethal League was announced for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Team Reptile also announced a sequel – named “Lethal League Blaze” – set to release some time next year on both PC and “console”. Undertale was also announced for release on PlayStation 4 and Vita back during this year’s E3. I was honestly surprised that it didn’t end up hitting the Nintendo Switch, but that’s life. Likewise, while NEO AQUARIUM – The King of Crustaceans – failed to receive a console port, its sequel ACE OF SEAFOOD has been ported to the PlayStation 4, as well as developer Nussoft teasing a future port to the Nintendo Switch.

Top 5 Successes of 2017

Before I get to my actual picks, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Arc System Works in general. They’ve made quite the evolution over the past couple years, going from re-releasing old PC ports of classic games on GOG to outright announcing PC versions of upcoming games – Double Dragon IV and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle come to mind. I hope more Japanese companies take after their example and decide to offer major PC support for any games they decide to release in the West.

5. de Blob 1 & 2 – THQ Nordic (Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

I honestly didn’t think this was possible, which is why this made the list over ASW. ASW’s transition into a more PC friendly company was alluded to for quite some time, but when Nordic Games rebranded themselves as “THQ Nordic”, the Darksiders III announcement wasn’t remotely surprising. Bringing back not one, but both de Blob games, on the other hand? Absolutely blew my mind. When Nordic first purchased the intellectual property and said they “had plans” for the series, I thought it was merely corporate talk. After all, the game’s rights had languished in purgatory while other major IPs were claimed by other companies at auction. Best of all, they hired Blitworks to handle the ports of both games. Eventually, the first game had ports announced for the Xbox One and PS4, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the second game follows.

4. Bayonetta/Vanquish – Sega/Platinum Games (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U)

Speaking of amazing turnarounds, Platinum Games managed to grant us not one, but two of their cult classics from last-gen on PC this year. The fact that both games came out so close to one another made this even more amazing. It’s also been heavily rumored that both games will be released as a double-pack on the PS4 and XBO, though confirmation has yet to be made. With Platinum’s Twitter heavily implying that Bayonetta 3 may be on the horizon, it only makes sense to get the game in as many hands as possible. While a Bayonetta 2 PC port is a pipe dream due to Nintendo’s heavy involvement with the game’s development, I hope we can see even more of Platinum’s back catalog hit PC in the near future.

3. The King of Fighters XIV – SNK (PlayStation 4)

It’s funny: I was honestly expecting to put this one on this year’s list of new games: it was even the sole new addition to last year’s list. SNK managed to impress me with a timely Steam port that I assumed would usher in the game’s demise when it came to additional content, but apparently that wasn’t the case at all. With a port handled by Abstraction Games – an underrated company that handled the Double Dragon Neon PC port – KoFXIV is now capable of shining in brand-new ways, thanks to a fledgling mod community. Seriously, what they’ve been able to do with the game has been amazing.

2. MegaMan 9 & 10 (MegaMan Legacy Collection 2) – Capcom (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

I’m surprised this is coming in at number 2, but my top request definitely put up a good fight. I’m probably alone in the sense that I’d have been willing to pay $20 for these two games and all their DLC alone. Adding in two more MegaMan games that hadn’t shown up on PC before – MegaMans 7 and 8 – only served to sweeten the deal and make it a can’t-miss proposition for me. For a while, Capcom had been weird about what they’d port to PC – but in recent years, as long as it’s not a Nintendo-exclusive, PC gamers are likely to get love from Capcom. If anything, I wish they’d been a little less generous in some cases…

1. Falcom (in General)

Yeah, I get that it’s kind of cheating to put an entire company in the top slot, but if I’m going to be honest, they deserve it. Sure, the promises of day one parity with the console releases of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana ended up being a pipe dream, but considering the rumors of the port’s quality (or lack thereof), not to mention the outright poor quality of the original translation, it may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Aksys Games’ translation of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is set to launch the same day as its PS4 counterpart as promised, but considering how late they started their own beta testing (similar to Ys VIII), well, “watch this space”. Even though Ys VIII didn’t hit its original release date on PC, some good did come of it. Ys VIII is actually the first game that NIS America is releasing on GOG, which is amazing. Whether or not that means other NIS games will hit the platform is beyond me, but that seems pretty cool.

Despite these setbacks from one of their new partners, XSEED more than picked up the slack when it came to representing Falcom on PC. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Ys SEVEN and Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (formerly “Zwei II” in Japan) all saw release on Windows PC this year. Also, they’ve announced that both Trails of Cold Steel II’s PC port and the first Zwei!! will release some time next year. Good stuff, but that’s not the major reason why they topped it out. In an interview with Techraptor, Toshihiro Kondo – Falcom’s president – said that he wanted “all of [their] games that come out to [release] on Steam”. Not just all future titles, not all of the old games that Falcom previously released on Windows, ALL of their games. Big words, but considering the massive collection of Falcom games we’ve amassed on PC so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes to pass.

Our Feature Presentation

Before we go onto my new list, I feel like it’s worth going over the rules I’ve limited myself to in the past with these lists. It’s odd, I know, but it just ends up making the process of building a list much more fun. For starters, I’m limiting myself to games from the seventh (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii) and eighth (PS4/Xbox One/Wii U/Switch) generations of gaming. Porting anything else seems like it would require a brand-new release across the board and this is more about simple ports. Considering the sheer amount of games from these generations that have been ported to PC in recent years, it only seems fair. I also try to limit myself to one game per company, though considering the sheer number of buyouts we’ve seen, I’ve decided to expand that to one game per “brand” – but only if the buyout happened since the games were made in the first place. For example, I can ask for one game each from Sega and Atlus, but asking for two games from Square Enix is a no-no. I also consider one “series” as an entry, as long as the games themselves were all present in the generations available to me. Finally, no games that are clearly “console-exclusive”. So, even though Sony Music has started that whole “Unties” publishing label for indie games and Nintendo’s willing to do tie-ins on mobiles, I’m not going to be asking for stuff like Parappa the Rapper Remastered or Super Mario Odyssey. It’s just common sense.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant – Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games (PlayStation Portable)

I mentioned earlier that Falcom’s president wanted to put all of their games on Steam. The main goal most people have their sights set on is getting Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure on the PC platform. A segment of Falcom’s popular “Legend of Heroes” series, these two games – known colloquially as the “Crossbell games”, named after their setting – are quite literally the most commonly requested games. Unfortunately, they also lack any official English translations, so this would be a necessary part of porting the games to PC.

But do you know what Falcom game already has a full English translation and is also currently doomed to exclusivity on the inescapable purgatory that is the PlayStation Portable? That’s right, Brandish: The Dark Revenant. A remake of the first installment in a short-lived Falcom series, the games bring a new perspective to the first-person dungeon crawlers of old with its unique brand of gameplay. Brandish’s translation was a labor of love from Tom “Wyrdwad” Lipschultz, one of XSEED’s most prominent localizers. While the PSP remake saw its original Japanese release in 2009, it only managed to reach America in January 2015 as a digital-only release. It’s a shame that such an interest game was resigned to such a lackluster fate outside of its home market. Considering the fact that we’ve seen Ys SEVEN hit PC this year, I’d love to see Brandish achieve the same thing. At worst, it would at least give XSEED’s new partners a chance to hone their craft while XSEED is working on translating the Crossbell duology.

Rare Replay – Microsoft Studios/Rare (Xbox One)

This almost feels like cheating, considering I put the Banjo-Kazooie games on an earlier list. Considering they’re both included in this compendium of some of Rare’s most beloved titles (not owned by Nintendo), getting this collection would just end up killing two birds with one stone. It may seem unlikely given the fact that it hasn’t already come to PC, but that’s exactly what I thought about the Killer Instinct reboot back on my very first list. If I’m going to dream, I might as well dream big.

Tekken Tag Tournament HD – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3)

This has the exact opposite problem compared to Rare Replay. I’ve already asked for the second Tekken Tag Tournament, so why ask for the original? The answer’s simple: despite being outclassed in every possible way by its sequel, I associate some really happy memories with the classic game. The re-release in the Tekken Hybrid package reminded me of that and so did replaying the game for the Tekken retrospective I did this year. There was just something amazing about the original game, some intangible factor that prevents me from letting go of it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t rather have the second game if forced to choose, but if Bandai Namco considers re-releasing both, I’m not going to complain.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir – Atlus/Vanillaware (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)

Every list has got to have at least one pipe dream on it. A game that outright transcends any other baffling choice. I’ve got quite a few on this year’s list, but I’d say last year’s re-release of Odin Sphere is the big one this time around. Since I started doing these wishlists nearly four years ago, we’ve seen Atlus’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the PC market go from the rule to the exception when it comes to Japanese publishers. Having said that, Atlus USA does do a good job of publishing various indie titles on the platform and Sega has apparently been applying pressure on Atlus’s PC-phobia, with various people speculating that we could see a Persona game hit the platform someday. Frankly, I’d rather just have Vanillaware games, considering the developer’s stated openness to releasing their games on PC. Leifthrasir is technically their most recent release, therefore it feels the most likely.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 – Inti Creates (Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch)

This was honestly a last resort when it came to PC port requests. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Gunvolt 2 even more than the original game. It’s more that it seems like Inti Creates may have abandoned the platform when it comes to the games they publish themselves. Not to mention the fact that I think I’d rather have a release of the Striker Pack on PC, as opposed to just the second game. The original Gunvolt’s release on Steam was sort of wonky and it looks like the version included in the Striker Pack on Switch is a much more coherent experience, likely due to what Inti Creates was able to learn from their first attempt at transferring the title – which required two screens – onto a single-screen platform and improve their efforts. At the same time, asking for the Striker Pack feels a bit skeevy, considering we already have the first game on Steam. That’s what makes the whole thing so complicated. I mean, ideally, they’d just release the Striker Pack on Steam and give anyone who bought the first game a discount. That’s my opinion anyway.

Yakuza series – Sega (PlayStation 3, Wii U, PlayStation 4)

From what the internet has been telling me, the Yakuza games – better known as Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan – are the best games I’m not playing. I totally want to try them out, but I’m afraid I’m just no longer into playing big experiences like that on console these days and frankly, I wouldn’t even know where to start at this point. Much like Atlus’s Persona series, there is a massive wellspring of support for these games to make their debut on PC. Some people want the games to start with the latest game in the series – either Yazuka 6 (the next game set to hit the West) or Yakuza Kiwami 2, the remake of the second game set to hit Japan in a matter of days. Other people seem to be fine with the series starting up with Yakuza Zero – which has essentially been deemed the perfect place to jump into the series for newcomers. Meanwhile, I’m a little more extreme: I want everything. Start by localizing the Japanese-exclusive HD ports of the first two games on the Wii U, then just continue from there. Ideally we’d be seeing most of the cut content restored to its original glory in the process. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but honestly, a legitimate entry in the Yakuza series hitting PC is a pipe dream anyway.

(P.S. Nice try, Sega. But no one’s counting that smartphone game you’re working on as an actual PC release for the Yakuza series. In fact, most of us were just insulted.)

The Witch and the Hundred Knight – Nippon Ichi Software (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)

NIS America still appears to be pretty heavily involved in the PC scene, but personally, I wish they’d port more of Nippon Ichi’s games to the platform. The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a game that friends of mine have been raving about, and considering the fact that it’s an action-RPG, I’m onboard with it too. The game’s sequel released in Japan early this year and is set to release in the West sometime next year, so allowing the PC crowd to get their hands on the first one would be a nice treat. Though frankly, I’m still worried about which Disgaea game we’ll get next – I’m kind of worried that they might just skip right to 5, considering the game’s ESRB listing. I’d rather play through the rest of the old games first, personally.

Final Fight: Double Impact – Capcom/Iron Galaxy Studios (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

Truth be told, my backlog of PC port requests from Capcom is running pretty low. That’s not exactly a bad thing: it means that most of the recent games I actually want from the company have already been released on PC. Final Fight: Double Impact just seems like a safe choice to make. It contains arcade-perfect releases of both the original Final Fight and Magic Sword, two beat-‘em-ups with significantly different gameplay styles. Factor in the drop-in multiplayer using GGPO and it’s still worth playing to this day, in spite of the DRM present on the PS3 release. Considering that the 360 and PS3 have essentially been retired, it’d be nice to see this collection – or better yet, a bigger collection with more games included – ported to modern platforms, PC included.

Windjammers – Data East/DotEmu (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita)

Windjammers is among the most underrated multiplayer games of all-time, so when it managed to get a re-release on both PS4 and Vita this past year, it was exciting. The only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been if PC had been involved in the fun as well. Fortunately, DotEmu’s released a whole lot of their ports on the platform down the line, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be tossing frisbees in no time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that out of all of the games on this year’s new list of games, this is the one I’m most confident will hit PC by this time next year.

Let It Die – GungHo Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture (PlayStation 4)

Let It Die and I have had a pretty turbulent history. I was originally excited for the game when it was first announced as “Lily Bergamo”, I’m a huge fan of Grasshopper Manufacture after all. Then the game was transformed into Let It Die and touted as a “free-to-play” experience, at which point, I totally lost interest. Flash-forward to earlier this year when I actually hear some actual information about the final product and I’m intrigued all over again. Let It Die may be a free-to-play game littered with microtransactions, but it’s built far more like a classic arcade game than the mobile cash grabs we associate the concept with. Let It Die is effectively a dungeon-crawler with rouge-like elements, you’re limited to a single life – but if you pay in a quarter, you can continue with your current character. Otherwise, you’ve got to start from scratch. Aside from that, the game maintains the typical Grasshopper off-the-wall insanity: for example, the player is guided by a skateboarding grim reaper named Uncle Death. The permadeath mechanic also lends itself to asynchronous multiplayer: dead characters appear in other players’ games. It’s an honestly interesting concept and one that I’d like to see on PC, though given the fleeting nature of games like this, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Top 10 Most Wanted

Last year, ranking my top 10 list of the games I want ported to PC the most was more haphazard than anything. I’ve never really been all that good at ordering my favorite things in general and in many cases, there wasn’t really much of a difference in how much I wanted many of the games on the list. So to compensate for it, I’ve decided to factor in just how likely I think it would be to see a re-release on PC, which should go a long way toward explaining why various games have switched places from the previous year. Keep in mind that the top two games from the previous list were in fact the top two games I wanted, this new method just helps to keep things feeling a little more structured: I’ve never really been all that good when it comes to rankings and usually by the time I’m done with one list, I instantly regret the final product. Also, don’t view a game being snubbed from the list as a sign that I don’t want the game: it’s safe to assume that I want everything that’s ever been on any of my list, even games like the now-defunct Tekken Revolution. These are just the ten that would make me the happiest to see on PC at this point in time.

10. Catherine – Atlus (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Like I said earlier, Atlus’s Japanese branch appears to be actively against doing PC versions of their games. That setback won’t stop me from holding out hope. But this was clearly the longest of the longshots last year and yet, here we are. Considering the fact that we were teased with a potential new entry in the series back in August, it only seems reasonable to bring the original back for those who missed it or simply want to play it on more modern platforms.  And what platform is more modern than the PC? Come on, Atlus: you’ve literally got nothing to lose – do a modern “HD” port on PS4 and PC, replacing the Xbox brand. It’s a Golden opportunity you can’t afford to miss.

9. Lollipop Chainsaw – WB Games/Grasshopper Manufacture (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Lollipop Chainsaw dropped a fair amount this year and there are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, WB Games’ PC gaming record has been littered with ups and downs in recent years – ranging from the legendarily bad port of Arkham Asylum to hiring QLOC to fix the botched Mortal Kombat X port to adding Denuvo to a QLOC-developed port of Injustice 2 – Warner Bros. just seems to keep me guessing in strange new ways. More importantly, I don’t think WB Games has any interest in reviving the game, particularly given the game’s controversial content and our current social climate. I mean, the game hasn’t even been added to the Xbox One’s library through backward compatibility. Even Catherine managed that. I think our only hope to see this game again is if Grasshopper Manufacture’s new parent company GungHo Entertainment manages to buy the rights from WB Games and that just seems like a pipe dream.

8. Dragon’s Crown Pro – Atlus/Vanillaware (PlayStation 4)

Of course, even though Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is the most recent Vanillaware release, we do know what their next release is. Last year, I simply had the original Dragon’s Crown on this list, but considering the fact that there’s a re-release coming up with a higher resolution and on a platform with a more PC-friendly architecture, it just seemed obvious to ask for the new version instead. Still seems odd that they’re doing a re-release so soon: they even released a patch for the PS3 and Vita versions allowing for crossplay with Pro. Truth be told, there’s a part of me that wonders if Dragon’s Crown Pro is just being made as a Trojan Horse to allow Vanillaware to toss their hat into the PC gaming market. I’m more than onboard with the concept.

7. NeoGeo Battle Coliseum – SNK (Xbox 360)

This one seemed like an obvious choice. I didn’t have any 2D fighting games on the list last year and frankly, that’s unacceptable. Considering the fact that many of SNK’s old games that have been re-released on this gen have made their way onto PC – particularly the ones handled internally – it only seems fair to ask for something from the previous gen. Hamster’s been killing it with their Arcade Classics releases of classic NeoGeo games, but SNK’s work after their long-running self-made arcade hardware is a rarity these days. Considering the rumors abound that SNK may be working on a second Battle Coliseum game, re-releasing the first on modern platforms seems like a no-brainer. I see it going down like this: initial release on the PS4, followed by a Steam release at some point down the line.  Not an ideal scenario, but perhaps the most realistic.

6. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – Capcom (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Another significant drop from last year’s list, I just think that seeing either a re-release of the old PC version or a new port of the HD release just isn’t in the cards anymore. Puzzle Fighter’s recently been relaunched as a new free-to-play mobile game with a hideous art style and I’m sure that Capcom would try to avoid any undue competition by releasing the original game. And believe me, this new mobile game is going to need all the help it can get. Maybe we’ll see a re-release if it fails to meet Capcom’s likely insane expectations, but it’ll take some time to gauge the game’s success.

5. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U)

While we did finally end up getting a Tekken game on PC this year, I honestly still would prefer Tag 2 to make its way there as well. Unfortunately, as TTT2 was among the worst selling games in the entire series, it seems like the chances of this game getting re-released on more platforms are pretty slim. At least it’s on the Xbox One via backwards compatibility, but I’m still salivating over the thought of what the modding scene could do with this game.

4. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – Konami (PlayStation Portable)

It feels a little weird moving this up, considering Konami’s recent history. This year offered us an omen: Super Bomberman R, one of the Nintendo Switch’s launch titles, was a true return to form for the company. This has led to a great deal of speculation about a return to Konami’s roots, with potentially even more new games in the vein of classic titles. An easy way to test the waters for this kind of revival would be re-releasing actual old titles and I still can’t think of a better choice than the Dracula X Chronicles. Containing a full graphical remake of one of the most beloved Castlevania games, an official English translation of the original PC Engine version, as well as a retranslated version of Symphony of the Night, DXC deserves a better fate than being trapped on the likely-defunct PlayStation Portable line for all eternity. The remake could use a little polish to handle higher resolutions, but aside from that, it would be a perfect package.

3. Splatterhouse (2010) – Bandai Namco (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

2010’s Splatterhouse reboot did not get nearly as much love as it deserves. The game was a high-adrenaline romp through a horror-inspired environment that both paid homage to and build on the original games. Considering we’ve seen various companies choose seemingly random games for modern revivals, Splatterhouse feels like it could have a chance. The game’s only major flaw, its terrible load times, could easily be fixed on modern platforms and frankly, even if you’re not a fan of the reboot itself, it also comes with perfect ports of all three of the mainline games from the 90s. If that’s not worth a re-release, then I don’t know what is.

2.  MegaMan: Powered Up/MegaMan: Maverick Hunter X – Capcom (PSP)

I wouldn’t have considered putting this so high on the list, but considering the recent re-releases of Okami HD and Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney on contemporary platforms, it looks like Capcom may be raiding their backlog for some big cheap releases. For me, the most obvious choice would have to be a twin-pack of their MegaMan releases on the PSP. Both games were critical darlings crippled by the platform they were released on and their timing. Re-releasing both games with improved resolutions in a two-pack for $20 would sell like gangbusters. Considering the fact that Powered Up isn’t even available as a downloadable title outside of Japan, this would also go a long way to preserve what is objectively the best iteration of the original MegaMan in existence and the fascinating curiosity that is MHX’s Vile Mode. Better yet, don’t just release this on PC – release it on everything: PS4, Switch, and even the Xbox One. Come on, Capcom. It’s the Blue Bomber’s 30th anniversary, let’s celebrate!

1. Ys: Memories of Celceta – Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games (PlayStation Vita)

It might surprise you to see that while much of last year’s list has remained pretty much the same, Memories of Celceta managed to jump a whopping six places to take the number one slot. For starters, the main reason that it was low was to keep things fair – after all, Ys SEVEN was my second most highly-requested PC port of all, and with that out of the way, MoC could flourish. But beating out a MegaMan game for the top slot? That comes down to pure psychology. With SEVEN coming out this year and Lacrimosa of Dana eventually hitting PC at some point, Celceta is literally the only remaining modern Ys game without a PC version in the West. You ever notice how the most painful losses are the ones where you come so close to victory? The most noticeable gap in any collection is a single entry? Same basic concept: PC is so close to being a perfect platform for the Ys series, it just needs that one last game.

Another element that puts this so high on my list is the sheer possibility of it. Everything else on here feels like a pipe dream to at least some extent – a majority of these games are from last-gen and companies don’t seem quite as keen on re-releasing old content as I’d hoped. With that in mind, I’d easily consider Ys SEVEN to be the less likely of the two missing Ys games when it comes to PC ports and that managed to become a reality. Considering the poor timing of SEVEN’s release date on PC compared to the American release date for VIII on consoles, I’d almost be willing to bet that we might see confirmation of a Memories of Celceta PC port from XSEED around the time NIS America announces the final release date for the PC version of Lacrimosa of Dana.

To put it simply, Memories of Celceta is the only game on this list right now that I don’t see merely as a hope. It’s an inevitability. Falcom has already begun focusing more on the PC market in the West, the fact that day-one PC releases were a big part of what led them to choose Aksys and NIS America only proves it. XSEED has been playing a game of catch-up, effectively proving that they are capable of following through with this new strategy given the fact that they released 3 Falcom games on PC this year alone, with one more set likely to release sometime next year. And while the Trails games are Falcom’s top brand in Japan, Ys is still the more popular brand in the West. The Western demand for Crossbell may be deafening, but there’s a much more viable option left to XSEED. The cry for Memories of Celceta on PC is literally deafening: it was riled up by a Twitter gaffe two years back, Joyoland’s attempt to put their ports on Steam Greenlight with pages entirely written in Chinese were met with salivation in English and SEVEN’s recent PC release proves that XSEED finally has the resources to make this request a reality. It’s time to complete my collection.

Thus concludes this year’s set of lists. It almost makes me wonder what I’d be able to write next year. The sheer amount of new games receiving releases on PC and old games being ported long after their initial release is what caused me to abandon this entire concept in the first place, so in a strange sense, it almost feels good to not have to write these nearly as often as I did in previous years. At the same time, I do miss writing up these lists: that’s why I’ve continued with the yearly April Fools’ list of console ports and managed to put together a wishlist for GOG this past summer. On the plus side, I’ve almost got a full list ready for next April, but as for December 2018, I’m kind of at a loss of what to do to extend an article like this to its usual length. Oh well, at least I’ve got a whole year to figure that out.

 

Player’s Choice

When it comes right down to it, the video game industry in general is a very tumultuous place. It seems like consumers, publishers and the journalists who act as intermediaries between the two are often at each other’s throats in a way that doesn’t appear to be that common when it comes to entertainment in general. Usually, I find myself siding with the customer side of things: after all, that’s probably where I end up falling most of the time – I think my article from last month proves that. The thing is, lately, I’ve been noticing a trend among some more vocal gamers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always hated the “entitled gamers” label: frankly, I think it’s generally just used as an out for publishers to put out a lackluster product, expecting to get away with it scot-free. But I’ve seen cases where I’d be willing to apply the label; if it weren’t for the baggage associated with the term. I’m talking about the kind of people that demand that every game priced at $60 owes them 60 hours of gameplay, bare minimum. Of course, that’s a rare and extreme example, but it exemplifies this trend I’ve seen. I’ve heard of cases where people have demanded platformers and other speedrun-friendly genres last between 30 and 50 hours to be considered worthwhile purchases. It just sort of strikes me as a ridiculous proposition: there are decidedly few genres out there that could achieve anything remotely close to that length on a regular basis, and most of the time, they have to resort to “tricks” like endless sidequests or a multiplayer mode. Single-player campaigns just aren’t built to last for that long and frankly, I can’t really recall a period where it was practical to hit that mark consistently.

Expecting an hour of gameplay per dollar paid for a product just seems insane and unfair to me. I mean, let’s compare this to other forms of mass media. At the time I’m writing this, most Blu-Ray releases of theatrical movies tend to range between $25 and $35 – and that’s after taking into account severe discounts compared to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which generally appears to sit around $40 a movie. I don’t see people demanding an hour’s worth of film per dollar spent on new movies. Granted, those usually come with bonus features. You know what doesn’t? Watching brand new releases in the theater. The average price of a movie ticket in the United States was about $8.84 in the first quarter of this year – yet, I can’t even remember a mainstream film that clocked in at five hours, let alone eight. Books are a bit harder to gauge in terms of how much time is spent getting through them – everyone reads at their own pace, after all – yet I don’t recall seeing any Amazon reviews calling a book a ripoff because they got less than 100 pages for every dollar they spent on it.

One possible argument I could think of is that when someone buys a movie or a book, they can rewatch or reread it ad nauseum, whenever the urge hits them. I don’t see how this doesn’t apply to video games too. Maybe the longer ones would be difficult to replay immediately, but if shorter games are the problem in the first case, then it should be easy enough to replay them soon after if they’re that short. In fact, replay value is where video games shine compared to other media. Most movie buffs talk about how certain films can be viewed in entirely new lights upon repeat viewings, but that’s nothing compared to video games. Due to their inherent interactivity – well, in most cases – each playthrough of a video game offers an entirely new experience. In pretty much every video game I’ve ever played, there have always been new secrets and exploits to be found upon second or third playthroughs, allowing for a more in-depth look at the game. That’s nothing to say of self-imposed challenges: I’ve replayed the original NES version of MegaMan 2 several times, but it’s been years since I started with Metalman – the traditional boss to start with when playing the game – and the game feels entirely new each time I tweak the order.

Then of course, you’ve got additional bonus content. While many games these days tend to hide extra features behind paywalls as opposed to in-game achievements, there are still a fair amount of games that respect the old ways in at least some small form. While most home video releases of major motion pictures and TV shows have a tendency to add bonus features, the majority of them have little bearing on the meat of the package. Maybe you’ll get the occasional “extended cut” that mixes various deleted scenes back into the work proper, but most of the time special features are generally expected to be enjoyed outside of the feature attraction. Not so with video games. Higher difficulty levels, alternate playable characters and “New Game+” modes all add something new to the game itself, allowing for entirely new experiences, which can double the standard length of a game. It’s a shame that features like this generally aren’t taken into account when gauging a game’s length, because generally, that would double the length of a game bare minimum.

That’s a problem that most people don’t seem to consider: where does the metric of calculating the time it takes to complete a game come from? Most people game at different skill levels – not to mention the fact that most gamers excel at some genres better than others – so how is the average time it takes to complete a game determined? It always just sort of struck me as arbitrary. I’ve taken more than the average time to complete a game on a blind-run than what the developers expected and in some cases, I’ve managed to finish in less time. The whole concept of measuring time in video games just strikes me as an inexact science and it makes me wonder about those people who demand such large games. Do they keep track of the time they spend with the game meticulously or do they just take traditional timekeeping methods – be they in-game or on the console itself – at face value? I suppose that this would bring video games more in line with books, as people have different reading levels and often read at different paces based on the material. Unfortunately, they’ve also got a much more uniform tangible length, in the form of pages. Sure, at times, you can say a game has a certain number of “levels” or “chapters”, but considering how these vary from game to game (not to mention, segments typically get longer as games themselves go on), it still comes across as an inconsistent way to measure a game’s true length.

I guess my main issue with the whole argument that every game should last a certain amount of time is that, as a rule, I’m more concerned with the quality of the time I’m spending on a game as opposed to the quantity. I’m often much more enamored with games that grab my attention for 5 hours over anything that just becomes a 500-hour trudge for the sake of “getting my money’s worth”. Granted, those are my priorities – but I just can’t wrap my head around to idea of demanding that a game takes up a certain amount of time instead of just giving players a certain amount of enjoyment. Of course, these days I seem to be gravitating more and more towards smaller games in general. Considering the fact that I’m a retro gamer at heart in the first place – I doubt I’ll ever see anything after the 16-bit era as gaming’s “Golden Age” – shorter games remind me of the good old days. In addition to that, a lot of the games I find myself enjoying the most tend to retro-style throwbacks anyway and those games are generally shorter than AAA extravaganzas. Oftentimes, I think the best thing I can ever say about a game is that it leaves me wanting more. That’s probably the main thing I keep in mind when gauging just how much I enjoyed something: it all comes down to whether I feel satisfied upon finishing it. Whether I just want an expansion, a straight up “level pack” sequel or some kind of spiritual successor from the same developers, it’s always a good sign.

This article may come across as a defense for some of the admittedly scummier tactics that publishers and developers – but mostly publishers – use to milk their consumer bases for all they’re worth. I’m by no means defending practices like selling a $60 game entirely on additional paid content. There just has to be some happy medium between companies demanding full price for an incomplete experience and gamers demanding that a game provide at least a full 168 hours of content before they consider buying a game at half price. Neither extreme really feels all that viable for the industry as a whole and as development costs continue to balloon, concessions need to be made at both sides. Of course, as I said, I’m not really that big on AAA blockbusters, so I’ll probably be fine either way. I’ll stick to getting ripped off by shorter games, thank you.

Under Reconstruction – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

As I’m posting this around midnight on All Hallows’ Eve, the witching hour as it were, it feels only fitting that I’m reviving a series I’ve not seen for a couple years. What better treat for Halloween than one last revival for the year? While Sum of Its Parts may have been more fitting given the day, Under Reconstruction always felt like an interesting concept. Taking a look at the odd one-offs, the quirky experiments and the black sheep games in popular series and reimagining them in a way that would improve their standing, while maintaining their unique identities in the process. I guess it would be scarier if I just decided they should be reworked to completely represent the rest of their franchises, but where’s the fun in that?

As I’ve only written one of these articles before, I’ll be making some changes from the previous article. Quite simply, I went far, far too in-depth in the last article, which may have contributed to my abandonment of the concept. Looking back at the previous article, I was clearly going for of a mini-design document style, which decisively hurt the flow of the entire thing at times, forcing it to be confined to sections and sub-headers. This time around, Under Reconstruction will be going for more of a “broad strokes” format, effectively going for the gist of what I’d want to see in a remake of the game in question. Hopefully, that’ll make this more viable as a recurring series, which honestly, was the original point of the first article. So, if you’re expecting another set of in-depth treatises on how to remake an old video game few people remember and fewer people liked, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with this one. As for anyone else still reading this, let’s continue.

If you haven’t already guessed from the title, this article is going to be focusing on the second Castlevania game, Simon’s Quest. While Simon’s Quest is generally considered among the weaker entries in the series, due in no small part to a parody review video from one James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe, its place of importance within the Castlevania franchise is still unquestionable. While the original Castlevania was essentially an arcade-era platformer in the same vein as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Simon’s Quest took a far more exploratory approach to its games – best resembling Nintendo’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Due to this shift in priorities, some consider it to be something of an “ur-Metroidvania”, the style of gameplay associated with Symphony of the Night – which in turn, is considered by many to be the best game in the series. Of course, SotN and SQ handle exploration in almost entirely different ways, but by now, the connection has been made. Simon’s Quest isn’t the worst game in the series by any means, but it suffers from its mechanics – to the extent where the following game simply refined the mechanics of the original game and the series would follow on this path until the 32-bit era. Considering we’ve seen several remakes and reimaginings of the first game, why not give the second a chance to shine, especially given the fact that platform-adventure games in general have become substantially more refined?

Gameplay

The best games I can think of that took inspiration from Simon’s Quest would have to be the first two Shantae games from WayForward. As such, they seem like a good place to look for inspiration when refining mechanics for the remake. For starters, throw out the lives system. It was an odd mechanic in general, especially considering the fact that the only way to replenish them was through getting a Game Over. Most of the platformers that focused on exploration that came out after SQ had done away with the lives system, so it only makes sense that a remake would do the same. Having said that, I would keep the pitfalls in the game, as they emphasize the platforming elements in the game – just have them do about as much damage as an enemy instead of costing a life (you know, because they won’t exist anymore). Having said that, any Simon’s Quest remake should bring back the day/night mechanics, but do a straight fluid transition between the times of day, rather than doing it with a textbox and a slow-paced transition every single time. The original Shantae also made use of the day/night mechanics and handled them perfectly: just a quick palette and music swap. I’d suggest incorporating the classic texts for the first night and day transitions respectively, but make them background elements: don’t interrupt the flow of gameplay.

Simon’s Quest had a simple leveling system in it, and frankly, I’d just bring this back unchanged. Keeping the level cap at six and allowing for significant stat boosts based on experience points would be an interesting concept – effectively bridging the gap between the sometimes-ridiculous RPG-style leveling associated with the Metroidvanias, while still rewarding players for facing down enemies unlike the Classicvanias. Keeping the amount of experience points that can be earned in specific areas is another element I’d keep from the original NES version, simply because it would force progression. Likewise, the way the game handled equipment – including upgrades for existing weapons – is also well done. Granted, in this case, I’d suggest allowing players to shift back to weaker versions of the powered-up weapons, for the sake of adding some measure of optional difficulty. I’d also suggest adding both the Axe and the Cross Boomerang to Simon’s arsenal of sub-weapons, not only because their absence struck me as odd, but because they could allow for new obstacles and gameplay mechanics. Simon’s Quest also had multiple endings, based on how quickly the game was beaten. I’d definitely keep those mechanics: considering the fact that the game is said to be a prototype of the future Metroidvanias of the series, it would only make sense to include something that rewards quick completions, consider that’s a hallmark of the sub-genre‘s namesake.

The game world itself, on the other hand, needs to be significantly overhauled. The only thing I’d consider worth keeping from the original release would be the literal setting, which sufficiently depicted the kind of countryside and towns one might expect to exist alongside a literal demon castle. While researching for this article, I looked up a full map of the game’s overworld, and it’s literally a straight line. Some verticality and branching paths would be appreciated, especially considering how much of a role these elements would play in future games in the series. In a game like this, non-linearity seems like it should be the focus and as such, keeping the linear design of the original overworld seems like a mistake, especially considering the fact that the game managed to take a non-linear approach in the first place. The various areas were lined up in a random order, forcing playing to backtrack between both ends of the map to progress. Adding additional paths and shortcuts could make things much more interesting from a gameplay perspective.

Then there’s the case of the Mansions, which effectively acted as “action stages” or dungeons within the game. Each housed a specific relic of Dracula’s and they ended up being the parts of the game that best resembled the first game in terms of gameplay. However, they would generally focus more on cryptic puzzles rather than platforming gameplay, something I’d probably change if the game were remade for modern audiences. The best examples of how I’d like to see an SQ remake handle the Mansions would be the mini-dungeons in a later Castlevania game, Portrait of Ruin. The segmented areas in Aliens: Infestation are another good example of what I’d like to see. To put it simply, each mansion would essentially be a miniature Metroidvania map, roughly the size of a single area in the major Metroidvania-style Castlevanias. Another point about the original Simon’s Quest that was disappointing would have to be the lack of bosses. There were only 3 bosses in the game: Death, Carmilla and Dracula himself – and they were all fairly underwhelming. Given the fact that there are so many iconic bosses in the Castlevania series, it would be easy enough to pick some additional bosses for the game. Likewise, I’d suggest expanding on the existing bosses as well – it’s not like there aren’t several other incarnations of those three to draw inspiration from. Speaking of expansion, increasing the number of mansions overall would probably be a good idea: it’s not like the Prince of Darkness only had 4 body parts and a ring. Expanding the mansions to 8 would probably be a good number thus allowing for a much more ornate game world in general. Better yet, these new mansions could easily justify my proposed redesign of the overworld – these new Mansions could be hidden along alternate paths from the standard straight-line design of the original game, thus allowing this new version of Simon’s Quest to feel more like an expansion than a total reimagining. I’d also suggest giving each mansion a theme to focus on, which would allow for more cohesive level designs. I’m not talking about silly things like “make one Egyptian-themed”, but giving each mansion a unique obstacle to center its design around would probably make things was more interesting.

Finally, we come to the game’s towns. Perhaps the most unique element Simon’s Quest introduced to the Castlevania series – as the concept wouldn’t be revisited until 2008’s Order of Ecclesia. In the original version, players would be able to buy items and talk to the townsfolk for information, which wouldn’t always be true …or coherent, for that matter. When accounting for modern game design, using the towns as save points and areas to heal seems obvious. I’d consider also using them as warp points, allowing players to travel to areas they’ve previously visited with no issues, but that’s strictly my preference: backtracking can be a nightmare, especially when the game map is literally a straight line. As for the townsfolk, I’d keep things cryptic and allow some of them to lie, like in the original game. Just please make sure that their speech isn’t translated into gibberish this time around. Hell, maybe add in some sidequests between towns, that could help to expand the game’s world even further. Again, I’d look to the second and third Shantae games for inspiration when reimagining the towns. Giving different layouts and themes to each town would be helpful, but at the same time, keep the vertical layouts in the new version. Likewise, I’d also say to maintain the various obstacles – both the pitfalls and the zombie attacks at nightfall – in the new version, it definitely mixes things up.

Presentation

Of course, when it comes to remaking a game, gameplay is only half the equation. Presentation is also important. A subtle balance must be achieved: the game must simultaneously appear new to draw in those who played the original game, while at the same time maintaining enough key elements from the source material to be recognizable as an actual remake, rather than an outright reimagining with nothing in common with the original. At the same time, the game also has to be able to draw in those not familiar with the previous release, effectively making sure that it can appeal to those familiar with later iterations of the series or even those completely unfamiliar with the franchise in question. It’s a precarious balance that is too difficult to really look into clinically, but I’ll do my best to keep it in mind when discussing the aesthetical content of the game.

For starters, we have the game’s story. After defeating Dracula in the events of Castlevania – which have been told a million ways a million different times – Simon Belmont retires to a simple and peaceful life for the next seven years. However, upon his death, the Prince of Darkness placed a curse on the young vampire hunter, cursing him to an early grave unless the lord of vampires was resurrected at Belmont’s own hand. To make matters worse, Dracula’s minions are once again terrorizing Transylvania, leaving mayhem in their wake. As such, Simon gathers his legendary whip – the Vampire Killer – once more. He begins a quest to revive the dark lord, only to kill him again, ending his reign of terror once and for all. …Or for the next hundred years, whichever comes first. There’s really little that needs to be added to make SQ’s backstory work, all the framework is already there. At best, I’d probably suggest making references to all the different incarnations of Simon’s original adventure throughout the game. After all, the original Castlevania’s story had been touched upon in a multitude of different ways – hell, one version even had Dracula abduct Simon’s bride on their wedding day – so it would be somewhat interesting to hear of the various legends of the storied vampire hunter as told by various townsfolk, relying solely on hearsay, rumors and tall tales.

I’m usually pretty flexible when it comes to graphics in games. It has been awhile since we’ve seen a game done in the 32-bit SotN Castlevania pixel art style and given how well that allow the graphics of the original Simon’s Quest to translate into a more modern environment, that would probably be ideal. If they use Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth as a design guide, the game could end up looking gorgeous. Hand-drawn 2D, similar to the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, could be an interesting take as well, though that would probably be prohibitively expensive. In all seriousness, 3D graphics in a 2.5D game would probably be the most cost-effective choice, but it would probably harm some of the game’s readability, unless Konami (or whatever developer they’d put in charge of such a project) takes extra care to make the game look gorgeous and decipherable at the same time. While everything was properly visible in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, the character designs looked a bit weird at times. Hopefully, if a SQ remake went the same route, we’d get something much more visually appealing, while making sure not to sacrifice clarity in the process.

I’d have to say that my personal favorite aspect of Simon’s Quest would be the game’s soundtrack. With that in mind, I’d keep all of the compositions from the original game in a remake – which Konami outright avoided with Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth. I would, however, love to see Konami take songs from other Castlevania games and incorporate them into a remade soundtrack – especially if they go with more obscure tracks like in ReBirth. Original compositions would be nice too, but considering it’s a remake, I’d definitely prefer going with other classic songs. Choosing a musical style is a bit more difficult: my ideal pick would be symphonic metal, similar to the Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack, allowing for both an orchestral sound that would fit with the game’s setting, as well as a strong melodic component. Of course, I’d love to hear a new chiptune arrangement of the soundtrack as well, but I’d be happy if they just included the original NES and Famicom Disk System versions, as well as older iterations of any new tracks, as bonuses. They should definitely implement the ability to swap out different versions of each song, sort of like how DXC let you customize which songs played in which stages during gameplay.

Finally, we come to the project’s scale. Ideally, we’d be looking at this as a downloadable game – with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price between $10 and 20 at launch. Nothing too extravagant, after all, this is meant to be a faithful adaptation of a game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The best game I can use as an example of what I’d expect out of a Simon’s Quest remake would probably be 2013’s Ducktales Remastered: Capcom and WayForward took the basic format and layout of the original game, expanded on it – both lengthening existing stages and adding entirely new ones – tightened up the controls and provided updated visual and audio. If Konami did something similar with a Castlevania II remake, it would probably end up being a winner. Traditional Castlevanias fell to the wayside in the wake of the Lords of Shadow series and we’re still waiting on Bloodstained, Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s spiritual successor. Metroid-likes and Castlevania tribute games are a pretty profitable niche among indie games, so it would only make sense for Konami themselves to capitalize on a void they created.

This brings the second entry in the Under Reconstruction series to an end. The new format leaves a few gaps in the overall design document aspect of the article, but I think that ends up working to its advantage. After all, it leaves a lot more to the imagination. Personally, I had fun writing this, so hopefully I’ll be able to think of more topics for more of these in the future. More importantly, what do you think? Would you like to see a remake of Simon’s Quest? Do you think the changes I suggested are too extreme or not extreme enough? Sound off in the comments below.