Contrary to what you may assume, the first video game mascot to capture my heart wasn’t Mario. It wasn’t Sonic, even if I was loyal to him for a brief period before I gave Mario my allegiance. I’m not old enough for it to be Pac-Man, young enough for it to be Crash, or cursed enough for it to be Bubsy. The first video game character to spark my imagination was Mega Man (or his similarly named successor, Mega Man X) and his series has permanently been in my top three favorite game series for over 25 years. In honor of his imminent revival, I’m going to go over my personal history with the franchise, all the good times and the bad times. Let’s dive into my mind and do this!
Now when I said bad times, you probably thought of the time between the 2011 cancellations and “Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day”, but that’s not the only one for me. At the very start of my history with Mega Man, something happened that I’m still surprised didn’t manage to turn me off the entire series. You see, when I was very young, I had an instinctive love of video games, but no game consoles. The only thing in my house that could play games was a computer my family had gotten from my grandfather. It was a Tandy 1000 in the year 1992. You don’t have to look that up, I’ll tell you that it was severely underpowered at the time. Finding games that could run on it was not an easy task, but I was determined, and even if they were in four color mode, I found some games that would work…
Yes, that’s right, my first Mega Man game was the infamous Mega Man DOS. My second was Mega Man III DOS (I count the Tiger Handheld version as “Mega Man II DOS” for the record). That was my introduction to the series, those abominations from the masters of unspeakable horror at Hi-Tech Expressions. If you haven’t personally experienced the Mega Man DOS games, I assure you that they’re as bad as everyone says. But you know the really sad part? Those were my best computer games. So I played them, I struggled and struggled until I could beat both of them consistently. Sure, saying I beat both of those games at age six sounds cool now, but you aren’t thinking like that when you’re a kid, just wishing you could play games that were actually good. I kind of sort of enjoyed the games at the time, but I knew there were countless infinitely better games that were out of my reach.
The year or so before I finally got a console, when my only games were on that Tandy 1000, certainly left a negative taste in my mouth when it came to PC gaming. So why did Mega Man emerge completely unscathed? Well, some of my best childhood memories involve getting to play my cousin’s seemingly endless pile of SNES games when I visited his family a couple of times a year. In early 1994, shortly after I got my first console (it was a Genesis: why it wasn’t a SNES is a story for another time) and wanted to put my torture at the hands of Hi-Tech behind me, I was on one of those treasured visits. Eagerly looking through his games, trying to choose where to start, I noticed something. Something wondrous, a treasure that would change everything forever. For the first time in my life, I laid my eyes on this:
Yes, it had happened. I had discovered the Mega Man X series. Still having fond feelings towards the series that had given me the best games I owned for what felt like forever at the time, MMX was my easy choice for first game to play. Words can not describe how much I loved the game, I was expecting something resembling the DOS games and instead I got what to this day is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Zero was the coolest character I had ever encountered in any medium, the explosions when bosses died were the best graphical effect I had ever seen, and I didn’t have to press J to jump. Mega Man X made an incredible impression on me, and was probably the biggest factor in making me switch my loyalty to SNES, before Mario meant anything particularly important to me.
While there are plenty of memories that I treasure associated with the Mega Man series in the decade or so that followed (staying up late and beating Mega Man V on Game Boy in bed, being cured of my mono-console ways by Mega Man X4, writing a Mega Man parody series that somehow got past 600 pages), this is going to be long enough already without detailing all of them. By the mid-2000s I owned and had beaten every Mega Man platformer (except for a couple of the Game Boy ones which I didn’t realize were different games, don’t worry, I’ve since rectified that), and while the X series was and is my favorite any Mega Man platformer was a must-buy for me. Let’s get to the part where the gaming community as a whole gave Mega Man attention again, Mega Man 9.
In 2008, we had had at least one Mega Man game almost every year for two decades. However, we hadn’t had a numbered installment in the Classic series since 1997, and through the filter of pre-2011 privilege, not getting the specific type of Mega Man you wanted seemed like a big problem. After years of requests, Capcom granted the wish of Classic fans and finally announced Mega Man 9. But what no one saw coming was how it looked and played: it was 8-bit. Not even the “8-bit” that was run through a heavy nostalgia filter upgrade like most games using that label these days, Mega Man 9 looked and played almost exactly like the early NES Mega Man games. This was a novelty at the time, and Mega Man 9 was well received. I enjoyed it, not my favorite Mega Man game, but a worthy installment and knowing we could in fact go home again was a nice feeling.
However, there was something in the back of my mind, a burning desire that I think was shared by many. We got a game that played just like the NES Mega Man games. The Mega Man X series never reached the height of its glory days after it changed up its formula with the fifth entry. So if we got Mega Man X9 and it played just like the SNES games… That concept, that phantom, hung over me. Something I wanted, that I know a huge portion of the Mega Man fanbase wanted so badly, that never materialized. While Capcom ignoring us and making another 8-bit Mega Man Classic game in 2010 hurt to some extent, I refused to blame the game itself for that. Mega Man 10’s more creative level design made it a top-tier Classic game, in my opinion.
That opinion was not common, at least back in 2010. Unfortunately, there was a perfect storm of negativity that consumed Mega Man 10. For one thing, there were two Mega Man series that were currently in a cliffhanger state (ZX and Legends), in addition to X fans who wanted their turn with the retroizer. But far worse were the fickle sequelphobes who were infuriated that Capcom had made a “rehash” of what they had regarded as a breath of fresh air with Mega Man 9. Or that’s what they claimed anyway, some of them would have complained no matter what Capcom did. Either way, Mega Man 10 didn’t perform nearly as well as Mega Man 9. This was annoying to me, but I had no idea what kind of catastrophe was coming…
At the start of 2011, Mega Man seemed to be chugging along at his standard rate. The Mega Man Legends fanbase got their wish with the announcement of Mega Man Legends 3, and Mega Man Universe looked like another solid Mega Man platformer to me (not so much to people who judged the entire game on an alpha build). But a darkness more threatening than Dr. Wily, Sigma, and Dr. Weil combined was about to descend on Mega Man. Keiji Inafune, who was well respected and considered the father of Mega Man at the time, left Capcom on clearly hostile terms. Mega Man Universe was canceled and triggered a tidal wave of apathy for most of the fanbase. Then Mega Man Legends 3 was canceled, and the shit hit the turbine. Capcom, one of the most consistent and respected publishers for around 25 years at that point, was demonized overnight (for a variety of reasons, but Mega Man’s fate was arguably the biggest factor) and it was generally accepted that Mega Man was dead, killed to spite his creator. The dark days had begun.
As you may imagine, I was not happy about this. I don’t handle negativity and pessimism well, and the mood around the Mega Man and Capcom fanbase was more negative than I had ever seen. The vindication from everyone suddenly caring about Mega Man Universe and stopped bashing Mega Man 10, the “last” Mega Man game, did nothing for me. I just wanted Mega Man back, in any form, something to give fans of the series hope. Whenever I replayed a Mega Man game, there was a twinge of sadness interfering with all the great memories I have of the series. I maintained that a series as old and popular as Mega Man could never permanently die, it would inevitably return at some point (now THAT’S vindication I enjoy), but there was an ever increasing anxiety as time went by with no word of a new Mega Man game.
2013 was the year of false hope for the franchise. There are two main reasons for that, I’ll start by covering the one that didn’t become a cautionary tale about how not to launch a new IP. At E3 2013, Nintendo showed their first trailer for the fourth Super Smash Bros. game, and there was one thing I wanted from it more than anything else. I tried not to expect it, not to get my hopes up, even when we got a special character introduction cinema after the main trailer. As the Nintendo characters looked up at the shadowy new arrival, part of my brain yelled at the other part not to get excited yet. Then that helmet appeared on the silhouette, and both sides exploded in hype. Mega Man was in Smash Bros. He had his first-ever HD design, and it looked fantastic. Surely this meant the franchise was alive, and a new Mega Man game announcement was imminent? Maybe even co-developed with Nintendo? Nope.
As disappointing as that missed opportunity was, it was nothing compared to the other thing that happened in 2013. Yes, I know, this is supposed to be about Mega Man, and technically this announcement wasn’t related to Mega Man, according to lawyers at least. But you have to be the most gullible person on the planet to believe that. Yep, we’re going to talk about Mighty No. 9.
In 2013, Mega Man’s “father” Keiji Inafune launched a Kickstarter for an “original IP” called Mighty No. 9. But literally every single person in the universe knew from the start that this was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Mega Man. Starring the fighting robot Beck, his creator Dr. William White (aka Bill Blackwell), a supportive female robot named Call, and eight Mighty Number robots that Beck had to defeat/save and take the powers of, Mighty No. 9 would almost certainly have resulted in a lawsuit if it wasn’t for the fact that the gaming public’s consensus was that Inafune had a moral right to copy Mega Man. Capcom didn’t need any more bad PR, and the Kickstarter was a record-breaking success. Mighty No. 9 was coming, and it would for all intents and purposes revive Mega Man.
Oh dear God, where to start. Well, right at the beginning, my feelings towards the game weren’t super positive. I deeply resent Kickstarters that put console versions of the game as a stretch goal that requires funding every extra imaginable for the PC version first, and I wasn’t convinced that Capcom wouldn’t sue and stop the game from being made. I also wasn’t comfortable with the idea that MN9 meant we didn’t need Mega Man anymore and that the franchise could just stay dead. But it was still “better than nothing” and once the console versions were confirmed, I anticipated MN9. For a brief period, anyway.
Let me see if I can remember everything that went wrong during Mighty No. 9’s development. The graphics were severely downgraded from the target renders, the community manager for the backers was mired in controversy (to be as generous as possible), the game was repeatedly delayed after exact release dates were given, Keiji Inafune started a Kickstarter for a not-Mega Man Legends game before MN9 was released, Inafune was revealed to have far less to do with Mega Man’s creation than most had believed, the physical rewards for backers were put in delay limbo and the launch trailer was insultingly patronizing unless you liked anime (in which case, it insulted you directly). This trailer was so bad, even the head of one of the companies working on it was disgusted by it. And this is before the game was actually released.
When the game was finally released in 2016, there was no miracle to overcome the many, many issues during development. While not an absolutely horrible game, Mighty No. 9 has sloppy collision detection, some horrifically obnoxious and generally uninspired levels, and a combo system meant to differentiate it from existing Mega Man games was more annoying than anything. In addition, the graphics looked terrible to make sure it could run on Vita and 3DS… and neither of those versions even came out.
So it was universally agreed upon that Mighty No. 9 was not, in fact, the revival of Mega Man that we had all been waiting for and Keiji Inafune’s reputation has been completely ruined to this day. Once again, all I had to show for this was some vindication (looks like we weren’t fine if Mega Man stayed dead) that didn’t comfort me at all. Thankfully, after several bleak years in gaming, 2017 saw a massive upswing for me. Nintendo made another miraculous comeback thanks to the Switch, Japanese games as a whole started to recover, and the existing eighth generation systems had completely gotten over their long start of the generation slump. Even Capcom was getting some positivity again, with Resident Evil 7 being considered a return to form for the series. Several series I had been missing/worried about the future of got new installments announced in 2017, including Darksiders, Xenoblade, and (especially) Metroid. As 2017 drew to a close, gaming looked brighter than it had since… 2010…
Yes, as all these good things happened in gaming, there was something always at the back of my mind. Something that I wanted most of all, something that would truly signal that things were going to be okay, something I refused to ever let myself expect for fear of more disappointment. It was the start of December 2017, and something was going to happen. A special stream for Mega Man’s 30th anniversary was scheduled, but no one was getting their hopes up. Capcom seemed to have forgotten how to make new Mega Man games, but they were perfectly willing to re-release his games and use his image for money however possible (I was so desperate for a new game that I initially accepted the existence of that awful new cartoon in the hopes it would spawn a licensed game). So celebrating Mega Man’s past with no regard for his future was completely in character and had happened before. But I decided to watch anyway, and hey, at least they were re-releasing the X series this time. Then they said there was one more thing they wanted to show us…
A trailer that showed Mega Man running through the years as we saw all his games listed, and shown in the case of the Classic series, began. The sides of my mind that had argued during the Smash Bros. trailer were at it again, one side saying there was no reason to do a trailer like this and give it so much attention if it was going to end with seven years of nothing while the other tried to squash any hype or expectations. Despair took hold as the trailer appeared to end with a mere 30th anniversary logo, but then the skit continued and we saw Dr. Wily escaping while Mega Man followed him. The sides of my mind were in a full shouting match again while Mega Man approached a question mark symbol listed under 2018, and teleported away when he touched it…
I’ve said this before, but it’s true: that was the closest a video game trailer has ever come to making me cry. That feeling when Mega Man teleported into a level in a BRAND NEW game after so many years of (what I had hoped was) hibernation is indescribable. I think the several years’ worth of frustration and worry actually flew away from my body in eight pulsating rings of light. I watched that trailer again and again, I still watch it when I need a burst of positivity, remembering how I felt when it was confirmed that Mega Man was coming back. I’ve dubbed that day, December 4th, 2017, Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day. Mega Man 11’s existence was the announcement that excited me the most in a year full of incredible ones. It signaled that Capcom was truly on the road to recovery (which 2018 further demonstrated with the massive success of Monster Hunter World, long awaited and great looking footage of the Resident Evil 2 remake, and the announcement of Devil May Cry 5), and that gaming as a whole had been saved from the dark cloud of pessimism that had hung over the mid-2010s.
So there isn’t a huge amount to say after that point. The long and painful absence of the Blue Bomber got his revival game far more mainstream attention than it would have had otherwise, even if I still don’t think it was worth the years of agony. Mega Man 11 information has been gradually drip fed to us throughout the year, and I have been very impressed by the level design shown in the gameplay footage and the demo level. The wait is almost over, in a matter of weeks (or days when you read this) the first Mega Man game in eight and a half years will have arrived. I’m looking forward to creating new Mega Man memories with it and hopefully getting my holy grail of Mega Man X9 after waiting so long. I just wanted to share how important this series is to me and how much fans of it have gone through to get to this moment, so until next time, just remember that Mega Man is alive and there is always hope for gaming.